Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte* – that means we need to consume it in the diet.
It’s fairly common for people to have inadequate intakes of potassium. For instance in the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey from a few years ago, intakes of potassium were below the recommended amounts in all age groups except children under 11.
To highlight a couple of groups in particular, it showed that one in five women aren’t consuming adequate potassium and two in five 15–18 year olds of both sexes. That’s serious stuff because the mineral is absolutely key to:
- helping nerves and muscles communicate with each other.
- making cells work properly – this is a massive understatement but I won’t bore you with the details unless you ask!
- moving nutrients into cells and waste products out of cells.
- keeping a steady heartbeat (if you have low potassium levels, you may have a heart problem, such as an irregular heartbeat. If you have high potassium levels, your heart muscle activity may be reduced).
- helping enzymes to work properly, including those needed for carbohydrate use (for energy).
- maintaining fluid balance.
Much of the body’s potassium hangs out inside each of our trillions of cells, with a smaller amount outside the cells. Proper and safe body function depends on tight regulation of exactly where potassium is hanging out!
*electrolytes conduct electricity, which is vital for nerve and heart function.
Can you have low potassium even if you’re consuming enough of it?
Yes. In addition to poor levels of consumption, potassium can be depleted in other ways, such as during hard exercise when it’s lost via sweat or as a side effect of certain drugs, such as diuretics, laxatives, insulin, some antibiotics and anti-fungals.
Are you consuming enough potassium?
These foods are highest in potassium, are you eating them regularly? You will be if you follow the eatnaturally for everyone plan!
- fruit, particularly bananas, apricots and plums
- vegetables (when cooking vegetables you will retain more potassium if you don’t cook them in water, or if you do, use the water to make stock or soup).
- nuts and seeds
To break it down into a subset of high potassium single foods, in descending order these foods are the richest sources:
- Potatoes – YAY!
- Plain yoghurt
- Sunflower seeds
Err, “Hello fitnat plan!”
I’m not eating enough of those foods, so should I take supplements?
The way forward is not to take supplements* (unless prescribed by a doctor or medical professional) but to ensure adequate intake of potassium rich foods.
You can do this by becoming a member of the eatnaturally for everyone plan where we’ve already done all the thinking about potassium and nutrients and everything else. We write a new meal plan each week that’s packed with variety and for every palette.
* Taking vitamin and mineral supplements without medical diagnosis of a deficiency and without prescription risks overdosing on certain nutrients and affecting the delicate relationship and synergy between nutrients.
Hold on a mo… what about too much potassium?
I haven’t spoken about getting too much potassium here as it’s rare unless you are taking supplements or have a medical condition or are taking medications that cause it. But that’s a pretty serious situation too.