The Power of Potassium

Laura Brieser-SmithMinerals are important to the human body because they play a role in regulating many of the body’s functions. One of these important minerals is potassium. Potassium is involved in nerve signal transmission, muscle contraction, fluid balance, pH balance, protein and carbohydrate metabolism, and other chemical reactions. Potassium works in opposition to sodium and can help to maintain normal blood pressure.

There are many factors that affect your potassium levels. Of course what you eat is important. Since your body cannot make potassium, it relies on food consumption (or supplements) to meet daily requirements. However, there are other factors that can affect your potassium levels. One of the most common is taking diuretic medications (“water pills”). These medications work to remove excess fluid from your system, and they also remove significant amounts of potassium. Excessive sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea are health problems that can also lower your potassium levels. While it is impossible to tell for sure if you have a potassium deficiency without a blood test, some common symptoms include weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps, constipation, and abnormal heart rhythms. Some people have potassium levels that are too high. This is especially common with kidney disease. Limiting potassium intake will be important for those individuals.

The average adult needs 4.7 grams of potassium per day. The good news is that it is relatively easy to get all the potassium you need each day from foods. The following foods are some of the best sources: apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, dates, pears, prunes, raisins, strawberries, watermelon, beets, broccoli, mushrooms, peas, potatoes, spinach and other greens, tomatoes, soy and soy foods, legumes, turkey, beef, salmon, cod, milk, and yogurt.

While some people with low potassium levels may need to take a potassium supplement, it is best to get as much as possible from the foods you eat. Do not start taking a potassium supplement without checking with your doctor first.

Laura Brieser-Smith, RD, MPH, CHFS is the owner of Healthy Designs, LLC which provides nutrition counseling and personal training to clients in their homes or offices. She can be reached at 303-635-1131 or at

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