Skip to Content

Getting Enough Potassium

Topic Overview

Why is potassium important?

Your body needs potassium to help your muscles contract, maintain fluid balance, and maintain a normal blood pressure. Normal potassium levels in the body help to keep the heart beating regularly. Potassium may help reduce your risk of kidney stones and also bone loss as you age.

Healthy kidneys keep the right amount of potassium in the blood to keep the heart beating at a steady pace. If you have kidney disease, potassium levels can rise and affect your heartbeat. Be sure to talk with your health professional to determine if you should restrict your intake of foods that contain large amounts of potassium.

What is the recommended daily amount of potassium?

Most people do not get enough potassium.

Recommended potassium by age1
Age (years) Recommended potassium intake (milligrams a day)
1–3 3,000
4–8 3,800
9–13 4,500
14 and older 4,700
Women who are breast-feeding 5,100

Women who are pregnant need the same amount of potassium as other women their age.

How can you get more potassium?

Potassium is in many foods, including vegetables, fruits, and milk products. You can figure out how much potassium is in a food by looking at the percent daily value section on the nutrition facts label. The food label assumes the daily value of potassium is 3,500 mg. So if one serving of a food has a daily value of 20% of potassium, that food has 700 mg of potassium in one serving. Potassium is not required to be listed on a food label, but it can be listed.

Estimates of potassium in certain foods2
Food Serving size Potassium amount (milligrams)
Cooked spinach 1 cup 840 mg
Sweet potato 1 medium 695 mg
Plain nonfat yogurt 8 ounces 579 mg
Banana 1 cup 540 mg
Cooked broccoli 1 cup 460 mg
Cantaloupe 1 cup 430 mg
Tomato 1 cup 430 mg
Fat-free milk 8 ounces 380 mg
Strawberries 1 cup 255 mg

Tips for adding potassium foods to your healthy diet:

  • Add spinach or other leafy greens to your sandwiches.
  • Toss fresh or dried apricots into plain nonfat yogurt for a snack.
  • Enjoy a cup of low-sodium bean soup for lunch.
  • Eat a small baked potato or sweet potato instead of bread at dinner.

Are there any risks from potassium?

A potassium level that is too high or too low can be serious. Abnormal potassium levels may cause symptoms such as muscle cramps or weakness, nausea, diarrhea, frequent urination, dehydration, low blood pressure, confusion, irritability, paralysis, and changes in heart rhythm. Potassium supplements are prescribed by a doctor, usually after testing for potassium in the blood or potassium in urine. Do not start taking potassium supplements on your own.

People who have kidney disease and/or take blood pressure medicines such as ACE inhibitors should find out from a doctor if they should avoid foods high in potassium.

Low-potassium foods include:

  • Apples.
  • Blueberries.
  • Cabbage.
  • Carrots.
  • Pineapple.
  • Squash.

References

Citations

  1. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine (2011). Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Recommended dietary allowances and adequate intakes, elements. Available online: http://iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/New%20Material/2_%20RDA%20and%20AI%20Values_Vitamin%20and%20Elements.pdf.
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (2012). Nutrient data laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 25. Available online: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov.

Other Works Consulted

  • Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine (2011). Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Recommended dietary allowances and adequate intakes, elements. Available online: http://iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/New%20Material/2_%20RDA%20and%20AI%20Values_Vitamin%20and%20Elements.pdf.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Tushar J. Vachharajani, MD, FASN, FACP - Nephrology
Current as of August 29, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Also in this Section