Why And When You Should Be Eating More Potassium

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Foods containing potassium on a wooden table

By Jillian Tuchman, MS, RD

Potassium: If you’re like most people, you probably know that you need it, and that bananas have it, but not much more. Compared to other minerals like calcium and sodium, potassium doesn’t get much fanfare–but the truth is, it’s absolutely essential to life.

So what does it do, exactly? For one thing, as one of the body’s electrolytes, potassium plays a crucial role in hundreds of biochemical processes, from fluid regulation to nerve transmission and blood pressure balance. Plus, it’s also essential for muscle function, including that big one, the heart.

RICH SOURCES OF POTASSIUM

You’re on the right track for getting plenty of potassium if you eat lots of vegetables and fruit, but some have higher amounts than others, including:

Other good sources include white beans, fish (such as halibut and salmon), lentils, almonds, tomatoes, spinach, pumpkin seeds, raisins, and full-fat plain yogurt.

ARE POTASSIUM SUPPLEMENTS RIGHT FOR ME?

There’s a reason you don’t hear much about potassium supplementation: The body does a remarkable job at regulating potassium levels on its own.

People who eat a lot of processed foods need more potassium, however, because those foods contain a lot of sodium. Potassium and sodium balance each other, so when you have too much of one, you have to increase the other. Think about it this way: Someone who eats a lot of salty processed foods (chips, crackers, processed meats) can balance things out by eating more fresh produce (hello, potassium).

Ideally, adults should be getting about 4,700 milligrams a day – it might sound like a lot, but considering an average sweet potato has close to 1,000 milligrams, it’s totally doable. Getting adequate amounts of potassium is crucial all the day, but it’s especially critical in summer and when you’re a workout boss, as potassium is lost through sweat and urination.

Also important to remember: magnesium helps get potassium ions across cellular membranes so it can do its thing within the cell, which means that maintaining adequate levels of magnesium is crucial to making sure your potassium levels are where they need to be. So, throw a banana into that blender with some yogurt, garnish with pumpkin seeds and it will be the perfect snack after your hot yoga class.

 

Bio: As a Registered Dietitian, with a Master’s degree in Nutrition from New York University, Jillian is also a Level 2 Reiki practitioner and an eight-year student of Ayurveda. In addition to a private practice in New York City, Jillian served as Director of Nutrition for Aloha, where she created a best-selling detox program.

Also published on Medium.