Potassium is one of the seven essential macrominerals, along with calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, chloride, and sulfur. We require at least 100 milligrams of potassium daily to support key bodily processes.
High potassium intakes are associated with a 20 percent decreased risk of dying from all causes, a reduced risk of stroke, lower blood pressure, protection against loss of muscle mass, preservation of bone mineral density, and reduction in the formation of kidney stones.
Potassium's primary functions in the body include regulating fluid balance and controlling the electrical activity of the heart and other muscles.
Potassium is an electrolyte that counteracts the effects of sodium, helping to maintain a healthy blood pressure. It is also important for maintaining acid-base balance.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular vitamins and minerals. It provides an in-depth look at recommended intake of potassium, its possible health benefits, foods high in potassium, and any potential health risks of consuming potassium.
Contents of this article:
The Adequate Intake recommendation for potassium is 4,700 milligrams per day for adults. Most adults fall far short of this recommendation. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) report, the average potassium intake for Americans is 2,640 milligrams per day, a number that has remained unchanged since the 1990s.
High potassium intakes are associated with a 20 percent decreased risk of dying from all causes.
NHANES also reported that fewer than 2 percent of people meet the daily 4,700-milligram potassium requirement, with women consuming less potassium than men on average.
The World Health Organization recommends an intake of 3,510 milligrams per day and agrees that most of the world's population is not meeting this recommendation.
Potassium supplements are available, but it is best to obtain any vitamin or mineral through food. It is not the individual vitamin or mineral alone that make certain foods an important part of our diet, but the synergy of the food's nutrients working together.
It has been proven that isolating certain nutrients in supplement form will not provide the same health benefits as consuming the nutrient from a whole food. It is best to obtain your daily potassium requirement from foods and only use supplements as a backup.
Possible health benefits of consuming potassium
Blood pressure and cardiovascular health
Low potassium intakes have been linked time and again with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Most people know that maintaining a low sodium intake is essential to lowering blood pressure, but ensuring a good intake of potassium may be just as important.
An increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium is the most important dietary change a person can make to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, according to Dr. Mark Houston, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt Medical School and director of the Hypertension Institute at St Thomas Hospital in Tennessee.
In one study, those who consumed 4,069 milligrams of potassium per day had a 49 percent lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed less potassium (about 1,000 milligrams per day).
Bone and muscle maintenance
Potassium-rich foods promote an alkaline environment in the body, unlike the common acidosis caused by the typical Western diet. Metabolic acidosis is triggered by a diet full of acidifying foods like meat, dairy and processed cereal grains, which can cause nitrogen excretion, loss in bone mineral density and muscle wasting.
One study found that participants that took in 5,266 milligrams of potassium per day maintained an average of 3.6 more pounds of lean tissue mass than those with a potassium intake 50 percent lower. Some studies also show an increase in bone density with high potassium intake.
Foods high in potassium
Potassium is found in many whole, unprocessed foods. Some of the best sources of potassium are leafy greens, avocados, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, and bananas. Processing greatly reduces the amount of potassium in a food; therefore a diet high in processed foods is likely low in potassium. Many processed foods are also high in sodium, and as sodium consumption rises, increased potassium is needed to negate sodium's effect on blood pressure. A good rule of thumb is to have a high potassium fruit or vegetable with each meal.
Avocados are a great source of potassium. Half an avocado contains 602 milligrams of the mineral.
- Potato, large, baked, with skin: 845 milligrams
- Sweet potato, baked (146 grams): 694 milligrams
- Avocado, ½ medium: 602 milligrams
- Cantaloupe, raw, 1 cup: 417 milligrams
- Mushrooms, 10 small: 415 milligrams
- Beet greens, cooked, ½ cup: 650 milligrams
- White beans, canned, ½ cup: 595 milligrams
- Tomatoes, 1 cup: 528 milligrams
- Soybeans, green, cooked ½ cup: 485 milligrams
- Lima beans, cooked, ½ cup: 484 milligrams
- Winter squash, cooked, ½ cup: 448 milligrams
- Banana, 1 medium: 422 milligrams
- Spinach, cooked, ½ cup: 419 milligrams
- Yogurt, low fat, plain: 398 milligrams
- Pear, 1 medium: 333 milligrams
- Mango, 1 medium: 323 milligrams
- Orange, 1 medium: 300 milligrams
- Pistachios, dried, 1 ounce: 310 milligrams
- Raisins, ¼ cup: 271 milligrams
Potential health risks of consuming potassium
For individuals with healthy kidneys, excess amounts of potassium are efficiently excreted in urine with no adverse side effects. There have been a small number of reports of potassium toxicity associated with an extremely high intake of potassium supplements. No potassium toxicity has ever been reported related to food consumption.
Consuming too much potassium can be harmful to those whose kidneys are not fully functional. Some sports supplements and salt substitutes contain high levels of potassium, which have been linked to two cases of cardiac arrest. If your kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal due to the effects of potassium on the heart.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual nutrients as the key to good health.