You read that right. Only 2% of American adults regularly get the daily recommendation of potassium. Yes, it’s common not to get enough nutrients, but 98% not getting enough potassium is a lot. And Dr. Flynn was one of them for a long time! He was getting more than most people but not as much as he should have been. Few people know how important it is to get enough potassium and what this vital nutrient does. That’s leaving many Americans severely deficient in this mineral.
What is Potassium?
Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the human body and is a critical part of many biological processes. It’s also an important electrolyte. Electrolytes help with electrical processes in the body, such as nerve function, muscle contractions, and fluid balance.
Every cell in your body, including brain and muscle cells, has something called a sodium-potassium exchange pump. This pump exchanges electrolytes to create electrical activity. The movement of sodium and potassium in and out of the cells gives us energy and helps with brain activity. It ultimately impacts processes throughout the body, which shows you why having good sodium and potassium levels is critical.
While many people get plenty of sodium, unfortunately, it’s not usually good salt, and they don’t tend to get enough potassium. That’s even true in healthy people! But some people have specific risk factors for low potassium levels. Those at risk for a potassium deficiency include people with inflammatory bowel disease (like Crohn’s disease), those who use laxatives or diuretics, those with chronic kidney disease, and even those with a magnesium deficiency.
Potassium may help:
- Stimulate neural activity
- Stabilize blood sugar
- Promote pH balance (acidity and alkalinity)
- Strengthen muscles and reduce muscle disorders
- Prevent cramps
- Enhance bone health (increased bone mineral density)
- Regulate neural function
- Stabilize blood pressure, reducing hypertension
- Increase metabolism
- Reduce anxiety and stress
- Improve heart health and reduce the risk of stroke
- Maintain water balance
You can see why it’s so important to increase your potassium intake!
How Much Potassium Do You Need?
The recommended daily value of potassium for an adult is 4,700 mg, based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Now, recommended daily amounts are what we think of as the bare minimum of what you need. To put that in perspective, let’s talk about that fruit everyone recommends you eat when you get a leg cramp – the banana. How much potassium is in a banana? 422 mg of potassium are in a banana. You need to eat almost a dozen bananas to get your daily recommended amounts of potassium. Now there are many potassium sources, and you want to eat a variety of vegetables. Depending on what types you eat, you need to eat between 5-12 cups of vegetables a day.
Your body doesn’t store potassium, so you need to eat potassium daily to get enough. How many of you are eating enough vegetables? If you’re not, you’re not alone. Only 1 in 10 Americans get the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables every day, let alone ones with enough potassium.
What Are Signs of Potassium Deficiency?
Because potassium is essential for many biological processes, there are several clear signs of potassium deficiency. Here are some indicators of hypokalemia (low potassium) to look for.
- Weakness and fatigue
- Digestive problems (constipation)
- Heart palpitations
- High blood pressure
- Kidney stones
- Low calcium in bones
- Tingling and numbness
- Mood changes
- Brain fog or slow thought
- Muscle cramps, aches, spasms,
- Muscle weakness that’s noticeable when going upstairs
Because severe hypokalemia can decrease brain function, cause muscle paralysis, and cause an irregular heartbeat and difficulty breathing, it can be life-threatening.
What Can Improve My Potassium Levels?
Sugar impacts your potassium levels negatively by increasing potassium excretion. Sugar competes and depletes your potassium and B1. So, even all those healthy sugars can reduce your potassium levels. That means even the organic sugar or sugar in that banana. Avoiding sugar is good for your potassium levels, and there are many benefits to giving up sugar.
You will dump a lot of potassium when you are under heightened stress. That’s why you get puffy when you are under a lot of stress — the sodium causes you to puff up when your body is losing potassium. We can never stress enough how important it is for your health to reduce stress!
Eat Potassium-Rich Foods
Make a point to eat potassium-rich foods like leafy greens, lentils, kidney beans, and cantaloupe. Not all potassium-rich foods taste good, according to Doc:
“Beet greens are horrible, and Swiss chard is not that great. You can spice them up and sauté them up to make them tolerable. Not good – just tolerable. I don’t like all the foods I eat, but I eat them because I like feeling good.”
Below are Doc’s top 6 favorite food sources of potassium.
Best Potassium-rich foods:
Here are some of the best potassium-rich foods with their potassium content listed:
- Beet greens 1100-1300 mg
- White beans 950-1100 mg
- Avocado 750-950 mg
- Swiss chard 700-900 mg
- Salmon 600-700 mg
- Coconut water 500-600 mg
We recommend not going overboard on orange juice, dried fruits like apricots and prunes, white beans, and other potassium-rich foods that may spike your insulin levels. You also want to watch for added sugars and other ingredients in your coconut water. Foods that cause less insulin response are better for getting potassium. You’ll also find decent amounts of potassium in clams, acorn squash, spinach, and mushrooms. While soybeans are rich in potassium, we at the Wellness Way don’t recommend soybeans or soy-based products.
Is It Possible To Get Too Much Potassium?
According to the Potassium Fact Sheet from the NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements, certain people are at risk of hyperkalemia (abnormally high levels of potassium). Those who use certain medications like ACE inhibitors and potassium-sparing diuretics are at greater risk of excess potassium, as are those with chronic kidney disease, type 1 diabetes, heart failure, liver disease, or adrenal insufficiency. People who have compromised kidneys and use salt substitutes made from potassium chloride are also more likely to have excess amounts of potassium. Talk to your health care provider about taking potassium if you’re concerned about excess potassium.
Supplement to Get Enough Potassium
It can be hard to find a good supplement because the medical community fears potassium supplementation. It can be dangerous for those with kidney disease or taking certain medications. Talk with a knowledgeable health professional to determine how much potassium would be proper for you. It is hard to find a high-quality supplement with a good amount of potassium, so check out this potassium citrate from The Wellness Way.
Take Steps to Get Enough Potassium
Few people know what potassium does, let alone realize they are deficient in it. Don’t be one of the 98% of Americans with inadequate potassium levels. Getting enough potassium can lower your risks of developing heart disease, stroke, and fatty liver disease. It helps your body function optimally and is worth eating vegetables for!