Potassium in diet
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Potassium in diet

Definition

Potassium is a mineral that is needed for your body to work properly. It is a type of electrolyte.

Alternative Names

Diet - potassium

Function

Potassium is a very important mineral to the human body.

Your body needs potassium to:

  • Build proteins
  • Break down and use carbohydrates
  • Build muscle
  • Maintain normal body growth
  • Control the electrical activity of the heart
  • Control the acid-base balance

Food Sources

Many foods contain potassium. All meats (red meat and chicken) and fish such as salmon, cod, flounder, and sardines are good sources of potassium. Soy products and veggie burgers are also good sources of potassium.

Vegetables including broccoli, peas, lima beans, tomatoes, potatoes (especially their skins), sweet potatoes, and winter squashes are all good sources of potassium.

Fruits that contain significant sources of potassium include citrus fruits, cantaloupe, bananas, kiwi, prunes, and apricots. Dried apricots contain more potassium than fresh apricots.

Milk and yogurt, as well as nuts, are also excellent sources of potassium.

People with kidney problems, especially those on dialysis, should not eat too many potassium-rich foods. The doctor or nurse will recommend a special diet.

Side Effects

Having too much or too little potassium in the body can have very serious consequences.

A low blood level of potassium is called hypokalemia. It can cause weak muscles, abnormal heart rhythms, and a slight rise in blood pressure. You may have hypokalemia if you:

  • Take diuretics (water pills) for the treatment of high blood pressure or heart failure
  • Take too many laxatives
  • Have severe or prolonged vomiting and diarrhea
  • Have certain kidney or adrenal gland disorders

Too much potassium in the blood is known as hyperkalemia. It may cause abnormal and dangerous heart rhythms. Some common causes include:

  • Poor kidney function
  • Heart medicines called angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin 2 receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Potassium-sparing diuretics (water pills) such as spironolactone or amiloride
  • Severe infection

Recommendations

The Food and Nutrition Center of the Institute of Medicine has established the following recommended dietary intakes for potassium:

Infants

  • 0 - 6 months: 0.4 grams a day (g/day)
  • 7 - 12 months: 0.7 g/day

Children and Adolescents

  • 1 - 3 years: 3 g/day
  • 4 - 8 years: 3.8 g/day
  • 9 - 13 years: 4.5 g/day
  • 14 - 18 years: 4.7 g/day

Adults

  • Age 19 and older: 4.7 g/day

Women who are producing breast milk need slightly higher amounts (5.1 g/day). Ask your doctor what amount is best for you.

Persons who are being treated for hypokalemia need potassium supplements. Your health care provider will develop a supplementation plan based on your specific needs.

References

Panel on Dietary Reference Intakes for Electrolytes and Water, Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2004.

United States Department of Agriculture. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2010. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2010.


Review Date: 6/23/2012
Reviewed By: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc. Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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