When you think of potassium what comes to mind?
Most people know you can get potassium from bananas and it helps with muscle cramps, but there is a lot more to this important mineral than that.
Potassium is an electrolyte, arguably the most important electrolyte because we require so much of it, and it is necessary for so many aspects of living.
An electrolyte is a mineral that helps conduct electricity in the body. Some of the most important electrolytes are potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, and chloride.
Potassium is the only electrolyte we need in large quantities.
According to Health Canada adults should be getting 4,700mg of potassium a day. Children from ages 1-3 should be getting 3,000mg, children from 4-8 need 3,800mg, and from 9-13 years old you need 4,500mg.
4,700mg is supposed to be the minimum we get but most people don’t even get that. You’d need to eat 7-10 cups of salad a day to get enough potassium, which isn’t going to happen day after day.
Potassium is needed to generate two major types of pumps in the body.
The first is a sodium-potassium (Na+-K+) pump. This pump forms an enzyme of the surface of your cells. It generates electricity that allows things to go through the cell. Because of this, these pumps require a lot of energy to work.
You have 800,000 to 30,000,000 of these pumps in your body.
Na+-K+ pumps are also important for your muscles and nervous system. They are responsible for exchanging nutrition (amino acids, glucose, calcium) in and out of cells. These pumps use about 60% of your body’s caloric intake of energy.
The other pump potassium is essential for is hydrogen-potassium ATPase (H+-K+-ATPase) pump. This pump allows for the production of stomach acid, which is necessary for digestion.
Potassium is essential for building these pumps, charging cells, helping muscle contract and relax, controlling the transportation of calcium, producing electricity for nerves, transporting fluids (keeping the body hydrated), and overall physical energy.
If most people don’t get enough potassium on a daily basis, are they all potassium deficient? Maybe a better question is, what causes potassium deficiency?
However, before we look at what causes potassium deficiency, it is important to understand what the symptoms are.
Potassium Deficiency Symptoms
- Fatigue (low energy levels and muscle fatigue)
- Fluid retention
- Palpitations (irregular heartbeat)
- High blood pressure
- Tingling or numbness
What Causes Potassium Deficiency?
- A poor diet (a diet lacking potassium rich vegetables)
- Vomiting/ diarrhea
- Stress (causes potassium loss through urine)
- Surgery (stress from surgery dumps potassium)
- Sugar (insulin resistance) – Increased potassium can reduce insulin levels and help prevent diabetes.
- Diuretics (like blood-pressure medication) – If you’re low in potassium your blood pressure will go up, and increased potassium levels can help lower blood pressure.
- Salt – Sodium and potassium need to be balanced, but people tend to get a lot more salt than potassium, causing an imbalance.
- Ketogenic diets – If you’re on a ketogenic diet (high-fat, low-carb) you need to consume more potassium-rich vegetables because you’re burning more fat/calories.
Good Whole Food Sources of Potassium
You should get your potassium from food or a food concentrate like wheatgrass juice powder.
The problem with potassium supplements is that it’s hard to get enough potassium just through supplements, plus you’re going to create an unbalanced ratio of minerals. Real food ensures you’re getting a good mix of important nutrients. Here are some of the top good whole food sources of potassium.
- Avocado 1068mg (23% DV) 1 whole
- Sweet potato 952mg (20% DV) 1 medium
- Acorn Squash 899mg (19% DV) 1 cup
- Spinach 839mg (18% DV) 1 cup
- Dried Apricots 755mg (16% DV) ½ cup
- Coconut Water 600mg (13% DV) 1 cup
- Kefir 579mg (12% DV) 1 cup
- White Beans 502mg (11% DV) ½ cup
- Mushrooms 428mg (9% DV) 1 cup
- Bananas 422mg (9% DV) 1 Large
You’ll notice that bananas (the most well-known source of potassium) are at the bottom of this list. Avocados, sweet potatoes, acorn squash, and spinach are all far better sources of this important mineral.
Start adding potassium-rich foods to your diet and give your body the energy it needs!