Potassium is an electrolyte, and is one of the body’s seven essential microminerals.1,2 While the body only needs trace amounts of it, a proper potassium balance is crucial to maintaining good health.
The amount of potassium you need each day depends on your age and sex.3 The recently updated guidelines issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend that adult men should consume 3,400mg of potassium daily and women should consume 2,600mg daily.4
Among its many functions in our body, potassium helps maintain normal blood pressure by limiting the effects of sodium, helps muscles contract, and helps maintain our body’s balance of fluids.4 Potassium may also reduce the risk of recurrent kidney stones.
Blood pressure. Chronic high blood pressure increases risk of death by cardiovascular disease. High levels of dietary potassium have been linked to decreased risk for stroke and coronary heart disease.5 According to the American Heart Association, potassium helps regulate the amount of sodium in the body. The more potassium you eat, the more sodium you lose through urine.6 Potassium can also help lessen tension in your blood vessel walls, which helps further lower blood pressure.6
Nerve Impulses. As an electroyte, potassium is essential for nerve impulses in the body.7 Like other electrolytes, when potassium is exposed to water, it dissolves into positive ions, which can conduct electricity. Sodium is also an electrolyte that dissolves into positive ions, and works synergistically with potassium to create nerve impulses. As potassium ions move out of cells, sodium ions move into cells. This pump-like movement causes an electrical charge in the cells, which activates nerve impulses. These nerve impulses are what regulate muscle contractions in the body, including our heartbeat, as well as a number of other functions.7
Fluid and mineral balance. The water in your body is a combination of intracellular fluid (ICF) (the water inside cells) and extracellular fluid (ECF) (the water outside cells [e.g., blood, spinal fluid]). ICF levels are regulated by potassium, while ECF levels are regulated by sodium. Together these two electrolytes help maintain the proper balance of water throughout the body.7–12 If the ratio of potassium to sodium is out of whack, the water from the side with fewer electrolytes will be drawn to the side with more electrolytes, which can cause cells to either shrink as water leaves them or to swell and burst as water moves into them. This can cause cell damage, dehydration, and hypo- or hyperglycemia.7–12
Preventing kidney stones. Chronic dehydration is a major risk factor for developing kidney stones.7 Without proper hydration, hardened mineral deposits can form in the kidneys (i.e., kidney stones). Calcium stones are the most common type of kidney stone, and research has shown that higher potassium intake, along with proper hydration, can decrease the amount of calcium released in the urine, thus reducing the risk of calcium stone formatoin in the kidneys.10 It’s important to note, however, that kidney stones can be caused by a number of factors, and increased potassium intake (along with proper hydration) is only one of a number of potential preventative measures. If you suffer from kidney stones, it is important to consult with a urologist to determine the best treatment plan for you.
A variety of foods can help you meet your daily potassium needs, and most people get enough by eating a well-balanced diet. Here are some of the best sources of potassium:
Vegetables: acorn squash, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms1,2,5
Fruits: bananas, dried apricots, raisins, prunes, citrus, avocadoes, cantaloupe, and honeydew1,5
Dairy: 1% milk, low fat yogurt5
Meat: lean beef, chicken, turkey, tuna, halibut, wild salmon1,5
Other: molasses, bran products, granola, peanut butter, nuts and seeds5,6
Potassium serves critical functions in our bodies. It helps maintain normal blood pressure, regulates muscle contractions, including our heart beat, and helps maintain fluid balance in body. To ensure you are receiving the daily recommended amount of potassium in your diet, eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Lean meat and fish also contain potassium.
- United States Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). Potassium: fact sheet for consumers. Updated 11 July 2019. National Institutes of Health website. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Potassium-Consumer/. Accessed 24 Feb 2021.
- US National Library of Medicine. Potassium. Updated 4 Dec 2020. Medline Plus site. https://medlineplus.gov/potassium.html#summary. Accessed 24 Feb 2021.
- Cogswell M, Zhang Z, Carriquiry A, et al. Sodium and potassium intakes among US adults: NHANES 2003–2008. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(3):647-657.
- Klemm S. What Is potassium? Updated 2 March 2021. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/what-is-potassium. Accessed 4 March 2021.
- Staruschenko, A. Beneficial effects of high potassium. Hypertension. 2018;71(6): 1015–1022.
- American Heart Association website. How potassium can help control high blood pressure. Updated 31 Oct 2016. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/how-potassium-can-help-control-high-blood-pressure. Accessed 25 Feb 2021.
- Ramen R. What does potassium do for your body? a detailed review. 9 Sep 2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-does-potassium-do#TOC_TITLE_HDR_4. Accessed 15 Apr 2021.
- Daniels MC, Popkin BM. Impact of water intake on energy intake and weight status: a systematic review. Nutr Rev. 2010;68(9):505–521.
- Roumelioti ME, Glew RH, Khitan ZJ, et al. Fluid balance concepts in medicine: principles and practice. World J Nephrol. 2018;7(1):1–28.
- Loughlin KR. What causes kidney stones (and what to do). 17 May 2019. Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School website. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-causes-kidney-stones-and-what-to-do-2019051716656. Accessed 25 Feb 2021.
- Kowey P. The role of potassium. In: Lobo RA, Crosignani PG, Paoletti R, Bruschi F (eds). Women’s Health and Menopause. Boston, MA: Springer; 2002:151-152.
- US National Library of Medicine. Fluid and electrolyte balance. Medline Plus site. https://medlineplus.gov/fluidandelectrolytebalance.html. Accessed 8 Mar 2021.