Potassium: What It Is, How It Works, Why You Need It

Potassium is a naturally-occurring mineral and key nutrient for good health. Your nerves and muscles need it to function properly. It supports digestive and kidney health, regulates blood pressure, and helps build strong bones. In addition, is also important for your heart.

It is found in a wide range of foods, especially fruits and vegetables such as leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, pumpkins, potatoes, carrots and beans. It’s also found in dairy foods, meat, poultry, fish and nuts.





Potassium: What Is It?

It is a mineral that helps your cells work the right way. It helps make the electricity that lets your cells do their jobs. Your nerves and muscles, including your heart, might not work the way they should if you don’t get enough.



Potassium: How Much Per Day?

If you’re 14 or older, you should get about 4,700 milligrams a day. Breastfeeding mothers need more: 5,100 milligrams.

For children:

  • 0 to 6 months: 400 milligrams
  • 7 to 12 months: 700 milligrams
  • 1 to 3 years: 3,000 milligrams
  • 4 to 8 years: 3,800 milligrams
  • 9 to 13 years: 4,500 milligrams


Potassium: Osteoporosis

As people age, their bones tend to get brittle. The typical diet in the U.S. doesn’t help, either. Lots of meat and dairy can cause your body to make too much acid, and that can weaken your bones faster. Foods, rich in this mineral, mostly fruits and vegetables can slow it down.



Potassium: Prevents Kidney Stones

These are hard little balls made from minerals in your urine, and they can really hurt if they get stuck. More acid in your body, often because of a meat-rich diet, makes you more likely to get them. Potassium helps get rid of acid, which keeps those minerals in your bones and prevents painful stones.



Potassium: Good For Your Muscles

You need just the right amount inside your cells, and sodium outside your cells, for your muscles to work well. Too little, or too much, of either can make your muscles weak or make them squeeze when you don’t want them to.


Regulates Blood Pressure

This is when blood pushes too hard against the walls of your veins and arteries. It can lead to stroke, heart disease, and heart failure. It’s often called “the silent killer” because you rarely have symptoms. The sodium in salt makes it worse, but potassium can help you get rid of sodium and ease tension in the walls of your blood vessels.



Potassium: Prevents Strokes

A stroke is when blood flow is limited or cut off to part of your brain, often because a blood vessel burst or got blocked. High blood pressure can play a role in that, so you’re less likely to have one if you keep that under control and get the right amount. Signs of a stroke include slurred speech, arm weakness, or drooping on one side of your face. If you have any of these, get medical help right away.



Potassium: Foods To Eat, Bananas

A single medium banana has 422 milligrams of potassium. Have one as a snack or slice it onto your cereal. You can even bake some banana bread. Just don’t soak or cook them, they lose potassium that way.



Potassium: Foods To Eat, Potatoes

A medium potato baked with skin has a whopping 926 milligrams of potassium. Of course, if you load it up with butter and sour cream, you might end up causing more health problems than that potassium can solve. So enjoy your baked potato, but keep the extras to a minimum.



Foods To Eat, Prunes

A half cup of dried prunes has 637 milligrams of potassium, and loads of fiber as well. (If you’d rather drink your prunes, 6 ounces of juice has almost as much.) They go great with nuts and cheese, or even baked into a tart — just don’t overdo the sugar and fat.



Foods To Eat, Oranges

A medium orange should get you about 237 milligrams of potassium, and 6 ounces of juice delivers about 372 milligrams. They’re healthy and full of vitamins and minerals, but they also have sugar, so don’t get carried away.



Foods To Eat, Tomatoes

A medium tomato has about 292 milligrams, but how often do you eat a whole tomato? Try some pasta marinara to get a good amount: A cup of tomato puree has 1,065 milligrams, and a cup of tomato paste has 2,455 milligrams — more than half your daily allowance.



Foods To Eat, Lima Beans

They’re loaded with fiber, low in sugar and fat, and they have 485 milligrams of potassium in each half cup. You can soak them overnight to make them easier to digest. If you don’t have that kind of time, the frozen or canned versions work, too.



Foods To Eat, Sunflower Seeds

Looking for something crunchy to get your potassium fix? These have 241 milligrams per ounce. And they’re full of other vitamins and nutrients as well.




If you don’t have enough potassium in your system, your muscles can get weak and you might be tired often. You also might have cramps or constipation. It’s possible to have hypokalemia (low potassium levels) because you don’t get enough potassium in your diet, but it’s more likely to happen because of severe vomiting or diarrhea, overuse of diuretics or laxatives, or alcohol abuse.

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