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Published on November 09, 2021

variety of foods high in potassium

Why Potassium is Good for Your Body

Potassium is essential in our daily diet. Yes, you can get it from bananas, but when you know exactly what potassium does for our energy and function on a cellular level – you’ll realize it’s a big deal

This electrolyte is found mostly in our cells, especially cells in our muscles, bones and blood, said Faizan Syed, MD, Avera Medical Group nephrology specialist.

“It helps process energy function in these cells, and that means everything we do – from walking to sports to just sitting and standing – depends on it,” Syed said.

Potassium is also found in the liver and makes up a lot of the structure in our kidneys. As a kidney health physician, Syed said almost everyone can use more potassium in their diets. Our bodies were designed to use it in large amounts.

The nutrient does many things, including:

  • Provides heart muscle cells the energy they need to function
  • Eliminates the impact of high sodium (salt) on our bodies
  • Regulates blood pressure
  • Helps kidneys function properly

The most severe response to low potassium can lead to arrhythmia or other heart problems. Less severe effects of low potassium can include fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps or twitching or constipation.

“If you’ve ever had pre-surgical labs and were told that you’d have to come back another time due to low potassium, the reason behind it is to protect your heart function.”

How Low Potassium Happens

Medication side effects are a key factor – beyond diet – that might lead to dangerously low levels of potassium.

“Blood pressure medications, as well as some used to treat liver and kidney conditions can reduce the level of potassium in your body. Work with your provider and care team to ensure your diet and meds are working well together.

Genetics – family history – can contribute to potassium level problems as well. But overall, diet problems account for a majority of issues that rise from not getting enough of this essential nutrient.

Look to Foods to Find Your Potassium

Natural food sources of potassium are best to increase your potassium level. Potassium-rich foods include:

  • Bananas
  • Leafy green vegetables like spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Beans and lentils
  • Avocado
  • Potatoes
  • Acorn or butternut squash
  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Nuts including cashews and almonds

Magnesium, calcium and potassium all collaborate to allow our bodies to do their work. Syed said you should get about 3,500 milligrams of potassium in your food each day. Doing so offers these benefits:

  • Less chance of stroke, heart disease or heart attack
  • Stronger bones
  • More regulated blood pressure
  • Stronger muscles that can do what you want them to do

“Most people realize that high-sodium diets can lead to high blood pressure, but we might not realize how well potassium can offset this problem,” said Syed.

Who Should Avoid Too Much Potassium

People with pre-existing kidney or heart problems should talk with their provider to ensure their diet does not include too much potassium. “It’s mostly a problem for patients who have stage 4 or 5 kidney disease,” said Syed. “There are other conditions, too.”

Talk to your provider if you have more questions. Yearly checkups can help you better understand your body’s chemistry and the levels of nutrients. “Unless you’re specifically told to cut potassium – get more,” Syed said.

Learn more about your diet and how to make it healthier.

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