Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Potassium

Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte in your body. Electrolytes are compounds that are able to conduct an electrical current.

Functions  ^

Potassium's functions include helping to:

Recommended Intake  ^

Most people should aim to get close to 5,000 milligrams (mg) of potassium per day.

Age Estimated Minimum Requirement of Potassium
(mg)
9-13 years 4,500
> 13 years 4,700

Potassium Deficiency  ^

Severe potassium deficiency leads to a low potassium level in the blood, called hypokalemia. But a potassium deficiency is rare in healthy people. However, certain conditions can cause the body to lose significant amounts of potassium. Examples of these conditions include:

Signs of a severe potassium deficiency include the following:

If hypokalemia persists, it can lead to irregular heartbeat. This can dangerously decrease the heart's ability to pump blood.

In addition, people who are on high blood pressure medication should ask their doctor about the need for a potassium supplement.

Potassium Toxicity  ^

Potassium is rarely toxic because excess amounts are usually excreted in the urine. However, people with kidney problems may be unable to properly excrete potassium, allowing it to build up in the bloodstream (called hyperkalemia). Therefore, people with kidney problems need to closely monitor their potassium intake.

Hyperkalemia can also lead to weakness, an irregular, sometimes fatal heartbeat, and constipation.

Major Food Sources  ^

Potassium is found in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Less processed foods tend to have more potassium.

Here are some examples of foods that are high in potassium from the United States Department of Agriculture:

Food (amount) Serving Size Potassium Content
(mg)
White beans, canned 1/2 cup 595
Potato, baked with skin 1 medium 610
Lentils, cooked 1/2 cup 365
Clams, canned and drained 3 ounces 534
Yogurt, low fat, plain 1 cup 531
Lima beans, cooked 1/2 cup 484
Banana 1 medium 422
Dried apricots 1/4 cup 378
Cantaloupe 1/4 medium 368
Tuna, yellowfin, cooked 3 ounces 484
Honeydew melon 1/8 medium 365
Winter squash ½ cup 448
Cod, Pacific, cooked 3 ounces 439
Spinach, cooked ½ cup 419
Milk, fat-free 1 cup 382
Kidney Beans, cooked ½ cup 358

Tips for Increasing Your Potassium Intake  ^

You can make small changes to your diet that will help increase your intake of potassium. These include:

RESOURCES:

Eat Right—American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
http://www.eatright.org

Office of Dietary Supplements
http://ods.od.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Chapter 8 sodium and potassium. Health website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/html/chapter8.htm. Updated July 9, 2008. Accessed October 3, 2017.

Food sources of potassium. Health website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/html/appendixb.htm. Updated July 9, 2008. Accessed October 3, 2017.

Hyperkalemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115641/Hyperkalemia. Updated June 13, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2017.

Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension. Updated August 17, 2017. Accessed October 3, 2017.

Hypokalemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115951/Hypokalemia. Updated September 17, 2015. Accessed October 3, 2017.

Potassium. Linus Pauling Institute Oregon State University website. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/potassium. Accessed October 3, 2017.

Last reviewed October 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 11/4/2015