How Healthy is Potassium for Me?
Unless you pay close attention to your food and the nutritional labels, you may only be familiar with potassium from chemistry class in high school. But, it’s worth knowing how much potassium is in your diet. Potassium is a macromineral, meaning it’s very important to ensuring your body is running well. Lacking this vital mineral can lead to hypokalemia (too little potassium), among other conditions. But that’s not the only reason to have the right amount of potassium in your daily diet!
Health Benefits of Potassium
Potassium is a multifunctional mineral that can help several key organs and systems throughout your body.
Blood Pressure and Heart Health
Perhaps the most significant benefit potassium offers the body is to your circulatory system. While potassium doesn’t directly cure or prevent heart disease, it improves many of the factors that can. In fact, one study found that participants who consumed just over 4,000 mg of potassium a day (less than the 4,700 mg recommendation) were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality!
One study found that participants who consumed just over 4,000 mg of potassium a day were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality!
First and foremost, potassium lessens the effects of sodium on the body, primarily the heart. This is important for maintaining a healthy blood pressure, since too much sodium is a primary cause of high blood pressure. Potassium levels have also been linked to a well-regulated heartbeat, making it important for those with arrhythmia and other heart rate issues.
Nervous System Health
Not only is potassium important for healthy heart function, it takes a central role in your nervous system, since potassium is an electrolyte. Electrolytes are chemicals that conduct electricity when dissolved into water and they have a wide range of benefits for the body.
Potassium takes a central role in your nervous system, since it’s an electrolyte.
Low levels of electrolytes like potassium can lead to cramping, muscle twitches, numbness, or tingling, or even paralysis if it’s low enough. This is because potassium allows nerves to send signals that allow the nervous system to function. Without an adequate amount of the mineral, these signals may be inhibited, leading to those debilitating symptoms.
Other Benefits of Potassium
A healthy heart and nervous system aren’t the only benefits of having enough potassium in your diet. For example, there is promising evidence that points to potassium-rich diets preventing osteoporosis by limiting the amount of calcium excreted through urine. For the same reason, there’s also a growing belief that potassium can prevent kidney stones, which are commonly made of calcium. The logic is that the less calcium in the urine, the smaller your chance of getting kidney stones. Some studies support this, making it a promising way to prevent kidney stones. Other studies link potassium-rich diets with less age-related muscle-loss by neutralizing metabolic acidosis.
Warnings and Notes
Potassium does have some risks associated with it, either in having too much or too little in your blood. By properly maintaining a healthy level of potassium in your body, you can avoid these conditions, but it’s worth knowing the signs so you can go to the doctor if they’re presenting.
Hypokalemia and Hyperkalemia
Hypokalemia is the medical name for when there’s not enough potassium in your blood. Many of the worst symptoms will not show unless there’s a severe lack of potassium in your system. Generally, symptoms for hypokalemia are weakness or fatigue, muscle cramps, constipation, or arrhythmia.
Many of the worst symptoms of both hypokalemia and hyperkalemia will not show unless there’s a severe lack or overabundance of potassium in your system.
Hyperkalemia is the alternative to hypokalemia — when your potassium levels are too high. Generally, your body removes excess potassium through urination, but if you consume an excessive amount, you may experience some adverse effects. Generally, this is more than the 4,700 mg of potassium daily recommendation. You may also experience issues if you’re struggling with kidney issues, which may inhibit your body’s ability to filter out excess potassium. Certain drugs may also raise the levels of potassium in your blood. Hyperkalemia usually presents itself as weakness, arrhythmia, and slowed heart rate. If you show symptoms of either these conditions, please see your primary care physician immediately.
Ways to Add Potassium to Your Diet
It’s all well and good knowing why you should add potassium to your diet, but if you don’t know where to get it, it won’t do you any good.
If you’re struggling to add potassium to your diet, to the point where your health is struggling, potassium supplements may be an option for you. However, please only add potassium supplements to your diet on a doctor’s orders. Your doctor will know what to recommend for your personal circumstances.
When it comes to making sure you’re getting the right amount of potassium, dietary sources are best. Luckily, there are many. We’ve actually written about a few of them. In “3 Snacks that Lower Your Blood Pressure” we discussed several potassium-rich foods like pistachios and bananas. Fruits like pomegranates and peaches are also a good sources, along with tomato products. Superfoods like beans, avocados, and seaweed are also surprisingly rich in potassium.
Luckily, there are so many excellent sources of potassium in delicious foods!
In “The Health Benefits of Sauerkraut (And How to Make It!),” we found that this pungent dish is loaded with many minerals, including potassium. Finally, your morning coffee is also a good source of this important macromineral that you can have each day! Keep in mind, these are only a few examples. There are many more potassium-rich foods out there, making it easy to introduce a healthy amount of potassium to your diet.
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Despite the many health benefits of potassium, studies have found that Americans simply don’t get enough of it. With this in mind, it’s not only easy to include potassium in your diet, it’s essential.