Potassium is one of the seven essential minerals that your body absolutely needs in order to support key bodily processes. There are several signs of potassium deficiency, and a potassium deficiency can cause a range of health problem. Having low potassium levels is also called hypokalemia.
A normal level of potassium in your body is defined as having between 3.5 and 5.0 mmol/L and low potassium levels are diagnosed when they fall below 3.5 mmol/L. If your levels are below 2.5 mmol/L then that is considered extremely deficient. Symptoms of low potassium become more severe as levels reduce.
Symptoms of low potassium levels include:
- Malaise and fatigue – you have no energy, or desire to do anything. May feel like you have a flu or cold.
- Weakness and muscle pain all over the body – again, typical symptoms of the flue or cold.
If you have extremely low levels of potassium, you may be faced with even more dire symptoms such as…
- Severe muscle weakness and possibly paralysis
- Respiratory failure
- Painful obstructions in the gut
- Tingling, crawling, numb or itchy sensations mainly felt in the extremities like your hands, feet legs or arms
- Intermittent muscle spasms
Doctors can diagnose low potassium easily through a simple blood test and in most cases it can be treated by alterations to your diet including supplements.
How Much Potassium Do I Need?
Your body requires at minimum 100 milligrams of potassium every day, however fewer than 2% of Americans get the required levels they need to maintain healthy body functions. Doctors and nutritionists recommend at minimum 4,700 milligrams (mg) of potassium daily.
The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends 3,510 mg of potassium daily but also agree that most of the global population do not get near this amount.
Potassium helps support blood pressure, cardiovascular health, bone and muscle strength.
Some foods are high in potassium, particularly beet greens, white beans, soy beans and lima beans are food that have the highest concentration in potassium.
What Foods Contain High Levels of Potassium?
This table provides a list of foods that are very high in potassium.
|Type of Food (1 Cup)||Potassium in milligrams (mg)|
|Cooked, boiled, or drained beet greens, without salt||1,309 mg|
|Canned white beans||1,189 mg|
|Cooked, boiled, or drained soy beans, without salt||970 mg|
|Cooked, boiled, or drained lima beans, without salt||969 mg|
|Baked sweet potato||950 mg|
|Sliced avocado||708 mg|
|Cooked, boiled, or drained mushrooms, without salt||555 mg|
|Sliced banana||537 mg|
|Red, ripe, raw tomatoes||427 mg|
|Raw cantaloupe melon||417 mg|
There are other foods you can add to your diet that will also give you healthy amounts of potassium (according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture USDA):
- Winter squash, cubed, 1 cup, cooked: 896 mg
- Sweet potato, medium, baked with skin: 694 mg
- Potato, medium, baked with skin: 610 mg
- White beans, canned, drained, half cup: 595 mg
- Yogurt, fat-free, 1 cup: 579 mg
- Halibut, 3 ounces, cooked: 490 mg
- 100% orange juice, 8 ounces: 496 mg
- Broccoli, 1 cup, cooked: 457 mg
- Cantaloupe, cubed, 1 cup: 431 mg
- Banana, 1 medium: 422 mg
- Pork tenderloin, 3 ounces, cooked: 382 mg
- Lentils, half cup, cooked: 366 mg
- Milk, 1% low fat, 8 ounces: 366 mg
- Salmon, farmed Atlantic, 3 ounces, cooked: 326 mg
- Pistachios, shelled, 1 ounce, dry roasted: 295 mg
- Raisins, quarter cup: 250 mg
- Chicken breast, 3 ounces, cooked: 218 mg
- Tuna, light, canned, drained, 3 ounces: 201 mg
Given the range of foods that contain good levels of potassium, you may not need to ever make use of supplements for your potassium requirements and there is no harm in taking potassium supplements provided you do not get into a situation where you are hyperkalemia — that is, have too much potassium in your body as that can also lead to health issues.
In particular too much potassium can be harmful to those that have impaired kidneys since they are not able to remove enough potassium from the body. The symptoms of hyperkalemia are similar to those of hypokalemia, for example severe or sudden hyperkalemia could result in heart palpitations, shortness of breath and chest pain. If these conditions occur, you should seek immediate medical attention.