Are you getting enough potassium?

Published 6:47 pm Friday, October 18, 2019


Potassium was identified as an “underconsumed and nutrient of public health concern” in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It is recommended that adults get 4,700 mg of potassium daily. Yet, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, less than 2% of people in the U.S. meet that daily recommendation. On average, women eat less potassium than men do. However, in an effort to assist consumers, food companies will be required to include potassium content on all nutrition facts food labels starting in 2020.

You might be asking, “Why do I need potassium, anyway?” Well, potassium is an important nutrient needed to perform many functions in our bodies. Some of these include blood pressure regulation, fluid balance, digestion and heart rhythm. Low potassium intakes are linked to increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Not getting enough potassium in your diet can affect your bone health and increase your risk of kidney stones. However, eating a diet high in potassium can provide many health benefits. Some studies show that dietary potassium from fruits and vegetables may improve bone health, as well as blood pressure, and decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Potassium is naturally found in most foods and is available as a dietary supplement. It’s best to get potassium from food sources. Keep in mind that your body can absorb 85-90% of potassium from a food source. Less potassium is absorbed from salt substitutes and from dietary supplements. If you are not able to meet your potassium needs with food, ask your doctor if it is safe for you to take a multivitamin or potassium supplement.
Can you have too much potassium? Absolutely. When it is consumed in excess, it can cause high levels of potassium in the blood with chronic kidney disease and on certain medications. When potassium is elevated in your blood, it can have harmful effects. People with good kidney function can normally get rid of any excess potassium in their blood, but it’s important to always consult your doctor to discuss any nutrients that may need to be restricted in your diet.

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help you meet your daily potassium needs. Foods high in potassium are leafy greens, dried fruits (especially apricots, prunes and raisins), potatoes with skin, beans and lentils, tomatoes and avocados. Other good sources of potassium are bananas, citrus fruits and some fish (halibut, tuna, cod and snapper). Many processed foods are low in potassium and high in sodium. This means eating less processed foods and more fresh foods can help increase potassium intake and decrease sodium intake. Including a potassium-rich fruit or vegetable at each meal can help balance out the harmful effects of a high-sodium meal.

Use these tips to add more potassium to your diet:

  • Eat the skin on your potatoes!
  • Add dried fruit to salads, hot cereal or yogurt.
  • Make a trail mix with dried fruits and nuts.
  • Eat fish twice per week.
  • Add beans or lentils as a side dish, or add them to soup or a salad.
  • Add avocado to your sandwich, salad, toast or any dish!
  • Add a potassium rich fruit or vegetable (or both!) to your meals.

Potassium is a vital nutrient but it doesn’t provide health benefits alone. To reduce risk of chronic disease and improve long-term healthy living, it is important to eat a healthful diet. A healthful diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, fish and seafood, low-fat dairy products and beans. Eating a variety of foods from each food group will always help you meet your daily vitamin and mineral needs.

Heather Eads, RD, LDN, is a clinical dietitian at Vidant Beaufort Hospital and can be reached at or 252-948-4937.