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Potassium: foods, benefits & RDA

Siski Green / 18 August 2021

Potassium is easily absorbed by a wide variety of food so it is unlikely you would need to take a supplement.

Bananas
Bananas are just one of many food sources of potassium

Potassium is one of those minerals most people are aware of. What you may not know is how useful this mineral is for proper functioning of a wide variety of bodily functions.

What is potassium used for?

Ensuring your diet is rich in potassium will help your body in numerous ways. It helps bring down blood pressure and reduces water retention, helps protect you against stroke, osteoporosis and kidney stones. It works as a conductor within your body, in the form of a positive ion, and is found mostly in your muscle cells, as well as your bones, liver and red blood cells. There it helps with nerve systems, muscles and fluid balance.

If a person has hypokalemia (potassium deficiency), they’ll notice muscle cramps and aches, weakness and fatigue. This can happen because of certain medical disorders (chronic kidney disease, excessive sweating, for eg), but also if you are sick and suffer with vomiting and diarrhoea for a prolonged period of time you might also be deficient.

What’s the best way to take potassium?

There is no recommended daily intake, but as 90% of potassium in food is easily absorbed, chances are you are getting plenty from your diet. Most people get around 8000mg per day relatively easily. However, you may have lower potassium levels than is optimum if your diet is focused on processed foods as these are often lower in potassium than fresh fruit and veg.

It’s found a wide variety of foods including many fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, poultry and seafood. Among fruits apricots, bananas, citrus, and melon are good sources; while for vegetables, green beans, cauliflower, potatoes and asparagus are good. Lentils and peas also contain potassium.

Does potassium really work?

Ensuring you get adequate amounts of potassium is extremely important to health and if you suspect you’re not, a supplement could help. Most potassium deficiencies aren’t caused by a lack of dietary potassium, however, but are more likely down to illness that includes vomiting and/or diarrhoea so the nutrient is lost and not replaced immediately.

You’re aiming for around 3500mg of potassium per day, and when you consider that white beans contain around 800mg in one cup (180g), a serving of potatoes with around the same, beet greens contain more than 900mg, an avocado around 500mg and a banana more than 350mg you can see how quickly a healthy daily diet would give you what you need. If, however, your diet is focused on processed foods and you get little vegetables, fruit and so on, you may want to take a supplement.

Where can I get potassium?

While the best sources of potassium are obviously from your diet, you can find supplements in your supermarket, health food shops and online too.

What are the side effects or contraindications of taking potassium?

Your kidneys will remove excess potassium so if you have a kidney condition, you’ll need to see your GP before taking supplements. Since it has an effect on muscle contractions too, it’s wise to seek advice if you have a heart condition too.

Want to talk to a GP today? With Saga Health Insurance, you have unlimited access to a qualified GP 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Find out more about our GP phone service.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.