Daily Dose: Potassium

Find out why you need potassium and how to get enough in your diet!

Potassium is an important mineral that keeps your heart pumping and your brain working. Fortunately, most foods, both from plant and animal sources, contain healthy doses of potassium, making deficiency in this mineral very rare in healthy people.

Why does my body need potassium?

Potassium plays an important role in the body’s normal signaling process. In the brain, it helps nerve cells communicate with each other and with other parts of the body. In the muscles, potassium helps to tell the muscles when to contract. In the context of the heart in particular, potassium plays a role in keeping the heartbeat regular and making sure the heart contracts the ways it’s supposed to. Potassium is also used to build proteins and to break down and use the carbohydrates that enter your body.

What foods contain potassium?

All meats including fish and poultry are good sources of potassium. Soy products, like tofu or soy milk, are also high in potassium. Vegetables like broccoli, peas, lima beans, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and squash are good sources of potassium. And many fruits are high in potassium, like bananas, citrus fruits, cantaloupe, kiwis and apricots.

What happens when I don’t get enough potassium?

When potassium levels drop, all the organs that make use of potassium can also be affected. The heart rate can become irregular, muscles become weak and blood pressure can increase. People can also experience severe cramps and intestinal problems. Low levels over time have also been linked to stroke, osteoporosis, kidney stones and high blood pressure.

Who’s at risk for deficiency?

Low potassium is normally the result of losing more potassium than normal rather than not getting enough in your diet. As a result, those most at risk for low potassium are those who take diuretic medications that can affect potassium levels or those who take too many laxatives or who have severe vomiting and diarrhea. Those who have certain kidney diseases can also end up with low potassium.

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