Navigate Up

Women's Center - A-Z Index

#
Y

Print This Page

Potassium in diet

Potassium is a mineral that is needed for your body to work properly. It is a type of electrolyte .

Alternative Names

Diet - potassium

Function

Potassium is a very important mineral to the human body.

Your body needs potassium to:

  • Build proteins
  • Break down and use carbohydrates
  • Build muscle
  • Maintain normal body growth
  • Control the electrical activity of the heart
  • Control the acid-base balance

Food Sources

Many foods contain potassium. All meats (red meat and chicken) and fish such as salmon, cod, flounder, and sardines are good sources of potassium. Soy products and veggie burgers are also good sources of potassium.

Vegetables including broccoli, peas, lima beans, tomatoes, potatoes (especially their skins), sweet potatoes, and winter squashes are all good sources of potassium.

Fruits that contain significant sources of potassium include citrus fruits, cantaloupe, bananas, kiwi, prunes, and apricots. Dried apricots contain more potassium than fresh apricots.

Milk and yogurt, as well as nuts, are also excellent sources of potassium.

People with kidney problems, especially those on dialysis, should not eat too many potassium-rich foods. The doctor or nurse will recommend a special diet.

Side Effects

Having too much or too little potassium in the body can have very serious consequences.

A low blood level of potassium is called hypokalemia . It can cause weak muscles, abnormal heart rhythms, and a slight rise in blood pressure. You may have hypokalemia if you:

  • Take diuretics (water pills) for the treatment of high blood pressure or heart failure
  • Take too many laxatives
  • Have severe or prolonged vomiting and diarrhea
  • Have certain kidney or adrenal gland disorders

Too much potassium in the blood is known as hyperkalemia . It may cause abnormal and dangerous heart rhythms. Some common causes include:

  • Poor kidney function
  • Heart medicines called angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin 2 receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Potassium-sparing diuretics (water pills) such as spironolactone or amiloride
  • Severe infection

Recommendations

The Food and Nutrition Center of the Institute of Medicine has established the following recommended dietary intakes for potassium:

Infants

  • 0 - 6 months: 0.4 grams a day (g/day)
  • 7 - 12 months: 0.7 g/day

Children and Adolescents

  • 1 - 3 years: 3 g/day
  • 4 - 8 years: 3.8 g/day
  • 9 - 13 years: 4.5 g/day
  • 14 - 18 years: 4.7 g/day

Adults

  • Age 19 and older: 4.7 g/day

Women who are producing breast milk need slightly higher amounts (5.1 g/day). Ask your doctor what amount is best for you.

Persons who are being treated for hypokalemia need potassium supplements. Your health care provider will develop a supplementation plan based on your specific needs.

References

Panel on Dietary Reference Intakes for Electrolytes and Water, Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2004.

United States Department of Agriculture. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2010. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2010.

Updated: 6/23/2012

David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc. Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com