Potassium is an electrolyte, a mineral salt that needs to be kept in balance with sodium and calcium to maintain good health of the nervous system, heart and circulatory system, adrenal system, muscle function and kidney function. It plays a part in the balance of fluids at the cellular level, which affects how well all other systems in the body work. There are many foods that contain high levels of potassium.
How Much Potassium?
A Recommended Daily Requirement (RDA) for potassium has not been established. It varies between individuals according to diet, daily activity and other health factors. Most potassium is lost in urine during normal kidney function. People who are very active lose potassium through heavy sweating. It may also be depleted by taking diuretics or laxatives, or through a bout with diarrhea. Because potassium is easily obtainable through foods and is processed continuously by the kidneys, a healthy level of potassium can be maintained by limiting salt intake and eating foods high in potassium. People who have problems with kidney function cannot process potassium correctly, and so would need to limit potassium-rich foods as advised by a doctor.
High Potassium Foods: Meats and Dairy
Unprocessed meats, poultry, and fish are good sources of potassium. Milk is also a good source. One cup of milk, yogurt, or buttermilk each will provide 300 milligrams or more of potassium. This includes low-fat dairy options.
One serving of meat is based on a 3-ounce portion. This is approximately equivalent to the size of a deck of playing cards. Meats that are high sources of potassium, those in which one portion contains 300 milligrams or more, are chicken, turkey, fish, and canned tuna or salmon. Meats that provide 200 to 300 milligrams per portion are beef, lamb, fresh pork and ham. Some people should limit ham due to its high sodium content.
High Potassium Foods: Fruits and Vegetables
Most fresh fruits and vegetables contain significant amounts of potassium. The following have more than 225 milligrams per half cup, and provide the highest levels: apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, kiwi, oranges, spinach, tomatoes, winter squash, lima beans, and potatoes, especially baked potatoes with the skin on. Dried fruits also contain high potassium, including prunes, raisins, dates and figs.
These foods have moderately high levels of potassium, 125 to 225 milligrams per half cup: Apple juice, blackberries, strawberries, cherries, fresh pineapple, grapefruit, peaches, pears and watermelon. Vegetables in this category are asparagus, broccoli, carrots, corn, onions, leaf lettuce, green peas, summer squash, mushrooms, beets and eggplant.
Why Control Potassium?
The balance between sodium and potassium is very important. They work together to regulate the body's systems. Many medications affect potassium levels. A low sodium diet with plenty of potassium rich foods is recommended to help control high blood pressure, especially if you are taking a diuretic. Check with a health care professional to know if you should increase your potassium intake.
The proper balance of potassium helps all cells and body systems work effectively. Drink plenty of fluids to help distribute these soluble nutrients throughout the body, and to aid kidney function. Regulating the potassium/sodium balance can lower blood pressure naturally.