Potassium plays a vital role in regulating our heartbeat and other muscle functions. The mineral is found in almost every food, which might make following a low-potassium diet seem like a challenge. The keys to living with restricted potassium diet are portion control and learning about the best food choices.
The National Institutes of Health's guideline for healthy adults is 4.7 grams of potassium per day. People diagnosed with hyperkalemia, or too much potassium in the blood, should follow the guidelines from their physician about individual daily limits.
The first step is portion control. Start with the National Kidney Foundation website, which features a chart of high- and low-potassium foods. All foods are analyzed per 1/2-cup serving. Monitor potassium intake by using their serving size recommendations. Remember that eating large amounts of even the lowest-potassium foods will cause blood levels to spike.
Many fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with potassium. It's possible to boil or soak high-potassium vegetables to leach out the unwanted mineral. The National Kidney Foundation's website has specific instructions on how to properly leach produce.
Fruits & Vegetables
The list of lower-potassium fruits and vegetables can be tricky to categorize.
For example, tangerines, grapefruit and mandarin oranges are great, low-potassium citrus choices, but oranges, along with grapefruit and orange juice, have high potassium levels.
Some stone fruits are fine. Cherries, peaches and plums are healthy options, but avoid nectarines and apricots. Watermelon is also very low in potassium, while other melons--particularly cantaloupe and honeydew--are not recommended.
Bananas, kiwis and mangoes are very high in potassium. Pineapple is a much better tropical fruit alternative. Other good choices include apples, apple juice, applesauce and pears. Grapes and most berries, including blueberries, blackberries, cranberries and raspberries are also good low-potassium options. Steer clear of figs, raisins and other dried fruits.
With vegetables, the best choices are eggplant, corn, cabbage, fresh mushrooms, kale, cucumbers, green peas, onions, peppers and summer squash.
Limit (or leach, if possible) root veggies such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, raw carrots and beets, as well as winter squash. Potato skins are especially high in potassium. Also, avoid avocados, spinach, tomatoes and broccoli.
Meats, Grains & More
Proteins, including red meat, chicken and fish, are all high in potassium. Vegetarian choices aren't any better, because soy products, lentils and dried beans also have high levels. As a general rule, avoid all smoked, canned, salted or pickled meats and fish, frozen dinners and casseroles with sweet or salty sauces.
The only way to control potassium and get sufficient protein and calcium is to monitor portion sizes. Weigh and track all meats, fish and other types of protein and dairy, according to the protein limits recommended by your physician.
Rice, pasta and breads products (except whole wheat) are low in potassium. To sate a sweet tooth, choose angel food cake, cookies without nuts and chocolate and most pies.
Avoid bran, granola, and dairy including milk and yogurt. Desserts made with bananas, peanut butter, chocolate or molasses have high potassium levels.
Look at food labels and skip any products with KCI or K+ on the label. KCI labels are typically found on salt substitutes, coffee, granola bars and sports drinks.