Potassium – An essential electrolyte
One of potassium’s biggest roles in our bodies is to regulate the amount of sodium entering and exiting our cells, thereby controlling the amount of fluid we retain or excrete. Potassium maintains the body’s pH levels, which ensures that cellular processes correctly. Potassium is an essential dietary mineral and electrolyte, as our bodies are an electro-chemical system. Our bodies depend on tight regulation of potassium concentrations both inside and outside of cells. Potassium concentrations are about 30 times higher inside than outside cells, while sodium concentrations are more than ten times lower inside than outside cells. The concentration differences between potassium and sodium across cell membranes create an electrochemical gradient known as the membrane potential. It’s used to move water, glycogen and waste products through the cell walls.
Fatigue is the most common symptom of chronic potassium deficiency. Most people are not getting enough potassium as you need a whopping 4700mg (4.7g) per day. When people are low in potassium, sodium accumulates in the tissues and water is retained and blood pressure increases.
Most websites and articles that cover potassium describe it as the ‘antidote’ to sodium. This wrong because salt has been demonized to such a degree. We need to consume plenty of salt and have a diet rich in potassium.
Potassium from food is absorbed through special channels in the lining of the intestinal wall. This helps slow the rate of release into the blood, so that the kidneys can handle the increase in potassium. Aldosterone is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands and it signals the kidneys to excrete potassium into the urine.
If you suffer from anxiety, depression, insomnia, constipation, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney stones, hyperthyroidism, arthritis, obesity, headaches, pain in the eyes, muscle spasms, or fatigue you may be deficient in potassium. Not only does the lack of potassium in our diet affect many health conditions, but several medications are causing potassium deficiency. Examples include diuretics, laxatives, cortisone, aspirin, cardiac drugs, steroids and certain therapies used to treat advanced liver disease.
- You need to eat a lot of potassium each day. We have around 140g in our bodies and our kidneys excrete it out as urine, you also sweat it out. The RDA amount for potassium is 4700mg (4.7g).
- Most people are deficient is potassium AND they are deficient in salt (sodium). Average daily intake of potassium in the US is 2300mg, which is way below the RDA.
- Supplementation for potassium can be dangerous (the US FDA cites colon problems and limit supplements to 100mg). So you must get your potassium from food – or a low sodium salt.
- It is important to get the ratio of potassium and sodium and correct to achieve a healthy blood pressure level. Many people mistakenly assume that they have to consume low amounts of sodium in order to reduce blood pressure. You need plenty of salt and potassium. A 1997 study of people who took potassium rich foods reduced their blood pressure in just two weeks. UK and US guidelines say that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium), but our bodies are perfectly happy processing lots more salt than this.
- If you exercise and lot or live in a hot country (sweating) you need to have plenty of electrolytes.
- Potassium is also critical for stomach acid production. The very low pH of gastric juice (pH of 1) is the result of H+ and Cl– ion secretion (hydrochloric acid production) by cells in the walls of the stomach. Each day, these cells secrete 1-2 litres of HCl. Potassium ions play a vital role because they exchange with H+ ions. The gastric hydrogen potassium ATPase (gastric H+-K+-ATPase) pumps H+ ions into the stomach and takes up K+ in return. No other tissue in the body builds higher concentration of H+ than the stomach mucosa. There is a one million-fold enrichment of H+ in the gastric juice, which is unique amongst animals.
Big problems are caused by electrolyte deficiency
Potassium deficiency (hypokalemia) symptoms
- Heart problems
- Feeling of skipped heart beats or palpitations.
- Muscle damage.
- Muscle weakness or spasms.
- Tingling or numbness.
High blood potassium is called hyperkalemia. When this is suspected, it’s often caused by acute kidney disease rather than eating too much potassium. You need to consume huge amounts of potassium to cause problems (200+ bananas a day over a prolonged period). Your body simply excretes any excess.
Magnesium deficiency symptoms & outcomes
- Heart disease leading to a heart attack.
- Insulin resistance
- Type 2 diabetes
Salt deficiency (hyponatraemia) symptoms
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Loss of energy and fatigue.
- Restlessness and irritability.
- Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps.
We historically consume way less salt than we use to (yet blood pressure levels and heart issues have soared in the West). You need to consume very large amounts of salt to cause problems. The hormone aldosterone is is essential for sodium conservation in the kidney, salivary glands, sweat glands and colon, if you don’t get enough salt your body will produce way more aldosterone which has several bad effects. Aldosterone affects the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure. It sends the signal to organs, like the kidney and colon, that can increase the amount of sodium the body sends into the bloodstream or the amount of potassium released in the urine.
- Low salt raises aldosterone (produced by the adrenal gland).
- Aldosterone increases blood pressure.
Plenty of salt = no problems. 11g of salt a day seems to be the optimal amount (if you exercise lots or have low insulin due to a low carb diet, you will need more).
So you can see that potassium is a salt the body uses to help manage critical processes including sweat, nerve functioning, fluid management and blood pressure. Ion pumps in the cell membrane (especially the sodium – potassium pump) use ATP (energy) to pump sodium out of the cell in exchange for potassium. Their activity has been estimated to account for 20%-40% of the resting energy expenditure in a typical adult. Potassium is also essential to the process of making and breaking glycogen in the muscle cells. Your body stores glycogen in muscles and the liver to act as a source of energy. As glycogen is broken down, the muscle cells are depleted of potassium as it flows into the bloodstream before leaving the body through urination or sweat.
It is therefore critical that you get as much potassium from your diet as possible. But it’s not easy, as 4.7g is quite a lot. You need to make a conscious effort to get your potassium from meals and healthy snacking.
Food Sources of Potassium
|Apricots, dried, ½ cup||1,101||31|
|Potato (1 medium)||900||25|
|Spinach (cooked), 1 cup||850||18|
|Milk (low fat 500ml)||750||16|
|Carrot juice (250ml)||700||21|
|Prunes, dried, ½ cup||699||20|
|Prune juice (250ml)||700||20|
|Squash, acorn, mashed, 1 cup||644||18|
|Coconut water (250ml)||620||17|
|Tumeric root (25g)||620||17|
|Raisins, ½ cup||618||18|
|Dates, ½ cup||610||18|
|Kidney beans, canned, 1 cup||607||17|
|Cream of tartar (1 tsp, 3g)||500||14|
|Orange juice, 1 cup||496||14|
|Soybeans (½ cup)||443||13|
|Guava, 1 medium||440||12|
|Banana, 1 medium||422||12|
|Chicken breast, boneless, grilled, 3 ounces||332||9|
|Yogurt, fruit variety, nonfat, 6 ounces||330||9|
|Salmon, Atlantic, farmed, cooked, 3 ounces||326||9|
|Molasses, 1 tablespoon||308||9|
|Tomato, raw, 1 medium||292||8|
|Tomato puree, 1/2 small tin||290||8|
|Soymilk, 1 cup||287||8|
|Yogurt, Greek, plain||240||7|
|Broccoli, cooked, chopped, ½ cup||229||7|
|Cantaloupe, cubed, ½ cup||214||6|
|Turkey breast, roasted, 3 ounces||212||6|
|Tumeric Powder, 1tsp||200||6|
|Asparagus, cooked, ½ cup||202||6|
|Carrot, 1 medium||200||6|
|Apple, with skin, 1 medium||195||6|
|Cashew nuts, 1 ounce||187||5|
|Celery, 1 stick||170||5|
|Beef jerky, 30g||170||5|
|Rice, brown, medium-grain, cooked, 1 cup||154||4|
|Tuna, light, canned in water, drained, 3 ounces||153||4|
|Coffee, brewed, 1 cup||116||3|
|Lettuce, iceberg, shredded, 1 cup||102||3|
|Peanut butter, 1 tablespoon||90||3|
|Tea, black, brewed, 1 cup||88||3|
|Flaxseed, whole, 1 tablespoon||84||2|
|Bread, whole-wheat, 1 slice||81||2|
|Egg, 1 large||69||2|
|Rice, white, medium-grain, cooked, 1 cup||54||2|
|Bread, white, 1 slice||37||1|
|Cheese, mozzarella, part skim, 1½ ounces||36||1|
Potassium rich snacks and recipes
Snacks & drinks
- Lindt 85% chocolate bar: 1260mg
- Coconut water (1 young coconut): 620-1000mg
- Apricots, dried, 1/4 cup: 550mg
- Low fat milk 500ml: 750mg
- Carrot juice (250ml): 700mg
- Prune juice (250ml): 700mg
- Cream of tartar (1 tsp): 500mg
- 1/4 cup raisins: 310mg
- Yoghurt: 300mg
- 1 apple: 195mg
- 1 stick of celery: 170mg.
- 1 stick of celery sprinkled with LoSalt: 500mg.
- 1 orange: 170mg
- 1 large banana: 480mg
- 50g pumpkin seeds: 460mg
So if you had some daily dried fruit, 1 yogurt, a pint of milk, 1 apple, 1 banana, 3 celery stalks, 250ml of carrot juce, coconut water. 1/4 bar dark chocolate, you would get up 4500mg in drinks and snacks. Close to the 4700mg/day RDA. Cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate) can be incorporated into a daily drink (warm water + 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar, the juice of 1 lime, 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder,with a pinch of black pepper, and 1 tsp cream of tartar).
Tumeric is very high in potassium (as well as having many other health benefits), so try and add it to as many dishes as you can.
Losalt contains 2/3 potassium chloride and 1/3 sodium chloride. A 1 teaspoon (5g) serving gives a whopping 1800mg of potassium. You should use sea salt freely, but should try and use LoSalt in cooking and sprinkled onto foods to boost your potassium levels. TAKE A TINY SHAKER OF LOSALT TO WORK OR TO RESTAURANTS. See also electrolyte fasting.
Chilli con carne with jacket potato (3,800mg potassium)
- 1 large jacket potato, 950mg
- 1 cup kidney beans, 600mg (possibly add a few lentils)
- 1 cup canned tomatoes, 700mg
- 1 medium onion, 160mg
- 1/2 small can tomato puree, 400mg
- 1 oxo cube, 310mg
- 3 cloves of garlic, 100mg
- 1 medium green pepper, 210mg
- 1 tbsp parsley
- Optional 1/2 glass of red wine. 120mg
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 10mg
- 2 teaspoons of chilli powder, 110g (super antioxidant)
- 1 chilli pepper, 40mg
- Cheese on top, 50-150mg
- 1 tbsp sour cream, 20mg
- 1/3 lb Minced beef, 140mg
Carrot, Ginger and Turmeric Soup (1400mg potassium). An anti-inflammatory soup that’s packed with potassium. This is the sort of soup you can find in many vegan and vegetarian restaurants.
- 3 Carrots, 600mg
- 1 Onion, 160mg
- 3 cloves garlic minced, 100mg
- 1 sq inch Ginger, 30mg
- 3 sq inch Turmeric, 500mg
- 1 litre vegetable Stock
- 1 tbsp Lemon Juice
- (top with parsley or coconut juice)
Lentil & potato soup (4,900mg) – makes 3 generous portions (you can scale up and freeze)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, 100mg
- 1 medium onion, 160mg
- 1 large carrot, 230mg
- 1/2 small can tomato puree, 400g
- 1 cup canned tomatoes 700mg
- 2 cups lentils, 1400mg
- 1lb potatoes cut into bite sized pieces, 1900mg
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper, 10mg
- 1/4 tsp thyme
- 1/2 tsp oregano
Heat oil in a large pan. Add onion and cook for 1 minute. Add garlic and carrots. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add in the tomato paste, tomato sauce and lentils. Cook for 1 minute. Add potatoes. Pour 1 litre of water on top. Add salt, pepper, thyme and oregano. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the lentils are cooked and potatoes are tender. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve warm.