See chapter 7, "Sodium and Potassium: A Salty Subject."

What it does:

  • Helps regulate fluids and mineral balance in and out of body cells.
  • Helps maintain your normal blood pressure by blunting sodium's effects on blood pressure.
  • Helps transmit nerve impulses, or signals.
  • Helps your muscles contract.

If you don't get enough: For healthy people, a potassium deficiency is rare. When vomiting, diarrhea, or laxative use goes on for too long, the body may lose excess amounts. Kidney problems also may cause severe loss. Deficiency symptoms include muscle cramps, weakness, appetite loss, nausea, and fatigue. You may need a potassium supplement if you're on medication for high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor.

If you consume excess amounts: Harmful effects from consuming too much from food are rare because excess amounts usually are excreted. If an excess can't be excreted, it can cause heart problems and possible sudden death. People with kidney problems may not be able to get rid of excess potassium and may be advised to limit potassium-containing foods and to avoid using potassium chloride as a salt substitute. There is no Tolerable Upper Intake Level for potassium.

How much you need: The Adequate Intake (AI) level for potassium is 4,500 milligrams daily for those ages nine to thirteen. From ages fourteen on up, the AI is 4,700 milligrams daily, including pregnancy. For breast-feeding women, the AI is 5,100 milligrams. People on some diuretics or heart disease medicines should get less than the AI; check with your doctor.

Where it's mostly found: Potassium is found in a wide range of foods, especially fruits, many vegetables, legumes, dairy foods, meat, poultry, fish and nuts. Less processed foods tend to have more potassium.

Food Potassium (mg)

Banana, medium (1) 420

Kidney beans, cooked (1/2 cup) 360

Haddock, cooked (3 oz.) 340

Tomato, medium (1) 290

Orange, medium (1) 235

Turkey, light and dark meat, roasted, skinless (3 oz.) 225

Almonds (1 oz. or 24 almonds) 210

Spinach, raw (1 cup) 170

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