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Potassium is a crucial part of the human diet, and helps to maintain the electrolyte balance in the body, keeping all of the cells of the body running smoothly together. It is recommended that normal, active adults consume 3,500 milligrams a day, with some athletes needing more to replace lost electrolytes. In addition to supplements, a wide range of foods are excellent sources of potassium, along with other useful vitamins and minerals.
In the body, potassium primarily occurs inside the cells, where it regulates cell respiration. It is also involved in muscle contractions for all the muscles in the body, including the heart, which means that a deficiency, called hypokalemia, could potentially result in heart failure, as the heart cannot beat without sufficient potassium. Fortunately for most humans, hypokalemia is rarely allowed to progress to this stage, and it is easily treatable with supplements and foods high in this mineral, such as bananas.
Several major food groups are high in potassium including white meats, root vegetables, and fresh fruit, along with dairy. If prepared in a healthy way, they will also contribute to a healthy and balanced diet. If you are consuming a food for its potassium, try to eat it raw, if possible. Otherwise, bake it or include it in a soup: frying or boiling reduces the amount of available mineral, along with many other nutrients.
All of the following foods have potassium values per 1 cup serving greater than 400 milligrams, and many approach 700 milligrams. Root vegetables including potatoes, beets, parsnips, turnips, and rutabagas are the highest in potassium, and are delicious in roasts: a single baked potato with skin has 700 milligrams. Melons, peaches, avocados, tomatoes, and bananas are all high in potassium as well, and can be eaten raw, mixed in fruit salads, and included in a variety of dishes. In addition, squash, lentils, and beans have a lot: try roasting squash, or using beans and lentils in a healthy soup. In addition to having high calcium levels, fish and white meat also have high potassium levels along with whole milk, yogurt, and buttermilk. Finally, raw nuts also have a great deal, usually packing 200 milligrams or more per ounce, and one tablespoon of molasses has almost 300 milligrams.
Given the wide variety of potassium rich foods, most people should not suffer from a deficiency as long as they are eating a balanced and healthy diet. If you are concerned about your level of intake, discuss it with a medical doctor.