Dear Alice,

What foods are rich in potassium besides bananas?

Dear Reader,

Limiting yourself to bananas as your potassium source would be, well, bananas! While this popular yellow fruit is ap-peel-ing (get it?) due to its high potassium levels (one medium banana has about 422 milligrams), it’s certainly not the only option in the pantry. It’s critical to consume the recommended amounts of potassium, but there can be creative ways about getting there.

Getting right down to it, the top five sources of potassium are (drum roll, please):

  • A half cup of dried apricots 
  • One cup of cooked lentils
  • A half cup of dried prunes
  • One cup of mashed acorn squash
  • A half cup of raisins

List adapted from the National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements.

A bit more about what this nutrient does for you: potassium is a mineral, specifically an electrolyte, that helps the body conduct a number of critical functions such as normalizing blood pressure and muscle contraction. Potassium is also very interconnected with sodium, as sodium works to maintain normal fluid levels outside the cell and potassium works to maintain normal intercellular fluid levels. Additionally, bodies need to have a higher intake of potassium than sodium in order to properly maintain inner and outer cellular fluids. The good news is that there are plenty of fresh, whole foods available that can provide an abundance of the essential mineral and plenty of energy for monkey business!

So, how much of this mineral is recommended? Adequate intake (AI) refers to an amount of a nutrient that is suitable for most people, but also means that some people may be fine with getting slightly less than the AI amount. The AI for potassium in adults is currently approximately 2,300 milligrams per day for women and approximately 3,000 milligrams per day for men. This may seem like a lot, but rest assured, there are many food sources that have claim to potassium-rich fame. In fact, if you're eating a diet rich in fruits (such as oranges, cantaloupe, and apricots), vegetables (particularly broccoli, potatoes with their skin, tomatoes, and kidney beans), milk, and protein (including fish such as cod and salmon, chicken, nuts, and soy products), you'll satisfy your potassium AI. To put it in perspective, a meal consisting of cod, spinach, white beans, and one medium baked potato satisfies nearly half of your daily requirement!

Now that you know a bit more about potassium-rich foods, you may be curious to know what can happen when you don't have enough of the stuff. Excess potassium is flushed out of the body through sweating, urinating, and defecating. Conditions that cause the body to lose more fluid than normal, such as inadequate nutrition combined with diuretic or laxative use, vomiting, or bouts of diarrhea, can cause an individual to become potassium-deficient or hypokalemic. When potassium levels drop severely, the body isn’t able to balance water levels as effectively. Low potassium levels may cause symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle damage, cramps, or weakness
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Constipation

In severe cases, hypokalemia can lead to paralysis in certain muscles and irregular heart rate. All this to say, eating a well-balanced diet rich in fresh, whole foods is the best bet for getting plenty of potassium for the average person. Unless under the direction of a medical professional, potassium supplements aren’t recommended.

It's also good to note that some folks may need to lower their potassium intake, such as those with kidney disease and those who take certain medications, as too much potassium can lead to a condition known as hyperkalemia. This condition occurs when there is too much potassium in one's blood and can lead to potentially life-threatening health risks.

If you're concerned about whether or not you’re getting enough (or too much) potassium in your diet, enlisting the help of a registered dietitian or health care provider may be in order.

Hope you got the information you were looking for... and even more. Good luck harnessing the potential of potassium!

Alice!

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