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Potassium is one of the electrolytes. Together with sodium, it determines the proper functioning of every cell of the body and the maintenance of vital functions. That is why its concentration in the body is so important. Both too low and too high blood potassium levels are dangerous. What can cause hypokalaemia and hyperkalaemia? What foods are high in potassium? Should potassium be supplemented?

Potassiumis one of the most important cations in the functioning of the organism. It is classified as an electrolyte and together with sodium it is responsible for creating a difference in electric potential inside and outside the cell. Balance between sodium and potassium means sustaining vital functions at the cellular level.

The role of potassium in the body

Potassium is mainly found in the intracellular fluid. Inside the cells, 98% of the body's potassium ions are present, and 2% outside the cells.

Potassium ions are not distributed equally in every tissue. As much as 75% of potassium cations are present in muscle cells, 7-8% in the liver and erythrocytes, and the remaining 18% in the rest of tissues and organs.

On average, the human body contains 4000 mmol of potassium ions.The normal amount of potassium in the blood is considered to be between 3.5 and 5.0 mmol / L.Potassium is passively absorbed from food in the small intestine, and its excretion is via the kidneys (92 %) and intestines (8%).

Potassium is an electrolyte, an element of the sodium-potassium ion pump, and its role is primarily related to the body's water management.

The tasks of potassium in the body include:

  • blood pressure regulation,
  • regulation of the body's water management,
  • maintaining acid-base balance,
  • activation of numerous cellular enzymes,
  • participation in the creation of the resting and functional potential of the cell membrane of neurons,
  • control of contractions and muscle work,
  • regulation of intracellular pH and osmotic pressure,
  • stimulation of insulin secretion.

Potassium requirement and average intake

While the concentration of potassium in the body is most often expressed in millimoles, the body's need for potassium and the potassium content in productsfood is usually given in mg. It is worth knowing that 1 mmol of potassium ions corresponds to 39.1 mg of this element.

The demand for potassium in adults at the level of sufficient consumption (AI) according to the standards for the Polish population is set at 3500 mg, which corresponds to 89.5 mmol. For children, the need is calculated taking into account body weight.

With the current knowledge, it is not possible to determine the EAR, i.e. the average potassium demand. It is difficult to accurately determine the amount of potassium needed to get through the diet. The body has developed self-regulation mechanisms that prevent fluctuations in potassium levels, which makes it difficult to assess the need for potassium.

There are also no biomarkers of potassium nutritional status, and changes in the concentration of this electrolyte in the blood are visible only in serious diseases. It has been observed in scientific studies that consumption of less than 3,500 mg of potassium per day is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, hence this value was used to establish the AI ​​standards.

The demand for potassium increases with increased sweating, staying in high temperatures, physical work and high physical activity, because this ion is excreted with sweat.

The use of diuretics (increasing urine output) is also a factor in increasing the body's need for potassium. The more sodium in a diet (mainly from table s alt), the more potassium it should contain to maintain electrolyte balance.

The amount of potassium ingested with your diet varies greatly and depends on your lifestyle and diet. People who consume a wide variety of foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, get as much as about 7,800-11,000 mg of potassium per day. However, this is a small group.

The average adult potassium intake in Europe is between 2,463 and 3,991 mg / day . In cities, the supply of potassium with the diet is greater than in the villages .In Poland - 2,450 mg for men and 2,490 mg for women. This means that the consumption ofpotassiumin Poland is insufficient. The poor, monotonous diet and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to too low dietary potassium intake. It is estimated that they only eat about 1,000 mg of potassium per day with their diet.

Potassium deficiency and excess

Potassium disturbances can have very different causes, but they always lead to either hypokalemia (too low potassium levels) or hyperkalemia (too high potassium levels). When abnormal levels of potassium in the blood are found, additional tests are necessary to diagnose the causeproblem.

The measurement of the level of potassium in the blood is a very unreliable factor, as most of the potassium ions are found in intracellular fluids.

Additional tests to be performed if you find that your blood levels are abnormal include:

  • concentration of other electrolytes, i.e. sodium and chloride in the blood plasma,
  • assessment of kidney function (at least creatinine),
  • assessment of acid-base balance,
  • daily urine collection
  • and daily potassium excretion.


Hyperkalemia, i.e.too high potassium levelin the blood (over 5 mmol / L), is the result of too much potassium supply or impaired potassium excretion, as well as the movement of potassium ions between spaces :

  • cellular,
  • extravascular
  • and vascular.

It is often a medical emergency. Conditions that can lead to hyperkalemia include:

  • kidney failure,
  • reduction of circulating blood volume,
  • decreased renal potassium secretion,
  • sodium reabsorption disorders as a result of adrenal insufficiency, adrenal enzyme deficiency, aldosterone deficiency or malfunction (hyporeninaemia), taking ACE inhibitors, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, heparin, cell resistance to aldosterone,
  • excessive chloride reabsorption.

Hyperkalemia is a condition that requires immediate medical attention. It cannot be achieved by excessive dietary potassium intake, but ingestion of oral potassium supplements may cause hyperkalemia.

Symptoms that may indicate hyperkalemia:

  • muscle weakness,
  • flaccid paralysis,
  • respiratory disorders,
  • in extreme cases, asystole (cardiac arrest) or ventricular fibrillation,
  • metabolic acidosis.


Hypokalemia is a state of potassium deficiency in the body found on a blood test - below 3.5 mmol / L in plasma - caused by insufficient or excessive potassium intake, as well as the movement of potassium ions between spaces:

  • cellular,
  • extravascular
  • and vascular.

Potassium deficiency is calculated from your kaleemia score. When reducing kaleemia: from 3.5 to 2.5 mmol / L, potassium deficiency is 300-500 mmol / L, and from 2.5 to 2.0 mmol / L - 500-800 mmol.

Hypokeliemia can be caused by:

  • potassium deficiency in the diet,
  • receivingdiuretics,
  • eating large amounts of sodium with your diet,
  • magnesium deficiency,
  • chronic diarrhea,
  • vomiting,
  • very high sweating,
  • primary or secondary aldosteronism,
  • Cushing's disease,
  • taking high doses of glucocorticosteroids,
  • Bartter's syndrome,
  • Liddle syndrome,
  • loss in urine in chronic heart failure,
  • catecholamines,
  • taking licorice, insulin, some antibiotics.

Hypokalemia can cause cardiac arrhythmias and can be life-threatening in people with heart disease. Symptoms ofpotassiumblood levels below normal are:

  • fatigue,
  • muscle weakness, especially the muscles of the legs,
  • breathing disorders resulting from the weakening of the respiratory muscles,
  • constipation,
  • paralytic intestinal obstruction as a result of weakening of smooth muscles,
  • kidney problems,
  • changes in heart rhythm with large deficiencies,
  • impairment of the functions of the peripheral nervous system and central nervous system (paraesthesia, nervous hyperactivity, apathy, concentration disorders, drowsiness, excessive thirst, cold intolerance),
  • non-respiratory alkalosis.

Potassium deficiency symptoms

See the gallery of 7 photos

Sources of potassium in food

Fresh food is rich in potassium. I am talking especially about vegetables, fruits, nuts, groats and cereal products, as well as meat and fish. The more processed the food, the greater the loss of potassium.

Despite the wide spread of potassium in food, often too little is consumed with the diet. Getting the right amount of this ion is especially difficult with a typical Western diet based on processed carbohydrate foods and low in fresh vegetables.

Common dietary changes cause especially increased sodium intake and decreased potassium intake. Therefore, the electrolyte balance is disturbed. Additionally, the kidneys' ability to retain potassium is low.

All of this makes hypokalemia more common, and mild hypokalemia may go unnoticed. It is worth taking care of consuming foods that provide a lot of potassium to prevent this dangerous condition.

Food is divided into:

  • low potassium (less than 100 mg of potassium / 100g),
  • medium potassium (101-200 mg / 100g),
  • high potassium (201-300 mg / 100g)
  • and very high potassium (over 301 mg / 100g).

High potassium productsand very high potassium ones are mainly vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, milk and fish. Baked potatoes provide the greatest amount of potassium. Tomatoes, on the other hand, although so recommended for potassium deficiencies, do not contain much more of this ion than other potassium-rich vegetables.

Foods that provide significant amounts of potassium include:

  • canned meat and fish products, including smoked products,
  • meat,
  • fish, incl. cod, halibut, mackerel, trout, sprat,
  • food concentrates,
  • groats, cereals, bran,
  • fresh mushrooms except butterflies and red pine mushrooms,
  • dried mushrooms,
  • nuts, almonds, seeds,
  • dried fruit,
  • fresh fruit: gooseberries, bananas, peaches, grapefruit, raspberries, melons, apricots, currants, plums, grapes, cherries,
  • most vegetables: eggplant, broad beans, Brussels sprouts, beetroot, horseradish, zucchini, garlic, beans, white and red cabbage, sauerkraut, dill, parsley, tomatoes, turnips, chives, spinach, all dry legume seeds , green beans, green peas, potatoes,
  • juices from the mentioned fruits and vegetables,
  • high-potassium s alts for use in the kitchen dedicated to people suffering from hypertension.

Examples of high-potassium foods

FoodBatch sizePotassium content
Fresh apricots2 art200 mg
Dried apricots5 pieces200 mg
Banana1 medium345 mg
Dates5 pieces270 mg
Nectarines1 average275 mg
Oranges1 item240 mg
Orange juiceHalf a glass235 mg
Dried plums5 pieces305 mg
Raisins1/4 glasses270 mg
Artichokes1 medium345 mg
Avocado1/4 art245 mg
Canned beansHalf a glass270 mg
Boiled beetrootHalf a glass260 mg
BroccoliHalf a glass230 mg
Brussels sproutsHalf a glass250 mg
Dry Bean And Pea SeedsHalf a glass300-475 mg
Dry lentilsHalf a glass365 mg
ParsleyHalf a glass280 mg
Baked potato1 big925 mg
PumpkinHalf a glass250 mg
SpinachHalf a glass420 mg
Fresh tomatoes1 medium290 mg
Canned tomatoesHalf a glass200-300 mg
ZucchiniHalf a glass220 mg
Vegetable juice from potassium-rich vegetablesHalf a glass275 mg
Tomato juiceHalf a glass275 mg
Nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews and others)A handful of 30 gok. 200 mg
PistachiosA handful of 30 g295 mg
Pumpkin, sunflower seedsA handful of 30 gok. 240 mg
Natural yoghurt200 g280 mg
Milk, buttermilk1 glass350-380 mg
Coconut milk1 glass497 mg
Coconut water1 glass404 mg
Soy milk1 glass300 mg
Beef100 g270 mg
Pisces100 g270 mg
Turkey100 g250 mg

Foods rich in potassium

See the gallery of 7 photos

Should potassium be supplemented?

Potassium supplementation should not be introduced on your own, because supplementation is one of the causes of hyperkalemia.

In people with low potassium levels, but within the normal range, first of all, you should focus on increasing the consumption of foods that provide potassium. Supplementation should be carried out in people with diagnosed hypokalemia under medical supervision.

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