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Let’s talk about the foods that have the most potassium.
In this article:-
- How Much Potassium do we Need?
- Why is Potassium so Important?
- Low Potassium Symptoms
- High Potassium Foods
First: How Much Potassium Do We Need?
Potassium is a mineral (like calcium and sodium) that we need in order for our bodies to function properly. On average, our recommended daily intake (RDI) of potassium is about 4700 milligrams a day - and that’s not even when your body is stressed.
If you’re stressed or if you have a condition that makes your body constantly stressed - like rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes - you probably need closer to 5000 - 6000 milligrams a day to support your system.
Now, there’s limited data on this, but some data shows that prehistoric levels of potassium were even as high as 7000 to 15000 milligrams per day. They were getting their potassium through greens, tubers, and roots. That’s a lot of potassium, and it was probably a good thing that they were getting so much.
Today, this is difficult to get, and many people don’t get enough. That’s because they consume a lot of low-potassium foods, along with unhealthy foods like refined sugars and carbs that actually deplete potassium.
Why Is Potassium So Important?
Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte (like sodium and calcium) that’s absolutely essential for many basic bodily functions. Specifically, this nutrient helps the function of your brain, nerves, heart, and muscles. It can also:
- Move nutrients into your cells and remove waste
- Counter the effects of sodium and help blood pressure
- Help your nerves fire properly
- Regulates the water balance in the body and the acid-base balance in blood and tissues
- It converts glucose to glycogen that can be stored in the liver and used for future energy.
It’s also difficult to over-do. If you have healthy kidneys, then your kidneys will simply excrete any excess potassium that you consume.
That said, many people don’t get enough and they pay a pretty high price.
Low Potassium Symptoms
If you have low potassium, your body doesn’t function properly. Specifically, you will experience symptoms like:
- High blood pressure: When you’re low in potassium, blood pressure will increase. Why? Because potassium is a physiological relaxer. It’s a tranquilizer. It calms things down.
- Muscle cramps: Potassium is an electrolyte, meaning it helps control electricity and muscle function in the body. If it’s low, you’re more likely to experience cramps and charlie horses.
- Sugar cravings: Potassium helps you store sugar, and it’ll actually help you get rid of sugar cravings because the storage of glucose needs potassium.
- Constipation: Potassium helps regulate digestion and keep things flowing.
- High insulin: There’s a relationship between sugar, blood sugar, diabetes, and potassium. In fact, when you have enough potassium, the need for insulin goes down - so I always recommend potassium for diabetic clients.
- Muscle weakness: You can have this inexplicable muscle weakness and not know why. That’s because electrolytes are needed to help the muscles contract.
- Abnormal heartbeat: That’s also why you can have an abnormal heartbeat. The heart is a muscle. These abnormal heartbeats - for example, atrial fibrillation and arrhythmias - are a combination of deficiency in potassium and/or magnesium.
- Anxiety and insomnia: Again, potassium is something to calm you down. So if you’re doing, for example, a diet that doesn’t involve a lot of potassium, you can start manifesting a lot of these symptoms.
And this is difficult to diagnose. 98% of our potassium is stored inside our cells - and it can’t be measured using a normal blood test. These tests only measure the potassium that’s in the blood, which is only 2% of the total. To properly test, you’d have to do a special intracellular test that most doctors don’t know about.
That’s why I tend to go by symptoms - and why I make sure that my patients are getting enough of the potassium they need.
Misconception: Eat Bananas
Now, the misconception when it comes to potassium intake is to eat a lot of bananas. But here’s the thing: bananas aren't actually a good source of this nutrient. That’s because bananas only have 300 mg of potassium, and you need 4700 mg per day to hit the regular amount that you need. That means you would have to consume 11-12 bananas to hit your daily dose.
And you don’t want to do that. You don’t want all that sugar.
Instead, it’s best to consume potassium from vegetables and salad - and you are going to need about seven to ten cups. Here are the top veggies and plant-based sources on that list.
Actual High Potassium Foods
Beet tops: 1300 mg per cup
Beet tops, by far, have the highest potassium content on the list - and they're low in calories. This root vegetable also contains nitrates - which have been shown to support blood vessel function and heart health - and folate.
When it comes to preparation, I like to take the beets, remove the tops, put them in a blender with kale, and make a kale shake. This is also good for your gallbladder and your liver.
Avocado: 975 mg per avocado
One half of an avocado has about 487 mg of potassium, which is about 10% of your daily value. If you eat the whole thing, you’ll get 20%, which is not too shabby at all.
Avocados are also a great source of good heart-healthy fats, vitamin K, and folate. Also, as a low-sodium food, avocado can help those with high blood pressure that need to increase their potassium and decrease their salt intake.
Lima beans: 975 mg per cup
At nearly a thousand milligrams of potassium per cup, lima beans are another one of the top potassium-rich choices on the list. They’re also a great source of:
- Cholesterol-lowering fiber
- 24% or your daily iron requirement
Spinach: 839 mg per cup
Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense, low-calorie, and low-fat vegetable options out there.
Along with having a ton of potassium, one cup of spinach also has a ton of other nutrients, including 366% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A, 725% of your vitamin K, 57% of folate and 27% of magnesium.
Squash: 801 mg per cup
Squash is an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals. Just one cup of cooked squash has, along with potassium:
- 450% of your recommended daily intake (RDI) for vitamin A
- 50% of the RDI for vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Magnesium and manganese, both of which play an important role in bone health.
Our favorites include butternut squash and acorn squash, though you can use other varieties as well.
Salmon: 839 mg per six ounces
You probably already know that wild-caught salmon has a whole suite of health benefits. Most notably, it is:
- Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can decrease inflammation, lower blood pressure, reduce risk of cancer, and improve cell function.
- A high-protein, healthy fatty fish
- A good source of B vitamins, including vitamin B6 and vitamin B12
- High in selenium, an important trace mineral needed in the body
Brussel sprouts: 504 mg per cup
These high-fiber cruciferous vegetables are high in potassium and low in calories. They are also high in:
- Vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting and bone health
- Vitamin C, which can aid in tissue repair and immune function
- Antioxidants that can reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of chronic disease
- Fiber, which can reduce constipation, improve blood sugar, and reduce the risk of heart disease.
And remember - keep your sodium low whenever you can. Sodium and potassium work together in the body, and your potassium-to-sodium ratio should be 4:1. If your sodium intake is high, you will never be able to consume enough potassium to correct the imbalance - and you won’t get the health benefits that come from consuming potassium.
Let us know if you have any questions.