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We are going to talk here about a very specific mineral: potassium. Potassium is a super essential mineral in the body, so I want to go over what it is, what it can do, and how important it really is.
Here are some things that you should know.
Why is it so important? Number one, because we need so much of it. Out of all the nutrients - vitamin A, vitamin B, calcium, magnesium - potassium is needed in the largest amounts in the body. I’m talking 4700 mg a day.
The Roles of Potassium in the Body
Potassium plays many important roles in the body. Specifically, it can:
- Regulate fluid balance, muscle contractions, nervous system, and nerve impulses
- Reduce blood pressure
- Protect against stroke
- Help prevent osteoperosis and kidney stones/kidney disease
- Regulate heartbeat and heart rhythm
- Help synthesize protein and metabolize carbohydrates
Here's some more detail and some other roles to keep in mind:
Potassium Helps You Store Glucose and Make Energy
Potassium is used in almost all cellular reactions in the human body. It’s also used to store sugar in your liver and muscles. Now let’s explain what I mean by that. Stored sugar in your muscles is a good thing. We need to be able to store some sugar to be able to handle the quick release of energy that we need for many day-to-day tasks.
Glucose is a molecule of sugar. If you stick many of these molecules together in a group, they’re called glycogens. So glycogen is essentially the storage of glucose. This happens mainly in the liver and the muscles, and it’s used very instantly and very regularly in the body.
Now, it just so happens that potassium is the mineral that allows glucose to be stored as glycogen. So for every glucose molecule, you need one potassium molecule or element.
So that’s one really important reason why we need sufficient potassium in the body. If you have low potassium or are suffering from hypokalemia, you’re not going to store the glucose as well. And if you don’t store glucose, your body becomes less efficient and it begins to store more fat for energy.
Potassium Can Curb Sugar Cravings
Also, if you have enough potassium, you won’t have sugar cravings. Why? Because you’re going to be able to store sugar like you’re supposed to, and you’re going to have better blood sugar levels. This is because potassium stabilizes blood sugars so you don’t have regular peaks and valleys in your blood sugar levels.
So potassium helps blood sugars, insulin dysfunction, and cravings for sweets.
If you do crave sweets, we know that you may have hypokalemia, so you could benefit from more potassium.
Potassium Can Balance Sodium and Blood Pressure
When you consume potassium, you also help balance the sodium in your body. In general, we need a 4 to 1 potassium to sodium ratio to function efficiently. Most people have the opposite ratio, with way too much sodium and not enough potassium. As a result, they’re going to retain fluid and have other symptoms.
Specifically, people who retain fluid are “salt-sensitive,” meaning that they have high blood pressure. Hypokalemia, then, can lead to high blood pressure.
If you correct this and take potassium supplements, though, your blood pressure may go right back down and your fluid balance may improve.
Where Do You Get Your Potassium and What Can Cause Deficiency?
Potassium mainly comes from vegetables, but you can get it from animal proteins as well. But there are high potassium levels in:
- Leafy greens
- Beet tops
And, as with everything, it is best to get your potassium from natural sources rather than from potassium supplements. This can help improve your health overall (potassium-rich veggies are always healthy) and it can help ensure that you get an adequate intake without going overboard.
How Do We Know We’re Getting Enough?
One cup of vegetables or salads, on average, equals one ounce. You’re going to need about eight to ten ounces - so around seven to ten cups of vegetables or salad. That would be, roughly, one of those salad containers or one of the bags of salad that you see just at the grocery store. You just need one of those per day.
Also, keep in mind that I’m not talking about an extremely packed cup of salad - just a loose handful. And it doesn’t hurt if you have more because the kidneys will get rid of anything extra, particularly when it comes down to potassium.
Pro Tip: Eat Your Vegetable First
When I consume a meal, I always have the vegetable first, not at the end of the meal. Why? Because I’ve experimented and, if I do the protein first, I tend to just keep eating more and more protein. It’s like there’s no turn-off switch.
Eating the vegetables first gives me potassium and it kind of turns off that hunger and I don’t need as much protein.
Certain Conditions Can Require More Potassium
A lot of people supplement potassium because they find it’s hard to get it from food, and they get it straight into the body. Also, if you have certain conditions, you need potassium to improve. One of these is rheumatoid arthritis. With RA, if you take up to 6000 or 7000 milligrams of potassium, it may help you put those symptoms in remission.
Another one is diabetes or insulin resistance. Why? Because insulin does control. It’s like the door that allows potassium to go into the cell. So insulin controls the levels of potassium. When you have insulin resistance, you can’t pull that potassium in the cell. If you’re not able to do that, you have a lot of problems.
To make a long story short, if you increase potassium in the diet, you decrease the stress and insulin dysfunction. You also decrease the need for insulin, so having a little more will actually help insulin resistance and diabetes - so they both work kind of like a teeter toter.
Sugar Can Deplete Potassium
Now, if you do a ketogenic diet, it's very low carb. With low carbs, you’re going to drop a lot of fluid, which is great! See, with high carbohydrates - especially with a lot of refined carbohydrates - usually comes a high sugar content. Carbohydrates, then, cause retention of fluid. That means that, if you have cakes, cookies, sugars, and other refined carbs, you’re automatically depleting your potassium levels.
Well, in nature, sugar cane actually has very high potassium levels. Of course, what companies do is they refine that natural sugar and they get rid of that potassium and other minerals like iron. Ultimately, you end up with refined white sugar and brown sugar as a really depleted, potassium-deficient sweetener.
When you consume this refined sweetener without the mineral, your body starts to have too little potassium. It’s almost like your body will start trying to recombine that glucose with sugar and starts pulling from reserves.
In other words, when you consume refined sugar, you’re depleting your potassium and electrolytes while increasing your sodium and your fluid retention.
When you cut that out, you drop a lot of fluid. This means that you can drop a lot of weight in one week.
That’s good, but you better also focus on putting your potassium back in there because if you’re dumping a lot of fluid, you need to put the hydration back in there. It’s about ensuring that you have the right volume of fluid, minerals, and electrolytes in your body.
So, if you do the ketogenic diet and feel very tired, you just need to add a little bit of potassium and the energy will come back up.
Sometimes a little sodium will help, too. Even if you have low blood pressure, you need potassium and sodium to get more fluid in there. Water alone will not be enough.
And that pretty much covers the basics. The big takeaway? Potassium is a hugely important mineral, and it plays many important roles in the body. To make sure that you’re not deficient, make sure that you get your vegetables and you’ll help combat any problems.