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Potassium is considered a major mineral, as well as an electrolyte. Tight control of potassium concentration both inside and outside the cells is required to maintain homeostasis. Potassium plays a vital role in maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance, transmission of nerve impulses, heart function and contraction of both skeletal and smooth muscle. Potassium is a nutrient of concern, as recent research has shown that the average dietary potassium intake for U.S. adults is below the recommended amounts.

Adequate Intake for Potassium

Potassium recommendations are defined in the Dietary Reference Intakes, DRIs. The DRIs are a set of nutrient reference values that are used to plan and assess the dietary intakes of healthy people 4. The DRIs include:

  • Recommended Dietary Allowances
  • RDA; Estimated Average Requirement
  • EAR; Adequate Intakes
  • AI;
  • Tolerable Upper Intake Levels
  • UL

Potassium-Rich Foods

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Consuming a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables should allow you to meet the AI for potassium. Other high potassium foods include molasses, sunflower seeds, yogurt, clams and almonds. Pre-packaged and processed foods should be limited as they generally are not good sources of potassium. Typically, highly processed foods are higher in sodium and lower in potassium and therefore may increase disease risk.

  • Consuming a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables should allow you to meet the AI for potassium.
  • Pre-packaged and processed foods should be limited as they generally are not good sources of potassium.

Importance of Potassium in Disease Prevention

An AI of 4,700 mg/day for adults has been established to encourage a diet rich in potassium, as higher intakes of potassium have been found to be associated with increased bone density, lower blood pressure and decreased risk of stroke and symptomatic kidney stones. Low potassium diets appear to play a role in the development of high blood pressure, as well.

Potassium Toxicity and Supplement Usage

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Potassium toxicity, or elevated blood potassium concentration, is known as hyperkalemia. When intake of potassium exceeds the kidneys' ability to eliminate it, toxicity can occur. No UL for potassium intake has been established, since potassium toxicity doesn't typically occur from dietary intake. However, use of potassium supplements poses a potential risk for toxicity. Toxicity symptoms include diarrhea and stomach irritation at low doses, and tingling of the hands and feet, muscle weakness and cardiac arrhythmia at higher doses.

Dietary potassium supplements are typically not needed; a balanced diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, should provide all your necessary potassium. However, if you are considering supplementation, speak with your physician before beginning the usage of potassium supplements.

  • Potassium toxicity, or elevated blood potassium concentration, is known as hyperkalemia.
  • No UL for potassium intake has been established, since potassium toxicity doesn't typically occur from dietary intake.
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