Despite the pivotal roles it plays, potassium often does not receive the attention it deserves. We all know that potassium is an electrolyte that can be found in bananas and that it’s good for our health, but very few of us know the functions this mineral performs and why it is pivotal to our overall health.
To fully understand how important potassium is, it is necessary to first discuss electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals that enable our body to perform vital functions such as regulating muscle contractions, regulating the nervous system, regulating our pH levels, and keeping us hydrated.
Potassium is one of the electrolytes necessary for a healthy body. Since we cannot naturally produce potassium, it is important we keep track of how much of this mineral we consume each day in order to ensure that we are maintaining the right balance.
So, what is potassium good for? This mineral helps us:
- Maintain healthy brain function
- Maintain healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis
- Maintain the balance of fluids in our body
- Regulate the nervous system
- Reduce blood pressure
- Protect against strokes
In the following sections, we will be discussing how potassium works to keep our body strong and healthy and, at the end of this blog post, we will mention our top tips to reach our daily recommended intake.
How Much Potassium Do We Need Each Day
Potassium is an electrolyte and, as such, it regulates fluid levels in our blood plasma and our body in order to enable muscle contractions (including the beating of our heart), and transmit nerve signals.
Just like every other mineral, the amount of potassium we should intake each day varies depending on our age and sex.
Recommended Potassium Intake:
Pregnancy (14-18 years)
Lactation (14-18 years)
Pregnancy (19-50 years)
Lactation (19-50 years)
Although potassium is readily available in healthy fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables, 98% of Americans do not reach their daily recommended intake of potassium.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) - which is composed of a large quantity of sodium-rich foods and not enough plants - is mainly responsible for the majority of Americans who are potassium-deficient.
According to the Journal of American College of Cardiology, this data is very revealing since there is a strong relationship between a potassium-deficiency and the country’s top two killers - strokes and heart disease. Increasing the intake of potassium to 1,600 mg per day, lowers the risk of stroke by 21%.
Despite the fact that severe potassium deficiencies (known as hypokalemia) are rare, a long-term moderate intake of this electrolyte can lead to chronic diseases such as high blood-pressure and related cardiovascular issues, and can cause kidney stones as well as bone loss.
Eating more potassium-rich foods and lowering your sodium-intake could decrease the chances of developing high-blood pressure and other related-issues.
Potassium-Rich Foods And Drinks
Contrary to popular belief, bananas are not the number one source of potassium. In this section, we’ve compiled a list of foods that are packed with potassium. You can use this guide to prepare your next healthy alkaline meal or snack.
Potassium-Rich Food & Drinks:
|Milligrams (mg) per Serving
Although the table above includes only some potassium-rich foods, HealthLinkBC offers an even more detailed list of foods containing potassium.
Knowing the amount of potassium contained in your food can help you make informed decisions that fit and support your healthy lifestyle.
Eating too many potassium-rich foods can be dangerous but intoxication induced by food is extremely rare. This is because healthy kidneys work to readily eliminate excessive amounts of potassium from our body.
Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization, if we were to ingest too much of this electrolyte, we would experience some of the following symptoms:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
Overall, potassium is responsible for a large number of functions in our body: it regulates the heartbeat as well as the correct functioning of muscles and nerves, is required to synthesize proteins and to metabolize carbs.
In the section below, we will be analyzing more in detail how potassium is essential for:
- The correct functioning of the nervous system
- Blood pressure
- Brain function
- Fluid balance
- Bone strength
Nervous System & Heart Health
Our inner electrical system would not be able to thrive without the help of potassium. Without potassium, our nerves would not be able to fire properly and to respond to stimulations.
Moreover, the nervous system regulates muscle contractions (including the heart). When potassium levels are low, nerve signals can be weak, and as a consequence, muscle contractions and the regularity of our heartbeat can be affected.
A series of 33 studies analyzed the impact of potassium on 128,644 participants: researchers discovered that people who ate balanced diets with adequate amounts of potassium were 24% less likely to experience a stroke.
Another study conducted by the American College of Cardiology Foundation had similar results. Over the course of 11 studies, and with the help of 247,510 participants, scientists found that “higher dietary potassium intake is associated with lower rates of stroke and might also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and total cardiovascular disease”.
Helps Reduce High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is responsible for a number of health complications including heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, dementia, and much more. These conditions are often triggered by unhealthy lifestyles that include an excessive consumption of sodium, sugar, processed foods, and poor exercise habits.
However, did you know that eating a fresh diet that emphasizes the greater intake of potassium can help reduce the likelihood of experiencing unwelcome diseases?
Studies have demonstrated that there is a correlation between potassium and sodium; introducing more potassium-rich foods in our diet can help us maintain our blood pressure in a healthy range.
As you may be aware, high amounts of sodium in the body can cause a spike in blood pressure. However, a healthy intake of potassium can help eliminate excess sodium.
A study by the American Society of Hypertension studied the effects of potassium of 1,285 participants aged 25-64. The research concluded that individuals with an increased intake of potassium presented a lower blood pressure compared to those who had a higher sodium-intake.
Did you know that potassium plays a significant role in maintaining a healthy brain? Since potassium is an electrolyte (an electrically-charged mineral that helps regulate the flow of water inside and outside cells), a low intake of this mineral can interrupt electrical signals in the brain and cause feelings of confusion, sluggishness, and mental fog.
This happens because the brain is composed of billions of neurons that constantly form connections (synapses) with thousands of other neurons. These “connections'' cause the release of chemicals known as neurotransmitters that spread information (such as our thoughts and actions in the surrounding cells).
However, since this exchange of information depends on electrolytes, low potassium levels can induce your brain to slow down. In fact, neurons that do not have enough potassium need to work more in order to connect with other neurons and cannot fire action potentials (the electrical impulses that send signals throughout our body) with the same rapidity.
In such cases, our body may experience :
- Difficulty in starting and finishing thoughts
- Brain fog
Moreover, in a 17 year-long study conducted by Mio Ozawa and his team in 2012 analyzed the relation between a higher potassium intake and dementia. The researchers found that the risk of developing Alzheimer disease decreased with an increased intake of minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Overall, potassium and sodium work intricately together for our neurological functions to work smoothly, ultimately helping us have the ability to learn and retain information.
When this functionality is compromised as a result of low potassium levels, symptoms such as foggy memory and reduced capacity to learn could occur.
One of the best ways to prevent cognitive decline is by living a healthy lifestyle with plenty of nutritious foods and mineralized alkaline water - which can help you maintain an alkaline body with a higher mineral concentration.
Poor fluid balance can lead to dehydration, which can negatively affect heart and kidney function. Stay hydrated and ensure you hit the recommended daily intake of potassium to maintain optimal fluid balance in the body.
60% of our body is made of water - 40% of this water is contained in cells and is known as intracellular fluid (ICF). The rest of our body’s water is found in our blood, spinal fluid, and even in between our cells, known as extracellular fluid (ECF).
Potassium is the main electrolyte found in intracellular fluid (the fluid inside your cells) whereas sodium is the primary electrolyte found in extracellular fluid (the fluid found outside your cells).These two important electrolytes work in tandem to maintain and regulate the flow of fluids and nutrients going in and out of your cells: while potassium is responsible for the amount of water in your cells, sodium determines the amount of water outside the cells.
Ideally, the number of electrolytes inside your cells should be the same as the amount of electrolytes outside your cells - this balance is called osmolality. However, an osmolarity imbalance causes the water in the side with less electrolytes to move to the opposite side.
Such a shift causes cells to either shrink (as the water moves out) or to burst (as the water moves in), thus “damaging or destroying cellular structure and disrupting normal cellular function.”
To maintain an appropriate fluid balance, Santevia recommends eating an alkaline diet rich in minerals and electrolytes, as well as drinking mineralized alkaline water. Adopting good health practices will maintain body health and hydration.
When we think of healthy bones, potassium may not be the first mineral to come to mind. Although calcium and magnesium play a vital role in this area, they are not the only ones.
A study conducted by the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES) found that a higher potassium intake improved bone mineral density in older men and postmenopausal women.
Another article published in the journal Osteoporosis International by the University of Surrey supports this claim. Dr. Helen Lambert and her team of researchers found that eating a potassium-rich diet neutralizes acid and diminishes the reabsorption and excretion of calcium, thus increasing bone strength.
Diminishing the excess acid in the body is pivotal to bone health - in fact Western diets, rich in animal and cereal protein, weaken our bones and cause fracture. Dr. Lambert’s study proved that potassium “could prevent osteoporosis” as a consequent decrease in bone resorption.
Santevia’s Top 2 Tips For Reaching Your Daily Potassium Intake
- Ensure your diet is full of potassium-rich foods. Our favourites: bananas, spinach and wild salmon. It is not ideal to increase your potassium intake through over-the-counter supplements. In fact, high-potassium doses from supplements can “damage the gut” and, in case of overdose, it can “lead to death by heart arrhythmia”. Before opting for potassium supplements it is advisable to talk to a doctor.
- Drink mineralized alkaline water. Santevia mineralized alkaline water is infused with calcium, magnesium, and other healthy minerals (including potassium). Its filtration system significantly reduces the amount of chlorine, fluoride, lead, mercury, volatile organic chemicals (VOC), pesticides, pharmaceuticals, microplastics, herbicides, and other harmful contaminants from your tap water. Drinking alkaline water can help maintain balance and can help you retain minerals in your body.