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The Importance Of Potassium

Potassium is an important electrolyte and interacts with sodium to perform various functions including balancing fluids and mineral levels within our bodies. It is found within all our cells and its levels are controlled by our kidneys. It is necessary for numerous cellular functions including regulating heartbeat rhythms and nerve impulses, muscle contractions, preventing muscle aches, supporting digestive health and boosting energy levels.

The recommended daily intake of potassium is as follows:

  • Infants 0-12 months: 400-700mg/day
  • Children 1-8 years: 3,000-3,800mg/day
  • Teens 9-18 years: 4,500-4,700mg/day
  • Adults 19 and older: 4,700mg/day
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding: 5,100mg/day

Some people, such as athletes, require even more potassium because of their higher muscle mass. Their bodies rely on effective blood flow to carry nutrients to vital organs, bones and broken-down muscle tissue.

Low levels of potassium can be dangerous and life-threatening. It is estimated that all groups in the U.S. are getting less than the daily recommended amount. The USDA reports that the median intake of potassium by adults in the U.S. is approximately 2800-3300mg for men and 2200-2400mg for women.

People most likely to have low potassium levels include:

  • Those who take diuretics in order to treat high blood pressure or heart disease
  • Anyone who frequently takes laxatives
  • Anyone who has recently had an illness that caused vomiting and diarrhea
  • Those with certain kidney or adrenal gland disorders
  • Alcoholics
  • People with uncontrolled diabetes
  • Athletes who exercise for more than 1-2 hours a day
  • Anyone on a very low-calorie diet

Symptoms of moderately low levels of potassium include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Greater risk for heart disease, especially suffering from a stroke
  • Increased salt/sodium sensitivity
  • Higher risk of kidney stones
  • Fatigue and trouble getting good sleep
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Higher risk for diabetes and insulin resistance
  • Reduced bone formation due to higher levels of calcium being excreted in urine
  • Muscle weakness and spasms
  • Joint Pain

Very low levels of potassium can result in severe potassium deficiency (hypokalemia). Symptoms are serious, and even deadly, and include cardiac arrhythmias, muscle weakness and glucose intolerance. This condition is usually caused by other factors such as complications due to kidney function, diuretic use, or being very sick and losing fluids.

Low potassium intake causes problems, one of the biggest being that your body is not able to neutralize acids as well. Non-carbonic acids are generated during digestion and metabolism of both plant and animal proteins (meats, dairy, and grains). Potassium balances these acids in order to keep the body at a proper pH, and low potassium can mean the body becomes too acidic.

Fruits and vegetables have built-in acid-neutralizers, but meats, most grains, and other animal foods do not. Because we often have a tendency to eat diets rich in animal proteins and grains and low in fruits and vegetables, more people build up a high amount of acid in the blood. This can result in poor digestion, impaired cognitive abilities, frequently fatigue, lower immunity, poorer heart health and many other potential risks.

Although this maybe alarming, fret not! You can increase your potassium intake naturally from whole, potassium-rich foods.

Potassium-Rich Foods

  • White Beans: 1 cup, cooked = 1,004mg
  • Lima Beans: 1 cup, cooked = 955mg
  • Avocado: 1 whole = 690mg
  • Broccoli: 1 cup, cooked = 458mg
  • Sweet Potato: 1 medium = 438mg
  • Bananas: 1 medium = 422mg
  • Salmon: 3 ounces = 416mg
  • Peas: 1 cup, cooked = 384mg
  • Sardines: 1 can/3.75 grams = 365mg
  • Grapefruit: 1 whole = 354mg
  • Raw Milk: 1 cup = 260mg
  • Grass-Fed Beef: 3 ounces = 237mg

Health Benefits of Potassium

  • Lowers Blood Pressure & Supports Heart Health

Potassium helps to control the electrical activity of the heart that regulates blood pressure, circulation, and heart beat rhythms, and, in combination with other minerals (calcium, magnesium), prevents fluids from building up in cells. A buildup of fluids in cells is what causes elevated blood pressure and can result in heart palpitations, narrowed arteries, scarring and poor circulation. In addition, low potassium can contribute to an irregular heartbeat, chest pains and cardiac arrest when the situation becomes worsened over time.

  • Supports a Healthy Metabolism

Because it is partially responsible for breaking down carbohydrates, in the form of glucose, from the food we eat and turning them into usable energy, potassium is necessary to maintain and even boost metabolism. Potassium also helps the body use amino acids in order to form proteins that build muscle and can help to balance minerals that are important for the growth and maintenance of muscles and bones.

  • Prevents Muscle Spasms and Pain

Potassium helps muscles to relax by balancing fluid levels. Low potassium can result in muscle spasms, cramps, and general pains. It can also cause a breakdown of muscle mass, fatigue, trouble exercising and can even contribute to weight gain.

  • Helps Maintain Bone Health

Potassium forms conjugate anions (ex. citrate) that are converted to bicarbonate. Low potassium levels are associated with reduced bicarbonate precursors that are needed to neutralize acids that are present in commonly eaten foods, especially animal proteins.
Sulfuric acids enter the body in the form of amino acids found in meat, poultry, and other high-protein foods. Because low levels of potassium mean low levels of bicarbonate precursors, bones are not properly buffered from the effects of sulfur-acids and can become demineralized, weak, and porous, increasing the risk for osteoporosis and fractures.

  • Supports The Nervous System

Potassium is involved in thousands of cellular functions and is crucial for nerve impulses and electrical signaling that brain functions rely on. Deficiency can cause fatigue, poor concentration, trouble learning and remembering, mood changes. One of the biggest signs of low potassium is “brain fog” or the inability to focus and keep a clear-headed, upbeat mood.

  • Needed For Proper Digestion

Potassium helps to balance water, fluid, and sodium levels within the digestive tract. Thus, low potassium can contribute to bloating, constipation, or abdominal pain due to fluid buildup which can cause imbalances in minerals. In addition, potassium is partially responsible for balancing the amount of acid in the stomach, healing the gut and keeping the body at the optimal pH level – allowing healthy bacteria to thrive and kill off harmful bacteria.

  • Prevents Kidney Disorders

Thanks to the inverse relationship with calcium, low potassium levels are associated with an increased risk of kidney stones. People prone to kidney stones usually have diets higher in sodium and lower in potassium. When potassium levels are low, more calcium is excreted from the body through urine, which must pass through the kidneys. In many instances, kidney stones are actually calcium deposits. Reducing calcium in the urine is one way to combat painful kidney problems.

Which potassium-rich foods are your favorite? Share with us on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest!

Whether you’re looking for breakfast or lunch, we’ve got plenty of choices to please your taste buds. Visit the Brick Your Neighborhood Deli for your yummy sandwich fix! Join us weekdays from 7:00am-4:00pm and Saturdays 8:00am-4:30pm.