Why Do We Need Potassium in Our Diet?

Published on: 28/12/2021

A healthy potassium intake is essential to overall health. Find out more about this important mineral and how you can incorporate it into your diet.

Did you know that our cells contain approximately 98% of the potassium in our body? 80% of this is found in muscle cells, while the remaining 20% is found in bones, liver, and red blood cells. 

Once absorbed into the body, it acts as an electrolyte. When an electrolyte is dissolved in water, it forms positive or negative ions that are capable of conducting electricity. Ions of potassium have a positive charge.

This electricity is then used by our body to control a variety of processes, which is why a deficiency or excess of electrolytes in the body can impair a variety of critical functions.

Being the third most abundant mineral in our body, potassium does a lot for us. It helps our body in regulating fluid, transmitting nerve signals, and controlling muscle contractions. This mineral is essential for the proper function of our kidneys, heart, muscles, and nervous system. 

Role and Benefits of Potassium

Aside from being an essential mineral in the functions of our body systems, consuming a potassium-rich diet has also been associated with a slew of remarkable health benefits.

  • Regulates fluid balance - Because it is the main electrolyte in our intracellular fluid (water found inside our cells), it is responsible for regulating the amount of water contained within these cells.
  • Supports the nervous system - Nerve impulses are generated when sodium ions enter cells and potassium ions move out. A decrease in potassium levels in the bloodstream can therefore impair our body's ability to generate nerve impulses.
  • Helps regulate the contractions of the heart and muscles - Because changes in blood potassium levels can impair nerve signals in the nervous system, it can also cause muscle contractions to become weaker. In addition, potassium is necessary for a healthy heart, as its movement in and out of cells contributes to the maintenance of a regular heartbeat.
  • Bone and muscle maintenance - According to some studies, people who consume a lot of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables may have a higher bone mineral density. A potassium-rich diet may also aid in the preservation of muscle mass in older adults and those with health conditions associated with muscle wasting.
  • Supports kidney health - Calcium is a common mineral found in kidney stones, and several studies have demonstrated that potassium citrate (a potassium salt) decreases calcium levels in the urine.

Where to Get Your Potassium 

Potassium is found in a variety of plant-based foods, but processing depletes them of this nutrient. If you consume a lot of processed foods, then you may have a deficiency in potassium.

In general, dried fruits (like apricots and prunes) and pulses (a superfood group that includes chickpeas, beans dry peas, and lentils), are good sources of potassium. The majority of health authorities agree that a daily potassium intake of 3,500–4,700 mg appears to be the optimal amount.

Here is the potassium content of a 100-gram serving of some potassium-rich foods:

  • Baked yams: 670 mg
  • White potatoes: 544 mg
  • Grilled portobello mushrooms: 521 mg
  • Avocado: 485 mg
  • Baked sweet potato: 475 mg
  • Cooked spinach: 466 mg
  • Cooked salmon: 414 mg
  • Bananas: 358 mg

Because it is an essential mineral, we should always ensure that we have the right amount of potassium in our body, and the most effective way to obtain it is through a balanced diet. Keep in mind though, that high potassium intake is detrimental to the health of someone who has kidney disease. If you have any concerns about your potassium levels, make sure to speak to your doctor.