Potassium is an electrically charged mineral (electrolyte) that is vital for many of the functions and processes that happen in our body. It’s considered an essential mineral, because we are unable to produce it and therefore must get it from our diet.
We need a minimum of 4700 mg of potassium per day – that’s equivalent to 7 to 10 cups of vegetables or salad! And because the demand for it is so high, and our body doesn’t store it for any length of time, we need to replenish it every single day. Chronic potassium deficiency can literally become a life-threatening situation.
Why Is It So Important?
Our muscles use the largest majority of what we consume, about 80%. Potassium is used for the proper electrical functioning of our cells as well as the transport and absorption of fluid, calcium and other nutrients into and out of them. It plays a role in controlling our pH level, our digestive system and in proper heart and central nervous system function, just to name a few.
How Do We Become Deficient In The First Place?
Potassium is in such high demand by the body for so many different things that it gets depleted very quickly. When we don’t get enough from our diet, we’re already starting out with a deficit.
Our body must maintain a very specific amount of potassium in our bloodstream, and if we’re not providing it from our food, it will take it from our gut, bones, muscles, nerves, and even our brain if necessary. For this reason, if you were to actually have your potassium level checked with a blood test, it would probably show that it was normal. But in reality you would actually have a deficiency because your cells have been depleted.
Additional things that decrease the supply are exercise and sweating, vomiting or diarrhea, stress (high cortisol level), too much salt in our diet, diuretics, alcohol and certain medications. Eating a high carb (sugar) diet depletes potassium. Diabetics are prone to deficiency because of their high sugar and insulin levels.
Also, and maybe somewhat ironically, following the ketogenic way of eating can cause potassium deficiency. Yep, true story. This is because our body is no longer holding on to so much fluid. When you lose the excess fluid you also lose sodium and potassium. So when we eat a keto diet, our requirement for potassium is greater. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your need for potassium is even greater than 4700mg per day.
Too Much Of A Good Thing?
It would be difficult (though not impossible) to consume too much potassium. Excess is filtered out by the kidneys (assuming they are healthy). You would have to have amounts in excess of about 8,000 to 10,000 mg per day before it might start to create a problem.
It’s important also to note that having the correct proportion of sodium to potassium matters. Ideally, there should be about a 1:4 ratio between the two.
Signs of Potassium Deficiency
So how might you know if you’re not getting enough potassium?
Look for symptoms such as tiredness/weakness, muscle fatigue, cramps, twitches or stiffness, brain fog, irritability, tingling or numbness in the nerve endings, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), fluid retention (swollen ankles or fingers, for example), constipation, sugar cravings, digestive issues due to insufficient amounts of stomach acid, and high blood pressure.
Sources of Potassium
Some great – and delicious – sources of potassium are:
~ cruciferous veggies and greens such as beet greens, arugula, kale, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, spinach, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce and Brussels sprouts. You can see a more extensive list of these vegetables here. And if you’d like to learn more about how easy it is to prepare these kinds of delicious, nutritious vegetables, I highly recommend getting a copy of this book. I’ve had mine for years and I love it!
fatty fish (cod, tuna, salmon, halibut) and clams
some nuts (Brazil, hazelnuts, pecans)
red meat and liver
coffee (both regular and decaf have some)
The Take Home Message
Potassium is absolutely vital for optimal health, and the most important thing you can do to ensure that you’re getting enough is to eat your veggies every day. The keto way of eating is the perfect way to help you achieve this!
Potassium supplements are also an option, but as with anything be sure to read the label to avoid any unwanted ingredients. Also, look for one that includes other minerals as well. Nutrients work synergistically, and often if you supplement only one of them you create imbalances in others. And because we need so much potassium, I recommending avoiding the ones that only have small amounts. You’d simply have to take too much of it to make it practical or cost effective.
I enjoy a lot of different vegetables, but a large salad is always a part of every meal. I vary the types of dressing and vegetables I put in so I don’t feel like I’m eating the same thing day after day.
Keto on, my friends, and make it a great day!