Potassium is a mineral that your body needs to work properly. It is a type of electrolyte.
Potassium is a very important mineral for the human body.
Your body needs potassium to:
- Build proteins
- Break down and use carbohydrates
- Build muscle
- Maintain normal body growth
- Control the electrical activity of the heart
- Control the acid-base balance
Many foods contain potassium. All meats (red meat and chicken) and fish, such as salmon, cod, flounder, and sardines, are good sources of potassium. Soy products and veggie burgers are also good sources of potassium.
Vegetables, including broccoli, peas, lima beans, tomatoes, potatoes (particularly their skins), sweet potatoes, and winter squash are all good sources of potassium.
Fruits that contain significant amounts of potassium include citrus fruits, cantaloupe, bananas, kiwi, prunes, and apricots. Dried apricots contain more potassium than fresh apricots.
Milk, yogurt, and nuts are also excellent sources of potassium.
People with kidney problems, particularly those on dialysis, should not eat too many potassium-rich foods. Your health care provider will recommend a special diet.
Having too much or too little potassium in your body can cause serious health problems.
A low blood level of potassium is called hypokalemia. It can cause weak muscles, abnormal heart rhythms, and a slight rise in blood pressure. You may have hypokalemia if you:
- Take diuretics (water pills) to treat high blood pressure or heart failure
- Take too many laxatives
- Have severe or prolonged vomiting and diarrhea
- Have certain kidney or adrenal gland disorders
Too much potassium in the blood is known as hyperkalemia. It may cause abnormal and dangerous heart rhythms. Some common causes include:
- Poor kidney function
- Heart medicines called angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin 2 receptor blockers (ARBs)
- Potassium-sparing diuretics (water pills) such as spironolactone or amiloride
- Severe infection
The Food and Nutrition Center of the Institute of Medicine recommends these dietary intakes for potassium, based on age:
- 0 to 6 months: 400 milligrams a day (mg/day)
- 7 to 12 months: 860 mg/day
CHILDREN and ADOLESCENTS
- 1 to 3 years: 2000 mg/day
- 4 to 8 years: 2300 mg/day
- 9 to 13 years: 2300 mg/day (female) and 2500 mg/day (male)
- 14 to 18 years: 2300 mg/day (female) and 3000 mg/day (male)
- Age 19 years and older: 2600 mg/day (female) and 3400 mg/day (male)
Women who are pregnant or producing breast milk need slightly higher amounts (2600 to 2900 mg/day and 2500 to 2800 mg/day respectively). Ask your provider what amount is best for you.
People who are being treated for hypokalemia may need potassium supplements. Your provider will develop a supplementation plan based on your specific needs.
Note: If you have kidney disease or other long-term (chronic) illnesses, it is important that you talk to your provider before taking potassium supplements.
Diet - potassium; Hyperkalemia - potassium in the diet; Hypokalemia - potassium in the diet; Chronic kidney disease - potassium in diet; Kidney failure - potassium in diet
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine website. Dietary Reference Intakes for sodium and potassium. March 5, 2019. www.nap.edu/catalog/25353/dietary-reference-intakes-for-sodium-and-potassium. Accessed July 8, 2019.
Seifter JL. Potassium disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 117.
Review Date 4/23/2018
Updated by: Emily Wax, RD, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 07/08/2019.