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:
- Support heart health
- Ensure proper muscle function
- Maintain bone health
- Control the acid-base balance
- Break down and use carbohydrates
Although many foods contain potassium, vegetables and fruit are the richest sources.
Vegetables, in particular beans, lentils, tomatoes, potatoes (particularly with the skin), sweet potatoes, soy, 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 good sources of potassium.
All meats (red meat and chicken) and fish, such as salmon, cod, flounder, and sardines provide some potassium as well.
People with kidney problems, particularly those on dialysis, should not eat too many potassium-rich foods. Your health care provider will recommend a potassium-restricted diet if you need it.
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 or 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 II receptor blockers (ARBs)
- Potassium-sparing diuretics (water pills) such as spironolactone, triamterene or amiloride
- Severe infection
The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and 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
Gropper SS, Smith JL, Carr TP. (2020). Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. 8th ed. Boston, Massachusetts: Cengage Learning; 2020.
Mozaffarian D. Nutrition and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann, DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 49.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine website. Dietary reference intakes for sodium and potassium (2019). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/25353/dietary-reference-intakes-for-sodium-and-potassium. Accessed June 6, 2022.
National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements website. Potassium – fact sheet for health professionals. ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Potassium-HealthProfessional/. Updated June 2, 2022. Accessed June 6, 2022.
Ramu A, Neild P. Diet and nutrition. In: Naish J, Syndercombe Court D, eds. Medical Sciences. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 16.
Review Date 6/22/2022
Updated by: Stefania Manetti, RD/N, CDCES, RYT200, My Vita Sana LLC - Nourish and heal through food, San Jose, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.