Dietary Counseling and Consultations

Minerals & Vitamins

Potassium do you need it?

Published October 10th, 2014 in Minerals & Vitamins

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

I have a growing number of older clients on “no salt” diets, taking potassium supplements. This raises alarm bells with me due to the very important balance between these two minerals. Often times when I query clients on what foods they are eating to replace their potassium, the only food that is mentioned is bananas. This food has a host of challenges for many clients as they may also be diabetic, watching their weight or not consuming adequate amounts of other fruits and vegetables to maintain healthy blood sugars and mineral balance.

Potassium is a mineral that is crucial for life. Potassium is necessary for the heart, kidneys, and other organs to work normally. This mineral is part of a team, with salt being it’s counterpart. This mineral is easily available in the diet if we are eating healthy foods not processes ones that have been stripped of more than one or two necessary nutrients.

Many Americans do not eat a healthy diet, especially the elderly or chronically ill and may be deficient in potassium. Low potassium is associated with a risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer, digestive disorders, and infertility. For people with low potassium, doctors sometimes recommend potassium supplements. The most common food they will tell you to eat is banana – which drives me crazy.

Potassium deficiencies are more common in people who:

Use diuretics and birth control pills
Have physically demanding jobs
Are high performance athletes
Have celiac, ulcerative colitis, IBS or Crohn’s disease
Have an eating disorder
Abuse alcohol or drugs

The Institute of Medicine has set an adequate intake for potassium at about 4700mg for average adult individuals. This number however is different for those who are endurance athletes, firefighters, marathon runners, pregnant and breast feeding. These individuals need to carefully monitor their potassium and salt intake to prevent a condition known as Hyponatremia.

Hyponatremia is an electrolyte disturbance in which the sodium ion concentration in the plasma is lower than normal. Normal serum sodium levels are between approximately 135 and 145 mEq/L (135 – 145 mmol/L). Hyponatremia is generally defined as a serum level of less than 135 mEq/L and is considered severe when the serum level is below 125 mEq/L.

Many conditions including congestive heart failure, liver failure, kidney failure and pneumonia can have an associated hyponatremia. It can also be caused by overhydration from drinking too much water (polydipsia).

In a nutshell Balance is critical.

Many healthcare providers may tell you this is not a common occurrence, and I would on average agree, but, I routinely see elderly clients with dehydration, some have ended up in the hospital for emergency rehydration. Many of these individuals also have health conditions where supplemental potassium is counter indicated, as is the case with kidney disease and congestive heart disease. All of them had low normal sodium levels before the hospitalization, several of them were told to take potassium supplements, additionally the clients or their family often express concerns over loss of memory or cognitive function. Confusion is a common symptom of dehydration/ poor electrolyte balance.
So lets take a look at healthy foods that will help maintain your electrolyte balance without the risk of overdosing on potassium, and elevating your blood sugars.
Natural food sources of potassium include:

Mung Beans
Kelp / Dulse
Black and Green Tea
Beet greens
Tomato Past
Cod (canned)
Figs (high glycemic)
Raisins (high glycemic)
Dates (high glycemic)
Bananas (high glycemic)

The FDA has determined foods that contain at least 350 milligrams of potassium can bear the following label: “Diets containing foods that are good sources of potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.”

What are the risks of taking potassium?

Side effects. upset stomach. Some people have allergies to potassium supplements.

Interactions. Potassium supplements may not be safe if you take certain medicines for diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.

Warnings. People with kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, Addison’s disease, stomach ulcers, or other health problems should never take potassium supplements without talking to a doctor first.

Overdose. Signs of a potassium overdose include confusion, tingling sensation in the limbs, low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, weakness, and coma. Get emergency medical help immediately.

To Learn more on Taking Back Control of Tour Health see Tammera Karr’s new Book “Our Journey with Food” available in the Fall of 2014