Understand potassium and potassium targets in the Nutrient Explorer

What it is

Potassium is an essential mineral.

What it does

Potassium and sodium are the two minerals most responsible for maintaining fluid balance and establishing and maintaining the electrochemical gradient across cell membranes.

Recommended intake

The recommended intake for potassium is 3500mg per day for men and women who aren’t lactating. Lactation can increase intake requirements for potassium. Potassium requirements may also be higher for individuals who sweat a lot, including serious athletes and people who work outdoors in the heat, because some potassium is lost in sweat.

Likelihood of tracking completeness: Very high in the US and Canada, and low in many other places.

Nutrition labels in the US and Canada are required to list potassium content. So, the vast majority of American and Canadian foods in the MacroFactor database should contain potassium information, making it easy to accurately track your potassium intake with consistent food logging.

However, in the EU, Australia, and many other countries, potassium is a nutrient that is only reported on a voluntary basis. Many food manufacturers do not voluntarily list potassium content on nutrition labels, so many branded products in the MacroFactor database from outside the US and Canada lack potassium information. So, if you’d like to accurately track your potassium intake, you’ll need to make a point of mostly tracking “common foods,” which come from research-grade databases that have full nutrient reporting.

For more on when you can track using branded foods versus common foods when you’re trying to accurately monitor your intake of particular nutrients, you should check out this article.

Likelihood of insufficient intake: Very high

Most people in developed countries consume less than the recommended amounts of potassium.

For more on nutrients with a greater likelihood of insufficient or excessive intake, you should check out this article.

Signs of deficiency/insufficiency

Though most people have potassium intakes below the recommended levels, true potassium deficiency is rare. Most acutely, insufficient (but not deficient) potassium intake may increase blood pressure, especially when paired with high sodium intake. Over time, insufficient potassium intake may also increase your risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis.

The condition resulting from potassium deficiency is called hypokalemia, which can be caused by grossly insufficient potassium intake, but which is much more frequently caused by diseases, medications, or acute conditions (such as sweat loss from intense exercise) that interfere with potassium absorption or increase potassium excretion.

Mild hypokalemia can cause fatigue, muscle weakness, and constipation. More serious hypokalemia can interfere with brain function, decrease glucose tolerance, and cause serious muscular weakness. It even can be life-threatening if it’s severe enough to significantly decrease heart contractility.

Good sources

Green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, root vegetables (like potatoes and beets), tomatoes, various squashes (including pumpkin, summer squash, acorn squash, and zucchini), asparagus, peppers, okra, cruciferous vegetables, beans, and most fruits are great sources of potassium. Basically, most plant products, with the exception of nuts, seeds, and grains, are pretty good sources of potassium.

Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about micronutrients generally, there’s a five-part series on the MacroFactor website you might enjoy.

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