By Betty Murray
Potassium is a mineral that is essential to the function of all of the body’s cells, tissues, and organs. It is also an electrolyte and is crucial to heart function, the skeletal and muscular systems, and digestion.
Potassium is found in many foods, including all meats, some fish (salmon, cod, and flounder), many fruits, veggies, and legumes. The body processes excess potassium through the kidneys to keep potassium levels balanced in the body. For many people, however, excess potassium is not the problem; rather a potassium deficiency.
There are a number of factors that may play into a potassium deficiency, including:
• Excessive sweating
• Diarrhea and vomiting
• Overuse of laxative
• Chronic kidney diseaes
• Diuretic medications
• Eating disorders (bulimia)
• Low magnesium level
• Malabsorption syndroms (such as Crohn’s disease)
A potassium deficiency (hypokalemia) can be dangerous and even life threatening. Symptoms of potassium deficiency include: weakness, lack of energy, muscle cramps, tingling or numbness, stomach problems, and irregular heartbeat. High blood pressure, stroke, and inflammatory bowel disease have also been linked to low levels of potassium.
Adults over age 19 (including pregnant women) should get 4.7 grams (4,700mg) of potassium daily. Women who are breastfeeding should get 5.1 grams per day. The best way to get plenty of potassium is to eat a diet that is rich in fruits and veggies, including bananas, citrus juices, avocados, cantaloupes, tomatoes, potatoes, lima beans, flounder, salmon, cod, chicken, and other lean meats. If you think you may have a potassium deficiency, talk to your doctor. There are some potassium supplements available, but they should not be taken without first having a physician consult.
If you aren’t already tracking your nutrition, now is the time to start. Keeping track of what you eat can help identify nutrient deficiencies, such as a potassium deficiency. MyFitnessPal is one of the most popular nutrition and fitness tracking apps. It is available on both iOS and Android. SparkPeople is another robust tool you can use to track food, workouts, and weight. SparkPeople is also available on iOS and Android.
Betty Murray, CN, HHC, RYT is a Certified Nutritionist & Holistic Health Counselor, founder of the Dallas-based integrative medical center, Wellness and founder of the Metabolic Blueprint wellness program. Betty’s nutrition counseling practice specializes in metabolic and digestive disorders and weight loss resistance. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutritional interventions to improve their health. Betty is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.