I have a client who needs a diet high in potassium. Can you help?
Potassium, sodium and chloride are electrolytes-mineral salts that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. They are so intricately related that nutrition textbooks usually discuss them together. The reason is that electrolytes are always found in pairs. A positively charged molecule like sodium or potassium is always accompanied by a negatively charged molecule like chloride.
The sodium/potassium ratio is quite important for proper functioning of the cells, namely the muscle cells. Many folks have a sodium/potassium ratio of 2:1. Researchers recommend a dietary sodium/potassium ratio of 1:5 to maintain proper functioning of cells, lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Most fruits and veggies contain a sodium/potassium ratio of 1:100!
Potassium has the following key functions in the body:
- Water balance/distribution
- Acid/base balance
- Muscle and nerve cell function
- Heart function
- Kidney and adrenal function.
Over 95 percent of the body's potassium is in the cells. This is in contrast to the body's sodium, which is mostly inside the cells. Cells actually "pump" sodium out of the cell and potassium in via the sodium/potassium pump. This pump also functions to maintain the electrical charge within the cell. This is particularly important to muscle and nerve cells. The change in the electrical charge causes the muscle to contract. Although sodium and chloride are important, potassium is the most important dietary electrolyte. Potassium is essential for converting blood sugar into glycogen both in muscles and liver. A potassium shortage results in lower levels of stored glycogen.
Because exercising muscles use glycogen for energy, a potassium deficiency can produce great fatigue and muscle weakness. There is no RDA for potassium; however, the minimum requirements established by National Academy of Sciences are as follows for adults: The estimated safe and adequate daily dietary intake of potassium is thought to be 1900 to 2400 mg/day. It is thought most of us take in around 1000 to 1500 mg of potassium per day in our diet.
NOTE: Most people can handle an excess of potassium. The exception is people with kidney disease; they do not handle potassium in the normal way and may be susceptible to potassium toxicity. They need to be monitored by a physician and follow the guidelines given for kidney patients. Potassium does interact with magnesium. Use caution with potassium supplements for those taking prescription medications such as digitalis, potassium-sparing diuretics and certain types of blood pressure medications.
See below common foods that are good sources of potassium:
|Lima beans, cooked
|Fish in general
|Black strap molasses
Deep green leafy vegetables, whole grains such as wheat and rice bran, nuts and seeds and soybeans are other great sources.
Trivia: In 1807, the English chemist Sir Humphry Davy isolated potassium. He gave it its name and the chemical symbol "K" for kalium, which is the Latin term for alkali.