Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte as well as being the third most abundant mineral in the human body.
Despite its importance, it was flagged as a ‘nutrient of public health concern’ in the 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, with less than 2% of Americans meeting their recommended daily potassium intake.
- Roles of Potassium in the Body
- Potassium Helps You Do It With Feeling
- Potassium-Rich Food Sources
- Healthy High Potassium Recipes
- Factors Influencing Potassium Requirements
- Satiety Response to Foods that Contain More Potassium
- Multivariate Satiety Analysis
- Sodium vs Potassium
- Potassium Stretch Targets
- Can You Get Too Much Potassium?
- Availability of Potassium and Correlation with Obesity
- Correlation of potassium with obesity rates
- How Do I Get Enough Potassium on Keto?
- Insulin Resistance and The Keto Flu
- What Is the Optimal Sodium:Potassium Ratio?
- Do I Need A Potassium Supplement on Keto?
- Synergistic Nutrients with Potassium
- Nutrient Profile of High-Potassium Foods
- How Do I Calculate My Potassium Intake?
Roles of Potassium in the Body
- Potassium is an intracellular mineral, meaning it is highly concentrated inside the cell. Normal body function depends on tightly regulated potassium concentrations inside and outside of cells.
- The relationship between Potassium and sodium is perhaps one of the most critical mineral relationships, as they work alongside one another to create membrane potential. This is critical for sending nerve signals, contracting muscles, cardiovascular function, and nutrient transport into and out of cells.
- Potassium is critical to insulin sensitivity and synthesis. In fact, studies have shown that low levels of potassium intake have been linked to high blood sugar and insufficient insulin levels to control blood glucose.
- Because of potassium’s role as an electrolyte and a mineral critical to cell signalling, it is crucial for regulating the immune system. It is also known to activate parts of the immune system.
- Potassium helps you regulate your fluid balance.
- Potassium regulates muscle concentration and heartbeat. Low blood concentrations (hypokalemia) can result in muscular paralysis or abnormal heart rhythms that can be fatal.
- Potassium is essential for balancing sodium and maintaining adequate blood pressure. For this reason, it can help to manage the damaging effects that chronic hypertension has on the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys and prevent stroke.
- Because of potassium’s importance in bone and kidney health, low levels have been associated with kidney stones and osteoporosis.
Potassium Helps You Do It With Feeling
Nerve impulses are generated when sodium ions move into cells, and potassium ions move out of them. This is known as the Na/K+ Pump, responsible for many bodily functions. For example, your nervous system relays messages between your brain and body that help to regulate your muscle contractions, heartbeat, reflexes and many other functions using the Na/K+ Pump.
Potassium-Rich Food Sources
Potassium is relatively abundant in plant foods. As a result, it can be tough to get on a diet that neglects them or limits them (e.g., high fat keto and carnivore).
Foods highest in potassium tend to be green veggies like the ones listed below (not bananas!):
- Butternut squash
- tomato paste
- dried apricots
- dried plums
- dried raisins
- beet greens
- green peppers
- sweet potato
- coconut water
Beans and Legumes
- white beans
- black beans
- lima beans
Plant foods are arguably the best source of potassium. For this reason, it is helpful to consume several servings of nutrient-dense plant foods to make strides towards your potassium goal.
- lean meat (chicken, beef, pork)
While animal foods have some potassium, getting your required potassium on a carnivore diet can be challenging.
Healthy High Potassium Recipes
Some examples of our most potassium-rich NutriBooster recipes include:
- optimised electrolyte mix
- Sue’s salad (pictured)
- lemon vegetables
- cruciferous juice
- sautéed radish & watercress
Certain factors and conditions may increase your demand for potassium, like if you:
- experience adrenal stress,
- sweat a lot,
- are very active,
- have diabetes,
- are on a low-carb diet,
- are at risk of diabetic ketoacidosis,
- consume a lot of salt,
- consume a lot of dairy or calcium supplements,
- have deficient magnesium levels,
- are recovering from prolonged undernutrition,
- suffer from bulimia or anorexia nervosa,
- have excessive vomiting or diarrhea,
- use or abuse laxatives,
- use potassium-focused diuretics (thiazide or furosemide),
- drink a lot of coffee, tea, alcohol or sugar, or
- have kidney disease.
Our analysis suggests that we consume far fewer calories when we prioritise foods that contain more potassium.
People who consume the most potassium in their diet tend to consume around 50% fewer calories. Our data shows that the satiety response for potassium is stronger than any other micronutrient. Only the macronutrient protein has a more robust satiety response than potassium!
The average potassium intake of Optimisers is 4.0 g (4000 mg) per 2000 calories with an 85th percentile intake of 5.7 g per 2000 calories. The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for potassium is 4.7 g per day for an adult male, while the Adequate Intake is 2.3 g per day for adult females.
Multivariate Satiety Analysis
The multivariate analysis of our Optimiser data below shows that potassium is only second to methionine of all the micronutrients in its impact on satiation. Moving from low potassium to high potassium corresponds with an 8.4% reduction in calorie intake.
Sodium vs Potassium
Without the right balance of electrolytes, your body can’t effectively utilise the energy from the food you eat. This is particularly true for sodium and potassium.
When potassium dissolves in water, it produces positively charged ions (electrolytes), allowing electric charges to move through your body.
The sodium-potassium pump and the balance of potassium ions inside the cell with sodium ions outside the cell are integral to your energy production and the movement of energy throughout your body.
Potassium and sodium are synergists as well as antagonists to one another. As a result, potassium depletion induces sodium retention, associated with hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease.
While we have intense cravings for salt, sodium could be a stop-gap measure when our body genuinely craves more potassium. But, conversely, you tend to need less sodium when you get enough potassium.
The chart below shows the satiety response curves of sodium and potassium together. Although both minerals are essential, potassium has a much higher satiety response.
Based on the robust satiety response data, we have set a stretch target of 6.0 g of potassium for men and 4.8 g for women. Once you have started to get the hang of nutrient density, you could ‘level ‘up’ by aiming for these stretch targets to truly optimise your nutrition.
While there is a limit to how much sodium you should consume, it seems almost impossible to overdo potassium from food because of the complete mineral profile found in nutrient-dense, potassium-rich foods. Many of the issues associated with excess sodium consumption can be mitigated by increasing the amount of potassium in your diet.
The chart below from the PURE study indicates that higher potassium levels are beneficial. While there is an inflection point at around 2 g per day, there is no apparent downside to higher potassium intake at the levels achievable from food.
Please keep in mind that this comes from food forms of potassium and not supplements. Taking large amounts of potassium in the form of a supplement can lead to heart palpitations, arrhythmia, and even death. If you take potassium-sparing medications for blood pressure, you should be especially careful when supplementing potassium.
Potassium in our food system has decreased significantly since chemical fertilisers were implemented for widespread use in the 1940s, and industrial agriculture subsequently increased in the 1960s.
While fossil fuel-based fertilisers have enabled us to double food production and support an increased population, food that grows faster tends to have a lower nutrient content, especially when the soil has become depleted of nutrients.
Correlation of potassium with obesity rates
Interestingly, this decrease in potassium also aligns with the rise in obesity rates.
|Nutrient||correlation with obesity|
|sodium (g/2000 cals)||-96%|
|calcium (g/2000 cals)||-96%|
|saturated fat (%)||-92%|
|potassium (g/2000 cals)||-91%|
|vitamin A (RAE/2000 cal)||-81%|
|phosphorus (g/2000 cal)||-80%|
|vitamin B12 (mg/2000 cal)||-70%|
|magnesium (mg/2000 cal)||-33%|
Readily available foods contain less than 2 g of potassium per 2000 calories. For perspective, the DRI is 4.7 g per day for men, and our Optimal Nutrient Intake stretch target is 6 g per day.
As a result, you will need to go out of your way to chase more potassium in your diet to achieve your minimum requirements.
How Do I Get Enough Potassium on Keto?
Several minerals can be harder to get on a keto diet. This problem is twofold. First, the diet tends to limit plant-based foods. Second, a ketogenic diet decreases carbohydrates. This reduces the amount of stored muscle glycogen and water. Hence, the body flushes out essential electrolytes when carbs are dropped.
Because of these factors, many people on a keto diet feel better when they supplement potassium. Foods highest in potassium tend to be lower in fat and higher in fibrous, non-starchy vegetables. If you prefer a lower carb or ketogenic dietary approach, you should make an extra effort to prioritise non-starchy green vegetables to ensure you are getting adequate potassium.
If you’re wondering how to get enough potassium on keto, simply look to the lists of potassium-rich foods and look at those with lower net carb indexes. Some of the best keto-friendly, high-potassium foods are avocados, greens, asparagus, and cruciferous vegetables.
The nutrient fingerprint chart for Optimisers consuming a lower carbohydrate diet shows that potassium (towards the top) is one of the nutrients that are typically harder to obtain in optimal amounts.
By comparison, potassium is easier to obtain with a higher carb diet (as shown below).
Your body upregulates insulin to hold onto electrolytes like potassium when they’re absent from the diet. In this way, low carb or keto diets low in dietary potassium can ironically increase insulin resistance.
What Is the Optimal Sodium:Potassium Ratio?
In times of evolution, salt was rare and highly valued. Subsequently, we evolved mechanisms for protecting against the threat of low sodium levels like cravings to seek it out actively. However, we have not developed similar means to protect us against low potassium levels because potassium was plentiful in our food environment at that time. It is hard to get a lot of potassium in today’s food system without simultaneously over-consuming sodium.
Our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors were thought to consume around 11,000 milligrams (mg) of potassium per day from fruits, vegetables, leaves, flowers, roots, and other plant sources. In stark contrast to today, we also consumed less than 700 mg of sodium. In days gone by, our potassium: sodium ratio could have been as high as 10:1!
The chart below shows that a higher potassium: sodium ratio aligns with greater satiety and lower calorie intake. Hence, we’ve set a stretch target of 6.0 g/2000 calories for potassium with a lower stretch target of 4.0 g/2000 calories for sodium.
Nutrient Optimiser helps you manage your diet to ensure that you are not prioritising foods that contain more sodium if you are already getting enough. You probably won’t need as much sodium if you are getting sufficient potassium.
In practical terms, there is likely no harm in adding ‘salt to taste’. However, you should probably continue to go out of your way to intentionally seek more potassium, especially because you don’t have the same conscious cravings for it.
The Nutrient Optimiser algorithm sets a minimum of 1:1 potassium: sodium ratio. Anecdotally, we find most people need to chase more potassium in their diet before they worry about supplementing large amounts of sodium.
If you’re wondering whether you need a potassium supplement on your ketogenic, low-carb, or carnivore lifestyle, look to track your food on Cronometer for a week or two. Observe your potassium intake. If it is far below the stretch target or the RDI, it could be helpful to slowly bring in a potassium supplement like potassium citrate powder or Lite Salt if you’re unable to compensate with food.
While supplementing potassium can be helpful, we recommend that you prioritise nutrients from your diet. If you do choose to supplement, we advise starting slowly. Potassium supplements in tablet or capsule form are limited to 99 mg because they can affect heart function if taken in excess. Don’t think that your mineral salt contains enough potassium, either!
Using a mixture of sodium and potassium like Lite Salt on your meals and supplementing with potassium citrate powder seems to be the only meaningful way to top up your potassium. High levels of supplemental minerals can quickly lead to stomach upset, excessive thirst, and urination as your body works to flush the excess minerals.
You may also be interested in our Optimised Electrolyte Mix Recipe to provide potassium in balance with magnesium and sodium, which also become more important on a low carb or keto diet.
Potassium works synergistically with vitamins B6, D, bicarbonate (HCO3), calcium, insulin, magnesium, phosphate, and sodium.
Because potassium requires ALL of these nutrients to do its job, we recommend getting as much potassium as possible from food sources to ensure you’re getting a profile of nutrients and not just an isolate from supplements.
The nutrient fingerprint chart below shows that we can obtain adequate potassium from a nutrient-dense diet. A diet with more potassium tends to be high in fibrous, non-starchy veggies and less fat.
If you’re interested in checking if you’re getting enough potassium in your diet, you can check your nutrient profile using our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge.
Level Up Your Nutrient Density
To help you level up your nutrient density, we’ve prepared a Nutritional Optimisation Starter Pack to ensure you are getting plenty of all the essential nutrients from the food you eat every day.
The free starter pack includes:
- Maximum Nutrient Density Food List
- Sample Maximum Nutrient Density Recipe Book
- Sample Maximum Nutrient Density Meal Plan.
To get started today, all you have to do is join our new Optimising Nutrition Group here.
Once you join, you will find the Nutritional Optimisation starter pack in the discovery section here.
Nutrient Density Index
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Niacin (B3)
- Pantothenic acid (B5)
- Vitamin B6
- Folate (B9)
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K1