What is Potassium?
Potassium is both an essential mineral and an electrolyte. It gains entry to the body through foods and mainly exists within body cells – particularly red blood cells. Excess is removed by the kidneys. As an atomic particle, potassium carries a positive charge, which gives it most of its function within the body.
What Does it Do?
Potassium works with sodium to create an electrical gradient across cells membranes. In red blood cells, that affects the hydration of the cell. In muscles cells – including those of the heart – this creates muscle contraction. This action in nerve cells causes nerve impulses. For such a tiny particle, these are major functions that can have an enormous impact on whole body functioning.
Signs of Deficiency and Imbalance:
Dysfunction related to potassium is not just a factor of deficiency: It is a factor of balance.
Whole and natural foods often contain optimal ratios of sodium to potassium. Processed and packed foods, however, usually have significantly increased sodium content and depleted potassium levels. Because of this imbalance, a diet composed of processed foods often leads to high blood pressure. Increasing potassium rich whole foods and decreasing packaged and preserved foods can often normalize blood pressure issues.
Potassium also plays a role in bone health. Dietary issues with this mineral can manifest as osteoporosis, bone spurs and stress fractures. Experiencing cramps in the lower leg – including the calf, food and toe –while relaxed can be a sign of potassium imbalance. Optimizing potassium and magnesium levels can be effective to remedying these problems.
One interesting sign of mineral imbalance is a frequent lump-in-the-throat feeling and dry mouth, eyes or nose. If you are experiencing these small annoyances chronically, consider your mineral balance. Decrease foods that have a long shelf-life and increase your intake of a variety of fresh foods. It is not even necessary to know the exact amounts of minerals you are ingesting with each food. Nature has a convenient mechanism for providing the needed minerals in appropriate ratios.
While many individuals are probably getting enough potassium through their diets, there are certain substances that deplete potassium levels. Diuretic beverages – alcohol, coffee, caffeinated teas and sodas – all encourage potassium to be flushed out of the body before it can be accessed the cells. Reducing diuretics and/or increasing potassium-rich foods may be helpful.
As a culture, our collective default potassium source is bananas. Have a cramp? Eat a banana! The potassium content of bananas is dwarfed by that of many other foods. With 370 mg of K, a banana is often worthwhile. Yet, consider these other sources:
- Almonds (4 oz.) – 915 mg
- Raisins (4 oz.) – 800 mg
- Avocado (1/2) – 600 mg
- Halibut (4 oz.) – 525 mg
- Potato with skin – 500 mg
- Salmon (4 oz.) – 470 mg
- Cashews (4 oz.) – 420 mg
- White beans (4 oz.) – 420 mg
- Ground beef (4 oz.) – 400 mg
Many vegetables are also good sources. A fresh salad made from one cup of lettuce, one cup of spinach, one shredded carrot and one sliced cucumber tops out at 945 mg of potassium! Finishing the salad with dressing made from cold pressed olive or avocado oil aids in mineral absorption. Slow intentional eating increases stomach acid secretion which boosts the process of liberating the minerals from the foods, making them available to the body.
Like other minerals, potassium is mini but mighty! Optimizing the balance of minerals within the diet can have an enormous impact on health with no medication required.
This information is for educational purposes only and should not be used as medical advice.
Weatherby, D. (2004). Signs and Symptoms Analysis from a Functional Perspective. Bear Mountain Publishing, Jacksonville.
Haas, E. M. (2006). Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Celestial Arts, Berkeley.
Editor’s Note: Sara Kennedy is a certified nutritional therapy consultant. She is the owner of Renegade Wellness found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/paleoalaska. Reach her online at www.thriveak.com.