Are You Consuming Enough Potassium?
By Tyler Woodward
We’ve all been told of the importance of potassium, but what actually is potassium, what are it’s functions and how can we consume enough of it?
What Is Potassium:
Potassium is one of the body’s primary electrolytes. Electrolytes are ionic compounds which carry an electrical charge in the body. Sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium are the four primary electrolytes, all carrying a positive charge in the body.
Potassium is the 19th element in the periodic table and is part of the alkali metals. 7th most abundant element in the earth's crust. Potassium is primarily an intracellular electrolyte, meaning that about 98% of the body’s potassium stores reside within the cell. Lastly, potassium has an electron configuration such that when disolved in water it carries a charge of +1 in the body, so it most readily binds to ions with a charge of -1. In our cells this most common ion with a charge of -1 is chloride and together these form the electrolyte salt, potassium chloride. Unlike potassium, chloride largely resides on the outside of the cell, but this is extremely important for maintaining the electrical gradient (difference in charge) between the inside and outside of the cell.
Functions Of Potassium:
- Regulates Fluid Balance - As one of the body’s primary electrolytes potassium is extremely important in balancing the cells’ inter and extracellular water levels. If too much potassium leaks out of the cell it can cause the cell to uptake excess water resulting in cellular swelling, basically cellular bloating. Potassium and it’s “cousin” sodium are the primary electrolytes which regulate fluid balance in the body. If potassium levels are too low, a condition known as hypokalemia, your body begins to conserve as much of its electrolytes as possible through the Renin-Angiotensin-Aldosterone System (RAAS) which can result in elevated blood pressure. The body is readily able to excrete excess sodium and potassium, but having too little of either essential electrolyte can be extremely detrimental.
- Necessary For Muscle, Nerve & Heart Contraction - Every cell in the body contracts in a virtually identical way. Sodium begins to flood into the cell, as potassium leaks out of the cell, changing the electrical gradient of the cell and providing the cell with the energy necessary to conduct a charge. This charge allows it to contract whether it's a nerve cell sending signals or a muscle cell producing mechanical tension/force.
Read More: Stop Avoiding Salt! | The Salt Myth
How Much Potassium Do You Need?:
The FDA recommended daily allowance for potassium is:
- 3,400 mg for Men
- 2600 mg for Women
Although these are general recommendations that will vary depending on your activity level, height, weight and probably age. The bigger and more active you are, the higher amounts of potassium you will require. Additionally, some recommendations are as high as 4,700 mg for adults.
Best Sources Of Potassium:
The most dense food sources of potassium are:
- Avocado’s ~ 975 mg per avocado
- Potatoes ~ 926 per medium potato
- Milk ~ 726 mg per 16 fl oz (of low fat 1% milk, the less fat the more potassium)
- White Button Mushrooms - 555 mg per cup
- Tomatoes ~ 523 mg per cup
- Cocoa Powder ~ 2500 mg per 100 grams
- Coconut Water ~ 600 mg per cup
- Clams ~ 530 mg per 3 oz
- Orange Juice ~ 500 mg per cup
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