Not getting enough potassium in your diet can have health consequences, since potassium helps counteract the effect of sodium on your blood pressure. Potassium also plays a role in heart and muscle function, transmitting signals from nerves, and metabolism. You can increase your potassium levels by eating more foods containing potassium or taking potassium supplements.
Low Potassium Levels
The amount of potassium in your blood at any given time should be between 3.6 and 5.2 millimoles per liter. Having lower levels than this is called hypokalemia and can cause symptoms including constipation, muscle cramps, fatigue and weakness. More serious symptoms include irregular heart beat, muscle spasms and paralysis. While not everyone consumes the recommended amount of potassium, hypokalemia is usually due to vomiting, diarrhea, complications of diabetes, using diuretics or laxatives, eating disorders, kidney failure or other serious medical conditions that affect your kidneys.
The recommended way to bring your potassium levels up is to eat more potassium-rich foods. These include citrus fruits, bananas, avocados, kiwi fruit, cantaloupe, raisins, dates, dried figs, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, beans, peas, milk, peanut butter, poultry, fish, sunflower seeds, almonds, bran and wheat germ. Since fruits and vegetables are among the best potassium sources, increasing the amount of these nutritious foods you eat will help increase your potassium levels.
Potassium supplements include potassium aspartate, bicarbonate, citrate, chloride, gluconate and orotate. Although you may need to take potassium supplements if your potassium levels are very low, don't take these without your doctor telling you to do so. Potassium supplements can interact with certain medications, including beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, NSAIDs and potassium-sparing diuretics, causing your potassium levels to increase to dangerous levels. High potassium levels, or hyperkalemia, can cause abnormal heart rhythm and other serious side effects.
If your low potassium levels are due to an underlying medical condition or due to medications you are taking, this needs to be addressed before eating potassium-rich foods will be effective for bringing your potassium levels back up to normal. Your doctor will advise you on whether you need to take supplements and, if so, how much supplemental potassium you should take.
- University of Maryland Memorial Center: Potassium
- MayoClinic.com: Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)
- Linus Pauling Institute: Potassium
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 16: mg) Content of Selected Foods per Common Measure, Potassium, K (mg) Sorted by Nutrient Content
- MedlinePlus: Hypokalemia
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.