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What is the Scoop on Potassium?

Contributed by Angela Wallick, MS, RD, LDN, Nutrition and Food Services VAMC Memphis, and Nutrition and Food Services Central Office National Field Advisory Committee

What is the Scoop on Potassium? salmonPotassium (K+) plays a role in keeping your heart and muscles working properly. Some medical conditions and medications may cause high or low potassium levels. As a result, you may need to adjust potassium foods in your daily diet.

If potassium in the blood is too high (Hyperkalemia), it can:

  • Cause muscle weakness

  • Cause breathing problems

  • Change the heartbeat enough to cause serious damage or even death

If potassium in the blood is too low (Hypokalemia), it can cause:

  • Muscle weakness

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Low blood pressure

  • Confusion

Your health care provider can check the blood level of your potassium. The normal range for potassium is 3.5-5.0 mEq/L. Your health care provider can also check the medicines you take to see if they change your potassium levels.

How do I know the potassium content of foods?

  1. Potassium does not have to be included on the food label. Check the ingredients list. Look for Potassium Chloride (KCl) as a sign of potassium content of the food.

  2. Beware of salt substitutes and light salts as they can have high amounts of Potassium.

  3. Whether you need a low potassium diet or a high potassium diet the following list can help you make better choices.

bottle of milkThe recommended amount of potassium in your diet each day is 4,700 mg. This is based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans.

Milk, Cheese and Dairy
Milk, Cheese and Dairy  
High (more than 251 mg/serving) milk (condensed, evaporated), plain yogurt (8 oz)
Medium (151-250 mg/serving) frozen yogurt, chocolate ice cream, milk (buttermilk, chocolate, skim, 1%, whole, soy), instant chocolate & vanilla pudding 1/2 cup
Low (less than 150 mg/serving) cheese (American, cheddar, cream, mozzarella, Swiss), cottage cheese, sour cream (1 Tablespoon), vanilla ice cream, vanilla pudding

nuts*1 serving is 1-ounce (oz) cheese or 1/2 cup milk or milk product unless indicated

Meats, Dried Beans and Nuts
Meats, Dried Beans and Nuts  
High (more than 251 mg/serving) beans (baked, black-eyed, kidney, lentils, lima, navy, pinto, soybeans), fish (cod, fresh salmon, fresh tuna), ham, lamb, lobster, pistachio nuts, pork loin, pork chop, scallops, roasted veal
Medium (151-250 mg/serving) chicken breast no skin, shrimp, egg substitute, breaded catfish, nuts (almonds, cashews, coconut), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower), canned tuna, turkey
Low (less than 150 mg/serving) ground beef, lean beef, roast beef, eggs, oysters, pecans, walnuts, peanut butter

spinach*All meat servings are 3 oz, nuts and seeds are 1 oz

Vegetables
Vegetables  
High (more than 251 mg/serving) artichoke, avocado, cooked cabbage, okra, potatoes (au gratin, baked, broiled, French fries, hash browns, mashed, scalloped, yams), pumpkin, canned spinach, winter squash, tomatoes (canned, juice, paste, sauce), vegetable juice
Medium (151-250 mg/serving) asparagus, cooked broccoli, brussel sprouts, raw carrots, celery, collards, corn, sauerkraut, squash, raw tomatoes
Low (less than 150 mg/serving) beets, raw broccoli, cooked carrots, cauliflower, corn, cucumber, lettuce, mushrooms, onion, peas, green peppers, cooked spinach, turnips

watermelon*All vegetable servings are 1/2 cup

Fruits
Fruits  
High (more than 251 mg/serving) banana (1 medium), dates, figs (dry, 2) , kiwi, nectarines (1 medium), cooked plantain, pomegranate, dried prunes, raisins
Medium (151-250 mg/serving) raw apple, canned apricots, cherries (10), fruit cocktail, grapefruit (1/2) , guava, cantaloupe, honeydew, orange, papaya, canned peaches, raw peach, pear, canned pineapple, canned plums, watermelon, grapefruit juice, orange juice, pineapple juice
Low (less than 150 mg/serving) apple juice, applesauce, blackberries, grapes (10), lemon, mango, canned pears, raw pineapple, strawberries, tangerine, mandarin orange, juices (apple, cranberry, grape, tangerine), fruit punch drink

*All fruit & juice servings are 1/2 cup unless otherwise indicated

It is important to know the serving size of the food you eat. The serving size can determine if a food is low, medium or high in potassium. A large serving of a low or medium potassium food can turn into a very high potassium serving!

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Updated/Reviewed: June 1, 2010