How Much Potassium Do You Need Each Day

by Jenna Crawford August 08, 2017

How Much Potassium Do You Need Each Day

Potassium is an essential mineral required for normal functioning of the human body. Although potassium is found in many foods, the average American eats just half of the potassium they need, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In fact, 98 percent of American diets are potassium deficient. A diet high in fruits and vegetables can help ensure a healthy intake of potassium, as well as supplying other nutrients vital for cell functioning.

Importance Of Potassium

Potassium has a role in the synthesis of proteins and muscle tissue. Potassium also works inside every cell to maintain the pH and act as an electrolyte, a molecule that transmits electrical activity between cells. Heart activity depends on potassium, as does muscle contraction. Because muscle activity controls many bodily activities, potassium is essential for many normal body functions such as digestion.

Potassium does not act in a vacuum, though. It interacts with other electrolytes, including sodium. It's long been known that sodium raises blood pressure, while potassium lowers it. But it's becoming clearer that getting the right balance between sodium and potassium in the diet may be key to your heart health.

A recent study found that when it comes to the risk of developing heart disease or dying of it, the ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet is more important than the level of either mineral alone.


The adequate intake of potassium as established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine is 4,700 mg per day for males and females over the age of 14. Children between the ages of 9 and 13 need 4,500 mg per day of potassium. The daily intake of pregnant women is also 4,700 mg and breastfeeding mothers need 5,100 mg a day. Children between the ages of 4 to 8 require 3,800 mg of potassium every day. Toddlers between 1 and 3 years old need 3,000 mg daily. Babies between 7 months and 1-year-old need 700 mg and babies under 6 months require 400 mg daily, which can be supplied through breast milk or fortified formula.

There are two ways to fulfill your recommended daily allowance: by regularly eating plenty of potassium-rich foods or by taking a potassium supplement.

Potassium Deficiency

Hypokalemia or too little potassium. Some people clear too much potassium from their bodies. In fact, this can often happen to those on diuretics for high blood pressure—though dangerously low levels are relatively uncommon. Low potassium is known as hypokalemia. Just like its "hyper" counterpart, mild hypokalemia usually causes no clear symptoms, but more severe cases may cause muscle weakness, fatigue, and potentially dangerous heart arrhythmias.

Severe potassium deficiency is most common in people who have absorption disorders like Crohn's disease, kidney disease, congestive heart failure, an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia or any illness that causes frequent diarrhea and vomiting. It is also more likely in people who sweat excessively from physical exertion or from living in a hot climate. Potassium deficiency, also known as hypokalemia, is characterized by bloating, muscle weakness, fatigue, abdominal pain, cramping, and constipation. If left untreated, hypokalemia may cause paralysis and potentially fatal heart arrhythmia.

Excessive Intake

Hyperkalemia is too much potassium. Normally, the kidneys keep blood potassium within a normal range, excreting extra when necessary. But if you have kidney disease, you may not be able to eliminate excess potassium efficiently.

In individuals with renal failure or people on certain types of diuretic medications, excess intake of potassium can overwhelm the kidneys, so much so that they cannot process it out of the bloodstream. This leads to a condition called hyperkalemia, which can cause symptoms of tingling extremities, muscle weakness or cardiac arrest caused by heart arrhythmia. Healthy individuals normally do not experience problems from high levels of potassium in the diet, so the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine has not set a tolerable upper limit for this mineral. However, some people experience hyperkalemia when they take over 18 g of potassium a day, even when they have no kidney problems.

Potassium Sources

Fruits and vegetables contain high levels of potassium and should be the primary dietary source of this mineral. One banana has about 422 mg of potassium. A baked potato with the skin contains 926 mg of this mineral. There is 637 mg of potassium in 1/2 cup of prunes. A 6-oz. cup of orange juice contains 372 mg of potassium. 

Good sources of potassium include potatoes, orange and grapefruit juices, raisins, beans like lima or white beans, prunes, dates, winter squash like acorn squash, spinach and tomato products like tomato sauce, paste, juice and canned, diced tomatoes. Seeds and nuts, such as sunflower seeds and almonds, are other potassium sources in the diet. Fish, such as salmon, cod, and sardines, also contain potassium.

Potassium Supplements

A diet that is rich in high-potassium foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts is superior to supplementation when it comes to filling your potassium requirement. Do not begin taking potassium supplements until you've first spoken to your doctor. Potassium supplements may cause nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. High doses may cause an irregular heartbeat, black stools, mental confusion and a tingling or burning sensation in the limbs, hands, and feet. The supplements may also interfere with the proper function of diuretics, cyclosporine, heparin, digoxin, beta-blockers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Avoid taking potassium supplements if you have any form of kidney disease.

Sodium-Potassium Balance

Your body has to maintain a healthy balance of sodium and potassium to function because these minerals together to support your health. However, most people over-consume sodium, while falling short on their potassium intake, explains the Harvard School of Public Health. This sets up a potassium imbalance, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease. Limit your sodium intake by avoiding processed foods and limiting your fast food consumption, and boost your potassium intake by adding whole and unprocessed foods, as well as fruits and veggies, to your diet.


Potassium is vital for the health, and adequate intake is critical in maintaining a healthy level in the body. In this post, I have given you the answer on how much potassium do you need each day.

Jenna Crawford


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