The health-boosting powers of potassium

It may not be a headline-grabber like iron or calcium, but potassium is vital to keeping our bodies in prime condition.

Let’s play a little word association: what do you think of when you read the word potassium?

If you’ve gone straight to “bananas” or shouted “K!” (the chemical symbol for the element potassium, which is in no way connected), you’re far from alone.

When it comes to thinking about all of the nutrients your body needs, your mind might jump to fibre, protein and calcium.

Potassium often remains out of sight, and out of mind – but it is a key support to optimal body function and aids healthy skin, strong bones and decreases blood pressure.

What is potassium and why do you need it?

Potassium – commonly referred to as an electrolyte – is a mineral known to maintain important functions such as helping with muscle contraction, regulating fluids and mineral balance in and out of body cells, regulating blood pressure, and helping keep sodium levels in check.

Not only that, but a host of studies show a potassium-rich diet may also help prevent osteoporosis by significantly reducing the excretion of calcium and acid in urine.

The recommended daily intake of potassium for adults is 2800-3800mg.


How to get enough potassium

Dietitians Association of Australia spokeswoman Melanie McGrice recommends bulking up on leafy greens, root vegetables such as sweet potato, potato and carrot to increase potassium in your diet.

“Bananas, of course, everyone knows about, but you can also try snacking on stone fruits, or having a regular cup of hot vegetable soup,” she says.

Other solid sources include canned salmon, yogurt, pumpkin, watermelon, beans and beetroot.

Potassium overload

It’s important not to eat too much potassium.

For those with kidney issues, high levels of potassium in the blood can lead to health problems ranging from dehydration to kidney failure.

Your best bet is to eat a varied diet, increase your greens and the odd banana, and speak to your GP if you are feeling unwell.

Signs of potassium deficiency

Unless you have health issues, the likelihood of becoming deficient in potassium is quite low, says McGrice.

“People with inadequate diets will become deficient in a lot of other vitamins and minerals long before potassium becomes an issue,” she says.

Symptoms of deficiency can include weakness and fatigue, muscle aches and cramps, tingles and numbness, mood changes and heart palpitations.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s best to speak to your GP and ask for a full medical check up.

Want to know more about the balancing effects of potassium on health and wellness? Learn more in this The House of Wellness Radio discussion.

Written by Dilvin Yasa