Potassium - An essential electrolyte

One of potassium's biggest roles in our bodies is to regulate the amount of sodium entering and exiting our cells, thereby controlling the amount of fluid we retain or excrete. Potassium maintains the body's pH levels, which ensures that cellular processes correctly. Potassium is an essential dietary mineral and electrolyte, as our bodies are an electro-chemical system. Our bodies depend on tight regulation of potassium concentrations both inside and outside of cells. Potassium concentrations are about 30 times higher inside than outside cells, while sodium concentrations are more than ten times lower inside than outside cells. The concentration differences between potassium and sodium across cell membranes create an electrochemical gradient known as the membrane potential. It's used to move water, glycogen and waste products through the cell walls.


Fatigue is the most common symptom of chronic potassium deficiency. Most people are not getting enough potassium as you need a whopping 4700mg (4.7g) per day. When people are low in potassium, sodium  accumulates in the tissues and water is retained and blood pressure increases.

Most websites and articles that cover potassium describe it as the 'antidote' to sodium. This wrong because salt has been demonized to such a degree. We need to consume plenty of salt and have a diet rich in potassium.

Potassium from food is absorbed through special channels in the lining of the intestinal wall. This helps slow the rate of release into the blood, so that the kidneys can handle the increase in potassium. Aldosterone is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands and it signals the kidneys to excrete potassium into the urine.

If you suffer from anxiety, depression, insomnia, constipation, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney stones, hyperthyroidism, arthritis, obesity, headaches, pain in the eyes, muscle spasms, or fatigue you may be deficient in potassium. Not only does the lack of potassium in our diet affect many health conditions, but several medications are causing potassium deficiency. Examples include diuretics, laxatives, cortisone, aspirin, cardiac drugs, steroids and certain therapies used to treat advanced liver disease.

  • You need to eat a lot of potassium each day. We have around 140g in our bodies and our kidneys excrete it out as urine, you also sweat it out. The RDA amount for potassium is 4700mg (4.7g).
  • Most people are deficient is potassium AND they are deficient in salt (sodium). Average daily intake of potassium in the US is 2300mg, which is way below the RDA.
  • Supplementation for potassium can be dangerous (the US FDA cites colon problems and limit supplements to 100mg). So you must get your potassium from food - or a low sodium salt.
  • It is important to get the ratio of potassium and sodium and correct to achieve a healthy blood pressure level. Many people mistakenly assume that they have to consume low amounts of sodium in order to reduce blood pressure. You need plenty of salt and potassium. A 1997 study of people who took potassium rich foods reduced their blood pressure in just two weeks. UK and US guidelines say that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium), but our bodies are perfectly happy processing lots more salt than this.
  • If you exercise and lot or live in a hot country (sweating) you need to have plenty of electrolytes.
  • Potassium is also critical for stomach acid production. The very low pH of gastric juice (pH of 1) is the result of H+ and Cl- ion secretion (hydrochloric acid production) by cells in the walls of the stomach. Each day, these cells secrete 1-2 litres of HCl. Potassium ions play a vital role because they exchange with H+ ions. The gastric hydrogen potassium ATPase (gastric H+-K+-ATPase) pumps H+ ions into the stomach and takes up K+ in return. No other tissue in the body builds higher concentration of H+ than the stomach mucosa. There is a one million-fold enrichment of H+ in the gastric juice, which is unique amongst animals.

Big problems are caused by electrolyte deficiency

Potassium deficiency (hypokalemia) symptoms

  • Heart problems
  • Feeling of skipped heart beats or palpitations.
  • Fatigue.
  • Constipation.
  • Muscle damage.
  • Muscle weakness or spasms.
  • Tingling or numbness.

High blood potassium is called hyperkalemia. When this is suspected, it's often caused by acute kidney disease rather than eating too much potassium. You need to consume huge amounts of potassium to cause problems (200+ bananas a day over a prolonged period). Your body simply excretes any excess.

Magnesium deficiency symptoms & outcomes

  • Heart disease leading to a heart attack.
  • Migraines
  • Strokes
  • Insulin resistance
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s
  • ADHD

Salt deficiency (hyponatraemia) symptoms

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Headache.
  • Confusion.
  • Loss of energy and fatigue.
  • Restlessness and irritability.
  • Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps.
  • Seizures.
  • Coma.

We historically consume way less salt than we use to (yet blood pressure levels and heart issues have soared in the West). You need to consume very large amounts of salt to cause problems. The hormone aldosterone is is essential for sodium conservation in the kidney, salivary glands, sweat glands and colon, if you don't get enough salt your body will produce way more aldosterone which has several bad effects. Aldosterone affects the body's ability to regulate blood pressure. It sends the signal to organs, like the kidney and colon, that can increase the amount of sodium the body sends into the bloodstream or the amount of potassium released in the urine.

  • Low salt raises aldosterone (produced by the adrenal gland).
  • Aldosterone increases blood pressure.

Plenty of salt = no problems.  11g of salt a day seems to be the optimal amount (if you exercise lots or have low insulin due to a low carb diet, you will need more).

So you can see that potassium is a salt the body uses to help manage critical processes including sweat, nerve functioning, fluid management and blood pressure. Ion pumps in the cell membrane (especially the sodium - potassium pump) use ATP (energy) to pump sodium out of the cell in exchange for potassium. Their activity has been estimated to account for 20%-40% of the resting energy expenditure in a typical adult. Potassium is also essential to the process of making and breaking glycogen in the muscle cells. Your body stores glycogen in muscles and the liver to act as a source of energy. As glycogen is broken down, the muscle cells are depleted of potassium as it flows into the bloodstream before leaving the body through urination or sweat.

It is therefore critical that you get as much potassium from your diet as possible. But it's not easy, as 4.7g is quite a lot. You need to make a conscious effort to get your potassium from meals and healthy snacking.

Food Sources of Potassium

Food Milligrams
(mg) per
LoSalt (1tsp) 1,800 40
Apricots, dried, ½ cup 1,101 31
Potato (1 medium) 900 25
Spinach (cooked), 1 cup 850 18
Milk (low fat 500ml) 750 16
Carrot juice (250ml) 700 21
Prunes, dried, ½ cup 699 20
Prune juice (250ml) 700 20
Squash, acorn, mashed, 1 cup 644 18
Coconut water (250ml) 620 17
Tumeric root (25g) 620 17
Raisins, ½ cup 618 18
Dates, ½ cup 610 18
Kidney beans, canned, 1 cup 607 17
Cream of tartar (1 tsp, 3g) 500 14
Orange juice, 1 cup 496 14
Soybeans (½ cup) 443 13
Guava, 1 medium 440 12
Banana, 1 medium 422 12
Chicken breast, boneless, grilled, 3 ounces 332 9
Yogurt, fruit variety, nonfat, 6 ounces 330 9
Salmon, Atlantic, farmed, cooked, 3 ounces 326 9
Beef 315 9
Molasses, 1 tablespoon 308 9
Pappaya (100g) 305 9
Tomato, raw, 1 medium 292 8
Tomato puree, 1/2 small tin 290 8
Soymilk, 1 cup 287 8
Food Milligrams
(mg) per
Yogurt, Greek, plain 240 7
Broccoli, cooked, chopped, ½ cup 229 7
Cantaloupe, cubed, ½ cup 214 6
Turkey breast, roasted, 3 ounces 212 6
Tumeric Powder, 1tsp 200 6
Asparagus, cooked, ½ cup 202 6
Carrot, 1 medium 200 6
Apple, with skin, 1 medium 195 6
Cashew nuts, 1 ounce 187 5
Celery, 1 stick 170 5
Beef jerky, 30g 170 5
Rice, brown, medium-grain, cooked, 1 cup 154 4
Tuna, light, canned in water, drained, 3 ounces 153 4
Coffee, brewed, 1 cup 116 3
Lettuce, iceberg, shredded, 1 cup 102 3
Peanut butter, 1 tablespoon 90 3
Tea, black, brewed, 1 cup 88 3
Flaxseed, whole, 1 tablespoon 84 2
Bread, whole-wheat, 1 slice 81 2
Egg, 1 large 69 2
Rice, white, medium-grain, cooked, 1 cup 54 2
Bread, white, 1 slice 37 1
Cheese, mozzarella, part skim, 1½ ounces 36 1

Coconut water

Coconut water should be on the top of your shopping list. If you are lucky enough to be living in regions that grow coconuts, you will find them everywhere. Young coconuts are harvested at 5-7 months to retain the most water. Otherwise go for a quality coconut water with no added sugar. Coconut water is the perfect sport drink.

Potassium rich snacks and recipes

Snacks & drinks

  • Lindt 85% chocolate bar: 1260mg
  • Coconut water (1 young coconut): 620-1000mg
  • Apricots, dried, 1/4 cup: 550mg
  • Low fat milk 500ml: 750mg
  • Carrot juice (250ml): 700mg
  • Prune juice (250ml): 700mg
  • Cream of tartar (1 tsp): 500mg
  • 1/4 cup raisins:  310mg
  • Yoghurt: 300mg
  • 1 apple: 195mg
  • 1 stick of celery: 170mg.
  • 1 stick of celery sprinkled with LoSalt: 500mg.
  • 1 orange: 170mg
  • 1 large banana: 480mg
  • 50g pumpkin seeds: 460mg

So if you had some daily dried fruit, 1 yogurt, a pint of milk, 1 apple,  1 banana, 3 celery stalks, 250ml of carrot juce, coconut water. 1/4 bar dark chocolate, you would get up 4500mg in drinks and snacks. Close to the 4700mg/day RDA. Cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate) can be incorporated into a daily drink (warm water + 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar, the juice of 1 lime, 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder,with a pinch of black pepper, and 1 tsp cream of tartar).

Tumeric is very high in potassium (as well as having many other health benefits), so try and add it to as many dishes as you can.


Losalt contains 2/3 potassium chloride and 1/3 sodium chloride. A 1 teaspoon (5g) serving gives a whopping 1800mg of potassium. You should use sea salt freely, but should try and use LoSalt in cooking and sprinkled onto foods to boost your potassium levels. TAKE A TINY SHAKER OF LOSALT TO WORK OR TO RESTAURANTS. See also electrolyte fasting.

Potassium intake strategy

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The US FDA ban potassium supplements (they did so on pretty flimsy evidence). So you must get you potassium from food and drinks:

  • Dried fruits such as apricots, dates, prunes and raisins.
  • Vegetables such as potato, spinach, celery, turmeric, tomato products and beans (try to do soups or smoothies).
  • Fruits such as bananas, oranges, guava.
  • Unsweetened drinks such as carrot juice, low fat milk, fresh orange juice and coconut water (a pint of milk, 250ml carrot juice and 500ml of coconut water every day will clock up 60% of the RDA for potassium)
  • Try and eat a few potatoes each week (with skin).
  • Quality meats and fish, particularly chicken and beef.
  • A daily glass of ACV, cream of tartar, lime juice and turmeric is also recommended.

These are all nutrient dense foods that will transform your health. Adding LoSalt to your cooking is also recommended.

Adequate intake: 4700mg (more if you exercise a lot).
Theraputic dose: As much as you can achieve through normal foods.
Upper tolerable limit: Not set because it's hard to over do things via food.
Notes: You cannot buy a potassium supplement. You must get it via food.

Chilli con carne with jacket potato (3,800mg potassium)

  • 1 large jacket potato, 950mg
  • 1 cup kidney beans, 600mg (possibly add a few lentils)
  • 1 cup canned tomatoes, 700mg
  • 1 medium onion, 160mg
  • 1/2 small can tomato puree, 400mg
  • 1 oxo cube, 310mg
  • 3 cloves of garlic, 100mg
  • 1 medium green pepper, 210mg
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • Optional 1/2 glass of red wine. 120mg
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper,  10mg
  • 2 teaspoons of chilli powder, 110g (super antioxidant)
  • 1 chilli pepper, 40mg
  • Cheese on top, 50-150mg
  • 1 tbsp sour cream, 20mg
  • 1/3 lb Minced beef, 140mg

Carrot, Ginger and Turmeric Soup  (1400mg potassium). An anti-inflammatory soup that's packed with potassium. This is the sort of soup you can find in many vegan and vegetarian restaurants.

  • 3 Carrots, 600mg
  • 1 Onion, 160mg
  • 3 cloves garlic minced, 100mg
  • 1 sq inch Ginger, 30mg
  • 3 sq inch Turmeric, 500mg
  • 1 litre vegetable Stock
  • 1 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • (top with parsley or coconut juice)

Lentil & potato soup (4,900mg) - makes 3 generous portions (you can scale up and freeze)

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, 100mg
  • 1 medium onion, 160mg
  • 1 large carrot,  230mg
  • 1/2 small can tomato puree, 400g
  • 1 cup canned tomatoes 700mg
  •  cups lentils, 1400mg
  • 1lb potatoes cut into bite sized pieces, 1900mg
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper,  10mg
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp oregano

Heat oil in a large pan. Add onion and cook for 1 minute. Add garlic and carrots. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add in the tomato paste, tomato sauce and lentils. Cook for 1 minute. Add potatoes. Pour 1 litre of water on top. Add salt, pepper, thyme and oregano. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the lentils are cooked and potatoes are tender. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve warm.