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Nutrient Spotlight: Potassium

The need for potassium can be easily overlooked.  It is not talked about as much as other minerals, nor is potassium deficiency (hypokalemia) diagnosed as often as other vitamin or mineral deficiencies.   It is the third most abundant mineral in the body (behind calcium and phosphorus), yet approximately 98% of Americans do not meet daily intake requirements of this vital nutrient.  

What Does Potassium Do?

Potassium is a mineral that regulates nerve impulses, including heart palpitations.  It synthesizes protein and aids in metabolizing carbohydrates producing energy.  Potassium also contributes to stomach acid, which aids in the digestion of foods and the absorption of nutrients.  Coupled with its fellow electrolyte, sodium, it performs daily functions including balancing fluids in the body.  Those undereye bags you got there.  Well, they may be due to a potassium deficiency.

Although severe deficiencies are rare, they can cause:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • digestive issues
  • neuropathy

How Much Should Be Consumed?

The US recommended daily intake (RDI) for potassium is 3,500 mg daily however, RDI is the amount needed to sufficiently meet the requirements of healthy people.  If you are low, you may need more than the RDI just to hit baseline.  Remember, that everyone may need different daily amounts in order to be in optimal health.

Things to consider in order to determine if you are getting enough potassium in your diet include:

  • Are you eating enough whole foods?  Processed foods, including sports drinks have minimal, if any potassium. 
  • Are you absorbing the nutrients you are eating?  There are times when medical conditions (or prescription drugs) may hinder the body’s ability to absorb nutrients properly.
  • Are you including a variety of food in your diet?  Different foods contain different nutrients.  Eating the same foods over and over may limit the types of nutrients consumed.     

Ways to Incorporate Potassium-Rich Foods:

  • Avocado (975 mg per fruit): slice on top of almost anything (maybe a salad, or picadillo)
  • Coconut Water (600 mg per 8 oz. serving): add to smoothies (delish in a Mocha Smoothie) or toss some frozen blueberries into a glass of coconut water for a post-workout beverage.
  • Oats (429 mg per 3.5 oz. serving): change things up with a savory oatmeal.  Think roasted veggies and an egg.
  • Pistachios (315 mg per ¼ cup serving): great for snacking, or top oatmeal with some for a one-two potassium punch.

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