Potassium, Essential for Heart and BONE!

April 17, 2013 5 min read

Potassium, Essential for Heart and BONE!

Potassium is essential for Heart and BONE!

Are you getting enough potassium for your bones and your overall health? In general, potassium, one of the electrolytes, is a type of mineral that is required for your body to work properly. A high intake in potassium-rich foods can protect you against heart disease and stroke and is vital in maintaining a good pH balance in the body. I have written about the importance of maintaining a diet that leans toward creating more alkalinity in the body. Potassium is crucial in this process.

Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the body and belongs, with sodium and chloride, to the electrolyte family of minerals. These minerals are called electrolytes because they conduct electricity when dissolved in water.

About 95% of potassium in the body is stored within the cells. Potassium in bone health relates to the ability of selected potassium salts to neutralize bone-depleting metabolic acids. Because these potassium compounds are alkaline they help neutralize acids. Many fruits and vegetables are high in potassium.

As an electrolyte, which takes on a positive or negative charge that helps to regulate blood pressure, potassium helps with muscle contractions and nerve transmission and generally keeps our bodily functions working right.

In a nutshell, potassium is needed to do the following:

  • Build proteins
  • Break down and use carbohydrates
  • Maintain healthy bones
  • Build muscle
  • Maintain normal body growth
  • Control the electrical activity of the heart
  • Control the acid-base balance

So how do you know if you are getting enough potassium?

I know there are convenient aps that calculate such things, but I have not tried one yet. One way to know is to work with the list of foods that are known to contain high potassium content. Many of my patients, especially the small women who have osteoporosis, are not big eaters, so they typically do not consume enough food to take in high enough quantities.

According to the University of Maryland, “studies show a positive link between a diet rich in potassium and bone health, particularly among elderly women, suggesting that increasing consumption of foods rich in potassium may play a role in osteoporosis prevention. More research is needed to determine whether a diet high in potassium can reduce bone turnover in people.”

Why is potassium important?

A high intake of potassium-rich foods can protect you against heart disease and stroke and helps maintain bone density and bone health. It is vital in maintaining a good pH balance in the body.

Several studies have shown an increase in bone mineral density in older adults using potassium supplementation. In a 2-year placebo-controlled study that was presented at the American Society of Nephrology’s 43rd Annual Meeting, “results showed that long-term neutralization of diet-induced acid loads by [potassium] citrate can significantly increase bone density in an elderly population with normal baseline BMD.”

Another study found that “among a group of healthy elderly persons without osteoporosis, treatment with K-citrate for 24 months resulted in a significant increase in BMD and volumetric BMD at several sites tested, while also improving bone microarchitecture.”

OK, so now we know that potassium is important for our bones muscles and heart – so how much do we need each day?

There is no RDA (recommended daily allowance) for potassium but there is an AI (adequate intake) amount. For adults this is 3,800 mg to 4,700 mg each day. That seems like a huge amount to me since I am one of those small-boned women who do not consume a large volume of food. From my interpretation on the information out there I think it is best to lean toward 4,700 mg for men and women.

Should you supplement potassium? 

Discuss this with a doctor who knows nutrition. It is always best to get potassium from the foods you eat. Supplements can result in stomach problems, including nausea, which is why the maximum amount that a supplement can contain is 99 mg. It is always best to get it from the foods that we eat.

Top Foods High in Potassium Content

I checked several sources, including the USDA and The University of Maryland Medical Center and of course the exact amount of any nutrient in any given food varies. However, the amounts listed below are a good estimate.

One of my recent favorite discoveries is black strap molasses, which I add to beans and my steel-cut oats. One tablespoon of black strap molasses contains between 450 and ~700 mg of potassium and 200 mg of calcium plus many other nutrients The sugar content is low. Must buy organic! Try a small amount to begin with, as the taste is strong.

Seeds and Beans

Beans and seeds tend to be rich in potassium.
½ cup white beans ~ 595 mg
Lima Beans ~ 484 mg
½ cup pinto beans ~ 400 mg
¼ cup sunflower seeds ~ 250 mg
¼ cup pumpkin seeds ~ 200 mg


Whole grains contain the most potassium
1 cup black rice ~285 mg
1 cup quinoa ~300 mg
½ cup amaranth ~350 mg


Dried apricots, prunes, and dates are high, but they are also high in sugar.

1 oz dried coconut ~150 mg
1 fig ~54 mg
1 date ~160 mg
1 banana (small) ~422 mg
¼ cup apricots ~375 mg
½ avocado ~475 mg
1 mango (medium) ~325 mg
¼ cup prunes ~350 mg
1 papaya ~780 mg
1 kiwi or nectarine ~285 mg

Meat, fish and dairy products are top sources of potassium

3 oz broiled salmon ~319 mg
8 oz yogurt ~534 mg
Goat's milk and cow's milk are good sources
Cooked lean beef and roasted turkey are also high in the mineral, with each providing about 250 mg per 3-oz serving.
3 oz. canned clams ~534 mg
3 oz rock fish ~442 mg


½ cup cooked spinach ~415 mg
1 cup asparagus ~288 mg
½ cup Brussels sprouts ~250 mg
1 cup cooked beets ~500 mg
¼ cup tomato paste ~665 mg
¾ cup tomato juice ~417 mg
1 cup winter squash ~896 mg
½ cup beet greens ~655 mg
1 cup carrot juice ~685mg
1 sweet potato, with skin, 694 mg
1 potato with skin ~610 mg

Many spices contain a good amount of potassium, including one of my favorites, turmeric.

If you want more statistics go to the USDA website they list servings per 100 grams which is 3.5 ounces. If you search other sources you will see content varies widely. I suspect some websites with overly high estimates did not calculate the grams correctly when converting to ounces or cups.

Medications and health conditions that impact potassium:

Many medications impact potassium. Some that lower potassium include diuretics, corticosteroids, antacids, and many others. If you are on medications, check to see if any impact potassium. If you have a health condition, especially a kidney condition, talk with your health care provider about potassium. For more information regarding health conditions and medications as they relate to potassium please visit, University of Maryland Medical Center


The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
University of Maryland Medical Center
Susan Brown, Ph.D.