If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night with a leg cramp, chances are it may have been because of too little potassium, calcium, or magnesium in your diet.
Bananas have a reputation for being high in potassium, but there are other ways to get the recommended daily allowance to stop the cramps in their tracks. “Potassium is an essential mineral. Most of the potassium in our bodies is located within cells,” explains Brittney Parris, MS, RD, CDN of Culina Health. So what is potassium, exactly, and how can you get more potassium-rich foods in your diet? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is potassium?
Potassium is an important electrolyte that our bodies need for a variety of reasons. “Potassium is critical for maintaining healthy blood pressure, and therefore, for heart health in general,” says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN and Head of Nutrition & Wellness at WW (Weight Watchers). “It’s also the primary biochemical ‘counterbalance’ to sodium, which is important, since we know that sodium is a top over-consumed nutrient in the U.S. largely from highly processed, packaged foods and some restaurant meals. Low potassium is associated with a risk of heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer, digestive disorders, and infertility.”
Recommended daily potassium allowance
While the daily value of potassium is 4700 milligrams, most Americans don’t get that much. “We tend to eat diets lower in fruits and vegetables, which are the richest sources of potassium,” says Parris. She adds that when research has been done around specific diets, like the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), it’s been shown that an increase in potassium intake led to a decrease in blood pressure levels.
“Since most veggies and fruit provide the mineral, I often encourage folks to think less about consuming nutrients and more about incorporating more wholesome, nutrient-dense foods into your daily meals and snacks.,” says London. “Adequate intake of potassium is 2300 mg to 3400 mg a day, which you can get by consuming more plant-foods into your meals and snacks.”
Related: What is the DASH Diet?
If you’re low on potassium, should take supplements? “Potassium supplementation is not recommended unless it is prescribed by your doctor. High potassium, known as hyperkalemia, is dangerous, as it can lead to disruptions in muscle function, heart rhythms and respiratory failure,” explains Parris. She adds that salt substitutes meant to reduce sodium intake are actually potassium salts. “Be mindful of these if you have a medical condition that may impact your potassium levels.”
Foods high in potassium
Here are 20 potassium-rich foods:
Bananas are one of the most well-known sources of potassium. “One banana provides about 10 to 15% of the daily value and also packs magnesium and vitamin B6, other nutrients that support healthy muscle and nerve function,” says London. Parris adds that banana chips have 536 mg of potassium while a raw banana has 451 mg.
“Apricots are a source of potassium, and dried apricots have more potassium,” says Parris. “When foods are dried, the volume is smaller, and the nutrients are more concentrated. Consider dried apricots on yogurt or with nuts for a snack.” She says dried apricots have 20% of the DV.
“One avocado packs up to 30% of your daily value for potassium, plus unsaturated fats and fiber, making it one of the heart healthiest food choices,” says London. “ Add it to 100% whole-grain toast with scrambled eggs as a satisfying breakfast option.”
“The ultimate in versatile ingredient, plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt is a go-to potassium-packed snack, topping, or breakfast ingredient. Add cut fruit or berries for a sweeter snack, or choose it as a higher protein swap for sour cream in dips,” says London. Try low fat, or non-fat unsweetened for a healthier option.
Parris says one mango has 350 mg of potassium. “Similarly to other fruits, dried mango would be richer in potassium per serving. Keep in mind, dried fruits are also higher in sugar.”
“Plantains are even richer in potassium than bananas. Baked sweet plantains have 663 mg of potassium per cup,” says Parris. If plantain chips are up your alley, up to 10 slices provides 501 mg.
Related: How Much Avocado is Too Much?
“Leafy greens are all great for packing in some potassium to a meal or snack,” says London. “They’re a great source of the important, blood-pressure regulating minerals, calcium and potassium, which are also needed for maintaining bone-mineral density, regulating fluid-electrolyte balance, and cell-signaling in your body.”
Parris says a medium sweet potato has 710 mg of potassium. Sweet potatoes are also low in fat and are a good source of fiber.
Edamame are whole immature soybeans served in the pod. “This potassium-packed legume can provide up to 25% of your daily value for both potassium and magnesium, and is a perfect ingredient to add plant-based protein to any meal,” says London. “Use it steamed as an appetizer with sea salt and cayenne pepper, or try frozen edamame ‘rice; as a swap for grains with dinner.”
“Potatoes are potassium-packed and fiber-filled. One potato packs up to 25% of the daily value for potassium, and about 5g of fiber,” says London. She suggests eating it baked or in the air fryer.
This is a nutrient powerhouse. “Along with butternut squash and parsnip, these tubers are all low in calories and filled with fiber and chock-full of potassium and beta-carotene, both of which are crucial for health and protecting against heart disease,” says London.
Related: Best Vitamin C Foods
Parris says cooked broccoli has 508 mg of potassium per 1 cup.
Parris says kidney beans have 356 mg of potassium per half a cup. “Beans are packed with potassium.”
Black beans are another great source of potassium. Parris says half a cup provides 305 mg of potassium.
“One cup of fresh tomatoes packs 10-15% of your daily value and is a simple way to add more of this nutrient to your day– especially if you’re including it in salads, sandwiches, soups, stews, or sauces,” says London. “Look for canned or jarred tomato sauce that’s made with fresh or whole tomatoes and without added sugar.”
“All seafood provides some potassium, but halibut, tuna, and cod are some of my top choices if you’re looking to add more of this nutrient into your daily meals and snacks,” says London. “A 3-ounce serving of canned tuna packs up to 12% of the daily value for potassium, which makes it a convenient choice for sandwiches and salads,” Parris adds cod has 316 mg and salmon has 393 mg of potassium.
This leafy green vegetable is highly nutritious. According to Parris, it has 961 mg of potassium when cooked. That’s more than double the potassium in a banana. The bonus is it’s also low-calorie and a good source of fiber.
“Animal proteins are also sources of potassium. An animal protein plus a tuber vegetable and generous leafy greens serve for a potassium-packed meal,” says Parris. She says a 3-ounce chicken breast has 300 mg of potassium.
One cup of beets that are boiled can provide 518 mg of potassium. Beets help boost your potassium intake but also helps to prevent or manage high blood pressure.
“100% whole-grain bread and pasta is a simple way to add more potassium to your meals. While they’ll range in amount per serving, one simple way to add more of this heart-healthy nutrient to your diet is to include alternative flour pastas, such as this fantastic option made from lentils instead of grains. One serving equals up to 10% of your daily value,” says London.