Potassium is the nutritional equivalent of HIIT: everyone knows it’s important, but not many people know why. Similar to consuming dietary fiber and healthy fat, eating foods high in potassium is crucial to maintaining good health. Without enough potassium, you might experience muscle cramps, fatigue, or increased blood pressure.
Read on to learn what potassium is, why your body needs it, and how to ensure you’re getting enough.
What Is Potassium?
Potassium is a key mineral for our bodies. “It’s found inside cells, and is vital in regulating fluid and electrolyte balance in the body,” says Jennifer Glockner, R.D.N. and creator of Smartee Plate. Because potassium is an electrolyte, she explains, it helps conduct electrical charges in the body, which in turn helps contraction of the heart and muscles.
How much potassium do I need?
According to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommended daily intake of potassium for the average healthy adult is 4,700 milligrams. “Most of us don’t consume enough fresh fruits and veggies,” says Glockner, “and therefore, we don’t consume enough potassium in our diet.”
Of course, it’s unlikely (and probably inadvisable) that you’ll get 4,700 milligrams of potassium from just one food source. But you can get enough potassium by taking a varied approach to your diet, and prioritizing foods high in potassium, like fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Can you overdose on potassium?
Most people have a hard enough time eating the recommended amount of potassium per day, so it’s difficult to overdo it. “However, those with impaired kidney function should consult their healthcare provider and most likely will be instructed to limit potassium intake,” says Krista Maguire, R.D., C.S.S.D., and Openfit nutrition manager.
That’s because the kidney is responsible for flushing out excess potassium in your urine. If you have kidney disease, though, “the kidney can’t remove the excess potassium, which then accumulates in the blood, and may cause harm,” says Glockner. This can result in a condition called hyperkalemia, which Glockner says may contribute to heart problems.
If you have a history of kidney disease or heart issues, talk to your doctor to ensure you’re getting the right amount of potassium.
What Are the Benefits of Potassium?
Eating foods high in potassium is important for regular cell function, Maguire says. “Potassium is also important for heart health in that it can help maintain normal blood pressure,” she explains. “Especially when sodium intake is high.”
That’s why upping your potassium intake while simultaneously reducing your sodium intake may help lower your blood pressure, Glockner says, potentially leading to better overall heart health. Increased potassium consumption has also been linked to better bone mineral density, she adds.
20 Best Sources of Potassium
Bananas aren’t the only — or even best — source of potassium. “There are foods that provide even more,” says Maguire, like certain dried fruits and legumes. Try to get your daily potassium from a variety of foods so you can score other nutrients at the same time. Think: fiber, unsaturated fat, protein, and a slew of different essential vitamins.
Here’s a list of healthy foods ordered from highest in potassium to lowest.
1. White Beans
One cup, canned, contains 1,189 milligrams of potassium
2. Dried Apricots
One half cup contains 1,101 milligrams of potassium
3. Swiss Chard
One cup, cooked and chopped, contains 961 milligrams of potassium
One cup, cooked, contains 731 milligrams of potassium
5. Acorn squash
One cup, cooked and mashed, contains 644 milligrams of potassium
One medium potato, baked with flesh, contains 610 milligrams of potassium
7. Kidney beans
One cup, canned, contains 607 milligrams of potassium
One half cup contains 598 milligrams of potassium
One cup, plain and low-fat, contains 573 milligrams of potassium
10. Lima beans
One cup, canned, contains 530 milligrams of potassium
11. Tomato juice
One cup, canned, contains 527 milligrams of potassium
One half cup, boiled, contains 485 milligrams of potassium
One medium fruit contains 422 milligrams of potassium
One cup, boiled, contains 384 milligrams of potassium
15. Sweet potato
One medium potato, boiled, contains 347 milligrams of potassium
One half of a medium avocado contains 345 milligrams of potassium
2 cups, raw, contain 335 milligrams of potassium
3-oz. fillet, Atlantic, farmed, contains 326 milligrams of potassium
One half cup, boiled and sliced, contains 259 milligrams of potassium
20. Brussels sprouts
One half cup, cooked, contains 247 milligrams of potassium