Potassium is an essential mineral for health. Getting between 3,500 milligrams and 4,700 milligrams a day from tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables may lower your risk of kidney stones, stroke, and high blood pressure.

Potassium is one of the most abundant minerals in your body and plays an essential role in several body processes.

However, very few people consume enough of it. In fact, nearly 98% of all adults in the United States are not meeting the daily intake recommendations.

This article tells you how much potassium you need per day as well as why it’s crucial to your health.

Potassium is an essential mineral and also an electrolyte. It’s found in various unrefined foods, including:

  • leafy vegetables
  • legumes
  • fish, such as salmon

Around 98% of the potassium in your body is inside your cells. Of this, 80% is found inside your skeletal muscle, while 20% is in bone, red blood cells, and the liver.

This mineral plays an integral role in a variety of processes in the body. It’s involved in muscle contractions, heart function, and fluid balance.

Despite its importance, many do not get enough of this mineral.

A diet rich in potassium is associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure, kidney stones, and osteoporosis, among other benefits.

Most adults don’t consume enough potassium.

In many countries, the deficiency is attributed to a Western diet, likely because it tends to include processed foods, which are poor sources of this mineral.

However, just because people aren’t getting enough doesn’t mean they’re deficient.

A potassium deficiency, also known as hypokalemia, is characterized by a blood level of potassium less than 3.6 mmol per liter.

Surprisingly, a lack of potassium in the diet rarely causes deficiencies.

This usually occurs when the body loses too much potassium, such as with chronic diarrhea or vomiting.

You may also lose potassium if you’re taking diuretics, which are medications that increase water excretion from your body.

Here are the symptoms depending on how low your potassium levels are.

  • Mild deficiency. Happens when a person has blood levels of 3–3.5 mmol/l. It usually doesn’t cause symptoms.
  • Moderate deficiency. Happens at 2.5–3 mmol/l. Symptoms include cramping, muscle pain, weakness, and discomfort.
  • Severe deficiency. Happens at less than 2.5 mmol/l. Symptoms include irregular heartbeat and paralysis.

The best way to increase your potassium intake is through your diet.

Potassium is found in a variety of whole foods, mostly fruits, and vegetables.

Due to insufficient evidence about the mineral, nutrition experts haven’t determined a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or Estimated Average Requirement (EAR).

An RDA is the daily amount of a nutrient likely to meet the needs of 97–98% of healthy people. An EAR is the estimated average daily amount established to meet the needs of 50% of healthy people.

Below are some foods that are excellent sources of potassium and how much they contain in a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving:

A diet rich in potassium is associated with some impressive health benefits.
It may prevent or alleviate a variety of health problems, including:

  • High blood pressure.Many studies have shown that potassium-rich diets can lower blood pressure, especially for those with high blood pressure.
  • Salt sensitivity. People with this condition may experience a 10% increase in blood pressure after eating salt. A potassium-rich diet may eliminate salt sensitivity.
  • Stroke. Studies have shown that a potassium-rich diet may reduce the risk of stroke by up to 13%.
  • Osteoporosis.Studies have shown that a potassium-rich diet may help prevent osteoporosis, a condition associated with an increased risk of bone fractures.
  • Kidney stones.Studies have found that potassium-rich diets are associated with a significantly lower risk of kidney stones than diets low in this mineral.

Your daily potassium needs can depend on various factors, including your health status and activity level. Research also indicates that daily potassium intake may vary among different ethnic groups.

Even though there isn’t an RDA for potassium, organizations worldwide have recommended consuming at least 3,500 mg per day through food.

One of these organizations is the World Health Organization (WHO). Certain countries, including Spain, Mexico, Belgium, and the UK, support this recommendation.

Other countries, including the United States, recommend consuming at least 4,700 mg per day.

Interestingly, it seems that when people consume more than 4,700 mg per day, there appear to be little or no extra health benefits.

However, there are several groups of people who may benefit more than others from meeting the higher recommendation. These people include:

  • Athletes. Those who partake in long and intense exercise may lose a significant amount of potassium through sweat.
  • Black people. Studies have found that consuming 4,700 mg of potassium daily can eliminate salt-sensitivity, which research indicates disproportionately affects Black people when compared to white people.
  • High risk groups. People at risk of high blood pressure, kidney stones, osteoporosis or stroke may benefit from consuming at least 4,700 mg of potassium per day.

Surprisingly, potassium supplements are usually not significant sources of this mineral.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits over-the-counter potassium chloride supplements to less than 100 mg per serving — just 2% of the U.S. daily recommendation.

However, that doesn’t apply to other forms of supplements that contain potassium.

Taking too much of this mineral can cause excess amounts to build up in the blood, which is known as hyperkalemia. In some cases, this may cause an irregular heartbeat, called cardiac arrhythmia, which can be fatal.

Furthermore, studies have found that potassium supplements that provide high doses may damage the lining of the gut.

However, people who are deficient or at risk for deficiency may require a high-dose potassium supplement. In these cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe a higher-dose supplement and monitor you for any reactions.

An excessive level of potassium in the blood is known as hyperkalemia. The condition is characterized by a blood level higher than 5.0 mmol per liter, which can be dangerous.

For a healthy adult, there’s no significant evidence that potassium from foods can cause hyperkalemia.

For this reason, potassium from foods doesn’t have a tolerable upper intake level. This is the most a healthy adult can consume in a day without negative effects.

Hyperkalemia generally affects people with poor kidney function or people who take medications that may affect kidney function.

This is because the kidneys remove excess potassium. Therefore, poor kidney function may result in a buildup of this mineral in the blood.

However, poor kidney function isn’t the only cause of hyperkalemia. Taking too many potassium supplements may also cause it.

Compared to foods, potassium supplements are small and easy to take. Taking too many may overwhelm the kidneys’ ability to remove excess potassium.

Additionally, there are several groups of people who may need less of this mineral than others, including:

  • People with chronic kidney disease. This disease increases the risk of hyperkalemia. People with chronic kidney disease should ask their medical provider how much potassium is right for them.
  • Those taking blood pressure medications. Some blood pressure medications, such as ACE inhibitors, may increase the risk of hyperkalemia. People taking these medications may need to watch their potassium intake.
  • Older adults. As people age, their kidney function declines. Older people are also more likely to take medications that affect the risk of hyperkalemia.

Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte involved in heart function, muscle contraction, and water balance.

A high intake may help reduce high blood pressure, salt sensitivity, and the risk of stroke. Additionally, it may protect against osteoporosis and kidney stones.

Despite its importance, very few people around the world get enough potassium. A healthy adult should aim to consume 3,500–4,700 mg daily from foods.

To increase your intake, incorporate a few potassium-rich foods into your diet such as spinach, yams, avocados, bananas, and fish, such as salmon.