Potassium? That’s bananas!

Potassium is an electrolyte that we all know we need, and just like sodium can be excreted through too much sweating, from vomiting/diarrhea, certain medications (like diuretics or laxatives), and not absorbed due to a poor diet.  Potassium is key in helping to regulate many of the bodies functions such as blood pressure, bone mass, the nervous system, muscle function, heart/kidney/adrenal gland functions.  One current reason why a lot of younger people become hypokalemic (low potassium levels) is due to fad diets like the ‘colon cleansing’ diets; you are taking in fluids, pills, etc that act as a diuretic,  because you are not eating a normal diet, having numerous bowel movements, and your potassium levels drop down. On the opposite side, hyperkalemia is usually due to kidney dysfunction (the inability to excrete potassium seen in renal failure and people on dialysis), with disorders of the adrenal glands, and due to certain medications like ACE inhibitors (cardiac medication), Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs  (i.e. ibuprofen), Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (cardiac medication), and potassium-sparing diuretics (i.e. aldosterone).

 Most people won’t notice when their potassium levels decrease at first, but usually the first signs are muscle cramps and muscle weakness.  The signs of severe hypokalemia are heart palpitations, electrocardiogram (EKG)changes, and arrythmias (mis-beating of the heart), which can all be deadly and are VERY serious.  Hyperkalemia is usually noted by nausea, fatigue, muscle weakness, and tingling sensations; it can also become more severe and cause cardiac changes and become deadly.    The treatment for each is similar; figure out the source of the hyper/hypokalemia and fix it!  If you have low potassium, which would be most common in healthy young adults, it is to increase potassium in your diet, and if it is medication related, change the medications.  For hyperkalemia, the treatment would be to decrease dietary potassium, change medications (if related), and/or start dialysis to assist your kidneys in the excretion.

 So, knowing that most likely when I have cramps, it is dehydration and low potassium, when I do get muscle cramps, I usually reach for some fresh fruit or juice, and as I wait for the potassium levels to come back up and the muscle cramps to end…a heat pack on the muscles does wonders!  I tend to get ridiculous cramps in my calves after long busy shifts when I know that I did not eat/drink enough. Also, after an extensive workout, later in the day, muscle cramping can be a sign of needed an extra potassium boost.  What are some Potassium rich foods to grab? Everyone thinks bananas are the “go to” for potassium, but you will be surprised to see what foods have higher levels:
(It should be noted that the average healthy person should eat around 70-100mEq or 270-390g/dl of potassium per day)

Foods with Potassium         Serving Size     Potassium (mg)
Apricots, dried                    10 halves          407
Avocados, raw                     1 ounce            180
Bananas, raw                     1 cup 594
Beets, cooked                    1 cup 519
Brussel sprouts, cooked 1 cup 504
Cantaloupe                       1 cup 494
Dates, dry                         5 dates            271
Figs, dry                            2 figs 271
Kiwi fruit, raw 1 medium 252
Lima beans                        1 cup 955
Melons, honeydew 1 cup 461
Milk, fat free or skim 1 cup 407
Nectarines           1 nectarine 288
Orange juice                       1 cup 496
Oranges                             1 orange 237
Pears (fresh)                        1 pear 208
Peanuts dry roasted, unsalted 1 ounce      187
Potatoes, baked,                  1 potato       1081
Prune juice                         1 cup  707
Prunes, dried 1 cup 828
Raisins                                1 cup 1089
Spinach, cooked                   1 cup 839
Tomato products, sauce           1 cup 909
Winter squash                       1 cup 896
Yogurt plain, skim milk 8 ounces 579

hope you all get your potassium in any which form you choose!!

Yours in Good Health


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