Low potassium levels can result for a variety of reasons, such as medications for high blood pressure, antibiotic use, excessive alcohol use, or even excessive sweating from prolonged exercise.
But what if you’re just not getting enough in your diet? In this post, we’ll take a look at why this mineral is so important to your health and how you can be sure you’re getting enough.
Why is Potassium Important?
Potassium is what’s known as an electrolyte. Controlled by the kidneys, it works hand in hand with sodium to keep blood pressure regulated. It’s also key in keeping fluid levels maintained. This is why we’ve often been warned to stay hydrated while working in the heat, and to drink Gatorade (contains electrolytes) if we plan to exercise for more than an hour.
Potassium is also responsible for the health of cells and blood vessels, although scientists are yet sure why. Certain medications prescribed for high blood pressure can lower potassium which can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. This is why potassium supplements are often prescribed along with drugs for hypertension.
Adequate potassium levels are also linked to reduced risk for stroke. In a 2014 study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, postmenopausal women who ate the most potassium in their diet had a 12% less risk. Even more notable, the study found a 21% risk in stroke from women who did not have high blood pressure.
Whether you have high blood pressure or not, if you’re low on potassium, you could experience other side effects, especially if you’re on a low sodium diet or even a very low carb diet.
Symptoms of Low Potassium
If you have low potassium levels, you could be experiencing any of the following:
- Leg Cramps
- Fatique and weakness
- Abnormal heart rythym
- Increased blood sugar levels or insulin resistance
About 3 months into my low carb diet, I started having severe foot cramps after going to bed at night. At first I thought it was magnesium, so I increased my dose with no effect. If you’re on a very low carb diet such as Keto, or Adkins 20, you know that in order to keep your carbs that low per day, you can’t eat any fruit but maybe a small serving of berries.
Since potassium is largely found in fruit, it can be near impossible to prevent your potassium levels from getting too low. Although a lot of people go on low carb diets to lose weight, for me weight loss was an awesome side effect…the main reason I went on a low carb diet was to lower my blood sugar levels, now I know I have to find out more about potassium.
How Much Should You be Getting in Your Diet?
The current recommended daily dose of potassium is 4700 mg, and if you’ve ever tried to track this as I have, you’ll soon see how daunting it can be to hit this high target. In fact, some scientists agree that it’s probably not even feasible. Only about 20% of Americans meet the daily standard, about 23% of the French, 8% of Brits, and only 5% of Mexicans.
Probably a big reason for this is due to the reduction in sodium in our diets. Potassium and sodium are found together in many foods, so when we cut our intake of sodium, we unknowingly drop our intake of potassium as well.
But the good news is that even increasing your potassium levels can make a big difference in your overall health. remember the women in the Albert Einstein study? They weren’t hitting the 4700 mg mark either, yet they still showed increased protection from stroke.
Which Foods are High in Potassium?
Since I wanted to keep losing weight with low carb, I thought about taking a potassium supplement, but found out that this route is very risky and too much potassium in the blood poses even greater health risks. I was surprised when I asked my doctor, (who suggested lowering my carbs in the first place), would not prescribe it, and suggested including potassium rich foods in my diet instead.
I’ve been playing around with this since then, adding an avocado each day, for instance. This does help with the foot cramps but not with my digestive “slowness”. Added more water and exercise and I’m still not where I want to be.
I started to expand my research on fruit and found out some interesting facts that none of the low carb diet plans mention. First, a list of potassium rich foods in no particular order:
- Potato – both white and sweet
Low carb gurus tell us that most of the foods on this list are too high in carbs and will prevent us from losing weight. I try to follow a diet in foods that are have low Glycemic Load (foods that aren’t likely to cause insulin blood sugar and insulin spikes). There’s probably not a guru on the planet that will recommend bananas or potatoes on a low carb diet, but that’s okay, but you can add other fruits to your diet without worrying about slowing your weight loss
As one of the most nutrient dense fruits on the planet, consider the health benefits of papaya alone:
- High in Beta carotene, Vitamins A & C, protein, minerals and essential fatty acids – helps rebuild muscles, bones, organs and other tissue
- Rich in digestive enzymes to aid in relief of intestinal discomfort
- Gently removes toxins while having a soothing effect on digestive tract
- May help the body recover quicker from illness
- Can help heal acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, joint pain, shingles and chicken pox, fibromyalgia, arthritis, colds and flu
Although papaya has a fair amount of carbs per cup, the fiber in them helps slow digestion and the glycemic load of 1 cup is only 59, well below the standard.
You don’t have to miss out on the incredible health benefits of eating wholesome fruits or even vegetables like sweet potatoes (which are also high in potassium and have tons of filling fiber), just because of current diet trends.
By eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day and avoiding starchy, processed carbs like bread, pasta, and rice, you can continue to lose weight in the healthiest way possible, without dangerous side effects of low potassium.
Try this tasty papaya smoothie:
- 1 cup chilled fresh papaya, cubed
- 1 cup unsweetened Coconut Milk or Coconut water
- 2 Scoops Visalus Vi-Shape Protein Shake mix or your favorite unsweetened mix
- Blend in high powered blender or food processor til smooth
Pour into glass and enjoy!
To Your Success,
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