Potassium is a common cation in the body. Most of the potassium in the body is found within the cells themselves where it takes part in a myriad of cellular processes. Potassium is especially beneficial to the heart.

Your heart beats a hundred thousand times per day and it relies on potassium to function and to push the blood to every part of your body.

Potassium is also crucial in the movement of your muscles, in the function of your nerve cells, and in the ability of your kidneys to make urine and filter the blood.

Where Does Potassium Come From?

You can get potassium from the food you eat. Foods that are high in potassium include beans, fruit, seafood, dairy products, and fish.

Foods that are particularly high in potassium include the following:

  • Fresh tomatoes and tomato sauces - Fresh tomatoes are good sources, but tomato paste and puree have more potassium. 1/4 cup of tomato paste has 664 mg and ½ a cup of puree gives you 549 mg. Tomato juice has 556 milligrams per cup, which is 15% of the daily recommended allowance of potassium
  • 3 ounces of halibut or tuna have nearly 500 mg, and you can get it from farm-raised rainbow trout too
  • Clams - 3 ounces of clams have 534 mg of potassium and also have the most vitamin B12 of any food
  • Beans - White beans have the most potassium, 600 mg per ½ cup, but kidney, lima, lentils and split peas are also great sources
  • 8 oz. of plain non-fat yogurt has 579 mg of potassium
  • 3/4 of a cup of orange juice has 355 mg of potassium
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas - One medium banana has more than 400 mg
  • Potatoes of any type
  • Avocados
  • Mushrooms
  • Dried fruits, like apricots, raisins, dates, and prunes
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Green peas
  • Winter squash
  • Nonfat milk 382 mg per cup while 1% and whole milk has a little less
  • Molasses

The Benefits of Potassium on the Heart

While taking in plenty of potassium doesn’t directly prevent heart disease nor does it treat heart disease if you already have it, this mineral is beneficial to the heart in many different ways.

Some of these include the following:

Improved blood pressure. Studies on individuals who suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure) have shown that the taking of a potassium supplement or eating lots of potassium in the diet (by eating the foods listed above) will have lower systolic blood pressure.

Supplements of potassium can lower the systolic blood pressure by up to eight points. If you have high blood pressure and take in the foods that are high in potassium, especially fat free dairy products, fruits, and vegetables, you can lower your systolic blood pressure by as many as ten points.

The choice as to whether you take potassium supplements or take your potassium in the foods you eat depend on what your doctor recommends to you.

Better cholesterol levels. While there is no specific link between cholesterol and potassium, it turns out that low cholesterol diets also tend to be high in potassium as well. When you are getting plenty of potassium in your diet by eating fruits and vegetables, you are also taking in foods that are low fat, particularly foods that contain little cholesterol and saturated fats.

This has the effect of lowering your cholesterol levels so you have a decreased chance of getting heart disease.

Heart Arrhythmias. You need potassium in order for your heart to beat properly. Conditions of low potassium or high potassium can result in rhythm problems of your heart. This is why the doctor will check your potassium level if you have been found to have a rhythm problem in your heart.

How Much Potassium Is Necessary?

Here are the requirements for daily potassium according to the US Department of Agriculture:

  • Babies from 0 to 6 months need 400 milligrams daily
  • Kids ages 7 to 12 months need 700 milligrams daily
  • Children from 1 to 3 years old need 3,000 milligrams each day
  • Children ages 4 to 8 years old need 3,800 milligrams daily
  • Ages 9 to 13 years need 4,500 milligrams daily
  • Kids 13 and adults need 4,700 milligrams daily
  • Lactating women need 5,100 milligrams daily

The best way to do this is to eat plenty of the fruits and vegetables listed above that are high in potassium. You can develop problems if you take in too much potassium so you should always check with your doctor before taking a supplement with potassium in it.

Most people will develop no problems when eating a diet high in potassium or when taking a potassium supplement if directed to do so by your doctor. People who have kidney failure or other problems with their kidneys should discuss taking any type of potassium supplement as potassium in excess can adversely affect the kidneys.

There are some medications you can take that will elevate your level of potassium. These include Aldactone (spironolactone), trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim), and triamterene (a diuretic). Some types of ACE inhibitors will raise potassium levels.

Other types of diuretics will lower the potassium level in your blood by increasing the amount of potassium excreted in the urine by the kidneys.

If you take a diuretic for high blood pressure or for peripheral edema, your potassium level should be evaluated periodically, whether you are on a potassium-sparing diuretic or a potassium-losing diuretic.

If the potassium level is low, you can eat more potassium in your diet or can take a supplement that is rich in potassium.