We Are What We Eat: Potassium, the Real Special K



Today, in the second in a series  of posts examining the building blocks of our bodies, we are getting know Potassium, one of the vital elements that we need on a daily basis for metabolic function, for basic health and well-being. When it comes to potassium, most budding chemist know that its atomic number is 19 and its symbol is K, and athletes know that this important element somehow keeps them from cramping during extended periods of exercise; jocks know that bananas are a good source of it, and Gatorade and other sports drink makers add it to their sugary concoctions to give them that extra edge. When we perspire, and when athletes sweat heavily, we lose mostly water-which is why it is important to keep hydrated-and sodium and chloride. (By the way, if your sweat is really salty, if you get caked in white powder once it dries, you are ingesting too much sodium; not a good thing).

We also lose other electrolytes like potassium, magnesium and calcium, needed to maintain fluid balance, regulate the pH in our blood and assist in normal muscular function.



If you eat a well-balanced diet you do not need to ingest sports drinks  that are sweetened with at least 2 teaspoons of sugar in every cup. Water is sufficient to rehydrate and if your diet includes the recommended daily amount of potassium, about 4,700 mg according to Canada’s Food Guide there is no need to supplement your food or drink with added sources of potassium or other essential minerals.


“High potassium intakes are associated with a 20% decreased risk of dying from all causes.”- Medical News Today 



But most of us are not getting the recommended amount of potassium. Adults have about 120 g of potassium in their composition, about .2% of our mass, and we need to ingest 4.7g a day to keep in tip-top shape. In metabolic functioning potassium helps to maintain balance between individual cells and the fluid surrounding them, it acts in brain and nerve functioning and is necessary in preventing erratic muscle contraction, or cramping. High levels of potassium are also associated with lower blood pressure, a reduced risk of stroke, helping to maintain muscle mass and bone density and assist in preventing kidney stones. Not overly surprisingly, given North America’s predilection for highly processed foods, only about 2% of the population on this continent get enough potassium.

Potassium Deficiency, known as hypokalaemia is often vague, and the symptoms somewhat difficult to attribute, can be characterized by general weakness, fatigue, cramping, tingling, nausea, excessive urination, bloating, constipation, low blood pressure (identifiable by dizziness or feeling faint), heart palpitations and depression or mood disorders that arise due to any of the above maladies. Unfortunately, we are part of a culture that reaches for an over the shelf medication to treat these symptoms, rather than treating the cause itself, perpetuating a vicious circle while spending more money on the pharmaceutical industry rather than preventing these maladies in the first place; by eating sensibly.




Here is a list of common foods that are a good source of potassium:

  • Potato, large, baked, with skin: 845 milligrams
  • Sweet potato, baked (146 grams): 694 milligrams
  • Avocado, ½ medium: 602 milligrams
  • Cantaloupe, raw, 1 cup: 417 milligrams
  • Mushrooms, 10 small: 415 milligrams
  • Beet greens, cooked, ½ cup: 650 milligrams
  • White beans, canned, ½ cup: 595 milligrams
  • Tomatoes, 1 cup: 528 milligrams
  • Soybeans, green, cooked ½ cup: 485 milligrams
  • Lima beans, cooked, ½ cup: 484 milligrams
  • Winter squash, cooked, ½ cup: 448 milligrams
  • Banana, 1 medium: 422 milligrams
  • Spinach, cooked, ½ cup: 419 milligrams
  • Yogurt, low fat, plain: 398 milligrams
  • Pear, 1 medium: 333 milligrams
  • Mango, 1 medium: 323 milligrams
  • Orange, 1 medium: 300 milligrams
  • Pistachios, dried, 1 oz: 310 milligrams
  • Raisins, ¼ cup: 271 milligrams.

Look at that list, it’s all good, simple, inexpensive food. And here, courtesy of Eat Right Ontario is a recipe for a classic, delicious Minestrone soup that is perfect for this time of year and has over 700 mg of potassium per serving.  




Minestrone soup

Preparation Time: 15 minutes   Cooking Time: 40 minutes   Makes: 4 servings Ingredients

olive oil 15 mL 1 tbsp
onion, diced 250 mL 1 cup
carrot, diced 250 mL 1 cup
celery, diced 250 ml 1 cup
2 cloves of garlic, chopped 2 cloves
fresh parsley, chopped  125 mL  1/2 cup
sodium reduced chicken stock 1 L 4 cups
water 500 mL 2 cups
navy beans, drained and rinsed 540 mL 1 can 19oz
potato, peeled and diced 250 mL 1 cup
zucchini, diced 250 mL 1 cup
Savoy cabbage, shredded 250 mL 1 cup
fresh plum tomatoes, diced 500 mL 2 cups
1 bay leaf
dried basil 5 mL 1 tsp
dried oregano 5 mL 1 tsp
dried thyme 2 mL ½ tsp
pepper to taste


  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and sautee without browning for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the cheese, and simmer on medium heat for 30 minutes.
  3. Pour into bowls and top with parmesan cheese (if using).

Nutritional Information: per serving 1 ½ cups (375 mL) Calories: 165 Protein: 8 g Fat: 3 g Saturated fat: 0 g Dietary cholesterol: 0 mg Carbohydrate: 29 g Dietary fibre: 5 g Sodium: 368 mg Potassium: 702 mg

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