Not all micronutrients are vitamins, some are minerals such as potassium, sodium and iron. Minerals are sometimes referred to as macro-minerals and trace minerals based on how much we need of them in our diet. Potassium is one of the macro-minerals. 

Role in the Body

Potassium plants many roles in our bodies. It helps our muscles (including our heart) contract, send nerve signals and maintain normal blood pressure and fluid levels. Additionally, it may reduce the risk of bone loss with aging and some types of kidney stones.

How Much Potassium Do I Need?

The amount of potassium you need can vary a lot depending on your age and sex, as well as other factors such as lactation and pregnancy. Health Canada recommends that healthy women over the age of 18 consume 2,600 mg of per day, while men consume 3,400 mg each day. For a complete list of recommendations, check out Health Canada’s Daily Recommended Intakes.

Am I At Risk of Potassium Deficiency?

Potassium deficiency is quite rare in Canada, as it can easily be found in our diets. However, some groups are at an increased risk of deficiency including,

    • People with inflammatory bowel disease
    • People with medications that may interact with potassium
      • Such as laxatives and diuretics
    • People with pica

Deficiency can have severe effects on our health including,

    • Elevated blood pressure and increased risk of hypertension and stroke
    • Increased risk for kidney stones
    • Bone loss

Extreme deficiency can cause hypokalemia. Hypokalemia is characterized by less than 3.6 mmol/L of potassium in the blood, and is generally caused by diuretics or other medications. Signs of kypokalemia include,

    • Muscle weakness
    • Malaise (general feeling of discomfort)
    • Fatigue
    • Constipation

Where Can I Find Potassium?

As I mentioned earlier, potassium can easily be found in our diet. Sometimes a little too easily. It can naturally be found in many foods including fruits, vegetables and dairy products, but is also added to foods to help promote flavour.

Some potassium-rich foods include,

    • Spinach
    • Potato
    • Lentils
    • Apricots
    • Kidney beans
    • Tomatoes
    • Bananas
    • Sweet potato

For a detailed list of the amount of potassium you can find in these foods, check out Health Link BC’s potassium page.

Basket of potatoes. Potatoes are a rich source of potassium.

Dietary Supplements

Although potassium can be found in some supplements, such as multivitamins or on its own, it is a very limited amount (about 80 to 99 mg). Our diet remains the best source of this micronutrient.

Interaction with Medications

Many medications can affect potassium levels in our bodies. Some medications available have even been designed to reduce the amount of potassium absorbed by our bodies. Some medications to be aware of are,

    • Diuretics
    • ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers

You should always chat with your doctor or healthcare team before stating any new supplements to minis the risk of adverse reactions. 

For more on the role of vitamins and minerals in promoting health and supporting our bodies, check out the Micronutrient Monday series.