Potassium is a mineral found in varying amounts in almost all foods. Vegetables, especially green leafy varieties, are generally our richest sources of potassium. Along with sodium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium, potassium is an electrolyte, meaning that it helps to conduct electrical charges in the body. Like all the other electrolytes, our bodies have evolved elaborate systems to control blood levels in a narrow range. This is good news since normal levels of potassium are absolutely critical to life—if potassium levels get too high or too low, the heart and nervous system completely shut down. Luckily, most of us are able to obtain enough potassium from foods to meet our most basic needs. But since just meeting a minimal intake need is not a recipe for health, many people in the often fail to obtain optimal amounts of this nutrient, and pay a health cost for it.
This is because most people fail to regularly eat fresh fruits and vegetables, while eating heavily salted prepared foods. In fact, a recent survey suggests that only about 5% of Americans meet minimal goals for eating fruits and vegetables. If you do not regularly meet these goals, it will be difficult to ensure your potassium intake will be optimal.
It is impossible to understand the role of potassium without addressing sodium as well. Sodium and potassium exist in a partnership, and each important use of potassium requires sodium to maintain balance. Importantly, as average diets have become depleted in potassium, they have become much more concentrated in sodium.
Information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.