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Nutrition Month: Are You Pumped Up with Potassium?

In Brief

  • March is National Nutrition Month®, a nutrition education observance sponsored annually by the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
  • According to the ADA, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming a diet that's rich in potassium.
  • Most people who eat a healthy diet should get enough potassium naturally. However, many Americans do not eat a healthy diet, choosing processed foods over whole foods.

March is National Nutrition Month, a nutrition education observance sponsored annually by the American Dietetic Association (ADA). This observance can help us to recognize the importance of assessing our diets to make sure we are getting the proper nutrition every day — including our potassium intake.

“Potassium is a mineral that is very important for the proper function of all nerves and muscles in the body,” says Patti Sacchetti, R.D., M.B.A., manager of Clinical Nutrition at Taylor Hospital. “It’s a crucial part of the function of the heart and plays an important role in carbohydrate and protein metabolism.” 

According to the ADA, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming a diet that is rich in potassium, a mineral that blunts the effect of salt on blood pressure and may also reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and possibly bone loss as we get older.

The recommended intake of potassium for adolescents and adults is 4,700 mg/day. The recommended intake for children 1 to 3 years of age is 3,000 mg/day; 4 to 8 years, 3,800 mg/day; and 9 to 13 years, 4,500 mg/day.

Most people who eat a healthy diet should get enough potassium naturally. However, many Americans do not eat a healthy diet, choosing processed foods over whole foods. Because of this, the average U.S. intake of potassium is lower than it should be.

Potassium deficiencies are common in people who:

  • Have health conditions that affect their digestive system
  • Sweat a lot because of sports or a physically demanding job
  • Have an eating disorder
  • Smoke, abuse alcohol and drugs
  • Use certain medications, like diuretics and certain birth control pills
  • Have a stomach bug that includes diarrhea and vomiting.

“Everyone should be eating foods that are rich in potassium, especially those who are at an increased risk of a deficiency,” says Andrea McHugh, M.A., R.D., L.D.N., assistant director of Nutrition Services at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. “Oranges, bananas, avocados and fish are great sources for daily potassium consumption. Sports drinks, like Gatorade, contain potassium as well as other key electrolytes that help replete the body’s stores during significant loss due to excessive sweating, diarrhea or vomiting.”

Other foods that are loaded with potassium include leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, fruits from vines, and root vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots.

“Some symptoms of a potassium deficiency can include muscle weakness (especially in the legs), a lack of sensation in the legs, leg cramps, irregular heart beats, a loss of appetite, vomiting, constipation, and large volumes of urine,” says Phyllis Carpoletti, M.A., R.D., C.N.S.C., L.D.N., clinical nutrition specialist at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “In extreme cases of potassium deficiencies, cardiac arrest can occur.” 

“To treat potassium deficiencies, your healthcare provider must first identify the source of the deficiency,” says Denise Jeffery, R.D., L.D.N., clinical dietician at Springfield Hospital. “Your physician may recommend that you take a potassium supplement to help restore healthy potassium levels. In severe cases, intravenous injections of potassium may be given. In most cases, people can just make sure to eat foods that are rich in potassium to replenish their levels.”

It’s important to know that too much potassium can be harmful as well. To ensure that you are consuming a sufficient amount of potassium, visit your healthcare provider for a simple blood test to have your levels checked.

For more information about nutrition services at Crozer-Keystone Health System, call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258).

Contact Us

Crozer-Keystone Health System

Grant Gegwich, Vice President

Phone: 610-447-6316
Fax: 610-447-2015
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Crozer-Chester Medical Center
Kate Stier, Director

Phone: 610-447-6314
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Pager: 610-541-3130

Community Hospital
Kate Stier,  Director

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Springfield Hospital
Kate Stier,  Director

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Healthplex Sports Club
Kate Stier, Director

Phone: 610-447-6314
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Delaware County Memorial Hospital

Mary Wascavage
Director of Public Relations and Marketing

Phone: 610-284-8619
Fax: 610-284-8606
Pager: 610-318-0861

Taylor Hospital

Mary Wascavage, Director

Phone: 610-284-8619
Fax: 610-284-8606
Pager: 610-318-0861