When most people think of potassium, the first thing that comes to mind is a banana. There are many other foods that have as much, if not more potassium than a banana, so if your child doesn’t eat bananas, don’t worry. It’s still possible for them to get enough of this critical mineral.
Like sodium, potassium is an electrolyte that is used in almost everything your body does. It is found in all body tissues and is required for normal cell function (1). Because it’s found in many foods, true potassium deficiency is rare, however many people still don’t eat the recommended amounts.
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What does potassium do?
Potassium is used all throughout the body. It helps to regulate fluids in the body. It’s also involved in the functioning of the nervous system, muscles, and heart. Specifically, it helps to regulate the heartbeat. Potassium is also important for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.
Muscle contractions and nerve impulses are also regulated by potassium, so adequate intake can help with muscle strength and coordination. Lastly, it can help prevent the loss of calcium from bones, which is important for bone health.
Where can you get potassium?
Luckily, potassium is found in a wide variety of foods. Fruits, vegetables, some legumes, and potatoes tend to be excellent sources. Meats, poultry, fish, milk, yogurt, and nuts also will contain some. Whole grains will contain more than their refined counterparts.
Among children, milk, fruit juice, potatoes, and fruit are the top sources of potassium (1).
There was not enough information to develop a recommended dietary allowance for potassium, so an adequate intake was established. An adequate intake is the level assumed to ensure nutritional adequacy. Do not worry too much about these numbers. I provide them so that you have an estimate of what your child needs, but stressing over meeting each nutrient goal is not necessary.
|0-6 months||400 mg|
|7-12 months||860 mg|
|1-3 years||2000 mg|
|4-8 years||2300 mg|
What happens if you don’t get enough?
Inadequate intake can lead to increase blood pressure, increased risk of kidney stones, increased bone turnover, increased urinary calcium excretion, and increased salt sensitivity (1). Salt sensitivity is when blood pressure is more affected by dietary sodium intake.
Severe deficiency is called hypokalemia. Symptoms of mild hypokalemia are constipation, fatigue, muscle weakness, and malaise. Note that these are also the symptoms of other conditions as well. Symptoms of moderate to severe hypokalemia include a lot of really dilute urine, glucose intolerance, muscular paralysis, poor respiration, and cardiac arrhythmias. Severe hypokalemia can be life threatening.
Severe hypokalemia is rarely caused by inadequate potassium intake. It can be affected by things like severe diarrhea or vomiting or other medical conditions. It can also be caused by improperly making infant formula (like diluting formula trying to make it last longer) or making homemade formula which is why these methods were not recommended during the infant formula shortage.
Can you get too much?
In healthy people, it is unlikely to get too much potassium from foods alone. There is no upper limit set for potassium, however large doses of supplements are not recommended. Those with medical conditions affecting kidney function or on certain medications should monitor their potassium intake.
Too much potassium, or hyperkalemia, can be asymptomatic. However, symptoms can include muscle weakness, paralysis, heart palpitations, a burning/prickling sensation in the extremities, and cardiac arrhythmias.
Potassium Rich Foods for Kids
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potato
- Winter squash
If you are following the balanced plate method and offering a fruit or vegetable at most meals, you’ll probably be offering a food with potassium without having to think too much. Especially considering there are many non fruit/veggies that also contain potassium.
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.