Do I Need Extra Potassium on a Low-Carb Diet?

How to Meet the Daily Goal of 4700 Milligrams

Grilled Rib Eye Steaks marinated in Lemon, garlic, and parsley
Steak, an excellent source of potassium in a low-carb diet. Image Credit: Bob Ingelhart/Getty Images

Potassium plays an important role in regulating the heart beat, muscle function, and the balance of fluids in the body. When we embark on certain low-carb diets, we minimize the amount of potassium we consume.

If allowed to drop excessively, it can lead a condition called hypokalemia (low potassium) in which a person can experience cramps, muscle weakness, nausea, diarrhea, frequent urination, dehydration, low blood pressure, and changes in heart rhythm

By focusing on potassium-rich foods, we can maintain a healthy, balanced diet low in carbs. But, even then, there may be situations where supplementation is needed to make up for any nutritional deficit.

Low Potassium When Starting a Low-Carb Diet

Although a healthy, low-carb diet will generally offer ample supplies of potassium, your potassium stores may run short in the first week or two of starting. This is because a low-carb diet will cause a depletion of glycogen which the body uses to store glucose. Since glycogen works with potassium to metabolize glucose, any drop in glycogen levels can affect potassium levels, as well.

Unlike certain minerals, potassium cannot be stored in the body for future use. It is instead flushed out of the body through the urinary tract and, as such, needs to be replenished regularly. As the body begins to adjust to the new diet, the levels of potassium will tend to normalize on their own.

But, until that time, it usually doesn't hurt to take a potassium supplement.

The Facts About Potassium Supplements

In 2013, the National Academy of Science increased their potassium recommendation from 3500 to 4700 milligrams per day. This was due to research showing that higher levels of potassium helped improve high blood pressure and possibly ​insulin resistance, as well.

This can present a challenge to some low-carb diets. Fruits and vegetables provide some of the highest amounts of potassium but can also be high in carbohydrates. Certain meats and seafood offer high potassium and low carbs, but, depending on where you live, can sometimes be limited in their variety.

Supplementation is often the simplest way to meet your daily potassium needs. But you also need to be careful in how much you take. If you consume excessive amounts of potassium, you can experience problems with your central nervous system and vital organs.

Because of this, most multivitamins in the U.S. contain only 99 milligrams of potassium per single serving to avoid excessive use. If taking a potassium-only supplement, it is best to limit your intake to between 1600 and 2000 milligrams (40 to 50 milliequivalents) per day for adults.

How to Get Potassium Without Carbs

Many people do not get enough potassium in their regular diets, particularly if they eat a lot of processed foods. A low-carb diet consisting of fresh whole foods will typically supply enough potassium to meet the recommended daily need.

Among some of the most potassium-rich options:

  • Spinach contains an impressive 558 milligrams of potassium per 100 grams.
  • Swiss chard offers 379 milligrams per 100 grams and is rich in vitamin A and C.
  • A three-ounce serving of halibut delivers nearly 500 milligrams of potassium.
  • A three-ounce center-cut pork loin provides about 370 milligrams of potassium.
  • Skinless, roast chicken offers more than 350 milligrams per three-ounce serving.
  • A piece of lean grilled beef offers 350 milligrams of potassium of 100 grams.
  • Everyday brown mushrooms boast 396 milligrams of potassium per 100 grams.
  • Avocados offer 351 milligrams of potassium per 100 grams and more fiber than most whole grains.

Source:

Naude, C.; Schoonees, A.; Senekal, M.; et al. "Low carbohydrate versus isoenergetic balanced diets for reducing weight and cardiovascular risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis." PLoS One. 2014; 9(7): e100652.

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