Most of us know that we need potassium to regulate our bodily function, but how many of us know what it actually does? This is the place to find out more about this powerful mineral.
We need potassium to help our muscles to contract and relax, and for our nerves to transmit their impulses. This has an obvious effect on movement, but more importantly, on the cardiovascular system which regulates our breathing. If the muscles in and around our hearts cease to move, we will cease to live.
Various bodily processes make up a state of balance that is called homeostasis. Homeostasis includes such elements as maintaining a constant body temperature, oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange within cells and the balance of minerals. Sodium and potassium play a part in these processes.
Potassium plays a part in creating enzymes these are produced at various junctures along your digestive tract and help to break down the food that we eat.
Too much potassium?
It's possible to consume too much potassium. Unless you've been prescribed supplements by a doctor (for example, if you need to take diuretic drugs), excessive potassium intake could upset your stomach, make your muscles feel weaker and potentially even damage your heart function.
How much is enough?
Most nutritionists agree that the recommended daily intake of potassium should be around 3,500mg. If your diet is particularly high in fresh fruit and vegetables you may consume around 10,000mg a day but certainly you shouldn't eat much more than this.
This is an illness that is caused by grossly excessive potassium intake or, conversely, the body's inability to flush out excess potassium through normal kidney function. This can sometimes be caused by certain medications. If left untreated it can lead to cardiac arrest. Symptoms may include weakness and shortness of breath, and possibly palpitations. Always visit your GP if you have any concerns about your health; never self-diagnose.
What are the symptoms of not enough potassium?
A number of disorders point to insufficient dietary intake of potassium, among them:
- Excessively dry skin
- Irregular heart beat
- Low blood sugar
- Muscular weakness and/or cramping
- Extreme fatigue
- Feeling thirsty
- Low blood pressure
- Oedema (or swelling)
- High cholesterol levels
Which foods are rich in potassium?
The best sources of potassium are fruit, vegetables and fish, in particular:
- Soy beans
The good news is that chocolate is also a fantastic source of potassium! Happy eating!