A “low-potassium diet” may sound weird, because so often we’re told to increase our intake of potassium. But, recently, I met a woman (I’ll call her Teena) who told me about her son; he needs to be on a restricted potassium diet. Teena didn’t exactly explain the reasons in detail, but said that he could have very serious repercussions if he didn’t drastically limit his potassium intake.
I also have a family member (let’s call him Stick) who needs to watch his potassium intake. Stick’s needs are a bit different than Teena’s son’s because Stick needs to keep his potassium intake at a constant level rather than taking in as little as possible.
It got me thinking that there are possibly others out there who need to watch their potassium intake. So, I thought I’d gather a bit of information. Please, if you need to restrict your intake of potassium, continue to speak with your doctor about what’s best for you. And, you may wish to seek the advice of a registered dietitian. To find a local dietitian check out dieticians.net.
But, those disclaimers being said, here are a few of wonderful sites that’ll give you the levels of potassium in various foods:
- At Nutrition Data you can enter in the food that you want to know more about, and this site will give you loads of nutrition info. Scroll down to the minerals section and see the amount of potassium
- Food Essentials is a site you can look up items (more for packaged items than for fresh fruits and veggies) and see what the potassium levels are
- Calorie King also lists out potassium levels on their site
What is potassium and what does it do?
Potassium is a mineral that’s found in many foods, mainly in fruits and veggies, but it’s also present in dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes, and some grains. Potassium helps regulate the activity of muscles and nerves, it keeps the heart beating regularly, and helps to maintain fluid balance within the body.
Potassium, sodium, and chloride comprise the electrolyte family of minerals. Called electrolytes because they conduct electricity when dissolved in water, these minerals work closely together.
The kidneys maintain the correct level of potassium in the blood. People who take certain medicines or who have chronic kidney disease must limit the amount of potassium in their diet to keep their potassium level close to normal. Some people with chronic kidney disease cannot get rid of enough potassium because the kidneys do not work well. In these people, the level of potassium in the blood can become higher than normal, causing a condition known as hyperkalemia (hyper=high, kal=potassium, emia=in the blood).
Eating a low potassium diet can lower the risk of developing hyperkalemia. When blood potassium levels become too high muscle weakness, irregular heart beat, and death can occur.
The regular daily recommended potassium intake is 4000 milligrams or 4 Grams. For those on a low potassium diet, the recommended daily intake is usually between 2000 and 3000 milligrams (2 – 3 Grams). As always, should speak to your health care provider and possibly a registered dietitian for more specific guidelines.
What’s good to eat?
Almost all foods contain some potassium, so the key is to choose low-potassium foods. Rather than focus on what you can’t eat, I’d rather focus on what you can eat. So, here are some tips and suggestions. Keep portion control in mind, because a large amount of a low-potassium food can quickly add up to a high-potassium food.
- Eat a variety of foods, but in moderation
- Choose foods that contain less than 200 mg of potassium per serving
- Cook frozen fruits and vegetables in water; rinse and drain well before eating
- Drain and rinse canned fruits, vegetables, and meats before serving. The liquid is concentrated, and therefore will have more sodium and potassium. When buying canned fruits look for “lite syrup” on the label.
- Check food labels carefully for ingredients that have potassium in their name. There may be sources of hidden potassium, such as some artificial sweeteners
- Read labels on “low salt” or “low sodium” packaged foods to be sure potassium ingredients like potassium chloride are not added
- Salt-free herb blends are a great alternative to salt substitutes and other seasonings that replace sodium chloride with potassium chloride
- Breads and noodles made with refined grains (white bread, white rice) are ok, however, whole grain noodles and bread are not advised
- Replace milk and milk products with nondairy substitutes
What foods are low in potassium?
Here are some suggestions for low-potassium foods. A portion is ½ cup unless otherwise noted. Keep these substitutions in mind when you’re reading recipes, as these substitutions will work there too (so, instead of oatmeal-raisin cookies, make oatmeal-dried cranberry cookies).
- Choose apples, berries or grapes, instead of bananas, oranges or kiwi
- Select a small piece of watermelon, instead of cantaloupe or honeydew
- Try a peach, plum or pineapple, instead of a nectarine, mango or papaya
- Choose dried cranberries, instead of raisins or other dried fruit
- Drink apple, cranberry or grape juice, instead of orange juice or prune juice
- Use canned pears, peaches or fruit cocktail, instead of fresh fruit
- Good choices include:
- Apple (1 medium)
- Apple Juice
- Apricots, canned in juice
- Canned Fruit Cocktail, drained and rinsed
- Grape Juice
- Grapefruit (½ whole)
- Mandarin Oranges
- Peaches, fresh (1 small) canned (½ cup)
- Pears, fresh (1 small) canned (½ cup)
- Pineapple Juice
- Plums (1 whole)
- Tangerine (1 whole)
- Watermelon (limit to 1 cup)
- Choose green beans, wax beans or snow peas, instead of dried beans or peas
- Prepare mashed potatoes or hash browns from leached* potatoes, instead of eating baked potato or French fries. (Be sure to leach* your potatoes to lower the potassium content.) (*See below for leaching info)
- Use summer squash like crookneck or zucchini, instead of winter squashes like acorn, banana or butternut squash
- Cook with onion, bell peppers, mushrooms or garlic, instead of tomatoes, tomato sauce or chili sauce
- Drink ice water with sliced lemon and cucumber, instead of drinking vegetable juices
- Good choices:
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Asparagus (6 spears)
- Beans, green or wax
- Cabbage, green and red
- Celery (1 stalk)
- Corn, fresh (½ ear), frozen (½ cup)
- Mixed Vegetables
- Mushrooms, fresh
- Peas, green
- Water Chestnuts, canned
- Yellow Squash
- Zucchini Squash
- Use nondairy creamer or un-enriched rice milk, instead of milk.
- Prepare pudding with nondairy creamer, instead of eating yogurt or pudding made with milk
- Enjoy sorbet or Popsicles, instead of ice cream or frozen yogurt
- Use nondairy whipped topping instead of milk
- Real heavy cream, is fairly low in potassium compared to milk (90 mg per cup as opposed to 300-400 mg per cup of milk)
- Goat cheese is another great option
- Choose vanilla or lemon flavored desserts, instead of chocolate desserts
- Eat unsalted popcorn or pretzels, rice cakes, red licorice, jelly beans or hard candies, instead of nuts or seeds
- Season with pepper, lemon or low sodium herb and spice blends, instead of salt substitutes
- Good Choices:
- Bread and bread products: (Not Whole Grains)
- Cake: angel, yellow
- Coffee: limit to 8 ounces
- Pies without chocolate or high potassium fruit
- Cookies without nuts or chocolate
- Tea: limit to 16 ounces
- Plain donuts
If you want to include some high-potassium veggies in your diet, leach them before using. Leaching is a process by which some (not all) potassium can be pulled out of the vegetable and into the water. Don’t eat these vegetables frequently because there’s still a lot of potassium in the food after leaching. A ½ cup serving of leached potatoes is the same as one serving of a high-potassium food. Check with your dietitian on the amount of leached high-potassium vegetables that can be safely included in your diet. Ideal veggies for leaching are Potatoes (white and sweet), Carrots, Beets, and Rutabagas.
Wash and cut the raw vegetable into thin slices. Vegetables with a skin (potatoes, carrots, beets, rutabagas) should be peeled before slicing. Rinse the cut vegetable in warm water.
Soak the veggies for at least two hours or overnight. Use a large amount of unsalted warm water (approximately 10 parts water to 1 part vegetables). If possible, change the water every four hours. Drain the soaking water. Rinse the vegetables again with warm water.
Cook vegetables as desired, using a large amount of unsalted water (approximately 5 parts water to 1 part vegetables). Drain the cooking water.
Chef salad with green beans and red pepper, shrimp cocktail, garlic bread without cheese, fried zucchini or onion rings, grilled or broiled steak, lamb chops, prime rib, fajitas, chicken (grilled or roasted), mixed vegetables
Fruit ice, apple, blueberry, lemon meringue pies, strawberry shortcake
Hamburgers without cheese served on white buns; sandwiches on white bread
Sauté a mushroom cap, fill with a watercress salad with water chestnuts, goat cheese, and sautéed shrimp. Drizzle on lemon juice and a little olive oil.
Zucchini cakes or crab cakes
Lettuce wraps with white rice, green beans, onions, raspberries, and a little chicken seasoned with garlic
Chicken stuffed with bread, onions, celery, apples, low sodium chicken broth, and poultry seasoning, garlic powder, and pepper.
Ground beef with some rice, to make cabbage rolls or meatloaf (with a brown gravy, rather than tomato) or meatballs in a cream sauce (roux thickened broth with a small amount of cream)
Roasted veggies (asparagus, eggplant, mushrooms, yellow squash, zucchini) cooked in olive oil and herbs. Serve these with a round of goat cheese crusted with breadcrumbs (made of white bread) that’s been lightly sautéed in olive oil.
Garlic Green Bean Salad
Makes 4 Servings
From the Kidney Foundation of Canada
2 cups green beans
1 clove minced garlic
1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Clean the beans and cook in boiling water until tender. Drain and cool immediately under cold water. Toss beans with garlic, vinegar and sesame oil.
Thai Fish & Rice Soup
Makes about 12 servings
From the Kidney Foundation of Canada
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup diced celery
1 cup chopped green onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 cups boiling water
2 frozen white fish fillets, like tilapia or barramundi
1 cup diced red pepper
2-3 tbsp chopped fresh basil
2-3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2-3 tbsp chopped fresh mint
Dried chilies (if you like it spicy)
1 cup cooked long grain white rice
1 cup bean sprouts
Sauté ginger, garlic, celery, and green onion in oil over medium heat. Add boiling water, fish, and red pepper. Simmer until the fish is cooked. Season soup with black pepper, fresh herbs, and dried chiles, if using. Add the cooked rice and serve hot. Garnish with bean sprouts, more fresh herbs (to taste), and a generous squeeze of lime juice.
Makes 10 servings
From the Kidney Foundation of Canada
3 cups water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 cups quick cooking couscous
1 green onion finely chopped
1 small red pepper finely chopped
½ cup green peas
2 tsp olive oil
Bring water to boil with cinnamon, cumin, honey & lemon juice. Add couscous. Cover and remove from heat. Fluff with fork and add vegetables, olive oil, and fresh herbs. Salad can be served warm or chilled.
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