Potassium is a mineral that is important for the regulation of muscle contractions and nerve function, and it is also involved, along with sodium, in the regulation of our fluid balance. Every tissue in the body needs potassium so it is therefore an essential mineral

Due to the Western-style diet, which includes large amounts of processed foods and high amounts of salt, many people do not get the required amount of potassium that they need. Our bodies need more potassium than sodium. Excessive salt intake can lead to high blood pressure, whereas adequate amounts of potassium can regulate blood pressure

The kidneys are involved in maintaining the sodium/potassium balance in our bodies. Excess amounts will be excreted in the urine and stools, but potassium can also be lost due to sweating. Diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating, and medications such as laxatives and diuretics cause fluid loss that can lead to a potassium deficiency. People with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease can have a higher risk for a potassium deficiency if they have compromised absorption or chronic diarrhea. Magnesium is another mineral that is important to maintain optimal potassium levels.

Low potassium can cause the following symptoms:

  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle paralysis
  • Constipation
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Heart attack

In healthy people, our kidneys remove any excess potassium through the urine, but some diseases and medications cause the body to store potassium rather than excrete it. Likewise, taking too much potassium in supplement form can also cause adverse symptoms. Many of these overlap with a deficiency so it is a good idea to test your levels from time to time to ensure that you have optimal levels.

Symptoms of too much potassium include: 

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations

When we eat a balanced diet, we run less risk of overdosing on nutrients. Several foods are rich in potassium, and we should aim to include these in our diets. These include:  

Legumes (beans and lentils)

Dried raisins and apricots







Sweet melon



Soy/macadamia/almond milk


Almond and cashew nuts



Coconut water

Leafy green veggies

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 16 November 2023 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am.