The still sea is darker than before.
July 2, 2011 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Apart from its overdose potential, is there anything wrong with using potassium chloride to supplement my daily potassium intake?

Established dietary guidelines recommend consuming about 1500 mg sodium and about 4700 mg potassium daily. I'm sure that, like most of us, I am well over the suggested intake for sodium and well below the suggested intake for potassium.

Bananas are the most potassium-rich foods I eat regularly. Even so, a single banana only provides 8-10% of the daily recommended intake. I certainly don't eat ten bananas a day.

Over-the-counter potassium supplements exist, but the amount of potassium they contain is miniscule, about 1-2% of the daily recommended intake. That doesn't seem worth the expense and hassle.

Potassium chloride is the main ingredient in a range of table salt substitutes. Are there any health benefits to be had by switching to a table salt substitute for cooking and seasoning? Abstractly, I understand that doing so will lower my sodium intake and dramatically increase my potassium intake. Am I overlooking anything? What are the reasons more health-conscious people don't go this route?
posted by Nomyte to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
Eat more leafy greens. The reason most health-conscious people don't worry too much about potassium is because it's really not that hard to find. The banana thing is a canard, really - a cup of cooked spinach has almost three times as much potassium as a banana, by this chart, plus it doesn't have all that sugar.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:53 AM on July 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I take 40 meq of (prescription) potassium chloride supplements every day to correct low potassium levels caused by another drug I'm on. My electrolyte levels are all normal, even though the supplement is a relatively small amount. Bananas aren't the only source of potassium out there. You're probably getting plenty from the variety of foods you eat anyway.

Messing with your potassium levels is a recipe for heart problems, so I think this is a Bad Idea. People use table salt substitutes to lower their sodium levels for high blood pressure, not to increase their potassium levels.

If it's something you're concerned about, go to the doctor and get some blood tests done. Unless you're eating a really weird, unhealthy diet, your potassium is probably just fine. I definitely would not take a supplement or radically change your eating habits, though, without consulting a doctor first.
posted by phunniemee at 10:58 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know why people always think of bananas as being so high in potassium. Many other foods have far more potassium per 100 calories. Almost all vegetables and fruits are good sources of potassium. Milk, orange juice, potatoes, and dried beans are good sources, too. Try looking up the diet required for people who must limit their potassium intake: it's unpleasantly restrictive, because so many fruits and vegetables are high in potassium.

The danger of potassium supplements, and the reason why over-the-counter potassium is legally limited in the US to a miniscule dose, is that an overdose of potassium supplements, relative to sodium intake, can stop the heart. One of the 10mEq prescription potassium pills I take contains 750 milligrams of potassium; taking fifteen of these capsules at once could easily be lethal.

It is possible to harm yourself by taking too much potassium chloride in the form of a salt substitute sprinkled on your food, but it's unlikely because it has an unpleasant bitter taste. However, the potassium/sodium blend sold as Morton's Lite Salt has slightly more sodium than potassium, molecule per molecule, and thus is perfectly safe even at high doses; I recall that we had to calculate this as an exercise in my nutritional biochemistry class years ago. It would be both safer and more enjoyable to use Lite Salt instead of the pure potassium chloride salt substitute. There is absolutely no need to do this without a doctor's recommendation, however. You do not need to take potassium supplements unless your physician has determined via blood tests that you are deficient in potassium. The health benefits of potassium-rich foods are not provided solely by their potassium content; you also need the other nutrients that are found in potassium-rich foods.
posted by Ery at 11:39 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Potatoes, tomato sauce (especially tomato paste), milk, yogurt, beans, nuts, leafy greens, carrot juice, root vegetables, winter squash, even meat. They all have fairly high levels of potassium. You're probably getting more than you think. Keep a food log for a couple of days, look up everything on it.

I have to keep my potassium intake down - I try for less than 1500 mg a day - and it really limits my diet. As long as you're eating whole foods and not only processed junk, you're probably okay.
posted by WasabiFlux at 12:04 PM on July 2, 2011

Potassium citrate tastes fairly neutral, and has the added benefit of being alkalinizing.
posted by blargerz at 12:20 PM on July 2, 2011

I'd like to second phunniemee's entire answer. As a doctor friend of mine is fond of saying: "don't fuck with your kidneys." Even if you're not getting "enough" potassium on a given day, your kidneys compensate by not excreting as much potassium.
posted by Maximian at 12:44 PM on July 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

What Maximian said. It's unusual to develop a potassium deficiency with a normal diet unless you're taking diuretics, which force the kidneys to excrete more than they would otherwise. I get a blood test once a year because I'm on diuretics for my blood pressure and I've never had an issue. I wouldn't bother with supplements.
posted by tommasz at 12:48 PM on July 2, 2011

It's unusual to develop a potassium deficiency with a normal diet unless

Being a Celiac could do the trick.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:22 PM on July 2, 2011

Back in the day I worked at a boyscout camp - we used salt light because when it gets really hot, people tend to over salt their food but eat less. Goodbye potassium, hello sodium.

Given how much potassium you need for day to day maintenance, you're unlikely to do yourself any harm by switching to one of the "salt light" table salt alternatives unless you're already over salting your food. No matter which route you go, make sure you're drinking enough water.

Do you have a reason to believe you are especially low on potassium - like working in the heat or living on a diet consisting exclusively of Doritos?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:07 PM on July 2, 2011

Thanks to everyone who pointed out the overdose potential of KCl. It was the first sentence in my question. I am not asking about the health benefits of taking lethal doses of potassium chloride.

Yes, I have checked the tables of potassium content per serving that are linked above. I would have to eat much more food than I eat now to reach the recommended daily intake. I certainly don't eat multiple servings of leafy green vegetables per day. I eat relatively little meat. While I drink a lot of milk, it contains every bit as much sugar as bananas do. Adding up an average day's worth of food, I substantially undershoot the recommended intake. (No, my diet is not exclusively made up of Doritos.)

I imagine the dietary recommendations were put together with a sound rationale in mind. My question is about the benefits of reaching that recommended quantity — not wildly exceeding it.

Finally, I am in the very upper portion of the normal range of blood pressure. My doctor has mentioned that were my blood pressure a little higher, he would begin suggesting long-term medication. I think something as simple as improving my sodium/potassium intake ratio is much simpler and healthier than medication.
posted by Nomyte at 5:43 PM on July 2, 2011

IAAD, and if your blood pressure is a little on the high side, by all means try to cut down on the preserved/processed foods and exercise more.

But thinking about sodium and potassium as a balance that you can tilt one way or another based on diet and supplements isn't really an accurate description of the body's physiology.

Your kidneys are exquisitely fine tuned to help you filter out the waste products your body makes while holding on to the important metabolites that keeps your body running - things such as sodium, potassium, water, glucose, etc. The vast majority of people who have well-functioning kidneys will keep the potassium levels in their bodies within a very short and tightly-controlled equilibrium.

In medicine, we only start worrying about a person's potassium level when their kidneys are failing, or they haven't eaten anything for days and days. Even if you have the most unhealthy diet imaginable, you are getting plenty of potassium to keep your stores up. Any potassium supplements you do take would be promptly filtered right out of your body by your amazing kidneys. You would literally be pissing that money down the drain.
posted by i less than three nsima at 6:11 PM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you. I am not asking for medical advice, but is it possible to answer the following question: does consuming less sodium or consuming more potassium (within reason in each case) have a more significant effect on blood pressure and overall well-being? I've read anecdotal reports of individuals placed on blood pressure medication experiencing noticeable improvement in feelings of overall well-being.

Also, if the body eliminates all but a small fraction of the consumed potassium, why is the recommended daily intake so far in excess of what most individuals actually consume? (Here I am assuming that my diet is typical of a moderately healthy diet.)
posted by Nomyte at 6:39 PM on July 2, 2011

Have you had your potassium checked? For most people it's very well regulated by the body. Yours is probably a-ok. 99% of everyone's is, because if it weren't, we'd all be dying.

I would ask your doctor for advice.

BP meds are pretty benign, for the most part. I wouldn't really hesitate in taking them if you become hypertensive. But if you are not hypertensive, then I wouldn't worry about it. Exercising would probably do a lot more than any dietary changes. Not probably, I think definitely.

I've been reading reports lately that say your sodium intake is not all that influential on your blood pressure. Perhaps for people with kidney impairment. I don't know.

Anyway, I'm not anyone's doctor.
posted by sully75 at 8:15 PM on July 2, 2011

From the Wikipedia article you linked,

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), the daily dietary intake level of a nutrient considered sufficient by the Food and Nutrition Board to meet the requirements of nearly all (97–98%) healthy individuals in each life-stage and gender group.

The Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for potassium is Not Established, and the Tolerable Upper Intake Levels could not be determined.

The kidneys are so efficient at eliminating excess potassium, that to fit 97-98% of the (healthy) population into a recommendation, the number will be much higher than most of those people need. There is no Average Requirement (50% of the population) because it really doesn't matter. Your blood potassium levels will stay in the same range whether you take in 2000 mg or 5000 per day.

I don't know about the relationship between sodium, potassium, and blood pressure in healthy people, as long as you're not actually deficient.

Some good news: if you're prescribed an ACE inhibitor for blood pressure, one side effect is to prevent your kidneys from excreting as much potassium. It's not the cause of its BP-lowering effect, but maybe it will ease your mind.
posted by WasabiFlux at 8:18 PM on July 2, 2011

My favorite source of potassium - up to 1000 mg per can - is coconut water. So delicious. The "Taste Nirvana" brand is the next best thing to cracking open a young coconut, in my opinion. Next would be Amy and Brian's.

Anecdotally, I cured my high blood pressure by eating "Primal" and lifting weights, in particular the biggest change occurred when I started eating a lot of fatty red meat. YMMV.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 9:51 PM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Christmas (drama) in July!   |   What rock song is this? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.