Doctor's Note

People eating plant-based diets are often asked where they get their protein, and then have to explain that plants are the preferred source—see Plant Protein Preferable. Maybe, they should next ask where people eating conventional diets get their potassium—or their fiber, for that matter: see Relieving Yourself of Excess Estrogen. For more on what we evolved to eat, see Paleolithic Lessons. This is the first video of my three-part series on potassium. We’ll explore its role further, next, in Preventing Strokes with Diet.

For more context, check out my associated blog post: 98% of American Diets Potassium-Deficient.

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  • Craig

    Great series! I love that your videos are short and packed with proven information. Thanks.

  • Mack

    I’ve suspected for a long time that the recommended nutritional requirements set to avoid sickness are often set unnecessarily high. Case in point: 98% of the population isn’t getting enough potassium- but 98% of the population isn’t dropping dead. Could it be that the standards are set so high to encourage us to buy more nutritionally rich foods such as meat, eggs and milk?

    • Vegano

      Nutritionally rich foods?? meat, eggs and milk? You do know that green vegetables are the most nutrient dense foods in planet earth, right?

      Maybe that was sarcasm…

      • Mack

        Excuse me; I meant protein-rich foods.

        • Wilma Laura Wiggins

          Are protein rich foods high in potassium?

    • Roughly 50% of Americans die from cardiovascular disease, and about 30% die of cancer. Diabetes and hypertension are widespread. Nutritional imbalances don’t always kill you outright but they can cause chronic disease and have long term health consequences. We have some good evidence that the current potassium recommendation is probably half of what we require to prevent chronic diseases. BTW meat, eggs, and milk are rather poor sources of potassium. Potatoes, bananas, and legumes are much richer sources, so if anything, the standards encourage consumption of inexpensive plants, not animal foods.


        The lowly zucchini (459) has almost the same K for 1/3 the calories (33 vs 93 per 100 grams) of a baked potato (535) and the same fiber, 2 grams. Three nutrients with one little medium baby zucchini and very few calories for the bill. Sounds like a bargain to me. And far less gastric problems than beans. Bananas and oranges just hired a PR firm before the vegetables. And 100 grams of bananas trail both zucchini, the champ and potatoes, the 2nd place tie for calories in this limited 3 item race. Bananas bring up the potassium rear per 100 grams for potassium. And, if you eat the baby zucchini, calorie for calorie, it takes 400 grams of baby zucchini (4 X as it were) but you get 4.4 grams fiber, 1836 mg potassium and only 12 mg Na plus a LOT more food to eat. or bang for the buck as it were in those 84 calories. I have a genetic inability to process K (got it from my mother, passed it to my daughter) so it is a good thing like zucchini!

        • cabermike

          I like quantity over quality. Not a big fan of zucchini smoothies. ;)


            So you’ve tried it in your smoothies? Try it as a spaghetti substitute and see how that works. I put a veggie cacciatore sauce over it with Parmesan cheese. Yummers. Or just lightly steamed with butter. Or grate it, drain it and make it into hash browns. Add some finely chopped poblano peppers and onoins for a Hash Browns O’Brien. Very versatile vegetable to use after your morning kale smoothies. But that’s just me.

  • dimqua

    Dr. Greger,

    What is your opinion regarding salt substitutes based on potassium chloride? They are safe for healthy vegans?

    • Rph1978

      The only thing I can find is that hyperkalemia can result IF you have renal failure and adding too much KCL to a meal can cause stomach irritation.

    • Used in moderation it should be fine. The best results for the least used is to add sparingly at the table and avoid cooking with it. The same approach works for sodium chloride aka table salt. The only problem is with folks with very poor kidney function.

    • sf_jeff

      I am not a doctor, but I will comment based on the math. If you get twice as much sodium as you should then 50% sodium chloride, 50% potassium chloride would be a great idea from the perspective of cutting your chloride. But the additional potassium would only be 5%-20% of the RDI. So, it might be a good source to just push you over the edge, but would not replace other potassium sources. I have no idea whether chlorine gets more toxic in larger quantities, so I am assuming that you want to retain normal “salt” quantities…

  • Rph1978

    Potassium is an important mineral for cellular biochemical
    reactions in the body. Cardiac arrhythmia’s can be caused by potassium deficiency and observational studies have shown a strong association between low serum potassium and higher diabetes risk (Expert Rev Endocrinol Metab. 2011 September; 6(5): 665–672). Low potassium results in diminished output of insulin from pancreatic B-cells in response to high blood sugar levels.

    • “Cardiac arrhythmia’s can be caused by potassium deficiency”

      Interesting. I must look more into this.

  • nameless

    I use you as a constant source of help to convince my loved ones that I’m leading a healthy lifestyle and that they should too. I’ve been following a low fat, plant based lifestyle for almost a year. But now in the midst of Christmas time, I feel so beaten down. I’m a buzzkill to my husband. I’m constantly questioned regarding the health of my little ones. I guess meat will have to creep back in for the sake of my marriage. An extension of life won’t matter if it is a miserable one.

    • HereHere

      I hope you can find a way to be happy in your marriage and keep to your plant-based diet. Maybe hubby has to cook and shop a bit more for himself???

      • EccoLa

        That’s hardly the recipe for a happy marriage if he is already causing tension about her plant-based diet. The greatest success in winning over meat-eaters is to introduce them to delicious plant-based meals they enjoy. I have found that is always the path to success — through the stomach!!

    • drflora3rd

      4 years ago you wrote. I can bet if you added meat for the sake of your marriage, that your marriage didn’t last, and that would be a good thing. When we live our lives for other’s expectations, it is a miserable one, not to mention the karma.I hope your children were not affected by a partner who needed to have education about the benefits of a plant based diet so he wouldn’t threaten you with adding poison to your diet. Hopefully, you’ve been led to a group or partner who will support your more superior lifestyle of non-meat. Look at Annette Larkins Garden, please, and see some of the great possibilities.

  • So, what are the foods richest in potassium? Dark leafy greens? Swiss chard at the top of the list or what?

  • beccadoggie10

    I was told several years ago that I had a heart murmur. Then, in an unrelated episode, last March, as I was pulling the bottom sheet across the bed, I fractured my lumbar spine (5-L). Where the two come together is that in order to reduce pain from the spinal injury and not wanting either surgery or cortisone steroid injections for the rest of my life, I turned to a book by Neal Barnard, M.D. and nutritional researcher, entitled, Foods That Fight Pain.

    Apparently it does not matter how one’s pain is caused, some foods increase inflammation like meat, corn, wheat, nuts, and dairy. While other foods like collard greens, bok choy, kale, and a variety of vegetables, fruit like berries, lentils, beans, rice and quinoa, and other plant based proteins can actually fight pain.

    Dr. Barnard suggested a diet for 3 weeks, which I stayed with for 6 months. During the time I was strictly following his suggestions, the pain disappeared, as did the heart murmur, my cholesterol level dropped into the normal range from over 300, and I lost 60 pounds.

    I was losing weight so fast, it felt like I was crashing. And, I thought I better slow down. Picking up some of the foods I missed like low fat yogurt, I found I was allergic to in that it affected my ability to breathe clogging my mucous membranes. To make certain I was getting enough B-12, I picked up wild, Alaskan sockeye salmon twice a week, and my weight fell a bit further.
    Rice and apples made my fingers numb, so I avoided rice for quinoa, and picked up oatmeal (high in calcium) and began eating more certified organic berries with dried figs (for calcium) and certified organic tofu.
    I ate 5-6 cups of high calcium, nutrient rich veggies per day, nearly all my calcium needs, which were cooked in miso and water to gain some of the vitamin k2 needed for my bones. And, supplemented with calcium, a multiple vitramin, krill and antioxidants, and 2,000 IU vitamin D/ day. I maintained my weight until I picked up nuts, of which I ate too many.
    Now, I’m backing down again, even though the pain has been managable without drugs. Dropping down to no more than 6 nuts per day (cashew or almond or walnuts). Cutting back on yogurt and watching my salmon intake to one serving per week with no other meat or animal products.
    My goal is to lose another 50 pounds, but I may need to go totally vegan again to do this. I eat 6 servings of nutrient rich vegetables per day and 3 fruits per day. What suggestions do you have for me?

    • Congratulations on your success. Good luck with the next 50#’s. The key to fat loss is eating less calorie dense foods generally found in the four food groups as outlined by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (Neal Barnard is founder and president) since the mid 1990’s. These are vegetables, fruits, complex carbohydrates and legumes. The best presentation on this subject is by Jeff Novick RD and can be ordered from his website. The title is Calorie Density Eat More Weigh Less and Live longer. You can be a “fat” vegan if you consume higher calorie dense foods such as nuts, oils and high fat processed vegan foods. Another resource you might enjoy is Doug Lisle’s video on You Tube, How to lose weight without losing your mind… see I would take a Vitamin B12 supplement see Dr Greger’s series in February 2012 for details. I would avoid all animal products. The fish contains mercury, arsenic and persistent organic pollutants not to mention being high in fat and hence calorie dense. Thanks for sharing your story and best wishes.

      • Coacervate

        Thank you for the link to Dr. lisle’s presentation. It explains the plateau I hit 2 years ago. I understand what i’m doing wrong and know the trades i need to make…Big big help so much appreciated.

  • Is there ever an absorption issue with potassium? For example do you need to consume it at the same time as other nutrients, or make sure you don’t eat it with certain foods?

    • Potassium absorption is very straightforward and you need not worry about timing or other foods. Happy New Year.

  • Frank

    Dear Doctor Greger,

    I appreciate your work very much. Great. Thank´s a lot!

    One question:

    I´m consuming a lot of smoothies currently, I feel awesome, my teeth not so much. I thought about getting myself some Potassium-Carbonat to alkalize the smoothies. I´m a bit concerned about the possibility of neutralizing e.g. Ascorbic acid as Na-Ascorbat is showing adverse health effects, while Ascorbic Acid usually doesn´t.

    Do you know anything about the influence of neutralizing fruit juices on their nutritional value?

    Thanks again and keep up the good work!

    Any chance you´re seeking some Academic to work for you ???



  • Anthony G

    Great video, please keep up the great education that we should have been exposed to in high school. Anthony G.

  • deborahconner

    How about giving us the best sources of K here?

  • Lewis

    If 98% of Americans suffer from low potassium, why don’t you add potassium to your list of optimum supplement recommendations here:

    Any reason?

  • Paleo Huntress

    Considering all of the fear-mongering that goes on around claims of animal-food-caused acidosis- I find this an interesting topic. Potassium deficiency is likely to cause alkalosis (called Potassium Deficient Alkalosis) in most people. It would seem to me that if most meat eaters are potassium deficient, they are also more likely to have an alkaline metabolism rather than an acid metabolism.

    Would you please comment on this, Dr. Greger?

  • Tobias Brown

    1 tablespoon of molasses (295 mg) of potassium.

    • Joe Caner

      Molasses is probably the best of the best as far as sweeteners go, but one would do well to work some green leafy vegetables like spinach into their diets for optimal nutrition.

  • Carolyn Bryant Schaub

    Thank you for eliminating the pauses in your speech pattern. I actually enjoyed listening this time!

  • Nivia

    I’m vegan and my dad isn’t. He eats animals/animal products and fried foods with soda, or a concentrated sugary juice at every meal. So he’d went to the doctor and found out he gets too much potassium and his doctor prohibited bananas. Some days I eat a few racks of bananas, and my dad warns that I’ll get hyperkalemia. I’m confused, help please

    • Joe Caner

      Perhaps your father is experiencing impaired renal function brought on by his high animal protein, high refined sugar diet. It is one’s kidneys that regulate potassium levels.

  • jackelope62

    In hospitalized patients replacing potassium for arrhythmias was ineffective if magnesium levels were low, and magnesium had to be replaced as well. As you have noted beans and peas are loaded with magnesium. Nicoya, Guanacaste, Costa Rica is a Blue Zone for longevity in part because of the high levels of magnesium and calcium in the water.

  • MarthaLA

    So, who is the 19th c chap whose portrait is shown?…never mind. I went to Wikipedia. “Potassium metal was first isolated in 1807 in England by Sir Humphry Davy, who derived it from caustic potash (KOH, potassium hydroxide) by the use of electrolysis of the molten KOH with the newly discovered voltaic pile. Potassium was the first metal that was isolated by electrolysis.[40] Later in the same year, Davy reported extraction of the metal sodium from a mineral derivative (caustic soda,
    NaOH, or lye) rather than a plant salt, by a similar technique,
    demonstrating that the elements, and thus the salts, are different.[31][32][41][42]
    Although the production of potassium and sodium metal should have shown
    that both are elements, it took some time before this view was
    universally accepted.[32]”
    That’s a little more – if not the rest – of the story.

  • Nicki

    Does anyone know if Potassium supplements work and can recommend one? I was deficient in my blood test…thanks!

  • aa2qh

    High potassium problem! My husband and I have been vegetarian for 10 years. Two years ago after starting a strict vegan diet following Joel Fuhrman, McDougall, and Esselstyn and more recently Dr. Greger’s guidelines, both of us are finding our potassium levels to be too high on an intermittent basis. They range from 5.4-5.9. not dangerously high, but still a concern. We have no other symptoms indicating kidney problems and if I modify my diet and keep my daily potassium below 2400, I can manage to get my potassium levels back down to a normal range. Most of the healthy foods we eat are high in potassium. How do I maintain a healthy vegan diet and still keep my potassium levels from getting too high? If they are getting high due to a diet rich in potassium and not because of kidney or other health problems, should I be concerned? I cannot find info on high potassium anywhere else and am hoping you might have some answers for me here.