98% of American Diets Potassium-Deficient

98% of American Diets Potassium-Deficient
4.47 (89.38%) 32 votes

Less than 2% of Americans achieve even the recommended minimum adequate intake of potassium, due primarily to inadequate plant food intake.


Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

If you take any plant, burn it to ash, throw the ash in a pot of water, stir it around, skim it off, and let it evaporate, you’ll be left with a white residue at the bottom known as pot ash—used since the dawn of history for everything from making soap, glass, fertilizers, and bleach. It was not until 1807, though, when a new element was discovered in this so-called vegetable alkali, in pot ash—so they called it pot-ashium, potassium. True story, which I bring up only to emphasize the most concentrated source in our diet: plants.

Every cell in the body requires the element potassium to function. For much of the last three million years or so, we ate so many plants that we got 10,000 milligrams of potassium in our daily diet. Today, we’d be lucky to get 3,000. Less than 2% of Americans even get the recommended minimum adequate intake of 4,700 a day. To get even the adequate intake the average American would have to eat like five more bananas’ worth a day.

98% of Americans eat potassium-deficient diets—primarily because they don’t eat enough plants.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

If you take any plant, burn it to ash, throw the ash in a pot of water, stir it around, skim it off, and let it evaporate, you’ll be left with a white residue at the bottom known as pot ash—used since the dawn of history for everything from making soap, glass, fertilizers, and bleach. It was not until 1807, though, when a new element was discovered in this so-called vegetable alkali, in pot ash—so they called it pot-ashium, potassium. True story, which I bring up only to emphasize the most concentrated source in our diet: plants.

Every cell in the body requires the element potassium to function. For much of the last three million years or so, we ate so many plants that we got 10,000 milligrams of potassium in our daily diet. Today, we’d be lucky to get 3,000. Less than 2% of Americans even get the recommended minimum adequate intake of 4,700 a day. To get even the adequate intake the average American would have to eat like five more bananas’ worth a day.

98% of Americans eat potassium-deficient diets—primarily because they don’t eat enough plants.

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Images thanks to Fir0002 and Evan-Amos via Wikimedia; National Portrait Gallery, London: NPG 2546; and Sam Wilkinson

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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62 responses to “98% of American Diets Potassium-Deficient

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  1. 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?

    1. 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…

    2. 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.

      1. 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!

          1. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. Dr. Forrester – Thanks for your comment on salt / sodium.
        The disagreement from experts about sodium is most disconcerting, especially after so many decades of research. “Salt sensitivity” is now viewed by many as an unsupported hypothesis. Low sodium levels supposedly RAISE angiotensin and crisis hormones such as adrenaline, raising blood pressure.
        AHA simply says “eat less,” and to eat no more than 1500 mg sodium. Other hypertension experts emphasize a minimum of 2600-3000 mg. sodium per day.
        I have kept my sodium extremely low, perhaps to my detriment. For years, I’ve had zero added salt and no prepared foods with salt – recently, I’ve added a small amount of sodium – about 500-750 mg.- and I think it is most helpful to my energy levels and well being.
        What amount do you recommend?

    3. 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…

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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???

      1. 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!!

    2. 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.

    1. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seven dried herbs that
      have the highest potassium content are chervil, coriander, parsley,
      basil, dill weed, tarragon and turmeric.
      Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/523914-herbs-that-have-lots-of-potassium/#ixzz2G20zlfY1

      Fresh tumeric, fresh garlic and fresh ginger root peeled and made into a tea were amazing in reducing inflammation in my body when phamaceuticals only dehydrated me. My feet and legs became inflamed after a total hip and knee replacement with my feet going from a size 8 to a size 10. Nothing seemed to help until I took the advice of several M.D.’s in books and began putting tumeric, ginger, and garlic in foods or teas. Overnight, my feet and legs returned to their normal size. Amazing!

      Ground tumeric contains 2,525 mg of potassium per 100 g.
      Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/523914-herbs-that-have-lots-of-potassium/#ixzz2G22tXcf5

      It’s hard to not get enough potassium in your diet because it is in so many foods. See: http://www.algaecal.com/potassium-foods-list.html

  4. 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?

    1. 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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAdqLB6bTuQ. 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.

      1. 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.

  5. 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 ???



  6. 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?

    1. 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.

  7. 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

    1. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    1. the supplements you buy in the store are like 2 or 3 %DV because supplementing with potassium can be dangerous so in order to get a high amount in supplement form, I’ve heard you need a prescription from a doctor. I would just eat more potassium rich foods.

  10. 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.

  11. Does this suggest that pretty much all Americans should be taking a potassium supplement then? And what are the pros/cons of doing so if that’s the route someone chooses?

    1. Hi Emily! Potassium supplements are not necessary for most people. You can make sure you’re getting adequate daily potassium by consuming more whole, plant-based foods. Potassium is readily available in many fruits and vegetables. A few of my favs are sweet potatoes, mangos, broccoli, and bananas! Hope this helps!

      1. But people aren’t getting an adequate intake of potassium – if 98% of american’s are potassium deficient, I assume that includes vegetarian/vegans..? Seems contradictory.

  12. What about people who have hyperkalemia? My mom and sister have it. Any suggestions on how to treat it or what to eat?

    1. Hi Maria,

      My name is Dr Renae Thomas and I am one of the moderators. Assuming the issue is purely needing to limit potassium intake, you could look at this table to focus on foods lower in potassium-

      This video is also helpful with regard to potassium, kidneys and plant-based diets-

      High potassium is something you should also have followed up with your medical doctor to ensure there is no underlying medical cause.

      Hope this helps! :)

      1. Thank you. This will help my 87 year old father and yes – he is consulting with his doctor.
        Nutritionfacts is an excellent website and I’ve been watching the videos for years. It has helped me a great deal and now it will help my father too.

  13. Maria, I believe you will find this article helpful. Stay away from certain salt substitutes (check label for potassium), but before you automatically cut back on healthy higher-potassium foods, talk with your doctor and clarify if that would be wise, as this article suggests. Meanwhile keep eating those healthy whole food plant-based meals to help you get back in balance. To your health, Joan-Nurse Educator

  14. Hi this is Dr. Sozanski PhD PScD in Natural Medicine in Atlanta GA and Moderator with Nutritionfacts.org.
    Potassium chloride seems to be a preferred substitute to sodium chloride for the reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease. First however, there are many plants rich in potassium and getting potassium from a natural source should be considered first.
    In regards to the Potassium chloride salt, two references come to mind:
    1. The Finnish Medical Miracle, a 13 years study, where a Magnesium and Potassium Chloride together with lysine combination salt was used nation wide (in addition with recommendations for reduction in saturated fat consumption) and which resulted in 40 to 45% reduction in deaths due to heart attack and stroke. See one of Dr. Wright’s (founder of Greenmedicine) videos at https://youtu.be/xXJIy4T3-cE on the topic.
    2. The High Blood pressure solution by Dr. Richard More, written mid 20th century calls for the benefits of potassium chloride in treatment of cardiovascular disease.
    However, attention should be given to the fact that in the case of kidney disease for instance, a diet low in sodium, potassium and phosphorus is essential in managing the disease. So looking at the complete state of health of an individual with the help of a physician or naturopath before making dietary decisions is recommended.
    I hope this helps, have a great day, Daniela

  15. Yiasou!/ Hello to my American friends! I wish to share with you that if you having this desire to stay healthy to follow what exist in traditional Greek diet!

    Legume, Fish, Fava beans, String beans, many greens!, meat only one times per month!, ONLY sheep or goat milk cheese and yogurt! (it is almost all what we have here) ……………local grown wheat full wheat no bleach garbage!………….OLIVE OIL FROM THE GREECE! COLD PRESS VIRGIN …..etcetara you get this idea. I understand is not that easy in the states to have so good access for farm to tables eating. Here in Greece it’s so easy. Most of the “Horia” here , we trade things………olive oil for honey or the opposite or goat cheese for oil…….etcetera or we just going to buy things from the side of the highway where exists all over Greece fresh products like oil, honey, cheese and eggs. You must be your own doctor here in Greece WE DON’T TRUST DOCTORS! also remember that thing said : ” Pan Metron Ariston” and LIVE BY THIS ONE!…………….it said by Hypocrates and in english is ” Everything in moderation for long lives” also……………….DRINK WINE WITH EVERY MEAL………………..ONLY A LITTLE! Sto Kalo Kai Sthv Ygeia Mas! Achilleas

  16. If 98% of Americans eat potassium deficient diets and roughly 6% of Americans are supposedly vegan then perhaps a plant-based diet is not sufficient either.

    Perhaps supplements are a good idea.

  17. Hello Dr Greger,

    I desperately need your advice regarding potassium. My dad experiences elevated potassium levels 6 months after he went vegetarian. He read your book and was super excited to reduce his high cholesterol levels that contributed to his 3 heart attacks and bypass surgery….one month later his cholesterol is back to normal (AMAZING)….five months later he ends up in the hospital with severe arhytmia and the only physiological problem the doctors found was elevated potassium (6). They were pouring IV fluids into his body for a week before they dropped it below 6. The doctors did not know why his potassium was so elevated, maybe the diet, maybe dehydration, maybe the previous heart attacks? Eventually he was discharged from the hospital with a piece of paper with listed food high in potassium that he should eliminate from the diet…..all of it is veggies, fruit and whole grains!!!! I am devastated cause my dad had tried so hard to stay on the plant based diet, was very motivated, for the first time in 30 years his cholesterol is in NORM, and now he is advised to stop eating veggies and fruit , whole grain bread, beans and legumes. So I have two questions here: 1) is it possible that his arhytmia was caused by high potassium due to more veggie and fruit consumption or rather due to his pre-existing heart problems? 2) how can he modify his plan based diet to lower his potassium levels without quitting the plan based diet all together. Thank you!

  18. How disappointing for both you and your father that he tried so hard to go plant based and was doing so well, then to have this new diagnosis. First, there are several causes of high potassium, so please review this with your father and then schedule an appt with hsi doctor and possibly a knowledgeable dietitian so you can review how to cut back on potassium without resorting to unhealthy foods. Don’t let your father settle for paper that prescribes a diet not tailored to his individual needs and preferences. You may have to to look around for a knowledgeable dietitian but I think this would be a wise investment in time and effort. It may not be necessary to avoid ALL of those healthy veggies and grains. Work with the doctor and dietitian for a diet plan that you all can support. It might be more limited than what he was eating, but I think there’s some leeway here–and then close monitoring to determine if the diet is indeed the cause of the high potassium.
    Best of health to both of you.

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