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Updated on June 21, 2012

Low potassium food


Potassium, found in many foods, is one of the essential minerals that is required by the human body for regulating the beat of the heart, maintaining fluid balance and allowing the muscles and the nerves to function properly. It is the responsibility of the kidneys to maintain an optimal level of potassium in the blood. For those individuals who suffer from any kidney related disease or are on certain prescribed medications, the intake of potassium must be limited so as to keep its level close to normal.

The normal levels of potassium, the measurement of its content in the blood and the method of taking a low potassium diet are discussed in this article. A separate article dealing with the treatment of chronic kidney diseases is available.



A normal level of potassium is maintained in the body by a balance of its intake and the excretion of the excess through the passing of urine. However, individuals suffering from chronic kidney disease cannot will not be able to excrete the excess potassium from the body due to the malfunction of the kidney. This results in excess levels of blood potassium leading to a condition known as hyperkalemia (hyper = high; kal = potassium; emia = in the blood). The danger of developing hyperkalemia can be drastically reduced by taking a low potassium diet.

A sample of blood, taken from the vein, is required for estimating the level of potassium in it. The normal range of blood potassium should be between 3.7 to 5.2 meq/L(milliEquivalent per Liter). Levels higher than 6 meq/L and those below 3 are considered to be dangerous.

The symptoms of hyperkalemia are not readily visible till the potassium level in the blood rises to very high levels. At higher levels there is the possibility of dangerous complications developing leading to irregular heart rhythm, severe weakness of the muscles or even paralysis.



  • Potassium is contained in almost all foods and so a careful choice has to be made in selecting those with low potassium levels.

  • A judicious tradeoff has to be made in the choice of servings and the calculation of potassium contents. There is the possibility of a large serving of low potassium food containing more potassium than a small serving with a high potassium content.

  • Canned fruits, vegetables and meat should be drained before consumption.

The risk for heart diseases and other related conditions are reduced by consuming whole grain breads and other products. Nevertheless, whole grain products are not recommended for those individuals who need a low potassium diet as whole grain products have more potassium than refined grains like white flour. For such individuals, high levels of potassium can substantially increase the risk of life threatening complications. As such, the advantage of a diet of whole grains may be offset by the benefit of controlling levels of potassium. Whatsoever be the case, careful blood potassium monitoring and discussions with the healthcare team is the best method for arriving at the optimal diet for a particular person.



Foods with a potassium content of more than 250 mg. should be avoided or taken in small quantities. The quantity of potassium in several vegetables can be reduced by a process called “leaching”. The following foods contain high levels of potassium. Unless otherwise specified a serving is half a cup or four ounces.

  • Grains – Wheat bran, whole grain breads, granola and granola bars.

  • Drinks – Soya milk, instant breakfast mix and sports drinks such as Gatorade etc.

  • Snacks – Peanut butter ( 2 tablespoons), fig cookies, nuts or seeds (an ounce), molasses ( 1 tablespoon) and chocolate (1.50 to 2 ounces).

  • Fruits – Apricots, bananas (½ a whole), apricots, melon (cantaloupe and honeydew), coconut, kiwi, nectarines, mangoes, oranges and orange juice, pears (fresh), papaya, plantains, dried fruits, pomegranate and its juice, dates, prunes, figs, raisins and yam.

  • Vegetables – Bamboo shoots, dried beans or peas, baked or fried beans, black beans, broccoli (cooked), beets, cabbage (raw), Brussels sprouts, carrots (raw), greens (with the exception of lake), chard, kohlrabi, mushrooms (canned), olives, potatoes (white and sweet), pickles, parsnips, rutabaga, pumpkin, sauerkraut, squash (acorn, hubbard, butternut), spinach, Tomato and its juices and sauce and a cocktail of vegetable juices.

  • Dairy Products – Milk and its related products, yogurt and buttermilk.

  • Proteins – Clams (3 servings), sardines, lobster, scallops, salmon, whitefish ( and any other fish), ground beef and other beef products, navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans and other legumes (½ cup serving size). Soups – Unsalted broth, low sodium bouillon cubes and salt free soups.

  • Condiments – Lite salts and imitation bacon bits; essentially for individuals advised to follow a low salt diet. May be asked to follow a low salt diet and also to use salt substitutes.



A dietary intake of 4,700 mg. of potassium/day is considered to be normal for the general population. Nevertheless, individuals with chronic kidney failure are advised to limit their consumption to less than 1,500 to 2,700 mg. per day.

An experienced, registered nutritionist or a dietician can plan a low potassium diet. Some such diet plans include( in servings per day):

  • Fruits – One to three of low potassium fruits daily.

  • Vegetables – Two to three each day of low potassium vegetables.

  • Diary and Calcium Rich Foods – One or two, low in potassium choices.

  • Meat and Its Alternatives – Three to seven with about 15% in calories.

  • Grains – Four to seven.


The following foods have low potassium levels (below 250 mg. on an average). These foods can be consumed regularly. But be careful as potassium levels can buildup very fast. Unless otherwise stated and serving is ½ a cup.

  • Grains – White flour prepared foods and white rice.

  • Drinks – Non-dairy creamer, drink mixes (Kool-Aid), fruit punch, tea(< 2 cups or 16 ounces) and coffee (<1 cup or 8 ounces).

  • Sweets – Yellow or Angel cake, pies without high potassium fruit or chocolate, cookies without chocolate or nuts.

  • Fruits – Apples, its sauce and juice, canned apricots, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, drained fruit cocktail, cranberries, grapes and grape juices, grapefruit(½), peaches (½freah or ½canned), mandarin oranges, pears (canned or fresh), pine apple and its juice, straw berries, raspberries, tangerine and watermelon.

  • Vegetables – Alfalfa sprouts, green or wax beans, asparagus(6 spears), cabbage and carrot cooked, cauliflower, corn (½ fresh ear or ½ cup), celery (1 stalk), cucumber, kale, eggplant, lettuce, okra, mushrooms(fresh), onions, green peas, parsley, green peppers, rhubarb, radish, canned water chestnuts drained, spinach (raw, 1 cup), watercress, zucchini and squash.

  • Proteins – Chicken, tuna, baloney, turkey(3 ounces), eggs, shrimp, pumpkin seeds (1 ounce) and sunflower.

  • Dairy Products – Swiss or Cheddar cheese (1 ounce) and cottage cheese (half cup).


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