Foods That Are Rich in Potassium

Boy eating banana

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Why is potassium an important nutrient in your child's diet, and what foods are high in potassium? What happens if your child's potassium level is too high or too low?

Importance of Potassium in Children's Diet

Potassium is an important mineral that some parents look to increase in their children's diet, especially if kids start complaining of things like growing pains.

Although extra potassium will likely not help with growing pains, which are usually thought to be normal, a diet with plenty of potassium-rich foods may help:

  • Keep blood pressure within healthy limits
  • Reduce the risk of kidney stones
  • Decrease loss of bone as we age

Fortunately, most children get enough potassium if they are eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods.

Hypokalemia — Low Potassium in Children

It's very rare for kids to be deficient in potassium due to too little dietary intake. But if a child has vomiting and diarrhea that leads to dehydration or excessive sweating, they may start to show the effects of a potassium deficiency (hypokalemia). Potassium is lost in watery stool and vomit as well as sweat. Sometimes a deficiency in magnesium can be related to loss of potassium and hypokalemia.

Symptoms of mild potassium deficiency can include muscle weakness, constipation, fatigue, and malaise. If hypokalemia becomes moderate or severe, symptoms can include polyuria (excessive urine), difficulty breathing, muscular paralysis, and cardiac arrhythmias. Severe hypokalemia can be life-threatening.

Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of dehydration in children. While dehydration is one of the most likely reasons your child would develop a low potassium level, it can pose dangers that go beyond hypokalemia. Some of the more common symptoms include a dry mouth and tongue, decreased urine output, and cool extremities. When it comes to dehydration, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure.

Take time as well to understand the management of dehydration in children. Some of the best treatments for restoring fluids, such as oral rehydration solution and the BRAT diet, can help restore potassium levels as well. Restoring fluids will not help hypokalemia if those fluids do not contain potassium.

Hyperkalemia — Too Much Potassium Can Be a Problem as Well

Keep in mind that getting too much potassium (hyperkalemia) is just as dangerous as not having enough. However, it is unusual to get too much potassium just from your diet without also taking a potassium supplement of some kind or having some kind of kidney problem.

Hyperkalemia can cause serious problems such as heart rhythm problems as a first symptom, so it is important to not use supplemental potassium tablets unless your pediatrician specifically recommends this. Other symptoms of high potassium can include severe fatigue and numbness and tingling of the extremities.

Recommended Intake of Potassium

Recommended intakes for potassium range from 2000 mg per day for a toddler to 2300 mg (girls) to 3000 mg (boys) per day for teens and 3400 mg per day for adults. While it's unnecessary to count how much potassium your child is getting each day, reviewing the list of foods rich in potassium so you can include them in your child's diet can help ensure that your child is getting enough potassium on a regular basis.

Food High in Potassium

When parents think about adding extra potassium to their child's diet, the first thing they think about is feeding their kids more bananas. And while bananas are a good source of potassium, plenty of other foods are high in potassium (more than 200 mg per serving), including:

  • Fish, particularly salmon and tuna
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Tomatoes and tomato products, such as tomato juice, tomato soup, and tomato sauce
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Raisins, prunes, and other dried fruits
  • Potatoes
  • Legumes, including peas, lima beans, baked beans, pinto beans, soybeans, and lentils
  • Plantains
  • Spinach
  • Papayas
  • Bananas
  • Milk and many dairy products, including milkshakes, cheese, and yogurt
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Orange juice
  • Broccoli
  • Oranges
  • Melons
  • Squash and other deep yellow vegetables

Many fortified breakfast cereals (especially bran cereals), and other products made with 100% whole grain wheat flour (such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, or oatmeal) are also good sources of potassium.

Keep in mind that unlike other vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, and iron, nutrition labels typically don't list the amount of potassium that is present in foods. That makes it even more important to learn which foods are high in potassium.

Potassium Restriction Diet

Some children may also require a low potassium diet (potassium restriction diet). This is uncommon but may occur in children with severe kidney disease. The diet for severe kidney failure might include restricting potassium, depending on the treatment course.

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