What is the role of Potassium?
Classified as an electrolyte owing to its highly reactive nature to water, potassium is able to conduct electricity. It is therefore integral in regulating the various bodily functions and as the third most abundant mineral in the body, it ensures a smooth functioning of the body. Some of its functions are:
- Helps reduce blood pressure
- Protects against stroke
- Prevents osteoporosis
- Regulates the nervous system, thus regulates muscle contractions, heartbeat and other reflexes
- Helps reduce water retention
- Helps regulate good fluid balance
- Helps preventing kidney stones
Kidney and potassium: The inevitable link
Establishing the imperativeness of potassium in the body also comes with the understanding that its levels must be balanced. If these levels are misbalanced, the body might not function as smoothly as it should.
A safe blood potassium level ranges from 3.5-5.0
A cautious blood potassium level ranges from 5.1-6.0
A dangerous blood potassium level ranges from 6.0 and above
Stability and balance of potassium levels in the body is a prerequisite to healthy living. This balance is achieved through the workings of a healthy kidney that regulates the potassium levels in the body by filtering out any excess out of the blood. If the kidney is unable to do so, the potassium levels may increase or decrease to a dangerous and life-threatening level. There is therefore, a strong link between a unhealthy kidney or kidney disease to increased and lowered levels of potassium in the body. This intertwined link between your kidney and potassium levels becomes an important aspect to comprehend in order to make the rightful changes in one’s diet for the sake of preventing the bodily functions to go haywire.
When an individual is suffering from kidney disease, his/her diet must be spot on, in order to regulate the potassium levels in the body. Since the kidney might not be able to work to its best potential and strike the right balance, your diet must be moulded to avoid a sharp increase or decrease of potassium in the body.
Although potassium is essential for survival but too much of it can wreak havoc in the body. When potassium content is too high, it is known as Hyperkalemia which may go as extreme as leading to the death of the individual.
Symptoms of high potassium in the body:
- Muscle pains and cramps
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pains
- Feeling nauseous
- Feeling tired or weak
- Palpitations or irregular heartbeat
When the level of potassium in the blood is too low, it is known as Hypokalemia. Such a situation is caused by vomiting, diarrhea or the use of diuretic drugs, deficiency of magnesium or even as a result of a kidney disorder. Patients suffering from a kidney disease must be attentive to their diets since a fragile or unhealthy kidney might not be able to help retain the important minerals such as potassium in the blood.
Mild symptoms of low potassium in the body:
- Muscle weakness or spasms
- Feeling of skipped heartbeats or palpitations
Large drop in potassium levels might result in:
- Abnormal heart rhythms
Since Kidney plays the biggest and the primary role of regulating potassium levels in the blood, patients suffering from kidney disease must take all the necessary precautions in the form of dietary changes.
How to keep potassium levels in a safe zone?
According to the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), the daily recommended dose of potassium varies for infants, kids and adults.
Recommended dose of potassium for infants and kids:
0-6 months: 350 – 925 mg
6-12 months: 475 – 1275 mg
1-3 years: 550 – 1650 mg
4-6 years: 775 – 2325 mg
Recommended dose of Potassium for adults:
For men: 3750 mg
For women: 3225 mg
To restrict the potassium levels in the safe zone and to prevent them from entering the dangerous zone, everyone, especially kidney patients must indulge in certain food sources. For the Indian patient, there are plenty of food options to look at if they are looking for sources that are high or even low on potassium. Consult your doctor and dietician to comprehensively understand your potassium requirement.
Even one food item or drink item can make a meaningful difference. So here is a list of food sources that are High and low in potassium that one must incorporate or exclude from one’s diet depending on their kidney disease and bodily requirement:
High in potassium (a source which has 250 mg of potassium or more per serving):
- Dried apricots
GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES:
- Agathi leaves
- Tamarind leaves
- Amaranth leaves
- Fenugreek leaves
- Mustard leaves
- Drumstick leaves
VEGETABLES and PULSES:
- Baked beans
- Ash gourd
- Bitter gourd
- Baby corn
- White mushrooms
- Sweet potatoes
- Kidney beans
- Vegetable juices
DRY FRUITS and NUTS:
- Turmeric powder
- Red chillies
- Black pepper
- Cumin seeds
- Bran products
- Peanut butter
- Whole grain bread
- Chewing tobacco
- Salt substitutes
Some potassium rich recipes that are easy to make are spinach smoothies, broccoli paratha, avocado smoothie, tomato poha, mixed dal chillas, spinach and mint juice, green pea and mushroom paratha, papaya smoothie etc. These are some tasty treats that have a high potassium content to keep the body going.
Low in Potassium (a source which contains 200 mg or less per serving):
- Grape juice
- Mandarin oranges
- Pineapple juice
- Watermelon (limited)
- Green peas
- Eggplant (brinjal)
- White pasta
- Egg whites
- Sunflower seeds
- Pies (without high potassium contents)
- Bread products
- White bread
- Pumpkin seeds
Some recipes that are low in potassium content are: rice idli, vegetable cutlets, dosa pancakes, broccoli and baby corn salads, methi paratha, mango chutney, egg whites, zucchini thepla, coconut oats, oats idli. You can relish these and so many more to strike the right balance and keep your body away from malfunctioning.
Some tips for patients following a low potassium diet:
- Do not use the liquid from canned fruits or vegetables
- Avoid French fries and other fried potato dishes
- Avoid desserts that incorporate chocolate, nuts and ice-cream
- Avoid tomato sauces in pastas
- Eat variety of foods but in moderation. Serving size matters because every food has some amount of potassium. Consuming even a low potassium source in huge quantities might turn into a high potassium disaster.
- Leaching: leaching high potassium foods such as vegetables enables the individual to incorporate them in their diet. With this process, some, if not all, potassium can be pulled out of the high potassium sources. You can leach a vegetable by peeling and placing it in cold water to avoid darkening of the vegetables. Slice it 1/8 inches thick followed by rinsing it with warm water. Soak it for 2 hours in warm water by using ten times the amount of water to the amount of vegetable. After soaking, rinse it with warm water and cook with five times the amount of water to the amount of vegetables.
- Choose vanilla flavoured desserts instead of chocolate flavoured ones
- Opt for unsalted popcorn instead of nuts
- Replace eating yogurt by preparing a non-dairy pudding
- Avoid salt substitutes and other seasonings
- Cook curries in onion or bell pepper instead of tomatoes
A person suffering from Chronic Kidney Disease must go for regular check-ups and consult his/her doctor and dietician to make the right changes in his diet, because after all, a healthy diet fuels the body which further boosts one’s wellbeing.
Eat well to redefine the way you live.