If I were to compare the major minerals to members of a late-’90s boy band, magnesium would surely be the Nick Lachey or Ashley Parker Angel of the bunch—you know, the heartthrob who gets all the attention. Calcium strikes me as the mature, serious type, à la Kevin Richardson from Backstreet Boys. And then you’ve got potassium, which I’d liken to Lance Bass. Back in those days he may not have been center stage very often, but N’Sync wouldn’t have been the same without him and his perpetually frosted tips. (No disrespect, Lance—you were always my personal fave.) Similarly, our bodies need foods rich in potassium if we want them to perform like a tight piece of pop choreography.
“Potassium is one of the seven essential minerals, also known as electrolytes, and plays a huge role in maintaining healthy fluid balance and kidney function,” says Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, and owner of BZ Nutrition in New York City. “It also controls the signals regulating muscle contractions and a healthy heart rhythm.”
Although it’s super important, says Zeitlin, most people aren’t getting enough potassium. She points to data from the National Institutes of Health that shows most adults need around 4,700 mg of the mineral each day, but only about 2 percent of the population is reaching that goal. Complicating matters even more, she adds, is the fact that sweating can deplete our electrolyte stores, whether you’re doing hot yoga or simply schvitzing in an apartment without AC all summer. Drinking alcohol, vomiting, and diets low in fruits and vegetables, like keto, can also cause our mineral levels to fall out of balance—this is a culprit behind the dreaded “keto flu,” which is why people on the eating plan are often encouraged to take electrolyte supplements.
If you don’t want low potassium to start playing games with your heart (sorry, had to), the upside is that it’s present in a ton of different foods, particularly fresh produce—and with some strategic meal planning, it’s not that hard to get your daily fix. “Aim to make sure half of your plate is produce-packed at each meal, and eat the rainbow. This way, you’re getting a variety of different fruits and veggies that will give you varying amounts of potassium, along with other nutrients,” says Zeitlin. “Also, make sure to work extra-potassium-rich foods into your lifestyle more regularly.”
Here, Zeitlin shares seven foods rich in potassium that will help healthy adults reach that 4,700 mg/day threshold. (If you’ve got kidney issues, she recommends speaking to your doctor to find out what your specific needs are.) Who knows—maybe one day potassium will get its solo moment to shine, just like magnesium has. Hey, if our boy Lance could do it…
Potassium: 333 milligrams per three-tablespoon serving
This is quite possibly the easiest way to give every meal an added hit of potassium—hemp hearts are tiny, flavorless, and can be stirred into just about everything. (Zeitlin likes Manitoba Harvest’s Hemp Hearts, $11.) “Add them as a topping to salads, stir fries, soups, or avocado toast, and you’ve immediately elevated your potassium intake for the day,” she says.
Potassium: 422 milligrams per medium banana
There’s a good reason why people love bananas as a post-workout snack—Zeitlin says it’s a “classic” potassium-rich food. The nutritionist adds that any good hangover breakfast should also include a banana. (Remember, drinking alcohol can cause electrolyte depletion.) “Throw a banana into your morning smoothie or slice it up into your oatmeal,” she suggests.
Potassium: 676 milligrams per cup serving
“These green guys are loaded in potassium,” says Zeitlin. “These make a great solo snack because in addition to their high potassium content, they are also a great source of protein and fiber, so they’re sure to fill you up between meals.” She likes to heat up her edamame and sprinkle it with some salt or Parmesan cheese.
Potassium: 365 milligrams per half-cup serving (cooked)
Lentils are MVPs when it comes to nutrient density. Zeitlin says they offer a decent serving of potassium while also being rich in protein, fiber, and B vitamins. “You can now find pastas made from lentil flour, which will nutritionally level-up any pasta meal,” she says. “You can also have some lentil soup or lentil salad—and dried lentils make for a great, crunchy snack.”
Potassium: 542 milligrams per medium baked sweet potato
I, for one, never need an excuse to eat more sweet potatoes, especially now that I know they have so much potassium. “These spuds make a great side dish to your grilled salmon or grilled chicken—both of which offer around 300mg of potassium per three ounces—or you can slice them up and make sweet potato ‘toast’ topped with avocado mash and hemp hearts,” offers Zeitlin. “You can also simply bake them in rounds and dip them into hummus as a snack.” Yes, yes, and heck yes.
Learn about the many other health benefits of sweet potatoes here:
Potassium: 335 milligrams per two-cup serving (raw)
If you’re gonna eat greens anyway, spinach is a good choice for its potassium content alone. “Use spinach as a base for your salad, load up your sandwiches with it, and toss some into your recovery smoothie post-workout or the morning after some boozing,” says Zeitlin.
“This dried fruit can serve as one of the sweeter ways to get your potassium in,” says Zeitlin. One word of warning: Dried fruit is high in sugar, so Zeitlin recommends eating it around a workout so your body can put all of that sweet stuff to use. “Have a quarter cup with some walnuts as a snack post-workout, or if you’re training for a marathon, use them instead of gels mid-run to give your body a boost of potassium and energy.” Do this, and prepare to wave bye, bye, bye to the competition.
Make sure these 9 iron-rich foods also get a place in your grocery rotation—and then use this Instant Pot trick to cook sweet potatoes in a snap.