You may remember a very familiar scene in the movie, “Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves” that educated an entire generation of children about the importance of potassium. Mitch, the beloved son of the shrunken parents, was potassium deficient. Without his parents’ guidance, he couldn’t find his medication and fainted. His siblings rifled through the kitchen searching for foods high in potassium, and eventually saved the day by force feeding poor little Mitch some bananas on the kitchen floor.
Despite potassium’s role in a classic children’s film, the mineral plays an even more important role in the human body. Potassium helps regulate muscle contractions, maintain healthy nerve function, and regulate fluid balance.
The adequate intake recommendation for potassium is 4,700 milligrams (mg) per day for adults. A national survey found that approximately 98% of Americans do not meet this recommendation. This is likely due to the Western diet, which favors processed foods over whole plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts.
If you experience the following symptoms, consider visiting a nutritionally-oriented practitioner to check for a potassium deficiency:
- Digestive problems: A potassium deficiency may cause problems like bloating and constipation because it can slow the movement of food through the digestive system.
- Muscle cramps and spasms: Because potassium helps start and stop muscle contractions, a deficiency can cause uncontrolled and prolonged cramps.
- Weakness and fatigue: Potassium helps regulate muscle contractions. As a result, some deficiencies result in weaker contractions.
- Heart palpitations: Potassium helps regulate the heartbeat. Low levels can cause heart palpitations. An irregular heartbeat may be a sign of a serious heart conditions.