The Best Potassium-Rich Foods to Support Your Heart and Muscles

Bananas aren’t the only way to load up on this electrolyte. 
dried apricots in a bowl
Images say more about me than words./Getty Images

If you had to pick an example of a potassium-rich food, bananas would probably immediately jump to mind. But after rattling that off, you might find yourself grasping for other facts about that mineral: What does potassium actually do?!

We’ve got you covered on that question and more. We spoke with several registered dietitians to nail down which other foods are rich in potassium, how to creatively incorporate them into your dishes, and why making sure you do so is so important. Below, everything you need to know about that important (and often overlooked) mineral.

Okay, so what does potassium do for your body, anyway?

There are tons of benefits of potassium, but before we get into those let’s take a step back and talk about what it actually is. Potassium is a special type of mineral called an electrolyte—yep, like what you drink in Gatorade—Kristie Lancaster, PhD, RD, an associate professor in the nutrition and food studies department at New York University, tells SELF. Minerals, along with vitamins, are considered micronutrients, and they’re essential to your well-being. With the exception of vitamin D, your body can’t naturally produce them, so you have to get them from food sources, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Potassium in particular supports your body in many ways: It helps regulate fluid levels inside your cells, ensuring they take in all the water they need to work properly, Dr. Lancaster says. In fact, maintaining adequate potassium levels is necessary for proper heart, kidney, and muscle function, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The mineral can also play a role in stabilizing blood pressure. That’s because potassium helps your body excrete sodium—another electrolyte which, when taken in excess, may lead to hypertension. It can also help relax your blood vessels, increasing blood flow and reducing blood pressure levels, Jerlyn Jones, RDN, an Atlanta-based registered dietitian, tells SELF.

With all those benefits, it’s not really a surprise that there can be some serious issues if your body doesn’t have enough of it. In most cases, low potassium levels occur when you lose too much of it through your GI tract, like through vomiting or diarrhea. (Though in rare situations, it can be caused by not eating enough of it in your diet.) If you have this condition, you can experience constipation, tiredness, heart palpitations, and tingling, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In more severe cases, the lack of potassium can lead to muscle cramps or twitching, lightheadedness, or irregular heart rhythms.

How much potassium do you need?

For most adults, the daily recommended amount of potassium ranges from 2,600 mg to 3,400 mg per day, according to the NIH—and, the organization says, most folks don’t typically hit those levels.

If you want to up your game, look to your meals, Jones says. In most cases, unless your health care provider says otherwise, getting your daily values from various food and beverage sources—rather than supplements—is going to be your best bet, she says. That’s because you’re also snagging other important macronutrients and micronutrients (like proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, and fiber) at the same time, Dr. Lancaster says. Whereas if you’re taking a potassium supplement on its own, you could be missing out on all those extras.

One thing: Even though potassium is super important, taking too much of it can be a problem for people with certain medical conditions, Dr. Lancaster says. This includes folks with kidney disease or those who are on dialysis or taking certain meds. That’s because it can cause hyperkalemia, which occurs when too much potassium builds up in your blood. This condition can cause serious issues like muscle weakness, paralysis, or heart arrhythmias. In these situations, it’s best to talk with your health care provider about your specific potassium needs before trying to load up on your own.

What are the best potassium-rich foods?

Foods that are high in potassium tend to be legumes, leafy greens, fruits, and dairy. To give you a little motivation the next time you grocery shop, here are a few good sources of potassium to keep in mind.

Fruits and Vegetables:
  • Dried apricots (1510 mg per cup)
  • Spinach (839 mg per cup)
  • Bananas (806 mg per cup)
  • Plantains (721 mg per cup)
  • Acorn squash (644 mg per cup)
  • Potatoes (638 mg per cup)
  • Yogurt (573 mg per cup)
  • Ricotta cheese (539 mg per cup)
  • 1% milk (366 mg per cup)
  • Sour cream (150 mg per ½ cup)
  • Eggs (87 mg per one egg)
Meat and Seafood:
  • Carrot juice (689 mg per cup)
  • Coconut water (600 mg per cup)
  • Orange juice (496 mg per cup)
  • Soy milk (287 mg per cup)
  • Coffee (116 mg per cup)

What are some creative ways to take in more potassium?

Okay, now that you have a bulk list of potassium-rich foods, it’s time to think about how you can start adding them to your meals—and it doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, try starting your day by packing your smoothies with ingredients that are good sources of the mineral, Dr. Lancaster says. Add orange juice as the base or throw in a handful of spinach, she says. If you love yogurt bowls, toss on some dried fruit like apricots or oat-based granola.

You can also use dairy as an add-in or condiment, rather than the base of your meal. There are so many milk products packed with potassium, and this could be a great way to get a little bit extra into your daily meals, Jones says. So if you’re making tacos, throw a scoop of sour cream on them or mix some ricotta cheese into your favorite pasta.

Pack potassium-rich legumes like lentils and black beans into your daily eats, too, Dr. Lancaster says. Throw them into various recipes, like pasta, burritos, soups, or dips.

Since there are so many foods that are good sources of potassium, simply making sure you’re eating a diverse variety throughout the day is setting yourself up for success, Dr. Lancaster says. There’s no need to stress out about each ingredient individually. Instead, have fun focusing on different add-ins, whether that’s by stewing a pot of chili packed with beans, throwing some chicken and brown rice into a burrito, or sipping a fruit smoothie with coconut water. As long as you think about diversifying your plate, you won’t forget to invite potassium to the party.