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Too much ‘K’ is not OK

Potassium is best obtained from the food that we eat, and our bodies use the potassium it needs. The extra potassium that the body does not need is removed from the blood by the kidneys.

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When it comes to food and drink, moderation is always best for one’s health. If you have chronic comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease, you should always consult your doctor before making drastic changes in your diet, or before ingesting copious amounts of anything.

Such is the story of one patient with diabetes and advanced kidney disease. She heard somewhere that drinking buko water was good for her kidneys, so she started drinking it instead of water — every day. After a couple of weeks, she began to experience nausea, vomiting, chest pain and palpitations which led her to the emergency room where they found that her potassium was at a very high critical level.

In the body, potassium (symbol: K) is one of the minerals and electrolytes essential for the the normal functioning of all cells. It helps ensure the proper function of the muscles and nerves, including those that control your heartbeat and breathing.

Potassium is best obtained from the food that we eat, and our bodies use the potassium it needs. The extra potassium that the body does not need is removed from the blood by the kidneys.

But if the body cannot remove the excess potassium through the urine because of other health problems that affect the function of the kidneys, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart failure, then potassium levels can increase to alarming levels, which can cause dangerous abnormal heart rhythms and even cause cardiac arrest and death.

On the other hand, a low potassium level can lead to fatigue, weakness and constipation. This deficiency can then escalate to paralysis, respiratory failure and painful gut obstruction.

Diets that are adequate in potassium can help control blood pressure and have been linked to a lower chance of having a stroke. But don’t go out and start taking supplements for this reason.

Potassium supplements should only be used if they are prescribed by your doctor.

According to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), adequate intake of potassium for Filipino adults is 2,000 mg a day, taken mostly from fruits and vegetables.

POTATOES are
high in potassium.

Current diets, however, do not meet the recommendation of at least five servings of vegetables and fruits a day because it has just become more convenient to eat fast food or prepackaged foods. Some fruits and vegetables can also sometimes be more expensive, especially during typhoon season.

(A serving of vegetables is one cup of raw leafy vegetables or half a cup of raw, non-leafy vegetables, or one-half cup cooked leafy or non-leafy vegetables. A serving of fruit is about one-half cup.)
These are some foods high in potassium, other than buko:

1. Potatoes
2. Tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato juice
3. Beans
4. Squash
5. Green leafy vegetables – spinach, bok choy
6. Okra
7. Bananas
8. Melon
9. Watermelon
10. Oranges and orange juice
11. Avocado
12. Kiwi
13. Dried fruit ­— prunes, raisins
14. Milk (250 ml) — 380 mg

Although it is important for people with kidney disease to not overdo potassium, they shouldn’t go without it either. Those with severe kidney disease or on dialysis should still get some about 1000 mg per day.

IT is recommended to have at least five servings of vegetables and fruits a day. / photographs courtesy of unsplash/nadine primeau and unsplash/jonathan kemper

The number of servings is also important. Too much of a
low-potassium food makes it a
high-potassium food. The recommended serving of low-potassium foods is about half a cup.

Some examples of food low in potassium:
1. Salmon (3 oz.) – 300 mg
2. Canned tuna (3 oz.) – 200 mg
3. Asparagus (6 spears) – 200 mg
4. Broccoli (half-cup) – 200 mg
5. Carrots (half-cup cooked) – 200 mg
6. Corn (half an ear) – 200 mg
7. Zucchini (half-cup) – 200 mg
8. Apple (tennis-ball size) – 200 mg
9. Grapes (half cup) – 100 mg
10. Pineapple (half cup) – 100 mg

Potassium levels can also be affected by certain medications, such as diuretics (hydrochlorothiazide, furosemide) which tend to lower potassium levels, while other medications for blood pressure (enalapril, lisinopril, ramipril, perindopril, losartan, candesartan, irbesartan) have the opposite effect and can raise potassium levels. So can common painkillers such as ibuprofen or naproxen. If you take any of these ask your doctor if your potassium levels need to be monitored.

In general, healthy potassium levels can be maintained with a balanced diet and eating the recommended number of servings for fruits and vegetables. Remember to never take potassium supplements without a doctor’s prescription, and consult with your doctor to find out the amount of potassium that’s right for you.

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