Low Potassium Diet Best Practices

Potassium is an essential mineral found in a wide variety of foods.  It helps keep your muscles working properly, including the most important muscle – your heart.  One of the primary functions of your kidneys is to keep a healthy amount of potassium in the body, but when the kidneys aren’t functioning properly, your doctor may recommend a low potassium diet to prevent dangerous amounts from accumulating in your body.  If your potassium levels are too high, it can lead to side effects like an irregular heartbeat or even a heart attack.

In the article, we’ll discuss best practices when following a low potassium diet, including foods high in potassium to avoid. 

 

Hyperkalemia

A big word with a simple meaning.  Essentially, hyperkalemia is a condition caused by having too much potassium in your blood.  If you break down the term: hyper = high, kal = potassium, emia = in the blood. 

When asking your doctor about the potassium levels in your blood, if your levels are:

3.5 – 5.0: You’re in the SAFE ZONE

5.1 – 6.0: You’re in the CAUTION ZONE and may need to follow a low potassium diet

6.0+: You’re in the DANGER ZONE and will need to make major diet changes in addition to introducing new medications.  You may be diagnosed with hyperkalemia at these levels. 

 

Basic Practices For A Low Potassium Diet

When following a low potassium diet, you’ll of course want to adhere to the recommendations of a trusted health professional, which probably means your doctor or renal dietitian.  That being said, the following are general best practices for MOST people on a low potassium diet:

  • Pay attention to serving sizes:  almost all foods have at least some potassium, so don’t eat anything in excess.  Eating smaller meals throughout the day is best for a low potassium diet, not to mention it will do great things for your metabolism.
     
  • Avoid high potassium foods: this is an obvious one, but avoid foods with high potassium levels even in moderation.  In the next section of this article we’ll provide a list of ingredients to avoid.
     
  • Start leaching: leaching is a process why which you can extract potassium from certain high potassium vegetables.  It’s a bit strange but has been proven effective.  It works especially well for potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables.  Specific steps for leaching can be found toward the end of this article.
     
  • Avoid drained juices from cooked meat: when cooking meat, make sure you drain the excess liquid from the pan.
     
  • Follow your treatment plan: especially if you’re on dialysis, make sure to follow the prescribed diet and medication plan provided by your healthcare professional.
     

High Potassium Foods

The following is a list of high-potassium foods to avoid.  Of course, some foods on this list have higher amounts of potassium than others.  Most of these foods have over 200mg of potassium per serving.

Fruits Vegetables Other Foods
Apricot, raw (2 medium) Acorn Squash Bran/Bran products
dried (5 halves) Artichoke Chocolate (1.5-2 ounces)
Avocado (.25 whole) Bamboo Shoots Granola
Banana (.5 whole) Baked Beans Milk, all types (1 cup)
Cantaloupe Butternut Squash Molasses (1 Tablespoon)
Dates (5 whole) Refried Beans Certain Nutritional Supplements
Dried fruits Beets, fresh then boiled Nuts and Seeds (1 ounce)
Figs, dried Black Beans Peanut Butter (2 tbs.)
Grapefruit Juice Broccoli, cooked Salt Substitutes/Lite Salt
Honeydew Brussels Sprouts Salt Free Broth
Kiwi (1 medium) Chinese Cabbage Yogurt
Mango(1 medium) Carrots, raw Snuff/Chewing Tobacco
Nectarine(1 medium) Dried Beans and Peas Yogurt
Orange(1 medium) Greens, except Kale Snuff/Chewing Tobacco
Orange Juice Hubbard Squash
Papaya (.5 whole) Kohlrabi
Pomegranate (1 whole) Lentils
Pomegranate Juice Legumes
Prunes White Mushrooms, cooked (.5 cup)
Prune Juice Okra
Raisins Parsnips
Potatoes, white and sweet
Pumpkin
Rutabagas
Spinach, cooked
Tomatoes/Tomato products
Vegetable Juices

 

Low Potassium Foods

Below is a list of low-potassium foods.  All foods have some amount of potassium, so it’s important to consume even low potassium foods in moderate portions.  In general, these foods provide less than 200mg of potassium per serving.

Fruits Vegetables Other Foods
Apple (1 medium) Alfalfa sprouts Rice
Apple Juice Asparagus (6 spears raw) Noodles
Applesauce Beans, green or wax Pasta
Apricots, canned in juice Broccoli (raw or cooked from frozen) Bread and bread products (Not Whole Grains)
Blackberries Cabbage, green and red Cake: angel, yellow
Blueberries Carrots, cooked Coffee:limit to 8 ounces
Cherries Cauliflower Pies without chocolate or high potassium fruit
Cranberries Celery (1 stalk) Cookies without nuts or chocolate
Fruit Cocktail Corn, fresh (.5 ear) frozen (.5 cup) Tea: limit to 16 ounces
Grapes Cucumber Tea:limit to 16 ounces
Grape Juice Eggplant
Grapefruit (.5 whole) Kale
Mandarin Oranges Lettuce
Peaches, fresh (1 small) Mixed Vegetables
Peaches, canned (.5 cup) White Mushrooms, raw (.5 cup)
Pears, fresh (1 small) Onions
Canned Pears (.5 cup) Parsley
Pineapple Peas, green
Pineapple Juice Peppers
Plums (1 whole) Radish
Raspberries Rhubarb
Strawberries Water Chestnuts, canned
Tangerine (1 whole) Watercress
Watermelon (limit to 1 cup) Yellow Squash
Zucchini Squash

 

Leaching Steps

To leach higher potassium vegetables:

  1. Peel and place the vegetable in cold water so they won’t darken.
  2. Slice vegetable 1/8 inch thick.
  3. Rinse in warm water for a few seconds.
  4. Soak for a minimum of two hours in warm water. Use ten times the amount of water to the amount of vegetables. If soaking longer, change the water every four hours.
  5. Rinse under warm water again for a few seconds.
  6. Cook vegetable with five times the amount of water to the amount of vegetable.

The video below from Davita provides an overview of the leaching process for potatoes, although the instructions are slightly different than what's laid out above.

 

Planning A Low Potassium Menu

Eating whole foods and using fresh ingredients is your best bet for following a low potassium diet.  With all the foods that are high in potassium, it’s probably best to avoid eating at restaurants because you don’t know exactly what’s in an entrée. 

If your doctor has instructed you to follow a low-potassium diet, but you don’t have the time or find it difficult to cook, a personal chef service could be a good option.  Your personal chef can customize affordable meals specifically for your low-potassium diet, and oftentimes can even take instructions directly from a healthcare professional.