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Ask Tufts Experts June 2016 Issue

Q. How is it possible to get enough potassium from food? It looks like I’d have to eat 11 bananas a day.

A. Leanne Stephens, a dietetic intern at Tufts' Francis Stern Nutrition Center, responds: "Although it may seem as if you are not getting enough potassium in your diet, you are probably consuming more than you think. The Adequate Intake (AI) for potassium suggests that adults need to aim for 4.7 grams of potassium per day in their diet. Data from a recent survey analyzing average potassium intake from food and beverages found that adult men are consuming 3.1 grams per day and adult women are consuming about 2.4 grams each day. The results of this survey are in line with other data suggesting that the typical Western diet does not satisfy potassium requirements and may potentially lead to a slight potassium deficiency.

"This does not mean that the only solution is to begin taking potassium supplements. In fact, you should consume a potassium supplement only under the direction and supervision of your physician. The body tightly regulates potassium levels in the blood, so supplementation may lead to hyperkalemia, or high potassium, which can be just as dangerous as very low levels of potassium.

"The great news is that with planning, potassium needs can be met through the diet without feeling like you need to consume oodles of bananas. While certain fruits and vegetables such as bananas and potatoes are known as being great sources of potassium, other food groups are also packed with this essential nutrient. Meat, legumes, nuts and dairy products contain ample amounts of potassium that can help you reach the AI of 4.7 grams per day. If you are concerned about your current potassium intake, you can meet with a registered dietitian to plan a healthy diet that will meet all of your micronutrient and macronutrient needs."

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