What is potassium?

Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte. It is found in most foods and your body needs it for many things. It is important to keep potassium at a healthy level in your body. Having too much or too little potassium is very serious and can even be deadly if not treated.

Potassium plays an important role in helping your muscles expand and contract. Your heart is a muscle; so, when your body's potassium is at a healthy level, it helps your heart to beat the right way.

Most foods have potassium, like bananas, but some have more than others. Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, dairy and red meat are foods that are high in potassium. If you have kidney disease, your doctor may have told you that you need to lower the amount of potassium in your diet. Download the potassium food guide for lower potassium foods that can still be tasty options.

What is high potassium (hyperkalemia)?

High potassium is called hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia is a chronic condition, meaning it is long-lasting. If you have kidney disease, you are at risk for high potassium because your kidneys cannot remove the extra potassium in your blood. Instead of leaving your body through your urine, the extra potassium in your blood travels through your kidneys and back into your bloodstream. Over time, more and more potassium can build up in your blood. 

Managing high potassium is important if you want to protect your heart. Having too much potassium in your blood can be dangerous. High potassium can even cause a heart attack or death! Unfortunately, many people do not feel symptoms of high potassium until it’s too late and their heart health worsens. If you have kidney disease, talk to your healthcare provider about the best ways to manage your potassium.

Your doctor can perform a simple blood test to tell you if you have high potassium. Blood tests for potassium do not always show how much potassium has been in your body over a long period of time. Blood tests only show how much potassium is in your blood at the moment you had the test, not the amount that has been in your body during an entire week or month. For this reason, it is important to make sure you are carefully checking how much potassium you eat on a daily basis. Controlling your potassium levels should be a long-term goal, not a short-term one.

We are here to help you in this process. Download our potassium food guide and potassium tracker by providing simple contact information and we will send you helpful tips on managing potassium.

Download our potassium tracker

What causes high potassium?

Some of the most common causes of high potassium when you have kidney disease are:

  • Eating high-potassium foods
  • Using a salt substitute that contains potassium
    • They have around 800mg of potassium per ¼ teaspoon!
  • Constipation
  • Missing dialysis treatments
  • Taking some medicines or herbal supplements. Always talk with your doctor before taking any herbal supplement that could interact with your medicines or medical conditions.

*Always talk with your doctor before taking any herbal supplement that could interact with your medicines or medical conditions.

Fun fact!

Fun fact! Potassium was first discovered in the ashes of burnt plants. Its chemical symbol ‘K’ comes from the Latin word Kalium, meaning potash (a type of salt), hence potassium. It was discovered in 1807 by Sir Humphry Davy, a British chemist.

Download our potassium food guide

What is a high potassium food?

A food with 250 mg (milligrams) of potassium (or more) per serving is considered a high potassium food. If you are on dialysis or your doctor has recommended that you eat low-potassium foods, you should aim for a daily potassium goal of 2,500 mg and no more than 3,000 mg per day. Your doctor or dietitian may adjust these goals to fit your needs. If you’re having trouble figuring out which foods are high in potassium or low in potassium, download the potassium food guide.

How can I manage and treat high potassium?

High potassium can be controlled long-term by choosing the right foods and taking medicine. Ask your healthcare provider and dietitian to help you create a potassium management plan. Call your insurance company to find out if your insurance plan covers nutrition counseling.

You have the power to track how much potassium goes into your body every day. Use the potassium tracker to record the amount of potassium in the foods you eat, and also log when you take your potassium binder. Remember, sometimes even one food item can make a big difference in your potassium level.

If you take care of someone with high potassium and you manage the grocery shopping or cooking, you can help them to keep track of their potassium. Download the potassium tracker and work with them to monitor how much potassium they get from their food.

Potassium binders

Along with managing what you eat, high potassium can also be treated with a medicine known as a potassium binder. Potassium binders work by sticking to the potassium in your body and preventing some of it from being taken into your bloodstream. This prevents potassium from building up in your blood. Potassium binders come in the form of a powder, which you can take by mixing it with water and drinking it.  If you’ve had side effects of potassium binders there are new options available. Talk to your healthcare provider about finding a potassium binder that is right for you.

Learn more about high potassium, or hyperkalemia.

Symptoms of high potassium

Many people do not feel symptoms of high potassium. Having too much potassium in your blood can be dangerous. It can even cause a heart attack. If you do feel symptoms, some of the most common are:


Feeling Tired Or Weak

Feeling Tired Or Weak


Feeling Sick To The Stomach (Nausea)

Feeling Sick To The Stomach (Nausea)


Muscle Pains Or Cramps

Muscle Pains Or Cramps


Trouble Breathing, Unusual Heartbeat, Chest Pains

Trouble Breathing, Unusual Heartbeat, Chest Pains

High-potassium foods

High-potassium foods and drinks are those with more than 200mg of potassium per serving.

Examples of foods that can be high in potassium include:



Some fruits: including: bananas, grapefruits, oranges, cantaloupes, raisins, and other dried fruits




Some vegetables, including: potatoes, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, asparagus, and cooked spinach

Some vegetables



Black beans, pinto beans, baked beans



Most Meats

Most meats


Most Fish



Dairy Products

Milk, cheese, yogurt


Including peanuts and peanut butter


Find low-potassium recipes

Low-potassium foods

Low-potassium foods and drinks are those with no more than 100 mg of potassium per serving. Your doctor or dietitian may suggest you eat foods that are low in potassium if you tend to have too much potassium in your blood.

Examples of foods that can be low in potassium include:



Some vegetables, including: cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers


Some fruits, including: grapes, strawberries, blueberries






Low potassium

While many people with kidney disease struggle with higher potassium levels, sometimes people with kidney disease may have low potassium; also known as hypokalemia. Having low potassium in your blood can also cause harm to your body. 

Learn more about low potassium, or hypokalemia.

The symptoms of low potassium are:

  • Muscle weakness, cramping, twitching, or pain
  • Your body feels so heavy it is hard to move–almost like paralysis
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation and bloating
  • Abnormal heart beat
  • Heart attack

Common causes for low potassium are:

  • Poor appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Certain medicines

Working with the dietitian at your dialysis center will help you make the best food choices based on your potassium levels. The potassium food guide provides a list of potassium levels in specific foods.

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