The Other Salt: Potassium and Keto Diet

Meeting the FDA’s daily values for potassium can be difficult, especially when following the keto diet. Although some high-potassium foods such as avocados are suitable for the keto diet, you may have to rely on supplements or ‘salt substitutes’ to meet your daily potassium goals under your doctor’s guidance.

Keto Diet Potassium

Inadequate Potassium Intake is one of the biggest problems on the keto diet. But it’s also an easy one to solve!

Potassium is an essential electrolyte and mineral, and not just for athletes. It impacts several functions of the human body including protein synthesis, carbohydrate breakdown, and growth. It also plays a major role in the electrical activity of the heart.[1]

The FDA recommends that adults consume 3,500mg of potassium daily.[2] However, if you’re following the keto diet, it can be challenging to make sure you’re getting enough potassium on a daily basis — track this in MyFitnessPal and you’ll likely catch yourself falling way short of 3.5g. You may find yourself needing to rely on supplements instead of scrapping for potassium-rich foods. Below are some ways you can make sure you’re getting enough of this important mineral.

Warning on Potassium Supplementation

Throughout this post, we make an extreme effort to ensure that your dosages of potassium supplements are kept reasonable. Do not take your daily dose at once. Too much potassium can have just as negative of an impact on muscle health (as well as heart contractions) as too little.

No statements on this page have been approved by the FDA, and you must always get your physician’s written consent that you have a clean bill of health before using any such supplement, especially if you have a mood disorder.

Avoid the dangers of potassium deficiency

Since many potassium-rich foods are also high in carbohydrates, people who follow the keto diet are at risk for having low potassium levels. Dropping the carbs often means dropping the ‘K’. While the former is not essential to take — your body can generate glucose when needed — the latter is essential to get by diet, even if you need to supplement.

Low blood potassium has many dangerous symptoms that include:

  • Weakened muscle contractions,
  • increased blood pressure, and
  • an abnormal heart rhythm.[1]

Is my “keto flu” from lack of carbs… or lack of electrolytes?!

Exhaustion and muscle cramping can also occur, which newbies to the keto life are sure to attest to. In fact, we even believe that what many people attribute to the “keto flu” — the thought that their bodies aren’t yet fat-adjusted to the low-carb / high-fat living — can also be attributed to the fact that they’re low on potassium or other electrolytes!

So to avoid potassium deficiency, you should monitor your daily intake (we use MyFitnessPal) and supplement your diet if necessary.

Recognize high potassium, keto-friendly foods

Although potassium is found in a wide variety of foods such as cantaloupe and potatoes, your options are limited when trying to stay in ketosis. Sadly, many of the foods that contain high levels of potassium are also high in blood-sugar spiking carbohydrates that will put a fast end to your blood ketone levels. However, there are still some solid potassium-rich foods you can — and should — enjoy on the keto diet.

  • Avocados

    Avocados and Potassium

    At 485mg per 100g of ‘meat’, Avocados often become one of a keto dieter’s most important sources of potassium. But you still might find yourself coming short for the day, especially compared to your sodium numbers.

    Avocados may be the ultimate high-potassium keto food. They contain a whopping 485mg of potassium per 100g, as well as plenty of other nutrients.

    But… that’s not really going to get you anywhere near the FDA’s 3,500mg potassium recommendations! If you’re still coming up short on potassium in MyFitnessPal after making an effort to eat more potassium-rich foods, you should consider supplementing your diet.

  • The Greens: Kale, Spinach, and Broccoli

    Too often, keto dieters drop the green veggies thinking they will add too many carbs. That is total rubbish – if anything, high-leafy-vegetable diets help keep blood sugar levels down![10]

    So with that in mind, Kale is also a solid option, with 230mg of potassium per 70g serving. Spinach is another good choice, with 391mg of potassium per 70g serving.

    Remember, many of the “carbs” in these leafy vegetables are fiber and shouldn’t be avoided! In fact, eating vegetables helps you live longer.

  • Nuts

    Nuts are keto favorites that have a lot of potassium.

    While they’re not the tastiest for most people, Brazil Nuts are some of the best nuts, as they are high fat, low carb, and have a great amount of selenium and magnesium (both of which can drop too low on the keto diet). Hazelnuts and Filberts also have some impressive macros and micros.

    In addition, pistachios and pine nuts are also good sources, but are a bit more expensive.

    Meanwhile, almonds and cashews have some of the highest potassium amounts, but are also a bit higher in carbs, so it’s good to have these in moderation.

    Finally, pumpkin seeds are a good snack as well – make sure they’re not “seasoned” with sugar though!

  • Meat

    Meat

    Meat adds to the potassium count as well, but too much protein could knock you out of ketosis, so it can’t be your only potassium source!

    Meat sources can also contribute a ton of potassium to your diet. Potassium levels are not usually recorded on meat’s nutrition labels, so you usually have to search for the food you’re measuring on a nutrition facts website and make sure your MyFitnessPal has it recorded properly.

    This will give you the most accurate micro-nutrient data available.

    As an example, 4oz of chicken breast will actually give you 250mg! Even if eating half of a pound of chicken and avocado, we’re still falling short. And eating too much chicken breast — meaning “too much” protein — can spill over into a blood sugar spike via gluconeogenesis. Remember, the keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat, moderate protein diet – we’re not going to be eating chicken breasts all day long!

    And of course we can’t forget bacon! If you’re craving something more decadent, it has a surprisingly ‘high’ amount of potassium. At 45mg of potassium per slice, it’s a great way to start your day with an extra boost of potassium.

As you can see, this isn’t the best list, and it can get boring eating the same foods all day long, no matter how much you claim to love avocados.

So what next?

The Potassium Pill Problem: Reach your daily goal with powder supplements

Iodized Lo Salt

Here’s one way to roll: If you have some sodium in your diet to spare, then switch from salt to Lo Salt. Each quarter teaspoon has 450mg potassium and 170mg sodium – a great way to improve your ratio!

The FDA doesn’t make it easy, though. If you’ve ever tried to buy potassium supplements, you’ve probably noticed that it’s impossible to find capsules containing more than 99mg of potassium! This is due to an FDA regulation, likely related to over-blown paranoia connected to misuse. If you’re 2000mg short on potassium, you’d have to take twenty capsules (full of who-knows-whatever-else as filler) to meet your number.

The basic reason is because potassium can potentially be fatal in very high doses.[9] However, most keto dieters are too low, not too high.

Lo Salt if you can drop a bit of sodium

So the first thing you can do is consider Lo Salt, which has some potassium chloride substituted in for the pure sodium chloride you’d get in salt.

The issue is that some new keto dieters also need to keep their sodium levels high, as that can also drop when they start ditching the processed carbs. So if you’re going to substitute your sodium for potassium, make sure you’re not dropping your sodium too far here!

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Note: We’ve chosen to show iodized LoSalt above, but there is also an ‘Original’ version in our Lo Salt listings. Iodine is generally beneficial to the thyroid, which is important for dieters, so we go with the iodized form to avoid iodine deficiency while we’re at it.

Outside of that, what’s the next trick? Potassium powder (more like ‘crystals’). You can get massive bags of potassium citrate, for instance, that have thousands of “servings” at 99mg per serving – but take larger amounts at once – using a food scale that can measure to 0.1g or better! Make sure to not take your dose at once. Separate it throughout the day. The body functions much better on lower doses from waking until you fall asleep. Taking too much at one time can be dangerous. Use your common sense!

Before we go further, note that you must always check the labels of your supplements for dosing information, and don’t exceed the recommended daily dose without consulting with a physician.

Potassium Citrate vs. Potassium Chloride

BulkSupplements Potassium Chloride

BulkSupplements Potassium Chloride Powder can be added to make your own ‘sports drink’, but measure carefully and track your diet precisely!

So if you’ve chosen to supplement the keto diet with a potassium powder, you’ll have to decide between potassium citrate and potassium chloride supplements.

  • Potassium chloride contains 52.4% of potassium by weight (eg. 1000mg of potassium citrate contains 524mg actual potassium to add to your stats)
  • Potassium citrate contains 38.28% of potassium by weight (eg. 1000mg of potassium citrate contains 383mg actual potassium)
  • Potassium bicarbonate is 39.05% of potassium by weight
  • Potassium orotate is 20.13% potassium by weight, and is also used less frequently.

Although potassium citrate can be useful for patients with certain urinary conditions, potassium chloride seems to be the best bet for people looking for a quick, easy boost to their potassium levels. Most people with low levels of potassium are also suffering from chloride depletion, so potassium chloride is a more sensible choice.[8]

Note that the Lo Salt discussed above uses potassium chloride to replace much of the sodium chloride.

BulkSupplements Potassium Chloride (and other powders) to the rescue

Potassium chloride is the standard treatment for potassium deficiency, and is the most effective way to boost your potassium levels on the keto diet. Here’s a reliable potassium chloride supplement in bulk (BulkSupplements Potassium Chloride):

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You can also see the other three supplements if you’re interested: BulkSupplements Potassium Citrate, BulkSupplements Potassium Orotate, and BulkSupplements Potassium Bicarbonate.

Potassium chloride is relatively safe, but can cause side effects such as diarrhea, gas, abdominal cramping, and vomiting. Most side effects are minor and will resolve as your body adjusts to the new supplement.

To ease into it, get a food scale that measures down to the tenth of a gram, and weigh out about 500mg of it, which will yield just over 250mg potassium. You can then see how things go, and fit it into your diet from there. Space our dosages by a few hours. Too much potassium at once, as we just said, can be disastrous.

The link between supplements and fasting

In an extraordinary 1973 case study where an obese man fasted and lost 276 pounds over a 382 day period, potassium played an interesting role. The man ate nothing, but doctors did decide to provide a potassium supplement on top of his multivitamins for the duration of his fast. From Day 93 to Day 162, he survived on potassium supplements alone! His weight dropped from 456 pounds to 180 pounds, and at the end of the study, he was not potassium deficient.[7]

This isn’t to say that this fast is a good idea — others have died in similar case studies from the 60s, as referenced in this paper — but there’s no way around it – potassium is absolutely critical and was the one thing outside of a multivitamin that the doctors prescribed!

The results of this study speak for the effectiveness and necessity of potassium (and a solid multivitamin as well). The subject obtained no potassium through a normal diet for the duration of the study, but instead got all his potassium from the extra supplements. This suggests that if you rely on supplements to meet your daily potassium goal, you should still be able to avoid deficiency under a doctor’s guidance – it doesn’t need to be “bound” by food… although we still hope you eat plenty of the foods discussed above.

Potassium and sodium are closely linked

Keto Diet Sodium Potassium Balance

Balance is crucial… the FDA likes a 3:2 Potassium:Sodium ratio, but what’s best for you may be different. 3:2 is a good starting point though, yet sodium is easier to find these days than potassium….

When monitoring the amount of potassium in your diet, it’s important that keto dieters take sodium into account as well.  As discussed in our sodium guide, potassium and sodium together are an integral part of cellular function. Recent studies have also suggested that dietary intake of these two electrolytes may impact cardiovascular health. A 2011 study found that a higher sodium-potassium ratio caused an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Subjects with a higher sodium-potassium ratio also suffered from increased all-cause mortality.[3]

This doesn’t bode well for keto dieters who have no problem putting tons of salt on their eggs, but forget to load up on the avocados and aforementioned potassium supplements.

The FDA recommends that adults consume 3,500 milligrams of potassium and 2,400 milligrams of sodium each day.[2] You can think of these values as a 3:2 ratio for the sake of simplicity. As previously mentioned, if you follow the keto diet, it will probably be difficult to reach these daily values without supplementation.

Question the research and find your own ideal values

Although the potassium-sodium ratio recommended by the FDA looks good on paper, there is inconclusive research surrounding their numbers. In fact, a 2013 study showed that it’s actually impossible to meet the FDA’s potassium and sodium recommendations using normal diets! Researchers used linear programming models to test various food patterns, and discovered that the FDA’s sodium and potassium guidelines were incompatible with each other![4]

The biggest thing we realized here? That nobody has a damn clue when it comes to recommending potassium and sodium intake! The solution? BLOOD TESTS.

Get Potassium blood tests to ensure health

You should consider a annual (or even more frequent) blood test to monitor your levels of sodium and potassium. The normal range of blood potassium levels is 3.70 to 5.20 millimoles per liter.[5] For sodium, a normal range is 135 to 145 milliequivalents per liter (mEq).[6] As long as your blood test results fall within these ranges, you can safely adjust your diet to tweak your potassium-sodium ratio to get them to ideal ranges. If you are very far off, or are unable to improve your situation, it is time to see a doctor immediately, especially if you’re not feeling well.

How you feel matters too

Keto Diet Sodium

There’s a white grainy molecule that causes a ton of health problems… but it’s not this one! It’s sugar, not salt/sodium.

You should also pay close attention to how you feel overall. As long as you aren’t deficient in either electrolyte, you can use your sense of well-being as a guideline on your way to finding your ideal potassium-sodium ratio. Your doctor should be able to help with interpreting the blood test results, but you may end up feeling great even without reaching an ideal ratio.

After all, one of the best parts of the keto diet and intermittent fasting is that it makes users feel incredible once their ketone levels are up and they’re fat-adapted. If you never get to that point, you’re either missing something important (such as one of these electrolytes, not enough fat, too much protein and/or carbs, not enough time, etc), or it simply isn’t for you and your genes.

But if you’re cramping when you go for a run… then something may still be amiss.

Keeping all this in mind, the 3:2 ratio shouldn’t be taken as scientific fact, but as a rough starting range. You should attempt to figure out a potassium-sodium ratio that works for you. When you start tracking your potassium and sodium intake with MyFitnessPal, shoot for the 3:2 ratio in the beginning. However, this ratio may need to be adjusted over time.

Take on the challenge and meet your goals

Although meeting your potassium goals on the keto diet can be challenging at first (and honestly one of the most challenging parts of the ketogenic lifestyle), you’ll be able to figure out a routine that works for you. Spend some time researching supplements on PricePlow, as well as tracking your daily potassium intake on MyFitnessPal. By getting regular blood test results and paying attention to your sense of well being, you’ll be well on your way to optimal potassium levels.

You can get those “powdered” potassium supplements using PricePlow below:

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References

  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Potassium in diet;” 2017; https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002413.htm
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Guidance for industry: A food labeling guide;” 2015; https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064928.htm
  3. Yang, Q, et. al.; Arch Intern Med. “Sodium and potassium intake and mortality among US adults: prospective data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey;” 2011 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21747015
  4. Nutr Res. “Food pattern modeling shows that the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for sodium and potassium cannot be met simultaneously;” 2013; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3878634
  5. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Potassium test;” 2017; https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003484.htm
  6. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Sodium blood test;” 2017; https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003481.htm
  7. Postgraduate Medical Journal; “Features of a successful fast of 382 days’ duration;” 1973 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2495396/pdf/postmedj00315-0056.pdf
  8. American Family Physician; “Potassium disorders: Hypokalemia and hyperkalemia”; 2015; http://www.aafp.org/afp/2015/0915/p487.html
  9. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “HSDB: Potassium chloride;” 2015; https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search2/r?dbs+hsdb:@term+@DOCNO+1252
  10. Imai, Saeko, Michiaki Fukui, and Shizuo Kajiyama. “Effect of Eating Vegetables before Carbohydrates on Glucose Excursions in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes.” Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition 54.1 (2014): 7–11; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3882489/
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