Kidney Diet Tips

Tips for Keeping a Healthy Potassium Level

Potassium is an important mineral to the body. We need enough potassium to keep our muscles and nerves working properly. However, too much potassium in the body can cause the heart to beat irregularly or stop beating at all. When you have kidney disease, your kidneys are not able to remove potassium from your blood through the urine. Your doctor will watch your potassium level closely. If your potassium level is too high or too low, you must find out why. Having a healthy potassium level is important.

Interpreting Potassium Levels

Tracking your potassium lab results can help with managing your levels. Here is a guideline to help you know what your results mean.

  • Low – less than 3.5 mg/dL
  • Normal – 3.5 to 5.5 mg/dL
  • High – 5.6 to 6.0 mg/dL
  • Very high – 6.0 mg/dL or higher

Potassium and Diet

When your kidneys are not able to remove potassium from your blood, you must limit the amount of potassium that you eat in your diet. By limiting or avoiding high-potassium foods, you can help get your potassium level into a healthy range. Some higher potassium foods include:

  • Bananas, cantaloupe, avocado, oranges, kiwi, papaya
  • *White potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkin, cooked spinach and artichokes.
  • Fruit or vegetable juices made from high-potassium produce (tomato or V-8 juice, orange juice, prune juice)
  • Dairy products such as milk, soy milk, pudding, ice cream, or yogurt (more than 1/2 cup per day)
  • Salt substitutes that contain potassium chloride.
  • Sweets containing chocolate or nuts

Consuming large amounts of low-potassium fruits and vegetables can also contribute to high potassium levels. You may want to discuss proper portion sizes and number of daily servings with your dietitian.

*Note: Potatoes can be double boiled or leeched to remove some of the potassium. Read “Lowering Potassium in Potatoes” to learn more.

Dialysis Treatments and Potassium

Potassium is removed from your blood during dialysis. Missing just one treatment can lead to unsafe potassium levels. It is very important to go to all scheduled dialysis treatments. In addition, stay for your full treatment time. Also, attend all access appointments to ensure that your dialysis access is working properly.

Home Dialysis

More frequent dialysis means more potassium removal. Patients who choose peritoneal dialysis and home hemodialysis often have a more liberal potassium diet. The reason is they are having dialysis 5 to 7 days a week. For this reason potassium levels do not build up as high compared to in-center hemodialysis treatments 3 times a week.

Medications and Herbal Supplements

Some medications such as potassium chloride, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and potassium-sparing diuretics can lead to increased potassium levels. Certain herbal supplements and nutrient preparations with added potassium may contain high levels of potassium as well. Provide your healthcare team with a list of the current medications you are taking, (including any vitamins and supplements. They can look for medications that might lead to high potassium levels.

Other Causes of High Potassium

High blood sugar, gastrointestinal bleeding and significant constipation can all cause high potassium levels. If you are experiencing any of these, follow up with your primary care doctor as soon as possible. The use of chewing tobacco or snuff can also cause increased potassium levels.

Ways to Increase Potassium

Some patients struggle with potassium levels being too low. If this is the case, you may need to consume more potassium in your diet. Ask your dietitian for a list of high-potassium fruits and vegetables. Eat the recommended serving from this list every day until your potassium level is in goal. If your potassium level is still low after you’ve been including high-potassium foods, your doctor may prescribe a potassium supplement.

Following these tips can help you keep your potassium level in goal. What are some of your tips for potassium control?

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Consult your physician and dietitian regarding your specific diagnosis, treatment, diet and health questions.

Natalie Overstreet MS, RDN, LD, CNSC, CPT

Natalie Overstreet MS, RDN, LD, CNSC, CPT

Natalie has been a registered dietitian for many years and recently became a Board Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition. She has and continues to work in many different healthcare settings including acute care hospitals, LTACHs, nursing homes, private practice, wellness companies, outpatient clinics, research, and writing. She stays busy but loves all of her jobs! When she's not working, she fills her time with family, friends, pets, gardening, crafting, reading, and learning new hobbies.