Potassium in Vegan Diets: Less Kale, More Beans?

It’s not surprising that vegetarians and vegans tend to have higher intakes of potassium compared to omnivores. One simple dietary change—replacing the meat in a recipe with any type of beans—can give potassium intake a healthy boost.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that we vegans always get enough, though. In fact, while it’s far easier to meet needs on a plant-based diet, it’s really a challenge to consume the recommended 4700 milligrams of potassium on any kind of diet. In the Adventist Health-2 study, there was a wide range of potassium intakes among vegans, suggesting that some were on the low side.

Potassium is another of those nutrients where you won’t be staggering around with deficiency symptoms if you aren’t getting enough. Low intake does its damage over time, raising risk for heart disease, hypertension and bone loss.

So why might some vegans fall short? Favoring grains over legumes could be one reason. Potassium is another big reason that I like to emphasize legumes in my diet. Beans are among the very best of all potassium sources. One-half cup of cooked beans provides between 240 and 475 milligrams of potassium compared to 40 to 160 milligrams for ½ cup of cooked grains.

Again, whole grains are wonderful foods, but don’t let them crowd out beans and starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes ( which are also good sources of potassium.)

The vegan kale craze could be another reason for suboptimal potassium intakes. We vegans love our cruciferous veggies—kale, collards, broccoli, and bok choy—in part because they are excellent sources of calcium. But, they are quite a bit lower in potassium than other greens like spinach and chard.

I’m not suggesting that you stop eating kale (vegan sacrilege!). It’s just a good idea to remember the rule of variety when it comes to fruits and vegetables. You need calcium-rich choices, but you need ones that are rich in potassium as well. Although I usually eat cruciferous vegetables for dinner, I aim for the potassium-rich ones in my other meals. I almost always have a potassium-packed soup in my fridge, made with beans, spinach and tomatoes—three potassium superstars. It makes a great afternoon snack.

Use the list below to guide you toward a diet that is rich in potassium. It doesn’t mean you need to avoid the low-potassium foods, which are here for comparison. They have their own benefits. But make sure you eat plenty of potassium-rich foods every day to protect bone and heart health.

 

½ cup cooked (unless otherwise noted)

Potassium in milligrams

Beet greens

654

Swiss chard

480

Lima beans

478

Sweet potato

475

Soybeans

443

Banana (1 medium)

422

Spinach

419

Tomato sauce

405

Pinto beans

373

Lentils

365

Kidney beans

358

Split peas

355

Edamame

338

Acorn squash

322

Potatoes

296

Tomatoes

292

Beets

259

Sunflower seeds (2 tbsp)

241

Peanut butter (2 tbsp)

238

Black-eyed peas

239

Chickpeas

239

Broccoli

229

Orange juice

221

Quinoa

159

Kale

148

Collards

110

Oatmeal

82

Barley

72

Brown rice

42

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15 Responses to Potassium in Vegan Diets: Less Kale, More Beans?

  1. Amanda Gutwirth February 19, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    Thank you for yet another thoughtful, informative post. I noticed that soybeans and edamame are listed separately on the potassium breakdown. Why is that? Do soybeans represent a different stage (whether in terms of fermentation or any other variable) of the legume than edamame?

    Again, thank you for the education!

    • Ginny Messina February 24, 2014 at 9:45 am #

      Yes, edamame are immature soybeans and they can have a somewhat different nutrient profile from mature soybeans. I’m kind of surprised myself at the difference in this case, though.

  2. Linda February 19, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

    Thank goodness! I love everything on that list, except kale.

  3. Natalie February 19, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    The coolest thing is that lots of these taste great raw, so they’re even healthier!!

  4. Martine February 19, 2014 at 11:25 pm #

    Thank you for this post! I’ve been wondering potassium, since I often fall a little short when I track my intake, even though I eat lots of veggies and legumes and not a lot of grains. I use a lower sodium type of salt with extra potassium now (also enriched with iodine). Is that a good way to supplement my intake?

    • Ginny Messina February 24, 2014 at 9:39 am #

      I think using small amounts of supplemental potassium is probably fine, but as always, getting it from food is much better! There are lots of other things in fruits, vegetables and beans that are good for bones and muscles and that you won’t get from a supplement.

  5. Silvia February 20, 2014 at 2:21 am #

    Interesting! I thought I’ve read somewhere that the potassium guidelines are actually not based on much science, because it’s heavily dependent on how much sodium you consume (there needs to be balance). I’m guessing that many vegans consume less sodium than the average population so that could mean that the recommended potassium is lower? In the Netherlands, we don’t even have a recommended amount for potassium; it seems to be the working assumption that only the worst of junk-food diets could result in a deficiency of this mineral because it is available in almost every veggie, fruit, grain and bean.

    • Ginny Messina February 24, 2014 at 9:38 am #

      I think it’s a common misconception that the only vegans who are likely to fall short of nutrients are those eating “junk food vegan diets.” You can eat a whole foods plant-based diet and still fall short if your diet is too low in beans and you aren’t including potassium-rich vegetables.

  6. dimqua February 20, 2014 at 8:34 am #

    Thanks for this article, but WHO now recommend at least 3510 mg of potassium per day. Should we really aim to consume 4700 mg/day?

    • Ginny Messina February 24, 2014 at 9:36 am #

      The exact requirement for potassium isn’t really understood so it’s hard to know which is the more correct requirement. I’d aim for the higher amount until we have better information. The foods that provide potassium are so healthy that there is no down side to eating more of them!

  7. Dan February 20, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    Theoretically, there are dozens of micronutrients linked to good health that we should be aiming for more of. But I find that it all gets back to a few simple principles. Trying to aim to eat certain foods to get enough of ‘X’ (where X = calcium, potassium, etc) is really a fruitless approach to health. I am trying to vary my diet a bit and not worry too much about what it might be missing. I simply cannot get 100% of the RDA or RI for every nutrient every single day – I would end up overeating, which is not good either.

    Re: kale. The one time I tried it, I ended up with 5 days of severe diarrhea. Apparently gastrointestinal intolerance to kale is not totally rare, and at least on the internet, it is well documented. I don’t know what the underlying pathophysiology is – whether it’s an immunological phenomenon (allergic response) or something in kale that is toxic to certain people (as wheat is to celiac patients). But I will never, ever eat kale again. So that’s one crucifer to cross off my to-do list…

  8. Sheila Broumley February 24, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

    Love this! Thank you so much for the valuable info!

  9. Paul Borst February 27, 2014 at 1:58 am #

    Ginny,

    About the spinach, swiss chard and beet greens, I’ve been told to moderate these greens because of their oxalate content, say 3 or 4 times per week 1-2 servings each time. Is that a mistake?

    Paul

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