Potassium in Vegan Diets: Less Kale, More Beans?

Potassium in Vegan Diets: Less Kale, More Beans?

By | 2014-02-19T09:35:50+00:00 February 19th, 2014|Tags: , , , |25 Comments

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


Swiss chard


Lima beans


Sweet potato




Banana (1 medium)




Tomato sauce


Pinto beans




Kidney beans


Split peas




Acorn squash








Sunflower seeds (2 tbsp)


Peanut butter (2 tbsp)


Black-eyed peas






Orange juice












Brown rice



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

    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 - Reply

      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. […] Potassium in Vegan Diets: Less Kale, More Beans? | The Vegan RD. Share this:TwitterFacebookGoogleLike this:Like Loading… […]

  3. Linda February 19, 2014 at 6:26 pm - Reply

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

  4. Natalie February 19, 2014 at 6:53 pm - Reply

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

  5. Martine February 19, 2014 at 11:25 pm - Reply

    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 - Reply

      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.

  6. Silvia February 20, 2014 at 2:21 am - Reply

    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 - Reply

      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.

  7. dimqua February 20, 2014 at 8:34 am - Reply

    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 - Reply

      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!

  8. Dan February 20, 2014 at 10:28 am - Reply

    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…

    • Adela February 25, 2015 at 7:00 am - Reply

      Dan, did you eat kale raw? I don’t know why this rage for eating kale all of a sudden making it the latest “fashion”, but they are serving it raw and this may have something to do with digestion problems? I never tried it raw because I feel it’s too tough a veggie unless cooked, but I don’t think it may taste very appealingly either…..

      Of course, you could have Swiss Chard, spinach, etc. which are much softer and might not affect your digestive system?

  9. Sheila Broumley February 24, 2014 at 7:30 pm - Reply

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

  10. Paul Borst February 27, 2014 at 1:58 am - Reply


    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?


  11. Skeptical Vegan March 14, 2014 at 11:34 am - Reply

    […] Im no where near convinced that it is anywhere close to as good as some other vegans tell it. In a recent post The VeganRD Ginny Messina writes about why you might want to curb your kale chip habit, “We […]

  12. Adela February 25, 2015 at 7:15 am - Reply

    Thank you for your very helpful article! My medical clearance for a surgery shows “abnormal potassium” and must retake the test. So thanks to your info I’ll be sure before my retest, to eat from many foods on the list. And since I already had made a paste of beans to try some fancy vegan dish, I will instead mix it with tomatoes and spinach and olive oil and…skip any salt!

    My question: should spinach be raw or cooked? And which of the 2 methods would render more potassium milligrams? Ditto for the tomatoes (though I like the latter raw)… :o)

    Thanks so very much!

  13. Dave mosick March 4, 2015 at 7:04 am - Reply

    what about raisins? Seems like a cub has about 1000 mg. any thoughts?

  14. Sophia August 13, 2015 at 11:09 am - Reply

    Thank you for this very informative article. I have two questions :

    1. Aren’t some fruits a good source of potassium? If it is the case, what are the best?
    2. It seems like to meet your potassium needs you need to be eating a lot of things, doesn’t that impact your overall calories?

    • Ginny Messina August 22, 2015 at 12:30 pm - Reply

      Yes, bananas and orange juice are especially high in potassium. And eating potassium-rich foods shouldn’t affect your calorie intake if you are limiting other foods that are not nutrient-rich.

  15. Heidi May 4, 2016 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    Sweet potatoes are higher in potassium than white potatoes? Another page I read shows them as higher.

    • Ginny Messina May 10, 2016 at 7:28 am - Reply

      Sweet potatoes are higher. They’re both good sources, though.

  16. Val August 14, 2016 at 10:04 am - Reply

    My partner has the opposite problem and needs to severely restrict the amount of potassium he consumes. This has proven to be extremely difficult and limiting on a vegan diet. He has/is recovering from CHF and the medications that are helping his heart also make it so that his body holds onto potassium which hurts his heart, makes him extremely tired, and causes muscle soreness. The list you provided is helpful, in the opposite way. We are really hopeful that we can make this work for him as we are both ethical vegans and have been for the last ten years. This makes it really hard though. Any thoughts or suggestions would be much appreciated. Thanks for your site, it is so informative and I use it often!

    • Iveth March 13, 2017 at 11:50 am - Reply

      Hello Val, have you received any suggestions for a low potassium vegan diet? My potassium levels came back high and I too have muscle soreness and heart pain. Any websites or bloggers you recommend? Any help with be appreciated. Thank you! 🙂

  17. Pam October 13, 2017 at 6:58 am - Reply

    There is a very good list of low potassium foods (nearly all of which are vegan) on the following webpage:

    Another one is:
    Only the last few things in the “Other Low Potassium Foods” list.are vegan.
    A few low potassium recipes are also included.

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