Minerals are inorganic elements that are necessary for the body to build tissues, regulate body fluids and assist in various body functions. Potassium is one such mineral. Potassium is an electrolyte that is found primarily in intracellular fluid. .The human body contains 30-40 g of potassium, of which 98 per cent exists within cells and most of it within muscles. Like sodium, potassium is essential for fluid.balance and body temperature. Potassium maintains the fluid level within the cells and sodium maintains the fluid level outside the cells. To maintain fluid balance and electrolyte balance, osmosis moves the fluid into and out of the cells.Both sodium and potassium are important in maintaining fluid balance, acid-base balance and osmotic equilibrium.Potassium plays an important role in energy production in cells throughout the body. Itis also necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Potassium may also help lower blood pressure in hypertensive people.The kidneys help to maintain the normal serum levels of potassium by filtration, reabsorption and excretion. Approximately 80-90 per cent potassium is excreted via urine and the remaining potassium is excreted through faeces with the help of aldosterone hormone.Potassium insufficiencyThe normal range of serum potassium level for adults is 3.5-5 mEq/L. A low level of serum potassium i.e. less than 3 mEq/L is called hypokalaemia. Hypokalaemia may occur due to loss of gastrointestinal fluidsin a large volume, diabetic ketoacidosis, diarrhoea, excessive alcohol consumption and excessive expulsion of potassium through the urine due to certain medications like diuretics. Research studies have shown that potassium impacts the processing of glucose in the body. Low potassium levels cause less insulin production than people with normal potassium levels. This may, in turn, impact blood sugar control.Some of the signs and symptoms of hypokalaemia are muscle weakness,fatigue, lethargy, constipation and cardiac arrhythmia (irregular beating of the heart, either too fast or too slow). The treatment for hypokalaemia includes administration of oral or intravenous potassium in the required quantity.When potassium level exceeds 5.1 mEq/L, it is called hyperkalaemia. Hyperkalaemia can be dangerous. This may occur due to kidney failure, dysfunction of the adrenal gland, dehydration, Type 1 Diabetes, destruction of red blood cells due to an injury, excessive use of potassium supplements and also as a side effect of certain medications to lower blood pressure.The signs and symptoms of hyperkalaemia include arrhythmia (irregular beating of the heart, either too fast or too slow), kidney disease impairing potassium excretion, metabolic acidosis (acid-base imbalance in the body) and catabolism.Recommended daily intake(RDA}According to 2010 Dietary Allowances Guidelines for Indians, the recommended daily intake of potassium is:•\tChildrena)\t1-3 years - 1100 mg/dayb)\t4-6 years - 1550 mg/day•\tWomen - 3225 mg/day•\tMen - 3750 mg/daySources of potassiumPotassium can be found easily in varied quantities in fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry and dairy products. Potassium intake can be easily maintained with a proper choice of vegetables, fruits, grains,dairy and poultry in proper portion size.Some of the foods containing high potassium (>200 mg/100 g) are:•\tBajra, ragi, maize•\tRed gram dal (tur dal)•\tSpinach, drumstick leaves, coriander leaves•\tColocasia, potato, sweet potato, yam•\tEggplants, drum stick, tender jackfruit, jackfruit seeds, green papaya•\tRed cherries, apricot, bael fruit, sweet lime (mosambi), muskmelon, banana watermelon, peaches, plum, sapota•\tMeat and poultryAlthough, leaching may not be required for everyone and every vegetable,potassium-rich foods often requireleaching. Leaching is done in two ways - soaking and boiling. Soak potassium-rich foods in a large amount of warm water for half-hour to one hour. Discard the soaked water and cook the vegetables in freshwater. Boiling - Boil high potassium foods in a large quantity of water. Discardthe boiled water and cook the vegetables in freshwater.Few things to remember•\tIn people with kidney disease, potassium intake should be restricted to 1.5-2 g(40-50 mEq) per day.•\tEating in moderation and limiting the portion size is important to balance the nutritional intake of minerals such as potassium. Balance your meals every day with a variety of fruits andvegetables to manage your nutritional intake.Almost all fruits and vegetables contain some amount of potassium that normally fulfils the daily required intake. Avoidexcessive consumption of high potassium foods.Avoid consuming canned fruits and vegetables and also juices and soups as they contain high levels of added preservatives and potassium.It is advisable to consult a physician or diabetologist and a certified dietician before consuming high potassium foods. Ms Rutuja Mahajan is a consultantnutritionist.