Kids drinking milk

What Is the Importance of Potassium for Kids

When you think about what’s important for your kids’ healthy diet, it’s easy to focus on the watch-out ingredients like salt, sugar and fats. But, what about nutrients they need to get more of, like potassium?

Potassium is one of four nutrients of concern outlined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that many Americans, including children, don’t get enough of in their diets.

Potassium intake is important for kids as part of a nutritious diet. This is because the function of potassium is to help regulate the balance of fluids in the body and also plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy blood pressure.

When kids fall short on their potassium intake while getting too much sodium, as is the case among many American children, kids are at risk for high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And, having high blood pressure as a kid, can impact their adult years as well. Not only could they have high blood pressure as an adult, but this condition also is linked to heart disease. 

Why is Potassium Intake Important for Hydration?

You may remember potassium from chemistry class — it’s an alkali metal that sits beneath sodium on the periodic table. Potassium, the highly reactive element in nature, is an electrolyte in the body and integral to a nutritious diet. Electrolytes, like calcium, chloride and sodium, come from foods and liquids people consume.

Monitoring potassium intake for active kids and adults is particularly important because potassium is lost in sweat, during bouts of vigorous exercise, as well as exposure to extreme temperatures. In addition to replenishing what’s lost during exercise, it’s also important you and your kids get enough potassium in your diets on a daily basis, because potassium plays a role in maintaining your body’s fluid balance. Drinking adequate fluids is also an essential part of staying hydrated and cool — because chronic dehydration can cause a wide range of health problems.

Many people are surprised to learn that milk — including white or chocolate milk — can help hydrate after exercise. Milk contains electrolytes including calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium to help replenish what’s lost in sweat, as well as fluids to help you rehydrate. In fact, research shows drinking milk after exercise could restore and maintain hydration better than other popular post-exercise beverages, including sports drinks and water. Researchers suggest it’s due to milk's natural electrolyte content.

How Much Potassium Do Kids Need?

Kids need more potassium as they get older. Average daily recommended potassium intake amounts from the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine (a national group of experts) for different ages are listed below in milligrams:

Recommended Potassium by Age

Age
(years)

Recommended potassium intake (mg/day)

1-3

3,000

4-8

3,800

9-13

4,500

14 and older

4,700

Women who
are breastfeeding

5,100

How Much Potassium Does Milk Contain?

Just how much potassium is found in milk? Each 8-ounce glass of milk provides 380 mg of potassium. That’s as much potassium as a small banana!

What Are Other Sources of Potassium Besides Milk?

Many fruits and vegetables also contain potassium. To get the same amount of potassium as in an 8-ounce glass of milk, you would need to eat:

  1. 1¼ small sweet potato
  2. 9 cherry tomatoes
  3. 10 cantaloupe melon balls
  4. 2¼ cup of watermelon
  5. ½ small potato
  6. 2¼ cup of raw spinach

For a list of more high-potassium foods, check out the Dietary Guidelines for more suggestions.