Here’s how you can get enough potassium and magnesium in your diet.
How Our Diets are Different than our Ancestors’ Diets
If you were to compare the dietary differences between modern humans and our hunter-gatherer ancestors, you’d find that, for the most part, modern humans are getting pretty close to an ancestral diet already.
Harvard University Professor Daniel Lieberman’s book, The Story of the Human Body, takes you on an extensive comparative journey through modern and ancient human diets.
Surprisingly, in almost every nutritional category, we eat pretty much the same. We eat basically the same amount of fat, proteins and, yes, even carbohydrates as our hunter-gatherer ancestors. (2)
Paleo vs. Modern Human Comparison
Of all the nutritional categories evaluated, only two jumped off the page as dramatically different: fiber and potassium.2
Dietary fiber supports healthy cholesterol, feeds our microbiome, stabilizes blood sugar levels, escorts toxic bile to the toilet and keeps the bowels running smoothly. It also helps provide better intake and absorption of magnesium to the body.
The top two most common mineral deficiencies affecting modern humans are potassium and magnesium.
Potassium deficiencies are grossly overlooked and magnesium deficiencies affect almost half of the American population. (9) Let’s discuss both!
Magnesium’s benefits are widespread throughout the body, with duties range from regulating to promoting the proper function of the muscles and nerves, heart rhythm, immune system, blood sugar, blood pressure, energy levels, protein synthesis and bone health.
Along with being involved in over 300 reactions in the body, magnesium also activates the enzymes that metabolize and use vitamin D.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate about 100 grams of fiber a day, while the average American eats between 10 and 20 grams. This may be why magnesium is such a common deficiency these days.
According to a study out of John Hopkins, every day, massive amounts of fiber are thrown away. Instead of eating the fiber-rich foods on our plates, we are throwing our uneaten food fiber into landfills. The amount of fiber we throw away annually, if eaten, would provide the amount of fiber we would need to meet our daily fiber requirements. (10)
We RecommendEat the Right Fiber
Potassium is essential for the healthy function of every cell, organ, and tissue in the body. Low potassium levels are linked to heart, musculoskeletal, and digestive health concerns. (4)
Potassium is found primarily inside of the cell, while sodium predominates outside the cell. A precise ratio of sodium and potassium is critical. The two must always stay in balance or numerous health concerns can ensue.
Potassium neutralizes the blood pressure-raising effect of sodium—the main ingredient in salt (sodium chloride).
Today, the ratio of sodium to potassium is: 3375mg / 1238mg. Hunter-gatherers ate 7-11,000mg per day of potassium to less than 1000mg of sodium, and they never ate salt!
Potassium is a little-known, but incredibly common nutritional deficiency. The current Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for potassium is 4700 milligrams a day for adults and children over the age of 4.
However, one study suggested that less than 2% of the population consume that amount.1
Dr. Lieberman suggests that hunter-gatherers ate 7000 milligrams of potassium each day. He makes the case that the average American only gets 580 milligrams per day.2 This is a BIG difference!
A 1985 report in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that our hunter-gatherer, Paleolithic ancestors actually ate a whopping 11,000 milligrams of potassium each day.3
Potassium-Rich Foods (4,5)
- Leafy green vegetables
- Brussels sprouts
- Beets (particularly good source)
- Beans (lima and kidney beans are the highest)
- Tree nuts
- Avocado (particularly high in both potassium (975mg) and fiber (14g))
- Milk and yogurts
- Spinach, leafy greens
- Squash, potatoes, tomatoes
- Citrus fruits
- Seeds, especially pumpkin and sesame
- Beans, especially pinto and black
- Plantains, raw
- All nuts, especially brazil nuts, almonds, peanuts
- Whole grains
Potassium and Magnesium Deficiencies Linked
A 2006 survey reported that almost half (48%) of the American population were deficient in magnesium. Magnesium is linked to many of the health concerns seen with potassium deficiencies.9
In one study in an elderly population, 20% of those tested were found to be deficient in both potassium and magnesium.6
Magnesium and potassium are closely linked, as magnesium protects the cells from losing potassium. In one study, 42% of those who were deficient in magnesium were also deficient in potassium.
This information suggests that these two minerals should always be taken together—because they are depleted together.7
These two minerals are involved in thousands of chemical processes in the body linked to numerous health concerns. In addition to bone, heart, circulatory, blood sugar, kidney and metabolic health, they may play a leading role in the healthy contractions of muscles leading to weakness, cramping, and loss of muscle mass. They play a critical role in cardiovascular health, as the heart and arteries depend on magnesium and potassium for healthy muscular contractions.7,8
With few people getting enough magnesium or potassium in their diet, everyone should consider eating foods rich in these minerals or consider supplementation.
We RecommendAre Multiminerals the New Multivitamins?
*Paleolithic people ate significantly more cholesterol fat than modern humans. Stay tuned for an article on this topic.
**The actual current RDI for potassium for average adults is 3000mg.
Learn more about supplemental potassium and magnesium in our online store.