When you think of the powerhouse nutrients your body needs, your mind probably doesn’t jump to potassium—but it should. A majority of the potassium in your body hangs out in your cells, where it helps your nerves and muscles communicate, transports other nutrients, keeps your kidneys functioning properly, and stops your sodium levels from spiking too high.

You should have an easy time getting enough potassium if you eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but “unfortunately many people don’t eat enough whole, unprocessed foods—the type that are high in potassium,” explains dietitian Ginger Hultin.

Research shows that most people only get about half the 4,700 milligrams of potassium they need in a day, she adds. 

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“One reason a person would be low in potassium is if they’re simply not getting enough from the diet,” Hultin explains. Still, this might just set you up for an inadequate intake rather than a true deficiency, which is also known as hypokalemia. Mild hypokalemia can cause constipation, muscle weakness and fatigue.

But when deficiency becomes severe, so do the symptoms. “Potassium deficiency is actually deadly,” says Hultin. “People who have an outright deficiency could quickly face dangerous cardiovascular troubles.” Deficiency is much more common in people who are losing potassium rapidly through their urine or stool, such as those who abuse laxatives and diuretics or have a GI disorder, uncontrolled diabetes, or diarrhoea. Heavy sweating—say, during a hot outdoor endurance workout—can also flush potassium from your system quickly.

“When potassium is being lost due to a medication or medical condition, a deficiency is a real possibility and should be assessed and treated by a doctor,” says Hultin. “An outright deficiency would be unusual in an otherwise healthy person.” It can be hard to tell if you’re meeting your daily needs, but there are a few symptoms to keep an eye for.

Here are six signs you’re low in potassium—and exactly how you can get enough of it in your diet.

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