Monday, August 8, 2011

Potassium deficiency in low carbohydrate dieting: High protein and fat alternatives that do not involve supplementation

It is often pointed out, at least anecdotally, that potassium deficiency is common among low carbohydrate dieters. Potassium deficiency can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms and health problems. This micronutrient is present in small quantities in meat and seafood; main sources are plant foods.

A while ago this has gotten me thinking and asking myself: what about isolated hunter-gatherers that seem to have thrived consuming mostly carnivorous diets with little potassium, such as various Native American tribes?

Another thought came to mind, which is that animal protein seems to be associated with increased bone mineralization, even when calcium intake is low. That seems to be due to animal protein being associated with increased absorption of calcium and other minerals that make up bone tissue.

Maybe animal protein intake is also associated with increased potassium absorption. If this is true, what could be the possible mechanism?

As it turns out, there is one possible and somewhat surprising connection, insulin seems to promote cell uptake of potassium. This is an argument made many years ago by Clausen and Kohn, and further discussed more recently by Benziane and Chibalin. See also this recent commentary by Clausen.

Protein is the only macronutrient that normally causes transient insulin elevation without any glucose response. And the insulin response to protein is nowhere near that associated with refined carbohydrate-rich foods. It is much lower, analogous to the response to natural carbohydrate-rich foods.

A very low carbohydrate diet with more animal protein, and less fat, would induce insulin responses after meals, possibly helping with the absorption of potassium, even if potassium intake were rather limited. Primarily carnivorous diets, like those of some traditional Native American groups, would fit the bill.

Also, a low carbohydrate diet with emphasis on fat, but that was not so low in carbohydrates from certain sources, would probably achieve the same effect. This latter sounds like Kwaśniewski’s Optimal Diet, where people are encouraged to eat a lot more fat than protein, but also a small amount of carbohydrates (e.g., 50-100 g/d) from things like potatoes.

Kwaśniewski’s suggestions may sound counterintuitive sometimes. But, as it turns out, potatoes are good sources of potassium. One potato may not be a lot, but that potato will also increase insulin levels, bringing potassium intake up at the cell level.