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Potassium Citrate in Food & Drinks

Potassium citrate is a hot topic in kidney stone nutrition. It is clear that both potassium and citrate have health benefits for some type of kidney stones. Potassium citrate is a very common medication prescribed for kidney stone prevention. But, can you get potassium citrate in food and drinks?

This article covers everything you need to know!

What Is Potassium Citrate?

Firstly, what is potassium citrate anyway? Quite simply, potassium citrate is a molecule made of potassium and citrate.

Potassium citrate is found naturally in food, and is also available in supplement form. It is also a common food additive.

Potassium Citrate in Food & Drinks

Natural Potassium Citrate in Food

Potassium citrate occurs naturally in many foods. Potassium doesn’t just hang out by itself. It is usually connected to something else. Citrate is one molecule that potassium likes to bond with.

Potassium occurs naturally in many different forms. Potassium citrate is just one of these. It can also be found as potassium carbonate, sulfate or phosphate. There isn’t necessarily one form of potassium that is better than another.

In a food, there is likely one form of potassium that dominates. In fruits with higher amounts of citrate, more of that potassium will be in the form of potassium citrate. However, potassium is in many different forms, even in the same food.

Here are some examples of foods that have potassium mostly in the form of potassium citrate:

  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Pomegranates
  • Grapefruit
  • Tangerine
  • Passion fruit
Images of foods with potassium citrate: oranges, lemons, limes, pomegranate, grapefruit and passion fruit

How Much Potassium Citrate is in Food?

Because potassium occurs in so many forms, it is nearly impossible to know how much of that potassium is in the form of potassium citrate.

Instead, I recommend focusing on total potassium intake for health. For most people, it is more important to get potassium from a variety of fruits, vegetables and other plant foods, rather than focus on food sources especially high in potassium citrate.

The National Nutrient Database from the USDA is a wonderful (free!) resource to figure out how much potassium is in food.

A daily potassium goal of 2,600 – 3,400mg is recommended for healthy adults. (1) There is not a different recommendation for people with kidney stones.

Adequate Intake of Potassium (mg/day)
Males
14-18 years3,000mg
18+ years3,400mg
Females
14-18 years2,300mg
18+ years2,600mg
Data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Examples of Higher Potassium Foods
Amount of Potassium
Avocado (1/2 fruit)345mg
Banana (1 medium)358mg
Black Beans (1/2 cup canned)370mg
2% Milk342mg
Orange (1 medium)255mg
Potato (1 medium w/ skin)952mg
Spinach (1/2 cup cooked)420mg
Tomato (1 cup cherry tomatoes)353mg

Artificial Potassium Citrate in Food & Drinks

Potassium citrate is also added to food products.

The most common reason potassium citrate is added to food is preservation. Potassium citrate is a great food preservative. Potassium citrate makes food less acidic, making it less susceptive to some spoiling processes.

Potassium citrate has a sour flavor and is added added to food as a flavoring. You can find potassium citrate in products like lemon lime soda, lemonade and sour candies. Potassium citrate is common in drinks made with artificial sugar, as its sour flavor helps balance the bitter taste of many sugar substitutes.

Potassium citrate is also used as an emulsifier in food and drinks.

Health Benefits of Potassium Citrate

Benefits of Potassium Citrate for Kidney Stones

Potassium citrate in food and drinks can be good for kidney stones. Both potassium and citrate are beneficial for kidney stones. Let’s break it down.

Potassium & Kidney Stones

Potassium itself is good for calcium kidney stones. Eating plenty of high potassium food makes it easier for your kidneys to keep calcium in the body, rather than get rid of potassium in urine. (2) (3) Less calcium in urine = less calcium kidney stones!

Potassium also can help balance urine pH levels. Too much acid (or, a low urine pH) is bad for oxalate and uric acid kidney stones. Eating more high potassium foods can help increase urine pH and make kidney stones less likely. (4)

People who eat higher potassium diets tend to have fewer kidney stones. This is regardless of the form of potassium. Potassium is likely one of the reasons why the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and Mediterranean diets are so good at preventing kidney stones. (5) (6)

Citrate & Kidney Stones

Citrate itself is also good for most kidney stones. Low levels of citrate in urine make calcium kidney stones more likely. (7)

Luckily, there are lots of things you can do to increase urine citrate! Potassium citrate pills are commonly prescribed, however eating more fruits and vegetables (of ANY kind) can increase urine citrate levels too! The goal is usually to just eat more fruits and vegetables in general, rather than focus on ones that are higher in potassium citrate.

Worried about oxalate in those fruits and veggies? Grab my oxalate list with guide for how to use it. Nobody with kidney stones should be afraid of fruits and vegetables!

Eating too much protein can reduce urine citrate. For some people, cutting back on protein can help increase urine citrate.

Title: Ways to increase urine citrate. Cartoon graphics for: potassium citrate pills, eat more fruits and vegetables (all kinds!) and avoid too much animal protein

Benefits of Potassium Citrate in Food for Bone Health

Potassium citrate may also be good for your bones! This is a big deal, because people who have calcium kidney stones may be at higher risk of osteoporosis. (8) People who eat more fruits and vegetables tend to have a higher bone density. (9) (10)

Researchers think this correlation is because of all the potassium in fruits and vegetables. Specifically, potassium citrate in food can help balance pH levels, which can help protect bones. (11)

It is unclear if potassium supplements have the same effect on bone health. (12) You are better off getting that potassium from food!

Warning: Potassium Citrate & Kidney Disease

Some people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) need to limit how much potassium they eat. Only people with high blood potassium need to limit potassium. For these people, potassium citrate, especially as a food additive or pill could be harmful.

Ask your doctor or dietitian how much potassium is right for you.

Potassium Citrate in Food vs. Supplements

You may be wondering, why can’t I just take potassium citrate as a supplement? Wouldn’t that be easier that getting potassium citrate from food?

As with most supplements, the research just doesn’t pan out like it does with food. Diets with lots of high potassium foods are linked with many health benefits. (13) However, potassium citrate (and other forms of potassium) just do not seem to have the same effect. There is clearly a synergistic effect of potassium citrate and all the other compounds in food. Eating potassium that is much better than taking a supplement.

One exception is potassium citrate and kidney stones. For people with low urine citrate levels on a 24-hour urine test, potassium citrate pills can help prevent kidney stones. (14)

Lemon juice is famous for its high citrate content. For comparison, a 1/2 cup of lemon juice has about 20 mEq of potassium citrate. This is the same amount as a typical prescription for potassium citrate for kidney stone prevention.

If you prefer to avoid pills, eating more fruits and vegetables (of ALL kinds) can increase urine citrate levels too! (15) Eating the right amount of protein can help maintain urine citrate levels as well. (15)

Who Needs Potassium Citrate Food & Drinks?

Who should be concerned about potassium citrate in food? Here is the bottom line:

  • Most people don’t need to be concerned about potassium citrate in food. Instead, it makes sense to focus on how much total potassium you eat, and not worry about the form of potassium.
  • Eating enough potassium is good for many aspects of health, including heart health, bone health, blood pressure control and kidney stone prevention.
  • If you have kidney stones and have low citrate on a 24-hour urine test, increasing urine citrate can help prevent more kidney stones. You can take potassium citrate pills, eat more fruits and vegetables and/or reduce how much protein you eat.
  • If you have high blood potassium levels, potassium citrate may need to be avoided.

Happy Eating!

Melanie

12 thoughts on “Potassium Citrate in Food & Drinks”

  1. When you say to eat the right amount of protein…would that be 3 oz of animal protein a meal if you were going to have that?

    1. Melanie Betz MS, RD, CSR, CSG

      The amount of protein you need is different for everyone depending on your medical history and body size. For many people, that 3oz serving size is a good starting point!

  2. My kidney doc has me using calcium citrate supplements with meals to deal with my very high oxalate levels. It has worked like a charm to normalize my oxalate levels and significantly improve my creatinine levels and my CKD.

    Happy Holidays!

  3. Noreen M Sanderson

    Please correct the following statement you made.
    “Eating more high potassium foods can help (increase-not reduce) urine ph and make kidney stones less likely (4).
    I have uric acid stones because of low urine ph and citrate so I must increase both.

  4. Thank you for this post, Melanie! I am currently on potassium citrate pills 3 times a day, along with drinking 1/2 cup of pure lemon juice. My nephrologist also recommends Crystal Light Lemonade. Can you address Crystal light vs pure lemon juice? My next 24 hour urine test is in January, so I see if this regiment is helping with my kidney stone issues.
    Many thanks,
    Chris

    1. Melanie Betz MS, RD, CSR, CSG

      Hi Chris! Great question. Crystal Light does have a surprising amount of potassium citrate in it. One liter of Crystal Light prepared per package instructions has about 20mEq of potassium citrate. This is the same amount as a 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Hope that helps!

  5. Hmm. You say that one medium orange has 255 of potassium citrate (since you also say that that’s the predominant form found in oranges. This would imply that the amount of citrate in that orange is equivalent (or even better than) taking the same amount of potassium from a potassium citrate supplement. Is that the correct conclusion?

    1. Melanie Betz MS, RD, CSR, CSG

      The units are different! The orange has about 255 MG of potassium – and a typical potassium citrate dose is 20 mEq of potassium citrate. Unfortunately, not the same. You’d need to eat A LOT of oranges to get there!

      1. Yeah, I blew it in my comment. I meant to say that if the main form (close to 100%) of the potassium in an orange is from potassium citrate, than it has at least as much potassium citrate as potassium (since potassium citrate is only 38.3% potassium). And thanks for clarifying the article!

        1. Melanie Betz MS, RD, CSR, CSG

          That paragraph seems to be causing a lot of confusion for others too! I just adjusted the wording. Definitely NOT all of the potassium in that orange is in that potassium citrate form. Just MORE of the potassium will be in that form compared to other, lower citrate fruits. Hope that helps!

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