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What you should know about dietary potassium and sodium levels

Excessive sodium intake can contribute to hypertension in salt-sensitive individuals. But it’s also important to make sure we’re getting enough potassium in our food.

Many fruits and vegetables are high in potassium. Avocados, bananas, potatoes and vegetable juices are some of the richest sources.
Many fruits and vegetables are high in potassium. Avocados, bananas, potatoes and vegetable juices are some of the richest sources.
Dreamstime/TNS

Reducing sodium intake is a key part of preventing or managing high blood pressur to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke.

Excessive sodium intake can contribute to hypertension in salt-sensitive individuals. But it’s also important to make sure we’re getting enough potassium in our food.

How potassium affects sodium

Potassium is an important mineral and electrolyte. Too muc, though, can cause serious heart problems.

So the body works to maintain blood potassium levels within a certain range.

When we get a lot of potassium in our diets, our kidneys excrete more salt and water. That allows for excretion of any excess potassium. When we don’t get enough potassium, the body reabsorbs more sodium.

Because of the kidneys’ role in getting rid of excess potassium, people with chronic kidney disease often have to stick to low-potassium foods.

Potassium has been designated as a so-called nutrient of public health concern because most people don’t get enough of it. The Institute of Medicine recommends that we get 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day. But average intake in the United States is just 2,290 milligrams for women and 3,026 for men.

For perspective, it’s estimated that our prehistoric ancestors got 15,000 milligrams of potassium a day — all from food, of course.

Where to get potassium

Many fruits and vegetables are high in potassium. Avocados, bananas, potatoes and vegetable juices are some of the richest sources. Milk, yogurt, nuts, whole-wheat bread, brown rice and many beans and legumes are also high in potassium.

Studies for the DASH diet — short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension — looked at the effects of consuming a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy.

This diet wasn’t designed to be high in potassium, but it is.

Researchers found that the diet lowered blood pressure regardless of whether participants consumed low, medium or high levels of sodium. The DASH diet had the greatest impact in people consuming the highest sodium levels.

Most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. So they also don’t get enough potassium.

Diets that include highly processed foods are higher in sodium and also tend to be low in potassium.

Cooking more of your meals at home using whole and minimally processed foods and including fruits or vegetables at every meal and snack will help increase your potassium intake while decreasing sodium intake.

Environmental Nutrition is an independent newsletter written by experts on health and nutrition.