Sodium vs Potassium in our Diet

Let’s Reduce Sodium and Eat a Potassium-Rich Diet!

Did you know that too much salt is bad for us?

My packet of crisps in front of the telly is not just bad for calories, it is also increasing my blood pressure and putting an extra strain on my heart.

In this article, I’m going to explain why we should reduce our salt intake and what we could eat instead to keep our cardiovascular system in tip-top shape.

What is salt?

When speaking of salt, we usually mean Sodium Chloride, or simply Sodium (Na+). Together with pepper, these white crystals help to give our food some taste and are the main ingredients of seasoning. But there are other salts (sometimes referred to as ions or electrolytes) in our diet. And one of them, Potassium (K+), is currently in the limelight for being very beneficial for reducing Blood Pressure.

Sodium vs Potassium in our diet
Our convenience food contains too much sodium
but not enough potassium

Low K+ intake is associated with many diseases, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney stone formation and low bone-mineral density.
Comparing our diet with our ancestors’, the Na+ to K+ ratio has inverted and is becoming sodium-dominant. In recent studies, the focus of BP modulating substances in our food has shifted to K+.
Potassium from fruits and vegetables has been found to lower blood pressure, especially if not accompanied by a high-sodium intake.

What is Sodium doing to your Blood Pressure?

In our body, Sodium is the most important electrolyte in blood and all fluids that surround cells – only a small amount is inside the cells. In order to keep the Na+ concentration in the blood constant, our kidneys will in a first step retain or release water from our body (and in a slower process, deal with the Sodium Ions). Hence, High Sodium will result in water retention, causing more blood volume and higher blood pressure. Depending on gender, age or genetic code, some people are more sensitive to Sodium than others.

What is Potassium doing to our Blood Pressure?

As with Sodium, the kidney is the main organ to keep the potassium concentration at a constant level. If there is too much dietary intake, it will excrete the excess K+ via the urine. The exact mechanism of how K+ reduces blood pressure is not known. It is thought that Potassium acts as a diuretic, helping to reduce the volume. Other research suggests that it has a direct effect on the blood vessels or even the brain, thus regulating the pressure in our arteries.

What does the WHO say

The World Health Organisation (WHO), based on a systematic review of several studies, recommends an increase in dietary potassium to help reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart disease in adults.
The WHO suggests a potassium intake of at least 90 mmol/day (3510 mg/day) for adults, approximately the amount provided by ten bananas.

Potassium-rich food:

  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Apricots
  • Grapefruit
  • some dried fruits: Prunes, Raisins, and Dates
  • Cooked spinach
  • Cooked broccoli
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Aubergines
  • Pumpkins

Fuit juices:

  • Orange juice
  • Tomato juice
  • Prune juice
  • Apricot juice
  • Grapefruit juice

I would like to see Potassium content on my food labels

In view of recent evidence of potassium, wouldn’t it be great if each food item had to declare the potassium content on their labels?
One extra line on our labels is not too much to ask from our food producers, considering the long-term benefits.
Rather than harping on about the sodium vice, we should create the potassium virtue, after all, it follows the evidence.