Everyone talks so much about the sodium content of our diets and for good reason, we consume way too much of the stuff. Here are some numbers:
- 3500 mg = American adult daily consumption.
- 2300 mg = Adult upper level
- 1500 mg = Adult recommended daily intake
- 180 mg = Adult needed daily intake
About 12% of Americans’ consumption of sodium is from foods in which it occurs naturally such as fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, fish, poultry and legumes. Another 5% gets added during cooking and another 6% is used to season food at the table.
Processed foods contribute a hefty 77% of the sodium in the American diet. Comparing the amount of sodium in a fresh tomato (11 mg) to the amount found in a cup of canned tomatoes (355 milligrams) dramatically illustrates just how much more sodium is found in processed foods.
Sometimes adding more potassium to the diet will offset the “upside-down) sodium/potassium ratio that is recommended. In other words, we consume way too much sodium and way too little potassium. Potassium is needed in the body for:
- Muscle contraction and nerve impulse conduction including your heart. Too much can cause irregular heartbeats and too little can cause paralysis. For this reason, potassium is tightly controlled in the body with the help of the kidneys.
- Potassium can help lower blood pressure, especially in salt-sensitive people who respond more to sodium’s blood pressure raising capabilities. Potassium causes the kidneys to excrete excess sodium thus keeping sodium levels low.
- Potassium can help bone health by keeping bone-strengthening minerals calcium and phosphorus from being lost from the bones. Potassium also helps reduce the risk of kidney stones by helping the body excrete citrate, a compound that combines with calcium to form kidney stones.
How much do we need? Adults should consume 4700 mg of potassium a day. Since Americans fall far short of eating fruits and vegetables, adult females consume only 2200 to 2500 mg of potassium and adult males consume only 3300 to 3400 mg daily, on average.
Several researchers reviewed published studies on the topic and concluded that if Americans were to boost their potassium intake, adult cases of high blood pressure could fall by more than 10%. The findings were published in The Journal of Clinical Hypertension, July 2008. High blood pressure is the chief reason for visits to physicians and for prescriptions written in the U.S. In societies that consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, hypertension affects a mere 1% of the population. In contrast, in societies consuming larger amounts of processed foods, one out of every three adults has hypertension.
There are no known dangers from consuming too much potassium from foods; it will be excreted in the urine. However, taking supplements or salt substitutes can cause hyperkalemia (too much potassium) in the blood which can cause irregular heartbeats, heart damage and be life-threatening.
How to add potassium to your diet:
- Pour a glass of a citrus juice (orange or grapefruit) for breakfast to get a potassium boost. Have a banana as a breakfast fruit or for a snack.
- Add leafy greens to all of your sandwiches; spinach is an especially good source.
- Add a spoonful of walnuts to yogurt for potassium, both from the nuts and the dairy.
- Have bean soup with a sandwich for lunch.
- Baked regular or sweet potatoes are great sources as a side dish for dinner.
- Other great sources are squash, tomatoes, carrots, apricots, prunes, melons, peaches, fish such as halibut, tuna cod, trout and lean pork.