Sodium, Potassium & What They Mean for Your Heart

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition

Sodium and potassium are like a matched set of nutrients, working in tandem to keep our bodies functioning properly. Together, they are especially critical to maintaining healthy hearts. As you probably know, sodium causes your body to retain water, which puts more pressure on the walls of your blood vessels, leading to the condition known as hypertension. Potassium actively draws sodium out of your body, helping to reduce the volume of fluids within blood vessels and easing the pressure on their walls.

That’s why maintaining a balance of sodium and potassium is so important to your health. As a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported, “individuals with high sodium or lower potassium intakes have increased risk for elevated blood pressure and hypertension, which are associated with increased risk for cardiovascular diseases.”

9 Foods with More Potassium than a Banana

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Now here’s where the balance tips: 99 percent of U.S. adults consume more sodium daily than the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Associations and 91 percent consume more than the RDA of 2,300 milligrams of salt, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control. Meanwhile, only about 5 percent of adults get the RDA of 4,700 milligrams daily of potassium. On average, men get only about 3,200 milligrams, and women about 2,400 milligrams. People who take diuretics or birth control medications, who work out intensively, who suffer from digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease, or who smoke are even more prone to potassium deficiencies.

6 Simple Ways to Cut Back on Salt

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That means just about all of us need to cut down on the salt and bump up our potassium intake. These four small changes to your daily diet will add up to a big difference in your sodium-potassium balance.

1. Eat Fresh
Choose as many fresh ingredients as possible, because canned, frozen and convenience foods tend to be high in salt.

2. Pick Low or No Sodium
Look for the reduced or sodium-free versions of products you normally buy, which have at least 25 percent less salt per serving than the standard type.

3. Go Orange
You may have heard that bananas are a great way to get more potassium—they are—but sweet potatoes, butternut squash, cantaloupe, and apricots are even richer sources of the nutrient. Brighten up your plate with the brilliant orange color of these foods and you dramatically increase your potassium intake.

4. Substitute for Salt
Flavoring your food with the salt shaker is an unhealthy habit. A better choice is one of the many salt substitutes available today. They’re not only sodium-free, they’re high in potassium. That’s a sodium-potassium connection we can all benefit from.