Johns Hopkins Health Alert – Potassium and Sodium

Reprinted from the original email.

Potassium and Sodium:
Achieving the Proper Balance

 Potassium is an important nutrient everyone needs, but if you have heart disease or are at risk for it, potassium takes on particular importance. Getting plenty of potassium from food is a wise move for most people. Others, however, may need to limit potassium in their diets, including those who are taking certain blood pressure or heart medications or have kidney disease.

Why potassium is important. Potassium is an electrolyte with many essential jobs: It helps conduct nerve impulses and muscle contractions, regulates the flow of fluids and nutrients into and out of body cells, and helps keep your blood pressure in check. Essentially, the level of potassium in your blood can make the difference between normal and abnormal activity in your heart and blood vessels.

Potassium does not act in a vacuum, though. It interacts with other electrolytes, including sodium. It’s long been known that sodium raises blood pressure, while potassium lowers it. But it’s becoming clearer that getting the right balance between sodium and potassium in the diet may be key to your heart health.

How much potassium do you need? In general, adults should get at least 4,700 mg of potassium daily, while limiting themselves to 1,500 mg of sodium. But most Americans are not meeting either goal.

Why is this? The main culprit is too many packaged and prepared foods. During processing, typically a large amount of salt (and, therefore, sodium) is added to foods, while any natural potassium may be stripped away. In contrast, many unprocessed whole foods — fruits and vegetables, in particular — contain adequate levels of potassium but little sodium.

In fact, the vast majority of salt in your diet comes not from your salt shaker, but from processed foods. And some of the biggest sources may surprise you: bread and rolls, prepared pasta dishes, and fresh poultry, for example. Others are less surprising — like cold cuts and cured meats, canned soups and sauces, and snack foods like chips, pretzels and popcorn. So you can optimize your potassium intake and minimize sodium intake by emphasizing fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, beans, fish and lean meat in your daily diet.

Here are some examples of high-potassium foods followed by healthy alternatives that you can substitute:

  • High-potassium foods (at least 250 mg/serving): wholegrain breads, wheat bran and granola; peanut butter; fruits like apricots, bananas, melon, mango, oranges and pears; vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes and tomato sauces, parsnips, cooked spinach and broccoli, and raw carrots; milk and yogurt.
  • Low-potassium foods (less than 250 mg/serving): White bread and rice; some fruits like apples, berries, grapes, pears and peaches; some vegetables, such as asparagus, green beans, cooked carrots and cabbage, cauliflower, corn and eggplant; poultry, tuna and eggs.
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