Nutrition experts recommend a diet that supplies five times as much potassium (K) as sodium (NA) to maintain good health, but most Americans ingest twice as much sodium as potassium in their diets. Our diets are out of balance by a factor of ten.
Our ancient ancestors used to eat plenty of potassium-rich fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans, with a small amount of fish or meat. Most fruits and vegetables contain fifty times or more of potassium as they do sodium, such as bananas, with a K:Na ratio of 440:1, and oranges, with a K:Na ratio of 260:1.
However, the human diet has changed dramatically in recent years. Our intake of potassium has decreased, and our intake of sodium has gone through the roof. Most people already accept that large amounts of sodium are unhealthy—patients who reduce their sodium intake are 25% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who don’t2—but you may not know the benefits of potassium. This mineral is an important electrolyte—a salt that conducts electricity when in solution. Potassium assists in the regulation of your body’s acid/alkaline balance, and helps maintain a healthy blood pressure.
The best way to cut down on your sodium is to limit processed and convenience foods. Start checking labels—you might be surprised by how much sodium is in food that doesn’t even taste salty.
When it comes to increasing potassium in your diet, you have a wide variety of delicious options:
Potatoes (baked, with skin)
Don’t forget about peanuts (unsalted, of course), soybeans, lentils, beans of all kinds, as well as salmon, cod, and flounder.
1 Murray, Michael. “Potassium,” Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. (Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996) p. 176-80.
2 Emily Sohn. “Study: Sodium-to-potassium ratio a key to heart health.” Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2009. http://articles.latimes.com/2009/feb/23/health/he-sodium23 (accessed Novemeber 3, 2010).