Potassium is great for your heart, but many people aren’t getting nearly enough of it. In fact, potassium is listed as a nutrient of concern by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which means that most Americans are falling far short of the required levels of daily potassium consumption. On the flip side, most Americans are consuming way too much sodium, and we mean waaaaaaaaaaaaay too much sodium. While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people get no more than between 1500 and 2300 mg of sodium per day, many Americans are consuming upwards of 3000 mg per day.
So why should we care about getting more potassium and less sodium? Well, according to Dr. Farley, New York’s health commissioner, “If you have too much sodium and too little potassium, it’s worse than either one on its own.”* This imbalance endangers your heart, and may even be linked to higher mortality rates.** The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board recommend that people consume around 4700 mg of potassium every day. This indicates that an ideal sodium to potassium ratio would be about .31.
Let’s take a look at a few foods and evaluate their sodium to potassium ratios.
Menu 1: Fast Food Meal
• McDonald’s Big Mac
• Medium fries
• Medium cola drink
1130 calories, 48 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 1.5 g trans fat, 1325 g sodium, 1051 mg potassium.
Sodium/potassium ratio: 1.26
Whoa! That’s way too high! This meal is very poorly balanced and packs too much of a sodium punch.
Menu 2: Home-Cooked Meal
• Salad with vinegar
• Poached salmon with ginger
• Baked potato
• Tea, unsweetened
372 calories, 7.5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 81 mg sodium, 2017 mg potassium
Sodium/potassium ratio: .04
Now that’s more like it! If you’ve overdone it on salt at some point in the day, this meal can help bring you back in balance.
Notice a pattern? The less processed meal had way less salt than the fast food option! If you choose lower-sodium, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains that are low in sodium, beans/legumes, unprocessed meats and low-fat dairy you will get more potassium and displace other high-sodium foods.
** Source: Arch Intern Med. 2011;171:1183-1191.
Brought to you by: TheNutritionEducationStore.com. Check out our Heart category for posters, PowerPoint Shows, games, and handouts that all discuss sodium, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and heart disease prevention.