Low Salt v. High Potassium: Which Diet Is Better?
Low sodium diets are a common feature in the modern medical landscape. Prescribed to control blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases, they can be effective for some people.
There’s mounting evidence, however, potassium may be the secret to dietary measures designed to control blood pressure, so let’s examine the factors that may make a high potassium diet a more desirable alternative for many individuals.
Why is potassium important?
Potassium is vital to your health. It helps:
Maintain a steady heart rhythm and combat arrhythmia.
Reduce blood pressure.
Reduce the risk of stroke.
Prevent kidney stones.
Balance fluid volume to prevent fluid retention.
Regulate nerve function, muscle function and energy.
Offset sodium intake by encouraging the kidneys to more readily excrete sodium.
How much do you need?
The US Institute of Medicine recommends adults ingest 4700 mg of potassium a day. Unfortunately, the typical American only consumes between 1000 to 2500 mg. This may explain why more than 20% of hospitalized patients are likely to have low potassium levels, and why insufficient potassium is one of the most common electrolyte imbalances, especially among seniors and African Americans.
Low potassium levels cause fatigue, cramps, irritability, muscle aches and pains. Extremely low levels increase your risk of stroke and other cardiovascular issues, and may contribute to osteoporosis.
What should you eat?
The well-known DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) study discovered that even when salt intake was kept constant, diets high in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy effectively lowered blood pressure. Such diets are rich in potassium and they often out-perform low sodium diets, producing better results in less time. As an added benefit, they deliver a range of essential vitamins, nutrients and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc.
To boost your potassium intake, consume 9 to 10 servings (about 1/2 cup or 4 oz) of potassium-rich foods each day. Especially good sources include:
Fruits. Apricots, bananas, citrus fruits, melons, tomatoes
Dried fruits. Apricots, dates, prunes, raisins
Vegetables. Avocados, green leafy vegetables, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potatoes, winter squash
Legumes. Beans, peas, peanuts, soybeans
Protein. Fish, meat, poultry
Nuts. Almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, filberts, pistachios, pine nuts
Seeds. Flax, pumpkin, sunflower
Other. Molasses, plain nut butters, tomato sauce, whole grains, yogurt
The bottom line?
Many people find eating a varied diet rich in potassium means they can consume a reasonable amount of salt and still successfully reduce their blood pressure. At home and in restaurants, this approach is tastier, more flexible and far more manageable than the typical low sodium diet, so it’s easier to sustain over time and greatly increases the chances of long term success.