In the high potassium foods diet, sodium is just as important as potassium. A low sodium diet is half the solution. It is also important to get enough potassium. But the more sodium (salt) you get, the more potassium you need. The amount of potassium you get should be three times as much as the sodium you get. This ratio is the most likely to provide the benefits of lower blood pressure and denser bone.
The Low Sodium Diet
There are two major problems with the American diet today. One is that it is too high in sodium. The other is that it is too low in potassium. These two problems go hand in hand. The average American gets about 3200 mg of sodium a day and 2600 mg of potassium. The best amounts would be less than 1500 mg of sodium and more than 4700 mg of potassium. More than 95% of American men and 75% of women get above the recommended upper limit of 5.8 gm of salt (2300 mg sodium) a day (1).
The dietary emphasis by the medical community has been to reduce sodium. The doctor says to cut down on salt. And when the doctor says to cut down on salt, the usual response is to put away the salt shaker.
Salt Is Mostly Hidden
But sodium comes mostly in hidden forms. 77% of the sodium we get comes from packaged, processed or restaurant food. Only a small amount comes from the more obvious salt that we add from the salt shaker. Advice on avoiding the hidden salt is usually lacking.
How To Reduce Your Salt
So what is a great way to reduce your salt intake? Cut out all packaged, processed and restaurant food. Although it won't reduce your salt intake to 23% of what it is now, it will cut it way down.
“Impossible,” you say. No problem. If it is hard to eliminate all packaged, processed and restaurant food, figure which ones are easiest to eliminate and get rid of those. Then look at the ones you still have to use. See how much sodium is listed on the label.
Then when you go to the store, look for the low sodium alternatives. When the label says “low sodium” check the actual amount of sodium it contains. Some “low sodium” alternatives still have too much sodium. Use the lowest you can find.
Some of the sample meals we wrote about here and here do have some packaged, processed food. Even so, the sodium content for the day still was only 661 mg of sodium. In some meals that had packaged food such as tomato paste or coconut water, the food was high enough in potassium and low enough in sodium that the meal was a high potassium meal.
At The Restaurant
At the restaurant, go for the least processed food. As discussed here, few restaurants will have low sodium foods. Assume most sauces are loaded with sodium. Grilled and unseasoned foods are the least likely to have added sodium. Just don't eat out too often. If your other meals are high in potassium and low in sodium, there should be little adverse effect.
Every food you eat does not have to be high in potassium and low in sodium. Just be sure the total for the day is under 1500 mg of sodium and over 4700 mg of potassium. Your bones and blood vessels will thank you.
1. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Panel on Dietary Reference Intakes for Electrolytes and Water, Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes