There are times when the public health sector offers information that may be helpful to individuals seeking change. One recent study (1) showed the biggest sources of sodium in the diet of people in the United Kingdom. The responsible food groups are the same as in the U.S. and other Western nations.
It Is Not Just Sodium That Causes Hypertension
It is widely accepted that sodium contributes to hypertension and heart disease. But the ratio of potassium to sodium is almost always ignored. Reducing sodium improves the ratio when potassium intake remains the same, as is usually the case.
But when the potassium sodium ratio is ignored by public health officials, the possibility of increasing the intake of potassium is also ignored. By reducing the amount of sodium eaten daily the daily ratio of potassium to sodium improves.
But it does not improve as much as it could. By raising the potassium intake while lowering the sodium intake the ratio would improve even more. And the hypertension and stroke rate would fall even more.
The English Study
The study examined 44,000 foods eaten by 21,000 households for sodium content to determine the major sources of sodium in the British diet. The foods contributing sodium were very similar to the foods eaten in Finland that contribute sodium, which has been well studied.
Table salt was the leading contributor, and then processed meat was second, followed by bread and bakery products. Finland had a similar pattern of salt in its food and was able to improve its potassium sodium ratio by changing the salt composition used as a preservative in food products (2). In most of the salt used as a preservative, they were able to substitute potassium chloride for much of the sodium chloride. In Finland, this dropped the rate of strokes and hypertension dramatically (2). The actual foods eaten by the Fins changed only a little.
In the English study the leading source of salt in the diet besides table salt was processed meat. A change in food manufacturing similar to the change in Finland should lead to a similar change in the incidence of strokes and hypertension. Sauces and spreads (mostly sauces) accounted for 11% of sodium consumed and could also be easily changed by changing the composition of the salt used in the sauce.
How The Study Can Help You
Although the study was done to help guide public health policy in the United Kingdom, this type of information is helpful to the individual also. When trying to change the potassium sodium ratio, the individual can put most attention into changing the biggest sources of salt first.
If you are on the typical Western diet, eliminating table salt and salt used in cooking is a first step that can reduce your sodium to about 77% of its present amount. By shifting to fresh meats instead of processed meats you will get your sodium down quite a bit more.
A More Thorough Approach
Of course, by actually noticing and substituting high ratio food alternatives throughout your diet you will be improving your potassium to sodium ratio and lowering blood pressure even more. You can get lists of high ratio foods so you can find high ratio alternatives by signing up at the bottom of the page.
1. Sodium content of processed foods in the United Kingdom: analysis of 44,000 foods purchased by 21,000 households. Ni Mhurchu C, Capelin C, Dunford EK, Webster JL, Neal BC, Jebb SA. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Mar;93(3):594-600. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.004481. Epub 2010 Dec 29.
2. Nutrition and cardiovascular disease in Finland since the early 1970s: a success story. Pietinen P, Lahti-Koski M, Vartiainen E, Puska P. J Nutr Health Aging. 2001;5(3):150-4.