Unless processed foods and restaurant cuisine rarely make it past your lips, chances are your sodium intake is relatively high. The average American diet is notoriously sodium-rich – nine out of 10 Americans consume more than double the recommended amount each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, most Americans don’t get enough potassium, the nutrient that counteracts the effects of a high sodium intake.
Sodium and potassium work together to control the balance of fluids and minerals in and around every cell of your body. Most of the work done by sodium takes place outside cell walls, whereas potassium carries out most of its work inside cells. This important balancing act helps regulate blood pressure and support normal nerve, muscle and organ function. A high-sodium diet can cause you to retain fluids, which can ultimately lead to high blood pressure. Potassium helps your body excrete excess sodium through urine.
The American Dietetic Association estimates that most people in the United States get about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, and that roughly 80 percent of this amount comes from processed foods. U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest that if you’re healthy and under the age of 50, you should generally keep your sodium intake under 2,300 milligrams a day. Older adults, African Americans and individuals with high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes are advised to limit their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day. According to the American Heart Association, all adults should keep their daily sodium intake below 1,500 milligrams.
Since fruits and vegetables aren’t a major part of the standard American diet, it comes as no surprise that Americans generally don’t get enough potassium. According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon University, most women in the United States consume just 2,300 milligrams of potassium a day, while the average intake for men isn’t much higher. Dietary guidelines recommend that all healthy adults get at least 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day. At this intake level, potassium has been found to diminish the effects of sodium, reduce high blood pressure and protect against osteoporosis and kidney stones.
Prunes, raisins, bananas, dark leafy greens, dried beans and peas, lentils, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yogurt and fish are some of the best sources of potassium. Because it’s not a heat-sensitive nutrient, cooked foods are generally higher in potassium than their raw counterparts – a cup of tomato sauce is significantly higher in potassium than a cup of chopped tomato, just as cooked spinach delivers more potassium than the raw variety. Boost your potassium intake with unprocessed foods whenever possible so you don’t inadvertently increase your sodium intake. Dried beans are high in potassium and virtually sodium-free, while the canned variety is high in potassium as well as sodium.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Where’s the Sodium?
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Sodium
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Potassium
- USDA Agricultural Research Service: Potassium, K (mg) Content of Selected Foods Per Common Measure, Sorted By Nutrient Content
- USDA Agricultural Research Service: Sodium, Na (mg) Content of Selected Foods Per Common Measure, Sorted By Nutrient Content
- American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide; Roberta Larson Duyff, M.S., R.D.
Based just outside Chicago, Meg Campbell has worked in the fitness industry since 1997. She’s been writing health-related articles since 2010, focusing primarily on diet and nutrition. Campbell divides her time between her hometown and Buenos Aires, Argentina.