Sodium chloride or table salt and potassium have some things in common: They’re both electrolytes present in your body and they both end in "-ium". But when it comes to their effects in the body, salt and potassium have different purposes. Each must balance each other in your daily diet for you to stay healthy. Always speak to your physician if you are unsure how much salt and potassium you should consume in your daily diet, particularly if you have a condition such as high blood pressure.
Salt is chemically known as sodium chloride, two elements that combine together to add flavor to foods while potassium is a single element. Each has a different chemical structure. Both salt and potassium are electrolytes, or electrically charged particles, that are responsible for the membrane potential that keeps your muscles contracting, nerves transmitting signals and heart beating. Potassium is the mostly concentrated inside your cells while sodium is the mostly concentrated outside your cells. Your kidneys maintain how much salt and potassium in your body. The extra is eliminated in your urine and sweat.
Sodium and potassium have side jobs -- additional duties that make them important for your health. One of sodium’s is to maintain blood pressure and fluid volume. The more sodium you have, the more water you retain, which may be obvious to you when you overdo it on the French fries or just can’t resist the salt shaker. Potassium’s side job is to help enzymes complete chemical reactions, such as breaking down carbohydrates in your diet.
You need different amounts of salt and potassium each day. You should take in at least 4,700 milligrams of potassium via your daily diet, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Potassium is found in a variety of healthy food sources, especially fruits and vegetables. You need less salt in your daily diet -- about 3.8 grams per day, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Remember salt is different from sodium, the pure form without chloride. You should consume no more than 2.3 grams of sodium per day or about 1.5 grams if you have a heart condition to reduce water retention. By reading food labels carefully, you can make the distinction. Salt is added during the food processing and manufacturing process, including foods such as whole-wheat bread, cereals, tomato juice, ham and potato chips.
While consuming excess potassium does not typically cause side effects, excess sodium can be harmful, causing an increase in blood pressure, nausea, dizziness and diarrhea. Avoid consuming more than 5.8 grams of salt a day to prevent harmful effects, recommends the Linus Pauling Institute. The Institute does not set an excess intake level for potassium intake from food, but taking potassium supplements can make your potassium levels too high, which leads to nausea, vomiting and stomach pain.
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.