If health experts doled out report cards, most Americans wouldn’t score a passing grade in nutrition, at least when it comes to sodium and potassium. According to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which looked at data from over 12,000 adults, only 0.015 percent met the recommended daily intakes for both of these minerals. Most fall far short of the ideal daily potassium target, and take in excess amounts of sodium, a combination that ups the risk of high blood pressure.
When you consume too much sodium you may retain more water because fluid is attracted to sodium like a magnet. Carrying this extra fluid means your heart has to work harder and the increased blood pressure this creates raises the chances of developing heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, and other series health problems.
Potassium is important because it offsets the effects of sodium. This key mineral acts as a natural diuretic, so it sweeps excess sodium and water out of your body, which reduces blood pressure and, as an added bonus, means less bloating. Adequate potassium intake also lowers the risk of developing kidney stones, stroke, and osteoporosis, and it’s been shown to help preserve muscle mass.
So how do you get into balance? Well, the recommended daily cap for sodium intake is 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams per day. The lower limit is ideal if you are 51 or over, African American, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. Otherwise 2,300 milligrams is the advised maximum.
To put those numbers in perspective, one level teaspoon of salt contains 2,325 milligrams of sodium, a low calorie frozen entree can pack over 600 milligrams, and quarter cup of bottled salad dressing nearly 700 milligrams. It adds up quickly. That’s probably why the average adult in the United States consumes about 3,400 milligrams each day, far more than the recommended limit. As for potassium, the recommended intake is 4,700 milligrams daily, but most of us rack up far less than this amount, probably because some of the best sources are fruits and veggies, two food groups 75 percent of Americans don’t get enough of. In short, meeting the goals is a challenge.
For example, check out this comparison:
5 ounce blueberry muffin:
485 milligrams sodium
133 milligrams potassium
Half cup of cooked old fashioned rolled oats made with water and seasoned with cinnamon, topped with one cup of blueberries and 2 tablespoons sliced unsalted sliced almonds
Less than 10 milligrams sodium
316 milligrams potassium
It’s unlikely that you’re going to go around adding up every milligram of sodium and potassium you eat each day, but consistently choosing clean, whole foods, and eating more fruits and veggies can help you get these numbers moving in the right direction (bonus: you’ll also slash your calorie intake and up your consumption of other important nutrients). Check out my previous posts below, which can help you eat less sodium without sacrificing flavor and take in far more potassium:
Mix and Match Weight Loss Meals (an easy eating plan that exceeds recommended fruit and veggie targets)
7 Delicious, Aromatic Seasonings to Take the Place of Salt
Study Says: Fruits and Veggies Make You Sexy!
Proof That Healthy Living Really Does Pay Off
What’s your take on this topic? Do you think you’re in the 99.9 percent? Have you been trying to eat fewer processed items and more fresh foods? Please tweet your thoughts @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.