High Blood Pressure: Its Not Sodium, Its the Potassium
Of all the health and eating advice that we are constantly inundated with, one that has sort of fallen by the wayside recently concerns sodium intake. Maybe its because the advice to limit how much salt you put on your food has been taken to heart. Unfortunately, I think we still don’t understand how much sodium we’re intaking through our processed food diets. These pre-processed foods are generally so loaded with salt that the salt shaker in your house is no longer the primary source of evil.
For example, I was at the grocery store this afternoon and compared two cans of diced tomatoes. The no salt added can contained 20 mg of sodium per serving, totaling 3% of desired daily intake in the entire can. The regular can of diced tomatoes contained 400 mg of sodium per serving, totaling 70% of daily intake in a single can!
But this post isn’t about sodium. Its about sodium and potassium. More and more, scientific evidence is pointing to the idea that sodium intake is less the cause of high blood pressure than the raio of potassium to sodium intake. The National Academy of Sciences says 4,700 milligrams daily is adequate for adults. 2,000 mg of sodium is the recommended daily limit. Even this may be to low a ratio however.
Humans evolved on a low-sodium, high-potassium diet. In modern society we eat a high-sodium, low-potassium diet. It is this reverse ratio that may be contributing to many of our cronic health problems.
What I did was rank diets of various groups of peoples by the ratio of potassium to sodium in the diets. I found that when you have people with diets better than three-to-one potassium over sodium, you don’t see any significant incidence of hypertension. When the diets get down to two-to-one, you begin to see a noticeable incidence of hypertension and when they get down below a one-to-one ratio, there is a lot of hypertension. I chose four-to-one to allow for a margin of error. Of course, we evolved on a much higher ratio than that, about 16-to-0ne. Even relatively recently in history, before food processing, except for the peoples using salt to cure things, the ratio was above four-to-one, closer to ten-to-one. Even meat has a ratio of a little over three-to-one. Kosher meat is probably higher because most of the sodium is in the blood, which is eliminated.
The experience in Finland shows what can be accomplished by just going part way — by using a Salt Substitute
that replaces 28% of the sodium with potassium and another 12% of the sodium with magnesium (a total of 40% of the sodium replaced, and with significant amounts of the “good guys” added). The Finnish experience doesn’t come anywhere near a 4 to 1 ratio — it’s not even up to a 1 to 1 ratio — yet it was enough to reduce strokes and heart attacks by 60% throughout the nation.
The total amount of sodium and potassium inside human cells stays fairly constant at about 2%. More sodium in the body means less potassium. More potassium means less room for sodium. Because of the way that sodium and potassium flow in and out of cells, physics dictates that the only way to remove sodium from your cells is to increase potassium intake.
POTASSIUM has the capability of displacing SODIUM out of the body. That is, when a Potassium dominant health plan is employed, Sodium will be leaving the body. This explains why the blood pressure will eventually lower when the diet is Potassium dominant and the intake of Sodium foods are reduced. When the blood pressure is low, and when the diet being used is Potassium dominant, be ready to add, or change to a health plan dominant in Sodium foods. When the diet is too high in Potassium, weakness or tiredness is usually the result, and the blood pressure becomes lower.
Let’s take another look at my choices of diced tomatoes. There’s approximately 400 mg of potassium in a serving of tomatoes. That means that in its natural state, the tomato has a potassium/sodium ratio of about 20:1. The processed version has a ratio of 1:1. Not hard to see which one I chose.
So, what are we to do if we want to correct the ratio of salt to potassium in our diets? Manufacturers don’t make it easy for us. They are not required to report potassium content in food which makes analyzing potassium intake extremely difficult. Fortunately, the answer is pretty simple. Reduce excessive sodium intake by focusing on whole, unprocessed foods. Increase potassium intake by eating more unprocessed fruits and vegetables. Its as easy as that.