Posted by Margie King
My mother recently suffered a stroke. It was quite a shock to us even though she had been on blood pressure medication for years.
She’s not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 1 in 3 U.S. adults—an estimated 68 million—has high blood pressure. And that means they’re at higher risk not just for stroke but also for heart disease and kidney disease.
My mother gets that. For years she’s been watching her sodium just as the doctor orders. She’s never been a junk food eater, and she’s learned to pass up ham and canned soups, and rinse her canned beans. But she’s pretty attached to bread, bagels and pasta which can be sneaky sources of hidden sodium.
But in watching her salt, my mother may have only gotten it half right. Because lower blood pressure is not just about lower sodium, it’s also about higher potassium. As with so many things in our bodies, balance is everything.
What’s the vitality ratio?
The balance between sodium and potassium is so critical to our wellbeing that it’s been dubbed the “vitality ratio.”
Here’s why. Potassium and sodium work together to maintain your body’s optimal fluid levels. When your sodium levels drift up, your body retains fluid putting pressure on your blood vessels. Potassium operates to help excrete the excess sodium in your urine.
Potassium also relaxes blood vessel walls helping to relieve blood pressure.
A Netherlands study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at potassium consumption in 21 countries and concluded that increasing potassium in your diet could contribute significantly to improving blood pressure.
But most of us don’t get enough potassium. The Netherlands study found that average potassium intake varies between 1.7 and 3.7 grams a day. That’s significantly less than the recommended 4.7 grams.
At the same time, it’s estimated that 98% of Americans take in twice the recommended amount of sodium. You can see how your vitality ratio could get way out of whack.
The researchers in the study claim that increasing our potassium to 4.7 grams per day would have the same effect on blood pressure as decreasing daily salt consumption by 4 grams. That’s huge.
How do you get more potassium into your diet?
Potassium is widely available in our food supply and can be found in whole grains, dairy products, meat and fish.
Fresh fruits are excellent sources of potassium. The highest levels are found in melons (cantaloupe, casaba and honeydew) which have almost 500 mg in a cup. Pomegranates are also a good choice with about 533 mg in a cup of the juice. Other excellent sources include apricots, bananas, nectarines, oranges, prunes and papayas.
When it comes to vegetables, the best sources are avocados, artichokes and leafy greens like spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens. Other sources include beans, beets, bok choi, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, mushrooms, potatoes (skin on), squash, tomatoes and yams.
Add more of these potassium-rich foods to your diet for a better vitality ratio.
Reference: Wageningen University and Research Centre (2010, September 13). Consumption of ‘good salt’ can reduce population blood pressure levels, research finds. ScienceDaily.
Margie King is a holistic health coach and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®. A Wharton M.B.A. and practicing corporate attorney for 20 years, Margie left the world of business to pursue her passion for all things nutritious. She now works with midlife women and busy professionals to improve their health, energy and happiness through individual and group coaching, as well as webinars, workshops and cooking classes. To contact Margie, visit www.NourishingMenopause.com.