The Salt Solution: Cutting Back on Sodium
Heeding sodium numbers on nutrition fact labels just might save your life.
The Potassium Connection
Not everyone is sensitive to the blood pressure effects of sodium. Most
Americans consume more than the recommended amount of salt, yet the majority
does not have high blood pressure. This suggests that other factors are also
involved in hypertension risk. One culprit, researchers now believe, is lack of
Potassium deficiency causes cells to take up sodium. That, in turn, causes
blood pressure to rise. When volunteers in several studies consumed their usual
levels of sodium but cut back on potassium, blood pressure levels jumped by up
to 7 points. When they increased their potassium intake, in contrast, blood
pressure fell, even when the amount of sodium they consumed remained the
In the DASH trial, for example, volunteers who consumed the usual amount of
salt -- but added servings of fruits and vegetables with potassium -- saw their
blood pressure fall significantly.
Abundant sources of potassium include bananas, raisins, spinach, chard,
milk, potatoes baked with the skin, lima beans, and prunes.
What to Look For on the Label
The most perilous combination, experts now say, is a high-salt,
low-potassium diet. Unfortunately, that describes the diet that most Americans
eat. You can use nutrition facts labels to help you reverse that trend.
The nutrition facts label prominently displays sodium, including both the
milligrams contained in a serving and how much of your daily value that amount
represents. Foods that have 5% of the daily value or less are considered low in
sodium. Those with 20% or more are considered high in sodium.
Keep in mind: the label calculates a daily value of 2,300 mg sodium. The
DASH-Sodium study showed that cutting back further than that lowers
hypertension risk. The less salt you consume, the more likely your blood
pressure will remain out of the danger zone.
As for potassium, one of the simplest ways to get enough is shop in the
produce section of your grocery store. Fruits and vegetables are the leading
source of this crucial nutrient. Shopping in the produce aisle has another
advantage: you don’t have to worry about reading labels.