Learn why a high salt, low potassium diet can be a cause for high blood pressure and sudden cardiac death.
For years I’ve been saying that it’s not just the amount of salt you’re eating that can be a cause for high blood pressure, although too much salt is bad news. The ratio of sodium to potassium that you eat can also contribute to an unhealthy high blood pressure diet.
Now, a new large-scale 15-year nationwide study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control shows that a high-salt, low potassium diet increases the risk of sudden cardiac death—significantly.
Many doctors are focused on lowering sodium in order to reduce high blood pressure. But just as important as lowering your sodium consumption is increasing your potassium intake.
Get more of Dr. Sinatra's advice on Healthy Blood Pressure
Potassium relaxes your arterial walls, which helps to reduce high blood pressure back into the healthy range. In fact, Harvard researchers have found that a diet high in potassium helps to protect against stroke-related deaths in people who have high blood pressure. They studied more than 43,000 men over an eight-year period and found that the men who consumed an average of 4.3 grams of potassium a day had a significant reduction in stroke risk compared to those who consumed an average of only 2.4 grams. And a more recent study concluded that for people with blood pressure readings at the high end of the normal range, the risk of heart disease increased by 24 percent for every unit increase in a person's sodium-to-potassium ratio.
How Can These Findings Help You Reduce Blood Pressure and Prevent Sudden Cardiac Death?
- Lighten up on the salt shaker, especially if you already have high blood pressure. Instead, season your foods with fresh herbs and spices, such as basil, garlic, oregano, rosemary, chives, parsley, and onion. On rare occasions when you do use a pinch of salt, go with Celtic or Himalayan Sea salt.
- Watch for hidden salt in prepared foods. For healthy people, your goal should be to aim for about 2.8 grams of sodium a day.
- Strive to eat 3,000-4,000 mg of potassium a day if you don’t have renal (kidney) problems. Good sources of potassium—including baked potatoes, coconut water, bananas, oranges, raisins, squash, apricots, and eggplant—will help reduce your blood pressure.
- For potassium, choose food over supplements. I'm not a huge fan of potassium supplements because the amount of potassium that products may contain is limited to 99 mg per daily dose, or about the amount in two bites of a banana. You're much better off consuming potassium in foods.
- Finally, if you're taking a diuretic to reduce high blood pressure, pay special attention to this information. Diuretics are notorious for draining the body of minerals, so you need to be especially careful of your potassium level.
Now it’s your turn: Are you taking these important steps to reduce high blood pressure and prevent sudden cardiac death?