Proper Sodium-Potassium Balance Reduces Cardiovascular Risk

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Food and Nutrition
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Earlier this week, a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported a link between the amount of sodium and potassium you consume and your risk of developing cardiovascular problems. Even though this isn't big news, I'm glad it was published. It reinforces the importance of keeping minerals in the body properly balanced--especially if you are trying to control high blood pressure.

If you have hypertension, you already know that it's important to limit your sodium intake. Sodium promotes water retention, and excess water in the body drives up blood pressure.

But I've found that many people are unfamiliar with the need to consume extra potassium in this situation. Potassium relaxes arterial walls, which helps bring blood pressure back into a healthy range, as well as helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes. As much as 10 years ago, Harvard researchers found that a diet high in potassium helps protect against stroke-related death 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. The study in this week's Archives of Internal Medicine 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.

For best health, always strive to consume more potassium than sodium, and make 3 grams of potassium a day your minimum goal. You'll have the best odds for success if you follow a cardiovascular nutrition plan like my Pan Asian Modified Mediterranean (PAMM) diet, which features lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy fats like olive oil. Some foods that are especially high in potassium include raisins, prunes, apricots, papaya, dates, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, oranges, beets, strawberries, watermelon, greens, spinach, peas, squash, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans, and baked potatoes. (A baked potato alone has about 800 mg of potassium.) Avoid packaged foods like the plague--they're loaded with sodium.

I'm also 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 maintain healthy 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.

For more information on reducing hypertension, visit

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