Sodium is a mineral that occurs naturally in food and is essential for health. Salt, or sodium chloride, is the main source of sodium in the American diet. Several vital body functions require sodium, such as: maintaining hydration, transmitting nerve impulses, regulating blood pressure, and maintaining muscle activity. Potassium is another mineral essential for good nutrition and health. It is necessary for the normal electrical activity of the heart and works with sodium to maintain the body’s water balance.
The human body needs only about ¼ teaspoon of salt per day; the average adult consumes 4,000 to 6,000 mg of sodium per day. For adults ages 50 and over, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2015 recommends a sodium intake of no more than 1500mg per day and the recommendation for potassium intake is 4.7 grams per day.
Too much sodium may contribute to high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Sodium or salt sensitive people may see an increase in their blood pressure and/or retain fluid when they eat too much salt. New evidence suggests that dietary potassium may help lower blood pressure. Increasing potassium in the diet may protect against hypertension in people who are sensitive to high levels of sodium.
Foods high in sodium are salted snack foods, canned foods, cheeses, and boxed, convenience foods. Try herbs and spices, instead of salt, to enhance food’s natural flavors such as: allspice, garlic, lemon, or lime juice. Foods high in potassium are bananas, carrots, potatoes, blackberries, and spinach. Choosing and preparing foods with less salt/sodium and eating a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables along with low-fat dairy are keys to maintaining the right sodium/potassium balance and a more healthful diet.