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Salt: The Real Story

Tuesday, 12 July 2011 05:18 PM EDT

It’s well known that eating too much salt can raise blood pressure and risk for heart disease, but that’s only half the story. Salt overload plus a shortage of potassium in your diet pose an even greater health risk.

Researchers from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention recently tracked diet and health histories of more than 12,000 Americans, for an average of nearly 15 years. They confirmed that excess sodium increases risk for heart disease and death but their study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, also revealed this:

• A lack of potassium also increases these risks.
• A combination of high sodium and low potassium poses the greatest risk for heart disease and premature death.

Striking a better balance — less sodium and more potassium — is the healthy way to go.

How to Get More Potassium

Food labels aren’t required to list potassium content but here’s a basic rule: Fresh produce contains no sodium, or minute, insignificant traces, but it does contain potassium.

The daily potassium total recommended by the government is 4.7 grams, or 4700 milligrams (mg). To give you an idea of what it takes to reach that goal, here are some examples of potassium-rich foods:

• 1 medium banana: 422 mg

• 1 medium baked potato with skin: 926 mg (flesh only: 610 mg)

• 6 ounces of prune juice: 528 mg

• 6 ounces of tomato juice: 417 mg

• ½ cup tomato sauce: 405 mg (choose salt-free versions)

• 3 ounces cooked halibut: 490 mg

• ½ cup cooked spinach: 419 mg

• ¼ medium cantaloupe: 368 mg

Using the amounts above, a meal with the halibut, potato (with skin), and spinach, with cantaloupe for dessert, would give you 2,203 mg of potassium. Preparing the fish with tomato sauce (405 mg), would increase the total to 2,608 mg. Either way, that one meal gets you about halfway to the daily recommended amount.

For a snack, eating a banana instead of chips will get you further in the right direction. For more ideas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture lists potassium content of hundreds of foods at its website.

Eating Less Sodium

The government recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily. However, for those who are over 50 or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, the ceiling drops to 1,500 mg of sodium per day.

One fast-food meal can exceed the lower daily limit of 1,500 mg, and packaged and canned foods are most often loaded with added sodium. Preparing meals from scratch is an obvious alternative, but it isn’t always realistic. For convenient ways to lower sodium, consider choosing low- or no-sodium versions of packaged or prepared foods and adding your own seasoning. Here are some simple ways to do this.

Keep in mind that the balance of sodium and potassium is the key thing. Sodium is abundant, even in “healthy” foods, including soups, salad dressings, canned vegetables, many cereals, and all types of baked goods — including sweet ones. Realistically, the easiest thing to do is increase your potassium by reaching for fresh fruits and vegetables whenever you have the chance.

© HealthDay

Tuesday, 12 July 2011 05:18 PM
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