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Passing on the Salt

February 7, 2012

We’ve known for quite a while that the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) includes too much sodium. It’s not so much that we sprinkle salt onto everything — most of us know not to do that by now. But what we pay less attention to is the hidden salt (like the hidden sugar) in all those boxed, canned and frozen food products — not to mention fast foods — we’re so fond of consuming. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made it official by releasing a report that shows 90% of us consume too much salt. No surprise there.

What is surprising is that the CDC didn’t talk about potassium and our out-of-whack sodium-to-potassium ratios. In fact, many Americans are potassium-deficient and we need potassium in the correct proportion for sodium to work properly. Alcohol, coffee and sugar all deplete our bodies of this needed mineral, which (in conjunction with sodium) regulates the body’s water balance. Potassium is vital, too, for regulating muscle contractions, the nervous system and the heartbeat, and for metabolizing carbohydrates.

A ratio of 2:1, potassium to sodium, is ideal, but many Americans have ratios that are more like 6:1, sodium to potassium. Not only does this increase risk for hypertension, but it can also lead to an irregular heartbeat and muscle weakness. If you think you have to eat a banana a day to get potassium, you’ll be happy to know that other rich food sources include leafy greens like spinach and parsley, broccoli, peas, apples, avocados, salmon, sardines, cod, seeds and nuts.

So, yeah, read nutrition labels for low-sodium foods. But it’s more important to avoid consumption of processed foods and boost intake of potassium-rich whole foods, to bring potassium and sodium into better alignment in your system and lower your blood pressure naturally.

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