Stash the Sodium

And power up on potassium


In ancient times, salt was so precious people were literally paid in salt, and the seasoning was tightly controlled by the monarchy. The word “salary” is derived from the Latin, salarium, meaning salt money.

Today, salt is practically everywhere. Literally.

And, in the foods we consume—especially those we buy processed at the market or served in restaurants—it’s reached levels that concern healthcare providers worldwide.

It’s not surprising then that, according to research presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions, about 2.3 million people (nearly 15 percent of deaths worldwide) suffered heart-related deaths from too much salt. About a million of those deaths, nearly 40 percent, were premature, meaning occurring before age 69.

Lower Blood Pressure

A new study shows that by reducing our daily dietary sodium intake and increasing the amount of potassium, a nutrient readily found in fresh fruits, vegetables, and legumes, we can lower our blood pressure significantly. This reduces the incidence of stroke, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular diseases.

The RDA for sodium is about 2.3 g of sodium daily—about 1 teaspoon of salt a day. The American Heart Association's recommendation is more stringent still—no more than 1.5 g of salt daily.

Potassium’s Role

The studies also show that, by increasing the amount of potassium in your diet, you can reduce the risk of stroke by as much as 24 percent. Unless you have medical contradictions that would dictate otherwise, the target intake of potassium for adults should be 4.7 g daily.

You’ll find higher levels of potassium in potatoes, sweet potatoes, fat-free milk and yogurt, tuna, lima beans, bananas, tomato sauce, and orange juice. If none of those suit your fancy, consider supplements to boost your potassium intake.

Fewer processed foods, more fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and fish. Sound familiar? Reducing your sodium intake and increasing your potassium intake is just part of common sense, healthy eating.


"Eating Too Much Salt Led to 2.3 Million Heart-Related Deaths Worldwide in 2010," 3/21/13; "Reducing Salt and Increasing Potassium Will Have Major Global Health Benefts," 4/4/13;




Fault in salt shaker? Not so much

  • 77% of the sodium we eat comes from packaged or restaurant foods
  • 12% is naturally occuring in foods
  • 11% is from adding salt to our food while cooking or eating

When choosing which foods to buy, check out a food's Nutrition Facts Label. It lists the Percent Daily Value (%DV) of sodium in one serving. In general, choose foods that have 140 milligrams (mg) of sodium or less per serving or about 5%DV. 


Food and Drug Administration,

Beware salty baby food

Infants and toddlers are not spared the onslaught of salt in their commercially prepared foods.

When the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) studied 1,115 food products for infants (to age 1) and toddlers (ages 1- 3), they found that nearly 40 percent contained more than 210 mg of sodium, the recommended daily amount for these youngsters. Some foods contained as much as 630 mg per serving!

"Most Pre-packaged Meals, Snacks for Toddlers Contain Too Much Salt,", 3/21/13

Change your salty ways!

The American Heart Association offers a three-week plan to help you shake your salt habit.

Drive-thru salt mine

It doesn’t take much to consume 100 percent of the American Heart Association’s daily recommended allowance of salt, 1.5 grams. A breakfast, lunch, or dinner at McDonald’s (or any fast food restaurant, really) will do the trick.

Order an Angus bacon and cheese hamburger (1,990 mg), medium fries (270 mg), and a 16-ounce McFlurry Shake with OREO cookies (380 mg), and you’re at 2.6 g. Even a four-piece serving of McNuggets has 360 mg.

Think you made the right choice by ordering a salad? You did, sort of. But that low-fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing has 420 mg of salt, the creamy Caesar contains 500 mg, and the ranch dressing comes in at 540 mg.

Think before you drink. One of the 23 ingredients in Dr. Pepper is salt. A large diet Dr. Pepper contains 140 mg of salt. A large caramel mocha will set you back 270 mg.

To be sure, there are fast-food choices that offer lower salt options. These include the apple slices (0 mg salt), fruit and yogurt parfait (70 mg) for dessert; grilled honey mustard snack wrap (670 mg) or grilled ranch snack wrap (700 mg) for lunch or dinner; and the fruit and maple oatmeal for breakfast (160 mg with brown sugar, 115 mg without).