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April 25, 2011

Electrolyte Monday

Sodium is an essential nutrient for normal body functioning. However, excess consumption of sodium as well as inadequate potassium intake is associated with high blood pressure, a well-known risk factor for coronary heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. To improve cardiovascular health, it is recommended that individuals decrease sodium intake and increase potassium intake. Since over 90 percent of U.S. adults will develop hypertension during their lifetime, making efforts to address sodium and potassium consumption early in life is imperative to promoting health and longevity.

According to the recently-released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, healthy Americans aged 2 years and older should consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium (or less than 1 teaspoon of table salt) a day from all sources. Moreover, individuals with hypertension, all middle-aged and older adults, and African Americans should limit their intake to less than 1,500 mg/day of sodium. 

The Dietary Guidelines also recommend that Americans consume more than 4700 mg of potassium per day. Foods rich in potassium include leafy green vegetables, sweet potatoes and white potatoes, dry beans, tomatoes and tomato products, bananas, oranges and other citrus fruits. 

Despite these guidelines, the average American adult exceeds the upper limit of the sodium recommendation, 77 percent of which comes from commercially processed foods. According to the National Cancer Institute, the greatest specific food sources of sodium in the American diet include: yeast breads; chicken and chicken mixed dishes; pizza; pasta and pasta dishes; cold cuts; condiments; Mexican mixed dishes; sausage, franks, bacon, and ribs; regular cheese; and beef and beef mixed dishes.

To reduce your sodium intake, it is recommended that you eat fresh foods and minimally processed foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. There are also many new food products labeled “no sodium,” “low sodium” or “reduced sodium.” Cheryl Anderson, assistant professor of Epidemiology, Human Nutrition, and Medicine at Johns Hopkins says, “Changing what you eat can be hard because you've practiced your eating habits over a lifetime. Keep in mind that it will take some time but your taste buds will adjust. Low salt foods will taste better and better, while higher salt foods become unappealing. A doctor or nurse can help you make changes to your diet, or recommend a registered dietitian who can help you.”

For more information on sodium and potassium electrolyte balance, visit: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuielines/2010/DGAC/Report/D-6-SodiumPotassiumWater.pdf. To learn more about these electrolytes in the American diet, go to: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5924a4.htm, http://riskfactor.cancer.gov/diet/foodsources/sodium, or http://www.ars.usda.gov/service/docs.htm?docid=15044.

Every Monday, the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, part of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers tips for preventing disease and injury, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Check back each week for new tips or visit our archive.