How to Use Nutrition to Fight Heart Disease

by Jackie Wicks

Increase Potassium and Decrease Sodium

Most of this article has focused on cholesterol so far. Let’s change gears and take a look at how we can lower blood pressure. The average American consumes nearly 3.5 g of sodium daily, which is over double the recommended adequate intake level of 1.5 g. The figure most people are aware of, 2.3 g, is actually the recommended upper level of intake, meaning that this level is considered the maximum amount which can be consumed without suffering adverse effects.

In conjunction with our high sodium intakes, our average potassium intake is low—only 2.8 to 3.3 g for men and 2.2 to 2.4 g in women. The recommended adequate intake level is 4.7 g, so on average, US men and women are only getting between 50% and 70% of the amount they should.

The vast majority of the sodium in our diet doesn’t come from salted food, but rather from the sodium in processed foods. Sodium plays roles beyond just improving the taste of junk food—it’s also used in preserving agents and other flavoring agents, and the amount can add up quickly. Potassium, on the other hand, is obtained in the largest amounts from leafy greens, root vegetables, and legumes.

If you improve your intake of either, you can improve your blood pressure, but research suggests that the greatest benefit is realized when you change both your sodium and potassium intake. The quickest way to do this is to replace the processed foods in your diet with whole foods, especially vegetables and legumes.

While sodium and potassium are the most important minerals when it comes to blood pressure, we also get benefits from improving our intake of calcium and magnesium. If your daily intake of potassium is good, though, you’re almost certainly getting large amounts of calcium and magnesium from your diet as well—it’s not important to focus on these minerals in particular.

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