If you're not getting enough potassium, your sodium intake may put you at risk of premature death. Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spent nearly 15 years tracking more than 12,000 adults who were taking part in a federal nutrition study. In contrast to the risks associated with sodium in the participants' diets, the CDC team found that heart-related deaths were lower among those whose potassium intakes were highest. All told, they reported that those with the highest ratio of sodium to potassium were more than twice as likely to die from a heart attack as those whose ratio of sodium to potassium was lowest. You can even out your sodium to potassium ratio by consuming less sodium (most in the American diet comes from processed or restaurant foods) and ramping up your potassium intake - that means more spinach, bananas, prune juice, plain yogurt and fish. The CDC study was published in the July 11, 2011 Archives of Internal Medicine.
My take? These results don't surprise me. It is well known that the ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet and in our systems seems to affect blood pressure and kidney function more than salt levels alone. In addition to avoiding processed and restaurant foods, you can bring your sodium levels down by keeping the saltshaker off the table, and avoiding foods with visible salt such as pretzels, chips and salted nuts. Raising your potassium intake is easy if you add fruits and vegetables to your diet, but you should consult with your physician before considering salt substitutes that contain potassium chloride, and never take potassium supplements unless they're prescribed by a physician.