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Striking a Balance with Sodium and Potassium

By +Carolyn Richardson on Sep 07, 2011 10:00 AM in Dieting & You

It’s no secret that too much salt is bad for you, but what about getting enough potassium?  A recent study suggests balancing sodium and potassium intake could lower the chance of death from heart disease, but Americans' are anything but.  Americans reportedly get more than twice the adequate amount of sodium daily, 4,000 mg or more.  Less than 10% limit daily sodium intake to the recommended 2,300 mg (for salt-sensitive populations not more than 1,500 mg).  On the flip side, Americans are only getting about 2,600 mg of potassium, about half the daily recommended amount of 4,700 mg.

A Delicate Balance

The study, authored by epidemiologist Paul Whelton, found those who consumed the most potassium and the least sodium (about twice as much potassium as sodium) were 50% less likely to die from heart disease than those who had the lowest levels of potassium and the highest levels of sodium.  Whelton says, "Potassium and sodium are like peas in a pod, except they're in opposite pods."  Its findings suggest the ratio of sodium to potassium intake may be more important than how much of either nutrient you get.  While the National Institutes of Health (NIH) relates getting the daily recommended intake of potassium to lowering blood pressure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes a sobering statement about sodium intake: “If all Americans followed the recommended limits for sodium, national rates for high blood pressure would drop by a quarter, saving tens of thousands of lives each year.”

Cutting Sodium in Half

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), processed and restaurant foods make up 77% of Americans’ sodium intake.  Pizza, pasta sauce, breads, and cookies were some of the processed foods listed. The USDA also noted that many salty foods may not be obvious such as cheeses and soups.  By removing processed foods from your diet, even little by little, you can ensure lowering your daily sodium intake.  Specifically, cut back on the following:

  • Boxed mixes of pancakes, cornbread and biscuits and other packaged pastries
  • Salad Dressings, barbecue, pasta, and steak sauces, ketchup, mustard
  • Marinated or meats with added salt
  • Flavored Rice
  • Canned vegetables and legumes with added salt 

Doubling Potassium

Potassium is found in large amounts in leafy greens, fruits and vegetables.  Eating all of the following foods in a day would slightly exceed the daily recommended intake for potassium:

  • 694 mg from 1 baked sweet potato (146 g)
  • 422 mg from 1 medium banana (118 g)
  • 378 mg from ¼ cup dried apricots
  • 244 mg from ¼ avocado (50.3 g)
  • 839 mg from 1 cup cooked spinach
  • 186 mg from 1 medium peach (98 g)
  • 496 mg from 1 cup orange juice
  • 600 mg from 1 cup of coconut water
  • 502 mg from ½ cup white beans, canned
  • 369 mg from ¼ medium cantaloupe (138 g)

Your thoughts…

What are your favorite food sources for potassium?


Coconut water is great for rehydrating after a workout. I don't care for the taste at all, though, so I mix it into juice I make fresh at home.

The secret is to eat whole foods rather than processed foods.  All whole foods have some potassium and most packaged foods--unless specifically low-sodium--have sodium added.  (Remember that sodium is not just salt, but also includes sodium compounds that are used for flavoring and preservatives. You need some sodium in your diet, but most of us get too much.)

If you eat lots of whole plant foods, you will be more likely to get enough potassium and less sodium. 

Sweet potatoes are my personal favorite, but I love most fruits and vegetables!

I had no clue that I was getting too much sodium and too little potassium until I started logging everything I ate with CC.  Now I'm stressing out how to get enough sodium and add fiber to that list too Frown.

Original Post by: machine1k

I had no clue that I was getting too much sodium and too little potassium until I started logging everything I ate with CC.  Now I'm stressing out how to get enough sodium and add fiber to that list too Frown.

Oops, meant to say getting enough potassium.  Sorry Foot in mouth

My mom was going in for surgery years ago and her potassium was too high.  They sent her home because it would have been dangerous for her to have the surgery.  I'm not sure what the limit is, but it's possible to have too much potassium too (I think it can cause a heart attack...not sure). 

Agree with suzystaywell.  It takes a lot more time to prepare fresh unprocessed foods but you know exactly the amount of salt you put in, cleanliness, and quality of product and freshness.  I cook for the week every Sunday and it has saved me money, time, and maintain a trim stomach as I munch on my load of food all week long.


Make a protein dish and eat many ways. 

1. salmon bake, salmon salad, salmon and rice

2. chicken and rice, chicken salad with no mayo, chicken curry


Hope that helps

I find it near impossible to get enough potassium every day, despite attempting to eat lots of leafy greens.  Guess I need to add a sweet potato per day.

Easier to take a potassium pill.

Do they really mean "eating all of the following foods in a day"?  I have high bp, take medication, hold salt to about 1200 to 1500 and have my potassium checked every six months.  No physician complaints.

also Calorie Count does not accurately reflect potassium per their own admission,.

Yes too much potassium is also not good. Some medications cause people to retain potassium, and that is most likely what happened with your Mom. Most of the time you will not get too much potassium from dietary sources. Unless you consume an awful lot of salt substitute, you usually need to be much more concerned about getting enough not having too much.

Hi l am learning lots since my surgery. l have had three minny strokes plus had massive blood clots on longs. l have learned l have low potassium which docoters are helping. Plus few other problems since surgery sure a eye opener. You think your healthy and try to be then you smacked with you lucky to be alive. Now follow diet and l don't fool around. 57 years old l would like to grow old with my wonderful hubby.


Sweet potatoes are delicious, especially when baked. I make sweet potato fries every other day. I only eat half of one, though. Here's what I do if you want a nice snack:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Cut the potato in half, then into strips and wedges

Toss with water in a strainer (instead of oil to save calories and fat), then toss with sea salt in a strainer

Throw the potatoes in a bowl, and toss with ground cayenne and paprika

Spread them evenly on a baking sheet, and bake for 15- 20 minutes

Morton Light salt also has lower Sodium and added Potassium... I like it :)

I've been saying this for years!  It's all about pressure balance between the cells and the blood.  Potassium is the primary electrolyte inside cells and sodium is the primary one outside cells.  It's true that "high" sodium levels create "high" blood pressure.  However, it's all relative.  The same condition could also be considered "low" potassium and "low" cell pressure.  If not kept in balance, relatively more electrolyte inside or outside the cell membrane causes an osmotic pressure.  They typical problem is more pressure outside than inside, which effectively deflates cells like a flat basketball.  If you're not getting sufficient potassium, it makes no difference how much you cut your sodium intake; that'd be like trying to reinflate a flat basketball by lowering the atmospheric pressure!  Your kidneys can filter out too much sodium but they can't manufacture potassium.  You have to eat it.  That's why I like to sprinkle my foods with a "lite salt", which is a 50/50 blend of sodium chloride (normal table salt) and potassium chloride.

Potassium is awesome for lowering blood pressure.  It's great to eat bananas (which have the highest proportion of potassium to sodium) or spinach or even drinking coconut milk daily.  But even taking potassium pills works well.

For anyone who thinks it's easier to take a potassium pill, be aware that getting TOO MUCH potassium, especially in pharmaceutical form, can STOP YOUR HEART.

Much better to eat the foods, especially since they are healthy plant foods that you're not likely to overdose on, anyway.

My problem with trying to count potassium - it's not a required nutrient on food labeling, so you don't know really how much you get if you eat any kind of processed foods. The Calorie Count site will count the potassium found in natural foods, but it cannot count what is not listed in the database. Until all manufacturers and the USDA get on the same page, and consistently require (and update) that potassium content of all foods be posted, we won't know how much potassium we're getting.

Valid point, French Tutor.  It's always better to get eat the natural healthy plant food for nutrients.  But, most bottles of potassium pills sold at supermarkets or health-food stores generally are at 250-500 mgs per pill, about 5-10% of the daily recommended amount, so there's not too much damange of ingesting too much, unless you take a significant amount of pills.

Green peppers, papaya, learn how to prepare collard greens with garlic, onion and EVOO.

With the coconut water, I've found that it's more palatable when cut with sparkling water with lemon or lime.  

Love the idea of making sweet potato fries with water.  I will try the next time I make them.

I have replaced the salt in the water softener with potassium.  Being vegetarian, I wouldn't be surprised if I get to much potassium.  Sodium levels are normally low in my count except for days I use process foods (which isn't often).

I found that when I diet or do any kind of South Beach regimen I HAVE to take Potassium and Magnesium or I get this really weird shaky feeling inside. Taking these two vitamins seems to fix the inner shake. Anyone else? Also, I thought I read Potato skins had a lot of potassium?

Original Post by: bbc155

Valid point, French Tutor.  It's always better to get eat the natural healthy plant food for nutrients.  But, most bottles of potassium pills sold at supermarkets or health-food stores generally are at 250-500 mgs per pill, about 5-10% of the daily recommended amount, so there's not too much damange of ingesting too much, unless you take a significant amount of pills.

So how much is TOO much potassium? How many mgs are we talking about for TOO MUCH?

Note that some dairy products, especially low-fat, are good sources of potassium. 

The skim plus and low-fat yogurt I buy both have upwards of 500 mg.  Label info seems to vary quite a bit.

(scroll way down for dairy)



Thank you for this article.  I've been trying to research it, as I take a potassium supplement daily.  I've had Meniere's Disease for 4 years now, and the balance of sodium and potassium have a lot to do with the disease and the way the inner ear functions.  The list of foods is daunting.   Next, I'll check calorie content and try to come up with meals.  That looks like a lot of food and a lot of calories.

I ran across a recipe for parsley water or parsley soup and tried that for awhile.  Boil a bunch of parsley, one of kale and one of chard in a large pan.  It can sit on the stove for a few days, and you drink it like tea (don't eat the vegetables).  But there's no way of knowing what the actual potassium intake is.  Luckily, a cup of  boiled spinach reduces down to a few tablespoons, so I usually just have a few cups of spinach a day, mixed into scrambles, my own homemade pasta and soups, with beans, etc.  Spinach 'disappears' into things and the taste really doesn't interfere much with other flavors.  I'm surprised there isn't a product available that covers the RDA....but I also wonder what our ancestors did....this doesn't seem like a traditional diet for anybody.

I had the opposite problem.  I was going into surgery and my potassium was too low.  They almost cancelled the surgery. However, instead they put me on a potassium IV before and during surgery.  Your heart can stop if you have too little potassium.

Yes, mine was too low.  I went to Urgent Care because my skin felt cold and itchy and I just felt weird.  It affects muscles....I've read some way-too-complicated explanations about a 'pumping' action within each of our cells caused by sodium and potassium.  And the heart is a this is a serious thing.  Which is why I take a pill every day even though I don't really like pills and would prefer getting it from food. Lucky for you they checked it before surgery!

I was having that problem too,  too much sodium and not enough potassium and fiber.  I found that I have a problem with wheat and that was another problem.   /then some one reminded me about flaxseed meal  and I found a fabulous one minute muffin to make with it, but there was the baking powder and added sodium.   I didn't want the extra dodium so I found some sodium free baking powders that use potassium bicarbonate instead of sodium.  Now this solves several problems, the sodium, the fiber, and the bread replacement.     Great help for losing weight too.  I have tweaked the recipe a bit and have even made chocolate cake from this basic recipe.   Anyone interested in the recipe or where to get the baking powder , let me know


A great variation for sweet  potato fries is do everything as per the preceeding post, but instead of water; toss the potato strips with one or two egg whites and then season. 

It creates a nice crispy crust and it makes the seasoning stick to the potatoes!  *BUT make sure you line your baking tray with foil and give it a light spray of oil; both to keep the egg white from sticking and for a much easier clean-up.  You'll also need to turn them occasionally while baking.

I was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure, I knew of it and was like "so". One night Istarted researching it and educating myself some on the subject, and to be direct it scared me. I reduced my sodium intake drastically from Fast-food highs to recommended levels...and over the course of a couple of weeks discovered this site, and was relieved to put the binder, calculator and pencils away. I went from an average of 131/85 Avg with medication to 105/73 average with out medication and lost about 8 pounds, and I feel better. Low sodium and High potassium replaced my meds...

Becoming a beliver - Hippocrates let food be your medicine

my mother has been having balance problems and shaking of her hands and it has been linked to too much potasium.  It is difficult to blanace nutrition and wished Calorie Count could come up with "balanced menu plans".  Too much to wish for?  :)

Interesting article.

I eat fairly (not extremely) healthily, as in we cook our own food a lot and don't rely on nuked instant food. However, since signing up with CC, I get told off daily for lack of potassium, lack of fibre, lack of iron, lack of carbs ... and an OD on sugar.

When I hunted down what was killing me on sugar, with plaintive cries of disbelief, since I'd cut sugar in my tea, and hadn't had so much as a digestive biscuit in months, I found out the culprit was ... fruit. I couldn't eat as much fruit as I wanted without being told I was at 250% RDI sugar. To which I regret to say my response was "bite me".

So ... I'm working on getting my recommended potassium. I'm eating as much fibre as I can stuff down myself. I'm not cutting my fruit intake :) but I must admit, I was wondering - if I eat probably slightly better than many rushed and busy people my age, and I'm getting bad marks on CC ... how come half the population of Canada hasn't keeled over dead??

I like having all the high potassium foods as a list like that.  Thanks.

Potassium is the one thing in my daily analysis that I NEVER have enough of :( 

I would bet that those suggested foods would put you over on sugar for the day.  Catch 22 to try to be good on sugar sodium and potassium.

What about nuts, CC?  They have great potassium levels and low sugar levels (assuming you aren't allergic - which I am unfortunately).

Also - to those taking Potassium pills - the 500mg listed on the bottle generally refers to the amount of Potassium Gluconate.  The actual Potassium value of each pill is about 90mg per pill.  I've never seen a higher dosage in pill form.

Ah, nuts are high in fat and calories....which are an issue for many of us with hypertension.   Beans and starch don't have the fat but lots of carb-cal's.  My potassium chloride pills are in mEq, which their website (Klor-Con) says it's equivalent to 750 mg per pill, and I'm supposed to take 2 a day.  They're large and extended release to help absorption.  Generic, so probably not the best form.  But that's still only 1500 mg, which is 3200 away from the target.  

I am having the worst time getting enough Potassium and less sodium!!! I bought these suppliments without reading the back and its only 99mg. as a woman, I have to consume 2,500 mg (ish) a day. However, according to this, I have to eat at the very least 4 sweet potatoes a day!!! or 4 cups of coconut water on top of watching my sodium intake!

I was stressing about fiber and where I could find a good source of it until I bought some Fiber 1 cereal. Better than any supplement or bread or cereal that claims to be "high in fiber" Just one cup a day and I'm set!!!

I agree with megansgm. What's is really enough potassium? I've added some of those foods listed into my diet and CC still tells me I don't have enough potassium. They don't really mean I need to eat ALL of those foods in ONE they? If so, that's never going to happen. 

@prichmond - I agree.  I just wanted to point out the other sources.

What bothers me is - I have noticed that if I use many of the food already in the food logger, they don't have potassium values at all.  I have started to build my own custom list for things such as Organic Baby Spinach so that the potassium content of the spinach gets included properly in the count.

I will need to try out your pills though - that is a GREAT quantity of potassium.  Much better than the pills I find in the store.

Do check your blood pressure meds to make sure you don't overdo the potasium, i was using a salt that had added potasium and thought it would help, but ended up overdoing it!

What about getting some of your required potassium with potasium chloride?

Here is a great drink for you:

1 Banana

1/4 Cup Spinach

1 cup Ice

1 Cup Almond Milk

Blend until smooth, great source of potassium, and taste great.

That is EXACTLY what I have been thinking the 6 weeks I have been tracking.  Then if you add the potato you have to deduct those 150 calories somewhere else.  I don't think I could fit that list of foods onto my 1500 calorie/day plan and eat anything else.  And yes, my sodium is through the roof.  It is so difficult to eat well...

We do need more Potassium and less Sodium but the problem is the FDA doesn't require manufacturers to list potassium amounts on food labels so it's really hard to figure out how much your getting.

dianemar the pills I take are not OTC but prescription.  I do get my potassium checked every few months (blood test), and I've read an overdose of potassium is rare, but serious.  Whoever mentioned 'shakiness' as a symptom of low potassium, it sounds similar to the antsy, itchy feeling I had.  I am intrigued by the balance of sodium and potassium.  The potassium in the salt sounds good, but, again, difficult to regulate the amount, unless you premeasure for each day....which I can't see me doing.  Thanks for all of the information.  I now have a hankering for pecan pie and sweet potato fries.  And greens.  My okie relatives were probably not far off.

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Again, be careful with potassium pills.

Potassium Gluconate is a dietary form of potassium, and is safe - however, the USFDA only allows up to about 99mg of elemental potassium per pill, because of the danger of overdosing. For some reason, pharmaceutical grade potassium (as in potassium chloride) works differently in the body than dietary potassium, and is easy to overdose on. I will have to look that reason up, I had it at one time.

If you do take potassium supplements, spread them out evenly over the day and don't take them all at once.

I do take a dietary potassium supplement, twice daily, and my blood potassium levels stay right in the middle of normal every time they are checked. If you think your potassium may be off, a simple blood test can tell you if you need supplementation.


That sounds wonderful!


Talking about potassium chloride, you say, "For some reason, pharmaceutical grade potassium (as in potassium chloride) works differently in the body than dietary potassium, and is easy to overdose on. I will have to look that reason up, I had it at one time.

Hmmm!  you put potassium into two categories:

1. Pharmaceutical grade potassium.

2. Dietary potassium.

How did this come about?  It's like Calcium bone vs Calcium rock knowing that the body uses all the by products in the bone, but not in the rock.  The rock by products not being assimilated by the body goes on to cause calcium deposits if not excreted.  Is an analygy similar to this happening in these two potassiums.  "I don't know" will suffice, but we should agree this needs more looking into and will lay Kivorokian's bull of using potassium chloride to kill and lay it to rest.  I use it every day and I'm just fine.

I hope you will look up that reason you had at one time and get back to me.  I use Potassium chloride to salt my food.  It makes complete sense to me. as a good way to get potassium one needs.  I'd like to know how, if this potassium does works differently in the body.


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