Sodium and potassium are both electrolytes that your body needs, with potassium working to maintain normal fluid levels inside the cells, and sodium the normal fluid levels outside the cells.  Potassium is also necessary for nerve impulses and muscle contraction, including your heart muscle so that it can beat.

The problem with the typical American diet is that we consume much more sodium than we do potassium, while our bodies need the opposite – much more potassium than sodium.  Taking in a lot of salt increases blood pressure  and the risk of heart disease, while consuming more potassium helps relax the blood vessels and excretion of sodium while also decreasing blood pressure.  Having a high sodium/low potassium diet increases your risk of dying from all causes, with double the risk of dying from a heart attack.  On the other hand, having a higher potassium intake lowers your risk of dying.

Fortunately, it’s completely in our control to consume more foods that are high in potassium while eating fewer processed foods and restaurant/fast foods that tend to be the highest in sodium content.  You should aim for getting at least 3500 milligrams (mg) of potassium per day and ideally no more than 1500 mg of sodium daily.  The following foods are great sources of potassium:

1 medium baked potato = 926 mg

1 cup cooked swiss chard = 961 mg

1 cup cooked spinach = 839 mg

5 ounces salmon = 676 mg

1 medium baked sweet potato = 694 mg

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt = 531 mg

1 medium banana = 420 mg

1/2 avocado = 345 mg

8 oz coconut water = 600 mg

1/2 cup white beans = 502 mg

1/2 cup prunes = 637 mg

While it’s easy to find foods that are good sources of potassium, it seems to be even easier to eat much more salt throughout the course of the day.  Pay attention to what you’re eating, especially if you eat a lot of processed or prepared foods instead of whole foods and home-cooked meals.  Aim for the much higher balance of potassium to sodium.

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