This Just In: Keep Cramming Potassium

Hannah Wallace investigates the amount of potassium you really need.

By Megan McDonald February 6, 2013

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The World Health Organization just released new recommendations for the consumption of sodium and potassium—two nutrients that factor heavily into your blood pressure.

Potassium is the goodie: You’re now to consume at least 3,510 mg of potassium a day. (I really enjoy the specificity of that number—if you’ve only had 3,500, grab another banana.)

Actually, according to this list from the USDA, bananas aren’t anywhere near the top of the list for potassium content. (Plantains do rank pretty high, though.)

And this is one of those circumstances where you have to stress the “balanced” part of a balanced diet—best not to base your meals on potatoes au gratin (which ranks high on the potassium list, though most preparations would probably put it up there for sodium, too).

Salt is the baddie: The new recommended daily intake is 2,000 mg of sodium (which, WHO tells me, is what you’d get from five grams of salt). The previous recommendation was 2,300 mg.

I’d wanted to provide a scientific explanation for how salt mucks with your blood pressure—I liked the idea that it inhibited the production of nitric oxide, a vasodilator (it opens your blood vessels), or that the water sodium makes you retain results in more pressure. But what’s interesting is that the more I looked into it, the more articles I found (including The New York Times, Scientific American, etc.) that questioned the relationship between high blood pressure and sodium intake.

I floated the question to dietician, physician's assistant and hockey teammate Heather Hornstein. “For some people, [sodium restriction] might not make a difference [in chronic high blood pressure],” she told me. “However, eating lower sodium usually means eating fresh, whole foods, which is good for everything.”

For more health news, read Hannah Wallace's Health Report in our February issue.

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