Blood pressure risk: Too much sodium, not enough potassium

sodium potassium diets

WHO cautions against too much sodium and not enough potassium in our diets.

A person with elevated levels of sodium or low levels of potassium is at risk of high blood pressure which can trigger heart disease or stroke. New guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) states adults should have at least 3,500mg of potassium and less than 2,000mg of sodium per day.

Currently, people commonly consume too much sodium, and not enough potassium. Sodium occurs naturally in a variety of foods, including milk, cream and eggs. It occurs at much higher levels in processed foods such as bread, bacon and snacks.

Potassium rich foods include beans and peas, nuts, vegetables such as cabbage, spinach and parsley and fruits including bananas, papaya and dates. Processing reduces the amount of potassium in many foods.

People with elevated sodium levels or low potassium levels are at risk of high blood pressure.

“Elevated blood pressure is a major risk for heart disease and stroke – the number one cause of death and disability globally,” says Dr Francesco Branca, director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.

“These guidelines also make recommendations for children over the age of 2. This is critical because children with elevated blood pressure often become adults with elevated blood pressure.”

The WHO guidelines are important for policymakers in different countries as they target non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Public health measures to raise potassium and lower sodium consumption can include modifying food labelling, consumer education, updating dietary guidelines and negotiating with food manufacturers to limit the amount of salt in processed food.