Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sugar and Salt -- Foods or Poisons? - Part 2: Sodium-Potassium Balance

In a previous blog we discussed the health impact of sugar.  The other "drug" or "poison" that is associated with many chronic diseases is salt. Salt is both essential to health and toxic. What determines its impact is the amount that is consumed and the balance between sodium and potassium in the body.

Facts on Salt:

  • Generally speaking, an adult requires about 1500 to 2000 mg of sodium a day.  Unfortunately the amount in a typical North American diet is between 4000 and 9000 mg. 
  • Roughly 80% of salt comes from processed food; 5% is found naturally in food and only about 10 to 15% is added at the table.  It is the salt from processed food that is the major problem! 
  • When it comes to the impact of salt on health the type of salt has little impact. Sea salt, kitchen salt, commercial cooking salt, Himalayan, Fleur de Sel or kosher salt is all the same.
  • Infants who have been introduced to starchy foods early in life tend to have a greater preference for salty foods and as a result develop a taste for sugar.
Sodium-Potassium Balance
Salt is made up of sodium chloride (NaCl). Sodium (Na) is the primary extracellular electrolyte. The concentration of sodium on the outside of the cell is about 10X greater than inside. The amount of sodium in the body has to balanced with potassium (K). Potassium is the primary intracellular electrolyte. The concentration of potassium inside the cell is about 30X more than it is outside the cell. This delicate balance between sodium and potassium is required to maintain health and to sustain life. It also determines the electrochemical gradient which is critical for nerve impulse transmission, muscle contractions, heart health and for the movement of other essential electrolytes across the cellular membrane.

The main reason for a sodium-potassium imbalance is diet. Other reasons may include vomiting and diarrhea or prescription medications. Talk to your naturopathic doctor about your prescription medications to determine what impact they may be having on your sodium/potassium balance. Medications such as diuretics, corticosteroids, laxatives and many slow-release medications can cause decreased potassium levels.

Symptoms and diseases associated with sodium/potassium imbalance include:
Maintaining a healthy sodium / potassium balance:
  • A diet high in whole foods, primarily fruits and vegetables, is the best way to maintain a healthy balance of sodium to potassium. Trust mother nature. Eating food in its natural state is the easiest way to maintain health.
  • Eliminate or greatly reduce processed food as that is the primary source of sodium (salt). Most restaurant food is very high in salt.
  • If buying any canned, frozen or processed food read the labels and ensure that the sodium level is minimal.
  • Increase your consumption of potassium-rich foods such as: 
    • dark leafy vegetables such as beet greens, spinach, kale
    • vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms and squash
    • legumes such as white beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, lentils
    • fish such as salmon, halibut, haddock and sardines
    • fruits such as prune juice, papaya, bananas, avocados, plums and oranges
The most accurate way to measure your Na/K balance is a 24-hour urine collection test. To learn more about this talk to your naturopathic or medical doctor.

To read more details on the impact of high sodium - low potassium on health, check out the research article "Salt in Health and Disease - A Delicate Balance" by TA Kotchen, AW Cowley and ED Frohlich.