Optimally, Americans should lower their daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg or less a day, recommends the Institute, a scientific organization that sets the nation’s recommended levels of nutrients.
Studies show that the average person eats more than 4,000 mg of sodium a day. Lawrence Appel, M.D., chair of the panel that wrote the Institute of Medicine report and professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, does not think the nation is going to lower its consumption to 1,500 mg of sodium anytime soon, “but this is a goal we should try to achieve.”
The upper limit of daily salt intake, the report advises, should not exceed 2,300 mg, but older individuals, African Americans, and people with chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and kidney disease should consume significantly less. In recent landmark research comparing diets with varying levels of sodium (3,300, 2,400, and 1,500 mg), Dr. Appel and colleagues found that the biggest reductions in blood pressure occurred in those on the 1,500 mg-a-diet.
Certainly, in a country like the U.S., where 90% of all citizens will develop hypertension during their lifetime, the more we can lower our salt intake, the better. While factors like excess weight also play a role, salt and blood pressure go hand-in-hand. If you eat more salt, blood pressure goes up. When you eat less, it drops.
People with normal blood pressure (120/80 or less) have significantly less risk of developing many crippling illnesses, including dementia, kidney failure, blindness, and cardiovascular-related diseases.
To help lower blood pressure as well as blunt the effects of salt and reduce the risk of kidney stones and bone loss, the new report from the Institute of Medicine recommends that Americans increase their potassium consumption to 4.7 grams a day. Currently, men average just 2.8 to 3.3 grams daily; women, a mere 2.2 to 2.4 grams.
Fruits and vegetables are both low in sodium and high in potassium. Foods with the highest amounts of potassium per calorie include spinach, cantaloupes, almonds, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, bananas, oranges, grapefruits, and potatoes.
Low-carb dieters run the risk of missing out on potassium because some of the richest sources of potassium, like fruits and potatoes, are forbidden on many low-carb diets.
To reach the new potassium recommendations, counsels Dr. Appel, people need to increase their fruits and vegetables to about 10 servings a day.
The report’s new salt and potassium recommendations will be incorporated into dietary guidelines now being created by a joint committee of the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.