[Updated May 10, 2018]
To decrease risk of hypertension, we’re commonly advised to limit sodium (salt). Increasing dietary intake of potassium is just as important. “The body does a balancing act that uses sodium to maintain close control of potassium levels in the blood (which is critical to normal heart, nerve and muscle function),” says Alicia A. McDonough, PhD, a professor of cell and neurobiology at the University of Southern California and lead author of a review on the topic in the American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism. “When dietary potassium is high, the kidneys excrete more sodium and water, which increases potassium excretion – like taking a diuretic. If you eat a typical Western diet with high sodium and low potassium intake, the balancing act uses sodium retention to hold onto the limited potassium, and the sodium retention will promote hypertension.”
Increasing potassium intake is as simple as eating vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, low-fat milk and yogurt, which are the same foods that are recommended for a healthy dietary pattern. At the same time, limit highly processed foods, which are often low in potassium (and high in sodium).