Eating more fruits and vegetables is highly recommended by government health agencies. This is usually done without considering how the foods are processed. Multiple studies have shown that those populations that eat more fruits and vegetables have less hypertension and less cardiovascular disease. Multiple studies have been done on various components of fruits and vegetables to try to determine what aspect of them provides these benefits. What is missed in the studies is the very basic, core aspect of most fruits and vegetables that provides these benefits. This has been known for over two decades. Yet it is ignored.
Among the factors studied in fruits and vegetables other than this core aspect are such substances as fiber, polyunsaturated fats, vitamins and polyphenols. These have all been shown to be helpful for cardiovascular health and reduction of hypertension. However, they have not been studied in relation to the potassium sodium ratio to try to determine how much of the benefit of fruits and vegetables comes from the ratio and how much comes from these other constituents. The critical factor for hypertension prevention is this ratio.
The potassium sodium ratio in the diet determines the potassium sodium ratio inside a person's cells. This ratio inside the cell determines the voltage across all the cell membranes, including the mitochondrial membrane. Multiple studies have shown that accumulation of calcium inside the mitochondrion results in cell death. Calcium gets inside of the mitochondrion much more readily when the potassium inside the cell is too low. When the potassium inside the cell is too low the voltage across the mitochondrial membrane allows calcium inside too quickly. The mitochondrial matrix swells. Molecules that need to react are too far apart to transfer electrons and energy production stops. The cell without energy dies, usually forming scar tissue.
Some of these other substances, such as polyunsaturated fats or polyphenols, change the configuration of various channels across cell membranes, including the mitochondrial membrane, so that there can be a slight increase or decrease in the ability of potassium and calcium to cross the membranes. This is universal among the substances that have been studied to date. There may other ways these substances aid health, but until a systems approach is taken we will never know how important these other ways are.
However, the potassium sodium ratio is critical since it controls the voltage across membranes. This voltage opens and closes some of these cross-membrane channels, and determines how easily various chemical reactions between molecules in the cell can occur. The charge also controls how easily the ligand dependent channels open. These are the channels that open and close depending on what molecules attach.
So it is important that the food we eat in a day provide us with enough potassium and not too much sodium. Otherwise, our cells will not function optimally. The charge inside and outside the cell will not be right. The chemical reactions inside the cell will falter. The cells will die, and inflammation and scarring will follow.
Many types of food processing subtract potassium or add sodium, so fruits and vegetables wind up lacking the potential health benefits of their natural state. Some common examples are boiling and canning. What has not been emphasized by health officials is the proper preparation of fruits and vegetables so they can retain their healthy effects. If they are boiled in salt water, such as often happens with canning or with home cooking, or have multiple additives, fruits and vegetables will not add to health as much as they could.