There are times when the public health sector offers information that may be helpful to individuals seeking change. One recent study (1) showed the biggest sources of sodium in the diet of people in the United Kingdom. The responsible food groups are the same as in the U.S. and other Western nations.
It Is Not Just Sodium That Causes Hypertension
Medical publications accept that sodium contributes to hypertension and heart disease. But they almost always ignore the ratio of potassium to sodium. Reducing sodium improves the ratio when potassium intake remains the same, as is usually the case. This improved ratio may be more important than the amount of sodium.
But when public health officials ignore the potassium sodium ratio, they miss the possibility of increasing the intake of potassium. By reducing the amount of sodium eaten daily, the daily ratio of potassium to sodium improves even without increasing potassium intake.
But the ratio does not improve as much as it could, when only sodium is considered. By raising the potassium intake while lowering the sodium intake, the ratio would improve even more. And the hypertension and stroke rate would fall even more than it does by just lowering sodium.
The English Study
The study examined 44,000 foods eaten by 21,000 households for sodium content to determine the major sources of sodium in the British diet. The foods contributing sodium were very similar to the foods eaten in Finland that contribute sodium, which has been well studied.
Table salt was the leading contributor. Then processed meat was second. This was followed by bread and bakery products. Finland had a similar pattern of salt in its food. Finland was able to improve its potassium sodium ratio by changing the salt composition used as a preservative in processed food products (2). In most of the salt used as a preservative, they were able to substitute potassium chloride for much of the sodium chloride. In Finland, this dropped the rate of strokes and hypertension dramatically (2). The actual foods eaten by the Fins changed only a little.
In the English study, the leading source of salt in the diet besides table salt was processed meat, such as sausage. A change in food manufacturing similar to the change in Finland should lead to a similar change in the incidence of strokes and hypertension in England. Sauces and spreads (mostly sauces) accounted for 11% of sodium consumed. Their potassium sodium ratio could also be easily changed by changing the composition of the salt used in the sauce.
How The Study Can Help You
Although the study was done to help guide public health policy in the United Kingdom, this type of information is helpful to the individual also. When trying to change the potassium sodium ratio, the individual can put most attention into changing the biggest sources of salt first.
If you are on the typical Western diet, eliminating table salt and salt used in cooking is a first step that can reduce your sodium to about 77% of its present amount. By shifting to fresh meats instead of processed meats, you will get your sodium down quite a bit more.
A More Thorough Approach
Of course, by actually noticing and substituting high ratio food alternatives throughout your diet you will be improving your potassium to sodium ratio even more. And this will lower your blood pressure even more. You can find tables of high ratio foods so you can find high ratio alternatives by clicking the tab “Links to Food Potassium Tables” at the top of the page.
1. Sodium content of processed foods in the United Kingdom: analysis of 44,000 foods purchased by 21,000 households. Ni Mhurchu C, Capelin C, Dunford EK, Webster JL, Neal BC, Jebb SA. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Mar;93(3):594-600. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.004481. Epub 2010 Dec 29.
2. Nutrition and cardiovascular disease in Finland since the early 1970s: a success story. Pietinen P, Lahti-Koski M, Vartiainen E, Puska P. J Nutr Health Aging. 2001;5(3):150-4.