How does reducing sodium and increasing potassium in your diet help manage blood pressure?

Maintaining the right balance of sodium versus potassium intake can have an important effect on blood pressure.

How Sodium Affects Blood Pressure

Sodium is an important nutrient for your body and is particularly important in maintaining your body’s fluid balance. Sodium is also important for proper muscle and nerve function.

However, if sodium intake is too high, it can cause the body to retain water which causes bloating and weight gain. This is because extra sodium in the blood pulls water into the blood vessels which can lead to an increase in blood pressure. Therefore, reducing sodium intake in your food can help maintain a normal blood pressure.

According to the American Heart Association, 90% of Americans consume more sodium than is recommended. In fact, the average American eats more than 3400 mg of sodium daily, versus the recommended daily intake of 2300 mg per day.

Sodium in the Diet

Sodium is present in many foods. Processed and packaged foods, and foods we eat at restaurants can have the largest amounts of sodium. For processed and packaged foods, it is recommended to read the Nutrition Fact labels and also consider the serving size. Again the goal is achieve a daily intake of less than 2300 mg per day. Reducing processed and packaged foods in your diet, and instead choosing “whole foods” can help you achieve your blood pressure goals.

According the American Heart Association, these are the six most common foods that add significant amounts of salt to the diet:

  • Bread and rolls
  • Sandwiches
  • Cold cuts and cured meats
  • Soup
  • Burritos and tacos
  • Pizza

Other foods with salt include cheeses and buttermilk, sauces and condiments, frozen dinners, snack foods, and canned vegetables.

Suggestions on Reducing Salt in the Diet

There are several actions you can do every day to reduce your sodium intake:

  • Don’t add table salt to your food; use other spices if possible
  • Use fresh ingredients instead of processed and packaged foods
  • Choose products that do not contain added salt, including nuts
  • Rinse canned vegetables and beans to reduce sodium
  • When eating out, choose fresh vegetables and fruits and reduce portion size

How Potassium Affects Blood Pressure

Foods that contain potassium can help maintain a healthy blood pressure because potassium lessens the effects of sodium. Increasing potassium in your diet can help increase the excretion of sodium via the urine. Potassium also can reduce tension in the walls of blood vessels, which can directly help manage blood pressure**.

Recommended Daily Potassium Intake

According to the American Heart Association, the recommended daily potassium intake for an adult is 3400 mg per day for men and 2600 mg for women. One type of diet that is commonly recommended by physicians, the DASH (Dietary Approached to Stop Hypertension) diet recommends many foods such as fruits, vegetables, low fat milk and fish that naturally provide potassium.

Avoiding Too Much Potassium

It is possible to consume too much potassium in your diet, especially for people with kidney disorders. The kidneys are responsible for removing potassium from the blood and when kidneys are not able to remove this potassium, potassium levels can increase in the blood.

When potassium levels in the blood become too high (a condition called hyperkalemia), symptoms can occur including nausea, vomiting, irregular pulse, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Fainting can also occur.

Importantly, potassium can also interact with a variety of medications including several blood pressure medications and other prescription medications.

Therefore, it is recommended that you consult with a qualified physician prior to using supplemental potassium if you have a diagnosed medical condition or are taking prescription medications, including blood pressure medications.

The following table lists many foods that contain potassium: 

Potato, baked, with skin 1 medium 161 926
Yam, cooked 1 cup 158 911
Spinach, cooked 1 cup 41 839
Carrot juice, 100% 1 cup 94 689
Butternut squash, cooked 1 cup 82 582
Sweet potato, cooked 1 cup 190 572
Mushrooms, portabella, cooked 1 cup 35 529
Stewed tomatoes, canned 1 cup 66 528
Tomato juice, 100% 1 cup 41 527
Soybeans, cooked 1/2 cup 148 443
Carrots, raw 1 cup 52 410
Corn, cooked 1 cup 134 384
Pinto beans, cooked 1/2 cup 123 373
Lentils, cooked 1/2 cup 115 366
Avocado 1/2 cup 120 364
Kidney beans, cooked 1/2 cup 113 359
Edamame, cooked 1/2 cup 94 338
Cauliflower, raw 1 cup 27 320
Red bell pepper, raw 1 cup 39 314
Black beans, cooked 1/2 cup 114 306
Prune juice, 100% 1 cup 182 707
Kiwifruit 1 cup 110 562
Pomegranate juice, 100% 1 cup 134 533
Orange juice, 100% 1 cup 112 496
Banana 1 medium 112 451
Grapefruit 1 fruit 130 415
Peaches, dried 1/4 cup 96 399
Apricots, dried 1/4 cup 78 378
Pineapple juice, 100% 1 cup 132 325
Tangerine (tangelo) 1 cup 103 324
Prunes or dried plum 1/4 cup 105 319
Raisins 1/4 cup 123 307
Cherries 1 cup 87 306
Peach 1 cup 60 293
Dairy and Fortified Soy Alternatives  
Yogurt, plain, low fat 8 ounces 154 573
Milk, fat free (skim) 1 cup 83 382
Buttermilk, low fat 1 cup 98 370
Milk, low fat (1 %) 1 cup 102 366
Yogurt, Greek, plain, low fat 8 ounces 166 320
Soy beverage (soy milk), unsweetened 1 cup 80 292
Protein Foods  
Tempeh 1/2 cup 160 342
Atlantic mackerel 3 ounces 223 341
Pork 3 ounces 171 303
Tofu, raw, firm 1/2 cup 181 299
Beef 3 ounces 173 288
Pistachio nuts 1 ounce 162 286
Other Sources  
Coconut water, unsweetened 1 cup 43 396
Source: 2019 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (
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