Food News: Potassium and Your Health

Ask anyone to name a source of potassium and inevitably they’ll say “bananas.” Yet if you ask that same person why we need potassium, you might find less of a definitive answer.

In fact, few can answer that question.

Potassium is a mineral that’s not only found in bananas, but also citrus fruit, green leafy vegetables, yogurt, beans, whole grains, and sweet potatoes. Researchers suggest that it’s wise for people to increase the amount of potassium in their eating patterns, since potassium can help lower blood pressure, regardless of sodium intake.

Let’s take a closer look at some of that research…

Dr. Alicia McDonough, a professor of cell and neurobiology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC), evaluated the diets of several populations and found that higher potassium intakes were associated with lower blood pressure, no matter what the sodium intake was. Her review included a combination of interventional and molecular studies evaluating the effects of dietary potassium and sodium on high blood pressure in various populations. During this review, she found that the kidneys get rid of more salt and water when dietary potassium intake is high. McDonough likens high potassium intake to taking a diuretic or water pill.

Unfortunately, a typical American diet tends to be higher in processed foods, which in turn tend to be high in salt content and low in potassium. One of the most cost-effective strategies to reduce blood pressure is to cut back on salt. Improved consumer education regarding salt, changes in processed food, and reduced consumption of high sodium foods should be implemented to this effect.

Why?

Let’s explore some more data.

Finland and the UK were first to start salt reduction programs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Europeans consume an average of 7-18 grams of salt per day, which is far above the suggested limit of 6 grams per day, which contains 2400 mg sodium. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggested that adults consume 4.7 grams of potassium daily to reduce blood pressure, reduce the impact of high sodium intake, and slash the risk of bone loss and kidney disease. Dr. McDonough notes that consuming just ¾ cups of dried beans daily can help individuals reach half of their potassium goal.

Here are more ways to obtain more potassium:

  • Eat an orange or banana daily.
  • Include green leafy vegetables daily. Think broccoli, spinach, or kale.
  • Snack on unsalted nuts.
  • Add an avocado to your salad or sandwich.
  • Choose dark orange fruits and vegetables like melon and sweet potatoes.
  • Enjoy kiwi, mango, or papaya regularly.

By Lisa Andrews, MED, RD, LD

Reference:

Alicia A. McDonough, Luciana C. Veiras, Claire A. Guevara, Donna L. Ralph, Cardiovascular benefits associated with higher dietary K vs. lower dietary Na evidence from population and mechanistic studies.  American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism. Apr 4, 2017, E348-E356

WHO Salt Facts http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs393/en/

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Display of the Month: Sodium Math

Can you believe that it’s already time for a brand-new display of the month?

Before we get to the new stuff, let’s take a quick look back at the previous displays of the month. Are you caught up?

All right, let’s dive into this month’s display…

Low Sodium Choices

Your Materials:

The Activities:

September Sodium Math

The Details:

Mix and match your materials into a visually-appealing display.

For the Guess the Salt Content interactive activity, you’ll need to do a little research beforehand. Grab a couple of grocery store staples (including some sources of shockingly high sodium levels, like prepared meals or frozen foods) and write down how many milligrams of sodium are in each one. You can take pictures of them or bring their packages into your display area for a bonus visual.

When your participants arrive, hold up (or otherwise introduce) the first item and ask people to guess how much sodium is in a serving. How much sodium is in the package? Offer Change It Up Stickers and Change It Up Bookmarks as incentives for participation and/or correct answers and use the Mini Salt Shakers from the Salt Display Kit to illustrate how much sodium is in each food.

After discussing a couple items, ask how people feel about the salt content. Is it roughly what they thought? Surprisingly high? Finish the discussion, then demonstrate how to find sodium content on the Nutrition Facts label by using the Food Label Floor Sticker. How much sodium is in one serving of the sample food? How about in the whole container?

Sodium Math

For the Make a Low-Sodium Shopping List activity, begin by brainstorming typical foods on a shopping list. Then discuss which of those foods are high in sodium. How can people remember to check the label for certain foods, comparing different versions and selecting the option with the lowest sodium? Review a few strategies with the group, exploring the pros and cons of each one.

For the Presentations, grab your laptop and projector and set up either the Salt DVD or the Sodium Education PowerPoint Show. For the latter, introduce the handouts that come with the show first and answer any initial questions people may have. After the presentation, discuss the key points. What was surprising? Why?

And here are a few materials that may come in handy for this month’s display!

Salt Display Kit - Nutrition Education Store

Salt Display Kit

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Sodium Math: What We Learned

Sodium Math PosterHave you seen the Sodium Math poster yet? We released it shortly after the Dietary Guidelines for Americans debuted earlier this year. It’s a fantastic resource for displays, presentations, and even simple office decoration. With engaging questions and alluring graphics, this poster teaches valuable lessons about salt in a memorable way.

Of course, putting it together was no mean feat.

Today I want to walk through the process of creating this poster — I figured it would be useful for your own designs and displays. There were even 3 top lessons that we learned as we put the poster together! Plus, sodium is one of those food elements that most people don’t know enough about.

You see, once the latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans was officially released, I just knew that we had to create some kind of visual guide to dealing with sodium. But what? And how?

There’s always a lot of confusion about where sodium comes from in our daily diets. People hear the word “sodium” and they automatically equate that with “salt shaker.” However, the salt shaker is only responsible for a tiny amount of the sodium that most people consume each day. Most of the sodium (about 75%) comes from what is present in restaurant meals and packaged meals from the grocery store.

The Sodium Math poster is an engaging visual that shows how much sodium we are actually consuming versus how much is the maximum for good health.

SALTIt’s a bit of a shock to see the big pile of sodium that we eat each day and to see the teaspoons of sodium that each food contains! To balance that shock, the poster also showcases many fresh foods that are low in sodium. The poster clearly illustrates the lesson that a little work to eat 1,000 mg less sodium per day can make a big change in blood pressure.

This infogram poster was fun to work on and we learned a lot. Here are the top 3 lessons we learned in the making of this poster…

Lesson #1: True Sodium Content

One of the biggest shocks to us in the research was about how much sodium is in fast food. Turkey sandwiches sound healthy, but a turkey deli sandwich has 2,810 mg of sodium. That’s almost a 2 day supply!

Lesson #2: Planned Overs

After reading this poster, we devoted more effort to making “planned overs.” (That’s when we cook extra food for dinner and eat it for lunch the next day). Cooking your own meals at home can make a huge difference in your health, especially when it comes to sodium.

Behind the Scenes: Sodium ContentLesson #3: Small Shifts Are Important

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 recommend that just a small shift to lower sodium intake by 1,000 mg per day can make a positive impact on lowering blood pressure. This lesson was new to us and it seems relatively easy to implement. Plus, everyone loves an easy math lesson! We chose math because we wanted a way to explain sodium, salt, sodium intake, recommended sodium intake and changes needed, along with engaging food photos that can illustrate the whole lesson quickly.

So there you have it! A little peek behind the curtain and 3 lessons we learned while creating the Sodium Math poster.

As a special bonus, here’s a copy of one of our top printable sodium handouts! Reduce Salt has lots of tips and tricks for lowering the sodium in your diet. Get your free copy today!

Sodium Reduction Handout

And there are lots of other amazing sodium resources in the Nutrition Education Store! Here are a few fan favorites…

Shopping with MyPlate: A Handout

Balance your cart for a balanced plate!

Shopping with My Plate:

The food you buy has a huge impact on your eating habits. Make sure that the choices you make are healthful and balanced, starting at the grocery store.

What does that mean?

Well, since MyPlate advises you to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal, roughly half your cart should be full of fruits and vegetables in the store. Make lean protein choices, and select dairy foods that are low in saturated fat and added sugars. When it comes to grain foods, make sure that at least half of all the grains you’re eating are whole grains. Skip those processed grains whenever you can.

More Shopping Tips!

My Plate advises people to “Compare sodium content for similar foods, using the Nutrition Facts label to select brands lower in sodium.” The next time you’re in the store, grab a couple of different options for an ingredient and compare the sodium content. Choose one of the options with lower numbers.

Watch out for portion size! When you’re in the store, look at the serving size and number of servings in the food that you’d like to buy. Is it realistic? Will a sugary soda bottle really be used for 2 or 3 separate servings, or, despite what it says on the label, is the drink really going to be consumed all at once? Remember, MyPlate wants to help people enjoy food but eat less of it, counseling, “Avoid oversized portions.”

Here’s a printable MyPlate handout that you can use however you see fit!

MyPlate Shopping Handout

And here are even more MyPlate educational materials, fresh from the Nutrition Education Store!

Art of Health MyPlate Poster

Health Hopscotch Floor Sticker and Game

Salt and Sodium Poster