Ate too many nachos? Consider a banana chaser -- your heart might thank you for it. A new study suggests that consuming twice as much potassium as sodium can halve your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The study is the first to show that the ratio of these nutrients in your diet matters more than exactly how much you get of either one. "Potassium and sodium are like peas in a pod, except they're in opposite pods," says epidemiologist Paul Whelton, president and chief executive of the Loyola University Health System in Chicago and one of the authors of the study. "This is the first study to show that the two together give you a benefit over and above what you can get with either one."
Between processed foods and restaurant meals, most Americans eat far too much sodium -- significantly above the 2,300 milligrams the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend as a maximum daily intake for adults. Excess sodium, according to plenty of large, well-designed studies, causes the body to retain fluids, which raises blood pressure and ups the risk of dying from heart disease.
That study was pivotal in influencing current dietary guidelines, which recommend that Americans get at least 4,700 mg of potassium daily -- about double the recommended maximum for sodium. Yet, according to nationwide nutritional surveys, the average American gets just 2,600 mg of potassium a day and 4,000 mg or more of sodium -- far more sodium than potassium, even though guidelines suggest we do the opposite.
One earlier report from this project, published in the British Medical Journal in 2007, found that participants who had been instructed to reduce sodium intake, even for just a few years, were 25% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease 10 to 15 years later than were those who kept eating larger amounts of sodium.