Healthy Nutrients Your Heart Desires: Sodium, Potassium, and Electrolytes

Even though the Heart Month is behind us we always want to focus on our heart health. And thats why today we want to discuss the essentials electrolytes that support your heart function.

Did you know that sodium and potassium balance each other as critical elements for everything your body does, but eating too much sodium and too little potassium are the leading causes of high blood pressure?

In this post, we want to make sure you learn what electrolytes you should be paying attention to, how to balance your sodium with potassium, and what single ingredient you can add to any food to promote a healthy electrolyte balance and heart health.


Electrolytes and Heart Health

You see ‘electrolytes’ in sports drinks, but are sports drinks really that good for you? 

They are filled with excessive sugar which is unnecessary for most people, and the small levels of electrolytes are what allows the sport drinks to make any claims about hydration, performance, and feeling your best. But in many sports drinks, the electrolytes levels are too small to cause any positive physiological changes allowing your body to rebalance from physical exhaustion. That’s why the typical sports drink may not be the best way to balance your electrolytes. 

Let’s make sure you understand that the electrolytes carry the electrical signals your cells use to do just about everything, not just support your health. 

Sodium, chloride, and potassium are the three most common, others that are also important include bicarbonate, magnesium, calcium, and phosphate. You have to have the right amounts of each of these in the right places, but it’s sodium and potassium that have the biggest impact on your heart health.

You know of sodium as salt, and you’re probably aware of the message to “limit salt to fight heart disease”.

Let’s unpack why.

Sodium acts on your kidneys to make them hold onto more water, causing the volume of your blood to increase, and ultimately forcing your heart to exert more pressure to keep your blood moving. In the process, sodium causes calcium to go down, which is very important (and very bad!) for anyone who wants optimal bone health. Potassium counteracts sodium, setting the stage for an equilibrium that you can already tell is out of balance.

Sodium is not all bad though.  

You need a minimum amount for your body to function right, and you have to replenish salt lost through sweat if you want to function your best.  For someone completely inactive, eating between 500 -1500 mg of sodium is a low enough level to cause symptoms like lightheadedness, muscle cramps, and fatigue in some people. Aiming for 1500 to 2300 mg for an inactive person should be plenty.

Potassium on the other hand, has an essential role in even more functions than sodium and there’s probably no limit to how much you can eat, according to the NIH. Supplementing with potassium may: 

  • Improve heart health directly and indirectly
  • Improve markers of bone health, according to one study
  • Improved arthritis symptoms in another study in people with clinically low potassium levels
  • Limit the amount of calcium your body wastes, meaning more is available for the cartilage, bone, and collagen tissues that need it.
  • Topping off your muscle stores, which can help fight fatigue and cramps in some people
  • Promote proper hydration, essential for supple skin moisturized from the inside out

Low potassium can cause similar symptoms as low sodium, and low magnesium (which is common) can lead to low potassium. Since it’s far more likely for you to be deficient in magnesium and potassium than sodium, consider getting more of them in your diet if you’re seeing symptoms like:

  • Increase blood pressure
  • Kidney stones
  • Rapid bone turnover (low bone mineral density)
  • Excess calcium excretion (ie low calcium levels)
  • Salt sensitivity (ie. you feel the blood pressure-raising effects of salt easily)
  • More severe deficiency causes heart problems, constipation, and muscle weakness. 

So how much sodium and potassium should you aim for? 

How Much Sodium And Potassium?

Sodium recommendations vary from 1800 to 2500 mg sodium per day. That’s approximately one teaspoon of table salt per day.  Unless you’re wringing out the sweat from your shirt after every workout, getting more than that will probably lead to high blood pressure.

When it comes to potassium, recommendations have changed recently.  Previously the Institutes of Medicine recommended 4700mg of potassium per day, but now the recommendation is only 2500 mg for women and 3400 mg for men. Our ancestors probably consumed 11,000 mg potassium or more!

Even if we’re not exactly sure on the best dose, what we do know is that most Americans ー and most people in the world for that matter ー get far too much sodium, and not nearly enough potassium. The average American falls short on potassium, with an average of 2300 - 3000 mg potassium per day, yet they get 3400 mg of sodium per day. That’s the opposite of what the balance is supposed to look like!                             Heart disease is yet another negative health effect of our food system being flooded with processed food which is usually high in sodium and sugar. 

Best Timing for Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are necessary at all times, and any time you deplete those nutrients, you need more. Even when the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Medicine revised U.S. sodium and potassium recommendations in 2019, they pointed out that there are some conditions where you definitely want more sodium and potassium than the recommendations call for. Some examples:

Times you need more sodium than usual:
  • Sweating - Whether from heat, humidity, or exertion, sweating can can cause 500 to 1200 mg of sodium loss per hour
  • Even if you’re not sweating, heavy exercise places high demands on your nutrient stores
  • High altitude activities
  • Drinking pure water dilutes the concentration of electrolytes in your body. Whenever you’re rehydrating and recovering (i.e. drinking a lot of water), add a pinch of salt and some lemon juice (a good source of potassium). Alternately add ‘light’ or ‘hi-potassium’ salt in a pinch. See below for the best rehydration formula, one that blows Powerade ® out of the water.

So, when it comes to the best time to use salt and potassium for your workouts: before your workout to top off your levels, during your workout to maximize your performance, and after your workout to recover your stores are all good bets.                                Anytime you drink a lot of water at once, add a pinch of electrolytes or drink it with some high potassium foods and you’ll be making that water work for you.

Best Sources of Potassium, The Heart Healthy Electrolyte

As a blood pressure lowering, all-around healthy nutrient that we don’t eat enough of, the best sources of potassium should be high on your list of foods to eat every day.  

In natural, whole food sources, sodium often comes alongside potassium, and the ratio of sodium to potassium is quite low. This may explain why we crave sodium, but not potassium - on a healthy ancestral diet, we were more likely to run out of sodium first.

Here are some of the most common, and best, sources of potassium:

Best Sources of Potassium (Source: NIH)

Food

Milligrams

(mg) per

serving

Percent

DV*

Apricots, dried, ½ cup

1,101

23

Lentils, cooked, 1 cup

731

16

Prunes, dried, ½ cup

699

15

Squash, acorn, mashed, 1 cup

644

14

Raisins, ½ cup

618

13

Potato, baked, flesh only, 1 medium

610

13

Kidney beans, canned, 1 cup

607

13

Orange juice, 1 cup

496

11

Soybeans, mature seeds, boiled, ½ cup

443

9

Banana, 1 medium

422

9

Besides these, other potassium sources are leafy greens, citrus fruits, and most other vegetables and fruits. You can also find potassium in meat, dairy, and grains.

Eat Less of These High-Sodium Foods for Better Heart Health (Source: American Heart Association)

Did you know that about 75% of the sodium in the standard American Diet comes from processed foods, so that’s why it is the first place to start. 

Excessive table salt is another thing to watch out for - if you find yourself adding more and more alt, that’s a sign that you’ve accidentally wired your taste buds to be resistant to the taste.  Taking a break from the shaker can help recalibrate your taste buds to a more heart-healthy level of salt.

Here are the most common sources of sodium in the American diet:

  1. Frozen meals and snacks
  2. Most food from most restaurants (not just fast food!)
  3. Baked goods (especially pizza)
  4. Pre-packaged and pre-prepared foods (burritos, pasta dishes, meat dishes, etc.)
  5. Sandwiches
  6. Cold cuts and cured, processed meats
  7. Soups
  8. All savory snacks
  9. Cheese
  10. Condiments
  11. Salad dressings
  12. Milk
  13. All ready-to-eat cereal
  14. Potatoes (fried, mashed potatoes)

Cutting out fast food, eating a half portion of food from a restaurant, requesting salt-free preparation, and choosing a healthy snack over processed, packaged foods are sure-fire ways to aggressively cut your sodium, lower your blood pressure, and elevate the health of your heart.

Real Rehydration

You should feel fine downing a gatorade if you’ve run off a liter of sweat and you’ve been going so long that your glycogen stores are depleted. 

Honestly though, that may be ok for some serious competition, but that’s not even clean and best way to do it. If you’re trying to optimize your training, running on low (sugar) is a good thing and sugary sports drinks are going to harm your heart health and long term performance. 

If you want the best rehydration formula, you don’t have to look far. 

It’s a fraction of the price of fancy formulas, and it offers the electrolytes you actually need. Here’s how to make the best rehydration formula:

Half (1/2) teaspoon of Light Salt (ie. high potassium salt).

Yep, that’s it. 

 

You can add up to 2 Tablespoons of sugar - if you want to limit the metabolic gains you get from training. But keep in mind that’s 8 grams of sugar right there.

Otherwise, you can add a ¼ tsp of baking soda, which can act as a buffer for heat-stressed cells. Yes indeed.

Another option you can consider is Resync Recovery or Resync Collagen

With natural potassium from red spinach extract, plant-based nitrates and bioactive to support blood flow, and antioxidant polyphenols and other essential nutrients your body needs, and add some salt into that drink and you're golden, just like many top professional athletes. 

Resync’s product line is tailored to your high-intensity life and is one of very few brands that actually conducts testing, human studies and certifies its products by 3rd party so you know that when you drink Resync, you drink clean recovery drink. Try it and close the gap between tired and ready to go!

High Potassium Recipes

Our ancestors probably consumed more than 10,000 mg of potassium, and 800 grams of sodium per day - approximately a 1:10 to 1:16 ratio of sodium to potassium, and far, far removed from the reality of what we eat today. That’s a lot of potassium, but eating the right foods will help lower sodium, raise potassium, and set your heart up for a long life of health.

If you want clean, plant-based recipes that give you energy, rather than take it away, check out our recent ebook: Recover Every Layer of Your Body. Keep reading for a sample that highlights the optimal electrolytes your body needs. And if you want extra sodium just add tiny amounts of it on top of this delicious salad and you will be good to go. 

High potassium recipehigh potassium recipehigh potassium recipe

Enjoy, and let us know what you think! 

We want to hear from you!

Want the practical details on how to eat and supplement to support your exercise, heart health, beauty, and energy? Subscribe to our feed and never miss our best content! If you want more, leave a comment or question below, and we’ll get back to you! 

While other companies try to sell you through clickbait and fake news, we back up what we say with hard data. We believe that when you have the right information, you are empowered to make the best decision possible. That’s why we break down complex science into practical takeaways you can use today. 

If there’s something you want to know more about, let us know by contacting us or getting in touch on social media!

Wishing you the best in your health,

The Resync Team

References

He Feng J., et al. “Effects of Potassium Chloride and Potassium Bicarbonate on Endothelial Function, Cardiovascular Risk Factors, and Bone Turnover in Mild Hypertensives.” Hypertension, vol. 55, no. 3, American Heart Association, Mar. 2010, pp. 681–88. ahajournals.org (Atypon), doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.109.147488.

Heaney, Robert P. “Role of Dietary Sodium in Osteoporosis.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, vol. 25, no. sup3, Taylor & Francis, June 2006, pp. 271S-276S. Taylor and Francis+NEJM, doi:10.1080/07315724.2006.10719577.

Piazza, Gerri. “How Too Little Potassium May Contribute to Cardiovascular Disease.” National Institutes of Health (NIH), 23 Oct. 2017, https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-too-little-potassium-may-contribute-cardiovascular-disease.

Lindinger, Michael I. “Potassium Regulation during Exercise and Recovery in Humans: Implications for Skeletal and Cardiac Muscle.” Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology, vol. 27, no. 4, Apr. 1995, pp. 1011–22. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/0022-2828(95)90070-5.

AHA Sodium Reduction Initiative Team |. 30. “Top 25 Foods That Add the Most Sodium to Your Diet.” Healthy for Good Blog, https://sodiumbreakup.heart.org/top_25_foods_that_add_the_most_sodium_to_your_diet. Accessed 24 Feb. 2021.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Food and Nutrition Board; Committee to Review the Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Edited by Maria Oria et al., National Academies Press (US), 2019. PubMed, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538102/.

NIH. Office of Dietary Supplements - Potassium. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Potassium-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 24 Feb. 2021.

Rastmanesh, Reza, et al. “A Pilot Study of Potassium Supplementation in the Treatment of Hypokalemic Patients With Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Trial.” The Journal of Pain, vol. 9, no. 8, Elsevier, Aug. 2008, pp. 722–31. www.jpain.org, doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2008.03.006.

Sebastian, Anthony, et al. “The Evolution-Informed Optimal Dietary Potassium Intake of Human Beings Greatly Exceeds Current and Recommended Intakes.” Seminars in Nephrology, vol. 26, no. 6, Nov. 2006, pp. 447–53. PubMed, doi:10.1016/j.semnephrol.2006.10.003.



Written by Barbara Depta and registered dietitian, Detrick Snyder, MPH, RDN. Updated on 3/1/2021.

Disclaimer

This content is for general informational purposes only, and does not constitute the practice of any professional healthcare service, INCLUDING the giving of medical advice. No provider-patient relationship is formed. The use of this information, and the materials linked to this content is at the user's own risk. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should abide by the advice of their healthcare provider, and should not disregard or delay in obtaining medical advice for any medical condition they may have.

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