The Role of Potassium and Sodium in Your Diet

Potassium and sodium are electrolytes needed for the body to function normally and help maintain fluid and blood volume in the body. However, a person can get high blood pressure by consuming too much sodium and not enough potassium.1 Potassium is found in vegetables, fruit, seafood, and dairy products. Vegetables and fruits, such as potatoes, tomatoes, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, beans, and bananas; dairy products, such as yogurt; and seafood, such as salmon and clams, are good sources of potassium.2 The majority of sodium that people consume comes from processed foods and food prepared in restaurants.3

Potassium, Sodium, and High Blood Pressure

  • There is a strong relationship between consuming too much sodium and having higher blood pressure.4 This means that, on average, the more sodium a person consumes, the higher their blood pressure will be.
  • The combination of consuming more sodium and having too little potassium in your diet is associated with higher blood pressure.5,6*
  • Increasing potassium intake can decrease blood pressure in adults with hypertension.7

Potassium, Sodium, and Cardiovascular Disease Burden

  • Increasing potassium intake can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, by lowering blood pressure.8,9
  • Consuming high amounts of sodium and low amounts of potassium can increase a person’s risk for heart disease and stroke.5,10,11,12
  • Reducing sodium and increasing potassium in your diet can help control hypertension and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and death.13
  • Lowering blood pressure reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.14
Sources of potassium in food can come from apricots, sweet potatoes, spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, avacadoes, bananas, salmon, mushrooms, and beans.

Potassium in the Food Supply and Potassium Consumption

  • Americans consume too much sodium and not enough potassium.1
  • The publication 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Cdc-pdf[PDF-10 MB]External recommends that Americans eat more foods that are good sources of potassium, including vegetables, fruits, seafood, and dairy. These foods include baked potatoes with the flesh and skin, plain yogurt, salmon, and bananas.2
  • Potassium has been classified as a nutrient of public health concern. Not eating enough potassium is associated with increased risk of hypertension, which can lead to cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke.1 Low potassium intake is caused by not eating enough vegetables, fruit, seafood, and dairy.2
  • The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating PlanExternal is designed to increase intake of foods expected to lower blood pressure, encourage heart-healthy choices, and help meet nutrient recommendations. The eating plan is low in sodium and saturated fats and rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein.15
  • In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued final rules to update the Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods. The new Nutrition Facts label is appearing on more and more packages and includes mandatory labeling of potassium to help consumers make informed choices about food. In the past, including potassium on the Nutrition Facts label was voluntary. Potassium is required on the updated label because it has been identified as a nutrient Americans are not getting enough of, and when lacking, is associated with increased risk of chronic disease.16

*Salt is not the same as sodium. The term “salt” refers to sodium chloride. “Sodium” refers to dietary sodium. One gram of salt (sodium chloride) equals 390 milligrams of sodium.

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Cdc-pdf[PDF-10.8 MB]External. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2015.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th Edition Cdc-pdf[PDF-10 MB]External. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2015.
  3. Harnack LI, Cogswell ME, Shikany JM, Gardner CD, Gillespie C, Loria CM, et al. Sources of sodium in U.S. adults from 3 geographic regionsExternal. Circulation. 2017;135:1775–83.
  4. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and SulfateExternal. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2004.
  5. Jackson SL, Cogswell ME, Zhao L, Terry AL, Wang CY, Wright J, et al. Associations between urinary sodium and potassium excretion and blood pressure among adults in the United States: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2014External. Circulation. 2018;137:237–46.
  6. Kieneker L, Gansevoort RT, Mukamal KJ, de Boer RA, Navis G, Bakker SJL, et al. Urinary potassium excretion and risk of developing hypertension. The prevention of renal and vascular end-stage disease studyExternal. Hypertension. 2014;64(4):769–76.
  7. Newberry SJ, Chung M, Anderson CAM, Chen C, Fu Z, Tang A, et al. Effects of Dietary Sodium and Potassium Intake on Chronic Disease Outcomes and Related Risk FactorsExternal. Systematic Review No. 206. AHRQ Publication No. 18-EHC009-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; March 2018.
  8. National Institutes of Health. How Too Little Potassium May Contribute to Cardiovascular Disease website. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-too-little-potassium-may-contribute-cardiovascular-diseaseExternal. Accessed May 23, 2018.
  9. U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Potassium in Diet. MedlinePlus website. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002413.htmExternal. Accessed May 23, 2018.
  10. Cook NR, Obarzanek E, Cutler JA, Buring JE, Rexrode KM, Kumanyika SK, et al. Joint effects of sodium and potassium intake on subsequent cardiovascular disease: the Trials of Hypertension Prevention follow-up studyExternal. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(1):32–40.
  11. Willey J, Gardener H, Cespedes S, Cheung YK, Sacco RL, Elkind MSV. Dietary sodium to potassium ratio and risk of stroke in a multiethnic urban population: The Northern Manhattan StudyExternal. Stroke. 2017;48(11):2979–83.
  12. Cogswell ME, Loria CM, Terry AL, Zhao L, Wang CY, Chen TC, et al. Estimated 24-hour urinary sodium and potassium excretion in U.S. adultsExternal. JAMA. 2018;319(12):1–12.
  13. Aaron KJ, Sanders PW. Role of dietary salt and potassium intake in cardiovascular health and disease: a review of the evidenceExternal. Mayo Clin Proc.2013;88(9):987.
  14. American Heart Association. Changes You Can Make to Manage High Blood Pressure website. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/MakeChangesThatMatter/Changes-You-Can-Make-to-Manage-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_002054_Article.jsp#.WqqkuujwaUkExternal. Accessed May 23, 2018.
  15. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. DASH Eating Plan website. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-planExternal. Accessed May 23, 2018.
  16. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label website. https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htmExternal. Accessed April 17, 2018.