Effects of Sodium and Potassium

Key points

  • Sodium and potassium are electrolytes that help your body maintain fluid and blood volume.
  • Consuming too much sodium and too little potassium can raise your blood pressure.
  • High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
A smiling woman taking a cantaloupe out of the refrigerator.

Why it's important

Sodium and potassium are electrolytes needed for your body to function properly, including hydration, blood volume, and the functioning of your nerves and muscles. We get electrolytes from our food and drinks.

Consuming too much sodium can raise your blood pressure. Limiting sodium intake is especially important if you have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

Increasing potassium intake can help decrease your blood pressure if you have high blood pressure. By lowering blood pressure, increasing potassium intake can also reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Terms to know

Though the words "salt" and "sodium" are often used interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing. Salt is also known by its chemical name, sodium chloride. Salt is a crystal-like compound that is common in nature. Sodium is a mineral, and it is a chemical element found in salt.

Food sources of sodium and potassium

Most Americans eat too much sodium and too little potassium. Americans consume more than 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day, on average. This is well above the federal recommendation of less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily for teens and adults as part of a healthy eating pattern.

Most sodium in our diets comes from packaged and restaurant food. Foods with moderate amounts of sodium, such as bread, can be major sources of sodium because they're eaten so frequently.

Most potassium we eat naturally occurs in vegetables, fruit, seafood, and dairy products. Some good sources of potassium include bananas, oranges, melons, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cooked spinach and broccoli.

What you can do

See tips for reducing sodium intake at the grocery store, at home, and in restaurants.

Consider adopting the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. It is low in sodium, cholesterol, and saturated and total fats, and high in fruits and vegetables, fiber, potassium, and low-fat dairy products.