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WHO Issues New Guidance on Dietary Salt and Potassium

Recommendations aimed at reducing risk of hypertension and heart disease (Jan. 31)

Adults should consume less than 2,000 mg of sodium, or 5 grams of salt, and at least 3,510 mg of potassium per day, according to new guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO). A person with either elevated sodium levels or low potassium levels could be at risk of increased blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Sodium is found naturally in a variety of foods, including milk and cream (approximately 50 mg of sodium per 100 g) and eggs (approximately 80 mg/100 g). Sodium is also found, in much higher amounts, in processed foods, such as bread (approximately 250 mg/100 g); processed meats, such as bacon (approximately 1,500 mg/100 g); and snack foods, such as pretzels, cheese puffs, and popcorn (approximately 1,500 mg/100 g), as well as in condiments, such as soy sauce (approximately 7,000 mg/100 g) and bouillon or stock cubes (approximately 20,000 mg/100 g).

Potassium-rich foods include beans and peas (approximately 1,300 mg of potassium per 100 g); nuts (approximately 600 mg/100 g); vegetables, such as spinach, cabbage, and parsley (approximately 550 mg/100 g); and fruits, such as bananas, papayas, and dates (approximately 300 mg/100 g).

Currently, most people consume too much sodium and not enough potassium, the WHO says.

Dr. Francesco Branca, director of the WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, remarked: “Elevated blood pressure is a major risk for heart disease and stroke — the number one cause of death and disability globally. These guidelines also make recommendations for children over the age of 2. This is critical because children with elevated blood pressure often become adults with elevated blood pressure.”

According to the WHO, measures to reduce sodium consumption and to increase potassium consumption — thereby decreasing the risk of hypertension and heart disease — can include food and product labeling, consumer education, updating national dietary guidelines, and negotiating with food manufacturers to reduce the amount of salt in processed foods.

Source: WHO; January 31, 2013.

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