Omega-3, sodium & potassium—Think ratios

We’re eating too much of the bad stuff and not enough of the good.

Most of our salt intake doesn’t come from this little guy — but from the highly processed and restaurant foods.

Happy New Year! A recent study reported in the New York Times (see link below this post) focused on the dangerously high sodium to potassium ratios in the USA. In the 12-26-11 article by Jane E. Brody, there was a great deal of information about the dangers of too much sodium and the health benefits of consuming more potassium. Good information, but lacking in clarity. As for our salt consumption, the article reported:

Ninety percent of the sodium in the American diet comes from salt, three-fourths of which is consumed in processed and restaurant foods. Salt added in home cooking and at the table accounts for only a minor proportion of sodium intake.

The article also reported that the body’s actual requirement for sodium is quite low, only 220 mg. per day, yet the average American consumes 3400 mg. That’s almost 50% more than the 2300 mg. maximum in our latest dietary guidelines. What about that ratio? The article continues.

A major study, based on data from more than 12,000 American adults, took into account all those risk factors for death from heart disease. The researchers found that while a diet high in sodium — salt is the main source — increases your risk, even more important is the ratio of sodium (harmful) to potassium (protective) in one’s diet.

Potassium rich foods; the same foods that provide us with the protein and all the other vitamins and nutrients that we need. Whole, plant-based foods.

Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio. So, it’s kind of like the healthy omega-3s that we hear so much about. It turns out that the ratio of the omega-6s to the omega-3s is more important. Dr. Fuhrman was quoted in our book: “Optimal health depends on the proper balance of fatty acids in the diet . . . Our modern diet, full of vegetable oils and animal products, is very high in omega-6 fat and very low in omega-3 fat; the higher the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, the higher the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and inflammatory illnesses.” So if we cut down on the harmful omega-6s in our diet, the less omega-3’s we’ll need in order to achieve the right ratio.

Regarding the sodium to potassium ratio; the article continues: “When people whose meals contained little sodium relative to potassium were compared with those whose diets had a high sodium-to-potassium ratio, the latter were nearly 50 percent more likely to die from any cause and more than twice as likely to die from ischemic heart disease during a follow-up period averaging 14.8 years.”

The good news. If we simply eat a plant-based diet rich in grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, we’ll get all the sodium we need, but not too much. More importantly, we’ll get the protective potassium from those whole, plant-based foods. That same diet will also improve our omega ratio as well — increasing our ratio of the healthy omega-3s to the not-so-healthy omega-6s. But the article came up way short with regards to this obvious solution.

The obvious problem is our rich Western diet of meat, dairy, eggs and highly processed foods three meals a day — the very diet that delivers way too much sodium and omega-6s but not nearly enough potassium and omega-3s. More information on salt from the article:

The body’s requirement for sodium is very low — only 220 milligrams a day — but the average American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams daily. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a maximum of 2,300 milligrams (about a teaspoon of salt) for people over age 2.

Despite widespread efforts to get people to consume less sodium, intake of this nutrient has increased significantly since the early 1970s as consumption has risen of processed and restaurant foods, which rely heavily on salt as a cheap way to enhance flavor and texture and preserve food.

To make matters worse, not only does the amount of sodium rise precipitously when foods like tomatoes and potatoes are processed, but the natural potassium in these foods declines significantly, worsening the sodium-potassium ratio.

It seems that the official “system” information is sometimes helpful, sometimes harmful, but always confusing.

The bottom line. This salt issue is just one of hundreds of health problems that are driven by our rich Western diet. Although the solution is so refreshingly simple, the sources quoted in the New York Times article come up way short when it comes to telling the public exactly what they should be eating. From near the end of the article:

Dr. Kuklina (of the CDC) recommends eating fewer processed foods, especially processed meats, and more fresh fruits and vegetables and dairy products that are low in sodium, like yogurt and milk.

Increase your potassium intake not by taking supplements, but by eating more cantaloupe, bananas, oranges, grapes, grapefruit, blackberries, yogurt, dried beans, leafy greens, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Obviously, Dr. Kulina hasn’t read The China Study and/or doesn’t believe the overwhelming scientific and clinical evidence supporting our adoption of a whole foods, plant-based diet. She’s still talking about eating less processed meats and she includes dairy and yogurt right in there with her list of healthy sources of potassium. The reader, of course, will just continue to be confused. (See link to article at end of this post).

To wrap up this discussion of salt; let’s turn to someone that you can always trust to tell you the truth — someone who favors clarity over confusion. From his great website at, take a look at Dr. Michael Greger’s two-minute video from 10-21-11.

While you’re making your resolutions, you should also think about how you can become a better citizen of the planet. Conveniently, as Dr. Campbell says, “If the we eat the way that promotes the best health for ourselves, we also promote the best health for the planet.”

And our planet needs your help; take a look at the following movies and you’ll understand why. Just in case you haven’t seem them yet, get yourself some popcorn (or celery), and watch these great world-changing documentaries with your family (free). They are about 1.5 hours each and are likely to leave you feeling differently about the role of the human race on our precious planet.

HOME — a great 2009 film; a powerful eye-opener

“Earthlings” — A documentary that we all NEED to see

J. Morris Hicks, author and activist. Working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

If you like what you see here, you may wish to join our periodic mailing list. Also, for help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4-Leaf page.

And if you like what 4-Leaf eating is doing for you and your family, you might enjoy visiting our new “4-Leaf Gear” store. From the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

If you’d like to order our book on Amazon,  visit our BookStore now.

The Jane Brody NY Times article: High Sodium-to-Potassium Ratio in Diet Is a Major Heart Risk –

—J. Morris Hicks…blogging daily at

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About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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