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Key Nutrient Series: The Role of Sodium and Potassium in Our Diet

By The Paleo Diet Team
April 26, 2020
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The question of how much salt we should eat has become one of the biggest debates in the Paleo community—and it’s a debate that shouldn’t even exist. Some in the community have started to argue that not only is the standard U.S. recommendation to eat less than 2,300mg of sodium per day wrong, but that we should be eating double to triple that amount.

They also argue that as long as it’s sea salt and not table salt, it’s healthy. The problem with that notion is that most of the negative health effects of too much salt—high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, and autoimmune disease—have to do with the same culprit: simple sodium chloride.And sodium chloride is the same whether it comes in the form of coarse pink colored crystals or refined white table salt.

Ultimately, most of the arguments supporting more salt in our diet are based on unproven theories and research that has been shown to have serious methodological flaws.

A few years ago, we addressed this question of a high-salt diet and the many negative effects it can have on our health. Since this is such an important question, with such a significant impact on our health, that it’s worth revisiting now. So, in this series, we dive further into the question of how much salt humans should consume. More importantly, in this series we address the other side of the equation—potassium.

Perhaps one of the most important, and overlooked, aspects of a healthy diet is the sodium:potassium ratio. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors typically ate a ratio between 1:5 and 1:10. The western diet is closer to 1:1 or even 2:1 sodium to potassium. The Paleo Diet®mimics this ancestral ratio. In our series, Mark J. Smith, Ph.D.,explains this ratio and why being closer to our hunter-gatherer ancestors is so important. Dr. Marc Bubbs takes it a step further, addressing several recent studies which show that increasing potassium in our diet can mitigate much of the negative impact of high sodium intake.

In our third article, Trevor Connor, M.S., addresses one of the arguments made to support a high salt diet—the belief that a low-sodium diet causes insulin resistance. Despite that popular claim, most current research shows the exact opposite.

Finally, if you are convinced that a sodium:potassium ratio closer to our ancestors is important for your health, then you may be wondering how to get more potassium in your diet. It’s simple: eat more fruits and vegetables. In this series we include a potassium-power house of a salad recipe to get you started.



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The Sodium/Potassium ratio and Its Importance in Human Health

By Mark J. Smith, Ph.D.

When Dr. Loren Cordain first introduced the concept of Paleolithic nutrition, the scientific research illustrated the importance of three critical nutrient ratios: omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, calcium to magnesium, and sodium to potassium (Na+/K+). The evidence suggested these three ratios were quite different in a Paleolithic diet when compared to a typical Western diet. Furthermore, the ratios found in a Paleolithic diet were far more beneficial to human health. Smith explains perhaps the most important of these three ratios.

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The Effects of Salt Substitute on Community-Wide Blood Pressure and Hypertension

By Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, MSc, CISSN, CSCS

High blood pressure, or hypertension as it’s referred to in medical circles, is the primary or contributing cause to over 400,000 deaths in the U.S. annually and a high-salt diet is a major contributing factor to hypertension. The problem is that in many parts of the country, getting Americans to reduce the salt in their diet is extraordinarily difficult. In this article, Bubbs addresses several recent studies showing that there is an alternative—an increase in the amount of potassium we eat.

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Does a Low-Salt Diet Cause Insulin Resistance?

By Trevor Connor, M.S.

One of the arguments used by members of the Paleo community who support a high-salt diet is that a low-sodium diet causes insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes. Connor addresses this argument and why the limited research backing it has serious methodological flaws. Once the well conducted studies are identified, the science tells a very different story: a high–salt diet causes insulin resistance. And potassium in the diet can reduce the impact.

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RECIPE: BLUEBERRY AND ROASTED BEET KALE SALAD

By Lorrie Cordain

What’s the easiest way to improve the sodium:potassium ratio in your diet? Reduce processed foods high in salt and eat a lot more vegetables and fruit. This recipe, straight out of the Real Paleo Diet Cookbook, is packed with a whole lot of both. Plus, it’s quick and easy to prepare.

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Dr. Mark Smith

One of the original members of the Paleo movement, Mark J. Smith, Ph.D., has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the benefits of Paleo nutrition.

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Nell Stephenson

Ironman athlete, mom, author, and nutrition blogger Nell Stephenson has been an influential member of the Paleo movement for over a decade.

Loren Cordain
Dr. Loren Cordain

As a professor at Colorado State University, Dr. Loren Cordain developed The Paleo Diet® through decades of research and collaboration with fellow scientists around the world.