NUTRITION
May 8, 2015

The Real Culprit in High Blood Pressure?

It may not be salty foods. A new study points the finger at a different mineral.

Salty snacks — chips, fries, nachos — are a favorite among kids and teens, often to the dismay of their parents. Nine out of ten kids consume too much salt, raising their risk of high blood pressure, according to a CDC report.

But salt may not be the culprit in the development of high blood pressure after all. These are the surprising results of a new study. Instead, a lack of potassium may be more important.

Americans should consume 4,700 milligrams of potassium each day, a number that fewer than two percent of the population reaches.

The study followed the eating habits and blood pressure of a racially diverse group of nearly 2,200 9- and 10-year-old girls who were part of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Growth and Health Study. Their food intake was self-reported, and their blood pressure was measured annually for 10 years, by which time the girls had reached early adulthood.

The girls consumed as much as 4,000 milligrams of sodium per day. Despite that, their blood pressure readings were the same as those who consumed less than 2,500 milligrams per day. So sodium didn’t seem to be the problem.

Instead, the researchers found that girls who ate more potassium-rich foods during the teen years had lower blood pressure than those who consumed fewer high-potassium foods. They concluded that adolescents would get more long-term health benefits from eating high-potassium foods rather than reducing their salt intake.

Lynn L. Moore, lead author of the study and associate professor of medicine at Boston University, said that instead of focusing on salt intake among kids and adolescents, more emphasis needs to be placed on increasing their potassium intake.

According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, Americans should consume 4,700 milligrams of potassium each day, a number that fewer than two percent of the population reaches.

Potassium is not required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts label. One reason for this is that the foods richest in potassium often don’t have a label. Teen-friendly foods that are good sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, potatoes, bananas, tomatoes and tomato products, citrus fruits, raisins, milk, and yogurt. A few lucky parents might also get their teens to eat spinach and other leafy greens, as well as legumes.

The findings of this study are not without controversy since they are at odds with current government guidelines. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that children, teens, and adults not exceed 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, stressing that too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.

The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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