Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.
Intro: Our bodies are meant to have a certain balance of sodium and potassium intake, yet the majority of people in the U.S. get vastly more than the recommended amount of sodium… and it turns out, far less than the recommended amount of potassium. In this three-part video series, we’ll look at the optimal levels of sodium and potassium, and then at a salt substitute that may help balance out this ratio…and save lives.
Worldwide, physical inactivity accounted for more than 10 million years of healthy life lost, but what we eat accounts for nearly 20 times that. Unhealthy diets shave hundreds of millions of disability-free years off of people’s lives every year.
What are the worst aspects of our diets? Four out of the five of the deadliest dietary traps involve not eating enough of certain foods. Not eating enough whole grains, not eating enough fruits, not eating enough nuts and seeds, and not eating enough vegetables. But our most fatal flaw is too much salt. On the order of 15 times deadlier than diets too high in soda, for example, just to help put things in perspective. “There remains no single more effective public health action related to nutrition than the reduction of sodium in the diet.”
This is why national and international health organizations have called for warning labels on salt packets and salt shakers, with messages like “too much sodium in the diet causes high blood pressure and increases risk of stomach cancer, stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease. Limit your use.”
Salt also increases inflammation. For example, sodium intake is associated with increased disease activity in multiple sclerosis, an inflammatory autoimmune nerve condition––about three to four times the exacerbation rate in those with medium or high sodium intakes compared to those getting less than a teaspoon (less than 6 grams) of salt total in a day.
Just as you can see higher sodium levels in the tissues of those who suffer from lupus, another serious inflammatory autoimmune disease, you can correlate high sodium levels in the spinal cord of MS patients with the disease, and decreased structural integrity.
Where’s sodium found though? Really crappy foods. So, it’s hard to know if increased salt intake is just a marker for a bad diet overall. But what we do know is that salt and high blood pressure are cause-and-effect. How? Because we have more than a hundred randomized controlled trials demonstrating that if you cut down on added salt, your blood pressures fall, and the more you cut down the better. Part of the mechanism may actually be the damage salt may do to your microbiome, the friendly flora in your gut.
And no wonder. Our bodies evolved only to handle about 750mg a day. The American Heart Association says we should stay under at least twice that about, but we’re eating more than four times what’s natural. And it’s only getting worse, increasing over the last decade. Anyone care to guess what percentage of Americans exceed the 1,500mg upper limit recommendation? 98.8 percent. And that’s more than a decade ago!
The vast majority of U.S. adults consume too much sodium and, at the same time, too little potassium, a mineral that lowers blood pressure. Less than 2 percent of U.S. adults consumed the recommended daily minimum intake of potassium. So, more than 98 percent of Americans eat potassium deficient diets. This deﬁciency is even more striking when comparing our current intake with that of our ancestors, who consumed large amounts of dietary potassium. We evolved probably getting more than 10,000mg a day. The recommendation is to get around at least like around half that, yet most of us don’t come anywhere close.
Put the two guidelines together, and sodium and potassium goals are currently met by less than 0.015 percent of the U.S. population. So, we’re talkin’ close to 99.99 percent noncompliance. As in only 1 in 6,000 Americans even hits the recommended guidelines.
What about using potassium-based salt substitutes? Instead of using sodium chloride—salt, why not shake on some potassium chloride? Seems a little too good to be true. Same salty taste, but you’re reducing sodium while at the same time increasing your potassium intake? Is there a catch? Are potassium-based salt substitutes safe? Effective? We’ll find out, next.
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