The sodium to potassium ratio in the diet plays an important role in the regulation of intracellular and extracellular fluid, as well as the regulation of neuronal activity. This is why the potassium to sodium ratio of the diet is regarded as having a strong association to the risk of cardiovascular disease. The association between the potassium to sodium ratio and cardiovascular disease is much stronger than that of either sodium or potassium in isolation. Generally, fruits and vegetables contain a potassium to sodium ratio of between 10 and 20 to 1. Diets high in plant foods therefore supply much more potassium compared to sodium and this higher amount of potassium (a ratio of about 2.3 potassium to 1 sodium is recommended) facilitates maintenance of normal fluid and neuronal homeostasis. However, processed foods contains far more sodium, and this may significantly lower the sodium to potassium ratio in favour of sodium. A number of studies have therefore investigated the sodium to potassium ratio of the Western diet.
Current estimates are that only about a tenth of adult obtain potassium to sodium ratios in the diet that meet the World Health Organisation’s recommendations (2.3 to 1). However, gender age and ethnic differences exist. The sodium to potassium ratio has been shown to decrease linearly with age, suggesting that older individual may consume more plant foods such as fruits and vegetables, in combination with fewer processed foods. Evidence also suggests that women may have a lower sodium to potassium ratio in their diet compared to men, and that whites may have a low sodium to potassium ratio compared to blacks or Asians. Only around 12 % of US adults have sodium to potassium ratios of less that 1 in their diets. In US adults consuming a sodium to potassium ratio of less than 1, vegetables and dairy products comprise the most frequently consumed sources of potassium. However, in those with a sodium to potassium ratio of over 1, protein foods and mixed dishes comprised the main source of potassium.
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