Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Yesterday the NYTimes covered an important health ratio: the amount of potassium relative to the amount salt you consume. While the article by long time health reporter, Jane Brody, leads with the obvious (excessive salt has proven to be a health risk, according to yet another major study), and the headline writer reinforce the obvious (“Sodium-Saturated Diet is a Threat for All”), the article recognizes that everything is about balance and notes the important role potassium-rich foods play in countering salt’s negative effects.

“The researchers found that while a diet hight in sodium—salt is the main source—increases your risk,” Brody writes, “even more important is the ratio of sodium (harmful) to potassium (protective) in one’s diet.”

This was pointed out to me this summer by Mark Bitterman, author of a great book called Salted, and owner of the specialty store The Meadow (in Portland and Manhattan) via this Seattle P.I. blog post. And I’m glad to see the weighty Times take note.

Even more interesting is Brody’s suggestion that one if potassium’s benefits is that it “activates nitric oxide, and thus reduces pressure in the arteries, lowering the risk of hypertension.” I’m not a nutritionist or chemist but my guess is that this nitric oxide is possible because of the high quantities of nitrates in the vegetables we eat; it certainly makes sense, since nitrates convert to nitrites which convert to nitric oxide. I’d be grateful for any experts to weigh in here as to why potassium is so important and how it works. (See my related post on the “no-nitrates-added” hoax used to market bacon.)

The article goes over what any literate American should know: that most of the salt we consume (75% according to Brody) comes from processed food. My contention has always been and remains that if you cook your own food, you can salt it to pleasurable levels and not live in terror of salt.

But now, you charcutepaloozians, dry-curers and bacon lovers can, in addition to cooking your own food, be sure to eat plenty of potassium-rich foods: bananas, canteloupe, oranges, grapes, grapefruit, blackberries, legumes, leafy greens (which are also nitrate-rich), potatoes and sweet potatoes. You should eat these foods anyway.  And listen to your body.

Perhaps this is why I start every morning with a glass of grapefruit juice and red grapes with my coffee. I never knew why I craved these things. Now I think I do.

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© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved