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Sodium versus Potassium – What’s the Difference?

You asked from time dot com

This is a terrific question asked by participants at our recent N4NN 2017 course in Toronto. Did you know that the new Canadian Nutrition Facts Table now requires that BOTH sodium and potassium amounts be shown in a food? Discover the significance and impact of these important nutrients. Count on us as dietitians to share expert advice and science-based information.

Sodium is an essential mineral and electrolyte. Sodium is needed to maintain normal blood pressure, support your nerves and muscles, as well as regulate your body’s fluid balance.

In food, sodium acts to: enhance flavour, preserve freshness of food, increase shelf life of food, prevent food spoilage / bacterial growth, and allow bread to rise as well as cheese to ripen.

According to Statistics Canada, over 75% of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods such as deli meats, cheese, pizza, soups and sauces.

We do need some sodium for good health, however Canadians eat on average 3,400 mg of sodium a day – this is more than double the amount we need. Eating too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure which is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. The 100% Daily Value (% DV) for sodium is 2,300 mg (down from the previous 2,400 mg).

Potassium is also an essential mineral and electrolyte. Potassium is needed to maintain normal blood pressure, regulate your body’s fluid balance, support muscle contractions and nerve impulses, as well as maintain a regular heart rhythm.

In food, potassium chloride is used to: enhance flavour, increase shelf life of foods, prevent food spoilage / bacterial growth, control pH of foods as well as reduce the sodium content of foods.

Best sources of potassium are beans (e.g. white beans, adzuki beans), potatoes, sweet potatoes, leafy green vegetables, beets, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Potassium declaration on the Nutrition Facts Table is now mandatory with the new regulations, and the 100% Daily Value (% DV) has been upped to 4700 mg from 3500 mg.

Sodium-Potassium Relationship
Sodium is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure. On the other hand, potassium acts as a vasodilator to lower the risk of high blood pressure. Health Canada has approved the following health claim, “A healthy diet containing foods high in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure.”

*Image source: time.com

5 Nutrition Myths – Busted!

hosts + Sue - 2

Test your nutrition IQ with this fun 5-question quiz!

Watch Sue’s interview clip on CTV Your Morning!


1) TRUE or FALSE: Brown eggs are more nutritious than white eggs.

Answer: FALSE

There really is no nutritional difference between brown eggs and white eggs. The main difference is in the hens. Generally speaking, white eggs come from hens with white feathers, and brown eggs come from hens with brown feathers!

Brown hens are slightly larger birds and need more food, so that may be a reason why brown eggs usually cost more than white eggs.


2) TRUE or FALSE: You need to drink 8 cups of water every day.

Answer: FALSE

Actually, it’s recommended that women get 9 cups of FLUID every day and men get 12 cups of FLUID every day. If you’re exercising, or if the weather is hot and humid, you may even need more fluid.

Fluid comes from the food you eat and the beverages that you drink – so milk, soup, coffee, tea, watermelon, grapes – all of that counts towards your fluid intake for the day. So the actual amount of water you need really depends on what you’re eating and drinking.

Water is always an excellent choice because it’s calorie-free and very refreshing. And here’s the best tip – take a look at your urine. If it’s light or clear, then it usually means that you’re getting enough fluids. But if it’s dark yellow, then it’s a sign of dehydration and you need more fluids.


3) TRUE or FALSE: Sea salt has the same amount of sodium as table salt.

Answer: TRUE

By weight, sea salt and table salt have the same amount of sodium. By volume though, sea salt does contain a little less sodium because sea salt crystals are larger.

The biggest differences between sea salt and table salt are: taste, texture and source.
Sea salt is made by evaporating seawater and tastes different depending on where it’s from. Sea salt does contain very small amounts of trace minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Table salt is mined from dried-up ancient salt lakes. Some table salts include iodine, a nutrient that helps prevent thyroid disease (goiter).

4) TRUE or FALSE: Drinking lemon water first thing in the morning is a good way to detox your body.

Answer: FALSE

There is nothing magical about lemon water. Drinking lemon water in the morning actually adds extra acid into your empty stomach and this can give you a stomachache.
Another problem with lemon water is that the acid from the lemon can erode / wear down your tooth enamel. If you really love to drink lemon water, try to have a plain glass of water afterwards, and wait at least 15 minutes before brushing your teeth.

5) TRUE or FALSE: Energy drinks give you energy.

Answer: TRUE

Energy can mean calories. A bottle of energy drink can have about 100 calories, so in that sense, yes, you’re getting energy!

Energy can also mean physical energy. Energy drinks typically contain caffeine which is a stimulant. One cup of an average energy drink has almost as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. So in that sense, energy drinks will make you feel energized and alert.

The problem is that energy drinks also contain added sugar – up to 7 teaspoons in a serving- yikes! And there’s also herbal ingredients. Energy drinks are a no-no for kids, teens and pregnant/breastfeeding women.

What’s the best way to feel energized? Eat well, be active, stay hydrated and get enough sleep!