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Sodium and Potassium


Sodium is an essential nutrient required in small amounts in the diet. It is necessary for balance of fluids in the body, together with chloride and potassium, transmitting impulses in nerves and muscles.

Often “salt” and “sodium” are used synonymously. However, salt is sodium chloride, in which sodium is only 39% of the total weight.

What are the sources of sodium in diet?
Sodium is found naturally in many foods, such as celery, milk, meat and shellfish.It is added to many processed foods because of its preservative and flavouring properties, such as cheese, packet soups, salty snacks, bread and canned foods.

Sodium is lost in urine and particularly sweat as sodium chloride. Sodium present in foods is not adequate to meet the requirement. Hence sodium chloride, ie salt has to be included in the diet.
A high intake is linked to an increase in blood pressure and a higher risk of heart disease and strokes. WHO recommends 5g of salt per day to prevent diseases like hypertension.

Tips for a low sodium diet:

  • Check sodium/salt-content on food labels. A lot of processed foods contain excess salt. Eg.breakfast cereals, muesli, bread, cheese, mustard, mayonnaise, soy  sauce, salad dressings, dips  and ketchup
  • Reduce salt in recipes whenever possible. Use herbs, spices and other flavourings to enhance taste of foods and in meals
  • Whenever possible, serve more fresh fruit and vegetables rather than canned foods
The taste for salt is acquired. Everyone can learn to enjoy less.


Potassium serves many important functions in the body. It controls the balance of water between and within cells (together with sodium and chloride). It plays an essential role in the stimulation of nerves and in muscle contraction and is essential for normal heart activity.

What are the sources of Potassium?
Foods like vegetables and legumes like avocado, broccoli, carrots, peas, lentils, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruits like apricots, bananas, citrus fruits, milk, dairy products and nuts, meat and fish (clams, halibut, salmon and sardines) are good sources of potassium. Potassium losses from cooking may be significant.

How much Potassium do we need?
ICMR recommends 1100 mg/day of Potassium for children from 1-3 years of age. 1550 mg/d of Potassium is recommended for children from 4 to 6 years of age. 3225 mg/d of Potassium is recommended for adult sedentary woman and 3750 mg/d for adult sedentary male.

Potassium present in vegetarian food is probably enough to meet the daily requirement.