How Salt and Potassium Affect Your Teen’s Blood Pressure

Study finds potassium may lower blood pressure in teens
Teen taking blood pressure

Parents who worry about their teens’ consumption of salt can take heart from a new study, which finds that a diet high in sodium may not have a negative impact on blood pressure levels in teenage girls.

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While recent research in adults has shown salt consumption may not negatively affect blood pressure the way scientists once thought, this is the first study to examine its effects on a teenage population.

A second important finding of the study is that a diet high in potassium appears to lower blood pressure in the same population.

Salt intake and blood pressure

In the past, physicians have urged people to limit salt intake, believing that most Americans consume too much sodium.  Current guidelines recommend limiting salt intake to 2,300 milligrams per day for healthy people between the ages of 2 and 50.

The guidelines do limit salt intake to 1,500 milligrams daily for some people  Adults older than age 51, African-Americans and those with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. About half of the entire U.S. population and the majority of adults would qualify for the 1,500 milligram recommendation.

Boston University Researchers monitored the diets of nearly 2,200 girls at ages nine and 10 for up to 10 years.  The girls consumed up to 4,000 milligrams of sodium each day, and their blood pressure was measured annually.

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“A lot of Americans are most likely surpassing 4,000 milligrams of salt a day in their daily diet already. This is especially true for those adolescents who consume school lunches,” registered dietitian Jennifer Willoughby says.

A single slice of white bread can contain as much as 230 milligrams of sodium. This is about 10 percent of the recommended daily limit for salt.

Potassium lowers blood pressure

Girls who consumed 2,400 milligrams of potassium or more each day had lower blood pressure levels than girls who had less potassium in their diet.

“More important than the salt finding in this study is the potassium finding,” Ms. Willoughby says. “Diets high in potassium are inversely lower in sodium.”

Foods rich in potassium regulate your heartbeat. High intake of potassium also is associated with a reduced risk of stroke and loss of muscle.

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Overall, the findings may prompt more studies on the effects of sodium and potassium on blood pressure in children and adults. But the study results are not definitive and won’t likely change current dietary recommendations.

“The foods that are high in sodium are foods that we don’t necessarily want to be eating anyway,” Ms. Willoughby says.  “Processed, canned, and fast foods are going to have a lot of sodium, fat, and sugar.”

Based on the research, parents should not assume that it’s okay to add salt to their kids’ diets.

Adding potassium is a better choice. Foods high in potassium are usually high in fiber and protein.  Potassium is found in natural, whole foods such as potatoes, bananas, broccoli, dark leafy greens, and even white beans.

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