Skip to Content

Sodium, Potassium, and Stroke

Share This Story
Sodium, Potassium, and Stroke

This guest post was written by Hannah Gardener, ScD. She is an Associate Scientist in the Department of Neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.


What you eat matters when it comes to your risk for stroke.

This time last year at the age of 47, Stroke Hero Toni Guzman survived a stroke. Thanks to her spouse’s quick thinking, she got the immediate care she needed. For the last year, she has focused on lifestyle changes. “I approach life differently now that I’m a survivor” she said. “I have not smoked, I changed my diet, I went to cognitive and physical therapy.”

The science supports Toni’s approach. In our recent study in the journal Stroke, we looked at the diets of 2,570 people, and followed them for 12 years. The people who ate a lot of sodium and not a lot of potassium were 1.6 times more likely to have a stroke compared with the people who ate less sodium and more potassium. And, we found that sodium-to-potassium ratio is an independent predictor of stroke.

Sodium and Potassium 

A sodium-to-potassium ratio is calculated by determining how much sodium you are eating compared with how much potassium you are eating. You want the amount of sodium to be lower than the amount of potassium you eat. 

Why? Potassium helps counter the effects of sodium and may help lower your blood pressure. Foods with potassium include sweet potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, lower-sodium tomato sauce, white beans, kidney beans, oranges, bananas and cantaloupe. 

Sodium can be found in many processed, prepackaged, and restaurant foods. You can find the top 25 foods that contribute the most sodium to your diet to learn more. 

What you can do to keep your brain (and body!) healthy

What do I recommend? Eat foods that are full of potassium (like fruits and veggies) and fewer sodium-laden foods (like some processed and restaurant foods).

Toni has been enjoying many fruits and vegetables this year. “My favorite fruits are oranges, bananas, melon, and blueberries for my cereal. For veggies, I like roasted broccoli and cauliflower, green and red peppers, mushrooms, and of course garlic” she says.

In addition to eating clean and healthy, focusing on seven simple steps can go a long way:

  1. Move more. Getting active may bring more time with family and friends, and even enjoying something new for yourself. Check out how to move more.
  2. Eat healthy. Following a heart-healthy eating pattern can put you on the road to great brain health. Get started with this blueprint for healthy eating
  3. Focus on your weight. If you need to, shed those extra pounds to take the stress off your heart, lungs, and other essential parts of your body. Learn how to lose weight and keep it off.
  4. Manage your blood pressure. When your blood pressure stays within a healthy range, your body (and brain!) benefit. Learn more about managing your blood pressure
  5. Control cholesterol. Keep your arteries clear and healthy by paying attention to your cholesterol.
  6. Reach healthy blood sugar levels. Most of the food we eat turns into glucose (blood sugar), that our bodies can use for energy. It’s important to focus on foods that give us energy, good nutrition, and keep our blood sugar in check.
  7. Stop Smoking. Get the fact and learn how to stop smoking to help your brain and your life.


Hannah Gardener, ScD, is an Associate Scientist in the Department of Neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Dr.Gardener is an epidemiologist with a particular interest in neuroepidemiology and the epidemiology of aging.  She received her doctorate in Epidemiology in 2007 from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Read her full bio.








The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of The American Heart Association | American Stroke Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

The American Heart Association’s blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.