Do you know that saying, ‘mind your Ps and Qs?’ It basically means mind your manners and I heard that a lot as a kid 😉 But what we really need to hear now, as practitioners and promoters of healthy eating and wellness is really, Mind your P’s and P’s because a lot of biggest health consequences of any diet are determined by the balance or imbalance of two major players; protein and potassium. We’re always looking for simpler ways to enable patients and ourselves to be able to both recognise the strengths and weaknesses of their diets and, better still, apply a simple method to making better choices moving forward. Eyeballing the protein and potassium rich sources in any diet speaks volumes about other essential dietary characteristics and the likely impact of diet on health – and getting the relationship between these two right should be a goal for us all.
“World Health Organization (WHO) Dietary Targets for Sodium and Potassium are Unrealistic”, reads the recent headline from yet another study finding that humans would rather challenge the solid science of human potassium requirements than acknowledge the urgent need to turn this ship of fools around!
This large study, conducted over 18 countries, involving over 100 thousand individuals, reported that 0.002% met these targets. That’s 1 person in 50,000. Now, the researchers’ response to this is that we should lower our dietary potassium expectations….such that the targets are more achievable and so that (frankly) we are less perpetually disappointed in ourselves and our terrible food choices. Wha???? Back up there. The WHO guidelines, just like any other nutrition authority, derived these minimum amounts from a thorough review of the science that speaks to our physiological requirements and the level of nutrients that have been shown to be associated with health. Australia’s own fairly conservative NHMRC suggests even higher amounts for good health! Perhaps rather than revise the established dietary targets we should revise what we’re putting in our mouth!
So where does protein come into this? Well one of the most important and central nutrient dynamics is the balance or imbalance of our intake of both. And in this regard, yet again, we have a surprising lot in common with plants! Whether you’re trying to understand optimal nutrition conditions for growth (nitrogen alone won’t get a plant there, nor protein alone in a human) or the intricacies and nuances of finely tuning our physiological processes such as cardiovascular function, renal health, blood glucose management etc. the answer lies in a happy marriage between these two.
In this area of nutrition, we should be listening most closely in fact to renal specialists/researchers. These ‘undercover’ protein and potassium experts have been talking about this for a long time and in particular, in my humble opinion, Lynda Frassetto has lead that charge for decades. If you haven’t read much on this issue and want somewhere to start at least, jump into her pivotal paper from 2001 which eloquently explains why the human design can not shoulder a potassium shortfall…well not without causing real health problems…like the ones we’re seeing in record numbers currently and why the protein potassium balance of any diet is a major health determinant. That’s why giving ourselves and our patients the knowledge and the tools (yes lovely shiny meaningful infographics included!!), to quickly determine their protein potassium balance, are so necessary and important.
Thanks to Frassetto and many other researchers’ work, looking at food through this protein potassium lens has sharpened my focus and I think it’s about time we all took a good look 🙂
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