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Retirement Savers, Take Heed: Steve Vernon of CBS’s MoneyWatch lays out five ‘hidden retirement trends’ of 2011—developments that may not have made major headlines but are nonetheless important for retirees and those approaching retirement to take note of heading into 2012. So let’s take note, shall we? Topping Vernon’s list is the crop of new financial products and services that institutions are rolling out to help future retirees generate steady retirement income—including an annuity option for 401(k) plans. Writes Vernon:

Be on the lookout for retirement income options in your 401(k) plan, and take the time to learn about them. For that matter, anybody in their 50s and 60s should be learning all they can about how to generate retirement income from their savings.

Another change to hit savings plans in 2011? The Department of Labor issued new regulations on who can offer investment advice to participants in employer-sponsored 401(k)s. Studies have shown employees tend to save smarter after receiving investment advice (who’d have thought, right?). “If your 401(k) plan offers financial advice, learn more about it, and find out how much it costs,” Vernon advises. “Often your accounts will be charged for this service.”

Want more info on the new 401(k) investment advice rules? We’ve got you covered.

New Twist in the Sodium Debate: Should you eat less salt? Stop worrying about salt? Worry about salt only if you’ve got high blood pressure or a high risk for heart disease? The advice on dietary sodium over the past few years has been mighty confusing, with some studies finding salt to be a major contributor to health problems and others finding it not so bad. But research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a possible reason for the discrepancy: While a diet high in sodium does increase heart disease risk, even more important is the ratio of sodium to potassium in your diet.

Although there has been on-and-off controversy about the value of limiting dietary salt, there is no question that a high level of sodium in the diet raises blood pressure and the risk of chronic hypertension by stiffening arteries and blocking nitric oxide, which relaxes arteries. Hypertension, in turn, contributes to heart disease and stroke, leading causes of death.

Potassium, on the other hand, activates nitric oxide and thus reduces pressure in the arteries, lowering the risk of hypertension.

The study, based on data from more than 12,000 American adults, found people whose diets had a high sodium-to-potassium ratio were nearly 50 percent more likely to die from any cause and more than twice as likely to die from ischemic heart disease than people whose diet contained little sodium relative to potassium. “We controlled for all the major cardiovascular risk factors and still found an association between the sodium-potassium ratio and deaths from heart disease,” said Dr. Elena V. Kuklina, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an author of the study.

You can increase potassium in your diet by eating more fruits (cantaloupe, bananas, oranges, grapes, grapefruit, blackberries), yogurt, beans, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes. For more on foods high in potassium, check out this AARP radio segment.

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Photo: Tom Grill/Getty Images

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