Health

Want to Lower Your Sodium Intake? Consider Potassium Chloride Instead

The FDA is encouraging food manufacturers to use the mineral salt in its products. Here’s some foods that already have it.

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Some potato chips already contain potassium chloride. Experts say fruits and vegetables are still a healthier choice. Getty Images

Reducing your sodium intake and lowering your blood pressure may be easier if you check your food labels for potassium chloride.

The mineral salt compound is used by the food industry as an alternative to common table salt (sodium chloride).

Experts note that potassium chloride offers consumers flavor without increasing their daily sodium intake.

It also boasts the added benefit of increasing potassium consumption, which can improve blood pressure regulation.

Officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Food and Drug Administration (FDA)” rationale=”Governmental authority”>advisory last week that they hope will encourage food manufacturers to use the mineral.

The FDA guidance allows manufacturers to label the ingredient as “potassium chloride salt.”

“The addition of the term ‘salt’ to ‘potassium chloride’ may encourage manufacturers to use this sodium alternative and help consumers to understand that potassium chloride can replace sodium chloride in foods,” the advisory stated.

“This may help to reduce the intake of sodium, which is over-consumed by the U.S. population, while increasing potassium, which is under-consumed.”

According to Caroline West Passerrello, MS, RDN, LDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, potassium chloride can be found not only in salt substitutes, but also in these foods:

  • snack bars
  • soups
  • potato chips
  • cereals
  • frozen entrees

Kristin Kirkpatrick, nutritionist and author of “Skinny Liver: A Proven Program to Prevent and Reverse the New Silent Epidemic-Fatty Liver Disease,” said that potassium chloride salt is also commonly found in:

  • electrolyte replacement drinks
  • condiments
  • meat products

But the amount of potassium chloride in each product tends to be small.

“It’s quite bitter, so usually it’s not in large amounts, but can achieve that ‘salty’ taste in small amounts,” Kirkpatrick told Healthline.

According to FDA spokesperson Nathan Arnold, choosing potassium chloride salt as a replacement for table salt has several associated health benefits, namely that it reduces sodium intake and increases potassium intake.

“Current average sodium consumption in the U.S. is 3,400 mg/day, compared to the recommended limit of 2,300 mg/day. Increased sodium consumption is associated with increased risk for hypertension, and hypertension is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” Arnold told Healthline.

On the other hand, explained Arnold, “potassium consumption in the U.S. is generally low in comparison to federal recommendations. Adequate potassium intake can help improve blood pressure regulation.”

Both Passerrello and Kirkpatrick agree.

Kirkpatrick says she recommends people watching their sodium intake seek out foods with potassium chloride salt strictly because it doesn’t add to their daily sodium intake.

“The typical Western diet is too high in sodium, and there are plenty of studies that show that even small reductions in sodium content in the diet can help protect against heart attack and stroke — both considered leading killers,” Kirkpatrick said.

However, Andy De Santis, a registered dietitian and weight loss specialist, isn’t entirely convinced.

“I wouldn’t associate potassium chloride with health benefits per se,” he told Healthline.

“It’s true that many North Americans consume too much sodium, but conventional table salt is rarely the main contributor of sodium to a person’s diet, so switching to a salt substitute containing potassium chloride may or may not drastically affect intake levels.”

Processed and restaurant foods are the main contributors of sodium in a person’s diet, De Santis said.

Limiting these is a better route for reducing overall sodium intake.

Moreover, just because a food contains potassium chloride doesn’t necessarily mean it’s entirely sodium-free.

“They’re not necessarily mutually exclusive, and it wouldn’t be unusual to find a number of products that use both,” he said.

De Santis explained that “potassium chloride is not an essential part of a healthy diet.”

In fact, for people on multiple medications or with poor kidney health, it could have a negative effect on their health.

“These people must be very careful about using potassium chloride from salt substitutes because they may not be aware how much potassium they’re taking in, and should check with their doctor before proceeding,” De Santis said.

Passerrello agrees.

“Individuals with certain medical conditions that impair urinary excretion of potassium (i.e., renal failure, diabetes, etc.) need to consult with a doctor about their recommended levels of potassium and may need to limit or avoid foods with potassium chloride,” she said.

But for healthy individuals, potassium chloride isn’t likely to do any harm, she added.

If you haven’t seen potassium chloride salt listed on your favorite food labels, rest assured it’s likely coming.

The recent FDA guidance is an effort to encourage potassium chloride salt listings.

“This change may increase consumer recognition that potassium chloride is an ingredient similar to sodium-based salt — with the added benefit that it contains potassium,” Arnold said.

For now, potassium chloride on labels refers to the sodium-free salt substitute.

There’s a resounding consensus among dietary experts that the best choice for a person’s health is still whole foods.

“While most Americans need to reduce their sodium intake and increase their potassium intake — which is an under-consumed nutrient of public health concern — the focus should be on reducing heavily processed foods and eating more fruits and vegetables, such as avocados, sweet potatoes, spinach, and white or black beans,” Passerrello said.

Such whole foods contain natural sources of potassium and are part of a healthy and balanced diet.

De Santis agrees.

“The vast majority of people should be pursuing potassium intake from healthful nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes,” he said.

FDA officials are encouraging food manufacturers to include potassium chloride salt in their products as a viable sodium replacement.

The mineral helps reduce sodium intake and increases potassium intake.

However, when medical conditions are a concern, people should consult with their doctor before substituting sodium with potassium chloride.

Overall, eating a diet of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes is still the best strategy for healthy living.


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