Clear guidelines needed on potassium-based salt replacers, says CASH chair

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Salt, Sodium chloride

Potassium-based salt replacers could enable further salt reduction progress, the health department said
Potassium-based salt replacers could enable further salt reduction progress, the health department said
The UK’s Department of Health should establish clear guidelines on potassium-based salt replacers and back down from its current recommendation for a complete ban, according to CASH (Consensus Action on Salt and Health) chair Graham MacGregor.

MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, says potential risks associated with potassium-based salt replacers are grossly exaggerated, and mineral salts have an important role to play in reducing salt consumption.

The UK government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) launched a review in June last year of potassium-based salt substitutes, which the Department of Health does not recommend because of concerns about kidney problems in children and the elderly. The health department also objects to such ingredients because they may hinder efforts to accustom people to a lower level of salt in foods.

According to a health department spokesperson, it is likely to be several months / spring 2015 before we have further information or a review of our current position on the use of potassium-based salt replacers”.

However, with industry under pressure to meet ever lower salt targets, the UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF) also has said potassium-based replacers are an important tool for manufacturers.

MacGregor told FoodNavigator: “This is an important area where we feel there is certainly scope, particularly for instance in replacing baking powder, sodium bicarbonate, potassium bicarbonate and in meat products where there may possibly be a need to have sodium chloride to prevent Clostridium botulinum, and potassium chloride can probably be used in the same way.”

Benefits vs. risks

A health department spokesperson said SACN asked the Committee on Toxicity (COT) to assess risks associated with potassium, but although COT has completed its assessment of potential benefits, its assessment of risks is due for completion in “the New Year at the earliest” – and the SACN then has to make its final conclusions and recommendations.

“I think there needs to be some guidelines for the food industry as to how to use potassium based replacers and it is very sad that Public Health England hasn’t come up with any clear guidelines​,” said MacGregor.

The health department said: “Our aim has always been for salt levels to be reduced. However, it is apparent that the use of potassium in place of sodium could enable further salt reduction progress.”

The spokesperson added that this was why it had asked the SACN to reconsider its advice.

MacGregor said: “I agree that it is better to get people to adjust to the less salty taste but one could do both and then you would have a double hit, reducing salt even further.

“…I am not so concerned with renal patients as they are well aware of the dangers of potassium - which are grossly exaggerated by many dieticians - but it would be much better to use potassium more widely. During evolution we ate 3 times the amount of potassium we now eat so I can hardly see it being dangerous. But clearly there are one or two rare situations where it may be, but most people are aware of it.”

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3 comments

Potassium increase should be the new sodium reduction

Posted by Dinnie Jordan,

The evidence is clear that potassium is an essential mineral in the body that helps to decrease blood pressure so why is the Department of Health still unclear on their stance? As a manufacturer of potassium bicarbonate we are feeling the brunt of the current UK stance regarding potassium based ingredients. To reduce sodium enough to meet the 2017 Responsibility Deal targets ingredients such as ours are necessary in product reformulation. Having analysed the increase from using potassium bicarbonate in a range of baked goods Kudos Blends has found it would provide, on average per 100g, less than 15% of the recommended daily intake of potassium (3510mg). Evaluation is needed from the Department of Health on the dietary intake from individual potassium based ingredients rather than considering them as a whole, as well as consideration into ways that would allow consumers to make decisions themselves regarding potassium intake. This could be accomplished by adding it to front of pack nutrition labelling as they are proposing in the USA, a country where potassium is more widely known as the fundamental nutrient that it is.

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Knowledge is power!

Posted by Deepa Kariyawasam,

If potassium is going to be added, then I would strongly recommend labelling the amount in it if it is being added. At present certain crisp manufacturers such as Walkers add potassium chloride but won't provide those that work with renal patients the contents added. This makes it very difficult to advice patients and limits large amounts of foods for the renal patients. I understand that there are more people that don't need to follow a low potassium diet but I would suggest clear labelling will help us to educate our patients more effectively.

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The double win of potassium replacers

Posted by Mythbuster,

Potassium lower blood pressure and unlike sodium there is little disagreement. Indeed this used to be taught in biology at school that potassium replaced sodium int he loop of Henly in a kideny tubule. There is also chronic inadequacy in potassium intakes. If you do not have enough potassium you cannot excrete excess sodium and blood pressure increases. Therefore, potassium is not only responsible for controlling blood pressure by removing excess sodium, its inadequacy is probably the cause of salt sensitivity. Within reason and provided the kideny function is normal we can excrete excess sodium. It is ony when potassium s inadequate that sodium causes any effect on blood pressure. It has always been thus and illustartes the problem of partial awareness and bandwagons.

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