Potassium additives hiding in plain sight
By June Martin, RD, CDE
We’ve written a lot about phosphate additives over the past few years. So now we think it’s time for an update on potassium additives. This is critical information to have, especially for those who need to follow a low potassium diet.
Potassium-based additives are commonly used in low-sodium products and salt substitutes such as NoSalt or HalfSalt. If you are buying a product labeled “low in salt” or “sodium reduced” you should always check the ingredients list for potassium chloride.
More recently (and more concerning for dialysis patients), Health Canada has allowed the use of potassium lactate and potassium acetate as a preservative in meats. These are regularly found in deli meats at fast food restaurants as well as in your grocery store. Packaged deli meats and the ones sliced behind the counter can both be treated with potassium additives.
Potassium acetate is a newer additive that can be added to meats but does not require labeling on fresh meat. This means that if you are buying meat without an ingredients list (like a fresh cut of meat at the grocery store) you may not know if the meat has been treated with potassium acetate. If in doubt, ask at the meat counter if any of the meat is treated with potassium acetate or potassium diacetate.
Does it matter?
Yes! Both potassium lactate and potassium acetate are major sources of potassium. An average serving of meat (about 100 grams) can provide an additional 740 mg of potassium from potassium lactate and an additional 375 mg of potassium from potassium acetate. And this potassium is in addition to the naturally occurring potassium in your meat. To put that in perspective, a medium banana has 422 mg of potassium.
Food label changes are coming – slowly!
Over the next five years, nutrition labels will be changing and there are two important changes that involve potassium. Food manufacturers will need to include potassium in the Nutrition Facts Table for any packaged food and the %DV (daily value) for potassium will increase for the healthy population from 3500mg to 4700mg/day. Most kidney patients should aim for 2000-2500mg/day.
Once the changes are in place it will make it easier for you to know the potassium content of a product. As always, we encourage you to sit down with your registered dietitian to find out what is the right amount of potassium for you.