Newswise — Washington D.C.—Scientists are projecting that in the near-term, replacing sodium chloride (NaCl) in food with a potassium chloride (KCl) could be one tool to help the country reduce sodium intake and improve public health in line with federal guidance. A KCl substitute also provides potassium which is “a nutrient of public health concern” as detailed in the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The study, Potassium Chloride-Based Replacers: Modeling Effects on Sodium and Potassium Intakes of the US Population with Cross-Sectional Data from NHANES 2015-2016 and 2009-2010, is online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and was carried out by researchers from Exponent, Inc. as well as a researcher from North Carolina State University.

The study was funded by the Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences (IAFNS), a research nonprofit uniquely positioned to mobilize industry, government and academia to drive, fund and lead actionable research. IAFNS elevates food safety and nutrition sciences to advance public health and was founded on the belief that collaboration and the inclusion of diverse perspectives is crucial to credible science that benefits the entire food and beverage ecosystem.

Sodium intake in the US has exceeded federal recommendations for over 40 years, despite longstanding calls to reduce consumption. According to the authors, “a primary objective in reducing sodium intake is to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.” The launching point of the study was to model what impact the substitution of sodium chloride with potassium chloride-based replacers would have in commercially prepared and restaurant foods.

The scientists analyzed US national dietary intake data with a focus on sodium and potassium. Additionally, they gathered expert input on what would be feasible and practical in terms of substituting sodium chloride with potassium-chloride variants in various foods. The researchers then combined the survey data with the experts’ input on practicality to project that over the short-term, using salt substitutes like KCl replacers could help decrease sodium intake to around 3,000 milligrams per day, approximating the short-term goal targeted by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). In addition, potassium intake would increase, but remain within the recommended range for generally healthy individuals. Questions remain about public acceptance of substitutes such as potassium chloride-based replacers. For some they can have a bitter, chemical or metallic aftertaste and some high-risk groups could be exposed to too much of the nutrient.

Employing potassium chloride-replacers “alone cannot reduce the US population’s sodium intake to a concentration in the range of long-term sodium reduction goals” set by the FDA, the authors write. Other tools and approaches will be needed. Dr. Naomi Fukagawa, director of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service’s Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center and a liaison to the IAFNS committee that supported the research said, “This modeling gives insight into the potential of one sodium reduction tool to modify the food supply to achieve diets better aligned with dietary guidance.” Moving towards achieving short-term sodium-reduction goals using such sodium chloride substitutes—with an eye toward other effective strategies—could begin to tackle some of the challenges of reducing the healthcare burden of cardiovascular disease.

For more about IAFNS visit our website and learn about the activities of the IAFNS Sodium Committee.