Cleveland, OH

Cleveland Clinic's advice on salt and its substitute for healthier meals

Angela Kervorkian-Wattle

Salt has been used for centuries to enhance the taste of food. It is also undeniable that so many foods, homemade and processed, rely on salt as flavor. Due to the possible harmful effects of sodium— one of salt’s main components, there have been suggestions to swap its use with potassium chloride.

Indeed, cutting off the salt from our diet is hard, but does potassium chloride ideal for the swap?

Maxine Smith, RD, LD. says it is not necessarily so. “Salt substitutes can be a healthy alternative for some people because potassium is an important mineral that helps lower blood pressure,” she says. “But salt substitutes can be dangerous when you have conditions such as kidney disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease or diabetes.”

In some cases, these conditions raise the risk of high potassium levels in the blood, which the body is supposed to control. Swapping sodium for potassium can ruin that already fragile balance.

The interaction of salt substitutes with certain medications—usually ACE inhibitors and diuretics that spares potassium—can even raise blood potassium level to an unmanageable degree.

Smith suggests that “There are a number of risks, so don’t take salt substitutes unless they’re approved by your physician.”

Salt isn’t necessarily bad for the body. On the contrary, our body needs salt and potassium to help pump fluid in and out of our body cells. At the right level, sodium allows the contraction of the muscle and prepares your nerves to do their activity. In simpler terms, they regulate the levels of fluid in our body to prevent dehydration.

“Optimal potassium levels are vital for normal functioning of the heart (including maintaining normal heart rhythm), the muscles and the nerves,” Smith says.

“It’s best to start with small amounts,” advises Smith.

The American Heart Association recommends around 1,500 milligrams of salt a day, with a maximum amount of 2,300 milligrams a day.

Instead of substituting sodium for potassium, you can also look for recipes that call for more herbs and spices. Seasonings and salt-free herbal blends are also commonly available.

Exploring more ways to enhance the taste of your food would not only keep you from consuming more salt but would also give you a chance to new tastes and flavors you may never experience before.

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