Potassium Additives and CKD

We often talk about phosphorus additives on this website, but the topic of potassium additives rarely comes up. If your doctor or dietitian have told you to limit your potassium intake, you may find that your biggest problem is potassium additives and not fruits and vegetables. There are A LOT of foods on the market that contain potassium additives. In many cases, companies are adding A LOT of potassium to their foods.

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What are potassium additives?

Potassium additives are any substances added to a processed food that contain potassium. Potassium may be added for a variety of reasons including to increase the shelf life of foods, sweeten foods, or serve as a nutritional supplement.

Why do potassium additives matter to people with CKD?

Your kidneys play a very important role in helping your body to manage potassium levels in your blood. Keeping potassium in range is very important for managing things like a proper heartbeat and contracting your muscles. If potassium levels get out of range, this could increase your risk of having certain heart problems.

People with kidney disease may be at increased risk of having potassium problems if the kidneys are not able to filter out extra potassium into the urine. While many people with kidney disease do not have issues with managing their potassium levels, there are some people who need to watch their potassium intake.

One mistake that people often make when trying to lower their potassium intake it that they start to cut out beneficial foods like fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are an important component of a kidney friendly diet, so it is important to find ways to manage your potassium levels that don’t involve avoiding fruits and vegetables. There are a lot of strategies that you can take, and one strategy is to limit your intake of foods that are high in potassium additives.

Potassium additives can add a significant amount of potassium into your day without adding all of the beneficial nutrients that are typically associated with higher potassium foods.

How to determine if a food is high in potassium additives?

One of the best habits that you can get yourself into if you have CKD is to read food labels. Food labels contain a lot of information that can help you make better decisions about what foods to eat. Depending on your goals and nutrition needs, you can find valuable information about sodium, phosphorus, protein, carbohydrates, sugar, fiber, and more on a food label. In most cases you can also find good information on potassium.

Information about potassium can be found in up to two places on the food label: the Nutrition Facts Panel and the ingredient list. Let’s look at some examples:

Potassium additives in soup

Soup can be a problematic food for people with kidney disease. Soup is often LOADED with sodium – crazy amounts of sodium. You could get your whole day’s worth of sodium just from a bowl of soup. It also frequently contains potassium additives, and the amount of potassium added can vary depending on whether or not the product is being marketed as lower in sodium.

Soup manufactureres are aware that their products are very high in sodium and that some customers need to watch their sodium intake, so they developed reduced sodium and low sodium versions of their soups. Let’s take a look at a can of Progresso minestrone soup.

As you can see from the food label, a can of this soup contains 1,550mg of sodium and 1,090mg of potassium. That is a LOT of sodium and a lot of potassium. Although this soup contains several foods that people traditionally associate with high potassium such as tomato, it also contains the additive potassium chloride which is likely driving up the potassium content of this food quite a bit.

However, many people with kidney disease would probably skip the regular minestrone because of how much sodium it has and choose the reduced sodium soup instead. Let’s take a look at the reduced sodium minestrone food label.

In the reduced sodium soup, they managed to reduce that to 1,010mg of sodium (still pretty high in sodium though!), but you can see that the potassium amout jumped up to 1,450mg of potassium. That’s almost 3.5 bananas worth of potassium!

The way they were about to reduce the sodium without the soup tasting terrible is they replace it with potassium chloride. Potassium chloride is the main ingredient in a lot of salt substitutes, so anytime you see a food that is “reduced sodium” or “low sodium”, you should check and see how much potassium is in the food.

Vegetable Juice and Potassium Additives

Another low sodium example that you can check out is to compare the nutrition information of regular V8 to their reduced sodium version.

Once again, you can see that the low sodium product is significantly higher in potassium compared to the regular product. If you check the ingredient list, you will see that, potassium chloride has been added to the low sodium version, which is what is driving up the potassium content of the low sodium version.

Potassium Additives in Frozen Meals

Reduced and low sodium products are not the only foods that will contain potassium additives. Check out this frozen dinner that is loaded with potassium additives.

As you can see, this small frozen meal that contains only 180 calories has 960mg of potassium in it. Based on the typical amount of potassium found in the ingredients like chicken and potatoes, almost half of the potassium in this food is probably coming from potassium additives.

Highly processed foods are going to be much more likely to contain potassium additives (not to mention all of the phosphorus additives too!).

What if potassium is not listed on the Nutrition Facts panel?

In all of the examples so far, we have been able to see the total amount of potassium in the food product by looking at the nutrition facts panel. Unfortunately, potassium content is not required to be listed on all food products.

One major category of foods that do not typically show the potassium content are meat products. Many meat products are what we call “enhanced” because they contain additives to enhance the flavor or juiciness of of the meat. Many times these enhanced meats contain large amounts of potassium and phosphorus.

If potassium is not listed on the food label, it does NOT mean that the food contains zero potassium. It simply means that the manufacturer was not required to list it.

For example, Smithfield ham cubes list potassium as an additive in the ingredient list, but do not show the total potassium content of the food. Based on an old entry in the USDA food database, these ham cubes likely have about 460mg of potassium per 2 ounce serving – which is more than double what a typical serving of unenhanced pork should have!

If you need to watch your potassium intake, then it would be best to avoid foods with potassium additives and instead choose options that do not contain potassium additives.

What are some other strategies to control potassium?

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If you want to learn all of our strategies for managing potassium and how to avoid common mistakes that can drive up your potassium levels, sign up for one of our CKD nutrition courses.

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