Scientists have given the green light for bakers to experiment with the use of potassium as a replacement for salt.
The announcement follows a four-year study by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) on the potential benefits and risks of reducing the sodium content of foods through the use of potassium-based sodium replacers.
Baked goods have previously been highlighted by health campaigners as a major source of salt in British diet.
The use of potassium had not been recommended as part of the government’s salt reduction strategy because of concerns an increase in potassium consumption could be hazardous to some people, such as those with undiagnosed kidney disease.
Food suppliers are interested in using potassium-based sodium replacers in circumstances where salt reduction would be difficult or impossible, such as where salt has a culinary function or flavouring properties.
The study assessed the health risk and benefits for the UK general population when substituting 15% to 25% of sodium salts with potassium chloride, potassium carbonate or potassium bicarbonate. The assumption was for 25% substitution in most food groups and up to 15% substitution in bread, as these levels were considered to represent the maximum likely replacement of added sodium into processed foods in the UK.
Announcing its findings this week in a joint statement with the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment, SACN reported: “Overall, at a population level, the potential benefits of using potassium-based sodium replacers to help reduce sodium in foods outweigh the potential risks. The beneficial effects at an individual level are likely to be small in size but will impact a large proportion of the population.
It added that the government should consider encouraging food companies to explore the use of potassium-based sodium replacers to help reduce sodium levels in foods.
“Risk managers should consider how to monitor the level of substitution of potassium for sodium in foods and the types of foods in which substitution is used.”
The Federation of Bakers (FOB) said replacing the sodium chloride in bread with potassium was challenging because the potassium could impart a metallic aftertaste.
However, manufacturers are keen to look at replacing the sodium chloride in the raising agents for morning goods with potassium, added FOB director Gordon Polson.