The convenience of processed foods plays a big role in their popularity. And it is rare that a processed food is also a high potassium food. But some nations have sought to reduce their rate of cardiovascular disease by changing the way their food is processed, resulting in an improved potassium sodium ratio of the food. Finland started a program in the 1970s which has been very successful in reducing its rate of strokes and cardiovascular disease. In Finland they instructed people about how to change their diet, and they convinced the manufacturers of food to change the composition of the salt they used as preservative. The manufacturers used a potassium enriched salt that was lower in sodium and higher in potassium. Read about it here.
Others have looked at changing the composition of the salt used in food also. Studies have been done with salt that has less sodium and more potassium to determine if it results in changes in cardiovascular disease.
In Taiwan, researchers did such a study (1) on 1981 men in veteran retirement homes. One group used normal salt for cooking and at the table. The other group used a combination potassium enriched salt. Half of the combination salt was a salt of potassium and half was a salt of sodium.
The researchers took one month to gradually transition the experimental group to the new potassium enriched salt. This was to allow for the change in taste from the new salt. They did not modify soy sauce or any other potential sources of sodium.
The groups were very similar in composition. The age distribution of each group was similar. Each group was composed of World War II veterans. And both groups had a 40% rate of hypertension at the beginning of the study.
The diet of the two groups was very similar except for the types of salt. The researchers could control the diets because the residents ate their meals at the retirement homes.
The researchers were able to confirm the change in potassium and sodium consumption by studying how much of each was excreted. Sodium was reduced by 17% and potassium increased by 76% in the combination salt group. Sodium and potassium remained almost the same in the normal salt group.
The study period lasted 31 months. After 31 months, the researchers saw a big difference in the rate of cardiovascular death between the two groups. In the potassium enriched salt group there were 13 deaths per thousand persons from cardiovascular disease. In the control group that continued to use the normal salt there were 21 deaths per thousand persons from cardiovascular disease. The deaths in the potassium enriched salt group are the dashed line and the normal salt deaths are the solid line in the graph on this page.
The beauty of this study is the uniformity of the participants and of their diet. There are fewer variables requiring statistical manipulations. Many studies have a wider variety of people, lifestyles and diets. These studies require statistical adjustments which may be inadequate.
To find links to tables of the potassium and sodium content of both processed and natural food, use the List of Posts tab at the top of the page.
1. Effect of potassium-enriched salt on cardiovascular mortality and medical expenses of elderly men. Chang HY, Hu YW, Yue CS, Wen YW, Yeh WT, Hsu LS, Tsai SY, Pan WH. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jun;83(6):1289-96.