The Essential Guide to this Nutrient of Concern

Did you know that the vast majority of Americans are not consuming adequate amounts of potassium? Less than 2% are meeting the recommendations for potassium,1 and the average intake is only 55% of the recommended amount.2 Since potassium helps regulate things like heartbeat and blood pressure, it’s no wonder the FDA is making potassium a mandatory label nutrient on the new nutrition label. Here’s everything you need to know about this vital nutrient.

Potassium Declared a Nutrient of Public Health Concern

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 has identified potassium as one of the five nutrients of public health concern for Americans, along with calcium, vitamin D, dietary fiber, and for certain at-risk groups, iron.3 To qualify for this designation, a nutrient must be under-consumed by the population, and its underconsumption must be associated with health risks.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is jointly issued every five years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reflect the most up-to-date nutrition science, as well as the current nutritional status of Americans. It serves as the basis for federal nutrition policies, including the nutrition labeling of food.

The FDA has decided to make a number of updates to the nutrition label in response to this latest report, such as updating Daily Values (DVs) for nutrients and adjusting mandatory nutrient labeling to reflect the population’s needs.

Nutrition Label Changes for Potassium

The new nutrition label regulations require that all of the nutrients of public health concern are listed. This means that dietary fiber, calcium, and iron remain on the label as mandatory label nutrients, while vitamins A and C drop off and become voluntary label nutrients. Potassium and vitamin D are replacing vitamins A and C on the label.

Furthermore, the mandatory label vitamins and minerals must now be declared in terms of weight (e.g., mg for potassium), in addition to % DV. Another change affecting potassium is an update to the DV from 3500 mg to 4700 mg, an increase of about 34%. For manufacturers that were already declaring the % DV of potassium voluntarily on products, it will be important to recalculate the % DV with the new value. To maintain the % DV declaration of potassium through the regulation change, adding more potassium to the product will likely be necessary.

Why We Need Potassium

Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte present in all body tissues that is essential for cellular function. Specific functions of potassium in the body include:

  • Muscle contraction (including the heart)
  • Nerve signaling
  • Regulation of blood pressure
  • Carbohydrate metabolism
  • Protein synthesis
  • Maintenance of pH and water concentrations in the blood.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there is scientific data to support that low intakes of potassium can increase the risk of certain diseases.4

Relationship Between Potassium and Sodium

A special relationship exists in the body between potassium and sodium. Potassium has the ability to flush sodium out of the body and reduce the effects that sodium has on blood pressure. This is especially significant considering the typical American diet is high in salt and exceeds the recommended intake limits for sodium.

The Dietary Guidelines recommends shifting to a healthy eating pattern that reduces sodium intake and increases potassium intake. Establishing a proper balance between these two electrolytes allows for optimal blood pressure regulation. It can even reduce high blood pressure in people with hypertension, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.

How Much Potassium Do We Really Need?

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Foods Sources of Potassium

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Potassium Named a Nutrient of Concern

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Creating a Healthier Future

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