Nutrition Facts label
Communicating potassium’s deficiency in the American diet continues to gain momentum, as was observed at The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’s annual meeting, the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE), which was held Oct. 21-24, 2017, in Chicago. In numerous sessions, nutrition educators discussed how the new Nutrition Facts label will assist consumers with increasing their intake of potassium. Meat and poultry processors are well poised to add potassium to foods by substituting sodium salts of functional ingredients with potassium alternatives.

The Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee declared potassium an under-consumed nutrient of public health concern, as less than 3 percent of the population meets the recommendation. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) heeded this warning, and is mandating that potassium content be a line-item on the new Nutrition Facts label.

To be noted, on Sept. 29, 2017, FDA proposed extending the compliance dates for the new Nutrition Facts label from July 26, 2018, to Jan. 1, 2020, for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales. Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales would receive an extra year to comply — until Jan. 1, 2021. Pending completion of this rulemaking, the agency does intend to exercise enforcement discretion with respect to the original dates. Hopefully manufacturers will have firm dates to target before the end of 2017.

Meat and poultry processors can boost the potassium content of prepared and packaged products through partial or complete substitution of some commonly used ingredients. Potential swaps for formulators to explore include replacing sodium chloride, nitrates and phosphates with potassium counterparts. When doing so, they will also reduce sodium content, a nutrient required by the body but one that is overly consumed by many Americans. High sodium intake is associated with high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the US.

Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte essential for health at the cellular level, and as such it confers benefits throughout the body. Potassium helps muscles — including the heart — contract; helps regulate the balance of water and other minerals; moves nutrients into and waste out of cells; affects nerve signaling; and slows the breakdown of bone with age. It’s most recognized benefit, however, is to heart health through its effects on lowering blood pressure. Thus, by replacing sodium salts with potassium salts, consumers not only reduce intake of a negative heart health ingredient, they also increase intake of a positive mineral. This is a story meat and poultry processors may communicate to shoppers on package labels and other marketing materials.