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If your doctor has recommended a low-salt diet or you simply want to reduce your sodium intake, potassium chloride can help. It has the same "salty" taste as sodium chloride -- table salt -- but it's naturally sodium-free, so you won't increase your salt intake. Potassium chloride also doesn't have the side effects associated with regular salt, including water weight gain. However, potassium chloride isn't safe for everyone -- especially people with certain medical conditions -- so check with your doctor before adding it to your diet.
Sodium and Water Weight
Your body maintains a steady balance of water and dissolved minerals called electrolytes, which include sodium. As you lose certain electrolytes, like sodium, your body also excretes water, so it can keep your electrolyte levels in balance. The reverse is also true; when you have higher-than-normal levels of sodium in your system, your body holds onto excess water as well. This offers a physiological benefit; moderate sodium levels help your body retain some water to keep your blood pressure steady, for example, while low sodium levels can cause low blood pressure. However, if you indulge in a sodium-heavy meal, you'll typically see a temporary weight gain of a few extra pounds of water weight, which you'll lose as your body flushes out the excess sodium and fluid.
Sodium's effect on water retention has other risks; the fluid retention from habitually getting too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure. For this reason, people at risk of hypertension or heart disease should limit their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams daily, compared to 2,300 milligrams for the general population.
- Your body maintains a steady balance of water and dissolved minerals called electrolytes, which include sodium.
- This offers a physiological benefit; moderate sodium levels help your body retain some water to keep your blood pressure steady, for example, while low sodium levels can cause low blood pressure.
Potassium Chloride and Water Weight
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Potassium chloride doesn't have the same effect on water weight as sodium. Unlike sodium chloride, potassium chloride isn't water-soluble, explains Columbia University, so it doesn't dissolve in your body fluids and trigger water retention, even if you take large amounts 2. That means you're not likely to notice any significant water weight gain because of adding potassium chloride to your meals.
If you're still eating foods high in sodium, though -- like processed foods, canned soups or cottage cheese -- you may still be taking in enough sodium to gain water weight, regardless of whether you use potassium chloride or not.
- Potassium chloride doesn't have the same effect on water weight as sodium.
- If you're still eating foods high in sodium, though -- like processed foods, canned soups or cottage cheese -- you may still be taking in enough sodium to gain water weight, regardless of whether you use potassium chloride or not.
Benefits and Risks of Potassium Chloride
Introducing more potassium into your diet may have health benefits, since potassium is an essential mineral. Potassium helps your nerves send electrical signals, which is essential for communication between networks of nerve cells, as well as between nerves and muscles. Upping your potassium intake -- and decreasing your sodium intake -- also helps prevent high blood pressure.
Loading up meals with potassium chloride might cause health problems for some people, though, warns Columbia University. Potassium chloride supplements may cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Certain health conditions involving your heart, liver and kidneys can affect your body's ability to process potassium, and taking potassium chloride could cause the body to retain too much potassium. High levels of potassium can lead to dangerous changes in heart rhythm that can be fatal. Always check with your doctor before making changes to your diet, including adding potassium chloride to your daily routine.
- Introducing more potassium into your diet may have health benefits, since potassium is an essential mineral.
Potassium-Free Seasoning Alternatives
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Potassium chloride isn't the only game in town when you're looking for salt-free flavor. Seasonings like citrus zest, fresh herbs, spices and black pepper all add lots of flavor to foods without excess sodium or potassium. For example, try seasoning chicken breasts with a marinade made from apple cider vinegar, fresh chopped sage, lemon or orange zest and cracked black pepper, or flavor lean beef with a marinade made from red wine vinegar, chopped garlic and fresh rosemary. Add flavor to veggies with mint or basil chiffonade, or add a dusting of cayenne pepper to roasted sweet potatoes for a hint of heat.
- Potassium chloride isn't the only game in town when you're looking for salt-free flavor.
- Add flavor to veggies with mint or basil chiffonade, or add a dusting of cayenne pepper to roasted sweet potatoes for a hint of heat.
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- Go Ask Alice: Salt Substitutes
- Colorado State University: Sodium and the Diet
- Linus Pauling Institute: Potassium
- Aburto, et. al. Effect of increased potassium intake on cardiovascular risk factors and disease: systematic review and meta-analyses. BMJ. 2013 Apr 3;346:f1378. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.f1378.
- Appel LJ, Moore TJ, Obarzanek E, et al. A clinical trial of the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure. DASH Collaborative Research Group. N Engl J Med. 1997;336(16):1117-1124.
- Ferraro PM, et. al. Dietary Protein and Potassium, Diet–Dependent Net Acid Load, and Risk of Incident Kidney Stones. CJASN. October 2016, 11 (10) 1834-1844; DOI: 10.2215/CJN.01520216
- Granchi, D, et. al. Potassium Citrate Supplementation Decreases the Biochemical Markers of Bone Loss in a Group of Osteopenic Women: The Results of a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study. Nutrients. 2018 Sep 12;10(9). pii: E1293. DOI: 10.3390/nu10091293.
- Linus Pauling Institute. Potassium.
- Macdonald, HM, et. al. Effect of potassium citrate supplementation or increased fruit and vegetable intake on bone metabolism in healthy postmenopausal women: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Aug;88(2):465-74.
- National Institute of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Potassium.
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist.