Potassium is Vital for Critical Body Functions

Potassium compounds have a history of functionality, such as acting as a buffer or maintaining moisture in protein foods. But the mineral is also needed for critical body functions.

By Rebecca Jensen, contributing editor

Dietary potassium keeps our bodies at a normal pH, maintains low blood pressure and helps our kidneys and muscles work more efficiently. In processing, potassium maintains moisture in meats and cheeses and acts as a buffer or retarders in confectionary and other products. In the area of food safety, potassium derivatives are key ingredients in protecting products from spoilage.

When fortifying a food or beverage with potassium, it is essential to consider the levels of other ingredients as well as the potassium. "Three aspects make them challenging," explains Vince Rinaldi, principle scientist for PepsiCo’s Gatorade (www.gatorade.com), Chicago. "First, not all minerals are soluble. Others are soluble at acidic pH. The second challenge is flavor. There are many [interfering] minerals   salts, phosphates, citrates. All provide sensoral challenges. That’s why you see combinations of (potassium) with citrates and phosphates. The third challenge is buffering. For a beverage, buffering is a concern. You have the potential for negative flavor attributes with salts versus phosphates or citrates. Potassium chloride is a table salt substitute, but at higher levels, you get bitter and metallic tastes which is a challenge to overcome. As you do that, you have challenges with buffering and pH."

"There are a number of forms of potassium fit for the purpose of a supplement to natural levels of potassium or for fortification in products which do not have inherent sources of potassium. These sources can be used alone or in combination," says Barbara Heidolph, market development manager for ICL Performance Products LP (www.astaris.com), St. Louis.. Benephos, produced by ICL, is a polyphosphate with 70 percent of the sodium replaced with potassium.

Benephos can be used as a dietary source of potassium, and it works in concert with preservatives like sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate so they can be used at lower levels. This allows the manufacturer to achieve equivalent shelf life with improved flavor and reduced cost.

Manufacturers who want to reduce sodium content in their products can use functional potassium phosphate ingredients in place of current sodium-based ingredients. This allows them to reduce sodium, yet maintain higher levels of sodium chloride for flavor and other related functions. However, Rinaldi cautions that "minerals can make the product harder because they fight for moisture."

Solubility is a key reason manufacturers choose potassium phosphates in place of sodium phosphates. "Potassium phosphates have better solubility than sodium phosphates," says Amr Shaheed, senior scientist for Innophos Inc. (www.innophos.com), Cranbury, N.J., a leading supplier of food-grade potassium phosphates. "If you need rapid solubility, as in a drink mix, then the potassium phosphates dissolve much more rapidly than equal amounts of sodium."

Some potassium phosphates are compatible substitutes for sodium phosphates: "Bacon producers can benefit from the use of potassium phosphates over sodium phosphates because the potassium phosphates are soluble at a higher level," notes Gene Brotsky, senior technical services director for Innophos.

Other combinations of potassium can serve nutritional as well as functional purposes. "Two different forms of potassium, potassium lactate and potassium gluconate, are both absorbable in the human body, highly soluble and easy to process," According to Cam Reizner, food and nutrition account manager for Purac America Inc. (www.purac.com), Lincolnshire, Ill., which produces Purasal P potassium gluconate.

Many energy bars and health beverages marketed to athletes include functional amounts of potassium. Glaceau (www.glaceau.com), Whitestone, N.Y., produces Vitaminwater, Smartwater, Vitaminenergy and Fruitwater brand enhanced water beverages. All contain a balance of calcium, magnesium and potassium to "promote healthy nervous system function and regulate the body's fluids, creating more energy for more activity."

Other major beverage companies have also joined the rush to market better waters and sports drinks. According to Ray Crockett, spokesperson for the Odwalla/Powerade divisions of Coca-Cola Co. (www.coca-cola.com), Atlanta. "Two of Coca-Cola’s healthy beverage choices provide significant amounts of potassium citrate and potassium phosphate."

Tropicana introduced a light orange juice, Light & Healthy, fortified with potassium citrate so "consumers do not trade off fewer calories for less potassium," explains Mark Andon, director of nutrition for Quaker-Tropicana-Gatorade. Kellogg’s Smart Start Health Heart cereals and bars also offer functional amounts of potassium.

Yoplait developed a fortified dairy "shot," Yoplait Essence, which incorporates Multibene, a potassium cation from Glanbia Nutritionals, Kilkenny, Ireland. "Yoplait’s new low-fat yogurt 'shot' includes many different nutrients, including potassium," says Denis Carrigan, head of consumer R&D for Glanbia.

Fortifying foods and beverages with potassium compounds can provide greater functionality, but clearly also can increase a product’s marketability to health-conscious consumers.

Note to Marketing

"The type of claim a food or beverage manufacturer can make is limited by the FDA and may have restrictions associated with levels of sodium, potassium, fat, trans-fat, saturated fat and cholesterol," says Barbara Heidolph, market development manager, ICL Performance Products LP (www.astaris.com), St. Louis. "Beverages such as fruit juices, fortified water, isotonic beverages, carbonated soft drinks, sports beverages and energy drinks are often capable of carrying FDA permitted health claims because generally they meet other nutritional criteria, and they are a convenient way to deliver nutrition including potassium."

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