Are Salt Substitutes Healthy?


Stephanie L. Henderson of Blackfoot is a registered dietitian. She completed her post-graduate training at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

The seasonings aisle at the grocery store can be overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to find a healthy alternative to salt. There are many seasoning products on the market and the ways the food industry promotes them can make it difficult to find a healthy choice. Sea salt has long been touted as a healthy alterative to table salt and it’s no surprise that 61 percent of respondents in a survey conducted by the American Heart Association believed sea salt to be a low-sodium alternative to table salt. Last week we took a closer look at sea salt and kosher salt and the way they compare to table salt. The take home message was that both of these products have the same chemical composition as table salt, namely sodium chloride, and they are NOT low-sodium seasonings.
Kosher and sea salts aside, there are many other products that are marketed as being healthy alternatives to salt. Commercial “salt substitutes” are one such product. Most salt substitutes contain potassium chloride in place of sodium chloride. By replacing sodium with potassium in the chemical structure of salt, food scientists have developed a variety of “salt substitutes” that taste similar to table salt and that can help reduce overall sodium intake when used in place of table salt.
A high sodium diet can cause high blood pressure and increase your risk for stroke, kidney problems, heart failure, heart attack and blindness. If you already have high blood pressure, a high sodium diet will make it worse. Using potassium-based salt substitutes is one way to reduce your sodium intake, especially if you use the saltshaker at most meals. HOWEVER, potassium-based salt substitutes are not safe for everyone to use. Extra potassium can be dangerous for individuals that take certain types of medications. These medications can increase the level of potassium in your blood and when combined with a high potassium diet, can lead to adverse medical problems. If you have diabetes, kidney disease, reduced urinary flow, congestive heart failure OR if you take any medications for your heart, liver or kidneys or to treat high blood pressure or fluid retention, ask your doctor if potassium-based salt substitutes are safe.
You might be using a potassium-based salt substitute without realizing it. It would be wise to go through your seasoning cupboard and check ingredient labels – if you see potassium chloride listed, the seasoning is a potassium-based salt substitute. Here is a list of common salt substitutes, as compiled by the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Nutrition:

Low-Sodium Salt Substitutes (a blend of sodium chloride & potassium chloride)
Morton Lite Salt – contains 50 percent less sodium than table salt
Diamond Crystal Salt Sense – contains 33 percent less sodium than table salt
Morton Salt Balance Salt Blend – contains 25 percent less sodium than table salt

No-Sodium Salt Substitutes (sodium chloride is replaced completely by potassium chloride)
Also Salt
Morton Salt Substitute
No Salt
Nu Salt

This is not a comprehensive list of all of the potassium-based salt substitutes on the market, so be sure to check labels when going through your cupboards or shopping the seasoning aisle. And, be sure to visit with your physician about whether or not these products are safe for your use.
Next week: Herbs & Spices, nature’s all-natural, sodium-free seasonings. Questions? Email