Imagine cutting sodium levels in a baked good by 25 per cent or more. Then imagine using ingredients that at the same time can hike healthful calcium levels by 500 per cent. It can be done.

Most medical experts agree that while salt is an essential nutrient, most people consume too much — Americans get 75 per cent of their sodium from processed foods. Diets high in sodium can contribute to hypertension, heart disease and other related medical conditions.

In the United Sates, the American Medical Association (AMA) has petitioned the FDA to revoke the GRAS status of salt and develop regulatory measures to limit sodium in processed and restaurant foods. The AMA is also asking the FDA to improve sodium labelling, making it easier for consumers to understand the amount of sodium in foods. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has also petitioned the FDA to revoke the GRAS status of salt. Both the AMA and the CSPI are asking the FDA to lower the Recommended Daily Value by 50 per cent (currently 2,300mg/day). Globally, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada and other countries have initiatives in place or are considering regulations to reduce sodium consumption.

Currently in the United States, the FDA allows manufacturers to make a health claim associating diets low in sodium with reduced risk of high blood pressure on a low-sodium food's label. FDA allows the following labelling of sodium:
Sodium-free: less than 5mg per serving.
Very low sodium: 35mg or less per serving or, if the serving is 30g or less or 2 tablespoons or less, 35mg or less per 50g of the food.
Low sodium: 140mg or less per serving or, if the serving is 30g or less or 2 tablespoons or less, 140mg or less per 50g of the food.
Light in sodium: at least 50 per cent less sodium per serving than average reference amount for same food with no sodium reduction.
Reduced or less sodium: at least 25 per cent less per serving than reference food.

The challenge for the baking industry is to reduce sodium content while keeping the same product characteristics (volume, texture, crumb structure) and flavour profile. Approximately 95 per cent of the sodium in baked goods comes from just three ingredients: salt, sodium bicarbonate and the leavening agent.

Salt provides multiple functions in baked goods. In cake-type products it adds flavour and also enhances the flavour of other ingredients and balances the sweetness profile. Salt is an inexpensive ingredient and many manufactures offer salt replacements. Salt contains about 39 per cent sodium. Alternatives to salt are available but formulators must be careful they do not change the current taste profile. Increased cost is also a concern.

The baking industry primarily uses three types of bicarbonate: sodium, potassium and ammonium. Bicarbonates are the source of CO2 that aerates the baked goods. Sodium bicarbonate is the most widely used. It contains about 27 per cent sodium and is the least expensive of the three bicarbonates. Potassium bicarbonate contains no sodium and has 39 per cent potassium — a much-needed nutrient. Potassium bicarbonate is a good replacement for sodium bicarbonate and has been used for years in low-sodium niche markets. Baking characteristics are similar to sodium bicarbonate. However, it is significantly higher in cost, and you need to use 19 per cent more when compared to sodium bicarbonate to achieve the same CO2 level. Ammonium bicarbonate is limited to applications where the moisture content is less than five per cent. This is so the ammonium gas can bake out.