Sodium is a natural component in most foods and a required nutrient. Too little sodium has been implicated in increasing strokes and heart disease, while too much causes water retention and inflammation of tissues. Hypertensive individuals are sensitive to sodium intake, and since about 60% of Americans are hypertensive, sodium reduction remains a priority for the Food and Drug Administration.

According to the F.D.A., Americans are consuming on average about 3,400 mg of sodium per day, which is 50% higher than the daily recommended intake (D.R.I.) set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans and more than 100% higher than the 1,500 mg per day recommended for hypertensive individuals. The Institute of Medicine (I.O.M.) and Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.) are currently reviewing the evidence and are expected to make a recommendation to the F.D.A. that could result in revising the D.R.I.

The F.D.A. published a voluntary proposal on sodium reduction in 2016, which has been on hold pending the recommendation from the I.O.M. It then set weighted mean targets for specific food categories to be achieved by industry in two years and 10 years with the goal of slowly reducing sodium intake to an average of 2,200 mg per day over the next decade.

Many pan breads, rolls and sweet goods can be formulated to meet the short-term targets with current technology and with little or no risk of failing to meet consumer expectations. The 10-year targets, however, are aggressive and will require significant advances in technology to achieve without risk to the flavor, texture, processing of the dough, cost and possibly even shelf life of baked foods. There are several technologies that have been developed to allow sodium reduction while maintaining an acceptable “salty” flavor. In topical applications, an expanded salt crystal with a high-surface area is effective. In dough-based products, one of the only comparable ingredients for salt replacement is potassium chloride.

Like sodium chloride, potassium chloride is a mined white powder and a natural mineral (sylvite). It is the only other material known to possess the salty flavor that we like so much. However, it also has a lingering, metallic aftertaste that can be very unpleasant. Avoiding the negative aftertaste is a significant technical challenge.

Sweet goods such as cakes that use sodium bicarbonate as a leavening agent have sodium content currently in the 300 to 600 mg per 100-gram range. Significant reductions can be achieved by replacing sodium bicarbonate with potassium bicarbonate in these products. The targets set by the F.D.A. for sweet baked foods are aggressive, but achievable, with current technology.

The American Bakers Association commented on the F.D.A.’s proposal to set targets for sodium and developed a comprehensive white paper to support industry members. In the report, the A.B.A. highlights the issues surrounding sodium reduction in baked foods and suggests that the F.D.A. wait until the I.O.M. and the C.D.C. issue their reports on the sodium D.R.I. before setting the reduction targets. The A.B.A. also questioned the feasibility of the target levels set by the F.D.A. and whether technology will advance sufficiently in 10 years to allow the industry to achieve long-term targets. The F.D.A. describes the targets and deadlines as voluntary; however, if bakers fail to comply, at some point the limits could become mandatory.

Len Heflich is a contributing editor for Baking & Snack and the president of Innovation for Success. Connect with Mr. Heflich at