We’re the first to admit we like an occasional salty treat. (Salt-covered pretzels with a side of mustard is basically double the fun.) But sprinkling salt on those favorite dishes can easily lead to excess sodium consumption (more than about one teaspoon of salt per day), a leading contributor to high blood pressure and kidney disease. And good old table salt isn’t the only culprit: Many of those sweeter-than-sweet baked goods contain a high amount of sodium thanks to baking soda.
We’ve rounded up 21 of our favorite lower-sodium recipe substitutions for just about any situation, from baking to flavoring and everything in between.
1. Potassium bicarbonate for baking soda
Baking soda can add a pretty hefty dose of sodium to baked goods, but the same amount of potassium bicarbonate is a perfect sodium-free leavening substitution. Since potassium bicarbonate has many non-food uses, too (for example, as an ingredient in fertilizer), make sure to find a brand labeled safe for consumption. And there's no need for a trip to the science lab to source this substitute— it can usually be found in supermarkets and some pharmacies.
2. Sodium-free baking soda for regular baking soda Several brands offer sodium-free versions of baking soda, replacing sodium bicarbonate with a combination of similar compounds. Follow package instructions for substitution conversions to avoid a kitchen disaster!
3. Low-sodium baking powder for baking soda To use less sodium, look for recipes that call for baking powder (low-sodium versions have just a fraction of the sodium) instead of baking soda. But be careful: Baking soda and baking powder are chemically different, and while it’s easy to sub soda for powder with a few added ingredients, doing the reverse might require a Ph.D.
4. Flavored vinegars for meat marinades Experiment with new flavor combinations to season meat without the salt. Fruit-infused vinegars (like pomegranate balsamic, perhaps?) make great marinades.
5. Citrus juice for bottled marinades Want a mouth-watering steak without the mouth full of salt? Instead of reaching for pre-made marinades that are usually packed with salt, let meat soak in some citrus juice and olive oil for full, rich flavor without the added sodium.
6. Eggs for baking soda This superfood can do more than round out a morning omelet. Depending on the recipe, one egg has the leavening power of roughly half a teaspoon of baking soda. But beware: This sub requires a little experimentation so dessert doesn’t end up tasting more like quiche than cake.
7. “No salt added” condiments for regular condiments A simple switch, but definitely effective for using less sodium. Lower-sodium options are sold in most grocery stores, so no need to search far and wide for this healthier option.
8. Potassium chloride for salt This popular table salt substitute tastes remarkably similar to salt with just a slight aftertaste. While they're effective for cooking and sprinkling at the table, potassium chloride-based salt substitutes aren’t recommended for people with kidney problems.
9. Fresh or frozen produce for canned produce Canned fruits and veggies are convenient to keep on the shelf, but they’re often packed with scarily large amounts of salt to preserve flavor. Fresh and frozen varieties are much safer bets when it comes to cutting sodium. (Just check the nutritional data on the packages to be certain.)
10. Liquid aminos for soy sauce Made from the building blocks of protein, liquid aminos usually contain a small amount of naturally occurring sodium, but it’s generally far less than what’s found in the sauces at a sushi bar. Also a great gluten-free sub!
11. Pureed vegetables for canned soup Holiday meals are never complete without a good old green bean casserole, but the sodium-filled soup base leaves more to be desired. Swap in pureed veggies for canned or condensed soups— they’ll add flavor and an extra dose of vitamins and minerals. Plus, with a little vegetable stock added, they can make a great solution for the classic canned soup lunch!
12. Herbs for salt Use herbs (fresh or dried) to add pizzazz to any savory dish— meat, soups, veggies, and more! If one isn't cuttin' it, find a pre-made salt-free blend in the spice aisle, or make a personal mix at home!
13. Low-sodium soy sauce for soy sauce Another simple switch that can reduce sodium by as much as half. Just try not to overcompensate by using more.
14. Spices for salt Kick things up a notch with some spicy substitutes in place of salt. Chili powder, cayenne pepper, curry powder, or red pepper flakes will add punch to almost any savory dish. Plus, they have some impressive health benefits of their own.
15. Unsalted butter for salted butter Cut down on salt by choosing unsalted butter for any cooking or baking needs.
16. Flavored oils for salt This switch can add new layers of flavor beyond the straight-up salty. Try walnut, pumpkin seed, or sesame oils to add subtle flavors to those favorite dishes. Also great to drizzle on salads and veggies!
17. Lemon juice for salt Lemon juice and sodium trigger similar taste receptors, meaning a sprinkle or spritz of lemon juice on just about any dish will result in almost the same taste.
18. Dried garlic and onion for salt Just avoid garlic and/or onion salts, which generally contain high amounts of sodium.
19. Vinegar and olive oil for pre-made salad dressings Go traditional by mixing olive oil and any type of vinegar (the Greatist team is big fan of balsamic) for a sodium-free dressing that goes great with practically every leafy green.
20. Vinegar for flavoring This switch works for everything from braising meats to slurping noodles covered in tomato sauce. Instead of braising with salty brine or sauces, use a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar for a similar taste. On Italian night, cut down on sodium by adding a few teaspoons of vinegar to homemade tomato sauce instead of adding more table salt.
21. Balsamic vinegar reduction for salty sauces Bring balsamic vinegar to a boil (use a non-reactive pan or pot!) and simmer until it’s reduced by about half. Use as a flavorful, mildly sweet topping, sauce, or garnish.
Originally posted January 2012. Updated August 2013.
What did we miss? Share your favorite lower-sodium recipe substitutions in the comments below!