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Finding low salt: Restaurants and fast food

There is a constant flow of studies linking salt consumption and health issues, and government guidelines call for reducing amount of salt consumption. We’re going to look at some initiatives to reduce salt in restaurants, and how to find restaurants that offer lower sodium meals.

Why look for low salt food in restaurants?

Consuming too much sodium is believed to be a risk factor for high blood pressure, which may lead to stroke and heart disease. According to the CDC, about one out of three U.S. adults (about 72 million people) have high blood pressure.

The current USDA dietary guidelines call for consumers to reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease (that’s 70% of the population). The estimated average intake of sodium for all Americans ages 2 years and older of approximately 3,400 mg per day, and 77 percent of that consumption comes from packaged, processed, and restaurant foods. The American Heart Association has also called for the consumption of no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day.

This isn’t easy – customers tend to like salty food because it enhances taste. If they ask for their food to have less salt, they may even send it back saying it doesn’t have much flavor. Here are two ways people try to reduce salt in restaurants: special ordering and ordering foods already lower in sodium.

Special ordering – How to reduce the salt in your food

Salt appears in your food in a number of different ways – a sprinkle of salt added to the food as it’s prepared; salt in components such as melted cheese, spice rubs, marinades, stocks, and sauces; and salts in already-prepared foods.

When ordering food in restaurants that cook from scratch (this is more likely in higher-end restaurants), you can request changes to the way your food is cooked. Order the food as plain as possible – many sauces have a lot of salt, so have the sauce on the side – and cooked without salt. Then you can control the amount of sauce or salt you add, and take it easy! There are more detailed guidelines in the resources below.

Ordering foods already lower in sodium

Fast food and fast-casual restaurants heat up and assemble prepackaged foods that have been sent by the company – so it’s difficult for them to adjust the amount of salt in the food when you order. In those types of eating establishment, it’s better to ask for nutritional information so you can select dishes that are designed with less salt.

If you already know where you want to eat, you can check the website of chain restaurants to see the salt level of their foods, to make choices about what to eat before arriving. See the resources below for websites that help you find low salt restaurants and low sodium menu items.

Resources for hypertension, low salt foods, and restaurants:

Salt reduction recommendations and initiatives:

CDC blood pressure facts http://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm

USDA dietary guidelines http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/dietaryguidelines.htm

Current sodium consumption in the USA http://www.newsroom.heart.org/index.php?s=43&item=1237

American Heart Association http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/

AHA recommendations for sodium consumption http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/reprint/CIR.0b013e31820d0793

National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI) http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/cardio/cardio-salt-initiative.shtml

Advice on how to eat less sodium at restaurants:

WebMD http://www.webmd.com/diet/low-sodium-diet-restaurants

RevolutionHealth http://www.revolutionhealth.com/conditions/heart/heart-failure/eat-smart/eating-limit

Associated Content http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/61470/tips_for_keeping_a_low_sodium_diet.html?cat=5

Finding low-salt items on menus:

Healthy Dining Finder –  Entrées with 750 mg of sodium or less, and appetizers, side dishes, or desserts with 250 mg of sodium or less – http://healthydiningfinder.com/sodiumsavvy.asp

Low Salt Foods.com http://www.lowsaltfoods.com/food_center/dining_out/quick_ref.htm

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