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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Difficulty of Eating Lunch Without Getting Socked by Sodium

Recommendations for daily sodium intake have been made by various health organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine. They generally agree on a range of 1,500 to 2,300 mg/day for normal people but lower limits for those with congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, or kidney disease. One teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 gm of sodium.

Unfortunately, without ever picking up a salt shaker, it is very difficult to keep within the recommended sodium limits range if one either eats in restaurants or uses processed foods at home.

While people frequently eat dinner at home, and thus may control the amount of sodium they take in by using fresh ingredients, many of us find it convenient to eat lunch in a fast-food or table-served restaurant. Some examples from popular restaurants below show how difficult it is to find a restaurant meal that does not contain excess sodium.

  • Big Mac®: 1040 mg
  • Premium Grilled Chicken Ranch BLT Sandwich: 1190 mg
  • Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken: 1010 mg

 Burger King
  • Whopper®with cheese: 1450 mg
  • Angus Steak Burger®: 1260 mg
  • TenderGrill™ Chicken: 1180 mgs
  • BK Big Fish®: 1450 mgs
  • Double w/Everything and Cheese: 1440 mg
  • Homestyle Chicken Fillet Sandwich: 1120 mg
Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Egg and cheese on a bagel: 1160 mg
  • Bagel and cream cheese: 910 mg
Panera Bread
  • Chipotle chicken sandwich on artisan French: 2370 mg
  • Cuban chicken Panini: 1900 mg
  • Turkey artichoke Panini on focaccia: 2340 mg
Pizza Hut
  • Half of a 12” medium cheese pan pizza: 2120 mg
  • 2 slices of large 14” meat lover’s pan pizza: 2360 mg

  • Chicken burrito in 13” tortilla with rice, black beans, tomato salsa, guacamole and lettuce: 2100 mg
  • Steak burrito in 13” tortilla with rice, red beans, tomato salsa, cheese, guacamole and lettuce: 2160 mg
Bottom Line
These amounts of sodium are way over the top. And don’t think that table-served restaurants are any better. They vary widely as to the amount of salt added to their food, but most use a lot of salt. Why? Because most people like the taste. It’s obvious that any large restaurant chain would do extensive taste tests to see what people like best. So high salt foods must be what people prefer. Salt levels in food are thus market-driven. However, it is difficult to tell whether we have just gotten used to high-salt foods because of their prevalence or whether we have some instinctive salt craving that dates back to hunting and gathering days, when salt in the diet was difficult to obtain. Whatever the case, medical authorities widely agree that we are getting too much of it. Pending possible legislation to limit the sodium count in foods, the best we can do is to prepare our own food from fresh ingredients as much as possible and to consult nutritional information at restaurants or on their web sites to make selections without excessive sodium content, however difficult that is. It would also be helpful if large companies received e-mail or other messages from consumers asking to reduce the sodium content in their foods.

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