Restaurants Refuse to Cut Salt: Study

Monday, 07 Jul 2014 05:53 PM

By Nick Tate

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Cutting back on salt because of high blood pressure or other health issues? You might want to steer clear of Red Lobster and Olive Garden. The two restaurant chains topped a list of eateries with the saltiest menu items compiled by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
 
The nonprofit advocacy group also found that chain restaurants, in general, were slacking on cutting sodium.
 
The list is based on a review of 136 meals from 17 top restaurant chains that found they have collectively reduced sodium by an average of just 6 percent between 2009 and 2013 — 1.5 percent per year.
 
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The analysis found the biggest reductions in sodium were posted by Subway, Burger King, and McDonald's, but KFC and Jack in the Box actually increased sodium by 12.4 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively, in the sample of meals reviewed.
 
CSPI said the findings suggest the Food and Drug Administration needs to set reasonable limits on the amounts of sodium that can be used in various categories of food.
 
"For far too long, the FDA has relied on a voluntary, wait-and-see approach when it comes to reducing sodium in packaged and restaurant food," said CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson. "If chains like KFC, Jack in the Box, and Red Lobster are actually raising sodium levels in some meals, FDA's current approach clearly isn't working."
 
The group found 79 percent of the 81 adult meals in the study contained more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium. Most Americans, including people 51 and older, people with high blood pressure, and African-Americans, are advised to limit themselves to 1,500 mg of sodium per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At higher levels, sodium promotes high blood pressure, stroke, heart attacks, kidney disease, and other health problems, making it the single most harmful ingredient in the food supply, according to CSPI.
 
The average sodium in 55 kids' meals dropped by just 2.6 percent.
 
Other findings of the analysis:
  • At table-service chains such as Red Lobster, Chili's, and Olive Garden, it's easy to find meals in the ballpark of 5,000 mg of sodium — more than most people should consume over the course of three days.
  • At KFC, CSPI evaluated seven meals and found one posted a 22 percent decrease in sodium, one remained the same, and five meals posted increases.
  • At Jack in the Box, a Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger, with a large order of Seasoned Curly Fries and a 1 percent Chocolate Milk, had 3,670 mg of sodium — 9 percent more than the same meal in 2009.
  • The three Burger King kids' meals in the study were 40 percent lower in sodium on average in 2013 than in 2009, and the chain also reduced sodium in its double cheeseburger, cheeseburger, and chicken nuggets.
  • A McDonald's meal of five chicken breast strips, spicy Buffalo dipping sauce, a side salad with low-fa dressing, and a large Powerade had 3,570 mg of sodium in 2009. In 2013, it had 34 percent less (2,360 mg).
  • One meal at Dairy Queen (chili, side salad with dressing, and a Mountain Dew) dropped by 57 percent, from 4,500 to 1,925 mg, the biggest drop in the study. But that chain also posted one of the biggest increases in the study, with a meal of grilled chicken wrap, side salad, and orange juice having 38 percent more sodium in 2013 (1,135 mg) than it did in 2009 (820 mg).
  • The biggest increase was at Sonic in a meal of a large order of jumbo popcorn chicken, Tater Tots, and Powerade, which had 2,830 mg of sodium in 2009 but 950 mg more sodium (3,780) in 2013.
  •  Subway reduced sodium in every one of the 10 meals reviewed in the study.
Special: The Two Signs Your Heart Is In Trouble

"Some companies are clearly making an effort, but we won’t see sustained progress by all companies unless they know that their competitors will be lowering sodium also, which is why the FDA needs to level the playing field," said Jacobson.
 
CSPI noted some chain restaurants not included in the study have items with even more sodium. At P.F. Chang's, an order of Dan Dan Noodles has 6,190 mg of sodium and a bowl of Hot & Sour Soup has 7,980 mg, according to the chain's website. A meal called "The Big Hook Up" from Joe's Crab Shack has more than five days' worth of sodium, 7,610 mg, according to the company's website. That latter meal has more than five days' worth of sodium for most people.

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