Stalling on Salt

Don't bother reaching for that shaker of salt next time you eat out. The chain restaurant industry has already decided for you how salty you like your food, and they think you like it plenty salty!

Salty enough that nearly 100,000 Americans will die this year because of the excess sodium in our food supply.

The excess sodium leads to increased blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. Americans are consuming an average of about 4,000 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day, and an estimated 75 percent comes from processed and restaurant foods.

Four years ago, the Institute of Medicine said enough was enough, and that 40 years of food industry voluntary efforts at reducing the excess sodium simply hadn't worked. They laid out a road map for the Food and Drug Administration to follow: set mandatory limits, varying according to food category and kicking in in a gradual and reasonable manner. That approach would create a level playing field for the industry and would also allow consumers' tastes to appreciate food not loaded with sodium.

Well, the last four years in American restaurants has been too much like the previous 40 years, according to a new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. For each step forward by one restaurant, another restaurant has taken a step backward or a step sideways.

"Stalling on Salt: Restaurant Meals Still Loaded with Sodium" is a review of meals from 17 restaurant chains, first sampled in 2009 and then re-evaluated in 2013. On average, the sodium in the 136 meals reviewed declined by an average of 6 percent, but 79 percent of the 81 adult meals contained more than 1,500 mg of sodium, the amount recommended for a majority of the population by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We found that by reducing sodium at a rate of 1.5 percent per year, it would take restaurants 20 years to cut sodium by just 30 percent.