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Lots of salt sneaks into restaurant foods, but these tips can help

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It’s no surprise that a lot of restaurant meals are high in sodium.

In fact, almost 25 percent of the sodium in Americans’ diets comes from restaurant foods. This means it’s mostly outside of your control, because it’s already added to your food by the restaurant. Even foods that don’t taste salty can be swimming in sodium.

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A new report from consumer advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that the nation’s top 25 restaurant chains haven’t done much to cut back on the salt. The group reviewed almost 3,000 menu items from popular restaurants between 2012 and 2014 and found barely any decrease in their sodium content, on average.

They looked at everything from appetizers to entrees to side dishes. The average sodium level per menu item at some popular sit-down restaurants was equal to or more than 1,500 milligrams, the maximum amount that the American Heart Association recommends eating in an entire day for ideal heart health. Some menu items even went up in sodium quite a bit. But on the positive side, some items went down in sodium too.

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Wouldn’t it be great if restaurants cut back on the salt and let customers decide how much to add to their food? The American Heart Association hopes that more restaurants will reduce sodium in the foods they serve.

Here are some tips for dining out without the excess salt:

  • Specify how you want your food prepared. Ask for your dish to be prepared without extra salt.
  • Taste your food before adding salt. If you think it needs a boost of flavor, add freshly ground black pepper or a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime and test it again before adding salt. Lemon and pepper are especially good on fish, chicken, and vegetables.
  • Watch out for items described with words that usually mean high in sodium. These words include pickled, brined, barbecued, cured, smoked, broth, au jus, soy sauce, miso, or teriyaki sauce. Foods that are steamed, baked, grilled, poached or roasted may have less sodium.
  • Control portion sizes. When you cut calories, you usually cut the sodium too. Ask if smaller portions are available or share the meal with a companion. If smaller portions aren’t available, ask for a to-go box when you order and place half the meal in the box to eat later.
  • Ask for information about the sodium content of the menu items. A new law requires chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to provide nutrition information, including sodium content, to customers upon request. The new law will take effect in December 2015, but some restaurants may have the information available before then.

How do you control the salt in your food when you eat out? Leave a comment!