This Hidden 'Bad' Ingredient in Restaurant Food Is Hurting Us as Much as Fat & Sugar

Rant 5

restaurantCeleb chef Jamie Oliver may be known for his crusade to make food healthier and conquer the obesity epidemic, but British researchers behind the Consensus Action on Salt and Health are none too pleased with him. They tested his meatballs at Jamie's Italian restaurant and found they're really, really salty -- with 8.1 grams of salt per serving. Gordon Ramsay's steamed mussels are only slightly less salty -- 7.3 grams.

Meanwhile, U.S. dietary guidelines say we're only supposed to have 2.3 grams max a day. Ha! Good luck trying to stick to that if you decide to dine out.

It's almost an unfortunate reality we have no choice but to accept: Whether we're going to grab a cup of soup and a half a sandwich at the local lunch chain, hit up Olive Garden for an easy weeknight dinner, or even enjoy a date night at that romantic new neighborhood spot, the food you eat out is practically guaranteed to put you over your daily sodium limit.

The subject actually hits home for me, because I try to pay attention not just to the fat, fiber, protein of the food I cook and buy for myself and my fiance for our overall health and weight -- but sodium is also a biggie. That's because my fiance has a rare genetic kidney disorder called cystinuria, which causes him to produce and pass a lot of kidney stones. (Yes, ouch.) And one of the dietary recommendations for people with cystinuria is that they keep their daily sodium intake to ONE gram a day. Ahhh! Trust me, it's just about impossible. Especially when we are eating out and one measly serving of soup can have that much salt. Or MORE! Gah.

More from The Stir: Restaurants' 'Secret Menus' Are a Deliciously Wicked Way to Get Around the Calorie Police

I get it. Restaurants do it because they think we'll complain otherwise. That we'll think the food is flavorless or bland. And sometimes -- it is. Even knowing he can't have too much, I have to use salt in my cooking at home. But I've managed to dial it back by upping the spices (even not-hot spices like oregano, basil, cumin, pepper!) to add flavor. 

You know, what's going on in restaurants with salt seems similar to how they use so much damn sugar in prepared coffee drinks and desserts these days. Our palates are seriously abused and broken in a way. We've been eating over-salted and way-too-sweet foods for so long, we don't know which way is up.

But the less salt (and sugar) we eat, the more we realize we can do without it. And the saltier foods taste without much salt in 'em! So it wouldn't be a bad idea for restaurants to reduce the salt they're using (and the sugar ... but mayors need not get involved!) and see if customers really do notice. Maybe not if it's done gradually. Hey, it's worth a shot -- we really would all be better off.

How do you feel about the sodium content at restaurants being sky-high?


Image via heatheronhertravels/Flickr

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BirdCo BirdCo

I have found using better quality salt like grey salt or pink Himalayan salt vs table salt I use less. Plus they add an extra layer of flavor. My biggest bitch is sugar free that has fake sugar in it. It's so gross.

tuffy... tuffymama

Don't eat at restaurants on the regular. Nobody is meant to eat like that in habit. We eat totally clean and there is ONE restaurant within 50 miles of home where we can eat. So we eat at home. Also, it depends on what kind of salt you use. As BirdCo, I use natural salts: Himalayan, Celtic grey, French grey, Hawaiian black, and Hawaiian red. Lastly, the USDA and FDA are full of crap with their stinking recommendations. Most of that crap is just that, and they act like the damn font of dietary knowledge. Just remember that Congress, Big Ag, Big Pharma, FDA, and USDA are ALL THE SAME PEOPLE. Conflict of interest? To say the least.

lulou lulou

While my gameshow mentality is disappointed that my guess of MSG was partially wrong, Im going to have to agree with above, and add my 2 cents in about how annoying I find it when people complain about the priciness of organics but then eat out so much.

allge... allgeminis

I had to be on a very low sodium diet for awhile and eating out was almost impossible.  Restaurants have menus that show exactly what amounts you are eating - upon viewing them I was in SHOCK. The "healthy selections" had so much sodium in them to make up for the lower fat content.  The item with the least salt on the menu was french fries, believe it or not. Something to think about - just because you are ordering a salad doesn't mean it's good for you.

Eddie... EddiesMama83

Cook everything from scratch and don't dine out. Easy peasy. You can make your own food and go out on a picnic instead. 

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