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.

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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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