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Jan 23, 2014 07:20 PM

Good Healthy Diet Starts at the Restaurants: Salt Content

Sometime ago, I wrote a post about Boston Market reducing salt content and moving the salt shaker:

This following article by CDC Director Tom Frieden discusses salt reduction in restaurants in general

"The city's (Philadelphia) Public Health Department worked with 206 restaurants, first evaluating their menus for sodium content and then helping them choose ingredients and develop recipes with less sodium. ....

After nine months, the initiative analyzed two popular dishes from 20 participating restaurants to see what changed. The result? A 20% reduction in sodium, more than the project's goal.

It's one thing to choose how much salt to add to your food when you eat. It's another to live with decisions made by those who prepare your food before it makes it to the table."

What do you think?

A good public policy by reducing salt? Too much intervention from the government to dictate food content? What's next? Regulate sugar and fat?

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  1. Interesting. But it does strike me that restaurants wishing to reduce sodium would likely be forced to use more fresh ingredients than they were previously.

    1. It is good public policy that food should not have excessive salt, but restaurants are probably not the main part of the problem.

      2 Replies
      1. re: GH1618

        <restaurants are probably not the main part of the problem>


        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Prepared foods for home use are too highly salted. Canned soup, for example.

      2. Ah, the sugar and fat....

        Restaurant food does tend to contain a lot of salt, compared to home cooked food. However, the reason restaurant food, particularly chain and fast food, is high in salt is because salt can cheaply make up for sub-par ingredients or cooking methods. Ditto for fat and sugar. Designing foods to have maximum appeal at a minimum cost is a very lucrative branch of science.

        I could easily see a backlash, where the salt content goes down, but the fat content or sugar content goes up to compensate, the way low fat versions of food tend to be high in one or more of starch/sugar/salt. If you regulate everything, you end up with food that is less appealing or more expensive, which hits the bottom line of the restaurant.

        Then you run into issues with things that are legitimately salty - dishes with pickled or fermented ingredients, or soy marinated stuff is going to be high in salt. That's not a problem if it is part of a varied diet, but reducing the salt content destroys the fundamentals of the dish.

        7 Replies
        1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

          <but reducing the salt content destroys the fundamentals of the dish.>

          You bought up a very good point. I personally prefer to eat "less of something good", and I don't mean it the way how normally people say it here. Most people use it to mean eating at high end restaurants.

          Let use milk as an example, I am the kind of person who enjoy regular (full fat) milk. So I rather drink half glass of a regular milk, than 2-3 glasses of 1-2% low fat milk. Same for many other foods as well.

          Maybe our real problem is that we eat large portion. You can cut the salt by 20-30% or you can simply cut the portion by 20-30%. Maybe the latter makes more sense.

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            I don't think it's an either/or proposition. One should not overeat, so as to maintain a healthy weight. And the food should not be oversalted. Properly seasoned food should not taste salty, but balanced. There are exceptions — some things are inherently salty, but these should be a small part of the diet.

            1. re: GH1618

              <One should not overeat, so as to maintain a healthy weight. And the food should not be oversalted>

              Prioritization is important too. One should also find the "bottleneck", where will make the biggest gain with the least resistance.

              1. re: GH1618

                Why? Salt requirements vary hugely from person to person. When I don't eat enough salty food, I literally have to eat or drink some salt in water to maintain my low normal bp and avoid cramps/spasms.

                There is no health benefit of salt restriction for most folks, in fact, mortality risk is highest when salt intake is restricted substantially.

                I think the real issue is another one you pointed out; prepared and junky foods are loaded with stuff that's unhealthy and deficient in the minerals one needs in balance with sodium, like magnesium and potassium.

            2. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

              And on Top Chef and the like, it seems the ratio of "needs more salt" to "too salty" runs about 10 to 1. Does it really *need* more salt, or is it what we are used to getting?

              1. re: DGresh

                I have noticed a lot of inadquately sessoned food coming out of restaurants in the past year, increasingly, and find myself reaching for a salt shaker or having to request one.

                I can't recall ever having salted anything but eggs in a restaurant in decades til now. Bleah.

            3. Look at what Panera Bread has just unveiled:


              This is revolutionary if all the fast casuals would adopt it.

              3 Replies
                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Really! Why the hidden menu that is linked to their website. From their website I don't see an article link to get me to the hidden menu. WTF

                  1. re: scubadoo97

                    I went in when I first read that and they had it, but it was no longer hidden, just on a placard. Last time, they no longer had it, but there was a salad with meat I was able to order from a regular menu.

              1. The only person that should be regulating salt in my food is me.

                3 Replies
                1. re: ipsedixit

                  but don't you want nanny Bloomberg to tell you what to eat?

                  1. re: smoledman

                    You'll have to find a new name for the nanny

                    1. re: smoledman

                      Like Bloomberg or not, I think his approach is different from this one. In the case of Bloomberg, he was trying to limit sugar intake directly to the consumers. In this article, it is more about limiting the chefs/restaurants.

                      You may say what is the difference. The endgame may be the same, but the argument is different.

                      "It's one thing to choose how much salt to add to your food when you eat. It's another to live with decisions made by those who prepare your food before it makes it to the table."

                      In other words, Bloomberg soda policy was protecting you from your own stupid decisions. This salt-reduction approach is to protect you from the restaurants' stupid actions.