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Salt is Overated

Posted by bmagnus On May - 13 - 2009

Various sources have been telling Americans that we eat too much salt for some years now. We have been told that salt “causes” high blood pressure — which is strictly speaking only true if you are one of the 65 million Americans with a genetic disorder called “essential hypertension” — and that in turn causes many other health problems. These health problems include heart disease and strokes.

Even though some people think that the health threat of salt is largely overblown, still it’s alarming to consider that some restaurant meals might contain almost 4 times the daily USRDA of salt! That’s like sitting down and eating 3 teaspoons of salt at one sitting.

The three restaurants singled out as having the “worst” meals from a salt standpoint were Red Lobster, Chili’s, and Olive Garden. Consider these 3 things about this selection of meals:

First, not only do these meals have more salt than most people should eat at once, they frankly have more calories than most people should eat at once, unless you are a sumo wrestler. The Red Lobster Admiral’s Feast, for example, is 1506 calories. Even if it didn’t have 194% of the daily allowance of salt and 93% of the recommended intake of fat, this is not the sort of thing healthy people should eat every day. Keep in mind, this is before adding the cheddar biscuit and a drink. The Buffalo Chicken Fajitas at Chili’s is “only” 1090 calories — still half the calories a normal person should eat in a whole day, and still before including side orders, appetizers, or beverages.  Olive Garden Tour of Italy lasagna comes in at 1450 calories, and 165% of the daily recommended intake of saturated fat.

Second, to get the inflated totals, the researchers included soft drinks. Since sugary drinks account for 14% of a typical American adult’s calorie intake, most people can make massive improvements in diet simply by switching beverages. Diet soda instead of regular soda will get you less sugar and lower calories; water or unsweetened iced tea will get you reduced sodium too. Water will even save you money at the restaurant.

Third, their recommended substitutions are simply not going to work for most people. Sure, have grilled fish instead of fried fish at Red Lobster. But if you are in a mood for fajitas or lasagna, grilled fish just isn’t going to do. Couldn’t they find a lower sodium meal other than grilled fish? At any of these 3 restaurants?

The bottom line is this: pay attention to all the nutritional information regarding your food, not just one sensationalist line. That holds true whether you are looking at the “sodium” line, the “fat” line, or anything else.

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