A review of menu items from 66 of the top 100 restaurant chains shows that while restaurants have low sodium options, the food, especially in the main dishes, is still high.
The average American between the ages of 19 and 50 consumes more than 3,700 mg of sodium. Excess has been linked to high blood pressure, strokes, and heart disease. Health experts have determined that a 1,200 mg drop in daily sodium intake could save up to 92,000 lives and up to $ 25 million in health care costs per year.
80% of our sodium intake comes from eating foods prepared outside the home.
âOverall, the sodium content of the newly introduced menu items has decreased by about 104 milligrams,â says Julia Wolfson, assistant professor of health management and policy and nutritional sciences at the University of Michigan. “However, among existing and new main dishes, the average sodium content of a single menu dish is still above half the recommended daily sodium limit of 2300 mg.”
âThe fact that new low sodium menu items are being introduced indicates that it is possible for restaurants to reduce the sodium content of their food, but that so far their efforts have been insufficient. Restaurants may be reluctant to reformulate existing menu items that are popular with customers and that define their brand.
Using data from the MenuStat project, researchers examined nearly 22,000 menu items in fast food, fast food (think Jimmy Johns and Panera), and full-service restaurants from 2012 to 2016. The base data contains calorie and nutrition data collected from the websites of the top 200 restaurants in the United States, as defined by sales volume.
They compared the sodium content of items available in 2012 to new items added in each of the following four years. Full-service restaurants showed the greatest reduction in sodium on new items (163 mg), followed by fast food restaurants (83 mg) and fast food restaurants (19 mg).
The results appear in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Previous research has shown that 80 percent of our sodium intake comes from eating foods prepared outside the home. A third of adults and children eat at fast food outlets every day, and almost half of all food purchases are made outside the home. Therefore, reducing the sodium content of restaurant foods could have health benefits for Americans, says Wolfson.
Almost a decade ago, major health organizations called for a national salt reduction initiative, which aimed to reduce sodium intake by 25 percent from 2009 to 2014. This initiative may have been the motivation for many restaurants to offer healthier food options, but voluntary efforts have not been enough. , says Wolfson.
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“Requiring large restaurant chains to add sodium warning labels to their menus could be an important tool in encouraging restaurants to reduce the sodium content of their foods, and is an important information tool for consumers. Federal regulations requiring warning labels are unlikely at this time, but states and cities could certainly implement these regulations.
âRestaurant food is notoriously high in sodium – that’s one of the reasons it tastes so good. “
âNational and local labeling regulations, coupled with public awareness campaigns aimed at educating consumers about the dangerously high sodium content of restaurant foods, could increase consumer demand for low-sodium options. sodium and encourage restaurant chains to voluntarily reduce the sodium content of their food. “
In the meantime, people should be aware that many foods contain hidden sodium, and they should ask restaurants for information on the contents of the meals they buy. It might not be printed on the menu, but most restaurant chains have nutrition information available.
And she has another tip for consumers.
âRestaurant food is notoriously high in sodium, which is one of the reasons it tastes so good. Switching from restaurant meals to more meals prepared at home with fresh or minimally processed ingredients will help reduce sodium in your diet.
The co-authors are from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the University of Pittsburgh.
Source: University of Michigan