Hey CSPI, hands off my salt shaker!

The Center for Science in the Public Interest recently released a report condemning the love affair our restaurants have been having with salt. In the study of 17 chain restaurants, the CSPI found that 85 out of 102 meals had more salt than an individual's recommended intake. Not only that, but the CSPI cautions that elderly individuals who indulge in more than 4,000 milligrams of salt in one meal may, "present an immediate risk of heart failure."

You read that right; consuming close to two and a half day's worth of salt in one sitting could kill you where you feast.

The saltiest offenders hail from Red Lobster, Chili's and Olive Garden and make for a pretty full plate.
  • The Admirals Feast with lobster-covered mashed potatoes, a cheddar bay biscuit and lemonade comes to a grand total of 7,106 mg of sodium.
  • Chili's Buffalo Chicken Fajitas and a Dr. Pepper clock in at an impressive 6,916 mg of sodium.
  • The Tour of Italy complete with bread stick salad and a Coke measure a whopping 6,176 mg of salt.
So to summarize, ordering a huge plate of fried seafood, topping your mashed potatoes with a butter lobster sauce and eating a biscuit infused with cheese isn't the best dining choice. And choice is exactly what the CSPI wants to give consumers; CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson feels that restaurants, "...should cut back and give consumers the freedom to decide for themselves how much salt they want."
While I applaud the Center's desire to look out for our salt intake, and yes, more low sodium items would be a welcome addition to menus, there are many other restaurants and many other choices. It's not like you walk into Red Lobster on a Saturday night and they strap you down and pour an Admiral's Feast down your throat. To the contrary; the worst offenders have several meals with reasonable levels of salt.
  • At Red Lobster a half order of wood-grilled Tilapia, a garden salad with vinaigrette dressing and broccoli only contains 530 mg of sodium
  • Chili's offers Salmon and side salad with avocado dressing with a higher yet, but not going to kill you in the booth, 930 mg of sodium.
  • The dinner portion of Olive Garden's Linguine alla Marinara contains 900 mg salt.
Obviously these aren't the healthiest meal choices out there, but that's exactly what they are -- choices. Consumers can choose to eat healthier at one of these restaurants, opting for these items or lunch portions; or go to another restaurant that serves healthier food. Perhaps they can even cook at home if they so choose.

Another portion of the study took children's menus to task, which is very worthwhile concern. Despite the fact that you can get a somewhat low sodium, 380 mg, children's size spaghetti at Olive Garden, healthy restaurant items for children are hard to find.

In the end, the battle over healthy food and salt content is one the market should decide, not biased public interest groups. If there is a demand for low sodium content meals and healthy kids offerings in restaurants, let an entrepreneur fill that void, but don't try and tell me how much salt I am allowed to have. Until you nationalize health care; leave those decisions to me and my physician!

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