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Chain restaurants serve up unhealthy portions of salt

Consumer Reports News: May 13, 2009 05:27 PM

If you knew you were eating four times your daily salt limit at your favorite chain restaurant, you might lose your appetite. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recently examined 17 popular restaurant chains and found that 85 out of 102 meals had more than a day’s worth of sodium, and some had more than four times the daily limit. Most adults should consume less than 2,300 milligrams (approximately one teaspoon) of salt per day. Exceeding that limit can increase your risk of high blood pressure and might also boost the risk of asthma, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and stomach cancer.

We checked the nutritional value a handful of chain restaurant Web sites. To name just a few salty culprits, Chili’s Buffalo Chicken Fajitas contain 5,236 mg of sodium, Olive Garden’s Tour of Italy lasagna, with a Breadstick and a Garden Fresh Salad with dressing has 6,170 mg, and Red Lobster’s Tuscan Garlic-Herb Shrimp and Chicken and a Baked Potato with butter has 4200 mg. With shocking sodium levels like these, it’s no wonder so many Americans are consuming unhealthy amounts of salt.

Eating less salt isn’t easy, particularly if you’re at a restaurant. Some restaurants post nutrition information for each menu item, so check sodium content before ordering. Or check the nutritional information on the restaurant’s Web site before you go. If you’re concerned about salt and the sodium levels aren’t listed on the menu, ask “How much salt is in this meal?” Request low-salt dishes and sauce or dressing on the side—and put down the salt shaker.

Ginger Skinner

Get more tips on how to order healthier options when eating out, and take our quiz to find out how much salt is hidden in some foods.

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