Restaurants, Processed Foods Still Exceed Recommended Daily Nutritional Limits
May 14, 2013

Restaurants, Processed Foods Still Exceed Recommended Daily Nutritional Limits

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Efforts to reduce sodium in processed food and fast food have been slow and inconsistent, and menu offerings at many independent and small chain restaurants often times contain two to three times the recommended caloric needs of an individual adult for a single meal, according to two research papers published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

In one study, Dr. Michael F. Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and colleagues claim voluntary reductions in sodium levels in processed and restaurant foods had been slow and inconsistent. That conclusion was based on an analysis of the salt content in selected processed and fast food offerings in 2005, 2008 and 2011.

According to Jacobson´s team, the sodium content in 402 processed foods studied between 2005 and 2011 declined by approximately 3.5 percent, while sodium content in 78 fast food restaurant products had actually increased by 2.6 percent. Some products showed decreases by as much as 30 percent, while others saw their sodium content increase by at least 30 percent, illustrating the inconsistent nature of the voluntary reductions.

“The voluntary approach has failed,” Dr. Stephen Havas, corresponding author of the paper and a research professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a statement. "The study demonstrates that the food industry has been dragging its feet and making very few changes.

“This issue will not go away unless the government steps in to protect the public. The amount of sodium in our food supply needs to be regulated,” he added. “High salt content in food benefits the food industry. High salt masks the flavor of ingredients that are often not the best quality and also stimulates people to drink more soda and alcohol, which the industry profits from.”

The researchers report excessive sodium intake causes as many as 150,000 Americans annually, and approximately 90 percent of the US population, to develop high blood pressure at some point in their lives — a condition which is often linked to high dietary salt consumption. High blood pressure can increase a person´s risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke, potentially resulting in death or permanent disability, they added.

In separate research, Mary R. L'Abbe of the University of Toronto´s Department of Nutritional Sciences and colleagues examined the nutritional content of 3,507 different variations of 685 breakfast, lunch and dinner meals, as well as 156 desserts from 19 different sit-down restaurants.

Each meal was evaluated in terms of sodium, as well as the number of calories and the amount of both fat and saturated fat contained in each. Excess consumption of those nutrients, the researchers said, have been linked to obesity, high-blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues.

L´Abbe´s team found, on average, the meals contained 1,128 calories, or more than half of a person´s average recommended daily allotment of 2,000 calories. Furthermore, they found the average breakfasts, lunches and dinners contained 151 percent of the recommended daily amount of salt, 89 percent of the daily value for fat, 83 percent for saturated and trans fat, and 60 percent of the daily value for cholesterol.

Researchers from Tufts University in Boston performed similar research, examining 157 meals from 33 local and small-chain restaurants in order to determine their total caloric content. Foods of various different nationalities, including Mexican, Chinese and Italian, where analyzed between June and August 2011, and the researchers discovered 73 percent contained more than half of the recommended 2,000 calorie daily intake.

“On average, the meals studied contained 1,327 calories, which significantly exceeds the estimated energy needs of an individual adult at a single meal,” explained Dr. Susan B. Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the university´s Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) — as well as the senior and corresponding author on the study. “Meals from all restaurant types provided substantially more energy than is needed for weight maintenance.”

Roberts and her colleagues also reported that 12 meals had more than the 2,000 calories recommended for total daily intake. In terms of the different types of meals studied, the Italian (1,755 calories), American (1,494 calories) and Chinese (1,474 calories) meals had the highest average calorie levels while the Vietnamese meals had the lowest calorie levels, as measured by gross energy, with an average of 922 calories.