sodium content still too high
July 2, 2014

Restaurant Chains Still Piling On The Salt

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Some chain restaurants have been working to reduce the amount of sodium in the foods they serve, but according to a new report from consumer advocacy group the Center For Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) – the average salt reduction by companies is barely significant.

The report included an analysis of over 130 meals from 17 popular restaurant chains served between 2009 and 2013. It revealed that Subway cut its sodium by 27 percent during that time span, while KFC actually raised its average level of sodium by 10 percent.

In a press statement, CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson argued that the Food and Drug Administration should set limits on the levels of sodium that can be used for different kinds of food.

"For far too long, the FDA has relied on a voluntary, wait-and-see approach when it comes to reducing sodium in packaged and restaurant food," Jacobsen said. "If chains like KFC, Jack in the Box, and Red Lobster are actually raising sodium levels in some meals, FDA's current approach clearly isn't working."

Of the 81 adult meals examined by the study, 79 percent contained over 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium – the amount recommended for a typical American for the entire day. Many of the meals served at table-service establishments were found to contain around 5,000 mg of sodium. The average sodium in 55 kids' meals examined by the study fell by 2.6 percent.

During the study period, Subway showed significant progress – decreasing sodium in every one of the 10 adult meals evaluated by the study. The chain also exhibited progress in the four children's meals examined in the study, in which sodium was cut by an average of 29 percent.

"Reducing sodium is just one of many parts of our commitment to continuously improve our menu," said Lanette Kovachi, senior dietitian for Subway. "So far we have reduced sodium 30 percent in our sandwiches, including the sandwiches in the 10 meals cited by CSPI, and 35 percent in our Fresh Fit offerings, meeting the National Salt Reduction Initiative targets for sandwiches.”

"Some companies are clearly making an effort, but we won’t see sustained progress by all companies unless they know that their competitors will be lowering sodium also, which is why the FDA needs to level the playing field," said Jacobson.

CSPI noted that there are numerous chains not included in the study that have posted information showing they serve meals with a sodium content higher than anything included in its study.

“At P.F. Chang's, an order of Dan Dan Noodles has 6,190 mg of sodium and a bowl of Hot & Sour Soup has 7,980 mg, according to the chain’s website,” the organization said in a press release. “A meal called ‘The Big Hook Up’ from Joe's Crab Shack has more than five days' worth of sodium, 7,610 mg.”

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that many restaurant chains are “quietly” reducing the levels of sodium in their offerings. The report said companies didn’t want to publicize the change for fear of a customers’ perceiving a healthier product as less appetizing.