Group warns of high salt content in restaurant meals
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Tuesday, May 12, 2009 7:43AM EDT
A U.S. consumer advocacy group is raising the alarm about the amount of salt in meals at some fast-food and table-service restaurants, warning that some have over a day's worth of sodium -- and sometimes even three days' worth.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest released a report Monday detailing which restaurants pack their meals with sodium.
"The sodium content is built into the food," said Michael Jacobson, the executive director of CSPI.
While some of the worst offenders, such as Sonic, don't have restaurants in Canada, others are chains that Canadians know well.
For example, the highest-sodium meal the group identified overall was served at Red Lobster. Diners who choose the Admiral's Feast served with Caesar Salad, a Creamy Lobster-Topped Mashed Potato, and a lemonade are getting a whopping 7,106 mg of sodium.
Since Health Canada recommends people aged 14 or older consume no more than 2,300 mg a day, that Red Lobster meal packs more than three days worth of sodium, in one sitting.
Dr. David Lau, an endocrinologist who specializes in diabetes and obesity, says many Canadians eat far more salt than their bodies need.
"The majority of Canadians eat twice the amount of salt we recommend, if not three times," he said.
Selected meals at fast food outlets are also among the saltiest, the CSPI notes, singling out the Half Chicken meal at KFC, the Bean Burrito at Taco Bell and the Beef 'n Cheddar sandwich at Arby's.
Notes Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Shirley Kragtwyk-Lefevre: "Things with a lot of sauces and gravies oftentimes have a lot of salt."
The offerings for kids are not much better.
A kid's meal at Burger King that includes Chicken Tenders with Buffalo Sauce, fries and 1% milk has about 1,800 mg of sodium, for example.
Of the 60 kids' meals the CSPI evaluated, 31 had 1,200 mg of sodium or more -- a whole day's worth of sodium for children aged four to eight.
A diet high in sodium can cause an increased risk of high blood pressure, which in turn is a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease.
According to Blood Pressure Canada, Canadians should aim to stick to a daily total of no more than 1,500 mg of sodium. In fact, they say if most of us followed this simple rule, the rate of stroke and heart disease could drop by 30 per cent in Canada.
Instead, Statistics Canada says the average Canadian consumes in excess of 3,100 mg of sodium a day. Even young children consume a high amount, says Statistics Canada: children aged one to three average close to 2,000 mg a day.
"Contrary to popular belief, most of the sodium we consume is not from the salt shaker. Three-quarters of all sodium comes from the salt and other sodium containing additives (MSG, baking powder, sodium phosphate, and others) in processed and restaurant foods," the CSPI says in a news release.
"The average consumer, however, cannot determine the sodium content of foods or meals, because the sodium levels are typically not listed on menu boards or menus," the group adds.
The CSPI assessed the sodium levels of adult and kids' food from the 25 largest U.S. chain restaurants, creating typical combinations of an entr�e, side dish and drink, using the restaurants' menu options.
All the nutrition information came from the nutrition guides and calculators posted on the restaurants' websites or from info gathered from phone calls to the companies.
While commending those chains that have pledged to reduce sodium in their meals, the CSPI called on all restaurants to offer a variety of adult meals that contain under 800 mg of sodium and kids' meals that contain under 500 mg.
As well, they said, governments should require chain restaurants to disclose on menus the sodium content of all their foods and meals.
Health officials should also pressure restaurants to cut sodium levels to specified target, as the Food Standards Agency has done in the United Kingdom.
Restaurants are not required to disclose the amount of salt in their food, but consumers are advised to avoid certain items, if they're concerned about high sodium levels.
With a report by CTV's Janet Dirks in Calgary