Shake the salt habit when eating out

Shake the salt habit when eating out

Eating out at restaurants is usually a very enjoyable experience.  But beware – if only you knew how much salt is in your entrée, your experience could become much less pleasurable. 

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For anyone needing to mind the amount of salt they are consuming daily, and most of us should be, restaurant cuisine may not be in your best interest.  Eating out frequently at restaurants can make it very difficult to follow a low-salt diet.  Surprisingly, the salt shaker is not our main source of sodium.  Up to ¾ of the sodium in our diet comes from processed foods.  Restaurant meals are part of the problem. The watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 85 out of 102 meals at popular restaurant chains contained more than a full day’s worth of sodium.  Some meals had four days’ worth of sodium.

For decades, Americans have heard the dire warnings of cutting back on their salt/sodium intake.  The difference between salt and sodium is that salt is composed of two minerals sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl).  It’s the sodium that is the problem and when we consume too much salt, we will also be consuming too much sodium.  Even though sodium is a necessary nutrient and has important functions in the body, excess sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body creating an added burden on the heart.  Plus too much sodium can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and kidney disease. 

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per for most adults.  Because the average American’s sodium intake is so excessive, even cutting back to no more than 2,400 mg a day will significantly improve blood pressure and heart health. 

So, how can a person still eat out at a restaurant and at the same time, mind their intake of salt they are consuming?  Here are 12 ways it can be done:

1. Ask lots of questions – Don’t be shy about asking the waiter or chef for little or no salt to be added to your meal.  Most chefs will be willing to add less salt to food if you ask.  Inquire about how each food is prepared as even baked potatoes may be rolled in salt before cooking.

2. Skip the sauce – Ask for any sauces to be on the side so you are in control of how much goes on your food.  To still have some taste but with much less sodium, dip your fork into the sauce first, then use it to spear your food. 

3. Do a taste test first – Before you automatically reach for the salt shaker, taste your food first.  Oftentimes, it does not require any additional salt added to it. 

4. Beware of condiments – Many condiments such as ketchup, mustard, or salsas can be low in calories and fat but quite high in sodium so use them sparingly.

5. Beware of hidden salt in “healthy options” – Menu items such as a salad often have many salty additions, such as croutons, olives, cheese, dressing, marinated meat/vegetables, cured meat such as ham or bacon, smoked salmon, etc.  Avoid salads which are based on these salty ingredients and ask for the dressing to be served on the side.

6. Be careful on menu choices – This can often not always be easy but dishes likely to be high sodium are ham, salami, smoked fish, cheeses or soy sauce.  Also, any menu item that contains the words ‘salt,’ ‘salted,’ or ‘cured’ in the name.

7. Look for fresh fruits/vegetables – Choose simply prepared fruits and vegetables which are naturally low in sodium.  Ask for steamed veggies with no sauce and use a squeeze of lemon to compliment the flavor.

8. Stick to basic foods – Avoid casseroles such as macaroni and cheese and instead keep it simple by choosing foods that are baked, grilled, or roasted.

9. Cut back on frequency of eating out – Many of us may not like this bit of advice but for the sake of your health and wallet, cut back on eating out to only once a week at the most.

10. Keep dessert simple – Order low-sodium dessert options of sorbet or fruit.