I suffer from high blood pressure. A co-worker recently had a heart attack. A good friend is four months pregnant with ankles swollen enough to give her doctor concern. We know we need to watch our salt intake, but when it comes to eating out, restaurants can be the Achilles heel to any low sodium diet plan.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the dietary guideline for a healthy American is less than 2,300 mg of salt a day. However, for those at risk for heart attacks, high blood pressure, swelling, and strokes, less than 1,500 mg is recommended. The problem with eating out at restaurants is that most people do not know how much salt is in the meal they choose and the healthy options they think they are ordering are actually saturated with unhealthy salt.
For example, take Olive Garden’s Lasagna Classico. Everyone loves a good lasagna, but 2,830 mg of salt is over the daily recommended amount for a healthy adult! Spaghetti is no better, starting at 1,340 mg of salt with meat sauce, before jumping to 1,770 with meatballs and up to 3,090 with Italian sausage. That’s before adding salad-a single serving with dressing comes in at 760 mg-and if you are like me, you never just eat one serving of salad at Olive Garden. Soup is hardly better. Pasta e fagioloi has the lowest salt intake at 680.
Other restaurants are similar in the large amounts of sodium that clog their food-and your arteries. Red Robin classics like the Blue Ribbon burger and Chili Cheese burger have 2,109 and 1828 mg of salt, respectively. So you choose chicken as a healthier alternative, right? Wrong! The Bruschetta Chicken burger with lettuce, salsa, and pesto has 1,164 mg of salt and the Baja Turkey Club Sandwich has a whopping 2,529 mg of salt. Remember, this is all before you add the all you can eat steak fries for 493 mg of extra salt per an order.
So what’s a person to do besides never eat out again? Arm yourself with information. Most chain restaurants have online nutritional information which tells you the salt content of your favorite items. Browse the menu and find something that sounds yummy as well as fits in your daily sodium allowance. For example, this week I am joining a friend for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. Before my diagnosis I would have eaten the four cheese pasta, ingesting an unknown 1,930 mg of salt without even adding the chicken! Now I’ll choose something more sensible like the Pasta Da Vinci-sautéed chicken, mushrooms and onions in a Madeira wine sauce with penne pasta and parmesan cheese, all for 580 mg of salt, only 80 more than the 500 mg I allot myself for each meal. Searching a menu can be fun and exciting, especially when you find something healthy that also sounds delicious! Remember to check low fat and healthy alternative options. Olive Garden’s Lighter Italian Fare offers an Herb-grilled salmon for only 500 mg of salt, which is a guilt-free way to enjoy some of your favorite restaurants.