Salt shaker

How to avoid the saltiest menu items

Research shows how smart choices can help you dodge the saltiest foods on the menu when you’re dining out.

Last week, New York City introduced mandatory salt warning labels for chain restaurant menus. The black and white triangular symbol will alert diners to dishes that carry more than 2,300 mg – or an entire day’s worth – of salt.

Fast food menus are notorious for delivering salt bombs. Sit-down restaurants and packaged foods also pack way more salt than we need. And if high sodium meals are the norm for you, you can’t always rely on your taste buds to sound the alarm. Research shows that eating foods with too much sodium on a regular basis trains the taste buds to prefer saltier foods.

It’s one reason most Canadians consume substantially more than the recommended limit of sodium per day, 2,300 mg or about one teaspoon.

Why does it matter? Eating excess salt raises blood pressure. Make it a habit and you’re at risk of developing high blood pressure, the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease.

What’s on Canadian menus?

Researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T) analyzed nutrition information from 61 sit-down and fast food restaurant chains in Canada. Comparing figures from 2013 to 2010, they found that sodium levels changed little over that period, despite the food industry’s commitment to offer more meals with less sodium. The number of foods containing a day’s worth of sodium did not change over the three years, the research found.

“This study is important because Health Canada has not yet set targets for restaurant foods – a major gap in our Canadian sodium reduction efforts,” said senior author Mary L’Abbé, chair of the department of nutritional sciences at U of T. “This study reinforces the importance of labelling sodium information on restaurant menus, as research in other jurisdictions has shown that labelling legislation that includes sodium has encouraged restaurants to reduce their sodium levels.”

The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s position statement on sodium urges governments to require the provision of nutritional information, including sodium content, of all foods and beverages on overhead menu boards and table menus in food service outlets.

So how can you eat less salt?

Reading labels and asking how your food was prepared is your best bet to dialing down the salt at mealtime. Even if you’re hooked on salt, you can retrain your taste buds by gradually reducing the sodium content in your meals.

And when you eat out, consider avoiding these menu items – or at least checking for nutrition information before you order. While sodium content varies at different restaurants, in the U of T study, these categories were found to have the highest mean sodium content.

At sit-down restaurants

  1. Stir fry entrées
  2. Sandwiches or wraps
  3. Entrées with multiple meats and seafood (e.g. surf and turf)
  4. Hamburgers
  5. Rib entrées

At fast food restaurants

  1. Stir fry
  2. Poutine
  3. Sandwiches or wraps
  4. Hot dogs
  5. Tacos and burritos

3 Responses

    1. Sharon Hollingsworth

      Hi Jennie,
      Glad you are enjoying our blog and finding the information helpful. The Heart and Stroke Foundation has lots of information on how to avoid excess salt in our diets on our website. Here is a link to this information which I hope you will find helpful. Thanks for your comments, Jennie. Best wishes for a lovely holiday season.
      Sincerely, Sharon at the Heart and Stroke Foundation

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