Should the government limit salt intake?

A report commissioned by Congress recommends that restaurants cut back on sodium -- a move that could hurt profits.

By Jason Notte Oct 2, 2012 4:23PM

Image: Family at diner (IT Stock Free/SuperStock)Health advocates want Congress to limit the salt on American tables, but so far lawmakers have been reluctant to make restrictions. The move could affect the profits of restaurant chains and their investors.

A report ordered by Congress concluded in 2010 that the Food and Drug Administration should limit the amount of salt in restaurants and packaged foods to lower the risk of heart disease.

The report, by the nonprofit Institute of Medicine, found that the average American consumes about 50% more salt than the 2,300 milligrams recommended daily by the FDA. Limiting that intake could prevent 100,000 deaths a year from heart disease and strokes, the institute said.

In the two years since, salt use has barely changed. The report came into the spotlight again this year when the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest scolded the FDA for basically ignoring the Institute of Medicine's recommendations and allowing restaurants and packaged-food makers to drown Americans in salt as if they were garden slugs. U.S. eaters, meanwhile, are more than happy to absorb it all. Chain restaurant fare is built on brackishness, and cutting back on salt would affect many popular dishes as well as profits.

The FDA's inaction only broadens a debate about the government's role in American eating habits that has led to school lunch discussions, trans-fat targeting and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent ban on large soda sizes in his city. Should salt be next on the hit list? A Canadian Medical Association study released earlier this year says American fast food is the saltiest in the world.

To get an idea of how a salt restriction could affect restaurant chains, consider the following dishes, which were included in a Men's Health list of the saltiest foods in America.

Ruby Tuesday (RT) Mediterranean Shrimp Pasta

1,102 calories

3,737 mg of sodium

At Ruby Tuesday, the Mediterranean diet apparently involves setting up a salt lick at the table and curing yourself like a pound of pastrami. You could wolf down nine large orders of fries from McDonald's (MCD) and still not consume as much salt as this plate of pasta contains. If you're jonesing for Ruby Tuesday's pasta, though, get ready for a salt fix. Of the seven pasta dishes on the menu, only one has fewer than 2,000 mg of salt. A whopping four have 3,000 mg of salt or more. Keep that free water coming.

Applebee's (DIN) Chili Cheese Nachos

1,680 calories

4,720 mg sodium

The good news is that this is an appetizer, so there's a chance your splitting the damage with a table full of folks. The bad news? Even if four people go in on this plate, each is getting roughly half their day's allowance of sodium before their entree arrives. Diners can argue that nachos are a salty dish to begin with, but even 18 orders of Taco Bell (YUM) Cheesy Nachos wouldn't saturate eaters with this much salt.

Chili's (EAT) Jalapeno Smokehouse Bacon Burger with ranch dressing

2,210 calories

6,600 mg sodium

Bellying up to a nice, sit-down burger seemed like a better idea than hitting the drive-thru, screaming into a squawk box and getting ketchup and pickles lodged in your cupholders, didn't it? It only cost you a full day's worth of calories, nearly three times your salt quota and the equivalent of six and a half Big Macs. Sure, Chili's booths may be more comfortable than your driver's seat, but all that retained water will provide you with plenty of cushioning soon enough.

PF Chang's Double Pan-Fried Noodles

1,652 calories

7,900 mg sodium

This single dish is more than three times an American's recommended sodium intake and is the equivalent of five full-size bags of Frito-Lay's (PEP) Ruffles potato chips. Eating a plate of these noodles for dinner on Sunday leaves you set on salt until about lunchtime on Thursday, and that's just the way P.F. Chang's likes it. The chain has some of the saltiest menu items in the country and would have been a salt-regulation nightmare for investors if it didn't go private earlier this year.

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Oct 3, 2012 3:22PM

Why bother with an FDA at all?? If people are too poor or stupid to eat healthy place for 'em in the USA! Death to them( ohh the bind the ultra-wealthy will be in when their "worker ants" die off!)


Oct 3, 2012 3:16PM

Is trying to stop a health CRISIS from overtaking our children "leftist"?? Oh, I forgot proven science has no place in some people's politics...


Oct 3, 2012 3:14PM

Definately! So much high blood-pressure in young people and once you're on the meds it's hard to get off them


Oct 3, 2012 2:29PM

This is only hurting businesses. People will eat/drink whatever they want at home. Is the government going to monitor what they eat at home? Let us live our life the way we want to and stop meddling in our life!!

Oct 3, 2012 1:25PM
When I was young all I wanted was my MTV.  MTV turned into Snooky land.  Now all I want is my freedom to choose anything at all in my life back again... please... Uncle Sam, I pay taxes, I am a veteran, I volunteer, I don't commit crimes, I don't deny anyone else their freedoms, I don't hate, I don't judge, I dont drink and drive.....  Just give me my right to choose back again.... please.....
Oct 3, 2012 1:22PM
The only thing the Government can get done is push around the citizens. Try regulating something important like GOLDEN PARACHUTES for incredibly bad CEOs. Try regulating gas prices for the huge multi billion dollar profitable oil companies! Oh, regulate the cost healthcare or insurances.
Oct 3, 2012 1:17PM
Sure! Hell, maybe government could tell me what to wear to my nieces birthday party! Maybe the government should wipe my nose the next time I get a cold! Seriously.
Sure why not those idiots in Washington dont work get overpaid live in some allian place outside real life and try to tell us how we should live,To darn much government,take care of our armies and the duties we need.We dont need your advice on how we live
Oct 3, 2012 1:08PM
Wall.....go over it.....go under it....go around it.......DUH!
Oct 3, 2012 1:07PM
Lets just get used to saying it now. Heil Government
Oct 3, 2012 1:06PM
Reagon .......Tear down that wall..........Now we are building our own.....go figure.....We are 40 years behind Russia and doing what didn't work for them.....
Oct 3, 2012 1:05PM

Our government is woefully incapable of limiting anything.

We can't limit illegal immigration.

We can't limit illegal drugs.

We can't limit guns from the criminal.


For the life of me...I can't understand why half of the people in America want the Federal Government to run our health care........OMG, what has the federal government ever ran with any efficiency & at cost?


Oct 3, 2012 1:03PM

Your kidding right?  What are they not going to limit, deny, or pressure us into?

Just read a great article that the government may limit health care based on life expectancy vs. cost. 

Super.  Love it.  I want my slurpee back.  And I hate broccoli.  I was reading that some kid was raising a stink about having to eat the 300 calorie veggie school lunches and kids weren't allowed to bring food from home.  His point was that he was underweight so he needed to eat!  My blood pressure is very low, too low.... I need salt!  Really, I do....

Oct 3, 2012 1:02PM

Sure!  Limit the salt - limit the size of the soft drink - limit the sugar - Limit the alcohol intake(haven't we tried that before?) - limit the fat intake - limit cigarette use - limit the time we spend as  couch potatoes - mandate exercise - mandate health insurance (oops different debate) - lower speed limits (didn't we try that too?) - limit spending on unapproved things - regulate where we take vacations - limit or regulate everything we do that in someone's opinion is bad for us- like voting republican/democrat/libertarian -

Freedom is freedom - even if it's bad for us

Oct 3, 2012 1:01PM
I watched an old Cajun chef episode where he put chicken in a bag and tossed in a couple of boxes of salt covering it with what looked like sand dunes.....Maybe a little more.......Maybe a little more.....
Oct 3, 2012 1:00PM
I would eat out more if it wasn't so salty.  Love In-N-Out with no or lite salt.  It's very easy to add salt at the table; food should not be cooked salty by default.  Give us the choice to add it ourselves!
Oct 3, 2012 12:59PM
Insurance companies want to have less people to help get well.......a law will probably happen......I avoid salty things like chips etc.....but enjoy the flavoring in meals
Oct 3, 2012 12:54PM
government should control spending and taxing, the main killer of our people and others worldwide
Oct 3, 2012 12:53PM
Yes, in fact, salt needs to be controlled substance added to the successful war on drugs........ RETARDS!
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