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 2, 2012 4:46PM
I think the government of this country should start to worry about doing the job it was elected to do and quit trying to micromanage my dietary habits. Last time I checked this is a free country, though certain elements in this government are doing their best to change that. Worry more about the $9 Trillion deficit, the Middle East and the second agent killed by a US "walked" gun and there will be no time to worry about my salt intake. Our country is in shambles and some braniac wants to worry about dietary salt? What a joke!
Oct 3, 2012 11:27AM
With every stupid new regulation, we get more government "overseers" to enforce it. The government is far more bloated that any sodium could cause.


Oct 3, 2012 10:09AM
Are you freaking serious, the govenment is now going to tell us how much salt we can consume.  Come on folks pull your heads out.
Oct 3, 2012 10:08AM
How about a requirement that menu entries containing a level of salt above some threshold be labeled as "High Sodium" and let the customer retain the choice?
Oct 3, 2012 11:12AM

Good God People, get a GRIP and take personal responsibility for yoursel! I do NOT NEED the Government to tell me what to eat or drink, and if YOU DO...... Why don't you just head off to the Back 40 and Bite the Barrel, because if you're that needy, then you shouldn't be a drain on the rest of society.... I've about had ENOUGH Federal Intrusion in what we hear, see, say, eat, drink, and think!



Oct 3, 2012 10:16AM

NO ! ! !,  Soon the gov't will make it law of what we eat daily!  American way is becoming NO CHOICE.  America is losing the LAND OF THE FREE! They have BIGGER THINGS to spend their time on.


Oct 3, 2012 10:54AM
Just keep it up. You will wake up one day, and they will tell you you can only have sex once a month, for 7 1/2 minutes maximum. Of course, members of congress and certain other officials will be exempt. If we need a new law, it should be one that outlaws stupidity.
Oct 3, 2012 11:45AM
I am so tired of the Government thinking they know what is best  for me, better than I do. They are nothing but a bunch of Sexual Intellectuals (f- - - -ing-know-it-alls). First we are feeding everyone kids, with the School Lunch Programs, and then they want to regulate how much they get to eat ,because of child obesity. Then the Mayor of New York want to tell everyone how big of a soda you can order. Now this salt crap. I am so sick of these liberal progressive think they can just regulate us into a better society. All happens when you pass more laws, is that you give the anti-socials more laws to break.
Oct 3, 2012 11:43AM
I think the government has enough to worry about. Without worrying about if I am taking in to much salt or drinking a Big Gulp! We have a border, drug cartel problem with Mexico. Soldiers who need to come home, that is long over do. People in this country going hungry and out of work, and we continue to send aid to other countries. But, they want to worry about how much salt we take in. That should be the least of their worries!!
Oct 2, 2012 9:40PM
Should the government limit salt intake?   None of their business.
Oct 3, 2012 10:01AM
I agree that these statistics are mind blowing.  I personally don't eat out except on rare occasions since I like to know what goes in to my food.  However, the thought of the GOVERNMENT regulating what I eat when I go out is INSANE.  We are getting closer and closer to becoming a communist country where dictatorship rules.  What happened to the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. Our country is becoming filled with lunatic who want to change the very foundation this country was built on.
Oct 3, 2012 10:28AM
Oh look, the nanny-State jerks want to control yet another aspect of our lives. This is not, has never been, a power that the Government is allowed to take unto itself. Not that that has ever stopped them before.

Oct 3, 2012 11:25AM

So they ban large sodas, now they are trying to regulate salt intake, what is next???? I hate what this country is turning into.

Oct 3, 2012 10:16AM
This is the reason that the ACA is so insidious.  Once the government is in charge of healthcare (and make no mistake, that is the goal of the ACA) it will assume the power to limit what Americans can eat and drink under the guise of  "reducing costs".  Salt, for instance, could become a black market item.
Oct 3, 2012 9:57AM
More than big brother needs to be concerned with what we eat/drink,thay need to be concerned with grerater issues like the BUDGET theyve not passed for quite some time.  

Yes the government should definitely regulate salt intake and they should also wipe my butt.

Oct 3, 2012 12:23PM

 That sounds like a fine idea. In fact, I think it doesn't go far enough. After all, we Americans are indeed to stupid to take care of ourselves. Just think of how many jobs could be created if they just faced reality, and let the Federal Government make all our decisions for us. I need someone to tell me what size bowl I can use for my coco puffs in the morning. And what size spoon I should be allowed to own so I don't put to many of those coco puffs in my mouth at one time and choke to death. They should also obviously impose a limit on the size of refrigerator anyone is allowed to own, so we don't fill it full of food, and then decide to eat it all at once. Hell, we should all just be locked in small white walled boxes and let the government decide what we get feed, how much we get fed, what we can read, what we can watch on TV, when we need to be awake, when we need to sleep, when we need to poop, and well. . . . . . everything !

Oct 3, 2012 10:07AM
The government needs to worry about the economy not salt.  In fact the number of people now having a problem with low sodium is increasing.  Funny little tidbit they don't talk about.  Sodium, Calcium, and Potassium is essential to every cell and is the coner stone of the links/pathway chemically between nerve cells.  If one is out of whack amount wise the others have problems which lead to health problems.  Too much is bad, but too little is as well.  Having an autoimmune disease which seems to cause ev erything to be low, I would have to fight to get my salt.
Oct 3, 2012 12:14PM



GO ROMNEY 2012!!!



What a joke, wonder how they came up with the number. I have never hear of  an autopsy showing someone died of too much salt. I have eaten tons of salt all my life and at 72 am 205 at 6'1" no beer belly and am on no medicines. 
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