The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you consume no more than 1500 milligrams of sodium per day. This can be difficult to achieve if you eat out regularly. Americans get more than three-quarters of their sodium intake from processed and prepared foods, including restaurant foods. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) examined 17 restaurant chains and found that 85 out of 102 meals had more than a day’s worth of sodium. Some had more than four days’ worth. Here are ten tips for how to cut back on your sodium intake when eating out.
- Choose dishes with fresh vegetables. Ask if the vegetables are fresh, not canned or frozen with added salt. For example, choose a pasta dish with ingredients like fresh tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms rather than a canned tomato sauce.
- If you are having pasta, ask that no salt be added to the water when it boils.
- Stick to entrees that can be baked, broiled or sautéed without salt rather than mixed casserole dishes that are pre-prepared.
- Limit the extras like ketchup, mustard, pickles and olives that contain a lot of sodium. Ask if the salad dressing is made fresh without added salt or use oil and vinegar.
- Ask for sauces to be served on the side and use them sparingly.
- Don’t be afraid to ask that no salt be added to your food. This may be easier in locally owned restaurants where the food is cooked fresh rather than chain restaurants that rely on pre-prepared dishes.
- Don’t use the salt shaker. Ask that it be removed from the table if you need to reduce temptation.
- Choose fresh fruit, sorbet or fruit ice for dessert.
- Focus on every course, not just the entrée. Breads, appetizers, salads, and desserts can be loaded with sodium.
- Frequent restaurants that use icons to point out healthy options. The AHA has a new program to help you choose healthy meals at restaurants. The Subway restaurant chain is the first to display the Heart-Check Meal Certification logo next to certain selected meals. The AHA certification logo is displayed on Subway meals that meet the AHA’s nutritional criteria for sodium as well as calories, cholesterol, saturated fat and trans-fats.
Rachel K. Johnson, PhD, RD, FAHA
Bickford Professor of Nutrition and Professor of Medicine, University of Vermont
Chair, Nutrition Committee, American Heart Association
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