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Center for Science in the Public Interest Finds Restaurant Meals Have Too Much Sodium

May 11, 2009 -- Restaurant chains are overloading their meals with salt, increasing millions of customers' risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke, according to a consumer watchdog group.

Nearly 85% of the adult-sized meals at 10 popular chain restaurants have more than the recommended limit for total sodium intake per day, states the Center for Science in the Public Interest; nearly half had two days' worth of sodium in a single meal.

U.S. health recommendations urge healthy adults to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (the approximate equivalent of one teaspoon of table salt). However, for the 70% of U.S. adults who already have hypertension, are middle aged or older, or are African-American, the goal is 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day or less. That's because excess sodium intake is directly linked to an increase in blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

But some restaurants are marketing meals with salt levels thousands of milligrams beyond healthy diet recommendations, according to the report.

Among the restaurant industry's saltiest meals were:

  • Red Lobster's "Admiral's Feast" at 7,106 milligrams of sodium. The meal includes lobster, Caesar salad with dressing, lobster-topped mashed potato, biscuit, and lemonade.
  • Chili's Buffalo Chicken Fajitas and a Dr. Pepper at 6,916 milligrams of sodium.
  • Chili's Honey Chipotle Ribs at 6,440 milligrams of sodium, which includes mashed potatoes with gravy, seasonal vegetables, and Dr Pepper.
  • Olive Garden Tour of Italy lasagna at 6,176 milligrams of sodium, with bread stick, salad with house dressing, and a Coca-Cola.
  • Olive Garden Chicken Parmigiana at 5,735 milligrams of sodium, with breadstick, salad with house dressing, and raspberry lemonade.

"These chains are sabotaging the food supply. They should cut back and give consumers the freedom to decide for themselves how much salt they want," Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says in a news release.

Mel Daly, MD, a geriatrician and associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is especially worried about older Americans with hypertension. "Many elderly eat frequently at these restaurants because of convenience and cost. But the high sodium levels in many of these meals can lead to a spike in blood pressure and even precipitate heart failure in some individuals," Daly says in a news release.

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