Most restaurants are feeding Americans way too much sodium and not nearly enough potassium, reports Alina Dizik in The Wall Street Journal (1/9/13). The problem with too much sodium is that it contributes to the risk of heart disease. “The average American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, more than double the American Heart Association’s recommended 1,500 mg, which is the equivalent of two-thirds of a teaspoon of table salt. Restaurant foods are denser in sodium than home-prepared food,” according to the Center for Disease Control. This matters because, on average, an American adult eats in a restaurant “five times a week.” Potassium, which “helps counteract sodium’s effects on blood pressure,” gets short shrift, with most US adults getting “only about 3,000 mg of potassium a day, far short of the recommended 4,700 mg a day.”
Few consumers are aware of — much less paying attention to — the amount of salt they might consume while dining out. “The consequences of too many calories is more conspicuous,” says nutritionist Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health. “The sodium issue is quite invisible until they have a stroke.” It’s also often undetectable to diners. “Something may have lots of salt in it but not taste salty,” says Amy Chaplin, a personal chef. It’s generally found in “liberal doses” in potatoes, soups, gravies, curries “and other soupy or saucy dishes.” Chefs say it’s a handy way to enhance the dining experience.
“It opens up the pores on your tongue and enables you to taste the food better,” says Michael Stebner of True Food Kitchen, a restaurant chain that “uses recipes modified to require 25 percent less salt.” Salt tends to be applied “to enhance previously frozen meats or less-than-ripe vegetables,” too. Some chefs try to reduce salt levels with deft use of herbs and spices, or increase the potassium content by using more in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables. Diners can help reduce their salt craving by avoiding wine, as well. The problem, of course, is that most people like the salt. “A dish without salt is not as good as it could be,” says Emmanuel Eng of Maverick, in San Francisco. “We’re in the business of pleasing guests.”