Back in June, the Food and Drug Administration issued draft guidelines for both big chain restaurants and major manufacturers. For restaurants in particular, the goal is to reduce the amount of sodium in the food being placed in front of the customer.
Guests can always add more salt at their discretion, but this will allow customers to make that choice for themselves. The FDA’s ultimate objective is to reduce the average American’s salt consumption by one third.
There are good reasons for the FDA to be concerned about sodium. A high salt diet can lead to a rise in blood pressure and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, not all restaurants will be beholden to these new guidelines. Those exempt include the numerous independently owned restaurants throughout the United States.
This means that you as a diner need to be more self-aware when going out to eat in order to avoid a surplus of salt.
What can I do about it?
There are several ways to take the initiative when it comes to lowering your salt intake while dining out at restaurants. Keep these tips in mind the next time you go out to eat.
Look at online reviews.
Before you even go out to the restaurant, check out reviews online. Many reviewers will let you know if they’ve noticed too much sodium in their meal. Now, if one person found the food too salty, that might be simply preference, but if a lot of people found the food (or a particular dish) too salty, then that might be a sign there’s something wrong with the dish and you should try something else.
Look at the menu descriptions.
Check out the way a particular item is being cooked – if it’s a salted and smoked fish, there is going to be a good amount of salt in it. If it’s salt crusted, obviously the sodium levels will be high. If it’s a soup, the chance of there being a good amount of salt in the broth is pretty high.
Other menu items that you should eat in moderation if you’re avoiding salt include sausages, preserved meats, deli meats, cheese-heavy dishes, olive-heavy dishes, and pickled vegetables. It doesn’t mean you have to avoid these foods altogether, but keep in mind that many prepared foods use high salt content as a preservative.
Ask for the sauce or dressing on the side.
For many foods, sauces and dressings in restaurants can be loaded with salt. It’s not helped if the kitchen ends up over dressing the food. By asking for it on the side and dressing the food yourself (or dipping the components instead), you can regulate how much of the sauce or dressing you’re actually consuming. But salt isn’t the only thing hiding in sauces and dressings – this is also a smart way to cut back your fat and sugar intake as well!
Taste your food before grabbing for the salt shaker.
Keep in mind that chefs are trained to make food so it’s perfectly seasoned – meaning that they already put in salt and pepper to taste. Ideally, they don’t want you having to use the salt and pepper shakers at all! So even if you’re used to seasoning the food at the kitchen table at home, taste your dish first. You might realize you don’t need that extra sodium after all.
That goes the same for soy sauce in Asian dishes. It can be tempting to douse stir fry or plunge sushi in soy sauce, but not only are you adding more sodium, you’re also potentially ruining the flavors of the dish. This goes especially for sushi, since the whole point of sushi is to be able to savor the fish in its purest form.
What about MSG?
There’s also the matter of MSG. While the debate over how harmful MSG is rages on, more and more evidence points to MSG being just about as healthy or unhealthy as regular salt. In other words, consume in moderation.
And remember – all dishes will have some salt content to them. That’s just a part of seasoning each dish. However, great restaurants will know how to pick the best ingredients and use them the right way so that salt won’t have to overcompensate for the main elements of the dish.
Not just worried about salt? We have the rundown on avoiding carbs at restaurants, as well!