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Not Worth Their Salt ... But Some Are Trying

January 21, 2011 - Phyllis Sigal
I was checking out some nutritional info on some items at The Olive Garden the other day, just to see the calorie count on a particular dish.

I had seen the dinner item — Seafood Brodetto, I believe — on a coupon and suggested that my husband (who does most of the cooking at our house, lucky me) could make it for dinner sometime, and it would be much healthier than having it at the restaurant.

So he decided to look online. The calories weren't so bad, but the sodium — wow. For 480 calories, it looked pretty healthy. But, 2,250 mg. of sodium! So I started looking at other menu items and other restaurants' nutritional stats.

I was shocked.

It was difficult to find any item under 1,000 mg. and I found some dishes with around 5,000-6,000 mg. of sodium! That's like somewhere between two and three days' worth, just in one dish in one meal. Applebees' Sizzling Steak Fajita with sides has 6,800 mg. of sodium. Not to mention 1,400 calories and 53 grams of fat!

Although, I do have to hand it to them for offering several dishes under 550 calories.

According to a recent article by the Mayo Clinic, which cites the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, healthy adults should not exceed 2,300 mg. of sodium a day. Those with high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes should not exceed 1,500 mg. Middle-aged and older adults also should stay below 1,500 mg. Of course the problem with restaurant food is that so much of it is processed. That's where much of the sodium comes from.

And, not that I want to pick on Applebee's and the Olive Garden. I'd say many restaurants, that use processed foods, are in the same salty boat.

However, I did check Romano's Macaroni Grill's nutritional stats, and was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the dishes had somewhere around 1,500 mg. of sodium. ... with only one item on the menu at 4,000 and just a few in the 2,000-3,000 mg. range.

Eat and Park has a great nutritional calculator on its website. It even shows the ingredients in a dish. Then menu also includes many low-sodium options, with the FDA recommended 480 mg. per food. (They also have celiac-friendly — all gluten free — options on the menu.)

I noticed the baked lemon sole has just 418 mg. of sodium. If you break down the ingredients, you'll see that the butter used in the preparation has 149 mg. of sodium. Knowing that, you could ask for it to be prepared without any butter. You'd be saving, fat, calories and sodium!

Outback Steakhouse has a few healthy choices and a great nutritional calculator on its website. They also have a gluten-free menu.

The Victoria Filet isn't too bad with 724.9 calories and 592.6 mg. of sodium. Although, it does have 56 grams of fat! But you might want to stay away from the Bloomin' Burger & Aussie Fries at 1,574 calories, 96.5 grams of fat and 2,940 mg. of sodium.

Eating fresh foods from your own kitchen is the best way to avoid these exorbitant levels of sodium offered up at so many restaurants.

However, it's a move in the right direction that so many restaurants are working to offer better choices.

Here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic on how to cut back on the sodium in your diet:

• Eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods.

• Choose foods labeled "low sodium."

• Remove salt from recipes when possible.

• Limit use of sodium-laden condiments.

• Use herbs, spices and other flavorings to enhance the flavor.


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