CSPI blasts restaurants over sodium levels

WASHINGTON The Center for Science in the Public Interest renewed its call on the restaurant industry to lower sodium levels in its food, saying that a recent study of 102 meals from 17 chains found that 85 of the dishes contained more than a day's worth of the recommended amount of sodium.

According to CSPI's study, the worst offenders in sodium levels were Red Lobster’s Admiral’s Feast with Caesar salad, lobster-topped mashed potatoes and a cheddar bay biscuit, 7,106 milligrams; Chili’s Buffalo Chicken Fajitas with tortillas, condiments and a soft drink at 6,916 milligrams; Chili’s Honey-Chipotle Ribs with mashed potatoes with gravy, seasonal vegetables and a soft drink, 6,440 milligrams; Olive Garden’s Tour of Italy lasagna with a breadstick and salad and dressing, 6,176 milligrams; and Olive Garden’s Chicken Parmigiana with breadstick, salad and dressing, 5,735 milligrams.

The government recommends that adults limit their daily intake of sodium to 2,300 milligrams, and that seniors and children consume no more than 1,500 milligrams a day.

CSPI criticized many of the restaurants in its study, saying that excessive intake of salt over one’s lifetime can present an increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.

“Who knows how many Americans have been pushed prematurely into their graves thanks to sodium levels like those found in Olive Garden, Chili’s and Red Lobster?” asked CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson. “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.”

Scott Vinson, vice president of government relations for the National Council of Chain Restaurants, disputed the CSPI's comment. “Chain restaurants offer a wide variety of menu choices to their guests to satisfy a broad range of customer tastes and dietary needs," he said.

Officials of the National Restaurant Association also expressed disappointment at the CSPI’s claims, saying, “The restaurant industry has been making tremendous strides on the topic of sodium and other issues related to healthy cuisine, and we are pursuing a wide range of efforts to respond to customers’ interest in nutrition information and healthier options."

On Tuesday, the CSPI's Jacobson is expected to testify before the Senate Finance Committee that reducing sodium consumption by 25 percent over the next 10 years could save the federal government $9 billion a year in direct medical costs.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city's health department recently launched a campaign to reduce the amount of salt used in restaurant and prepared foods by 25 percent over the next five years and by 50 percent over the next decade.

Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected] [3].