Reducing sodium and offering lower sodium options has been top of mind in many restaurant companies lately. As more attention is given to healthful eating, obesity and wellness, the restaurant industry is sometimes the first target of activists and those looking to mandate food and beverage changes. Restaurant operators do have options, however, and providing lower sodium menu items can actually help drive customer traffic and satisfaction.
It’s important that all restaurant companies, large or small, take this issue and the potential sodium regulations seriously, especially if the industry wants to avoid more government mandates.
Three reasons why restaurants can benefit by offering lower sodium choices:
1. Respond to guest needs: One out of three adults has high blood pressure. Those with high blood pressure are generally counseled to follow a low sodium diet (under 1,500 milligrams daily); yet, it is challenging to find lower sodium restaurants meals, either because of a lack of options or a lack of nutrition information.
Restaurants offering these options can gain the loyalty of those following lower sodium diets.
“At El Pollo Loco, we monitor the sodium content of new products we develop and also evaluate existing items on our menu for opportunities to improve nutritionals through reformulation,” says Julie Weeks, vice president of communications, El Pollo Loco. “One example of our success in this area is the reduction of sodium in our Chicken Tortilla Soup. In our continued commitment to health and wellness, our work with Healthy Dining gives us important visibility for our healthful offerings, helping us spread the word to consumers interested in dining out healthfully.”
2. New sodium recommendations for all: Scientific research shows that sodium consumption is directly related to high blood pressure, which in turn, is related to heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure and kidney disease. In 2010, the American Heart Association reduced the recommended daily guideline for sodium from 2,300 milligrams to 1,500 milligrams for the population at large.
As Americans become more educated about sodium, they will be looking at sodium values for the foods they eat and will become more interested in finding lower sodium options.
The American Heart Association has added information about Healthy Dining and its Sodium Savvy initiative at http://www.heart.org/nutrition.
“HealthyDiningFinder.com helps diners identify restaurants offering menu options that support the American Heart Association’s nutrition recommendations for cardiovascular health. We applaud Healthy Dining and the participating restaurants for contributing to improved public health,” says Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, immediate past chair of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee.
3. The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) report on sodium: Concurring with the reduced dietary guideline issued by the American Heart Association, the IOM report states, “lower sodium intake is a critical public health focus for all Americans.”
Further, the report provides recommendations, including provisions for mandatory compliance, noting that voluntary efforts over the past 40 years have failed to reduce sodium consumption. Most restaurants do not want to be burdened with legislation regarding the sodium levels of the foods they serve.
In fact, the IOM report states the need for a “level playing field,” meaning that some restaurants can’t commit to reducing sodium while others do nothing. This needs to be an industry-wide initiative.
The National Restaurant Association states that the industry “would have concerns about any potential government mandate that creates a one-size-fits-all rule to ingredient standards or sets arbitrary per item limits that do not reflect the complexity of addressing the nation’s eating habits and improving overall wellness.”
Healthy Dining's new Sodium Savvy Program provides a proactive, measurable demonstration of the restaurant industry’s efforts in offering lower sodium options and is a leap forward in helping Americans enjoy dining out while maintaining healthful sodium levels. Almost any restaurant can offer a selection of lower-sodium options. Healthy Dining’s team of registered dietitians is available to provide consultation on how your restaurant can be promoted through HealthyDiningFinder.com and the Sodium Savvy Program.
For more information on how your restaurant can start the process of sodium reduction and/or participate in Sodium Savvy, contact me at [email protected].