Restaurants limiting salt use

Salt is a “mineral substance composed primarily of sodium chloride, salt in its natural form is a crystalline mineral known as rock salt or halite. It is present in vast quantities in the sea. Salt is essential for animal life, and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes,” according to Wikipedia.

My mother-in-law, who struggles with kidney problems, is on a salt-free diet. I have become adept at leaving salt out of recipes and substituting some flavoring whenever cooking for her. For Christmas I gave her a box of salt free spice blends from Penza’s Spices at Cross gates Mall. I often substitute “hot” for flavor; I now purchase Cholula hot sauce in 12 ounce bottles.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, cutting 1.2 milligrams of sodium out for the average American’s daily diet could prevent up to 92,000 deaths, on a par with cutting the number of smokers in half.

It is no surprise to most of us that cutting salt lowers blood pressure. According to Nancy Cook, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, “A decrease in sodium in the diet, even among those with only modestly elevated blood pressure, lowers risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.”

Oh busboy, every table in the United States has a salt and pepper shaker, maybe two. That means every restaurant table in the United States has a salt and pepper shaker. The wait staff wipes the shakers clean every night. The wait staff fills the shakers every morning.

My mother in law would choose to not use the salt shaker but she still does not eat in restaurants. Why? Because most of the time, she does not know the sodium content of the food. What she does know, from her low sodium cookbooks and flyers from her doctor, is that the more processed, the more packaged and the more pre-made food is, the more salt is in it.

What is forgotten is that items in full-service restaurants may be thought to be low in salt, but if any items are processed or come pre-made, they are salt soaked. So much of what is served in all restaurants comes already pre-made and already well salted. Seventy percent of the sodium we consume is already on the food before we salt it – everything, including breads, cereals, soups, pizza sauce, mayonnaise and salad dressing. Fresh is best. Restaurants that prepare from scratch are the best, less-salt bet.

The average intake of sodium is approximately 3,400 milligrams per day, while the recommended intake, according to, should be between 1,500 and 2,300 mg per day, depending on age. Olive Garden’s chicken parm with spaghetti has 330 milligrams of salt; Panera’s smoked turkey breast sandwich has 200 milligrams; McDonald’s Quarter-Pounder has 1,100 milligrams; and Burger King’s Chicken Whopper has 1,400 milligrams of salt.

Many restaurants today are reducing their salt content because it is best for the common good and the customer is more aware. Some are including the salt content on their menus. Some are reviewing ingredient labels for sodium content including sodium nitrate. Some are:

1. Using more fresh foods. Serving fresh ingredients such as fruits and vegetables ensures that customers aren’t ordering menu items cooked in a way that increases their levels of sodium. Frozen produce, frequently lower in salt, is being used if fresh produce is expensive or out of season.

2. Purchasing less processed foods, avoiding tenderized or flavored items, and making their own stocks and sauces – even packaged fresh meat can have salt.

3. Seasoning carefully with salt during the preparation process.

4. Reading the label on all items. If salt is added to canned items, rinse before using.

5. Using sodium-free spices and herbs to add and enhance flavor. Substitute or use fresh or dried herbs, spices, garlic, zest from citrus fruit, and fruit juices to flavor foods.

6. Decreasing the amount of premade stocks, salsa, sauces, ketchup, et cetera, added to recipes, or serve on the side. The use of these may further promote menu creativity because your staff will be encouraged to create variations of the flavors that you serve.

7. Remove salt and pepper shakers until asked for them. When learning at the Culinary Institute of America, the chef said that a good chef would never allow salt on the table because it implied that the customer, not the chef, knew how to correctly season.

8. Seeking out and talking with the vendor about alternatives to high salt items.

It is understandable that restaurants choose pre-made items. It saves time, maintains a consistent quality and may be, given the cost of labor, a cheaper way to go. Changes must come from food processors, food vendors, restaurants, the customers and the government. More and more cities are requiring menu labeling for restaurants. Perhaps like the government of the United Kingdom and Finland, Washington should pressure companies to cut salt and require warning labels on high salt food. Maybe then, my mother-in-law will be able eat out in a restaurant.

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