Editor’s note: The following column is from Healthy Dining, a company that has been at the forefront of restaurant nutrition since 1990. This series provides restaurant operators with information on industry-related nutrition topics. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Nation’s Restaurant News.
The attention given to regulation of sodium levels in restaurants’ menu items is escalating. This month, two major steps were undertaken by health professionals and health organizations to place emphasis back on sodium reduction in foods.
The largest organization of public health professionals, the American Public Health Association (APHA), released a sodium-related resolution on Nov. 1, urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove the GRAS (generally recommended as safe) status of sodium and to regulate the amount permitted in processed and restaurant foods as soon as possible.
On Nov. 10, a public forum was held in Washington, D.C., initiated by the FDA and several other influential health organizations, to discuss nationwide sodium reduction. The National Restaurant Association’s Joan McGlockton, Vice President of Public Policy, represented the restaurant industry at the forum.
She said, “Our industry has made significant strides in reducing sodium and will continue to do so while supporting consumer education, access to information, and other efforts vital to assisting consumers in lowering their sodium intake.
“An effective approach to reducing sodium must be voluntary, incremental, flexible, and take into account the eating preferences of consumers,” she added, “the formidable technological challenges, and the multiple uses of sodium in the food supply.”
Still, it’s top of mind for many regulators, even if specific steps aren’t yet outlined. Dr. Jessica Leighton, the FDA’s senior advisor on nutrition and food safety, remarked that the agency is reviewing information and has no immediate plans for sodium regulation. The FDA’s goals during the forum were to better understand the issues and build collaborative public and private partnerships to address sodium reduction.
What should your restaurant do?
Recognizing that sodium reduction is an important issue to address, especially to help position the industry as one that is taking a proactive stance and contributing to the health of America, here are five steps restaurant can take today:
1. Please your guests – Most likely, more than three out of five adult guests at your restaurant have elevated blood pressure. Some don’t know, some don’t care, yet some do care and are actively trying to lower sodium intake. By offering several lower sodium options, you can build a loyal following of guests who appreciate those choices. More than 130 restaurant brands, representing almost 13,000 locations, offer ‘SODIUM SAVVY’ options featured on HealthyDiningFinder.com.
2. Educate your guests – The APHA report recommends that the restaurant industry, health organizations and food companies, “educate consumers to choose lower sodium foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.”
3. Assess and cut – Be proactive. Start a process of identifying the sources of sodium in your menu offerings (added salt, soy sauce, canned ingredients, salad dressings, processed meats, etc.) and develop strategies to begin to decrease those ingredients where it is easiest. For example, if you add 1/2 cup of salt to a bulk recipe, experiment with reducing to 1/3 cup and test the results. Can your cook and wait staff detect the change? If not, test with your customers. You may find they don’t notice the reduced salt or they may like it better.
4. Be creative – Throw out the salt, cans and high sodium processed products and inspire your guests with fresh, natural flavors. For instance, add garlic, leeks, onions, tomatoes, and other flavorful vegetables and reduce added salt. Adding one tablespoon of chopped onions and decreasing salt by just a quarter of a teaspoon will reduce sodium content by 580 milligrams. Plus, the onion adds potent antioxidants that promote health and fight disease and aging. Another tip: braise, roast and steam to bring out the natural flavors in your ingredients so that you won’t need to add much, if any, salt. Use herbs and spices instead which also offer healthy antioxidants. Read more.
5. Know your blood pressure and educate your employees – High blood pressure is dubbed “the silent killer” because you won’t feel any symptoms – until it is too late. So have your blood pressure checked (many pharmacies and fitness centers offer this at no charge). Healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80 – that number is an important indicator of your overall health status. If your blood pressure is higher than that, it is important to see a physician. Also, encourage all those you care about, your employees, family and friends, to have their blood pressures checked, too. The American Heart Association’s website, Heart.org, offers a wealth of information on achieving optimal blood pressure levels.
The APHA report
The APHA’s report, ‘Implementing Effective Strategies to Reduce Sodium in the Food Supply,’ outlines the scientific evidence leading to their recommendations for a population-wide intervention to decrease the high levels of sodium in the food supply, including:
• 31% of all deaths in the U.S. are attributed to cardiovascular diseases (primarily heart disease and stroke) – most of these are preventable
• 60% of adults in the U.S. have blood pressure levels which are higher than normal (120/80), putting them at significantly higher risk of cardiovascular diseases
• An estimated 70 million Americans have prehypertension which means they have a 1.5 to 2.5 times greater risk of having a heart attack, stroke or heart failure in the next 10 years compared with those with optimal blood pressure
• The evidence linking excess sodium consumption to hypertension is “conclusive” and “overwhelming”
About the author: Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH, is president and founder of Healthy Dining. She is a nationally recognized authority who brings to market innovative nutrition-related strategies to help restaurants prosper while educating and empowering Americans to enjoy healthier cuisine. Contact her at email@example.com.