NYC to Fast Feeders: ‘Na’ To Excess Salt


For reasons that defy gravity, there are opponents to New York City’s new rule that items in chain restaurants containing more than the FDA-recommended daily allowance for sodium – chemical name NA – be specially labeled with a salt shaker emblem. That recommended daily maximum of salt intake is, by the way, 2,300 milligrams – roughly a teaspoon.

Foods with that much sodium are plentiful, and plenty popular, in many fast food facilities. But that’s hardly news: It’s always been so, since Ray Kroc did a deep-discount deal with the McDonald brothers and turned a small quick-service restaurant into a monster that has, in the interval, nearly engulfed the world.

(There presently are more than 35,000 McDonald’s restaurants spread across no fewer than 119 countries. Their 1.7 million employees serve some 68 million customers daily, according to Wikipedia. A large portion of their fries probably comes close to offering up that daily maximum recommendation of sodium.)

Put into effect earlier this month, the new rule doesn’t have to be reflected on chain outlets’ menus until March, 2016, before they face fines of $200.

The Associated Press says that, “Public advocates cheer the measure [because] experts say Americans consume too much salt, raising their risks of high blood pressure and heart problems.”

The AP also notes that, “Salt producers say the city’s policy is misguided and restaurateurs” – a rather highfalutin term to associate with purveyors of fat-rich meat patties on buns – “say the city should leave the matter to federal regulators.”

The National Restaurant Association (an NRA not associated or affiliated with the gun-or-three in every household one) believes – and has asserted as much in a suit against NYC – that the salt-warning rule is “another in a series of burdensome, costly and unnecessary regulations the city has heaped upon local restaurateurs,” the NRA’s web site asserts.

“Customers should,” they went on, “have the same access from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon” – a sentiment the crafters of New York City’s new regulation undoubtedly would heartily agree with.

So, as it happens, more than like would the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), if anyone bother to encourage them to extend NYC’s rule nationwide.

“But,” the FDA’s web site and that of the National Kidney Disease Education Program declare, “nearly all Americans consume more salt than they need, according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines are published every five years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.”

Significantly, the FDA also notes that, “The natural salt in food accounts for about 10 percent of total intake, on average, according to the guidelines. The salt we add at the table or while cooking adds another 5 to 10 percent. About 75 percent of our total salt intake comes from salt added to processed foods by manufacturers and salt that cooks add to foods at restaurants and other food service establishments.”

And there – in the last sentence – is the rub: Processed foods of all sorts, particularly those processed for fast food feeders, have, in addition to their ‘natural’ salt, at least two doses of it added along the way from field to our digestive track: During the processing phase, as a preservative, and at the table, for a (truly unneeded) flavor boost. Fast feeders compound the excess-salt problem by employing even more of it in their food preparation processes – most notably (but hardly exclusively) in the preparation of fries.

(For people such as yours truly, who have CKD [Chronic Kidney Disease], not only is a low-salt diet a must, we’re similarly advised to stay away from the likes of potatoes, tomatoes, bananas, oranges and a broad assortment of other food items with high potassium.

(CKD sufferers are advised to have no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day. On average: And it’s the latter fact that allows for a bit of cheating – say, the occasional order of fries, or a tomato slice on a burger, or pasta with tomato sauce on it.

(Passing on many off-limits things, on a CKD diet, isn’t all that hard, generally speaking, when you’re eating home-cooked, carefully-chosen foods. But meals out and holidays present a host of problems, because much of what people most crave for on such occasions is salt- or potassium-rich.)

Another ‘villain’ among salt-adding enterprises is the movie-screening field. Their mission is similar to that of the fast-feeders: Because salt makes you thirsty, when you eat movie theaters’ popcorn, you’re also inclined to buy their similarly-over-priced drinks.

(Most movie theaters make most of the little profit they enjoy through the sale of candy, snacks, popcorn and, yes, drinks. They make very little on ticket sales, because producers have to rake in the most they can to support the outrageous sums they pay performers. And if one could get an exclusive contract on cars to be blown up or wrecked beyond repair in movies, a car manufacturer could do quite well on that business alone, thank you very much.)

In addition to raising blood pressure and adding to the potential for heart problems, excess salt can do a lot of damage to kidneys – more than most diets acknowledge. Because I have CKD, my dietitian and my nephrologist (kidney specialist) recommend I take in even as little as 1200 mg of sodium daily.

It’s a struggle sometimes to determine how much a portion of this or that contains, particularly when one’s portion size is not typically the size – often distorted, compared to how people normally eat – described on a package’s mandatory Nutrition Guidelines.

It’s a rare occasion when I eat in, or from, a fast food restaurant. When I do, I always choose from the low-price menu, and request no condiments (mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, relish, etc.) be added. All of those are highly processed, and hardly what you’d call ‘healthy’ for someone with kidney issues. And Chinese food is, for all intents and purposes, a no-no, as are such other highly-spiced ones as Indian food.

I happen to love some Indian foods – the combination of spices they involve are so unlike what you find in other cuisines – and some Chinese dishes. So I cheat – by making my own, minimizing the potentially harmful ingredients and boosting, if I care to, others. (You’d be surprised how readily available most of the spices used in Indian foods are.)

A really good ‘cheat’ for a CKD sufferer is – if you’re fortunate enough to have a Vietnamese restaurant nearby – to stop in, sit down, and order a vegetarian pho (a kind of soup) . . . then, after consuming half of it, take the rest home and ‘build’ your own pho, complementing their broth and some of their ingredients with your own.

Rice noodles – a very healthy choice for CKD sufferers – can be found in any store specializing in foods for people from, or descended from people from, the far east – China, Vietnam, Korea, etc.  As well as eating them with sautéed vegetables, I also use them as a rice substitute in various dishes – including my home-made chili, which I can’t eat a lot of at a given sitting both because it employees a lot of tomato (a no-no) and as it’s bean-rich (most beans are off limits). And while I enjoy it with rice, which always is a healthy choice for me, the rice noodles make an interesting change.

Change: That’s something that, one way or another, a lot of us – most of us – should be doing to improve or retain our health through our diets.

While no one wants ‘big brother’ to be telling us what to do – and that certainly proved true when former NYC Bloomberg tried to limit the size of to-go soda containers that could be sold – there is something to be said for the likes of New York City to ‘advise’ consumers about how much sodium their food contains.

Wendy’s restaurants, like some others, posts a chart spelling out that and much more about the nutritional values of what they serve. That’s a good start. But forcing a salt shaker alongside a really-heavy-salt-bearing item seems like an even better idea.



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