Restaurants and Salt Abuse

Why do restaurants use so much salt in their foods? Lbbls wants to know what's up with the over use of salt in restaurants. Great question! I wonder just how much salt an average restaurant goes through in a week?

In order to answer "why," we first have to understand what the purpose of the salt is in the first place. Salt is used in preservation of foods and as a flavor enhancer, improving the taste of foods that would otherwise not be as tasty to many people. Simply put, many of us like foods that have salt added better than if left plain. Since most restaurants are not preserving foods, we can be sure they are trying to enhance flavor and make the food taste better.

OK. Let's also acknowledge that the restaurants are in the business of serving food to make money. Can't blame them for that! How do they make money? They have to serve food that people like, so that you and I will come back again and again to buy more of their food. Bland food doesn't offer that draw to most of us. Salt sells, or at least up to a point. If it gets too salty, all bets are off.

Restaurants are also known to kick up the salt on foods that are lighter fare. Fat is a great flavor carrier, so if fat is reduced or removed, lots of flavor can go away, too. The easiest, least expensive way to counteract that is to bump up the salt. Flavor can also be zipped up with herbs, spices, vinegars and fruits, but salt is cheap, requires little creativity and it has no calories. On the lighter fare menu, most restaurants just list the total calories and grams of fat. If the salt has to go up to make the food palatable, the restaurants figure that's the way it has to be.

Many Americans love their salty taste buds stimulated. People complain if the fries don't have enough salt, and some immediately salt them again before they even taste them. In a way, restaurants are serving what they see patrons wanting: salted foods. This gets to be a vicious cycle for those of us striving for truly healthy options. We want the fresh, healthy foods, lower in evil fats, sodium, and all that jazz, but it seems that not enough people do want that to make it cost effective for the restaurant to carry those menu choices.

So, what can we do? Stay in communication with the restaurant you like. Let them know that you really want these healthy options and tell them that you need low sodium foods. If you mention any medical needs, good servers will normally go out of their way to help you on this. Remember their help in your tip. Ask for off the menu choices, fresh is best, prepared without added salt or soy sauce.

Until restaurants get the message from us that we want healthy lower sodium foods that taste good, change will probably be slow coming, unfortunately. It may help if New York City and some other cities decide to mandate labeling sodium content on restaurant menus. Now, that would be an eye opening experience that just may encourage some change!

Remember, when you eat out, ask for no salt added.

Fire up! You can do this and your heart will thank you...