Going out the other day to one of our neighborhood restaurants I asked for fries without salt. This is what I got. This place is not the only one who seems to believe more salt is better. One can commonly see the “finisher” in restaurants spreading the white sparkles massively over whatever dish he or she has in front of them before it is whisked off to the patron.
Americans on the average consume 3,400 mg of salt (sodium) every day – that is one and one half the recommended dose . For people with high blood pressure, intake should be around 1,500 mg per day.
The problem with salt overload is that it increases blood pressure, which then in turn raises the risk for heart attacks, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions resulting in higher mortality rates [2,3].
Where does all the extra salt come from? Only 5% of the daily salt is added to food while cooking at home, and 6% is added at the table. That means we don’t starve for it in the quantities provided in a restaurant when we are left to our own devices. In US, 75% of the salt in the average diet comes from restaurants, prepackaged and processed foods. Commercial bread is a major culprit, each slice adding 80-230 mg sodium to the diet .
The body is a very fine-tuned machine. If the amount of sodium in the bloodstream goes up after a salty meal, alarms are raised. For the cells to function well there has to be a relatively tightly maintained concentration gradient of sodium outside and inside cells. It’s all about maintaining an electric gradient – just like in a battery. The body responds to high sodium levels by getting thirsty in order to restore a normal gradient and to be able to excrete the extra sodium. In the meantime the salt puffs up everything and the kidneys are working overtime to excrete it and the excess fluid in the blood vessels increases blood pressure.
Is salt good for business? Salt makes one thirsty, and the idea is that the client will drink more. In Europe, this logic may make more sense since there is no free water that is brought to the table. Selling more alcohol than intended by the customer to dilute the salt out may not necessarily be a good business proposition either when the customer still needs to drive. So what if the customers die just a few years earlier than they would otherwise? Restaurants may want to consider that losing a few years of business from a customer who may come once or more times every month is a loss of thousands of dollars in lifetime value of that customer.
I am very salt sensitive. Thus I know I will pay for a dinner in a salt-heavy restaurant at night. I will wake up, need to drink more water, go to the bathroom, and keep repeating the sequence. In the morning I reliably weigh two pounds more than the day before. That is not because I ate an extra two pounds of solid food, but have a half gallon of water retained in my body. That retained water also makes my face puffed up. And I can assure any restaurateur that women do not like to wake up crabby, heavy and having a “fat face.” Having such a repeat experience with a specific restaurant makes me avoid it in the long run – regardless of how great the food may be.
- Centers for Disease Control. Get the facts: Sources of sodium in your diet. https://www.cdc.gov/salt/pdfs/sources_of_sodium.pdf
- Mente A, O’Donnell MJ, Rangarajan S, et al. Association of urinary sodium and potassium excretion with blood pressure. N Engl J Med 2014;371:601-11.
- Glatz N, Chappuis A, Conen D, et al. Associations of sodium, potassium and protein intake with blood pressure and hypertension in Switzerland. Swiss Med Wkly 2017;147:w14411.