There was an interesting study which was released earlier this month. The study looked at the Nutrition Facts from selected restaurant and packaged food products. They compared what was listed versus what was actually found in the foods when tested in a laboratory. Check out original release here. Unfortunately, the findings of the study showed that most restaurants and some of the packaged food product companies significantly underestimated the amount of total calories contained in their products. It appears that one of the reasons for the discrepancies comes from portion size served versus the portion size estimate. The study focused on calories only.
Let’s take this a step further. Calories do not tell the whole story. We are all aware of Subway and their ‘healthier’ choices and lower fat options. McDonald’s also promotes healthy options. KFC, formerly, Kentucky FRIED Chicken and now even Taco Bell have ‘healthy’ fare. Heck, Taco Bell is trying to steal some of Subway’s promo action by pushing their own ‘Drive Thru Diet’ plan with “Christine” as their “Jared”. What I find interesting in this whole exchange is that nobody is pushing fresh fruits & vegetables AND nobody seems to be concerned that the ‘healthy’ options can be very high in sodium.
Should we be concerned about sodium? Well, if you have High Blood Pressure, Chronic Kidney Disease, Congestive Heart Failure, take diuretics (fluid pills), or have a problem with fluid retention, then the answer is a resounding “YES!” Sodium can increase fluid retention which can cause an increase in blood pressure. Americans tend to get too much sodium from our foods. We only need about 500-1,000 mg a day to sustain life. But recent estimates place the average daily intake at about 4,000-5,000 mg a day. (For a point of reference, a teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 mg of sodium). Most health organizations today are encouraging people to keep sodium intake to no more than 2,400 mg a day. Angie & I encourage our clients to limit intake to no more than 2,000 mg a day.
What we must increase our awareness of is that the sodium intake in our diets comes predominantly from our food choices NOT the salt shaker. Processed foods, restaurant food, fast foods, snack foods and canned products all contain significant amounts of added sodium. As we tend to prepare less foods at home and eat fewer fresh fruits and vegetables, the sodium levels in our diets will continue to rise. The problem with our increasing intake of sodium is that the salt flavor is an accquired taste. The more we get, the more we want. Long-term, high sodium intakes can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease. Because it takes time for the cumulative effects to add up, we don’t pay as close attention to our food choices. Sodium in your diet can sneak up on you.
Let’s turn our focus back to those fast food companies and their push to get us to look for lower fat & calorie options: Links to the companies web site for nutriton facts are provided:
- Subway’s 8 choices of subs with 6 grams of fat or less. Only one option has a sodium content of less than 500 mg. The 6″ Black Forest Ham Sub has 1200 mg of sodium. If you add a bag of chips, that adds at least another 200 mg!
- McDonald’s Premium salads sodium content varies. Without chicken, the salads range from 150-300 mg of sodium. Add chicken to the salad and you increase the sodium 600-800 mg. Throw in a bag of Croutons and add another 140 mg. Pour on salad dressing and you have to add another 340-730 mg of sodium. The side salad is listed as having only 10 mg of sodium.
- The Taco Bell Drive Thru Diet Fresco Menu has 7 items with less than 9 grams of fat. However, the lowest sodium choice, the Fresco Crunchy Taco has 350 mg of sodium. By itself that is acceptable. The other choices from the Fresco Menu have anywhere from 600 to 1410 mg of sodium.
- KFC’s Grilled Chicken options have been getting a lot of attention. While they are lower in fat, you must still think about the sodium content. They do have a lower sodium content than many of the other examples we’ve been talking about. However, most orders also include sides. The sodium content of the grilled chicken choices range from 230 to 550 mg. The grilled chicken breast comes in at the highest with 550 mg but it also provides you with the largest amount of food. Add a side of green beans and you add 380 mg of sodium. Complete your meal with a side of mashed potatoes without gravy and the sodium increase another 350 mg. A meal with a grilled whole wing, side of green beans and side of mashed potatoes without gravy would give you over 900 mg of sodium!
Keep in mind the total daily intake of sodium we are recommending–around 2000 mg a day. That equates to about 600-700 mg per meal. Eating out makes it difficult to hit those goals. I’m not saying you should stay away from fast foods or never go out to eat but I want you to be aware of what you are getting. Don’t just look at the fat and calories. Look at the whole picture. You can make better choices by leaving off dresings, gravies, sauces, cheeses and mayonaisse. Resist the french fries, onion rings, tater tots & biscuits and you’ll save more in the way of calories, fats and sodium. I encourage our clients to take a piece of fruit with them if they are going out to eat. Have that at the end of your meal in place of a dessert and you will definitely come out ahead. As we always say, prepare more foods at home and concentrate on trying to eat more fruits and vegetables!
~It’s Your Health. It’s Your Life. Make That Change!