May 26, 2011 at 8:27 AM ET
When you’re trying to slash sodium, eating out may seem like a real challenge. After all, restaurant fare is notorious for being overloaded with sodium (not to mention calories and fat). Many restaurants offer meals that contain a day’s worth or more of sodium, and oftentimes, french fries and desserts are among the lowest sodium options!
While it’s still slim pickings when it comes to finding healthful, lower sodium menu items at most restaurants, some chains are starting to offer lower sodium options. Subway® is one chain that has stepped up to the plate by reducing sodium by 15 percent across its menu. Hopefully, other restaurants will follow suit to help Americans maintain dietary guidelines and consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day. (The cap recommended for African Americans, individuals with hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease and adults aged 51 and older is a mere 1,500 milligrams a day.)
To help you find lower sodium options when dining out, be sure to visit restaurant websites and check the nutrition profile of the dishes you’d like to order; you may be surprised at how much sodium your favorite meals contain. You can also go to Healthy Dining Finder to search for restaurants that offer more healthful fare.
When you go out to eat, don’t be shy. Ask if they offer any lower sodium menu options. Ask for foods prepared without salt, and choose grilled, baked and lightly sautéed options instead of fried or breaded options. Order sauces, dressings and condiments on the side, and dip your fork into them instead of pouring them all over your food. Even if the entrée you order is low in sodium, the sides that come with it can often be salt-laden culprits (mashed potatoes, we’re looking at you!), so ask your waiter to swap them out for a healthier option like steamed vegetables. If all else fails, get a half-order or appetizer portion of your favorite food to instantly save on sodium (not to mention calories).
Assuming you usually consume three meals and one or two snacks daily, a good rule of thumb is to choose restaurant meals that have no more than 400 to 700 milligrams of sodium. I’ve scoured several menus to find some lower sodium options at some of your favorite restaurants; hopefully this list will grow as restaurants find low-sodium ways to flavor foods and offer more healthful, yet still satisfying, options to consumers:
Longhorn Steak House
Moe's Southwest Grill
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN is the founder/president of Zied Health Communications, LLC in New York City and the author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips." For more information, visit www.elisazied.com.