Cutting down on salt? A guide to ordering at restaurants

May 26, 2011 at 8:27 AM ET

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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:

Cheesecake Factory

  • Order the herb-crusted filet of salmon (380 mg sodium, 700 calories) and skip the mashed potatoes that comes with it. Instead, ask for a side of broccoli (25 mg sodium, 25 calories) for a total of 405 mg sodium and 725 calories.
  • Order the grilled mahi-mahi (390 mg sodium, 470 calories) with only a side of sautéed spinach (280 mg sodium, 100 calories) for a total of 670 mg sodium and 570 calories.


  • Oriental chicken salad, half order, 600 mg sodium and 670 calories

Longhorn Steak House

  • Renegade top sirloin, 6 ounces (520 mg sodium, 380 calories,) with fresh steamed asparagus (55 mg sodium and 80 calories) for a total of 575 mg sodium and 460 calories

Moe's Southwest Grill

  • Taco made with 6-inch soft flour tortilla, chicken, cheese, pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, and guacamole for a total of 630 mg sodium and 323 calories

Red Lobster

  • 1 ¼ pound seamed Maine lobster (350 mg sodium, 45 calories) and garden salad (105 mg sodium, 90 calories) with 3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) salad dressing
  • With balsamic vinaigrette (190 mg sodium and 80 calories), total for the meal: 540 mg sodium and 215 calories
  • With thousand island dressing (180 mg sodium and 200 calories), total for meal: 530 mg sodium and 335 calories


  • Tuna Melt Bullet, 690 mg sodium and 525 calories


  • Footlong Veggie Delite®, 620 mg sodium and 460 calories
  • 6-inch Oven Roasted Chicken Sandwich, 640 mg sodium and 320 calories

Related content:

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Go ahead, shake it? We may be wrong about salt

Food giant ConAgra sets sights on sodium

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