Turns out, you most definitely can have too much of a good thing, and that thing is sodium. This mineral plays a critical role in a healthy diet and maintains the correct balance of fluids in the body, but only in small, judicious doses. Unfortunately, the average American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium every day—more than 1,000 milligrams more than the absolute maximum amount we ought to be taking in, and nearly 3,000 milligrams more than the amount our bodies need to function normally!
Why is this so dangerous? Well, for starters, a high-sodium diet can wreak havoc on your blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke. And frighteningly, researchers at the Scripps Research Institute found that the effects of sodium over-consumption eerily resembled those of drug addiction—meaning that the more we eat, the more we crave. That means salty foods tax you twice: They cause an initial strain on your cardiovascular system, and by causing you to eat more salt-riddled calories, they hit you again around the waistline.
So here’s the question: How do you protect yourself from the dangers of sodium? Avoid the saltshaker? Nope—The salt you add at the table has little effect on overall sodium intake. The real culprit is restaurant food, which supplies a staggering 80 percent of the sodium in the American diet. If you want to protect yourself, start right here, by avoiding these sodium-soaked restaurant meals.
#1 Not That
Applebee’s Chili Cheese Nachos
107 g fat (40 g saturated, 2.5 g trans)
4,270 mg sodium
SODIUM EQUIVALENT: 18.5 orders of Taco Bell’s Cheesy Nachos!
Classic Wings, Southern Barbecue
35 g fat (9 g saturated)
1,060 mg sodium
The fundamental problem with nachos is that most of the ingredients are already fully sodium-saturated foods. Chili, cheese sauce, tortilla chips, and salsa are all notoriously high in sodium, so together they create a perfect storm of blood-pressure spiking, waistline-expanding damage. Pair all of that with Applebee’s mammoth portion size, and you’re looking at roughly two days’ worth of sodium.
HEART HELPER: The best defense is a good offense. Neutralize the heart-straining effects of sodium with the 5 Best Foods for a Stronger Heart.
IHOP Thick-Cut Bone-In Ham & Eggs
61 g fat (19 g saturated)
4,310 mg sodium
SODIUM EQUIVALENT: 32 strips of Oscar Mayer Center Cut Bacon!
Simple & Fit Turkey Bacon Omelette with Fresh Fruit
20 g fat (9 g saturated)
720 mg sodium
Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but since when should a breakfast contain nearly two spoonfuls of pure salt? This one plate provides your body with as much sodium as it would need over the course of a full week! You can still indulge your salt craving, but opt for the more conservative Turkey Bacon Omelette instead. Not only are the levels far more reasonable, but the fruit side dish is filled with sodium-neutralizing potassium.
#3 Not That
PF Chang’s Pork Double Pan Fried Noodles
84 g fat (12 g saturated)
7,900 mg sodium
SODIUM EQUIVALENT: Five full-size bags of Ruffles potato chips—that’s roughly 600 chips!
16 g fat (4 g saturated)
1,440 mg sodium
Sodium has long been the Achilles tendon of Asian cuisine. Despite being commendably low in calories and studded with vegetables and lean meats, Asian food is prone to massive sodium spikes. PF Chang’s menu is no exception—it’s a frontrunner for the title of saltiest menu in the country. Although any of the dumplings or the steamed Buddha’s Feast come in at under 1,000 milligrams a plate, the Garlic Noodles are your safest bet among the starchier options. Be sure to pack your ACE inhibitors, or better yet, bone up on the 9 Ways to Eat Healthy at the Chinese Restaurant.
#4 Not That
Chili’s Jalapeno Smokehouse Bacon Burger with Ranch
144 g fat (46 g saturated)
6,600 mg sodium
SODIUM EQUIVALENT: 6.5 McDonald’s Big Macs!
Caribbean Salad with Grilled Chicken
25 g fat (4 g saturated)
800 mg sodium
PF Chang’s may claim the menu item with the most sodium, but Chili’s secures the title of “Saltiest Restaurant” simply because this salad is the only meal with fewer than one thousand milligrams to be found on its menu. In fact, the vast majority is populated by items ranging between 3,000 and 4,500 milligrams per plate! Know that if you’re going to Chili’s, your blood pressure is in for a rocky ride.
Beware of diet menus! While restaurants may lower calorie and fat totals for these items, they rarely reduce the sodium—the average count for one of Chili’s Guiltless Grill options is 2,175 milligrams per plate! For other corrupt “health” foods, check out the 10 Worst “Healthy” Foods in America.