Denny's Sued Over Salt in Food

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Center for Science in the Public Interest has just sued Denny's for failing to disclose the amount of salt in its fast foods. I heard about this from a reporter from Nation's Restaurant News who thought the suit was absurd. Everyone knows Denny's food isn't healthy, she suggested. Maybe, but I had no idea how much salt the foods contained, and I'm supposed to know such things.

The figures that follow refer to the sodium content. Salt is 40 percent sodium (the other 60 percent is chloride), so 4,000 mg sodium is equivalent to 10,000 mg salt (10 grams). The standard recommendation for healthy people is 2,300 mg sodium per day. People with hypertension are supposed to restrict sodium to 1,500 mg. With that said, try these examples and remember, this is sodium:

    • 2,580 mg Moons Over My Hammy sandwich  (ham, egg, cheese)
    • 4,120 mg Spicy Buffalo Chicken Melt with regular fries
    • 5,690 mg Meat Lover's Scramble (eggs, bacon, sausage, bacon)

I see this as a flat-out issue of consumer choice. If people want more salt, they can always add it at the table, but those of us want less salt don't have a choice at all. We are stuck with what is served to us, and if we don't know how much salt the food contains (and taste isn't necessarily a reliable indicator of amount), we have no choice about the amount we are eating.

Litigation is not my favorite public health strategy, but in this situation it seems like the only current option. Voluntary salt reduction isn't happening across the board, and the FDA is up to its ears in food safety problems, so there is a huge vacuum waiting to be filled. I will be interested to see what happens with this suit, and I'm not as convinced as the Nations Restaurant News reporter that it will be so easy to dismiss out of hand.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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