A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said Americans eat out at fast food or dine-in restaurants four or five times a week and just one of those meals might contain more than an entire day's recommended amount of sodium -- 2,300 milligrams a day for the general population.
Too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, a leading contributor to heart disease and stroke.
A report, From Menu to Mouth: Opportunities for Sodium Reduction in Restaurants, published in CDC's journal, Preventing Chronic Disease, said it is a challenge for consumers to control the sodium content in restaurant food since sodium is already added to meals before it reaches the table. However, but restaurants can work with public health officials to provide consumers with lower levels of sodium.
"The bottom line is that it's both possible and life-saving to reduce sodium, and this can be done by reducing, replacing and reformulating," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said in a statement. "When restaurants rethink how they prepare food and the ingredients they choose to use, healthier options become routine for customers."
The report outlines several ways health departments and restaurants worked together to offer lower-sodium choices:
-- Health department dietitians help restaurants analyze the sodium content of their foods and recommend lower-sodium ingredients.
-- Restaurants post nutrition information, including sodium content, at the order counter and on menus.
-- Offer lower-sodium items at lower cost.
-- Health departments and restaurants explain to food service staff why lower sodium foods are healthier and how to prepare them.
The report said, in Philadelphia, the health department worked with 206 restaurants to create the Philadelphia Healthy Chinese Take-out Initiative. After evaluating menus for sodium content, participating restaurants began choosing lower sodium ingredients and creating lower sodium recipes. After nine months, analyses of two popular dishes offered by 20 of the restaurants showed sodium was reduced by 20 percent, the report said.
"The story in Philadelphia shows what can be done," Frieden said. "It's not about giving up the food you love, but providing lower sodium options that taste great."