Imagine pouring one and a half teaspoons of salt directly into your mouth. Can you taste it? Blah, blech! You’d shed an ocean of tears trying to choke down those tongue-tingling crystals. Yet, if you’re a typical American, you eat that much salt every single day. And that’s one primary reason why 50 percent of us are considered at risk for high blood pressure. I know, that sounds impossible—you seldom if ever reach for the salt shaker, right? Well, you don’t have to: Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that most of us consume about 3,400 mg of sodium a day, but only 5 percent of it comes from home cooking. Some occurs in foods naturally, but the overwhelming majority of the sodium you eat—77 percent—comes foods sold in supermarkets and restaurants. Heart disease is the number-one killer of Americans, and sodium is one of the primary culprits.
We should be eating no more than 2,300 mg a day, and less—about 1,500 mg—if we’re at risk for high blood pressure. And yet, while researching my latest book, The Eat This, Not That! No-Diet Diet, I uncovered countless restaurant meals with one, two, even three days’ worth of salt in them. Think I’m exaggerating? Take a peek at the saltiest dishes coming from America’s kitchens.
1. WORST PASTA Ruby Tuesday Mediterranean Shrimp Pasta3,933 mg sodium1,086 calories63 g fat
Sodium Equivalent: 11 Large Orders of McDonald’s French Fries
Somebody needs to tell Ruby Tuesday that to make “Mediterranean” pasta, you don’t need to actually boil the noodles in Mediterranean seawater. Ruby Tuesday makes only one pasta dish with fewer than 2,000 mg of sodium (almost an entire day’s worth!), and it has only two pasta dishes with fewer than 3,000 mg. The other four pasta dishes on the menu each have more than 3,000 mg.
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2. WORST BREAKFASTIHOP Thick-Cut Bone-In Ham & Eggs4,310 mg sodium1,170 calories61 g fat (19 g saturated)
Sodium Equivalent: 37 servings of Planter’s Cocktail Peanuts (that’s more than three 12-oz cans!)
IHOP is another chain known for egregious sodium levels. Even foods that sound relatively sodium-free are swimming in the stuff. Take an order of Buttermilk Pancakes. One order—5 pancakes—has 2,640 mg sodium. Things turn especially ugly when you start adding meat to the plate. You’d be wise to avoid any dish with steak or ham, which consistently contribute to a total of more than 2,000 mg per dish.
3. WORST “HEALTHY” ENTREE Applebee’s Weight Watchers Chipotle Lime Chicken4,990 mg sodium490 calories12 g fat (2 g saturated)
Sodium Equivalent: 31 servings of Ruffles (that’s more than two “Family Size” bags!)
Avoiding salt at Applebee’s is nearly impossible. Not even the “healthy” selections pass muster. The six items on the Under 550 Calories menu average 2,341 mg of sodium per entree. The five items on the Weight Watchers menu average 2,448 mg. Even the side dishes are dangerous. A side of Loaded Mashed Potatoes will cost you 1,340 mg, and a side of Broccoli Cheddar Soup will cost you 1,690. If you order anything off this menu, you’d be wise to stick to sodium-free foods for the rest of the day.
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4. SALTIEST APPETIZERApplebee’s Appetizer Sampler6,830 mg sodium2,590 calories173 g fat (54 g saturated)
Sodium Equivalent: 370 Funyuns (that’s more than four bags of ‘em!)Restaurant appetizer samplers are notoriously riddled with sodium, but Applebee’s is a full-blown tour de force of heart-stopping potential. Piled onto this plate are a bacon and cheese quesadilla, fried cheese sticks, spinach and artichoke dip and chips, and boneless buffalo wings. Just one of those things is bad enough, but add all four and you have three days’ worth of sodium and more than an entire day of calories—in just one appetizer! Eat This Instead!Applebee’s Classic Southern BBQ Wings1,070 mg sodium660 calories35 g fat (9 g saturated)
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5. SALTIEST CHINESEP.F. Chang’s Double Pan-Fried Noodles with Pork7,900 mg sodium1,652 calories84 g fat (12 g saturated)
Sodium Equivalent: 263 Triscuit crackers (that’s 4.3 boxes!)
PF Changs’ menu is probably the saltiest in America; even a bowl of Hot and Sour Soup has 5,000 mg. For that half of the population that’s supposed to max out at 1,500 mg daily sodium, the Double Pan-Fried Noodles with Pork harbors more than five times the limit. Even for those in the higher tier, it still represents three-and-a-half days worth of sodium consumption. If you end up at Chang’s, let the Steamed Buddha Bowl be your safety plate. But remember: It’s got to be steamed. Order it stir-fried and the same dish suddenly leaps to 2,740 mg sodium. Yikes.
Click here to check out our complete list of the 30 Saltiest Foods in America … and beware! Mr. Salty may be running lose at some of your favorite restaurants!
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