This is a guest blog post by Carol Harvey, director of nutrition labeling at Palate Works.
“Taco Bell has been quietly testing a reduced-sodium version of its menu at 150 units in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the past two months”, the chain’s president said Tuesday…
“…So 150 restaurants over the last few months have been eating great-tasting Taco Bell food with 23-percent less sodium,” he said. “And the great news is: No one even knows we’ve done it. That’s when you know you’ve been successful.
How about: That’s when you know you had a huge amount of sodium to begin with.
Twenty three percent of 2,180 mg sodium (Grilled Stuft Burrito with chicken) is 501 mg, leaving 1,677 mg (that’s 73% of your daily max for sodium in 33% of daily calories, based on the 2,000 daily calorie standard/average).
It may surprise you further that compared to other fast food restaurants, Taco Bell’s sodium actually seems low, but that’s mostly because their portion sizes are lower (to keep the price point down).
Restaurant nutrition is not based on equal portion sizes, the way food products are (or at least are supposed to be), so comparing dishes requires doing it on a per-calorie or weight basis (get your calculators out).
A 23% sodium reduction is a good start, but hold the back slapping until the numbers are more in line with dietary standards… and adding a few more veggies would be nice, too.
Note #1: per FDA regarding American Heart Association guidelines for sodium in a meal:
“…a meal containing no more than 575 mg of sodium (2,300 mg/day X ¼ daily food intake = 575 mg) could be incorporated into a diet consistent with the American Heart Association’s guidelines for sodium.” (see #52 here)
Note #2: Here are the sodium limits for packaged food products that wish to carry a “healthy” claim (including implied claims, like “better for you”):
- For meal or main dish foods, sodium must be no higher than 600 mg.
- For individual foods (snacks, soups, side dishes, etc.), the max is 480 mg, or 480 mg per 50 g of the food when it comes in a small serving size (e.g., condiments).
So, generally, anything with no more than 600 mg sodium is considered reasonable for a main dish or meal product sold on grocery shelves. Restaurant meals have a long way to go, but of course they are usually much bigger (portion size), which is why calories (and everything else), are also much greater compared to packaged foods.
Carol Harvey has been a nutrition labeling and product development consultant for over 15 years. She can be reached at palatemail[AT] yahoo [DOT] com.