Q: I live in New York City, and they’ve just made it mandatory for chain restaurants to identify dishes containing more than 2,300 mg of sodium. It’s causing a lot of controversy. What do you think about it? -- Joey D., New York
A: There’s no doubt that many North Americans take in too much salt. The American Heart Association says that the average person consumes more than 3,400 mg of sodium per day. For the 60 percent of you who have diabetes, heart disease or kidney problems, that’s more than double the 1,500 mg recommended as your upper limit. And for the approximately 0.5 percent of you who have what’s called salt-sensitive high blood pressure, excess salt intake is deadly. So for those folks, identifying 2,300 mg of salt isn’t all that helpful -- the number should be lower. And the rest of you really don’t need to fret; just be a little careful.
The real issue is that folks are getting too much salt from processed foods -- canned soups, frozen meals, pizza, deli meats, even bread and cereals. And yes, it’s used heavily in restaurants to boost flavor. But the smart move for everyone is to avoid prepared foods in favor of cooking fresh meals at home and taking your lunch to work.
It’s also important to stress that reducing your salt intake isn’t enough to protect or restore your health -- no matter if you’re salt-sensitive or have diabetes. Tune in to portion size; in most restaurants, almost everything is twice the quantity it needs to be. We suggest you take half off your plate and put in a doggie bag before you dig in. That’ll reduce calories, harmful fats and salt, too! You also want to increase your physical activity (head for 10,000 steps a day), and get added sugars and syrups, processed grains and all trans and most sat fats off your plate. Then, along with cutting down on salt, you’ll shake things up!
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Q: First there was Chipotle and E. coli. Now there’s contaminated chicken salad from Costco. Then Starbucks recalled their turkey and stuffing panini. I thought these restaurants were clean! What’s happened? -- Bill K., Minneapolis
A: It’s not the restaurants, Bill. For all we know, the places are spotless. Apparently it’s the food companies that supply their fresh veggies. Places like Chipotle and Starbucks do their best to acquire top-quality produce, but up until now (obviously) there hasn’t been enough oversight through the food chain. As of Dec. 5, 52 people in nine states have gotten these food-borne illnesses; 20 have needed hospitalization, but so far no one has died.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Montana Department of Public Health and several others, it looks like the supplier of the tainted produce in the Costco case is Taylor Farms in Tracy, California. They’re reputed to be the world’s largest producer of fresh-cut vegetables, and they package and distribute produce from hundreds of growers in the U.S. and Mexico.
Fortunately, just a few days ago (five years after the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama) the FDA announced that new safety rules are going into effect for foreign suppliers of U.S. food. Full implementation will take some time, but eventually the FDA will send inspectors around the world to make sure those suppliers take just as many safety precautions as farmers in the U.S.
This is a great example of your tax dollars working directly for you.
Chipotle is expanding its testing of key ingredients, examining its food-safety procedures and working with two food safety scientists, but they can’t test the DNA of every celery stalk. So for Chipotle and every other restaurant chain and their patrons, the new food safety rules come at an important time. For you, we suggest you cook at home often, make sure cooked food hits an internal temp of 165 F or more, and wash produce well.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily(at sign)sharecare.com.