Eat Right Around Chicago

Salt is Killing Us

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg formally announced this week that sixteen food companies have agreed to reduce salt in everything from ketchup to rice as part of a national effort to cut America's sodium consumption by 20%, according to the Associated Press.  According to the Washington Post, some restaurant chains are jumping on board as well.  At this point, the plan is that the salt edits will take place over the next several years. It's about time.  But will it nix our need for a salt-fix?

The food industry is responding to the pressure (no pun intended) from health organizations and now governmental officials, but interestingly and unlike other health trends, this push isn't coming from the consumer, it's coming from the folks that are concerned with heart health stats and health care costs. Consumers actually tend not to buy foods labeled, "low sodium"; these items are not flying off the shelves.  And Americans eat over 2X the recommended levels of sodium (2400 mg per day is recommended).  The US likes it salty despite the evidence that high salt consumption is linked to high blood pressure, or that one out of three adults has been diagnosed with high blood pressure.  We eat processed foods and shake the shaker despite the evidence that high blood pressure is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease - the country's number one killer.

Here's the issue that I see, the change needs to start with our taste buds.  Our love affair with over-salting our foods must stop.  Personally, I can't take it any more.  Salt is killing us literally and for me, it's killing my buds.  In fact, my tongue hurts today because of last night's meal. I'm uncomfortably parched and my buds feel abused and I've had it...enough with the salt. 

Salt-Out

I started this blog today in light of the dinner I had last night.  Honestly, I hesitate to write this because this establishment is fabulous and I will return because I know they can do better, but given the status of my hydration and my pummeled taste buds, I'm going for it. 

Mitch (salt-lovin' Mitch) and I were excited to find out that despite it's club-like, martini-serving exterior, DMK Burger Bar is a hip (using the word, "hip" means I'm not, I realize this), contemporary, forward-thinking, swanky burger joint. I was in love, love, love as soon as I walked in and read the "grass-fed beef" sign, creative beer list, fried okra and pickle starter, deviled eggs and the proclamation that they have the best veggie burger around.  The menu is fun and inspired with a sensational fry selection, a few salads, dreamy sounding mac & cheese or grilled cheese plates, and beef, turkey and veggie burger options at rock-bottom prices.  With a White Allagash in hand, I was gleeful. 

She's Come Undone...

While Mitch and my table mates, Thomas and Philip, seemed unaffected, happy to have a burger in hand, I had a meltdown.  Without warning, my meal began to spiral out of control. 

My "best veggie burger ever" was deep fried like a hash-brown and as a sank my teeth into the perfect bun topped affectionately with a slice of eggplant, my tongue writhed in pain from a salty sensation that made my eyes cross.  I took a sip of my beer.  Mild relief. 

I breathed deeply and the inner dialogue began.

Don't panic, it's grainy and good even though it's fried, look at the eggplant, eggplants are good.  Oh God, are they?  Oh God, no, they soak up all the fat they can!  My hash-brown is wearing a sponge! I'm soaking up the oils with my eggplant sponge and I'm eating it!!!

Relax, this place is so close to your apt.  The staff has been so warm and friendly, the server's sweater is super cute, you can do this.  Try a fry, yes, try a fry, ooh, the one with the Parmesan and truffle, m,m,m,m,m, aaaaaah!  My tongue!  It's a salt lick with truffle!  Dip it in the creamy dressing for relief, oh no, the fat-filled, chunky dressing! 

Stop it.  It's a burger bar, I love burgers, and there are so many places in town that serve up great burgers and this one needs to be one of them. 

Lemme try a taste of your burger, Mitch, m,m,m,m,m, by God, it's the salt again!  I could hear my tongue scream in shock and plead with me to stop this torture. 

So I did. 

I stopped eating.  I sat there disappointed wondering how I was going to re-balance my fluids over the next 24 hours, indulging in short bursts of nutrition rants for my dinner mates' pleasure.

Salty-Solo 

"It's a burger joint", they would say, in defense of the heavy-handed, salt shaker in the kitchen. As though burgers were meant to be cured on their way out to the table.  As though we should accept over-indulging in salt, without any regard for taste, because it's a burger.  An all-American beef burger doesn't mean that health is out the window!  I don't accept that!   

"No!  It's not acceptable!" I exclaimed a little more frantically than the situation called for. "They didn't mean to do it!"  I don't think they intended their grass-fed beef to be bathed in sea salt.  They didn't mean to send their fries out in a blizzard of sodium!  This was a mistake. Someone poked too many holes in the salt shaker, they accidentally doubled-up on doses, or at the very least, the esteemed chef forgot to taste the food. Whatever the case, no one meant for the food to be this salty. 

Or did they?  Everyone around me looked quite pleased.  The burgers and the toppings were lovely after all.  The ingredients fresh, cooked right and served beautifully.  Could it be that the amount of salt was OK with everyone but me?  How will we ever lower our sodium intake if we can handle this much salt in one meal??? 

It Starts with Taste Buds

So, I sit, recovering, reflecting on my salty night out, tongue still sensitive, fingers a bit swollen, with a glass full of water, writing about salt in the American diet. I'm glad to hear that the food industry is doing something about the sodium content of frequently-purchased foods and that chains of restaurants are modifying their saltiness.  But as I learned from Marshall Shafkowitz of Le Cordon Bleu, and put in a previous post, eating right out is a personal choice and Chefs have to understand their patrons' preferences.  In that case, I guess that means that if they want to pay for salty, you give them salty. 

Salt Solution

The food industry is making small modifications that may have a big impact on a nationwide level; 20% sounds quite dramatic for the general population of the US.  We'll still be above the recommended limits if we're consuming double, but I hesitate to complain because I think it's going to be challenging for people to manage their salt-tooth.  I didn't see anyone else freaking out over a salty burger last night.  In fact, everyone seemed finger-licking pleased. 

I guess we'll have to wait to see if these salt reductions affect our taste buds, lower our blood pressure and maybe even create a consumer that wants to pay for less salty, so gets less salty.       

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