Report: Some restaurants using dangerous levels of salt

Dr. Stephen Havas
Dr. Stephen Havas
David Zinczenko
David Zinczenko
Dawn Sweeney
Dawn Sweeney
Mike Jacobson
Mike Jacobson

By Tracie Potts

WASHINGTON, DC (NBC) - Watching the salt in your diet? You may want to watch what you order when you eat out.

A food policy watchdog group in Washington claims some restaurant meals have two, three even four times the amount of salt the government recommends for a whole day.

This group says even if you're not shaking extra salt onto your food what's already on your plate could be dangerous. Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure or make it worse.

The Center For Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) looked at meals from popular chain restaurants and found up to 7,100 milligrams of sodium on one plate.

That's over three times what the government recommends for one day.

"For these restaurants to put that much salt in their meals is unconscionable"said Dr. Stephen Havas of Northwestern University.

Kids meals? CSPI found double the salt intake recommended for children four to eight years old.

"They pile on the salt so that you won't miss the natural flavors and fresh ingredients" said David Zinczenko, author of "Eat This, Not That".

The biggest concern is for the elderly.

"For somebody's who already elderly, having this amount of salt could actually push them over into heart failure," said Havas.

The problem is salt helps food taste good.

Restaurants say they do offer healthy alternatives. The industry even sponsored a conference last year on reducing salt. But ultimately, they insist, the decision's up to you.

"At the end of the day, each person has to look at their own health status and understand where they are in their own health profile, and then make good choices" said Dawn Sweeney of the National Restaurant Association.

CSPI says the choice would be easier if salt was listed on the menu.

"Some people would change what they're ordering if they knew how much salt and how many calories were in these meals. That information simply isn't available" said Mike Jacobson of CSPI.

CSPI wants the federal government to push for a 50 percent drop in salt content over the next decade.

They also suggest smaller portions sizes, to reign in salt intake.