by Marion Nestle
Jul 24 2009

CSPI sues Denny’s over salt

Center for Science in the Public Interest has just sued Denny’s for failing to disclose the amount of salt in its fast foods.  I heard about this from a reporter from Nation’s Restaurant News who thought the suit was absurd.  Everyone knows Denny’s food isn’t healthy, she suggested.  Maybe, but I had no idea how much salt the foods contained, and I’m supposed to know such things.

The figures that follow refer to the sodium content.  Sodium is 40% of salt (the other 60% is chloride) so 4,000 mg sodium is equivalent to 10,000 mg salt (10 grams).  The standard recommendation for healthy people is 2,300 mg sodium per day.  People with hypertension are supposed to restrict sodium to 1,500 mg.  With that said, try these examples and remember, this is sodium:

  • 2,580 mg   Moons Over My Hammy sandwich  (ham, egg, cheese)
  • 4,120 mg  Spicy Buffalo Chicken Melt with regular fries
  • 5,690 mg  Meat Lover’s Scramble (eggs, bacon, sausage, bacon)

I see this as a flat-out issue of consumer choice.  If people want more salt, they can always add it at the table, but those of us want less salt don’t have a choice at all.  We are stuck with what is served to us and if we don’t know how much salt the food contains (and taste isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of amount), we have no choice about the amount we are eating.

Litigation is not my favorite public health strategy but in this situation it seems like the only current option.  Voluntary salt reduction isn’t happening across the board, the FDA is up to its ears in food safety problems, so there is a huge vacuum waiting to be filled.  I will be interested to see what happens with this suit, and I’m not as convinced as the Nations Restaurant News reporter that it will be so easy to dismiss out of hand.

Later addition: I’ve just seen this from the industry-sponsored American Council on Science and Health, which thinks the CSPI lawsuit frivolous, to say the least:  “Maybe [CSPI’s] Michael Jacobson doesn’t want the public to have the choice of what he considers unhealthy food.”  That says it all!

  • Wow! Ridiculous amounts of sodium. I always wonder what restaurants do to their food that makes it so much more unhealthy and full of sodium, fat, and calories than if someone were to make a similar dish at home.

  • Margarita

    I would imagine that some of that salt is not there for flavor, but as a preservative for some of the ingredients in the dishes, which just brings up another health issue – that of processed food.

  • That is insane. I had no idea. I don’t eat at Denny’s a lot because the food’s so unhealthy. But, some late nights, that’s the only option. I can’t believe the sodium content. Absolutely amazing!

    Thanks for sharing. I’ll be avoiding them now.

    Misty Faucheux
    Social Media Manager

  • Marisa

    I think you mean SALT is 40 percent SODIUM….since salt is sodium chloride!

  • I think those of us who want less salt do have a choice. We choose what is served to us, where it’s served and ultimately how it’s served. Denny’s, in general, is a choice. I have to agree with the reporter in that I assumed everyone has at least a small inclination that restaurants like Denny’s aren’t the healthiest meal options.

    Still, though, pretty shocking.

  • Sheila

    Stunning numbers, indeed. More fuel for my personal choice to eat my own foods, chosen and prepared by my hands. Yes, sometimes it would be more convenient to stop at a restaurant, but clearly, at my own peril. I feel bad for those who travel a lot in their professional lives, thus may have fewer options for always eating home-prepared foods.
    As a side note, I bet these same dishes listed today in the high sodium blog entry also have similarly high numbers for saturated fat and cholesterol.

  • Marion

    @Marisa–I did indeed. It is now fixed. Sodium is 40% of salt. Thanks.

  • Jack

    As long as we’re nit-picing, salt is a general term for any molecule with ionic bonding. For example, copper sulfate is a salt too. Thus, you can say that sodium chloride is 40% sodium or that table salt is 40% sodium. But it’s not accurate to say that *salt* is 40% sodium.

    Also, using more accurate molecular weights, it’s really only around 39.3% sodium. This means that Moons Over My Hammy, for example, has 2537 mg sodium. Which is still a lot.

    But we’re nitpicking. Remember? 🙂

  • Eliza

    “Maybe [CSPI’s] Michael Jacobson doesn’t want the public to have the choice of what he considers unhealthy food.”

    But, wait a minute, restaurant industry. The law suit is about not disclosing the amount of sodium, thereby not allowing consumers to make an informed choice. CSPI isn’t trying to outlaw junk food. Intentionally misleading statements like this destroy all credibility of these industry groups, no matter how much their names sound like venerable institutions looking after the good of mankind. “American Council on Science and Health,” please.

    Lawsuits are not my favorite thing, but what else besides potentially losing money and getting bad publicity do these corporations pay attention to?

    The sodium numbers are shocking.

  • Liam

    The US RDA for sodium is not some unequivocal Truth. For example, the RNI for sodium in the UK is 6000 mg. And it’s a minority of people with hypertension in the US who are sodium-sensitive, and it’s a rare doctor who tests how sodium-sensitive her patients with hypertension actually are; doctors typically prescribe the restriction in sodium as a way to get hypertensive patient to forego restaurant and processed foods that are “bad” for them in other somewhat correlated ways (higher saturated fat, for example).

  • Consumer choice? Sure. Don’t eat at Denny’s. Or IHOP. Or Applebee’s. Not if you are worried about your health anyway! It’s a pretty sure bet that you’re going to consume too much of something that isn’t good for you when you eat at large scale commercial chain restaurants.

  • I am a vegetarian and I worked for Denny’s when I was a senior in high school. I knew they were not good food then, but I was 19.

    Now I have left meat behind, as well as table sugar, but I admit I like my salt. But for people so add it without our knowledge is just plain wrong.

    You can purcahse things that are low-fat, low-sugar and even fat-free and sugar-free. But rarely if ever can you purcahse something that is low sodium or sodium free. Why? Because no one would buy it. We are a nation that is addicted to sugar, fat and salt. And the big industries are doing their darndest to get us and keep us hooked.

    I think they are winning, but not in this house.

    **Pardon all typos, I have no spellcheck**

  • Gillian

    And Cdn sodium numbers are worse than those, worse even in the same chain, among the worst in the world! Who knew? I rarely eat out.

  • See, this is exactly why I only eat at Waffle House.

  • Umm….the consumer has a choice. Don’t eat at Denny’s. Done.

  • sid

    Oh salt, why do you make bad-for-me gross-tasting when not completely tasteless corporate-yuk taste almost edible? You are truly a miracle product to hold so much power, the power to make huge foodcorp empires out of tasteless corporate yuck. Oh salt, we need you, but then you turn on us like this!

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  • Jon

    The salt hypertension issue is an interesting one. 80% of the sodium we eat is added by the manufacturer. The rest is split between naturally occurring sodium and salt we add in the form of salt, soy sauce, olives, or other salty condiments.

  • Daniel K Ithaca, NY

    If we think Denny’s could do a better job at producing food, we could Request them to do so, nicely of course.

    On-line form:

    Please give us your questions, suggestions and comments about your dining experience by contacting the Denny’s Call Center:

    Send letters to:
    Denny’s Call Center
    203 East Main Street P-8-6
    Spartanburg, SC 29319

    For general inquiries, call 864-597-8000

  • Daniel K Ithaca, NY

    And of course we vote with our Fork, ( and our dollar).

    Veg. Organic. Local.

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  • joeblow1984

    Frivolous lawsuits out of NaziFornia. Time for TORT REFORM! I would love to report this jerk to the bar. If I were a Judge I would label him a vexatious litigant. Prime example of Democraps and liberals who hate business.

  • joeblow1984

    But liberals say that would be unfair, as they are “tired of paying for people’s health insurance.” They won’t be happy until they have full death panels.

  • joeblow1984

    Jacobson is related to Adolf Hitler.