Is hidden salt a hidden health hazard? Could Moon Over My Hammy be ... deadly?
Not directly, maybe, but a new class-action lawsuit (pdf) filed by New Jersey man Nick DeBenedetto, 48, with the support of the Center for Science in the Public Interest claims the restaurant chain's high-sodium meals are putting its customers at risk. DeBenedetto wants his money back: He's asking the New Jersey court to order Denny's to refund the cost of the meals he bought at Denny's. More importantly for the rest of us, the lawsuit seeks to compel Denny's to list the sodium content of its meals on the menu (at least in New Jersey), and to warn customers about the risks of a high-sodium diet.
The lawsuit labels sodium as "the deadliest ingredient in the food supply," and accuses Denny's of "deceptive and unconscionable commercial practices in its sales of meals containing alarmingly large and undisclosed amounts of sodium. More specifically, Denny's menu deceptively presents various items as single meals to be consumed by one individual without disclosing that they contain substantially more sodium (in some cases two or three times more) than the maximum recommended amount for all meals consumed by an individual during a given day."
One in three Americans has hypertension (including DeBenedetto), a risk factor for heart disease and stroke -- the No. 1 and No. 3 killers of U.S. residents. More than three-quarters of the sodium consumed by the average American comes from processed, take-out and restaurant foods, and 75% of Denny's menu items contain more than the daily recommended allotment of sodium. The Food and Drug Administration has considered federal limits on salt content in processed foods, but so far hasn't acted.
"I was astonished I mean, literally floored to find that these simple sandwiches have more salt than someone in my condition should have in a whole day," DeBenedetto said. "It's as if Denny's is stacking the deck against people like me. I never would have selected those items had I known."
Some examples cited in the lawsuit:
A previous Center for Science in the Public Interest study found that two of the top 10 saltiest meals in America are served by Denny's.
In private negotiations, the Center for Science in the Public Interest claims to have won concessions from Denny's -- in the form of lower-sodium cheese sauce, shrimp skewers and kids' meals -- but the center didn't get the holy grail: sodium content on menus.
In comments to the Los Angeles Times, Denny's called the lawsuit "frivolous and without merit," and cited its big menu as evidence that it offers a variety of choices for various dietary needs.
Setting aside the merits of the case for a minute -- or whether anyone should be "astonished" that Moons Over My Hammy isn't exactly health food -- consider that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that most Americans (about 70% of us) should consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium in an entire day. Nonetheless, the average American consumes somewhere between 3,400 and 4,000 mg of sodium.
Humans are hard-wired to want sodium because in the primitive diets salt was scarce but potassium was abundant. As a result, our bodies are designed to hold onto the sodium we consume. Now, our modern diets are almost completely reversed, with high-salt foods abundant and potassium (like that found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables) is a relatively small part of our diet. In short, we're out of whack.
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