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‘Milligrammys’ recognize the saltiest restaurant meals in America

Sandwiched between last month’s Emmys and the approaching Grammy ceremony in January comes a cheeky new entry in the award show category: The Milligrammys.


Salt SpilledIn a series of video spoofs released Wednesday by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the mock awards “recognize foods that deliver ridiculous amounts of sodium, and the restaurants that make those foods,” says one of the two hosts announcing the nominees and winners.

For instance, in the category of sodium content in a sandwich, Subway’s foot-long Spicy Italian with provolone and mayo and its 3,380 milligrams of sodium beat out Arby’s Half-Pound French Dip with Swiss (3,350 milligrams) and Jimmy John’s Smoked Ham Club (2,060 milligrams).

However, “each of these sandwiches contains more than the healthy daily limit of sodium, so there are truly no losers here,” points out one of the hosts.

“Except the 100,000 Americans who die every year from sodium-related heart disease and stroke,” the other adds.

The sodium content is based on information found on the websites of each restaurant.

Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., CSPI’s co-founder and senior scientist, said each video is meant to grab the public’s attention.

“The intent is to shock the public with information about the extraordinarily high sodium levels in many popular restaurant foods and, hopefully, to get the restaurant industry to lower those levels,” he said.

Americans consume far more sodium than recommended, with the greatest source of it coming from restaurant, processed and prepackaged foods. Restaurants alone account for 30 percent of the sodium in the average adult’s diet, according to federal estimates.

Research has shown that high sodium intake contributes to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke and other health problems. Yet most Americans consume more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, which far exceeds the 2,300-milligram limit suggested by the federal government.

The American Heart Association recommends people keep sodium below 1,500 milligrams a day for ideal heart health.

The Milligrammys helps illustrate those measurements by using salt packets, like those found on restaurant tables.

“If you poured 11 of these into your mouth, you’d still be within your maximum daily sodium – just barely,” one of the show’s hosts points out.

Yet the Milligrammy winner for “sodium content in a single menu item” contains the equivalent of 26 salt packets, he notes.

And in a nod to this year’s “Best Picture” debacle at the Oscars (in which La La Land was accidentally declared the winner instead of the actual victor, Moonlight), the Milligrammy is awarded to P.F. Chang’s Pad Thai — after originally being presented to McDonald’s Big Mac Value Meal.

Lawrence Appel, M.D., director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research at Johns Hopkins University, praised CSPI’s attempt at trying to find a new way to deliver an often-repeated message.

“People get bored with the same message being delivered the same way or even just tweaked a bit. So a clever way to transmit information? That’s great,” he said.

“I think we need to make people aware of sodium and its sources because it’s not always obvious,” Appel said. “The reality is, we have an enormous number of people who consume meals outside of the home. We really don’t know the types of nutrients that are often in these foods.”

Jacobson said New York City is leading the charge in warning consumers about sodium content.  In 2015, the city became the first in the country to require chain restaurants to flag its high-sodium menu items with a salt shaker icon. Those warnings are now placed next to any menu item with more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium, roughly equivalent to a teaspoon of salt.

But Jacobson said he’d like to see similar efforts across the country. He also wants the federal government to push harder on the voluntary sodium targets it gave the restaurant and food manufacturing industry in June 2016.

“The Food and Drug Administration may chicken out in finalizing the voluntary sodium targets, so we’re just trying to help raise public attention and keep the sodium issue on the front burner,” he said.

“We’re also trying to do it in a relatable, fun way. We hope to get people’s attention, and get them to smile — and get them to be disgusted by the excessive sodium content of some of these meals — meals that have a whole day’s worth, or sometimes even two or three whole days’ worth of sodium.”

All three Milligrammy videos can be found on CSPI’s website or on its YouTube page.

Interested in becoming more involved in issues like this? Join the Kids Meals Action team here!