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These 10 Meals Reveal One Thing Fast Food Restaurants Still Get Wrong

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FAST FOOD
Tim Macpherson via Getty Images

The average chain restaurant is cutting back on sodium -- very. slowly.

According to a new report from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the most prominent national chains slashed sodium by just six percent from 2009 to 2013, which amounts to about 1.5 percent per year.

Among the 136 meals from 17 popular chain restaurants reviewed by the CSPI, McDonald's, Burger King and Subway made the most drastic cuts. The Subway sandwich chain reduced sodium by nearly a third overall and had made reductions in all of the 10 meals the CSPI reviewed. For example, in 2009, a 12-inch ham sandwich with a bag of chips and a Diet Coke would set back a Subway diner 2,730 milligrams of sodium, but the same meal reviewed in 2013 contained 1,895 milligrams.

Even the reduced salt content of a single Subway sandwich is well over the 1,500 daily milligrams of sodium recommended by the CDC for at least half of the U.S. population -- including anyone who has high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, is over age 51 or is African American. The rest of the population should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium in a day.

In fact, 79 percent of the 81 adult meals CSPI surveyed contained more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium, and some restaurants even increased their use of the salty stuff. KFC and Jack in the Box were the worst offenders, according to the report, raising the average sodium content by 12.4 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively.

"Some companies are clearly making an effort, but we won’t see sustained progress by all companies unless they know that their competitors will be lowering sodium also," CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said in a statement.

Per the Affordable Care Act, national chain restaurants like the ones sampled here are now required to list calories on in-store menus and to provide full nutrition information at the request of customers and on company websites. So while concerned consumers can certainly keep an eye on their sodium counts, to do so requires a bit of extra sleuthing. As a shortcut to sussing out the worst offenders, the CSPI compiled 10 of the saltiest meals sampled -- a list to certainly stay away from. Below are 10 common combinations of entrees, sides and drinks at restaurants near you that contain surprisingly high sodium counts, according to the CSPI's full report.

  • 10
    Olive Garden Spaghetti & Italian Sausage
    Spaghetti & Italian Sausage: 3,090 milligrams
    Garden Fresh Salad with House Dressing: 760 milligrams
    Sprite: 20 milligrams

    Total Sodium: 3,870 milligrams
  • 9
    Red Lobster Shrimp Scampi
    Shrimp Scampi: 990 milligrams
    Coconut Shrimp Bites: 760 milligrams
    Fried Shrimp: 860 milligrams
    Coleslaw: 250 milligrams
    Fries: 740 milligrams
    Cheddar Bay Biscuit: 350 milligrams
    Minute Maid Light Lemonade: 90 milligrams

    Total Sodium: 4,040 milligrams
  • 8
    Olive Garden Chicken & Shrimp Carbonara
    Chicken & Shrimp Carbonara: 3,000 milligrams
    Zuppa Toscana: 960 milligrams
    Breadstick: 370 milligrams
    Dr Pepper: 35 milligrams

    Total Sodium: 4,365 milligrams
  • 7
    Arby's Beef 'n Cheddar Mid
    Justin Sullivan via Getty Images
    Beef 'n Cheddar Mid: 1,760 milligrams
    Large Mozzarella Sticks with Marinara Sauce: 2,670 milligrams
    Large Dr Pepper: 81 milligrams

    Total Sodium: 4,511 milligrams
  • 6
    Olive Garden Chicken Parmigiana
    Chicken Parmigiana: 3,380 milligrams
    Garden Fresh Salad with House Dressing: 760 milligrams
    Breadstick: 370 milligrams
    Raspberry Lemonade: 15 milligrams

    Total Sodium: 4,525 milligrams
  • 5
    Red Lobster Fried Oysters
    Fried Oysters: 1,100 milligrams
    Fried Crawfish: 1,480 milligrams
    Garlic Shrimp Scampi: 960 milligrams
    Caesar Salad: 560 milligrams
    Cheddar Bay Biscuit: 350 milligrams
    Sprite: 80 milligrams

    Total Sodium: 4,530 milligrams
  • 4
    Olive Garden Tour of Italy Lasagna
    Tour of Italy Lasagna: 3,830 milligrams
    Garden Fresh Salad with House Dressing: 760 milligrams
    Breadstick: 370 milligrams
    Coca-Cola: 5 milligrams

    Total Sodium: 4,965 milligrams
  • 3
    Red Lobster North Pacific King Crab Legs
    North Pacific King Crab Legs: 4,070 milligrams
    Garden Salad with French Dressing: 550 milligrams
    Baked Potato with Butter & Sour Cream: 400 milligrams
    Cheddar Bay Biscuit: 350 milligrams
    Coca-Cola: 60 milligrams

    Total Sodium: 5,430 milligrams
  • 2
    Chili's Crispy Honey-Chipotle Chicken Crispers
    Crispy Honey-Chipotle Chicken Crispers with Ranch: 4,100 milligrams
    Steamed Broccoli: 450 milligrams
    Loaded Mashed Potatoes: 810 milligrams
    Dr Pepper: 70 milligrams

    Total Sodium: 5,430 milligrams
  • 1
    Red Lobster Admiral's Feast
    Admiral's Feast: 3,830 milligrams
    Caesar Salad: 560 milligrams
    Creamy Lobster Topped Mashed Potato: 1,000 milligrams
    Cheddar Bay Biscuit: 350 milligrams
    Minute Maid Light Lemonade: 90 milligrams

    Total Sodium: 5,830 milligrams
 
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