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Monday Meeting: Sodium & Saturation

Filed under Healthy

New York City’s new labeling rule for high-sodium foods will have less impact on quick-service burger chains than the state’s planned gradual rise to a $15-an-hour minimum wage that New York state has approved.

Members of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene voted unanimously last week to require restaurants to add a menu warning label—depicting a salt shaker—for food items containing more than the 2,300 mg recommended daily maximum. Yes, french fries, can be high in sodium, but nutritionists looking to point fingers at quick-service menus can skip burgers: very few major-chain burgers will require a warning label.

Red Robin's Smoke & Pepper Burger

Red Robin’s Smoke & Pepper Burger will merit a sodium warning in New York City.

In fact, no single burger at Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, In-N-Out Burger, Sonic and others is over the sodium threshold. Carl’s Jr., never one for culinary moderation, goes just over the top with its ½ lb. Thickburger Diablo (2,630 mg), the 1/3-lb.version (2,440 mg) and the ½ lb. Mile High Bacon Cheeseburger.

But those numbers pale in comparison with the sodium levels in burgers offered at some casual-dining chains. The Big Mouth Bites at Chili’s pack 4,520 mg of sodium. Close behind are Chili’s Southern Smokestack Burger (4,470 mg) and Sweet & Smoky Burger (4,020 mg). Applebee’s Quesadilla Burger has 3,250 mg.

Several of Red Robin’s top-tier Finest burgers will be wearing warnings: the Southern Charm (3,377 mg); the Smoke & Pepper Burger (3,778 mg) and Black & Bleu Burger (4,496 mg), all of which come with Bottomless Fries.

Of course, many of these casual-dining burgers are larger than quick-service burgers, which in part explains the sodium differences. But the point is that with this nutrition crusade at least, quick-service burgers needn’t be demonized.


An updated Food Environment Atlas compiled by the USDA’s Economic Research Service has been issued. A number of its interactive maps could be useful to those plotting unit expansion, since it’s possible to drill down to county-by-county restaurant density (2012 vs. 2007) not only of quick-service and full-service restaurants but also of grocery stores. Maps detailing food prices and taxes, local foods and socioeconomic characteristics also are part of the package, available here.

Below are the maps for fast-food and full-service restaurant density in 2012. Click on the images to go to ERS site for full, interactive versions.

Fast food density 2012

Full service density