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20 Foods Your Cardiologist Won't Eat

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Salty food may seem like the least of your worries, especially if you're among the 40 percent of people who mindlessly shake salt on every dish. An extra dash here, a few sprinkles there—what's the big deal?

A lot, when you consider the fact that a mere teaspoon of the stuff contains all 2,300 milligrams (mg) of your recommended daily allotment. Yet daily salt consumption is on the rise in the United States—from 2,300 mg in the 1970s to more than 3,300 mg today. And according to Monell Chemical Senses Center researchers, 77 percent of that sodium intake comes from processed-food purveyors and restaurants. Their motivation: Pile on the salt so we don't miss natural flavors and fresh ingredients.

Why is that a problem? With ever-expanding portion sizes, supersalty foods are displacing fresh fruits and vegetables, which are rich in potassium. And a 1:2 ratio of dietary salt to potassium is critical for your health. Studies show that a high-sodium, low-potassium diet is linked to a host of maladies, including high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis, and exercise-induced asthma.

To protect your heart, your bones, your muscles, and your tastebuds, we scoured takeout menus and supermarket shelves to expose the 20 saltiest foods in America. No need to take the information with a grain of salt. These dishes provide plenty.

1. The Saltiest Dish in America

Romano's Macaroni Grill Chicken Portobello

Sodium 7,300 mg
Calories 1,020
Fat 66 g

Salt Equivalent: 48 strips of bacon

With three items on our top 20 list, plus a slew of dishonorable mentions, Macaroni Grill earns its title as America's saltiest chain restaurant. But what makes this the saltiest dish in America? One word: demi-glace, a fancy French name for the viscous salt slick that blankets this disastrous dish. You would have to eat 32 cups of potassium-rich broccoli to compensate for this sodium avalanche.

2. Saltiest Appetizer

Papa John's Cheesesticks with Buffalo Sauce  

Sodium 6,700 mg
Calories 2,605
Fat 113 g
Carbohydrates 296 g

Salt Equivalent: 20 orders of McDonald's large French fries

If you were to split this appetizer with two friends, you'd still be close to downing your daily sodium allowance before you even reach for the pizza. Each stick packs the same amount of sodium as a small slice of cheese pizza, and that's without dipping. Your best bet? Cheese pizza. Thin crust.

3. Saltiest Seafood Entrée

Romano's Macaroni Grill Grilled Teriyaki Salmon

Sodium 6,590 mg
Calories 1,230
Fat 74 g
Carbohydrates 79 g

Salt Equivalent: 173 Saltine crackers

Think you're playing it smart by opting for fish? The slather of teriyaki, which is essentially highly sweetened soy sauce in concentrated form, sinks that strategy fast. The grilled halibut, topped with a fresh tomato-basil relish instead, has just a quarter of the sodium.

4. Saltiest Mexican Entrée

Chili's Buffalo Chicken Fajitas

Sodium 5,690 mg
Calories 1,730
Fat 107 g
Carbohydrates 143 g

Salt Equivalent: 3 1/2 pounds of salted peanuts

Here are a few offenders to choke on: fried chicken, Buffalo sauce, blue cheese, smoked bacon, ranch dressing, and sour cream. All make this the sodium equivalent of single-handedly downing three and a half baskets of Chili's bottomless tostada chips. Add rice and beans, and you've just ordered 3 days' worth of sodium and an entire day of calories. If you're salt-sensitive, avoid fajitas—any kind of fajitas—at all costs.

5. Saltiest Salad

Romano's Macaroni Grill Chicken Florentine

Sodium 5,460 mg
Calories 840
Fat 53 g

Salt Equivalent: 27 small bags of potato chips

Salads are often the biggest blood-pressure boosters on the menu, since the innocent leaves play perfect host to a flurry of briny toppings and dangerous dressings. Here, salt-laden olives, capers, and Parmesan collide with Macaroni Grill's massive portions and its cooks' affinity for the saltshaker.

The only reasonable insalata on the menu is the Mozzarella alla Caprese: It has 450 calories and 760 mg sodium.  

6. Saltiest Comfort Food

Denny's Meat Loaf Dinner (with mashed potatoes and corn)

Sodium 5,080 mg
Calories 1,210
Fat 69 g
Carbohydrates 97 g

Salt Equivalent: 100 cups of popcorn

There's nothing comforting about a dinner that carries the same sodium load as 27 strips of bacon. Trade the salty loaf for the Steakhouse Strip Dinner, which has just 460 mg sodium and 390 calories (before sides).

7. Saltiest Pizza

Pizza Hut Meat Lover's Stuffed Crust Pizza (3 slices of the 14'' large)

Sodium 5,070 mg
Calories 1,560
Fat 87 g
Carbohydrates 114 g

Salt Equivalent: 34 strips of bacon

A good rule of thumb: Never order a pizza with more than a single meat topping. Because if the calories don't get you, the salt will. This problematic pie has six meats and 4,000 mg sodium too much.  

8. Saltiest Sandwich

Quiznos Turkey Bacon Guacamole Large Sub with Cheese and Reduced-Fat Ranch Dressing

Sodium 4,670 mg
Calories 1,120
Fat 49 g
Carbohydrates 116 g

Salt Equivalent: 7 large orders of onion rings from Burger King

First, skip the large sandwich. At Quiznos, few come in under 1,000 calories and 3,000 mg sodium. Next, abandon mozzarella for Swiss, which has a tenth of the sodium. Finally, choose one of the low-calorie subs at Quiznos—the Tuscan Turkey, or better yet, the Honey Bourbon Chicken.

9. Saltiest Bread

Dunkin' Donuts Salt Bagel

Sodium 4,520 mg
Calories 320
Carbohydrates 62 g

Salt Equivalent: 13 orders of McDonald's large French fries

This bagel is more like a giant salt-encrusted pretzel, delivering 188 percent of your recommended daily sodium intake.

10. Saltiest Frozen Dinner

Swanson Hungry-Man XXL Roasted Carved Turkey

Sodium 4,480 mg
Calories 1,360
Fat 70 g

Salt Equivalent: 118 Saltine crackers

Yes, the nutrition data on the back suggests that the package contains two servings, but the label proudly proclaims the 1 1/2 pounds inside, and besides, how many guys are going to share their frozen dinner?   

11. Saltiest Beef Entrée

Bob Evans Steak Tips and Noodles

Sodium 4,131 mg
Calories 822
Fat 43 g

Salt Equivalent: 2 1/2 pounds of salted peanuts

Bob lubricates his take on beef stroganoff with a huge ladleful of gravy, damning this dish before you even poke your fork into it. Try your steak without the salt bath: The regular sirloin has half the calories and a commendable 638 mg sodium.

12. Saltiest Breakfast

Arby's Sausage Gravy Biscuit

Sodium 3,754 mg
Calories 961

Salt Equivalent: 25 strips of bacon

Yes, cured meat and lard-riddled biscuits are found in this troubled Southern staple, but the coat of gravy carries 2,600 mg sodium on its own, making it the primary offender.

13. Saltiest Chinese Entrée

P.F. Chang's Beef with Broccoli

Sodium 3,752 mg
Calories 1,120
Fat 65 g

Salt Equivalent: 6 large orders of Burger King onion rings

Like many Chinese dishes, this ubiquitous entrée sounds deceptively healthy. Also like many Chinese dishes, this meal is swimming in a murky brown sauce made mostly of soy sauce and oil. Skip the fried rice (it can contain up to 2,700 mg sodium on its own) and send out an SOS ("sauce on the side") to your server.

14. Saltiest Pasta

Fazoli's Rigatoni Romano

Sodium 3,180 mg
Calories 1,090
Fat 54 g
Carbohydrates 101 g

Salt Equivalent: 63 cups of popcorn

Salt is one of the top ingredients in Italian sausage, meat sauce, and mozzarella cheese, the three items that serve as this dish's backbone. Simply order your noodles topped with marinara sauce and peppery chicken. The chicken has just 1 g fat and less sodium than the other toppings you can order for your pasta.

15. Saltiest "Healthy" Food

Chili's Guiltless Grill Chicken Platter

Sodium 2,780 mg
Calories 590
Carbohydrates 85 g

Salt Equivalent: Almost two pounds (about 32 handfuls) of salted peanuts

Beware the bait and switch. Many restaurants and packaged-food producers advertise their dishes as being low in calories and fat, only to jack up the sugar and salt content. Case in point: This platter actually has more sodium than Chili's 1,890-calorie Country Fried Steak with sides, toast, and gravy. Stick with the Guiltless Salmon, the best choice on Chili's sometimes-healthy special menu.

16. Saltiest Burger

Hardee's 2/3 lb Monster Thickburger

Sodium 2,770 mg
Calories 1,420
Fat 108 g

Salt Equivalent: 8 orders of McDonald's large French fries

More than 100 percent of your daily sodium allowance is trapped inside this burger's bun. And the three slices of processed American cheese are oozing with 780 mg sodium. Try the Low-Carb Thickburger—you'll shave 1,000 calories and 1,700 mg sodium.

17. Saltiest Kids' Food

Così Kid's Pepperoni Pizza

Sodium 2,731 mg
Calories 911
Fat 43 g
Carbohydrates 112 g

Salt Equivalent: 13 small bags of potato chips

We’ve seen some fuzzy math in the past few months concerning this Cosi catastrophe, with the sodium count changing literally overnight from 6,405 mg sodium to the current number. We’ve tried to sort this out with the Cosi people, but have gotten little hope clarifying the sudden shift. One thing is clear, though: Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt, a pizza with 2,731 milligrams of sodium and 911 calories is the last thing you should be serving your kid.

18. Saltiest Soup

Baja Fresh Chicken Tortilla Soup

Sodium 2,760 mg
Calories 320

Salt Equivalent: 72 Saltine crackers

Soup and salt are nearly synonymous in the food world, but Baja takes it to the extreme, sinking more than a day's worth of sodium into a single serving. Start with a bowl of stewed black beans with a scoop of fresh salsa instead; a serving has an eye-popping, belly-filling 26 grams of fiber, with less than half the salt of the soup.

19. Saltiest Dessert

Atlanta Bread Company Raspberry Scone

Sodium 1,750 mg
Calories 360

Salt Equivalent: 35 cups of popcorn

This fruit scone packs the same sodium load as seven servings of bacon at Atlanta Bread Company. If you need a sweet fix, opt instead for the pumpkin bread, which has a tenth of the sodium (160 mg).

20. Saltiest Side Dish

Denny's Honey Smoked Ham, grilled slice

Sodium 1,700 mg
Calories 85

Salt Equivalent: 12 strips of bacon

Calorie for calorie, this is the saltiest dish in America.

This side is steeped in salty brine before it's smoked, soaking up 70 percent of your daily sodium intake.

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20 Foods Your Cardiologist Won't Eat