Boston Market Takes Salt Off the Table: PR Stunt or Health Booster?

So you’ve had a rough day, and you’re all set to dig into your hard-earned plate of mac and cheese at Boston Market when you reach for the salt…what salt?

Where’s the salt? Where’s the bleeping salt!?

In fact, as of last week, that’s exactly what the cute little sign says (sans the bleeping) now occupying the former home of the salt shaker on every table of Boston Market. It goes on to explain that salt is now available at the beverage station, meaning you have to get up to get it — meaning that you have to decide: do I want to get off my lazy butt to get the salt, or can I still enjoy my piping hot plate of macaroni without it?

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Or so, it seems, the thinking goes behind the restaurant chain’s new effort to curtail the sodium intake of its beloved customers.

You’d think the public health community would be overjoyed at this “bold step,” as Boston Market CEO George Michel put it to The New York Times. “We are removing the temptation to put salt on food right away without even tasting it,” he says, calling it “part of our social responsibility and promise to deliver wholesome food.”

Indeed, some public health advocates hailed the move, like Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who cited the long-standing correlation between a high-salt diet and hypertension, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes

But other health experts say the whole shakers-off-the-table thing is less a “bold step” and more a big P.R. stunt.

“The science does not support an effort to reduce sodium in people who eat around three and a half grams of sodium a day, and that’s most Americans,” Michael H. Alderman, editor of the American Journal of Hypertension, told the Times. “Yet here we are doing silly things that are P.R. Salt shakers only account for about 10 percent of your salt intake.”

That's especially relevant when it comes to fast food, which is notoriously high in sodium (without the shaker). That hard-earned mac and cheese? A 7-ounce side-dish portion contains 1050 mg of sodium, which is 44 percent of your daily intake. Add a regular meatloaf to your order (1090 mg of sodium) and you've essentially hit your quota for the day.

Removing the shakers is likely to prompt some yowling from those who don't like their culinary freedom tampered with. When the Institute of Medicine proposed that the Food and Drug Administration limit how much sodium restaurants could put in their food, a similar outcry insued, the Times points out. (E.g., Rush Limbaugh: “They’re going to take away our salt shakers!”)

Now Boston Market has actually done just that (well, ok, moved them several feet away). But you know, you can always start hauling around your own shaker; last time we checked, you don’t even need a concealed-carry permit for that.

Related content on TakePart:

Eating Too Much Salt? Take the Nutrition Quiz to Find Out

Sodium Fix: Five Foods With the Most Salt

Put Down the Salt Shaker: Uncle Sam's New Rules for Healthy Eating

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