A class-action suit filed in New Jersey by longtime Denny's patron Nick DeBenedetto and backed by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) alleges that "Most meals at Denny's restaurants meals are dangerously high in salt, putting the chain's customers at greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke."
The CSPI claims that Denny's nutritional information should be available in its restaurants, not just online, and wants a judge to force Denny's to disclose on its menus the amount of table salt (sodium chloride) in each of its meals and to place a notice on its menus warning about high sodium levels.
It had been in talks with the chain earlier this year, and Denny's did go on to reduce the amount of sodium in some dishes, as part of its Better For You selection, but that's not enough for the CSPI, which states that, "By concealing an important material fact about its products--namely, that that these foods have disease-promoting levels of sodium--Denny's is failing its responsibility to its customers and is in violation of the laws of New Jersey and several other states."
A Denny's spokesman has retorted, saying the company "will fight the lawsuit aggressively in court. With hundreds of items on the menu, Denny's offers a wide variety of choices for consumers with different lifestyles, understanding that many have special dietary needs."
So what are the safe and "dangerous" levels being talked about? According to the US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture, the maximum recommended amount of sodium per day is 2,300 milligrams, or 1,500 milligrams for black people, middle-aged and older adults, and anyone with hypertension. DeBenedetto, aged 48, who takes a prescription medication to control his high blood pressure and who "at home does not cook with salt or use the salt shaker" (the implication being that Denny's may be the cause of his high BP), often opts for the Moons Over My Hammy or the Super Bird turkey sandwich, both of which contain far more than 1,500 mg, "even without soup, salad, fried onion rings, or other side dishes".
Indeed, on the face of it, it seems that eating a full meal at Denny's is like taking your life in your hands: a bowl of clam chowder, a Spicy Buffalo Chicken Melt and a side of seasoned fries contains 6,700 mg of sodium in total--more than four days' worth of sodium.
Says DeBenedetto, "I was astonished--I mean, literally floored--to find that these simple sandwiches have more salt than someone in my condition should have in a whole day. It's as if Denny's is stacking the deck against people like me. I never would have selected those items had I known."
The statement by the CSPI goes so far as to say, "Denny's is slowly sickening its customers... For those Americans who should be most careful about limiting their sodium, it's dangerous to eat at Denny's."
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Dr. Stephen Havas, of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, has also weighed in on the issue, warning that for some people, particularly Denny's elderly patrons, getting several days' worth of sodium in a single meal might be enough to trigger congestive heart failure."
In addition to the Denny's lawsuit, the CSPI has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to regulate salt as a food additive and to restrict sodium levels in various categories of food.
Agreed, it's a good idea for nearly all of us to cut down on salt, and the levels in some of Denny's dishes do seem shockingly high, but, newsflash to Mr DeBenedetto: Could you really not taste it? I mean, who goes to Denny's thinking they're going to get a healthy meal? It's easy, cheap comfort food, pure and simple.
In any case, it's not just the salt you need to watch out for, but the fat content too. I mean, c'mon, that's about as ridiculous as trying to sue McDonald's for making us fat. Oh, wait.