You want salt with that Moons Over My Hammy?

You already know Denny’s doesn’t exactly serve health food, so is it worth getting worked up over how much salt is in a typical Denny’s meal? The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) thinks so. They’ve initiated a lawsuit against Denny’s over the salt content of their meals.
Salt is 40% sodium, and it’s the sodium you want to limit in your diet, especially if you have high blood pressure. The recommended amount of sodium in the daily diet of a normal, healthy person is 2,300 mg. People with high blood pressure are advised to limit their sodium to 1,500 mg. The lawsuit claims that 75% of Denny’s meals contain more than 1,500 mg and that this puts the health of unsuspecting diners in jeopardy.
Not only is there too much salt at Denny’s, but it’s almost impossible to find out how much you’re eating. Some information is online, and if you’re very persistent, you may be able to get one of Denny’s little pamphlets with nutritional facts. According to the lawsuit (PDF), however, “the nutrition information available from Denny’s is so incomprehensible that calculation of each meal’s sodium content is impossible for the reasonable consumer to perform.”

Warning: Reading this could make you hungry

Here’s a sample of the meals cited in the lawsuit.
Moons Over My Hammy: Ham and scrambled egg sandwich with Swiss and American cheese on grilled sourdough served with hash browns. 3,230 mg sodium = 215% of the 1,500 mg daily limit.
The Super Bird: Turkey breast sandwich with melted Swiss cheese, bacon strips and tomato on grilled sourdough served with French fries. 2,610 mg sodium = 174% of the daily limit.
Double Cheeseburger: Two beef patties and four slices of American cheese with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and red onion served with French fries. 4,130 mg sodium = 275% of the daily limit. (For comparison, McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger with large fries has 1,500 mg sodium or 100% of the daily limit.)
Spicy Buffalo Chicken Melt: Fried chicken breast covered in a buffalo sauce with lettuce, tomato, and Swiss cheese on ciabatta bread with a garlic spread served with French fries. 4,120 mg sodium = 275% of daily limit.
Super Grand Slamwich: Two scrambled eggs, sausage, crispy bacon, shaved ham, mayonnaise, and American cheese on potato bread grilled with a maple spice spread served with hash browns. 3,710 mg sodium = 247% of daily limit.
Meat Lover’s Scramble: Two eggs with chopped bacon, diced ham, crumbled sausage, Cheddar cheese, served with two bacon strips, two sausage links, hash browns, and two pancakes. 5,690 mg sodium = 370% of daily limit.
Start your meal of Spicy Buffalo Chicken Melt with clam chowder, make those fries seasoned, and you have 6,700 mg of sodium, not to mention the 1,700 calories. That’s enough sodium for four and a half days.

If you don’t know what you’re eating, you have no choice

Hamburger with salt shakers

Two-pound Denny’s burger with salt shakers

Source: MSN City Guides

The class action lawsuit, filed in New Jersey, uses a Denny’s customer as a representative plaintiff. Mr. DeBenedetto is 48 years old, has high blood pressure (for which he takes medication), and watches his salt intake. He’s been eating at Denny’s for the past 10 to 20 years, usually favoring Moons Over My Hammy, but sometimes he has the Super Bird Sandwich. The lawsuit claims he would not have purchased these meals if he had known their salt content.
A reporter from Nation’s Restaurant News dismissed the idea of a lawsuit as absurd, according to nutritionist Marion Nestle. The reasoning: People don’t expect healthy food at Denny’s in the first place.
Nestle thinks CSPI may have a good chance of making an impact with this case, however. CSPI has been influential in the past, for example getting trans fats out of restaurant food. They were involved in the lawsuit that won $23.3 million in refunds for consumers who bought Airborne, a vitamin and herb supplement that claimed to cure and prevent colds.
Nestle’s take on the amount of salt in restaurant food:

I see this as a flat-out issue of consumer choice. If people want more salt, they can always add it at the table, but those of us who want less salt don’t have a choice at all. We are stuck with what is served to us, and if we don’t know how much salt the food contains (and taste isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of amount), we have no choice about the amount we are eating.

Bottom line: There are better reasons to avoid Denny’s than how much salt is in their food.


(Links will open in a separate window or tab.)

Unsafe Sodium Levels at Denny’s Prompt Class Action Lawsuit, Center for Science in the Public Interest, July 23, 2009
Nick DeBenedetto on behalf of himself and those similarly situated, vs. Denny’s Corporation, Class Action Complaint, July 23, 2009 (PDF)
Marion Nestle, Denny’s Sued Over Salt in Food, The Atlantic, July 24, 2009
Stephen Labaton, Denny’s Restaurants to Pay $54 Million in Race Bias Suits, The New York Times, May 25, 1994


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