Satirical video series highlight sodium content of chain-restaurant meals

Subway, P.F. Chang’s, and McDonald’s are among the chains vying for MilliGrammys—a new satirical award conferred by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest in the form of three  short   videos patterned on the Grammy Awards.

Warning—spoilers ahead!

The MilliGrammys recognize foods that deliver ridiculous amounts of sodium, and the restaurants that make those foods,” says one of the award’s two presenters. 

The first MilliGrammy, for Sodium Content in a Sandwich by a Chain Restaurant, was given to Subway for its Footlong Spicy Italian with Provolone and Mayo, which has 3,380 milligrams of sodium.  Subway edged out entries from Arby’s and Jimmy John’s.  To put the Spicy Italian’s sodium into context, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a daily upper limit of 2,300 mg, and says that people with prehypertension or hypertension can lower their blood pressure even more by limiting sodium to 1,500 mg.  So that’s one-and-a-half times the daily sodium allowance in a single sandwich (or 1/8 of your daily allowance per inch).

Despite some initial onstage confusion (sound familiar?), P.F. Chang’s Pad Thai with Shrimp was given the first-ever MilliGrammy for Sodium Content in a Single Menu Item.  The dish has 5,250 milligrams of sodium.  That’s more than a two-day supply.  Or, as a MilliGrammy presenter put it, the dish has the equivalent of 26 carry-out packets of salt.  P.F. Chang’s meal eclipsed competing items from The Cheesecake Factory and McDonald’s.

A special MilliGrammy for Lifetime Achievement was awarded to Chili’s for its decades-long embrace of high-sodium meals.  The award is exemplified by current offerings such Chili’s Beef Bacon Ranch Quesadilla, which has 3,990 mg of sodium, its Crispy Fiery Pepper Crispers (6,240 mg), and its full rack of Texas Dry Rub Ribs (6,250 mg).

“Salt is the deadliest ingredient in the food supply, and one of the biggest problems with chain-restaurant food,” said CSPI co-founder and senior scientist Michael F. Jacobson.  “But most chains aren’t making much progress in reducing sodium.  Thanks to the MilliGrammys, Americans will learn a bit more about what they’re eating.”

CSPI has pushed for broad sodium reductions in the food supply for decades.  In 2005, CSPI petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to set reasonable upper limits on the sodium content of packaged and restaurant foods.  Ten years later, represented by Public Citizen, CSPI sued the FDA for its failure to act on that petition.  In 2016, the FDA proposed—but after a year has still not finalized—a set of voluntary sodium reduction targets, which CSPI says could prevent thousands of annual premature deaths and billions in medical costs. 

“Safe sodium limits could save as many as 100,000 American lives per year,” Jacobson said. “It’s time for FDA to finalize the rulemaking.”

CSPI created the MilliGrammys with the help of Denver-based Lumenati Productions and Mike Howard of  Their collaborations have previously included the reimagining of a famous Coca-Cola commercial and the construction of a stand offering cups of Happiness.