TribLIVE

| USWorld

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Philly's Chinese eateries slash sodium to save lives

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By The Associated Press
Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 9:21 p.m.
 

PHILADELPHIA — Amar Jones knows that high-salt Chinese takeout is not good for his high blood pressure. But the lure of shrimp with broccoli is hard to resist.

So he was heartened recently to hear that his favorite dish now has 20 percent less sodium, thanks to a citywide effort to battle hypertension, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.

“People might think I'm being extreme, but you're probably going to save some lives,” Jones said. “You might save my life.”

Organizers have recruited more than 200 eateries across Philadelphia for the city's Healthy Chinese Takeout Initiative, which aims to reduce the food's salt content by 10 to 15 percent.

Participants have made several changes, such as flavoring orders with chilies or garlic instead of sodium; using less sauce; distributing soy sauce packets only on demand; and posting nutrition information.

It's the latest effort by a major city to help people eat better. Many have banned trans fats, and some require restaurants to post calorie counts.

Philadelphia has focused on salt consumption because 37 percent of residents have high blood pressure. The number jumps to 47 percent for blacks, according to a 2012 survey by the Public Health Management Corp.

The multi-agency initiative, which began about a year ago, focuses on mom-and-pop Chinese joints because they are “an enormous industry” in the city, serving about 3 million meals a year, said Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz.

The dishes are cheap and easily available, especially in low-income minority neighborhoods that often lack supermarkets and access to fresh produce.

But many residents — and even takeout owners — did not realize how the meals affected their health, said Schwarz.

“In some restaurants, the restaurateurs were really taken aback by the amount of sodium in their food,” Schwarz said.

Dietary guidelines recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day — about a teaspoon. Yet an order of chicken lo mein from local takeouts averaged 3,200 milligrams, while shrimp with broccoli had 1,900 milligrams.

Organizers offered a series of low-sodium cooking classes last summer with the goal of changing the ingredients but not the taste.

Nine months later, salt content in those two dishes was down 20 percent in samples from 20 restaurants. Researchers plan to test the food again in a few months, and expand the program to other items.

Steven Zhu, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association, recruited participants by saying healthier food could attract more customers. Still, some owners declined because they worry about losing business.

“Change is always not an easy process, and there was some reluctance in the beginning when we started this project,” said Grace Ma, director of Temple University's Center for Asian Health.

Xue Xiu Liu, owner of Choy Yung Inn in the city's Point Breeze community, said through a translator that he got involved to improve customers' health. Business is about the same, Liu said.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Nation

  1. West Virginia on pace to issue record number of concealed-carry permits
  2. Obama orders steeper emission cuts from power plants
  3. Hitchhiking robot’s journey west cut short in Philly
  4. Phoenix man accused of beheading wife, dogs jailed on $2M bail
  5. Wreckage from Challenger, Columbia goes on display
  6. GOP leaders aloof as Texas Attorney General Paxton indicted for securities fraud
  7. 5,000 homes in peril of Northern Calif. wildfire
  8. Manhunt under way for suspect in Memphis officer’s killing
  9. Tent blows off mooring, kills 1 near Chicago
  10. Veterans notified of info breach in South Dakota
  11. Finish 44-year Hamtramck housing bias case soon, judge tells lawyers