New initiative helps South Asian restaurants in Chicago use less salt

New initiative helps South Asian restaurants in Chicago use less salt

New York City is now requiring restaurants with more than 15 locations nationwide to post a warning label on menu items that have more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium (about 1 teaspoon), and those that don’t comply by March could be fined.

Although this measure is not in effect in Chicago, four South Asian restaurants – Curry Bowl, Mysore Woodlands, Gaylord Fine Indian Cuisine and Viceroy of India – on average, have reduced the sodium content in their food by 22.7 percent in the past several months, according to independent laboratory analysis.

South Asians are four times more likely to die from heart disease than the general population, according to a study published in Internet Journal of Cardiology. Sodium is a major contributor to high blood pressure and heart disease.

The restaurants answered a challenge posed by Dr. Shoeb Sitafalwalla, medical director of the South Asian Cardiovascular Center at the Advocate Heart Institute at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill, and the Chicago Department of Public Health.

As part of a new initiative, called South Asian Healthy Eating Benefits (SAHEB), chefs at the restaurants receive hours of nutrition training from a SAHEB-appointed registered dietitian with the goal of reducing sodium, but not reducing the taste of their popular menu items. With very simple techniques, the registered dietitian helps keep the taste, but lower the sodium.

“The success behind SAHEB exemplifies the power of partnerships,” says Dr. Sitafalwalla. “In this case, a partnership between health care, government and these vested businesses can uplift the health of an entire community.”

Each of the participating restaurants now has a SAHEB seal on the window boasting their accomplishment. Recruitment of additional South Asian restaurants is expected in the future.

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  1. It’s about time. Gluten free is everywhere, but not salt free. I believe there are more people with high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.that need to limit salt intake than those requiring no gluten. Gluten free seems to be the new food fad, similar to the old fat free fad.

  2. Dr. Ashwani Garg

    South Asian restaurants are definitely not the place to go for healthy food. There are 2 main divisions in Indian cooking – most of the restaurants serve Mughlai (Punjabi) or North Indian food, and South Indian Food which includes the rice-lentil crepes known as Dosai and the dumplings known as Idli. What we cook at home is MUCH different from what we get at a restaurant. Remember the typical restaurant meal may include items such as Naan bread (made with white flour and doused with butter), Palak Paneer (spinach roasted with heavy cream, lots of oil and loaded with fresh cheese), while delicious it’s deadly; and Tandoori Chicken, which is usually marinated in a creamy yogurt sauce and cooked in an oven. None of these are the nourishing, healthy food that your Indian mother would serve at home (except maybe for celebrations). Reducing the salt somewhat for the above items does nothing to make them healthy, and rather than spending your time and money at an Indian restaurant, I would learn how to cook at home, get a spice bin, and a pressure cooker, maybe a tortilla press, and you can prepare much tastier dishes at home.

    As far as South Indian food, that is the only Indian food I will generally eat when going out. I will have Idli and Sambhar, which is a rice-lentil dumpling served with coconut chutney, and a side of spicy vegetable and lentil soup. I will skip the “Lassi” and milkshakes, and definitely skip the dessert, loaded with sugary syrups and fat. Remember Indians are the leading people in the world with heart disease (accounting for 1/2 the world’s heart disease burden) and reducing the salt a little in the above mentioned heart attack causing foods will do nothing to reduce that burden. Instead, Indians should learn healthier cooking techniques at home such as steam-frying (without oil), and baking/broiling vegetables for flavor, then preparing curries made with cashew cream instead of heavy cream (for those special occasions) and preparing whole grain chapatis instead of white flour naan (not putting butter on it). For some healthy recipes, go to You Tube, and search for AAPI Be Fit Be Cool, you will see healthfully prepared Indian recipes, without using oil, by Chef Sanjay Thumma. If you speak Hindi, go to You Tube, search for “Khana Badlo, Jeevan Badlo” and you will see a 20 minute talk by Dr. Agrawal of Sharan-India, talking about heart disease and healthier cooking techniques. If you’re ready to take a 21-day challenge and get free recipes and inspiration on healthier Indian food, go to and sign up for free!

About the Author

Sonja Vojcic
Sonja Vojcic

Sonja Vojcic, health enews contributor, is a marketing manager at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove, Ill. She has several years of international public relations and marketing experience with a Master’s degree in Communications from DePaul University. In her free time, Sonja enjoys spending time with her family, travelling, and keeping up with the latest health news and fashion trends.