Note: The “Sodium Limit” has been added to the Pounds Off Playoff in place of “800 Calories/800mg Sodium”. The latter was a plan to limit restaurant eating to approximately one-third of a day’s worth of calories and sodium. The "Sodium Limit" is a similar plan, but also considers saturated fat.
Restaurants challenge anyone who is trying to eat healthy. The study on this web site, “Out of Control: Restaurant Entrees and Daily Values,” demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of entrees at the largest chains are excessive in sodium and saturated fat. Many are excessive in calories as well.
To guide healthy eaters, the Pounds Off Playoff proposes a new rule of thumb, the “Rule of 7”. It’s based on the concept of limiting restaurant eating to one-third of daily guidelines set forth by the Food and Drug Administration. The “Rule of 7” is that restaurant meals should average “7” in calories, saturated fat, and calories. It’s not perfect, but it’s close enough for a rule of thumb.
Calories. Based on the FDA Daily Reference Value (DV) of 2000 calories, one-third of a daily allotment is 667 calories. For “Rule of 7” purposes, this would be simplified to 6.7.
Saturated Fat. The DV of saturated fat is 20 grams, so one-third would be 6.7, the same as with calories.
Sodium. The DV for sodium is 2300 or 2400mg (depending on the source), so one-third of a day would be 800mg. For “Rule of 7” purposes, this would be simplified to 8. (If you are at-risk for high blood pressure, some experts recommend limiting sodium to 1500mg/day, in which case you have to cut back the rest of the day or avoid restaurants entirely.)
In three easy steps, you can estimate how an entrée stacks up on these three important indicators.
Step 1: “Simplify” calories and sodium by placing a decimal point two digits from the right. For example, 650 calories becomes 6.50, and 1100mg of sodium becomes 11.00. Saturated fat does not need to be simplified. It already is.
Step 2: Add the three numbers and divide by 3.
Step 3: If the number is greater than 7, you’re better off eating something healthier.
That’s it. Add up the three numbers, divide by three, and if it exceeds seven, find something else. For example, an item with 650 calories, 6.7 grams of saturated fat, and 980mg of sodium would be simplified to 6.5 + 6.7 + 9.8 = 23. And then 23 would be divided by 3, for a score of 7.7. This entrée exceeds 7, so it’d be best to find something else.
I’m not a medical doctor or nutritionist, and a simple rule like this isn’t enough to guarantee that a food is good for you. But if a food exceeds the Rule of 7, I can pretty much guarantee it’s not good for you.