Forked path Solving diners’ dining dilemmas

A strawberry and tomato salad at Five Loaves Cafe. The cafe has made customer health a priority, so special diet requests will likely be accommodated.


Q: Due to a recently diagnosed medical condition, my doctor has put me on a restricted sodium diet of 1,000 milligrams a day. I miss eating out. Are there any restaurants in the Charleston area that can accommodate my needs?

A: My first inclination was to say that most independently-owned restaurants would strive to adjust their dishes for you, but I didn’t immediately realize how little salt you’re allowed to consume. Because I’m not a nutritionist, I put your question to Catherine Holly, director of the H2U Health Center at Trident Health.

“1,000 milligrams is extremely tight,” she says. “It’s hard to even shop on a 1,000 milligram diet.” A single teaspoon of salt contains twice as much sodium as you’re allotted. Or, to put it in menus terms, a grilled cheese sandwich would put you close to your quota.

Holly suggests gravitating toward restaurants that emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables: Verde and Black Bean Co. are among her favorites.

“Even if a restaurant doesn’t salt its pasta, there’s sodium occurring in things like bread and milk,” she points out, warning against broths, cheeses and creams.

Fortunately, this is the season for ingredients that don’t require too much chef interference. At Butcher & Bee, for example, heirloom tomato salad and peach salad made regular menu appearances this summer.

For a more elegant dining experience, you might consider restaurants that regularly prepare vegetable plates, such as SNOB, The Park Cafe or Lana. (Remember, chain restaurants receive much of their food ready-made, so their cooks typically can’t delete salt on demand, although the upshot is chain restaurants typically post their sodium counts online.)

Five Loaves Cafe has lately made customer health a priority. Its menu is headlined, “We understand and take dietary restrictions very seriously,” so you should be able to request unsalted vegetables there too.

Rather than just explain the circumstances to your server, registered dietitian Melissa Ohlson recommends calling ahead: “Have in mind what dishes you’d like, or ask them what dishes they think can be altered to reduce sodium.”

Finally, if you’re already seeing doctors, you’re probably not too keen on heading back to a hospital for lunch, but Roper St. Francis is home to a surprisingly cheery, affordable cafe that specializes in healthy food.

Good luck, and congratulations on taking care of yourself.

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