TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The new menu at the Topeka Zoo's Grazer's Cafe invites you to eat like the animals - which is a good thing!
Zoo director Brendan Wiley says staff pays close attention to what the animals eat, but, when they looked at what they were feeding people who visited the zoo, they knew they had to do something different.
The result was teaming with Shawnee County's Sodium Reduction Initiative for a menu makeover. The campaign is funded by a three-year grant the county received in 2011 from the CDC. Heartland Healthy Neighborhoods and the Shawnee County Healthy Agency, in partnership with KDHE, lead the effort.
Wiley says one of the first things the zoo did replace their fryer with a convection oven, which instantly made a huge impact. The menu still has things like french fries and chicken strips, but they're baked instead of deep fried in oil. The hamburger is leaner. Grilled chicken, tuna, a veggie wrap and fruit and veggie cup sides are now on the menu.
The menu was designed to the healthy items are priced at or below the less-healthy options, like candy bars.
Mary Alice Scheer, a clinical dietitian at Topeka's Stormont-Vail Health-Care, says the changes, coupled with the awareness campaign, are a good sign. She says many people aren't aware how much they are gravitating toward quick, convenience foods and restaurant foods.
Scheer says 75 percent of the sodium most Americans consume comes from packaged foods. She says most Americans consume about 3400 mg of sodium a day. The recommended daily amount is 2300 mg, as low as 1500 mg for people who have high blood pressure or other risk factors such as diabetes or kidney disease.
It's not hard to reach that amount. A tablespoon of soy sauce has about half of the daily allotment. Two slices of pizza might top 1900 mg. Hungry for a deluxe burger, fries and a shake? Expect to take in more than 4000 mg in a single sitting.
Scheer says too much sodium increases blood pressure and also increases fluid in the body, making it harder for the heart to work.
Scheer says read labels to spot the salt. She says significant amounts can be found in condiments, pickles, canned soups and prepackaged dinners. Even some chicken breasts are enhanced with sodium injections. She suggests cooking more from scratch, with lower sodium ingredients and more whole foods instead of convenience foods.
Wiley says the zoo has reduced the sodium in its menu a whopping two-thirds. He says they kept the changes low-key - and people seem to be eating it up.
He says the veggie sticks with hummus seem to be the biggest hit. He says moms with kids seem happy that they have healthier options instead of just fries.
The zoo received money from the county's CDC grant to assist with the changes.
The campaign has also worked with the Shawnee County Jail to lower sodium in its meals; more than a dozen Topeka convenience stores are offering healthier options; and "Spot the Salt" TV and radio ads and billboards are making the rounds.