Skip the salt? NYC Board of Health approves menu sodium warnings for restaurants

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Rob Nelson has the details (WABC)

Chain restaurants across New York City will be compelled to add a new item to their menus: a salt-warning symbol.

The city Board of Health voted Wednesday on a groundbreaking rule to slap a black-and-white salt-shaker emblem on chain-eatery dishes with more than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams - about a teaspoon - of sodium. It could include foods ranging from BLT sandwiches to fried chicken to even some salads.

The decision came down just in the last hour, after months of discussion. The new requirement would go into effect Dec. 1 and will impact only fast food chains with 15 or more locations nationwide.

While some critics said this is yet another example of overreach, health officials said 95 percent of Americans consume more than the recommended daily allowance, and that overconsumption of salt can lead to all types of health problems.

Leaders said restaurant food is the primary source of much of that salt. City officials said they just want New Yorkers to be more aware of high-sodium items, so they can make better choices about their diet and their overall health.

New York would be the first U.S. city with such a requirement, which comes as officials and experts urge Americans to eat healthier. It furthers a series of novel nutritional efforts in the nation's biggest city.

City officials said they're just saying "know," not "no," about foods high in a substance that experts say is too prevalent in most Americans' diets, raising the risk of high blood pressure and potentially heart attacks and strokes. Public health advocates applaud the proposal, but salt producers and restaurateurs call it a misguided step toward an onslaught of confusing warnings.

But the Salt Institute, a trade association for salt producers, has said the proposal is based on "incorrect government targets" called into question by recent research. Last year, an international study involving 100,000 people suggested that most folks' salt consumption was actually OK for heart health, adding that both way too much and too little salt can do harm. Other scientists fault the study and say most people still consume way too much salt.

The average American consumes about 3,400 mg of salt, or sodium, each day. Only about one in 10 Americans meets the 1 teaspoon guideline.

The vast majority of dietary salt comes from processed and restaurant food, studies show. Consumers may not realize how much sodium is in, say, a Panera Bread Smokehouse Turkey Panini (2,590 mg), TGI Friday's sesame jack chicken strips (2,700 mg), a regular-size Applebee's Grilled Shrimp 'n Spinach Salad (2,990 mg) or a Subway foot-long spicy Italian sub (2,980 mg).

"There are few other areas in which public health could do more to save lives," Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, said at a city Health Department hearing in July. Indeed, some health experts have urged the city to set the warning limit as low as 500 mg.

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foodhealthfoodnutritionsodiumnew york city newsNew York City
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