NYC May Become First U.S. City To Require High-Sodium Warning Labels At Chain Restaurants

The health war wages on in New York City, where the ghost of the failed ban on large sodas is said to still haunt city hall, moaning the name of a certain former mayor. This time, city officials are taking on sodium, proposing a requirement that chain restaurants put a label on menu items that are high in salt.

NYC would become the first U.S. city to require warning labels on such dishes, health officials told the Associated Press.

The city’s Department of Health is set to propose a rule today that would have all chain restaurants adding a salt shaker symbol or something similar next to products that contain more than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium, or about 1 teaspoon of salt.

As it goes with these things, people are definitely taking sides.

Public health advocates are on board, seeing it as a step toward tackling a big health problem. Eating too much sodium can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which can then lead to heart attack and stroke. Only about one in 10 Americans however, meet the 1 teaspoon guideline, with the average person consuming about 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day.

“High sodium levels are probably the biggest health problem related to our food supply,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He called the proposal an example of “true leadership,” though also said he thinks it’s a conservative approach. After all, someone eating even half a day’s sodium in one meal would be eating too much salt.

Those that make salt are not so pleased with the proposal, with the head of the Salt Institute, a trade association for salt producers calling it off-base and based on “faulty, incorrect government targets” discredited by recent research.

A 2013 study organized by the government found that there’s no health benefit to drastically cutting your salt intake to aim for the lower limit of sodium intake suggested by the government of 1,500 mg per day. Other scientists disagree, saying people still eat too much salt.

Some restaurant operators say it’d be just another complicated thing to further weigh down food establishments in bureaucracy, as federal law already requires restaurants to provide sodium content information on request.

“The composition of menus may soon have more warning labels than food products,” the New York State Restaurant Association’s president told the AP.

According to city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, however, this would simply be another way of informing customers.

“This doesn’t change the food,” Bassett said. “It enables people to identify single items that have a level of salt that is extremely high.”

An example the AP gives of a menu item that would get the salt shaker treatment: The Italian combo sandwich and its ingredients of seared steak, smoked turkey, ham, salami and onions has 2,830 mg of sodium.

And Panera Bread is cool with the city’s plan, as the company is a fan of providing nutritional information with menus, so the proposal is “aligned with that same goal,” CEO Ron Shaich said in a statement. These types of measures could prompt change on a national and industrywide level, he said.

“These are necessary to create real change,” Shaich said.

The Board of Health will vote today on whether or not to consider the proposal. If it decides to do so, the final vote could be as early as September, with salt shakers popping up on menus by December.

This isn’t the first time NYC has taken on salt — back in 2010, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg led development of salt-reduction targets for various table staples and got companies to start committing to them voluntarily with his National Salt Reduction Initiative.

New York officials want high sodium warning on menus [Associated Press]

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