NYC Board Of Health Approves First-Of-Its-Kind Sodium Warnings On Menus

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Big changes are coming to chain restaurants across New York City.

The city Board of Health voted unanimously Wednesday to require chain eateries to put salt-shaker symbols on menus to denote dishes with more than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium. That’s about a teaspoon.

The new rule is set to take effect Dec. 1.

New York is now the first city in the nation with such a requirement, which comes as officials and experts urge Americans to eat healthier.

“This really represents, to me, the next step in allowing usable information for our community to make better health decisions,” said board member Dr. Deepthiman K. Gowda. “My hope is that this impacts not only consumer practices but also impacts the practices of our restaurants.”

City officials argue 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.

Health Board member Dr. Deepthiman Gowda said he hopes the mandate will not only help consumers make healthier choices, but also spur a change in recipes, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.

“Not only impacts consumer practices, but also impacts the practices of our restaurants,” Dr. Gowda said.

Public health advocates applaud the proposal, but salt producers and restaurateurs call it a misguided step toward an onslaught of confusing warnings.

“This is another example of the government creating policy based on outdated, incorrect sodium guidelines that have been refuted by 10 years of research,” Lori Roman, President of the Salt Institute, said in a statement Wednesday before the vote. “Research shows Americans already eat within the safe range of sodium consumption and population-wide sodium reduction strategies are unnecessary and could be harmful.”

The measure will apply to an estimated 10 percent of menu items at the New York City outlets of chains with at least 15 outlets nationwide, city Health Department Deputy Commissioner Sonya Angell said. Those chains account for about 1/3 of the restaurant traffic in the city, she said.

“We know the public wants information to make healthier decisions about the food they eat and that they currently can’t get this information,” said Dr. Mary Bassett, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health.

The average American consumes about 3,400 mg of salt each day. Only about one in 10 Americans meet 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).

“So many times, the one meal will supersede that daily limit of how much sodium or salt we should have in our diet,” said Dr. Daniel Yadegar of Weill Cornell Medical College & NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. “Studies have shown that most people, nine out of 10, exceed that and the average intake is over 3,000 milligrams on a daily basis.”

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.

New York State Restaurant Association President Melissa Fleischut called the vote “disappointing” and said “establishments that fall under these new regulations will be forced to construct costly new menu boards in consecutive years.”

“This is just the latest in a long litany of superfluous hoops that restaurants here in New York must jump through,” Fleischut said. “Every one of these cumbersome new laws makes it tougher and tougher for restaurants to find success.”

Still, at least one eatery chain, Panera Bread, has expressed support for the menu change.

Many New Yorkers were split on the idea.

“Now, when I go shopping  I look at contents of sodium so I think it’s important,” Chelsea resident Al Durrell told CBS2’s Ilana Gold. “I think it’s helpful.”

“I think its going to be the same thing when they put the calories up,” said New Jersey resident Erin Cunningham. “It’s going to make people more angry than anything.”

“I think it’s pointless,” one man said. “I don’t see why. You know what has a lot of salt and what doesn’t.”

“I get what I want, eat what I want,” another man said.

“I think it’s good to be informed of salt content and other content as well,” said another.

Ed Nelson told 1010 WINS’ Holli Haerr pictures of salt shakers aren’t going to stop him from ordering what he wants.

“I don’t care if it has five salt shakers on it, I’m eating it if I want it,” he said.

But Nelson added he does think it’s important to know what’s in your food.

“I do believe everybody needs to know because we’re not living as long as we’d like to these day because our bodies are unhealthy, we do a lot of unhealthy things,” he said.

“Actually, I think it is a good idea because I have high blood pressure and I need to look for that hidden salt that is in food,” said one man.

In recent years, New York City has pioneered banning trans fats from restaurant meals and forcing chain eateries to post calorie counts on menus.

It led development of voluntary salt-reduction targets for various table staples and tried, unsuccessfully, to limit the size of some sugary drinks.

Restaurant representatives criticizing the salt proposal have noted that courts struck down the big-soda ban as overreaching by the health board.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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