New York City could become the first city in the U.S. to require a warning label on high-sodium menu items at chain restaurants, health officials said Tuesday.
The city’s Health Department will propose Wednesday that all chain restaurants add a symbol resembling a salt shaker on menus next to food products that contain more than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium, equal to about 1 teaspoon of salt.
Sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Studies have found that the vast majority of dietary salt comes from processed and restaurant foods. But average sodium consumption is about 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day. Only about one in 10 Americans meets the 1 teaspoon guideline.
“This doesn’t change the food. It enables people to identify single items that have a level of salt that is extremely high,” said Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “So that they can modify their menu selections accordingly.”
The proposal will be introduced at the city’s board of health meeting. If the board votes to consider the rule, it will move to a public comment phase before a final vote in September. The department hopes the sodium warnings will appear on menus by December.
The salt-reduction campaign is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal to reduce premature mortality by 25 percent by 2040, health officials said.
Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based advocacy group, called it “an extremely important proposal.” But the Salt Institute, a trade association for salt producers, called the proposal “misguided” and based on old information.
“The symbol is based on faulty, incorrect government targets” that have been discredited by research over the last decade, said the group’s president, Lori Roman. “They’re too low … and if followed, could actually harm people.”
Last year, a large international study questioned the conventional wisdom that most people should cut back on salt, suggesting that the amount most folks consume is OK for heart health.