waiter, salt, sodium

Chain restaurants in New York City will soon warn diners of menu items containing excessive sodium, following Wednesday’s unanimous vote by city health officials.

New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene passed the rule requiring restaurants to add a salt-shaker symbol on the menu next to items containing more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium. That’s roughly a teaspoon, the maximum amount that should be consumed per day according to federal guidelines.

American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown applauded the decision.

“Most Americans consume an average of nearly 3,500 mg sodium per day, which is more than 1,000 mg more than any public health group recommends,” she said. “It is important for all Americans to have the necessary tools to bring their consumption down to moderate, reasonable levels.”

The rule will take effect Dec. 1, although fines won’t be issued for six months. It will apply to restaurant chains with at least 15 locations nationwide.

“I hope that New York City’s move will spur restaurants to voluntarily lower sodium levels nationally and embolden public health authorities around the country to require sodium warnings on menus,” said Michael F. Jacobson, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

New York’s health board was the first entity to require that restaurants post calorie counts and eliminate artificial trans fat from their food. The health board also tried to limit the sales of jumbo-sized sugar laden drinks until a state court last year overturned the effort. Its attention has recently been on sodium.

“Overly salty chain restaurant meals are turning Americans’ hearts and brains into ticking time bombs—gradually raising our risks of suffering a heart attack or stroke,” Jacobson said.

Health studies show that about 77 percent of the sodium Americans consume comes from packaged and restaurant foods.

Excess sodium intake correlates to an increased risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke, said Brown.

Industry groups opposing the menu disclosures criticized the decision.

“This is another example of the government creating policy based on outdated, incorrect sodium guidelines that have been refuted by ten years of research,” said Lori Roman, president of the Salt Institute.

The National Restaurant Association previously stated that the sodium warning labels would confuse people and overburden business owners.

Brown countered that the sodium disclosures will allow people to make more informed food choices.

“Consumers deserve to have more control over their health and more information at point-of-purchase instead of letting the food industry decide for them,” she said.