High-Sodium Warnings Hit New York City Menus

December 1, 2015

A new sodium warning requirement goes into effect in New York City restaurants Tuesday: Diners who eat at chain restaurants will now see warnings on menus next to items that contain high levels of salt.

From now on, the New York City Health Department says chain restaurants with 15 or more locations must display a salt shaker icon next to menu items or combo meals that contain 2,300 milligrams of sodium or more.

That’s the recommended daily limit for sodium, but most Americans consume far more. And top contributors are foods we tend to eat when we’re dining out, including pizza and deli sandwiches.

In fact, surprisingly, they’re among the six most popular foods that add unexpectedly high levels of sodium to our diet, according to the American Heart Association. Store-bought bread – which many of us eat several times a day — is another big offender.

Check out this infographic, which shows that, when you add up the slices of bread, cured turkey meat and cheese, a sandwich could serve up some 1,500 mg of sodium – more than half the recommended daily limit.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer watchdog group in Washington, D.C., has identified other meals that can be real sodium bombs, too. For instance, at Red Lobster, diners have the option of creating a combo meal of fried shrimp, french fries, a cheese biscuit, pasta and Caesar salad that has more than 6,000 mg of sodium. That’s about three days’ worth of sodium.

New York City is the first city in the U.S. to require a sodium warning. The rule applies to restaurants with 15 locations anywhere in the U.S. — not just in the city. Restaurants will have until March 1 to comply. After that, they can be fined.

Deputy health commissioner Sonia Angell — who is also a physician — says many people don’t understand the link between excessive sodium intake, high blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.

“The majority of salt in our diet doesn’t come from the salt shaker — it’s already in the food when we purchase it,” Angell says. That includes restaurant food. “And that makes restaurants a really important place to give people guidance about how they might be making decisions — if they choose to do so — that might protect their health and their heart.”

Robin Vitale, senior director of government relations at the American Heart Association, cheered the health department’s new requirement. “The American Heart Association is thrilled for the pending implementation of the Sodium Warning Label rule,” she said in a statement. “Americans are consuming dangerous levels of sodium, most often found in processed or restaurant food. This rule will help to increase transparency. ”

Zane Tankel, CEO of Apple-Metro, owner of Applebee’s restaurants in New York City, says his company is on board.

“We want our guests to have as much information as needed to make informed decisions when dining in our restaurants,” Tankel said in a statement.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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