The PJ Tatler

NYC to Vote on Mandatory Sodium Warnings for Restaurant Menus

If you enjoy eating at any of New York City’s fine chain restaurants, you might find a warning accompanying certain cuisine with “too much sodium” if the Board of Health has its way.

The city Board of Health is set to vote Wednesday on a groundbreaking rule that would slap a black-and-white salt-shaker emblem on chain-eatery dishes with more than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams — about a teaspoon — of sodium. It could include foods ranging from BLT sandwiches to fried chicken to even some salads.

New York City would be the first U.S. city to have such a requirement.

City officials say they are just trying to make sure that people know how much salt is in their food. Guidlines for salt intake are at 1 teaspoon a day, but officials say that Americans consume more than the recommended limit. Studies show consumers have no idea how much sodium is in processed or prepared restaurant food.

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).

“There are few other areas in which public health could do more to save lives,” Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said at a city Health Department hearing in July.

I have to wonder if people pay attention to such things.  If you order a footlong meatball sandwich from Subway, are you unclear if it’s a “healthy option”? What if you want to treat yourself (YOLO!) once a month to a delicious, fattening, sodium-laden meal? Should the government impose additional costs on businesses just to make sure you know you are eating something “improper”?

The sodium guidlines themselves are controversial.

But the Salt Institute, a trade association for salt producers, has said the proposal is based on “incorrect government targets” called into question by recent research. 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.

“The concern, at some point, is that warning labels and the confluence of warnings on menus will lead to a collective shrug by consumers … as every item on a menu will be flagged as inappropriate in one way or another,” James Versocki, a lawyer for the New York State Restaurant Association’s New York City chapter, said at the July hearing.

The new warning label, should it be approved, will take effect December 1.