NYC cracks down on salt!

First New York City banned trans fat, then required chain restaurants to post calorie counts, then warned about weight gain from sugary sodas, and now it’s taking on salt.


Mayor Bloomberg has called for a nation-wide initiative to reduce sodium content of packaged and restaurant food by 25% over the next five years. The program would be voluntary for the food manufacturers and restaurant chains.

Of course, cutting sodium by 50% would be even better, but this is a respectable first step.   A reduction in sodium intake by 50%, according to a recent meta-analysis, is estimated to reduce the rate of stroke by 23% and cardiovascular disease by 17%.1

A similar voluntary salt reduction program has been in action in the U.K. since 2003, and has so far has managed to reduce the average salt consumption consumption from 9.5g (approx. 3,800 mg sodium) to 8.6g (approx. 3,400 mg sodium). This year, the U.K. has set more challenging salt reduction goals for 2012.

Salt is dangerous - I have always warned people about excess salt consumption - here are some facts:

  • The human diet, for millions of years, did not contain any added salt – only the sodium present in natural foods. This equates to less than 1000 mg of sodium per day. 
  • Today, according to the CDC, Americans typically consume 3500 mg of sodium per day.
  • Americans have a 90% lifetime probability of having high blood pressure
  • 80% of sodium in the American diet comes from processed and restaurant foods. As NYC health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said, “Most of the salt we consume is in the food when we buy it.”  The Center for Science in the Public Interest has found several chain restaurant meals that contain over 6,000 mg of sodium!
  • And finally, sea salt is not healthier than table salt – all salt comes from the sea, and it doesn’t matter if it’s pink or gray or white, it’s still about 98% sodium chloride. It’s salt, and it’s dangerous. 

Many people interpret public health policies such as these as the “food police” telling us what we can and cannot eat. I see it as the opposite – progress in consumer freedom. By putting a limit on the amount of salt in foods that can be sold to us, we now have the choice. We, not the corporations that sell food to us, are in control of our salt intake. We are able to purchase packaged food and eat at restaurants without consuming dangerous levels of sodium. For those who prefer to ignore the risks of high sodium intake, no one is outlawing salt shakers.

Even more troubling, others see this as an ‘insignificant’ issue compared to health care reform, the economy, unemployment, etc...

Our health and quality of life are insignificant? Heart disease, stroke, kidney disease – insignificant? I don’t think so. People who die from diseases of nutritional ignorance are not around to worry about the economy.

But won’t cutting salt make the foods bland? First, the program plans to reduce salt gradually so that foods will not appear to be bland. And actually, excess salt deadens the sense of taste - if you cut down your salt intake, your taste buds will adjust over time, becoming more sensitive to salt. By avoiding salty foods, you regain your ability to detect and enjoy the subtle flavors in natural foods.

What do you think about this new push in New York City to improve people’s diets? I think it is great.



1. Strazzullo P et al. Salt intake, stroke, and cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of prospective studies BMJ 2009;339:b4567 ;

2. Tsugane S, Sasazuki S. Diet and the risk of gastric cancer. Gastric Cancer 2007;10(2):75-83 

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Comments (8) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Horsecrazy - January 18, 2010 12:21 PM

I think it is great. Any step forward is better than none. In our paper this weekend was a small column about how by summer "Chef Boyardee" canned pasta will have decreased its sodium by about 35% over the course of 5 years without a word on the package. Campbell Soup's original flavor of V8 100% vegetable juice also cut sodium by about a 3rd. Now all of us that follow Dr. Fuhrman's plan know there is still way too much salt in these products but at least they are making progress!

Jana - January 18, 2010 5:21 PM

I am 35 days now off salt--and I can't even believe how it has changed my life! Healthy food tastes SOOO much better! When I eat something salted now, it tastes horrible--like a big salt lick. It took about 3 weeks for me to not even notice that salt was missing. It was totally worth it! Take the plunge and go no salt!! You will be amazed!!

Stacy - January 18, 2010 5:23 PM

I'm all for healthy food and comapies cutting the sodium in their products but I find it silly to say that this policy gives us choice. It actually takes away our choice of the high-sodium foods. While one may view that as a good thing, it does not create choice, it limits it. It would be nice if companies would do this voluntarily because they know consumers want it and it would make their product more appealing.

Deana Ferreri - January 18, 2010 6:07 PM

I would argue that you do still have the choice of high sodium foods - just use the salt shaker. It's easy to add salt, but impossible to take it out of the food once it's there.

Stephanie - January 18, 2010 8:33 PM

I agree that it takes away choice....Not that most people even think about that choice in the first place. Anyway, yayyyy New York!

Psychic Lunch - January 19, 2010 11:09 AM

I am SOoOooo torn on decisions like this. I actually posted and recanted an opinion on recently about the banning of trans fat in California. At first, and in general, I agreed with it, but couldn't keep the stance because of the thought of "food police" - it always comes down to the question: "If they can ban [this food] why can't they ban some other food?"

So, while I would agree that salt is bad for you (or at least worse than a lot of things and that we don't NEED it), I disagree that banning it is the way to go. Labeling and education is the way forward for all food topics.

Also, I get flashbacks from watching Demolition Man while thinking about the banning of salt.

Michael - January 19, 2010 1:28 PM

I would have a problem if they started banning salt shakers, but I see nothing wrong with cutting down sodium in the cooking and preparation of the food. If it is too bland, add salt or other spices if you like. That's what they're ther for.
As far as banning transfats, they are just using "healthier" fats in place of them so I don't see what the big issue is. Try eating some plain shortening sometime or unsalted margarine, there is no tate to them.

Stacy - January 19, 2010 1:53 PM

I think the problem with giving us a true choice (i.e., a company offering both the high-sodium and a low-sodium option) is that people opt for the high-sodium option and it isn't cost effective at that point for the company to offer the low-sodium option anymore. Comapanies have tried and tried again to offer healthier options but, sadly, that isn't what the majority of people want. Is the answer forcing the companies to offer only the healthier option? I don't know. A restaurant chain here in California put calorie counts on its menu before it will be legally obligated to in about a year and it ended up taking them off because seeing the calorie counts made too many people mad. I know more than one person who has had a heart attack but still won't eat well. Bad food is an addiction that is hard to break - PLUS, many people don't have the information that would make the effort worth it in their minds.

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