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New York Will Require Salt Warnings On Menus, Outraging The Salt Lobby

In a major sodium shakeup, New York City will require chain restaurants to label high sodium foods on menus.

Last updated on September 9, 2015, at 7:28 p.m. ET

Posted on September 9, 2015, at 7:28 p.m. ET

When it comes to salt, many of us can't get enough.

On Wednesday, New York City voted to require chain restaurants to add a warning icon next to high-sodium items on menus starting Dec. 1. It will look like this.

About 90% of Americans eat too much salt, or more than the recommended 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The average American consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily. The biggest source: prepared food. More than 75% of dietary sodium comes from restaurants and packaged foods, according to the FDA.

Now, health officials say we've gone too far. / Via

Signs at registers will explain that the icon "indicates that the sodium (salt) content of this item is higher than the total daily recommended limit (2300 mg). High sodium intake can increase blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke."

Chains that have more than 15 locations nationwide — which currently account for about one-third of New York City's restaurant traffic — will be subject to the city rule, which was passed on Sept. 9.

Sodium is just the latest nutrient to be labeled: Chain restaurants in New York already have listed calorie counts since 2008.

"As artificial trans fat becomes harder to find at restaurants nationwide, and as calorie counts increasingly appear on chain restaurant menus nationwide, it's useful to remember that those now-popular advances started in New York City," said Michael Jacobson, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a statement.

Menu labeling isn't just a New York issue, either. New federal rules on calorie counts kick in at the end of next year.

Nationwide, calorie counts for standard menu items must be posted on menus starting December 2016 under new FDA rules. While the FDA doesn't require sodium content to be listed on menus, the information must be available upon request, along with other nutritional facts.

Industry groups are upset about the New York rule.

The Salt Institute, a trade association advocating the benefits of salt, from "winter roadway safety" to water quality and healthy nutrition, called the new rules "misguided." The group said said in a release the law is based on incorrect sodium limits, as studies have shown the level of sodium consumed by the average American to be safe. "The fact is that a low salt diet is significantly more harmful than a high salt diet," according to a statement by the nonprofit.

Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, an industry group, opposes what she describes as "cumbersome new laws" piled on top of the FDA's rules. "This is just the latest in a long litany of superfluous hoops that restaurants here in New York must jump through," she said in a statement.

The NYS Restaurant Association had sued the city in 2007 when it passed requirements for calorie labeling on menus, saying it violated restaurants' First Amendment rights. The court upheld the law. The group said it is now "exploring our options" on the new sodium warning, but did not say it was pursuing legal action.

Of course, consumers might end up ignoring the new sodium warnings, but the information will be there for anyone who needs it.