NYC asks food manufacturers to cut salt content

Jan 11, 2010 By DAVID B. CARUSO , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- City health officials have battled trans fat and high-calorie fast food. Now, they're taking on salt.

The health department planned to release on Monday draft guidelines suggesting the maximum amount of salt that should be in a wide variety of manufactured and packaged foods.

The recommendations call for sizable reductions in the of many products, from a 20 percent drop in peanut butter to a 40 percent decline in canned vegetables.

Unlike the city's recent ban on trans fat in restaurant food or rules implemented last year requiring chain restaurants to post calorie information on their menus, this initiative is purely voluntary.

But even though there will be no penalties for companies that ignore the guidelines, health officials say they think some manufacturers may be motivated to make changes.

"They all fully recognize that sodium is a major health problem that they need to address," said the city's health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley.

Seventeen national health organizations and 25 other city or state health agencies have joined with New York City in the effort, called the National Salt Reduction Initiative. It aims to reduce the average American's by 20 percent in five years.

Everyone needs some salt in his or her diet, but experts say Americans now eat about twice as much as they should. That can lead to problems including and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

The guidelines suggest that manufacturers lower salt content gradually over several years so consumers won't notice, and they aren't asking for big changes in every category.

For example, under the city's standards, by 2014 no hamburger should contain more than 1,200 milligrams of salt. Nearly every burger sold by McDonald's already meets that guideline, although there are exceptions like the double quarter pounder with cheese, which has 1,380 milligrams of salt.

The city isn't suggesting that all products be less salty - there's no call for a ban on New York's beloved salt bagels.

Instead, Farley said, the city's recommendations are intended to encourage companies to cut salt where it isn't needed or just give consumers more low-salt options. He said he's sure some processed-food manufacturers can cut salt content without making their products less tasty.

"We think people won't notice," he said.

ConAgra Foods Inc., which makes products including Chef Boyardee canned pasta meals, Healthy Choice frozen dinners and Swiss Miss hot chocolate, has pledged to reduce the salt in its consumer food products by 20 percent by 2015, in part because of consumer demand. It said its initiative would eliminate about 10 million pounds of salt per year from the American diet.

Still, processed-food companies have historically been extremely reluctant to tinker with recipes, especially when dealing with a key ingredient like salt, where even minor adjustments can affect taste. Salt also helps to preserve food and make bread rise.

Health officials acknowledged that the program faces hurdles.

"It isn't simple for them to just change the amount of sodium in their products," said Farley.

And some of the changes the city is asking for are substantial. The target goals call for a 40 percent reduction in the amount of salt in breakfast cereals, a 25 percent reduction for breads and cold cuts and a 30 percent cut for salad dressing.

But, Farley said, simply asking the public to be more careful about what they eat hasn't worked, in part because consumers have too few low-sodium choices.

"Eighty percent of the we eat is in the food already when you buy it," he said. "Even if you are reading the back of a package, there is often no choice there."

New York City's program is modeled in part after a similar initiative in the United Kingdom that has been under way since 2003.

Explore further: Smoking rates halve since 1970s in Britain

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

CDC: Most adults should restrict salt but don't

Mar 27, 2009

(AP) -- Seven out of 10 Americans should restrict their salt consumption, but very few of them do, according to a new government study. About 145 million U.S. adults are thought to be more sensitive to salt - a group that ...

NYC takes lead in setting next food target -- salt

Apr 22, 2009

(AP) -- First, it was a ban on artery-clogging trans fats. Then calories were posted on menus. Now the New York City health department is taking on salt. City officials are meeting with food makers and restaurants ...

FDA to discuss salt content in foods

Nov 27, 2007

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has bowed to a long-standing request by scheduling a hearing on regulating the salt content of various foods.

Eating less salt could prevent cardiovascular disease

Apr 20, 2007

People who significantly cut back on the amount of salt in their diet could reduce their chances of developing cardiovascular disease by a quarter, according to a report in British Medical Journal today.

Consuming a little less salt could mean fewer deaths

Mar 11, 2009

For every gram of salt that Americans reduce in their diets daily, a quarter of a million fewer new heart disease cases and over 200,000 fewer deaths would occur over a decade, researchers said at the American Heart Association's ...

Aussies need more iodine

Aug 19, 2006

Health experts say a serious deficiency of iodine is emerging among people living in Australia's eastern states.

Recommended for you

Health care organizations see value of telemedicine

Nov 27, 2014

(HealthDay)—Health care organizations are developing and implementing telemedicine programs, although many have yet to receive reimbursement, according to a report published by Foley & Lardner.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.