NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- New York City begins a new era in nutritional warnings this week, when chain restaurants will have to start putting a special symbol on highly salty dishes.
The first-of-its-kind rule takes effect Tuesday. The Board of Health approved the new warning in September. It will require a salt-shaker emblem on some sandwiches, salads and other menu items that top the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams -- about a teaspoon -- of sodium.
As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported, the new rule will not take anything away from diners or their favorite chain restaurants. But they will give consumers information so they can eat healthier if they want to.
"Many New Yorkers are not aware of the connection between sodium and high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack," city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said, adding that those are the leading causes of death in New York City and the country. "Most people don't know that they are not going to control their sodium intake by taking the salt shaker off the table."
A little bit of sodium chloride is essential for life. But indeed, too much of it can be deadly, as research shows that salt is a major contributor to many medical crises.
"Along with being directly linked to raising blood pressure, we now have credible information that it can directly damage the inner lining of the blood vessel – to damage the kidney, to damage the small vessels of the eye, to damage the small vessels of the brain," said Dr. Howard Weintraub of NYU Langone Medical Center.
That is what led the Board of Health to vote unanimously to require the rule for restaurant chains with more than 15 outlets.
"When you see this warning label, you know that that has more than the total amount of sodium you should consume in a single day -- in that one item," said Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett.
Surprisingly, that amount of salt for the most part does not come from the salt we shake on our food. Instead, the food is prepared with the salt.
The average American consumes about 3,400 mg of salt per day, and public health advocates have cheered the measure as a smart step to make diners aware of how much sodium they're ordering. A T.G.I. Friday's New York cheddar and bacon burger counts 4,280 mg, for example; a Chili's boneless Buffalo chicken salad has 3,460 mg. The figures come from the companies' published nutritional information.
The chief executive officer of New York metro Applebee's restaurants said the chain is already on board – being the first to add the salt warning icons to their menus as long as it's voluntary.
"We're not the food police," said New York metro Applebee's CEO Zane Tankel. "We're interested in transparency, and letting people decide for themselves."
Tankel said he is adding the labels at his Westchester County restaurants, too, 1010 WINS' Juliet Papa reported.
"So is it a burden? It doesn't add to our bottom line, but it's not a strong enough issue to be the difference a P (profit) or an L (loss)," Tankel told WCBS 880's Alex Silverman. "There's much bigger issues out there.
Salt producers say the city is acting on misimpressions about the risks of salt in New Yorkers' diets. An international study involving 100,000 people suggested last year that most people's salt intake was OK for heart health, though other scientists faulted the study.
Restaurateurs say that healthy-eating initiatives shouldn't single out any one ingredient and that the city shouldn't create its own salt-warning scheme when federal regulators are working on new, national sodium guidelines.
"Every one of these cumbersome new laws makes it tougher and tougher for restaurants to find success,'' New York State Restaurant Association President Melissa Fleischut said when the city health board approved the salt requirement.
The new rule will apply to an estimated 10 percent of menu items at the chains, according to the Health Department. Officials say those chains do about one-third of the city's restaurant business.
Eateries are expected to comply as of Tuesday. Violators face a $200 fine, which the city won't start collecting until March 1.
The bigger issue is whether the additional information will result in any New Yorkers changing their eating habits.
"It won't change mine," said Bruce Lederman. "It might change some others, but I kind of doubt it."
"No… I don't think so," said Nadia Cyshko.
In recent years, New York City has pioneered banning trans fats from restaurant meals and forcing chain eateries to post calorie counts on menus. It led development of voluntary salt-reduction targets for various table staples and tried, unsuccessfully, to limit the size of some sugary drinks.
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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