New In the News-Sodium Warnings on NYC Menus

As promised, I am continuing to look at some interesting (to me) issues that have popped up in the news lately. If you missed the first issue I tackled, click here to learn why you should either love or hate farmed salmon imbued with exogenous DNA. What could possibly be nearly as controversial in the food world as GMO livestock? Mandatory sodium warnings on restaurant menus.

In case you missed it, chain restaurants in New York City must now note which menu items contain more than 2,300 mg of sodium per order. Here is a gloss on the issue via National Public Radio.Considering the importance of controlling sodium intake, what’s the big controversy?

The American Heart Association, as you might expect, is very happy about this. They hope that showing which menu choices are highest in sodium will encourage diners to select less salty items. In my opinion, (and there are others) this also might encourage restaurants to lower the amount of sodium in their dishes. As a sodium “super-taster” with a strong family history of cardiovascular disease this possibility makes me happy. There is no guarantee that it will happen though.

Melissa Dahl, writing for New York Magazine notes that the whole idea might be a waste of effort.  She has a point, too. You can’t make people care about an issue by showing them a cute little icon. For that matter, I have yet to hear from any organization if or how they will track changes in food choice, total sodium intake by customers or changes to sodium in restaurant meals. To be truthful, since there is no plan for such follow up I am inclined to agree with this stance. I don’t live in New York City, but if a similar law were proposed in my home town I would speak out against it unless there were plans to track the effect. In the words of Adam Savage:

Adam wisdom

In other words: if you’re not interested in hard data, I’m not interested in your food-related legislation.

How do you feel about these labels? Would you want them in your city? Do you think they will help reduce overall sodium intake? Is it just a way for CSPI, AHA, and New York City to say they are doing something about a problem? Sound off in the comments!