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Mayor faces new foe: sodium

He got chain restaurants to visibly display calories for customers and removed trans fats from city menus. Now Mayor Michael Bloomberg has turned his attention to curbing the salt intake of city residents.

The mayor’s plan, which is voluntary, aims to cut the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant foods in the city by 25 percent over five years because the sodium in salt causes high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

At a press availability Monday, Bloomberg compared the salt in food to harmful asbestos in schools.

“If we know there’s asbestos in a school room what do you expect us to do? Say it’s not our business?” the mayor said. “I don’t think so. The same is true with food and smoking and a lot of things.”

“Salt and asbestos, clearly both are bad for you,” Bloomberg said. “Modern medicine thinks you shouldn’t be smoking if you want to live longer. Modern medicine thinks you shouldn’t be eating salt, or sodium.”

State Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing), a member of the Assembly Health Committee, called Bloomberg’s plan “a great idea.”

“Salt is one of the No. 1 killers,” Mayersohn said. “I know in my family there’s a lot of high blood pressure and we know the serious effects [salt] could have.”

While Bloomberg’s plan is voluntary, Mayersohn said, “I’m going to go to the restaurants that do it, so that may be the pressure they need” to comply.

At the Gold Star Diner in Bayside, waitresses Sonia Herrera and Sandra Buzhally applauded the mayor for his plan.

“We try to use less salt as possible. We know that a lot of our customers have high blood pressure. That’s why we give salt and pepper on the side,” Buzhally said.

“Extra sodium in our bodies is no good,” said Herrera. “Everything you buy, there’s so much salt. Even candies. Even breakfast sausage, it has sodium. It’s everything, even frozen food.”

“Consumers can always add salt to food, but they can’t take it out,” said city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “At current levels, the salt in our diets poses health risks for people with normal blood pressure, and it’s even riskier for the 1.5 million New Yorkers with high blood pressure. If we can reduce the sodium levels in packaged and restaurant foods, we will give consumers more choice about the amount of salt they eat, and reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke in the process.”

The Health Department said Americans consume about twice the recommended limit of salt in a day. Nearly 80 percent of the salt in the average person’s diet comes from sodium that is added to foods before they are sold while only 11 percent comes from their salt shakers.

The recommended daily limit for sodium intake for most adults and those over 40 years old is 1,500 milligrams. Some foods, such as deli meat sandwiches, contain that much sodium in just one serving, the Health Department said.

The department said much of the salt in Americans’ diets comes from breads, muffins and other foods that do not taste salty.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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