New Yorkers being urged to cut the salt

The Health Department on Nov. 8 unveiled a new campaign to urge consumers to compare labels and choose foods with less sodium. The sodium in salt is a major contributor to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. Together, these conditions are the nation’s leading causes of preventable death, resulting in 23,000 deaths in New York City alone each year and more than 800,000 nationwide.

The agency’s new public-awareness campaign, which includes posters in the subway system and a multilingual Health Bulletin, will run for two months.

The campaign shows images of commonly bought foods – a can of soup and a frozen dinner – with salt bursting from their containers. The images serve as stark reminders that although food may not taste salty, “Many foods pack a lot more salt than you think.” Most people should eat no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Some foods pack that much sodium in one serving alone and salt levels can vary dramatically among popular products in the same food category, such as salad dressing or canned vegetables. The new ads encourage consumers to compare labels and opt for foods with less sodium.

“Excess sodium greatly increases the chance of developing hypertension, which can lead to heart disease and stroke,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “While consumers can always add salt to food to taste, they can’t take it out. This campaign is geared toward educating consumers to pay attention to the amount of salt in the foods they buy. It is our hope that by increasing the public’s understanding of how much salt is in food, we can help consumers become better equipped to read labels and choose wisely. Combined with our national effort to get industry to gradually reduce the excess salt they put in our packaged foods, consumers will have a greater choice of healthier products and ultimately be able to succeed in reducing their risk of heart disease and stroke.”

At current levels, the salt in American 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. Only 11 percent of the sodium in our diets comes from our own saltshakers; nearly 80 percent is added to foods before we buy it from stores and restaurants. Salty foods don’t always taste salty, so when you’re at the grocery store, compare the amount of sodium in different brands before you buy.

To keep the excess salt out of your shopping carts, you should review the following easy-to-implement tips:

~At the grocery store, always check and compare Nutrition Facts labels on the back of the packages.

~The sodium in foods can vary greatly, even between two brands of the same product! For example, on your grocery store shelf you may find soups with sodium ranging from 280 mg to 980 mg per serving. And while 480 mg of sodium per serving may be a better choice for soup, that’s way too much sodium for a serving of bread.

~Always look for the amount of sodium on the label before you buy. Compare like products and choose the one with less sodium.

~Here are some examples of the range of sodium in common foods. Comparing labels and choosing on the lower end range could help you avoid a lot of sodium:

Canned soup – 1 cup – 50-950 mg per serving

Canned vegetables – 1/2 cup – 10-550 mg per serving

Sliced bread – 1 slice – 100 -240 mg per serving

Frozen cheese pizza – 1 slice – 510-1090 mg per serving

Frozen meals – 6-10 ounces – 330-113- mg per serving

Tomato juice – 8 ounces – 140-680 mg per serving

Salad dressing – 1 tablespoons – 80-620 mg per serving

Salsa – 2 tablespoons – 90-250 mg per serving

Potato chips – 1 ounce – 10-380 mg per serving

Pretzels – 1 ounce – 50-610 mg per serving

(Serving size ranges may vary based upon product availability)

~Be sure to check the serving size, number of servings per container, and think about how much you plan to consume. For example, while a single serving of bread doesn’t have a huge amount of salt, because we eat so much daily, bread is the single largest salt contributor to our diet. Choose lower sodium breads.

~Processed foods marketed as “healthy” may have a lot of sodium. Canned items such as beans and soup broth can be very high in salt. Look for “low sodium” or “no salt added” versions.

~Where possible, choose fresh foods, like vegetables and un-marinated poultry, which naturally are much lower in salt than processed foods.

~Check the label when you buy raw meat, such as chicken breast; even it can often have added salt.

This campaign is supported in part under a cooperative agreement funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services. For more information on this and other health initiatives, please visit