NEW YORK " 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 to discuss reducing the amount of salt in common foods such as soup, pasta sauce, salad dressing and bread.
About three-quarters of the salt Americans eat comes from prepared and processed food, not from the salt shaker. That's why New York officials want the food industry to help cut back.
"It's very hard for an individual to do this on their own," said Dr. Lynn Silver, an assistant commissioner in the health department.
The department has shown its clout with bans on artificial trans fats and rules forcing chain restaurants to post calorie counts. To comply, fast food chains changed their recipes nationwide, and other cities and states have enacted similar policies.
Some manufacturers said getting rid of trans fats took work, and reducing salt has its own difficulties.
Herbert Smith Jr. never paid much attention to how much salt was in food until he developed high blood pressure. His doctor at a Harlem health center put him on medication and told him to exercise and watch his diet.
The 54-year-old church receptionist said he was alarmed to see how much salt was in the instant soup packages that he liked. He wants the food industry to cut down.
Too much salt raises blood pressure, and high blood pressure raises the risk of heart disease. A recent analysis showed that for every gram of salt cut, as many as 250,000 cases of heart disease and 200,000 deaths could be prevented over a decade.
"Very, very small changes in diet could have dramatic effects," said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a researcher with the University of California, San Francisco.
Everyone needs some salt " or sodium chloride " for good health. The daily recommended amount for Americans is about a teaspoon, or 2,300 milligrams of sodium.
A recent government report showed that seven out of 10 adults should be eating even less than the recommended amount " about 1,500 milligrams. That includes anyone with high blood pressure, everyone over 40, and African-Americans, who are at greater risk than whites for high blood pressure.