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Some Cities are Putting Salt Warning on Menus. What Does That Mean for You?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Ordering at Applebee’s just got scary: A New York City law now requires chain restaurants to list high-sodium warnings next to menu items containing more than 2,300 mg.

The symbol is ominous—it looks like a danger sign, with a salt shaker in place of the exclamation point.

But salt isn’t as dangerous as most people think, says Men’s Health Nutrition Advisor Alan Aragon, MS.

Sodium is essential for your health. Your cells need it to function, but your body can’t make it—you can only get the mineral in your diet.

When you consume sodium, it increases your blood pressure because it makes your blood retain more water.

But that’s only a problem if your BP is already high, says Aragon.

The American Heart Association defines high blood pressure as 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or above. One in three adults have the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you’re one of them, research shows that cutting back on salt can help lower your BP.

But consuming more potassium is just as important, suggests a 2014 review in Advances in Nutrition. Potassium counteracts the effects of sodium, and it’s really the balance of the two minerals in your body that matters.

Ideally, people with hypertension should attack both sides of the equation by aiming for less than 1,500 mg of sodium and at least 4,700 mg of potassium a day, says Men’s Health Cardiology Advisor Prediman Krishan Shah, M.D.

That means that yes, people with high BP should lay off the flagged items on NYC menus.

As for everyone else: Don’t worry about the sodium warnings, says Aragon.

You could probably stand to up your potassium intake, though. The average guy consumes only 3,172 mg, far short of the 4,700 mg recommended by the Institute of Medicine for adults.

To get more, fill your plate with fruits and vegetables: Bananas, broccoli, potatoes, and spinach all contain more than 400 mg of potassium per serving.

Additional reporting by Maria Masters