Ban salt to save lives, restaurants in New York told

Blood pressure rising as furious chefs oppose campaigner's proposals for healthy eating

Four years ago New York City's health commissioners banned artery-blocking transfats in restaurants. Now, if a legislator has his way, the chefs at every eatery in the Big Apple and across the state will have to make do without salt.

The language of Bill A. 10129, introduced by Felix Ortiz, a representative from Brooklyn, in the New York State Assembly, could not be more specific. "No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of food for consumption by customers," it says, whether on or off the premises. The penalty for every violation would be $1,000 (£665).

Mr Ortiz, long a campaigner for healthier eating in the state's schools and for restaurants to display the nutritional content of that they serve, insists his proposal is designed only to save lives. The measure would be a "giant step" in the right direction. "We need to talk about two ingredients of salt: health care costs and deaths."

He cites a recent report by the World Health Organisation showing that at least three-quarters of the sodium consumed in the United States – where the average daily intake is 3,400mg, half as much again as the generally recommended maximum of 2,300mg – comes in pre-prepared or restaurant foods. "Studies show that reducing the amount of salt people eat, even by small amounts, could reduce cases of heart disease, stroke and heart attacks as much as reductions in smoking, obesity and cholesterol levels," Mr Ortiz maintains, arguing that billions of dollars and countless lives could be saved.

In fact, the New York Assemblyman is not the only local politician campaigning against salt. Michael Bloomberg, New York City's mayor, wants the salt content of pre-packaged and restaurant food to be reduced by 25 per cent over five years. The city estimates about 1.5m residents – out of a population of 8.3m – already suffer from high blood pressure, which excess consumption of salt tends to make worse.

Those alarmed at the relentless advance of the nanny state will moreover be pleased to learn that the proposed measure does not prevent the consumption of salt in restaurants. Cooks may be barred from using the stuff, but salt cellars will still be on the table for patrons.

But that has been scant consolation for the culinary stars of a city that likes to think of itself as the restaurant capital of the world. Salt or no salt, Mr Ortiz's idea has sent the collective blood pressure of the city's gastronomic establishment soaring.

Fast food might be full of sodium, "but in a kitchen that's doing fine dining, the use of salt is moderate," John DeLucie, chef at The Waverly Inn and the soon-to-be-opened Lion restaurant, told the New York Daily News.

The last word, however, belongs to Tom Colicchio, star of the TV programme Top Chef, and owner of Craft restaurant. "If they banned salt," he says, "nobody would come here anymore." Those who wanted to taste food without salt should "go to a hospital and taste its food."