Springfield surgeon pushes for sodium info on restaurant menus

A Springfield surgeon said he plans to file a petition Tuesday asking the Springfield City Commission to require restaurants to display information about the salt content of their food.

Dr. Surender Neravetla, director of Cardiac Surgery at the Springfield Regional Medical Center, has raised concerns about the negative health impacts of salt for almost a decade. The petition, signed by more than 70 local physicians, would ask the city to require restaurants to post information about the salt content of their menus to make diners more aware of their daily intake.

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“The idea is to allow people to make more educated choices,” Neravetla said.

The Food and Drug Administration already requires restaurants with 20 or more locations to make information about calories and other nutritional facts available to customers. National chains know how much salt is in their products, but there’s no requirement now to post information about sodium content, he said.

Neravetla pointed to New York City as an example of a city that successfully passed a similar requirement. New York’s rule requires chain restaurants to post warnings on their menus next to items that are high in sodium. Springfield would be ahead of its time if it approved similar legislation, Neravetla said.

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The idea isn’t to require restaurants to use less salt, but to allow customers to make more informed choices, he said.

“This allows people to go to a restaurant knowing what is right for them,” Neravetla said.

Staff at the Ohio Restaurant Association did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

The American Heart Association recommends a maximum of about 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, or about one teaspoon. But it says an ideal limit would be closer to 1,500 milligrams or about three-fourths of a teaspoon. The average American eats more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, according to the AHA.

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Excess sodium puts residents at risk for health problems like stroke, heart failure, stomach cancer and kidney disease, according to the AHA.

Scott Griffith is president and general manager of seven Lee’s Famous Chicken Restaurants in the region, including Springfield. The restaurant posts information about calories on its menu and makes other nutritional information, including salt content, available on its website, he said.

Griffith said he’s in favor of making more information available to the public. But he said it would be tough for restaurant owners to manage if each city has its own set of rules. It’s one of the reasons the National Restaurant Association lobbied for a national standard for the the current regulations, he said.

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“I don’t oppose the idea,” Griffith said. “It’s how to go about doing it.”

Neravetla said he’s not yet sure whether the requirements should impact just national chain restaurants or if it would include mom-and-pop restaurants with a single location. But he said making more information available would likely benefit restaurants because people concerned about salt might be more willing to go out for dinner if they had more information about what they’re eating.

Griffith said national chains have information about sodium available, but locally-owned businesses would potentially have to pay for an analysis of every item on a menu. It’s also not clear how the proposal might impact businesses like food trucks, he said.

Neravetla said making more information available could have a significant impact on community health. He said many Springfield residents have health issues that can be attributed to excess salt consumption, while many more are at risk to develop health issues later in life.

Neravetla speaks often about how salt affects health and has written two books and several blog posts about the topic.

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