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MUST READ: Salt-loving mayor seeks to trim it from NYC diets

NEW YORK -- New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- who is known to shake salt on his pizza -- is focusing on sodium as the next unhealthy enemy in his crusade to coax people into eating better.

Bloomberg's health department has already banned trans fats in restaurant meals and forced chain eateries to post calorie counts on menus. On Monday, the city set guidelines recommending maximum amounts of salt for a variety of restaurant and store-bought foods, with the goal of cutting salt levels in food by a quarter overall in five years.

''I use a lot of salt,'' Bloomberg admitted Monday. Despite any personal eating habits he may have, the mayor is fixated on nutrition as a public health concern.

''We're trying to extend the lives and improve the lives of people who live in this city,'' he said.

Unlike the city's trans fat ban and calorie count rule, the salt initiative is voluntary.

The recommendations posted on the city health department's Web site call for substantial reductions in the salt content of many products, from a 20 percent drop in peanut butter to a 40 percent decline in canned vegetables.

The targets include a 40 percent reduction in breakfast cereals and flavored snack chips, and a 25 percent reduction for cold cuts, processed cheese and salsa.

Not even the mayor's favorite foods -- popcorn and hot dogs -- were spared: The city wants food manufacturers to work on reducing salt by 30 percent in popcorn and 20 percent in wieners.

Health officials say Americans now eat about twice the amount of salt they should. Too much sodium contributes to high blood pressure, which can cause heart attack and stroke.

New York City's program is modeled in part after a similar initiative in Britain that has been under way since 2003.

Seventeen national health organizations and 25 other city or state health agencies have endorsed New York City's effort, called the National Salt Reduction Initiative.