PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Amar Jones knows that high-salt Chinese takeout isn't good for his high blood pressure. But the lure of shrimp with broccoli is hard to resist.
So he was heartened recently to hear that his favorite dish now has 20 percent less sodium thanks to a citywide effort to battle hypertension — a major risk factor for heart disease.
"People might think I'm being extreme, but you're probably going to save some lives," Jones said. "You might save my life."
Organizers have recruited more than 200 eateries across Philadelphia for the city's Healthy Chinese Takeout Initiative, which aims to reduce the food's salt content by 10 percent to 15 percent.
Participants have made several changes, such as flavoring orders with chilies or garlic instead of sodium; using less sauce; distributing soy sauce packets only on demand; and posting nutrition information.
It's the latest effort by a major U.S. city to help people eat better. Many have already banned trans-fats, and some require restaurants to post calorie counts.
Philadelphia has focused on salt consumption because 37 percent of residents have high blood pressure. The number jumps to 47 percent for African-Americans, according to a 2012 survey by the Public Health Management Corp.
The multi-agency initiative, which began about a year ago, focuses on mom-and-pop Chinese joints because they are "an enormous industry" in the city, serving about 3 million meals a year, said Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz.
The dishes are cheap and easily available, especially in low-income minority neighborhoods that often lack supermarkets and access to fresh produce.
But many residents — and even takeout owners — didn't realize how the meals affected their health, said Schwarz.
"In some restaurants, the restaurateurs were really taken aback by the amount of sodium in their food," Schwarz said.