A recent study, published in Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), found that salt levels in fast foods sold by six major companies vary considerably between the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and France.
What was the study?
Researchers examined the salt content of 2,124 food items in seven product categories, including French fries, burgers, pizza, salads, savory breakfast items, chicken products, and sandwiches from six companies: Domino's Pizza, Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Burger King (Hungry Jack's in Australia), Subway, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
What did they find?
Americans and Canadians consume way too much salt. The fast foods tested in the UK and France contained significantly lower levels of salt than in the US and Canada. The study states that in the UK, McDonald's Chicken McNuggets contained 240 mg sodium (0.6g salt) per 100 g in servings vs. 600 mg (1.5g salt) per 100 g serving in Canada. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people should be getting less than 2,000 mg of sodium over an entire day. Yikes!
Why so much variation from country to country?
Some say regulation. Dr. Norman Campbell, University of Calgary, believes that the current government approach of voluntary salt reduction programs just don't work. Perhaps if there was more accountability and oversight for the industry, we would see better results - not only for the industry, but in the overall health of our population (since we also eat a ton of fast food). On the other hand, food companies cite technical food processing issues as barriers in reducing salt content, claiming that new technology and processes are needed in order to make lower-salt products.
What can we do about it?
Besides encouraging lawmakers to impose stronger regulatory measures on food companies to decrease the salt content in their products, we, as individuals, can control what we put in our bodies. Too much sodium in your diet can contribute to high blood pressure and make your blood pressure treatment less effective. A 2010 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that if Americans cut three grams of salt out of their daily diets, it would save up to 92,000 lives each year.
OK, I'll cut back on fast food - what else can I do?
Use less salt at the table and when cooking. Instead of automatically adding salt to your food before tasting it, try other options to spice up your food (like salt's best friend, pepper). Also, be sure to read food labels on prepared or prepackaged goods. Often, salt is disguised under fancier names like "sodium chloride," "monosodium glutamate," or "disodium phosphate." Don't be fooled - they're all different names for salt.