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You and Your Health

Fast Food Is Saltier in U.S. Than Overseas

Fast Food Is Saltier in U.S. Than Overseas

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International chains sell same items abroad but with less sodium, study finds.

Large differences exist in the levels of salt in foods sold at major fast-food restaurants in the United States and other developed countries, a new study says.

Researchers examined the salt content of more than 2,100 food items in seven product categories sold by Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway in the United States, Canada, Australia, France, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The food-product categories included savory breakfast items, burgers, chicken products, pizza, salads, sandwiches and french fries.

The study found that sodium levels in similar foods varied widely among the countries, and that fast food in the United States and Canada contained much higher levels of sodium than in the United Kingdom and France.

For example, McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets in Canada contained 2.5 times more sodium than those in the United Kingdom. There were 600 milligrams of sodium (1.5 grams of salt) in a 3.5-ounce serving in Canada, but the same serving size in the United Kingdom contained 240 milligrams of sodium (0.6 grams of salt).

The study appears April 16 in the Canadian Medical Association’s journal, CMAJ.

“Canadian companies indicate they have been working to reduce sodium but the high sodium in these foods indicates voluntary efforts aren’t working,” Norman Campbell, of the University of Calgary, and colleagues, said in a journal news release.

“These high levels indicate failure of the current government approach that leaves salt reduction solely in the hands of industry,” the researchers said. “Salt-reduction programs need to guide industry and oversee it with targets and timelines for foods, monitoring and evaluation, and stronger regulatory measures if the structured voluntary efforts are not effective.”

High levels of dietary salt have been linked to high blood pressure and other harmful health effects.

“Decreasing salt in fast foods would appear to be technically feasible, and is likely to produce important gains in population health—the [average] salt levels of fast foods are high, and these foods are eaten often,” the researchers concluded.


More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute outlines how to reduce sodium in your diet.