Salt In Fast Food Products Varies Country To Country
April 17, 2012

Salt In Fast Food Products Varies Country To Country

According to a new study published in Canadian Medical Association Journal, salt levels vary significantly between different developed countries.

The international group of researchers took data on the salt content of 2,124 food items in product categories from six companies around the globe.

The companies included in the study were Burger King, Domino's Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's, Pizza Hut and Subway.

The researchers looked at breakfast items, burgers, chicken products, pizza, salads, sandwiches and french fries from the six major companies throughout different regions of the globe.

Salt levels in similar foods varied widely between countries, with fast food in Canada and the U.S. containing higher levels of sodium than in the U.K. and France.

In Canada, McDonald's Chicken McNuggets contained two and a half times the amount of sodium compared to U.K. servings.

"We saw marked variability in the reported salt content of products provided by major transnational fast food companies," Dr. Norman Campbell, University of Calgary, wrote with coauthors in the journal.

"Canadian companies indicate they have been working to reduce sodium but the high sodium in these foods indicates voluntary efforts aren't working," states Dr. Campbell.

Too much salt has been linked to higher blood pressure and other adverse health effects.  Scientists estimate that reductions in salt intake could reduce deaths.

Several countries, including the U.K., Ireland, Finland and Japan, are working on reducing the amount of salt intake.

However, food companies often 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.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people should be getting less than 2,000 mg of sodium over an entire day.

However, fast-food burgers in the study served an average of 1.3 grams of salt, or 520 grams of sodium, across all countries.

"These high levels indicate failure of the current government approach that leaves salt reduction solely in the hands of industry," Campbell wrote in the journal. "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."

The authors said that their study is an opportunity for widespread reformulation of products to contain lower levels of salt.

"Decreasing salt in fast foods would appear to be technically feasible and is likely to produce important gains in population health – the mean salt levels of fast foods are high, and these foods are eaten often," they authors conclude.

A 2010 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that if Americans cut 3 grams of salt out of their daily diets, it would save up to 92,000 lives each year.

An average man in the U.S. consumes more than 10 grams of salt per day, while the average women eats about 7 grams.