Fast food salt content: a world of difference

By • Published: August 14th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For fast food lovers, the sight of their favorite chain’s sign can be a symbol of comfort and welcome predictability. No matter how far you are from home, there’s satisfaction in knowing you can walk into your preferred burger chain’s nearest location and get the same juicy taste you enjoy in your hometown.

Wait. Is your favorite restaurant’s food really the same across the globe? Actually, foods marketed under the same name in different countries aren’t always identical.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows great variation in the salt content of supposedly identical products, depending on where they are sold. In April 2010, the researchers collected nutritional information on the products six fast food chains sell in the United States, Canada, Australia, France, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Proportionally, U.S. fast food was saltiest overall. For example, one popular chicken product had two-and-a-half times more salt per 100 grams in the U.S. than in the U.K.

The researchers say the differences in salt content show the companies can reduce salt in their U.S. products, despite claims otherwise. The scientists also suggest standardizing serving sizes to help customers better understand how much salt and other substances they are consuming.

According to the Institute of Medicine, people should take in no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Experts say many people actually should consume less. Those older than 50, African Americans and people with diabetes, high blood pressure or kidney disease should stop at 1,500 milligrams. However, statistics show Americans consume an average of 3,436 milligrams daily.

Excess sodium intake raises blood pressure and the risk of stroke and heart attack. It’s a safe bet that no one wants an order of that.