US and Canada Love Salty Fast Food

Fast food sodium levels vary by country

(RxWiki News) Ordering a Big Mac at a U.S. McDonald's? Chances are it's got substantially higher salt content than the same burger overseas. That's because sodium content varies significantly among fast food chains in different countries.

Meals from common fast food joints such as Subway or Burger King contain substantially more sodium if purchased in the United States or Canada.

"Consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium daily."

Norman Campbell, MD, a professor of medicine in community health sciences and physiology and pharmacology at the University of Calgary in Canada, said that researchers found marked variability among reported salt contents for the same fast food items sold in different developed countries.

Consuming too much sodium is linked to the development of high blood pressure, which puts individuals at a higher risk of a heart attack of stroke.

During the study, a team of investigators from Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the U.S. examined sodium content data of 2,124 food items from categories of food that included savory breakfast items, chicken products, burgers, pizza, sandwiches, salads and french fries.

The reviewed items came from Burger King (known as Hungry Jack's in Australia), Domino's Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's, Pizza Hut and Subway.

They found that the amount of salt in similar foods was not consistent between countries. The same items sold in the U.S. and Canada contained much higher levels of sodium than in the UK or France.

As an example, McDonald's Chicken McNuggets sold in Canada contained nearly three times as much sodium -- 600 milligrams of sodium per a 100 gram serving as compared to 240 milligrams of sodium in a similarly-sized UK portion. The same McNuggets sold in the U.S. had an even higher salt content.

Previously food manufacturers have blamed technical barriers as a reason for not hitting recommended salt reduction targets. Investigators said the findings shows that may not be the true issue. They suggest that decreasing salt in foods is technically feasible, and likely to contribute to overall health gains.

"Canadian companies indicate they have been working to reduce sodium but the high sodium in these foods indicates voluntary efforts aren't working," said Dr. Campbell. "These high levels indicate failure of the current government approach that leaves salt reduction solely in the hands of industry.

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 study was recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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Review Date: 
April 16, 2012