A new study has found the amount of salt in fast food varies significantly between countries, with some foods sold to Canadians among the saltiest.According to The Star:
In Canada, for example, a 100-gram serving of McDonald’s chicken McNuggets contains 2 1/2 times more sodium than a 100-gram serving in the United Kingdom.
And French fries, salads and sandwiches are saltier in Canada than in five other countries, including the United States.
The study, published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, examined the sodium content of more than 2,000 food products sold at six fast food chains operating in Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The international team of researchers compared salt levels in breakfast items, burgers, chicken products, French fries, pizza, salads and sandwiches. The fast food chains scrutinized in the research were: Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway.
Overall, foods served in the U.S. were the saltiest.
“What we found is a large variation in the amount of salt in the different categories,” said study co-author Dr. Norm Campbell, a professor at the University of Calgary’s faculty of medicine.
“Some were very low, most were very high and some were extremely high. What that shows is within each food category you can produce foods that are low in salt.”
The study also found that the same product from the same company served in different countries had substantial variation in salt levels, Campbell said.
“What that means is there are really no viable technological challenges the fast food industry faces in reducing the amount of salt in their products,” Campbell said. “It can be done.”
Food companies often say food processing issues make it hard for them to substantially lower salt content in foods. Campbell and his co-authors suggest that large food companies, such as the six included in the study, do have the ability to reformulate their foods since, for example, a chicken product produced by the same company is saltier in one country than in another.
In Canada, the mean salt content of French fries is 1.4 grams per 100 gram serving. The next highest level is 0.8 grams per 100 gram serving, which was calculated for Australia and the United Kingdom.
Campbell wants to know why Canadian fast food companies are serving foods so high in salt.
“I think some people feel helpless about this,” he said.
Research has shown consuming too much dietary salt leads to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Bill Jeffrey, national coordinator for the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Ottawa, said previous Canadian research has shown sodium levels in foods served at restaurants are generally high and vary widely.
The new research demonstrates the same is true in other countries and between countries, even with the same restaurant chains, he said.
“While they (fast food companies) are claiming technical or other challenges to reducing sodium in their menu items, there is evidence they have already done it to some extent in other countries or they never raised the sodium content that high in other countries,” Jeffrey said. “So there is room for improvement.”
Jeffrey did caution the data used in the analysis was collected in April 2010, which means some companies may have reformulated their foods, altering the reported sodium content. He also noted the relatively small restaurant sample size, pointing out there are thousands of restaurants in each of the six researched countries and that the average sodium intake for citizens of those countries is relatively the same.
The study’s authors conclude their report by suggesting that reducing salt in fast foods is technically feasible and “is likely to produce important gains in population health.”