Salt levels in fast food vary significantly between countries, research finds

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 18th April 2012

Salt levels vary significantly in the fast foods sold by six major companies in various developed countries, according to a study published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

An international team of researchers from Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States looked at data on the salt content of 2,124 food items in seven product categories from six companies.

The companies were Burger King (known as Hungry Jack’s in Australia), Domino’s Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway. They looked at savoury breakfast items, burgers, chicken products, pizza, salads, sandwiches and french fries.

Too much dietary salt has been linked to higher blood pressure and other adverse health effects. Several countries, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Finland, Japan and others, have embarked upon salt reduction efforts.

In Australia, recent efforts have been successful with voluntary salt reduction targets in place or labelling for some types of food. However, food companies often cite technical food processing issues as barriers to reducing salt content, stating that new technology and processes are needed to make lower-salt products.

According to the new research, salt levels in similar foods varied widely between countries, with fast food in Canada and the US containing much higher levels of sodium than in the UK and France. In Canada, McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets contained two and a half times the amount of sodium – 600mg sodium (1.5 g salt) per 100g serving compared to 240 mg sodium (0.6 g salt) per 100 g in UK servings.

Lead author of the study, Dr Norman Campbell from the University of Calgary, in Canada, said he believes that this is an opportunity for widespread reformulation of products to contain lower levels of salt, a change that could be “introduced gradually over several years to minimize consumer backlash”.

Dr Campbell said. “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.”