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U.S. Fast Food May be the Saltiest in the World

It’s no secret that consuming foods with excessive salt means terrible news for your health. High salt intake has been known to increase one’s risk of blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, yet 9 out of every 10 Americans consumes too much salt. The main culprit is undoubtedly processed foods, which account for about 80 percent of  sodium in the American diet.

Now a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has confirmed that not only does fast food in the U.S. have high salt content, but it is also significantly higher that the salt content found in fast food sold in a number of countries around the world. The researchers conduced a survey of 2,124 food items from fast food restaurants in Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. including Pizza Hut, Burger King, Subway, Domino’s Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s. They found that salt was pervasive regardless of location and fast-food burgers served up an average of 1.3 grams of salt (or 520 grams of sodium) across all countries, with only small national differences. This should probably surprise no one, but what’s interesting is there was great variability in the salt content of similar products sold in different countries. For example, Chicken McNuggets in the U.S. have 2.5 times higher levels of salt (1.6 grams of salt per 100 grams) when compared with those in the United Kingdom (0.6 grams of salt per 100-gram serving). A Hawaiian pizza sold at Pizza Hut had 1.5 grams of salt per 100-gram serving in the United States compared with 1.1 grams of salt per 100-gram serving in the United Kingdom.

Why should we be concerned? According to the authors of the study, recent estimates suggest that the numbers of deaths averted by moderate reductions in population salt consumption would be at least as many as those achieved by plausible reductions in population smoking rates. Yes, you read that correctly…SMOKING!

As expected, a McDonald’s representative downplayed the results of the study by telling Reuters that the researchers used data from 2010 and that McDonald’s had already reduced sodium by 10 percent in the majority of their national chicken menu offerings in the U.S. and planned to reduce sodium an average of 15 percent across their menu of food choices by 2015. Lofty goals, indeed! However, there’s a lot more wrong with Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets than just sodium content, so the Golden Arches have a long way to go before we can shower them with any praise.

While it’s fun to blame everything on McDonald’s, let’s not forget that fast food is not the only culprit when it comes to high sodium content. As Dr. Norman Campbell, professor of medicine at the University of Calgary who led this recent study rightly points out, “Yes, salt in fast food is very high but if you went to an expensive restaurant, the sodium levels would be very high,” Campbell told Reuters. “If you buy packaged foods, the levels would often be very high.”

This is not the first time we’ve said this, and it definitely won’t be the last. Your best weapon against our broken food system that is contributing to the death of millions in the U.S. is incredibly easy and unimaginably powerful: Choose whole plant based foods as often as possible and get as many people you know to do so too.

Let’s stop hoping for a better Chicken McNugget, and instead start changing the way we eat.

Image Source: Keoni Kabral/Flickr