Sodium in fast food differs by country

April 17, 2012

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that amount of sodium in fast food may differ from country to country. Data on salt content for products served by six fast-food chains operating in Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States were collected by survey in April 2010. Mean salt contents (and their ranges) were calculated and compared within and between countries and companies.

The researchers found substantial variation in the mean salt content for different categories of products. For example, the salads included in the survey contained 0.5 g of salt per 100 g, whereas the chicken products contained 1.6 g. There was also variability between countries: chicken products from the U.K. contained 1.1 g of salt per 100 g, whereas chicken products from the U.S. contained 1.8 g. Furthermore, the mean salt content of food categories varied between companies and between the same products in different countries. For example, McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets contain 0.6 g of salt per 100 g in the U.K., but 1.6 g of salt per 100 g in the U.S. In general, certain foods had less salt in the U.K. than in the U.S. or Canada. Overall, fast-food burgers served up an average of 1.3 g of salt across all countries, with only small national differences.

The researchers are unclear as to the reasons for the variation of salt content, but the marked differences in salt content of very similar products suggest that technical reasons are not a primary explanation. Therefore, the researchers concluded that in the right regulatory environment, it is likely that fast-food companies could substantially reduce the salt in their products, translating to large gains for population health.