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Fast Food Salt Content Varies Widely

Tom Corwin

Posted April 25, 2012

They might look like the same Chicken McNuggets. But depending upon whether you buy them at a McDonald's restaurant in London or Augusta, the amount of salt that comes along in them could vary widely, and that could have implications for your health, according to a study out Monday.

Research teams in six countries looked at multinational fast-food chains that operate across the globe and specifically looked at the salt content of their offerings. Excess salt in the diet is a leading cause of hypertension, along with lack of exercise and obesity, said Robin Borders, a registered dietitian with Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics. Reducing salt intake modestly across the board could save as many lives as smoking cessation efforts, the authors write in the study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

But when looking at fast food offerings from the same company but in different countries, the amount of salt intake was vastly different in some cases. McDonald's Chicken McNuggets, for instance, had 2.5 times more salt in the U.S. than in the version served in the United Kingdom, the study notes. There was also wide variation between companies with similar products. The salt level in sandwiches from Pizza Hut tended to be 70 percent higher than those from Subway, according to the study. The authors note that there is an effort in the UK between the government and companies to lower the amount of salt offered in foods, which could be having an impact already. This could also refute arguments from the food industry that retooling to use less salt would be a substantial burden, the authors note.

"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," the study concludes.

That salt content is often overlooked when people eat out, Borders said.

"Most people don't realize it," she said. The problem comes from eating processed and prepared foods where salt is often used as a preservative, Borders said. Even with salads, dressing can add a big dose of sodium and add-ons like croutons and other additions can add up, she said.

"You just have to look at each item," Borders said.

©2012 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.)

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