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Study finds American fast food saltier than other countries’

Posted by | Posted on 17 June 2012

by megan munson
staff writer

A man eats an Angus Bacon and Cheese Burger from his local McDonald’s and casually sprinkles extra salt over his fries, ignoring the nutrition label on the side of the carton.

A dash of salt might seem harmless, but a teaspoon of salt packs a punch with 2,325 milligrams of sodium. According to CDC.gov, adults should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. Those who are 51 or older and who have high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or diabetes are recommended to limit their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day.

In an American McDonald’s, an Angus Bacon and Cheese Burger has 2,070 milligrams of sodium. In a Canadian McDonald’s, an Angus Bacon and Cheese Burger has 1,990 milligrams of sodium.

In a recent Canadian study, researchers analyzed the nutrition facts of over 2,000 items from six of the largest food chains in the world, consisting of McDonald’s, Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, KFC, Subway and Pizza Hut. The researchers compared the nutrition information of fast food items from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, France, Canada and the United Kingdom. They found that fast food in the United States is usually saltier than in the other countries.

“We found multiple examples of low-salt choices, and for the same product across different countries there’s variation in the amount of salt that’s added,” said study author Norm Campbell, M.D., in an article published on CNN.com. “From that perspective, it would appear that it’s not very challenging to lower the amount of salt in food products.”

The study suggests that no specific reason exists for the high amount of sodium in American fast foods, but no limits are present in food-processing technologies that block the ability to produce food items that are low in sodium.

“I think (Burger King has) higher standard food items than most people because we use only the best, 100 percent meat, and our produce is all…freshly cut each day,” said Karen Foard, co-owner of the Kill Devil Hills Burger King. “We cut up all our produce; we don’t use bagged or anything like that.”

Some students feel that regardless of a particular country, sodium stays the same among food products.

“I think fast food is the same in all countries, because it’s the same chain,” sophomore Stacey Walton said. “It’s not like they intentionally change anything.”

Too much sodium can cause health problems among people of all ages. A common problem among those who eat a large amount of sodium daily is elevated blood pressure, which puts people at risk for hypertension or abnormally high blood pressure. Hypertension in turn puts people at risk for cardiovascular disease.

“If you take too much table salt in, you’re taking in too much sodium. If you take too much sodium, you tend to retain, or keep, water in your blood system,” said Donna Lowcher, a physician’s assistant with Beach Medical Care at the Regional Medical Center in Kitty Hawk. “And what happens is if you take too much sodium in, you retain too much water, which puts pressure on your blood vessels, which increases the work of your heart. So that’s why it’s important to maintain a healthy diet. ”

Fast food tends to give sodium a bad name. However, it is essential to the function of the human body.

“(Your body) needs sodium to help your nervous system function,” Lowcher said. “So if you don’t have enough of it, and if you don’t give your body what it needs, it’s not going to function correctly.”

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, interprets that industrialized nations might use more sodium to remain competitive. Some officials highly disagree with the findings.

“There are challenges not identified by this study, including availability of acceptable reduced-sodium items in the supply chain, consumer variability in taste preference across the U.S. and among the various countries, regulatory constraints, as well as availability of new and existing alternatives to sodium,” said Joy Dubost, Ph.D., director of nutrition for the National Restaurant Association, in an article published on CNN.com.

Despite the slight to drastic sodium difference, some American fast food companies have made efforts to reduce sodium and increase customer satisfaction.

“The preservatives, they preserve the food longer, but they have found that sodium is bad for people’s health,” Foard said. “That’s why we do cut all of our (produce) fresh, so we don’t have the sodium.”

Send comments to munsonme0523@daretolearn.org

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