We frequently think of big takeaway chains as offering identical food throughout the world, but that's often not the case. A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal compares the salt levels for fast food in six countries around the world (including Australia), and found substantial variation. The good news? Other countries have worse salt problems in their food. The bad news? The chicken is still pretty loaded.
Picture by Jason McDowell
The study compared salt levels for six fast food chains (Burger King/Hungry Jack's, Domino's, KFC, McDonald's, Pizza Hut and Subway) in Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the UK and the USA. 2124 items on the menus were divided into seven broad categories: savoury breakfast items, burgers, chicken, pizza, salad, sandwiches and french fries. The results are summarised in the table below. Unsurprisingly, the US parent branches and their close Canadian siblings generally have the worst numbers.
Individual products show remarkable variations between countries. For instance, Chicken McNuggets in Australia have 1.1 grams of salt per 100 grams. In Canada, that figure tops out at 1.7 grams, followed by the US (1.5 grams), France (1.3 grams), New Zealand (1.1 grams) and the UK (0.6 grams). The UK figures are generally lower because of stricter regulations.
Salt levels obviously vary by serving size, and the big-picture lesson here is that if you have a health issue that's exacerbated by too much salt, avoiding the category could be a wise idea. The study's authors note that the data does undermine arguments from the fast food industry that it can't reduce salt levels in some products because it isn't technically feasible, which means those foods could improve worldwide:
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.