The good news? Salt levels in fast food from Australian takeaway chains are becoming lower. The bad news? Those levels are still very high.
Fast food picture from Shutterstock
A four-year study of six Australian fast food chains by the George Institute for Global Health (TGI) and published in the Medical Journal Of Australia tracked changing sodium levels across 300 products. Between 2009 and 2012, the average amount of sodium fell by 43mg per 100 grams. But that doesn't mean you should be pigging out -- there are still many individual items which contain more than the recommended daily maximum of 1600mg.
"Despite the small reduction, salt levels in Australian fast food remain high," senior author Dr Elizabeth Dunford said in a release announcing the study. "These small reductions in salt levels could be easily undone by the trend towards larger portion sizes."
Excess salt was one of my biggest concerns when I carried out the McDiet experiment earlier this year -- eating nothing but McDonald's meant that I was absorbing 2500mg+ every single day. But it might have been much worse if I'd gone for pizza, as the study makes clear.
Six companies were tracked in the research: Domino's, Hungry Jack's, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), McDonald's, Pizza Hut and Subway. One interesting point that emerged:
In many cases, there is wide variability in the sodium content of very similar products, suggesting that there is no technical reason preventing further sodium reduction in many. The wide variation in sodium content per serving highlights the need for standardisation of portion sizes.
The study authors suggest that a co-ordinated, government-backed effort to reduce salt levels and improve public health is needed. Given the current government's apparent unwillingness to introduce more transparent nutritional information on supermarket packaging, that might be a while coming. As ever, the lesson for fast food is the same: it's OK as an indulgence, but you shouldn't make it a regular habit.