Industry could substantially reduce sodium content in products, resulting in large gains in population health.
Canada’s fast foods on average contain 17-per-cent more sodium than comparable products in the UK and a whopping 27-per-cent more than those sold in France, according to an international study published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. In a comparison of sodium content in fast food in six countries, only the U.S. ranked higher than Canada.
The study, which involved Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, UK and the U.S., revealed substantial variation in the average sodium content of the same food items sold in different countries. The study looked at sodium content in fast food from Burger King (Hungry Jack’s in Australia), Domino’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway. Data on sodium content were collected in April 2010.
In the UK, for example, McDonald’s McNuggets contained 240 mg sodium per 100 gram serving, while Canadian McNuggets had 600 mg sodium per 100 grams – two and a half times more.
“In the right regulatory environment, it is likely that fast food companies could substantially reduce the salt in their products with large gains for population health,” says the study, which was led by Australian researchers.
Canadians eat, on average, more than double the recommended level of 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day.
“This takes a big bite out of our health,” says Dr. Kevin Willis of the Canadian Stroke Network. “A diet high in sodium leads to increased blood pressure, and a greater risk of stroke and heart disease.”
Despite warnings from health groups, fast food is a regular contributor to the diet of Canadians. Sandwich-type fast foods such as pizza, burgers and subs are the leading source of the excess dietary sodium.
Large variations in sodium content revealed in the survey — between types of fast food, between average levels in different countries, and even between the same products — clearly shows that there is considerable opportunity for reducing sodium levels.
“This debunks excuses that there are technical production barriers or consumer taste preferences standing in the way of cutting sodium levels,” says Dr. Norm Campbell of the University of Calgary, one of the study’s authors.
“Why are Canadians being exposed to less healthy food?” Dr. Campbell asks. “In the absence of the federal government setting and enforcing national sodium content targets, the food industry will continue to put their profit before our health.”
The Canadian Stroke Network (www.canadianstrokenetwork.ca) is one of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence. Headquartered at the University of Ottawa, the CSN brings together stroke experts from across the country. The goal of the CSN is to reduce the burden of stroke through research innovation.
For information, please contact:
Canadian Stroke Network
613-562-5696 (o), 613-852-2303 (cell)