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New research published earlier this week by the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that the salt content of quick-service menu items varies substantially by company and country.
For example, McDonald's Chicken McNuggets contain more than twice the amount of salt (1.6 grams per 100 grams) in the United States, compared to the United Kingdom (0.6 grams of salt per 100 grams).
The study, which was conducted by a group of 10 researchers, examined more than 2,100 menu items sold at Burger King, Domino's Pizza, KFC, McDonald's, Pizza Hut and Subway in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, France and New Zealand.
Food in the U.S. and Canada contains higher levels of salt than in the European countries. The report said that although the reasons were unclear for these variations, more stringent regulatory environments could substantially reduce salt in products.
"There is good evidence from the UK that agreement between the government and industry on salt targets has driven down the salt levels of processed food. This model would appear to have the same potential for fast foods," the report said.
The study also suggests a correlation between countries with lower salt levels and gains in their populations' health, although additional research would need to be conducted for concrete proof. As the report outlines, however, it is widely accepted that excess dietary salt causes higher blood pressure.
"Decreasing salt in fast foods would appear to be technically feasible, and is likely to produce important gains in population health -- the salt levels of fast foods are high, and these foods are eaten often," the report said.
The New York City Health Department has had a voluntary salt reduction program in place for packaged foods since early 2010. Among the brands that initially committed to this initiative were Subway, Uno Chicago Grill, Starbucks and Au Bon Pain.
This program led to others, including the National Salt Reduction Initiative, which targets salt reduction for 25 categories of foods in restaurants. Last year, the American Heart Association issued a call to action for the public, health professionals, the foodservice industry and the government to put forth a greater effort in reducing sodium intake.
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