Heart disease kills more Americans than any other disease, and a major cause of it, high sodium intake, has been attributed to diets that increasingly include fast food. But Americans might not be playing on an even playing field—fast food in America often contains more sodium than the same products in Europe, according to a report released Monday by the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
For instance, in America, six Mcdonald's chicken McNuggets contains about 1,600 milligrams of salt, nearly three times as much as in six chicken McNuggets in the United Kingdom, according to researchers at the University of Calgary. According to the McDonald's website, the McNuggets are supposed to have only about 540 milligrams of salt per six nuggets.
An American Subway club sandwich has 1,200 milligrams of salt per 3.5 ounces; in France, the same sandwich has just 500 milligrams of salt.
American Big Macs and Pizza Hut pizzas also contain more salt than in other countries, according to the report.
Across the board, fast food in the United Kingdom has the lowest amount of salt, which the researchers attribute to a concerted effort in the country to lower salt content.
"It is apparent that mean salt levels are already lower in fast foods from the UK than from elsewhere, which may be a consequence of industry's active participation in salt reduction efforts in that country," they wrote.
That same model could and should be replicated in the United States, according to the researchers. Fast food companies should incrementally reduce salt over the course of a few months or years.
"Small reduction in risk for everyone would add up to large overall benefits," according to the report. "Decreasing salt in fast foods would appear to be technically feasible and is likely to produce important gains in population health."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 68 million American adults—about 1 in 3—have high blood pressure, which can be exacerbated with a diet high in salt. It's been estimated that about a fourth of Americans eat fast food once every day.