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New Zealand fast food saltier than European counterparts

17 April 2012

New Zealand fast food saltier than European counterparts

New Zealand’s fast foods on average contain 8 percent more sodium than comparable foods in the UK and a massive 18 percent more than those in France, as shown in an international study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

“This is a high risk to our population’s health and gives an urgent message about the need for change,” says Associate Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu from The University of Auckland’s Clinical Trials Research Unit, one of ten researchers from six countries represented in the study. “If the UK and France have similar products with much lower salt levels, this shows that New Zealand could be – and should be – heading in the same direction.

“In the UK there is a long-standing programme where agreements between government and industry on salt targets have driven down the salt levels of processed food. The study demonstrates there is still clear room for improvement in the UK, and even more so in New Zealand. The research refutes the standard industry protest, since it shows there is no technical reason why salt content of our food can’t be reduced.”

The research project, which involved Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, the UK and the US, looked at sodium content in fast food from Burger King (Hungry Jack’s in Australia), Domino’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway. The data on sodium content were collected in April 2010.

The overall results for New Zealand’s fast foods were similar to those of Australia, with the sodium content amounting to an average of 1.3 grams per 100 grams (comparing unfavourably with 1.2 in the UK and 1.1 in France). The figures for Canada and the US were even higher than those in New Zealand, with sodium levels in Canada averaging 27 percent more than in France (at 1.4 grams per 100 grams) and US levels at a whopping 36% more than France (1.5 grams per 100 grams).

Individual products are itemised in the study. For example a consumer of a McDonald’s Big Mac will ingest 30 percent more sodium per 100 grams in New Zealand than in either France or the UK.

The study also measured and compared serving sizes and found that serving sizes of fast food items vary considerably between countries, which is a key reason for some of the differences seen in the sodium content per serve.

A diet high in sodium leads to higher blood pressure, and to a greater risk of heart disease and stroke. Fast foods such as pizza and burgers are a leading source of excess dietary sodium.

New Zealanders have an average salt intake of 9 grams a day, compared with the recommended maximum of 5-6 grams a day. One third of the food we buy is from restaurants and fast food outlets.

ENDS

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