Way too much, according to a recent study by Johnson and colleagues, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Personally, I love salty foods. While I have never been too fond of sweet things (chocolate, candy, etc.), just a few years ago I could have easily gone through a bag of chips or pretzels in one sitting. Just writing about that crunchy/salty goodness makes my mouth water.
However, since hypertension runs in my family, I have recently made a concerted effort to limit my sodium intake – largely by cutting out my intake or salty snacks. This process was made that much easier by living with a partner who is doing PhD research on the effects of salt intake on blood pressure, among other things. She got on my butt to limit my salt intake, while I got on hers to limit her intake of sugar – as diabetes runs in her family.
Regarding dietary sodium limits, it is suggested that adults stay under 1500 mg per day, and should never exceed the upper limit of 2300 mg/day.
Unfortunately, as a population, the large majority of North Americans consume considerably more than the upper limit of sodium every single day (~80% of men and women). Given the well established effect of sodium intake on health (check this great resource for more info on salt and health) this collective hyper-salinity of our diet is contributing to high rates of cardiovascular problems.
So where’s the excessive salt coming from?
That’s where the recent study comes in.
In this trial, meals bought from 300 randomly selected chain restaurant locations in New York City during the weekday lunch hour between March 27 to June 8, 2007 were assessed for salt content. A meal was defined as any purchase with at least 1 entrée.
The main findings?
- 56% of meals purchased at fast food outlets contained more sodium than should be consumed during the entire day (>1500mg), with 20% of meals exceeding the uppermost limit for daily sodium intake (>2300mg)
- Chicken fast food places tended to have the worst sodium levels per meal with 83.8% of meals exceeding the daily recommended level (1500mg)
- Only 1 in 36 purchased meals met the Food and Drug Administration “healthy” sodium level for meals (600 mg)
- The high sodium intake wasn’t necessarily driven by a high calorie intake, but rather by a high sodium per calorie ratio, with an average of 2136 mg sodium per 1000 calories purchased. Thus, even those eating lower calorie meals were likely to exceed their daily sodium limit within a single meal.
Take home message:
Stay the hell away from fast-food outlets!
And if you have absolutely no choice but to eat fast food (never the case), at the very least avoid fried chicken places such as KFC and Popeye’s.
Johnson CM, Angell SY, Lederer A, Dumanovsky T, Huang C, Bassett MT, & Silver LD (2010). Sodium content of lunchtime fast food purchases at major US chains. Archives of internal medicine, 170 (8), 732-4 PMID: 20421561