A new study just published this week (16 April) by Canadian researchers has looked at the salt content of different foods in countries around the world, including New Zealand.

It’s an interesting paper! You’d think, for example, that if you ordered a burger from Burger King, McDonald’s, or KFC; or even a Subway sandwich, or a Domino’s pizza, that you’d get the exact same product from a particular company, with the same nutritional content, wherever you were in the world. Not so! In fact a McDonalds Big Mac provides 30% more salt in New Zealand than it does in the UK or France, and a Subway Club Sandwich provides more than twice as much salt in New Zealand than it does in France.

Overall, results show that New Zealand is comparable with Australia in terms of the amount of salt provided by the fast foods tested, but we have more salt in our fast food products than France and the UK, and less than the USA and Canada.

This study has attracted a bit of attention, both in New Zealand and internationally. The New Zealand Herald covered the story yesterday, and an article in Food News also mentioned the study. In addition, Fox News covered the story, along with ABC in Australia.

Salt is found in lots of foods — not only those tested in this study. In fact it has been estimated that only 15% of the salt we consume comes from the salt shaker — with a further 10% being provided naturally by foods. The rest comes from manufactured foods.

It’s important to avoid excess intakes of salt as this can lead to high blood pressure and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It has been estimated that reducing our salt intake a third, from around 9g a day to 6g a day, could save over 900 Kiwi lives a year.

Dietitians New Zealand last year published a fact sheet on salt and health, which gives some nice tips on how to eat less salt, and the Heart Foundation in New Zealand has some great ideas on their website too, in relation to salt reduction.

Many food manufacturers are removing salt from their foods — but this study suggests that more could be done to reduce the salt content of some fast foods — as lower salt choices are being offered in different countries — with some countries (particularly France) offering foods with significantly lower salt levels. Clearly product formulation is not an issue.

In the meantime, I think following the advice of Dietitians New Zealand and the NZ Heart Foundation is a good starting point for anyone wanting to reduce their intake of salt.