Posts Tagged fast food

How much salt is in our food? Amanda Johnson Apr 19


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.

It’s official – the world is getting fatter Amanda Johnson Feb 08


Obesity has been very much in the news over recent weeks following the publication of the new US Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and research papers published in the Lancet last week (4 Feb), showing that the worldwide prevalence of obesity has nearly doubled since 1980.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 has quite a focus on tackling obesity, stating that, ’Americans are experiencing an epidemic of overweight and obesity. Poor diet and physical inactivity also are linked to major causes of illness and death.’ The report opens with the suggestion that, ’Eating and physical activity patterns that are focused on consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices, and being physically active can help people attain and maintain a healthy weight, reduce their risk of chronic disease, and promote overall health.’ The two overarching concepts in the report are to maintain calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight and to focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages.

It is interesting to see this increasing focus on obesity. It’s a significant problem  across the world — not only in the USA but also closer to home in New Zealand and Australia, as we have seen in figures just reported in the Lancet paper — which received quite a bit of media coverage this week.

So what’s the solution?

I don’t think there is any single answer. As the US Dietary Guidelines report says, ’all sectors of society, including individuals and families, educators and health professionals, communities, organizations, businesses, and policymakers, contribute to the food and physical activity environments in which people live. We all have a role to play in reshaping our environment so that healthy choices are easy and accessible for all.’ I’d certainly agree with that!

Obviously, physical activity and an optimal nutrition intake with an appropriate number of calories is essential, but how do we make the healthier choices easier for people?

Two issues have prompted a lot of recent discussion — food labelling, and the marketing of fast foods to children.

Food labelling has ben very much in the news, following the publication last month of an Independent Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy, commissioned by the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council.

I think this is an important issue as currently food labels are extremely difficult to understand and certainly the people I see in my nutrition clinics are often confused (not to mention the fact you often need a microscope to even read the food label as the writing is so small)! New recommendations out last month attracted a lot of media attention, with many experts from both public health and from the food industry giving their comments and input.  A final decision of food labelling changes is likely to happen in December 2011.

Another topic that has gained a lot of attention in recent weeks is the marketing of fast foods to children.

In San Francisco, it has been reported that the happy meal toys will be banned from 2012. And some would argue that happy meals are already illegal. I think banning happy meal toys is a great idea, my kids rarely go to McDonalds (I don’t like the food and actually neither do they) but on the rare occasions they have been (to attend a birthday party) the main attraction has been the happy meal toy. It seems all the kids want to do is to collect these toys — and to do enable them to do this we have to watch them eat food that is high in fat and sugar and of a low nutrient density. I think if the toys were banned we would see a big slump in happy meal consumption.

There has also been discussion recently about Fast Food outlets clustering around schools. A recent University of Canterbury study based on an examination of the clustering of food outlets around schools in Christchurch, Wellington, Lower Hutt, Waitakere and North Shore found that found these types of food outlets were five and a half times more likely to be near schools compared with other areas. Further, the proximity of such outlets was highest around secondary schools, low decile schools and those in densely populated and commercially-zoned areas.

In the battle to combat the obesity epidemic — we should be focussing a significant amount of our attention on our children in the first instance, ensuring they are exposed to healthy food and a healthy environment. Better food labelling would also be an important step forward in improving people’s understanding of what’s in their food. I also think that we all need to work together to solve the obesity problem — Government, health professionals, educators and the food industry – if we are to move forward and reverse this increasing trend.

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