While eating out at fast-food restaurants or opting for prepackaged meals at the grocery store may seem convenient, it won't be helpful to your health in the long run. Opting for low-sodium fast-food options involves a bit of work, but reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
Sodium Nutrition Information
As a key electrolyte required by the body, sodium is necessary to carry out essential functions like moving your muscles and maintaining a regular blood pressure. However, the Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center explains that most dietary sodium does not naturally occur in foods.
Most adults get approximately 75 percent of their sodium from prepackaged foods with salt added as either as a preservative or for flavor during the food-processing stage. This results in a far-higher sodium intake than what is strictly necessary, for most healthy adults.
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommended daily dose of sodium, for both adult men and adult women, is 2,300 milligrams. However, the average intake for people across the United States is often much higher — for adult men, it's 4,240 milligrams per day, while adult women average 2,980 milligrams of sodium.
Over time, excess sodium can lead to chronic hypertension, resulting in elevated blood pressure levels, which, in turn, causes damage to the kidneys and blood vessels. The American Heart Association (AHA) explains that most adults should, ideally, consume less than the recommended daily dose.
Limiting your sodium intake to just 1,500 milligrams a day can have a significant effect on reducing high blood pressure and improving cardiovascular issues. According to the AHA, excess sodium may also cause a build-up of fluid, leading to weight gain and excessive bloating.
Low-Sodium Fast-Food Recommendations
One of the critical ways to limit your sodium intake when eating out is to be aware of the low-sodium, fast-food options that exist when dining out. The best low-calorie healthy fast-food options will also be low in sodium. Low-salt, fast-food options can include lean chicken breast and salmon as the preferred meats of choice.
A 6-ounce fillet of salmon offers approximately 95.2 milligrams or 4 percent of the daily sodium dose. A similar 6-ounce chicken breast offers even less sodium — 79.9 milligrams or just 3 percent of the daily dose limit.
Read more: 10 Ways to Make Fast Food Healthier
According to Harvard Health Publishing, certain types of cuisine, like Italian and Asian foods, often have higher levels of sodium based on the sauces, cured meats and cheeses used. At these restaurants, the best low-calorie, healthy fast-food options would involve opting for low-sodium soy sauces and cheese-only or vegetable-topped pizzas instead of pepperoni.
Reading the nutrition label when opting for low-sodium fast-food options is the key to lowering your sodium intake. The sodium chart for fast food varies depending on the restaurant in question, as well as the meal you choose.
The researchers behind a June, 2019 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that over the past decade, there's been a 4.6 percent increase in the average amount of sodium present in entrees at fast-food restaurants.
According to a September, 2019 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, most meals at U.S. chain restaurants exceeded the recommended sodium levels. Just one McDonald's double cheeseburger has 1,040 milligrams of sodium, while a single beef taco with cheese and lettuce, from Taco Bell, has 571 milligrams of sodium.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommends choosing light or low-salt fast-food condiments, as the sodium content can add up quickly. Opting for oil and vinegar salad dressings is a preferred option for low-salt fast-food meals. It's also a better idea to ask for sauces to be served on the side, so that you can control your drizzle size.
- Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: “Sodium (Chloride)"
- Health.gov: “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 2: Shifts Needed to Align With Healthy Eating Patterns”
- American Heart Association: "How Much Sodium Should I Eat per Day?"
- American Heart Association: “Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt"
- USDA: “Low Sodium Foods for People With High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Sticking to a Low-Salt Diet When Eating Out"
- USDA FoodData Central: "McDonald's, Double Cheeseburger"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Taco Bell, Soft Taco With Beef, Cheese and Lettuce”
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration: "Use the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake of Sodium in Your Diet"
- American Journal of Preventive Medicine: "Calorie and Nutrient Profile of Combination Meals at U.S. Fast Food and Fast Casual Restaurants”
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Fast-Food Offerings in the United States in 1986, 1991, and 2016 Show Large Increases in Food Variety, Portion Size, Dietary Energy, and Selected Micronutrients”