5 Fast-Food Items With Exorbitant Amounts of Sodium
There's no flavoring agent quite as ubiquitous as salt. From fine dining in world-class restaurants to late-night snacking on the couch, the salt shaker is usually our first choice for spicing things up. Salt is undoubtedly a culinary asset, but it's also a spot-on example of how easy it is to have "too much of a good thing."
To put it simply, pretty much everyone is overdoing it when it comes to sodium intake. The CDC even estimates that a shocking 90% of Americans over the age of 2 consume too much sodium. The words "sodium" and "salt" tend to be used interchangeably, but it's important to understand the difference.
"There's actually a lot of misconception around sodium—and many people believe sodium and salt are the same thing," says dietitian Samantha McKinney. "Sodium is an electrolyte component of salt—but in its most natural form, salt is complexed with several minerals and compounds that support hydration and are essential to life. Salt is approximately 40% sodium and 60% chloride."
Salt isn't all bad. In fact, sodium is an essential micronutrient that our bodies absolutely need to function at full capacity. The issue is we only require a small amount. According to the authors of a new study examining sodium intake and food production published in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, the human body only needs about 450 milligrams of sodium per day and the max amount anyone should eat in 24 hours is roughly 2,300 milligrams. Well, the average American adult eats anywhere from 3,000 to 3,500 milligrams daily!
Habitual overconsumption of sodium is linked to a long list of health concerns such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. That being said, salt is just one piece of a greater nutritional puzzle.
McKinney explains the impact of excessive salt intake is often worsened by other poor dietary choices. "The majority of Americans are eating too much sodium in relation to a low intake of other electrolytes, such as potassium and magnesium, which can be found in produce and unprocessed foods such as dark leafy greens and beans."
In other words, eating a lot of salt is bad, but eating too much salt in combination with a poor overall diet is even worse. Unfortunately, it's very easy to make those two dietary mistakes at once. A study published in Circulation reports about 70% of the sodium consumed by Americans comes from processed foods prepared outside of the home.
One of the main drivers of this nationwide dietary problem is the fast-food industry. Menu items at quick-service chain restaurants routinely contain exorbitant levels of sodium.
"The whole thing about these sorts of menu items is that they harm health in a lot of ways, and when consumed regularly or often—they're not the type of nutrition that your body needs to function well. It's like putting the poorest-quality fuel in the highest-quality, most important engine you have: your body," says McKinney. "The sodium amounts seen in fast food are used to enhance flavor and texture, increase shelf stability and shelf life, and limit the growth of bacteria."
We did some investigating and identified five fast-food menu items containing absolutely unbelievable levels of sodium. Here are the salt bombs you should avoid ordering.
And don't miss 5 Worst New Fast-Food Burgers To Stay Away From Right Now.
Pizza Hut's Large Original Stuffed Crust Meat Lover's Pizza
Cheese is chock-full of sodium, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to see pizza on this list. Boasting over a pound of meat and cheese, it doesn't get much saltier in one sitting than Pizza Hut's large original Stuffed Crust Meat Lover's Pizza.
A single slice contains 950 milligrams of sodium (40% of your daily allowance), which means if you indulge in an extra slice you'll be eating 1,900 milligrams of sodium (79% of daily allowance) in a matter of minutes. A large Pizza Hut pizza usually offers 10 slices in total, which means an entire pie carries 9,500 milligrams of sodium (395% of daily allowance).
Subway's Footlong Spicy Italian
Opting for a traditional sandwich over a burger or pizza may sound healthier in theory, but if you're looking to lower your sodium intake, steer clear of Subway's Spicy Italian footlong. The six-inch sub contains 1,280 milligrams of sodium, which means a footlong has 2,560 milligrams or 107% of your daily allowance. It's worth noting that those figures don't account for any cheeses, sauces, or extras added to the sandwich.
Arby's Large Curly Fries
Fries are, of course, an absolute pillar of fast food. There's nothing quite like a delicious, crispy fry sprinkled with some salt. But Arby's version of this American classic goes overboard on the sodium.
Just a single order of large curly fries contains 1,480 milligrams of sodium. That represents 62% of your recommended daily value (DV) of sodium, assuming you eat 2,000 calories per day. For comparison's sake, a large order of fries from McDonald's contains 400 milligrams of sodium.
Burger King's Spicy Ch'King Deluxe
A spicier reimagining of Burger King's original Ch'King sandwich, this deluxe version packs a flavorful punch. Unfortunately, the ridiculous amounts of sodium found within this chicken sandwich may feel like an assault on your body in another way.
Clocking in at 1,655 milligrams of sodium, the Spicy Ch'King Deluxe is undoubtedly the king of sodium-filled sandwiches.
McDonald's Big Breakfast with Hotcakes
Breakfast is big business for fast-food chains, but no morning drive-thru option offers more sodium than McDonald's Big Breakfast with Hotcakes.
This bonafide breakfast platter features scrambled eggs, hash browns, a sausage patty, and more sodium than your body will know what to do with: an astounding 2,070 milligrams! Consuming 90% of your sodium allowance before noon is certainly one way to start the day.
Don't fear the shaker
We've touched on the absolute extremes of the sodium spectrum in this article, but don't declare yourself a salt minimalist just yet. While chowing down on the menu items listed above day in and day out probably isn't the most nutritious idea, stressing over sodium during every meal isn't a healthy route either.
Focus your energy on maintaining a healthy, well-rounded diet. The rest will work itself out.
"If you're eating salt in the context of a diet that is primarily fresh produce, high-quality meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, real-food carbohydrates such as sweet potato and beans, and healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds—sodium is actually not as much of a concern as many people think," McKinney says.