How much salt is in your fast food meal?

A fast food meal of burger and fries

From burgers to baguettes, salads to soups, we're faced with hundreds of different options for a quick meal on the go. But have you thought about the salt hiding in these dishes? Shalini Rawlley reveals how much salt is hidden in fast food restaurant food. 

When you're eating fast food it's easy to go over the recommended maximum intake of salt without even realising. Some dishes alone contain more than double your entire daily maximum (also called reference intake or RI) for salt, which is 6g (about one teaspoon). 

Eating too much salt can damage your health. Over time, too much salt can lead to high blood pressure. This increases your chances of a stroke or a heart attack.

Not all fast food chains publish their nutritional information, but if this is available it can be a useful tool to help you make a healthier choice before you go. 

If it’s not available, bear in mind that the saltiest menu options are likely to feature high-salt foods such as processed meats (bacon, sausage, pepperoni), olives and sauces. And menu options making claims such as “lighter”, “low calorie” or suitable for special diets, won’t necessarily be lower in salt, and can even be higher. If the food is pre-packaged, look at the nutrition label to help you. If there are traffic light labels, choose as many "green" lights as possible. If there aren't traffic lights, "low" in salt means less than 0.3g per 100g, and "high" is more than 1.5g.

All information is based on menu information correct at time of publication.

Subway

 Inside a Subway restaurant, a staff member prepares a sandwich 

The helpful thing about Subway is that you can customise and create your own sub based on your health needs and tastes. But it’s important to be mindful of what a difference your choice of breads, condiments and extras can make. 

Adding cheese, one or two sauces and extras like bacon or chorizo can add 0.8–1g of salt.

The salads contain less salt, but take into account the salt content in any added sauces and cheese

The “Calculate yours” option on the Subway website enables you to see the difference it will make to add or remove various ingredients. First select the sandwich you are interested in, and then select “calculate yours”. Salty extras such as cheese, bacon and sauce will bump up the salt content. 

Their standard subs vary in terms of salt content. A 6-inch spicy Italian sub contains 2.7g salt, 45% of your daily maximum, both the "big beef melt" and the veggie patty contain significantly less at 1.6g. Of course, the bigger the portion the more salt and any extras you add will also add up. A foot-long sub will contain twice as much salt as a 6-inch. If you get a foot-long spicy Italian sub and add Monterey Cheddar and sweet chilli sauce, that’s 6.8g salt – over your daily maximum. If you went for the “double meat” option too, that would be a huge 11.0g salt in total – creeping towards twice your daily maximum. 

The salads contain less salt, but make sure you take into account the salt content in any added sauces and cheese you add as extras. 

Watch out for: Choosing the “footlong” or “double meat” options

Better choice: 6 inch Chicken breast sub (1.2g salt) or 6 inch Veggie Patty (1.6g salt)

Greggs

Greggs restaurant 

Some of Greggs' items may look like reasonable choices in terms of their salt content; including the sausage roll (1.6g salt), the chicken bake (1.9g salt) or three cheese and pepperoni pizza (2.2g salt) but if you’re snacking on these in addition to your regular meals or as part of a meal with other foods that contain salt, bear in mind that these alone are around a third of your recommended allowance of salt. A little treat can make a big difference to your salt consumption. Adding a sausage roll to a meal of a cheese and ham baguette (2.7g) means you’ve had 72% of your daily maximum - whereas adding a fruit pot adds zero salt and helps you towards your 5-a-day.

For breakfast, items which contain bacon and sausage mean you’d be starting your day half way towards your daily maximum

Sandwiches at Greggs vary in the amount of salt they contain. Standard sandwiches contain less salt than baguettes, partly because the portion size is smaller. The egg mayonnaise sandwich contains 1.3g salt, less than half that of the more salty baguette choices – ham and cheese baguette, Mexican chicken baguette and prawn mayonnaise baguette all contain 2.7g salt. If you really fancy a baguette, the chicken mayonnaise baguette has least salt at 1.9g. 

All of Greggs' salads and soups are better options when it comes to salt. The cheese, tomato and basil pasta salad contains 1.3g, the winter vegetable soup 1.4g and cream of tomato 1.6g salt.

For breakfast, items which contain bacon and sausage, such as the all-day breakfast wrap (2.5g salt) or sausage breakfast baguette (3.6g salt), mean you’d be starting your day half way towards your daily maximum. Much better is their original porridge (0.17g salt.)

Helpfully, Greggs publishes its nutrition information per 100g as well as per portion, which makes it easier to work out whether dishes are “high”, “medium” or “low” in salt as well as saturated fat.

Watch out for: Sausage breakfast baguette (3.6g salt)

Better choice:  Original porridge (0.17g salt) or egg mayonnaise sandwich (1.3g salt) 

McDonald's

A McDonalds meal of a burger and french fries 

McDonald's has a nutrition calculator on its website, and it’s well worth using this as there can be big differences between products. Helpfully, the nutrition information is also presented as a percentage of your daily reference intake, as well as the amount in grams. 

A serving of five “chicken selects” contains 3g salt - 50% of your daily maximum – but if you swap this for nine chicken nuggets, which are fairly similar, you could cut this to 0.77g salt (13% of your daily maximum). This doesn’t include any sauces or dips. Sweet chilli sauce is one of the saltiest dips, with 0.88g salt in a portion (15% of your daily maximum). Swap it for the rich tomato dip and you could reduce that to 0.28g salt (5% of your daily maximum). 

Sweet chilli sauce is one of the saltiest dips, with 0.88g salt in a portion

Salty ingredients like bacon and cheese will also increase the salt content of your meal. The “Big Tasty with bacon”, which also includes cheese and sauce, contains 3.7g salt (62% of your daily maximum) – add on a medium fries and a portion of ketchup and the total comes to 4.8g salt (80% of your daily maximum.) If you swap the Big Tasty for a Big Mac, which contains 2.3g salt, you’d reduce the salt content by 1.4g. Or go for a plain hamburger, which contains 1.2g salt, a Mayo Chicken burger with 1.1g or Filet-o-Fish burger with 1.3g salt. 

Other lower-salt options include the garlic mayo grilled chicken wrap, which contains 1.3g salt. The crispy chicken salad contains a modest 0.86g salt and the grilled chicken salad 0.73g (12% of your daily maximum).

Watch out for: Chicken selects (5 pieces) with sweet chilli dip (3.88g salt)

Better choice: Wraps: The Garlic Mayo Chicken One – Grilled (1.3g salt) or plain hamburger (1.2g salt) 

Pret a Manger  

Pret have made efforts to reduce the salt content of their food, and recently cut the salt in their miso soup by 30%. Their “souper tomato” soup contains 1.1g salt, around 18% of your daily maximum. However some of their soups are much higher in salt, including the kale, lentil and roasted spices soup, which contains half your daily maximum (3g salt), the butternut squash dhansak contains 2.5g and the smoky chorizo chicken soup has 2.4g.

If you choose carefully, you can enjoy a sandwich that is much lower in salt

Some of the baguettes will take you over half of your recommended daily maximum for salt – such as the classic ham and egg baguette (3.5g), the Italian prosciutto baguette (3.4g) and the Wiltshire cured ham and greve cheese baguette (3.5g).

The hoisin duck salad wrap contains 4.6g salt, more than two thirds of your daily maximum. 

If you choose carefully, you can enjoy a sandwich that is much lower in salt. The crayfish and avocado sandwich (1.4g salt), chicken avocado (1.5g), tuna & cucumber (1.5g) and the “super greens and reds” sandwich (0.6g salt) are better choices. Some of their flatbreads are even better choices, including the super-veg rainbow flatbread (1g), the grilled artichokes and olive tapenade flatbread (0.9g.)

Helpfully, Pret publishes its nutrition information per 100g as well as per portion, which makes it easier to work out whether dishes are “high”, “medium” or “low” in salt as well as saturated fat.

Watch out for: Hoisin duck salad wrap (4.6g salt) 

Better choice: Souper tomato soup (1.1g salt) or "super greens and reds" sandwich (0.6g salt) 

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