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).