Does low-sodium fast food exist?

unattractive shot of french fries and man holding burger
If you're constantly on the go, fast food might be one of your diet staples. See more fast food pictures.

If you've ever been on a diet or if you just try to eat healthily in general, you know how difficult it is to maintain your eating habits when you're out and about! Fast food restaurants have been mostly concerned about lowering calorie and fat levels in their food, but what about the sodium levels in their menu items?

Sodium is good for your body in small amounts, but it can be very harmful if you ingest too much. Normal amounts of sodium can be excreted through the kidneys, but if there's too much for the kidneys to process, it enters the bloodstream. This creates a higher blood volume and, in turn, puts intense pressure on the heart to pump blood faster through your blood vessels. This can lead to heart disease, kidney failure and diabetes, just to name a few health problems that result from excessive sodium.


The human body only needs about 500 milligrams of sodium to function properly, but the recommended intake of sodium is 1,500 milligrams if you have high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes. If you're a healthy adult, your sodium levels shouldn't exceed 2,300 milligrams per day. In general, it's best to limit your sodium intake by eating low-sodium foods. In order for a food to be categorized as low-sodium, it must contain 140 milligrams or fewer of sodium per serving.

When you're on the road or you've got just a short, 30-minute lunch break, fast food may be your only option for a meal. Or, you might treat your kids to fast food occasionally and want to share in the fun. But eating fast food doesn't have to totally derail your diet. It's possible to find low-sodium fast food -- you just need our tips and tricks!

Read more to learn how you can order low-sodium fast food.



How to Order Low-sodium Fast Food

You may wonder if it's even possible to maintain a low-sodium diet when you're on the run and limited to eating fast food. Because a food item must contain 140 milligrams or fewer of sodium in order to be considered low-sodium, it's more difficult to find these items on the fast food menu, although it is possible.

The key is doing your research on what to order before you find yourself standing at a fast food counter. The phrase "knowledge is power" is no exception when it comes to your diet! Almost every fast-food restaurant has a nutrition guide available in stores and online. Refer to nutrition guides to check out low-sodium options at your favorite places. Make sure to look at all components of your meal, such as drinks, entrées, salads as well as condiments and toppings -- every milligram of sodium adds up.


There are also plenty of other tricks you can use to cut back on sodium levels in your fast food. For example, a small order of McDonald's french fries contains 160 milligrams of sodium, but ask for a serving from a fresh batch that hasn't been salted yet, and you significantly reduce this number. If you frequent delis and sandwich shops, monitor the amount of deli meat that goes on your sandwich, as processed deli meat has high levels of sodium. Ask for whole-wheat bread and pile on the vegetables. Avoid those salty potato chips and grab some fresh fruit as a side to help you create a more balanced meal.

You can even make a chart of the foods you eat during the day to keep up with how much sodium you're consuming. Download a program on your phone or computer to help you with this, if you desire. If you see just how much sodium you're consuming and from what sources, it will motivate you even more to cut back on those salty foods!

Continue reading for our tips on finding low-sodium fast food.


Tips for Finding Low-sodium Fast Food

spilled ketchup packet
That's 110 milligrams of sodium that you're looking at.

Beyond just checking nutrition facts, there are many other ways to reduce your sodium intake at the drive-through window. This might come as a surprise, but a regular hamburger at most fast-food restaurants contains lower levels of sodium than any other sandwich on the menu! The key is to watch for hidden sources of salt in burger toppings such as ketchup, cheese, bacon and pickles. One packet of ketchup packs 110 milligrams of sodium alone. Leave off these toppings and go for more vegetables, such as lettuce and tomatoes, to add flavor and texture to your burger.

Also, a lot people assume that ordering a salad means ordering healthily. Wrong! Most salad dressings and toppings are the culprit for loads of sodium. To decrease your sodium intake on salads, leave off the salty toppings such as croutons and bacon, and go for light dressing, but use only half the packet. Order your salad without meaty toppings as well. Even grilled chicken can increase the sodium levels of your salad by a few hundred milligrams!


If you must have meat at fast-food restaurants, no matter where you go, opt for grilled chicken instead of fried. For an even more balanced meal, cut your chicken portion in half and round out your meal with a side salad, fruit cup or baked potato.

Other ways to slash sodium? Drink water instead of soda, and try to avoid french fries, especially if the restaurant can't fill your request for an unsalted serving. Most condiments, such as barbecue sauce, contain 200 milligrams of sodium or more. Choose low-sodium condiments, such as honey, which actually contains no salt.

No matter where you choose to eat, there are plenty of low-sodium options to help keep your body healthy. Equip yourself with positive knowledge about foods and their sodium levels before you hit the drive-through, and you'll be prepared to order the foods that are best for you. In our opinion, that's the best defense against the tempting smell of french fries!


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Magee, Elaine. "21 Healthier Fast Food Meals." (Nov. 11, 2010).
  • Main, Emily. "Four Ways to Order Low-Sodium Fast Food." Rodale. May 3, 2010. (Oct. 27, 2010).
  • Mayo Clinic. "Sodium: How to tame your salt habit now." May 22, 2010. (Nov. 5, 2010).
  • McDonalds. "McDonald's USA Nutrition Facts for Popular Menu Items." (Oct. 27, 2010).
  • Parks, Robin. "Low salt diets: Eating Out." WebMD. Aug. 25, 2008. (Oct. 27, 2010).
  • UCSF Medical Center. "Healthier Fast Food." Oct. 29, 2010. (Nov. 11, 2010).