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Salt Assault #9: Quick-Service Breakfast

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To some, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But if you’re grabbing breakfast from a quick-service restaurant, you’re probably starting your day with a load of excess salt.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommended daily sodium limit is 2,300 milligrams (mg), or about one teaspoon of salt.  Dividing that sodium recommendation among three meals per day allots roughly 770 mg of sodium per meal.  This number would be lower if a snack or two were part of one’s daily diet.

Out of the 333 breakfast items analyzed (including breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, breakfast burritos, cinnamon rolls, oatmeal, parfaits, and breakfast platters) across 16 popular quick-service restaurants in the United States, Hardee’s Monster Biscuit committed the biggest salt assault with 2,490 mg of sodium—just over an entire day’s worth—for 880 calories!  That’s only breakfast.  And it doesn’t include any side orders.

Even White Castle’s Bacon, Egg & Cheddar Cheese on Toast—the lowest-ranked option on our list of the highest-sodium breakfast items—is too high in sodium at 910 mg (for 350 calories).  In our analysis, sodium content largely tracked with calories, meaning that breakfast items with lower levels of sodium also tended to have fewer calories, which is important when you consider how much food you’re getting with each breakfast item.  

The highest-sodium items at each restaurant are only the tip of the salt mine.  Even the typical (median) sodium contents of breakfast items offered by the 16 quick-service restaurants were substantial, with 9 out of the 16 restaurants exceeding 1,000 mg and Sonic at the high end of the range (1,590 mg).  Only two (i.e., Starbucks and White Castle) were below our 770 mg per meal allotment.

It’s clear that Americans who grab breakfast on the go are likely to begin their day with a mouthful of excess sodium, which contributes to the fact that two-thirds of American adults have prehypertension or hypertension.  Quick-service restaurants would do well to help save thousands of lives and billions of health-care costs annually by reducing the sodium in their breakfast items (and all menu items for that matter).  In the meantime, order oatmeal—or make your own—to avoid a morning fast-food salt assault.


All Salt Assault reports are available here.