KFC and Salt – A Deadly Combination?

The leading killer for both men and women among all racial and ethnic groups  in the US is cardiovascular disease (CVD), principally heart disease and stroke. (1)

One person dies every 30 seconds from heart disease – that’s over 2,600 people every single day! (2)

CVD includes dysfunctional conditions of the heart, arteries, and veins that supply oxygen to vital life-sustaining areas of the body like the brain, the heart itself, and other vital organs. If oxygen doesn’t arrive, the tissue or organ will die.

In general this results because excess fat or plaque deposits are narrowing the veins that supply oxygenated blood to the heart.  Equally significant is inadequate oxygen flow to the brain, which causes a stroke.(3)

High Blood Pressure (hypertension) often results from this excess fat or plaque buildup because of the extra effort it takes to circulate blood. Even though the heart works harder, blockages still shortchange the needed blood supply to all areas of the body.  High blood pressure is often called “The Silent Killer” because the first warning sign is a deadly heart attack or a stroke. (4)

The American Heart Association state high blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke.


Annual heart disease and stroke rates in China will rise by up to 73 percent by 2030, say researchers from Columbia University Medical Center published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal.

China’s standard of living and life expectancy have improved for many, but aging, dietary changes and reduced physical activity are leading to more heart disease and stroke, said lead author Andrew Moran, M.D.

One dietary change includes the use of fast food outlets.  One fast food chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), opened its first store in China in 1987 near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Since then over 2,000 other outlets have sprung up across Chinese urban areas. KFC has chicken as its core product offering. China imports $800 million in US chicken products annually.

We are seeing this as the start of a public health crisis that will only worsen in the next two decades. Certain dietary factors, such as the high salt diet in Northern China, also have a bearing on cardiovascular disease rates, says Dr. Moran.


Salt is a commonly occurring mineral, the technical name of which is sodium chloride. It is the sodium part of salt that is important. The body needs a certain amount of sodium which helps to maintain the concentration of body fluids at correct levels. It also plays a central role in the transmission of electrical impulses in the nerves, and helps cells to take up nutrients.

However, too much salt maybe detrimental to health. In adults, when levels of sodium are too high, the body retains too much water and the volume of bodily fluids increases. Many scientists believe this process is linked to high blood pressure, or hypertension.  With high levels of fluid circulating through the brain there is a greater chance that weaknesses in the brain’s blood vessels are exposed, and that they may burst, causing a stroke. Similarly, a greater volume of fluid passing through the heart can place additional strain on the organ, increasing the possibility of coronary disease. (5)

To help reduce the risk of disease, it has been recommended we should not be eating more than 6g salt (2.5g sodium) a day.

Hidden Salt

This may be difficult as salt is in many different foods and in some cases, hidden.  Much of the salt that we eat, 75 percent, comes from ready-made foods such as bread, cereals and baked beans.  Even sweet things, like biscuits, have salt added to them.

The University of California medical center says:

“The average American eats five or more teaspoons of salt each day. This is about 20 times as much as the body needs. In fact, your body needs only one quarter of a teaspoon of salt every day. Salt is found naturally in foods, but a lot of it is added during processing and preparation. Many foods that do not taste salty may still be high in sodium, which can be hidden in large amounts in canned, processed and convenience foods as well as in many foods that are served at fast food restaurants.” (6)


Take the case of  Kentucky Fried Chicken.  The chicken restaurant chain has recently introduced Doublicious, a new chicken sandwich which comes in two versions, The Original Recipe Doublicious and The Grilled Doublicious.

The new Doublicious sandwich blends a boneless chicken fillet with a sweet Hawaiian Bread bun.

The Original Recipe Doublicious includes an Original Recipe fillet topped with bacon, Monterey Jack cheese and Colonel’s sauce.

The Grilled Doublicious  is a grilled fillet topped with Monterey Jack cheese, lettuce and honey mustard BBQ sauce.

The Doublicious Combo includes potato wedges and a drink for just $5.

Sounds tasty?

Let’s look at a few components of its Original Recipe Doublicious.

  • Firstly, the ‘Colonels’ sauce will typically contain around 1/2 teaspoon of salt.(7)
  • Next the cheese.  Cheese is a natural product that has been made for centuries and salt acts as a flavor enhancer. If there was no salt used in the manufacturing process the cheese produced would not taste very nice and would quickly become unfit to eat. The salt normally used in cheese making is sodium chloride, the same salt used at home for cooking or in a salt cellar.

Recent research, by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), has led to a health warning about hidden salt in cheese, especially children’s products. They found very large variations in the salt content of many cheeses sold. In particular, the survey found that cheese products marketed specifically for children contain higher levels of salt. Even the lowest-salt children’s cheese products surveyed – Kraft Dairylea Triangles and Rippers – contain 2g of salt per 100g, still more than standard cheddar.

“When you think that 100g of Atlantic seawater contains 2.5g of salt, you can see how horribly salty these Dairylea Slices really are”, says Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Consensus Action on Salt and Health and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine.

“The Food Standards Agency has set a target limit of 1.7g of salt per 100g for mild cheddar,” continues Professor MacGregor, “but, under huge pressure from industry, will allow these children’s cheese products to contain up to 2.9g of salt per 100g.

Another worrying aspect of the CASH survey was the lack of on-pack salt labeling for cheese. Of the 175 packs of cheese surveyed, only 23 (13 percent) provided the salt level per serving on the pack. Only 51 percent of the packs (90) provided the salt level per 100g on the label.

Salt raises blood pressure which is the major cause of strokes, heart attacks and heart failure, said Professor MacGregor.

“We all need to be able to choose foods that are much lower in salt. This is why clear labeling of the salt content is so important. If these cheeses were properly labeled, people would be able to see how much salt they are getting from a serving and be able to make an informed choice, and in particular within a category choose a cheese that is lower in salt.”(8)

  • Another ingredient of Original Recipe Doublicious sandwich is bacon. Bacon is a cured meat prepared from a pig. It is first cured using large quantities of salt, either in a brine or in a dry packing; the result is fresh bacon. Bacon is also prepared from several different cuts of meat. It is usually made from side and back cuts of pork, except in the US, where it is almost always prepared from pork belly (typically referred to as “streaky”, “fatty”, or “American style” outside of the US). The side cut has more meat and less fat than the belly.

Bacon would appear generally to be high in salt and saturated fat. Excessive utilization of both salt and saturated fat is related to a variety of health problems. Each 50 grams daily servings of processed meat such as bacon is associated with a 42 percent higher chance of coronary heart disease and a 19 percent greater risk of diabetes according to the recent study from Harvard School of Public Health. (9)

  • What about the Original Hawaiian Sweet Round Bread?

Typical Ingredients for Hawaiian Sweet Round Bread

The salt intake in some bread is so high it is killing 7,000 people a year, campaigners say. CASH said more than a third of the 138 wrapped loaves it checked had salt content above the recommended levels.

  • And the chicken?

Some producers, politicians and health advocates noted that about one-third of chicken sold in the US was injected with additives that could represent up to 15 percent of the meat’s weight, doubling or tripling its sodium content. Some argue that could mislead or potentially harm consumers who must limit their salt intake.The US Department of Agriculture maintains that if chicken isn’t flavored artificially or preserved with chemicals, it could carry the word “natural” on the package.(10)


The two largest chicken processors, Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson Foods, are among those that affix “natural” labels to chicken injected with extra salt and water. Industry experts said the practice has become more common in the past decade. Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company sponsored a national study that found most consumers didn’t mind those labels if the ingredients added were deemed natural.

One buyer, Muembo Muanza, 30, said he read the label and considered the price but never thought to check the salt content when buying fresh chicken. Most people buying fresh, unprocessed food will assume, like he did, that nothing is added, said Muanza, whose family has a history of high blood pressure, a condition that can be worsened by high salt intake.

Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation, argued that current labeling rules leave consumers confused. He said the industry needs to work harder at being clear about its products.

With all the talk about food now, all the interest in salt, the chicken industry needs to be very upfront about these issues, and be very truthful, he added.

So do KFC restaurants.


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