Fast food is convenient, but it can be salty, and it’s saltier in U.S. than in other countries.
Americans eat about 3,400 mg of sodium a day, more than the suggested 2,300 milligrams and double the 1,500 milligrams for people who over 50, African American, or who have hypertension, diabetes, or kidney disease.
While “fast food isn’t going to wreck anyone’s diet if consumed on occasion,” you should limit sodium, says Rima Kleiner, RD, a Vienna, Va.-based nutritionist.
Here are some of the worst fast-food meals for sodium and better options.
Quiznos: Large French Dip
While this sandwich from the Denver-based chain sounds good—sliced prime rib with mozzarella, roasted peppers and onions, and mild peppercorn sauce on artisan bread with a side of au jus—this sandwich is a sodium-delivering bomb.
Even without the cheese, sauce, and juice for dipping, you’ll be consuming 2,240 milligrams. With the works, it packs a whopping 3,610 mg of sodium and 1,200 calories. (The au jus adds 850 mg of sodium).
Choose this instead: Create Your Own Flatbread. Try roast beef and Swiss with lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber, and honey-dijon dressing. Sodium: 995 mg. Calories: 410.
Panera Bread: Full Bacon Turkey Bravo
This 800-calorie combination of smoked turkey, Applewood-smoked bacon, and smoked Gouda with lettuce and tomato on a tomato basil loaf tips the sodium scale at 2,800 mg. Cured bacon and processed meats are typically high in sodium, Kleiner says. The bread alone weighs in at 320 mg of sodium.
Choose this instead: A whole Roasted Turkey Artichoke Panini on Asiago Cheese Focaccia. For roughly the same number of calories (780), you’ll slash your salt intake by more than half (1,190 mg of sodium).
McDonald’s: Big Breakfast with Hotcakes
Big is right. You get scrambled eggs, sausage, hash browns and a small stack of pancakes. Order it with a large-size biscuit and you‘ll be starting the day with 2,260 mg of sodium and 1,150 calories.
Choose this instead: Get the Big Breakfast sans hotcakes and save 580 mg of sodium and 350 calories.
Taco Bell: Volcano Nachos
These molten cheese-laden nachos with spicy ground beef, pinto beans, and jalapeños break the nutrition bank with 970 calories and 58 grams of fat—more calories and fat than any other single item on the menu—plus 1,670 mg of sodium.
Choose this instead: Nachos Supreme comes with spicy beef, beans, nacho cheese, diced tomatoes and reduced fat sour cream, but has only 430 calories, 23 grams of fat, and 690 mg of salt.
Starbucks: Turkey & Swiss Sandwich
With crispy leaf lettuce peeking through, this 390-calorie sandwich seems harmless enough. But a quick ingredient check reveals salt in the turkey breast, the Swiss, and the wheat bread—1,140 mg of sodium in all.
Choose this instead: A Roasted Tomato & Mozzarella Panini with basil pesto (630 mg of sodium). For the same number of calories, you’ll cut your sodium intake by 550 mg.
Subway: Spicy Italian
Pepperoni and salami—two notoriously salty meats—are paired in this sandwich. A 6-inch sub without sauce or cheese has 1,520 mg of sodium and 480 calories. A footlong with mayo clocks in at 3200 milligrams of sodium and 1180 calories.
Choose this instead: A 6-inch BLT—bacon, lettuce and tomato on whole wheat. It has less than half the sodium (680 mg) and fewer calories (320).
Wendy’s: Baja Salad
This Southwest-inspired salad delivers salt in the chili, pico de gallo, guacamole, cheese, tortilla strips, and Creamy Red Jalapeño Dressing topping. The damage? Some 1,975 mg of sodium and 720 calories. The 100-calorie dressing packet alone accounts for 270 mg of salt.
Choose this instead: A Garden Side Salad and a small Chili. You’ll get the crunch you’re looking for along with the beefy richness of chili for half the sodium (910 mg) and two-thirds fewer calories (235).
Papa John’s: Buffalo Chicken Pizza
Creamy ranch and buffalo sauce, cheese, bacon, and pizza dough are the likely sodium culprits in this chicken-encrusted pie. One slice of a large, original crust—1/8th of an order—has 1,050 mg of sodium and 370 calories. But you know you’ll go for two slices, if not more.
Choose this instead: Papa John’s Garden Fresh is loaded with fresh veggies. A large, thin-crust pie has just 360 mg of sodium and 220 calories per slice.
Salt adds up pretty quickly when you’re building a burrito from scratch. A Carnitas, or pork, burrito with white rice, pinto beans, Tomatillo-red chili sauce, Romaine lettuce, sour cream, cheese and guacamole has 2,650 mg of sodium, not to mention 1,185 calories. Surprise: the saltiest item is the soft flour tortilla that holds it all together (at 670 mg of sodium).
Choose this instead: A Burrito Bowl. Skip the tortilla and dish up lower-salt fillings like chicken, brown rice, fajita veggies, and green tomatillo salsa. The total comes to 920 mg of sodium and 385 calories.
Popeye’s: Chicken Po’ Boy
This Southern favorite nestles two battered, fried chicken tenders in a French baguette with pickles and mayo. This fatty, salty combo has 2,120 mg of sodium and 635 calories. You can do better.
Choose this instead: Naked Chicken Wrap. “Naked” because the chicken is prepared without breading, slashing the sodium count to 580 mg and skinnying up the calorie count to 200.