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Burger King limits sodium in kids meals

/ Source: The Associated Press

Burger King Corp. said Wednesday it is cutting the amount of sodium in its kids meals and promoting menu combinations with less than 650 calories as part of a push to emphasize nutrition at its fast-food chains.

The nation's No. 2 hamburger chain said it will now limit sodium in its kids meals advertised to children under 12 years old to 600 milligrams or less.

High levels of sodium can lead to higher blood pressure — a key ingredient in heart disease and strokes. The American Heart Association recommends a daily intake of no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium in healthy adults and less for kids. A quarter-teaspoon of salt has nearly 600 milligrams of sodium.

"We have made a strong company-wide commitment to help improve childhood nutrition," said Chief Executive John Chidsey in an interview with The Associated Press, calling the sodium limit "a positive step among many in that direction."

The company said it will also make sure its kids meals provide a "good" or "excellent" source of at least two of several nutrients — calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium or vitamin E.

The chain's current kids meal, which features Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, apple slices cut to look like french fries with low-fat caramel dipping sauce and Hershey's low-fat milk, has 340 calories and 505 milligrams of sodium and meets the nutrient requirement.

The company said other kids meals meeting its nutrition guidelines are in development and will be launched by this summer.

Burger King also said it will provide customers with examples of meal combinations totaling 650 calories or less, or a third of a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet. The examples will be featured on the place mats lining trays.

Chidsey said customers have not been asking the chain to identify lower-calorie meal options. But, he said, Burger King wanted to provide alternatives for those looking for healthier, or at least lower-calorie, meals.

"It's incumbent upon us to have options for people," he said.

Chidsey also said the tray liners were not in response to new regulations in New York City and California mandating that large chains including calorie counts on menu boards. He said the initiative is about educating customers about the choices available at the chain.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the public advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said information is "a minor, temporary gesture," adding "it's not a meaningful way to encourage people to make smarter choices."

Most fast-food chains have tried to emphasize the healthier items on their menus after being heavily criticized by consumers and advocates like Jacobson. Virtually every major chain has rid the majority of its menu items, if not all of them, of trans fat, which raises the level of bad cholesterol in the body and can increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Others have added healthier items like salads and yogurt parfaits to their menus, partially marketing to moms looking for lower-calorie options when eating with their kids.

"After years of criticism, some of the chains are offering a few healthier items," Jacobson said. "I hope that people will choose them and encourage the companies to offer even more."

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