Tim Hortons’ sodium minefield and Health Canada inaction

When it comes to the villains of the fast food world, McDonalds is often put forth as a chief example.  In the meantime, Canada’s favourite coffee chain, Tim Hortons,  lurks quietly behind the scenes without getting much negative attention. But if you’re a Timmie’s fan, do you have any idea of the minefield of sodium contained in their offerings?

Have a bowl of chicken soup  at 910 milligrams of sodium and an egg sandwich with 1240 milligrams of sodium and you’re well over the recommended sodium intake of 1500 milligrams per day.

Health Canada, when they chose to disband the Sodium Working Group (SWG), the expert committee that they had called together to deal with the sodium issue, stated that they were working with industry to make voluntary reductions in the sodium in our foods.  While reformulating old menu items may take time, what about the sodium content in new ones?

I was driving by a Tim Hortons and noticed their new panini sandwiches. My first thought, knowing of the outrageously high sodium content of their other sandwiches, was just how high in sodium are these new menu items.  A review of the numbers shows that it’s clear that Health Canada’s voluntary measures are doing nothing.

Here’s a sample:
•    The  Bacon, Tomato & Cheese Panini contains 1500 milligrams of sodium
•    The Smoked Ham & Cheese Panini (Multigrain)   1550 milligrams of sodium.
•    The Tuscan Chicken Panini (Multigrain) clocks in at only 1470 milligrams.

Have a soup and a panini and you’re well over the maximum sodium of 2300 milligrams.

Tim Hortons  is a perfect example of why Health Canada needs to stop abdicating the responsibility for our health to the food industry.

The Sodium Working Group’s report, back in 2010, estimated that slashing our intake  by 1800 milligrams a day would prevent  a staggering 23,500 cardiovascular disease events like heart attacks and stroke  per year – a 13 percent decrease.

Our  salt-laden food – with most of the sodium coming from processed food rather than by our own hands in the form of a salt shaker – also contributes to kidney disease and may up our risk for stomach cancer, osteoporosis and asthma.

The SWG  provided many recommendations on how to get the sodium numbers down while showing that reducing our intakes would also lead to a whopping  savings of 1.38 billion dollars per year in direct health care.

But there may be hope on the horizon. NDP health critic and deputy leader Libby Davies tabled her private member’s bill Monday. It asks for the health minister to  implement the SWG’s Sodium Reduction Strategy, including establishing a monitoring system to track the progress of food companies.

Some question whether   Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq will scuttle latest effort to implement sodium-reduction plan. After all she seemed to have no difficulty in putting a halt to any regulations dealing with trans fats, in spite of a task force and repeated government promises.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s time for Health Canada to get back to the business of safeguarding our food and health and protecting the money we spend on good nutrition instead of ensuring the food companies a healthy profit.

Are you trying to reduce your sodium intake? Do you find it difficult to sort through various products in the supermarket in a quest for lower salt choices?

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Categories: Rosie's Rants

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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4 Comments on “Tim Hortons’ sodium minefield and Health Canada inaction”

  1. JT
    December 10, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    holy heck you are right! I just ate a small chicken wrap and it was so salty it burned the back of my throat ! no more lunches at Tims for me.

  2. Margaret Anne Prendergast
    October 2, 2018 at 11:07 am #

    Yeah, I just had to go on medication for hypertension and realized I had been eating a Timmies grilled cheese at least once a week though I never add salt in my homemade food. It’s really hard to know what to eat. I guess I should pack healthy snacks in the car.

    • October 3, 2018 at 10:47 pm #

      Margaret, you’re not alone in not having realized that most of the sodium you’re consuming comes from processed food, not your salt shaker. Packing healthy snacks is a great idea but it’s also good to be prepared in case you haven’t. If you check out the various offerings of chain eateries online, you’ll be better equipped to make the best choices.


  1. Kudos to Dietitians of Canada for telling Health Canada “guidance is not enough” | Enlightened Eater - November 13, 2012

    […] Contact your Member of Parliament to support NDP MP Libby Davies Private Member’s Bill. […]

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