Tragedy for public health
According to new research by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), everyday shopping basket ‘essentials’ now contain more salt than before – with canned tomato soup, cheddar cheese and chilled ready meals being among the worst offenders. This is despite the major progress made prior to 2010 when the salt reduction program was under the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Raised blood pressure is one of the two leading factors in causing death and disability from strokes and heart disease. Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) is urging David Cameron to set up an independent agency for nutrition and to rescue the salt reduction programme which has halted or is now being reversed.
The findings are startling:
Tinned Tomato Soup
Nearly half (47%) of the soups surveyed today contain the same amount of salt (or more) per serving than two slices of Domino’s Cheese & Tomato Pizza. The saltiest soup culprit was Baxters Vegetarian Italian Tomato & Basil with 3.5g salt per 400g serving which contains more salt than a McDonald’s Big Mac and large fries.
CASH reviewed the salt content of tinned tomato soups at regular intervals between 2007 and 2016, and found that despite seeing a successful reduction in salt under the FSA (average 27% reduction between 2007 and 2010), progress has now lapsed. Surprisingly, the salt content in 55% of the products contain the same amount of salt or more now than they did in 2010.
Examples of soups with the biggest increases are:
- Tesco Everyday Value Tomato Soup (50% increase from 0.4g/100g to 0.6g/100g)
- Baxters Favourites Cream of Tomato (40% increase from 0.5g/100g to 0.7g/100g)
- Sainsbury’s Basics Cream of Tomato Soup (25% increase from 0.48g/100g to 0.6g/100g)
Cheddar and Cheddar Style Cheeses
Cheddar – the nation’s favourite cheese contains very high levels of salt (99% red warning label on front of pack) e.g. the majority of cheese products surveyed in 2016 (95%) were found to contain more salt per serving than a packet of ready salted crisps. Salt reduction in cheddar and cheddar style cheeses since 2006 has shown little progress. In fact, values of salt per 100g have remained around 1.8g since 2006.
Examples of cheeses with the largest salt increases between 2012 and 2016 include:
- Sainsbury’s Lighter Mature British Cheese (increased 16% from 1.7g/100g to 1.98g/100g)
- Morrisons Medium Cheddar (increased 13% from 1.6g/100g to 1.8g/100g)
When surveying the salt content of chilled cottage pie ready meals, minimal changes have been made in the last nine years, with the salt content per 100g slightly increasing from 0.52g in 2007 to 0.54g in 2016 (~4% increase).
Both Sainsbury’s Basics Cottage Pie 300g (increased 186% from 0.5g to 1.43g per 300g serving) and The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Cottage Pie 400g (increased 93% from 1.5g to 2.9g per 400g) are among the products with the most disappointing increases. Luxury meals such as Marks & Spencer Gastropub Cottage Pie in a Rich Red Wine Gravy with Cheese Mash (2.9g/400g serving) and The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Cottage Pie (2.9g/400g) rank even higher with salt content. That’s near the equivalent of 2 Pot Noodles. (3g) and almost half your daily limit of salt.
Although all of the meals surveyed in 2016 meet the Department of Health’s (DH) maximum salt target for ready meals, over half (52%) still have a red warning label for salt on front of pack, indicating these meals are dangerously high in salt and contribute to as much as a third of an individual’s daily salt intake. This demonstrates that the targets for salt in many categories, which were seriously eroded by pressure from the industry when they were set in 2014, are far too weak.
Bread is the largest contributor to salt in the UK diet and has declined in salt content from an average of 1.2g per 100g in 2001 to 1.00g per 100g in 2011 (17% reduction). Since then, the salt content of bread has only slightly reduced to 0.97g per 100g in 2016 (3% reduction). Some products still have appeared to increase in salt, such as Tesco White Stay Fresh Medium Sliced Bread increased 33% from 0.6g/100g to 0.8g/100g
When surveying the salt content of the popular breakfast cereal, it is clear that a major reduction programme took place between 2004 and 2012, with average levels of 2.32g per 100g in 2004 down to 1.03g per 100g in 2012 (56% reduction).
Whilst CASH is glad to see further reductions have been made since then, progress has not been as significant (30% further reduction in 2016 to 0.72g/100g), with some even increasing in salt content, e.g. Sainsbury’s Cornflakes increased 42% from 0.74g/100g to 1.05g/100g. Kellogg’s Cornflakes has the highest salt content of all Cornflakes surveyed, three times more salt than Aldi’s Harvest Morn Corn Flakes (1.13g/100g v 0.34g/100g).
Within each category of food there were very large variations in the salt content e.g. The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Cottage Pie 2.9g/400g serving vs The Co-operative Loved by Us Cottage Pie Low Fat 1.45g/400g serving. This clearly demonstrates that the food industry could easily reduce these very high salt containing foods, but under the Responsibility Deal they have little or no incentive and no pressure exerted on them by the DH. In fact, if you were to switch the saltiest examples with the least in each category, you’d have a 4.74g difference in salt intake, more salt than is found in 2 Big Macs.
Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of CASH explains:
“Under the FSA & CASH, the UK led the world in salt reduction. It is a tragedy for public health that the coalition government in 2010 seized responsibility for nutrition from the FSA to the DH where they made the food industry responsible for policing themselves (‘The Responsibility Deal’). Unsurprisingly this has failed and has resulted in many thousands of unnecessary deaths from strokes and heart disease. It’s imperative that responsibility for nutrition be handed back to an independent agency where it is not affected by changes in government, ministers, political lobbying and pressure from the food industry.”
Sonia Pombo, nutritionist and campaign manager for CASH adds,
“The food we eat is now the biggest cause of death and ill health in the UK, owing to the large amounts of salt, saturated fat and sugars added by the food industry.
Whilst many food manufacturers initially made a concerted effort to reduce the salt in their products, others are now failing to do so and in turn are putting the nation’s health at risk. To do this, an agency independent of political control and not run by the food industry needs to set regulated targets for salt, saturated fat and sugar to give the food industry a level playing field. Indeed many of the more responsible food companies are now calling on Cameron to do just this.”