Salty sauces

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Watch out for salt in your pasta sauce

Consumers are being warned to watch out for salt in pasta sauces, particularly celebrity and branded products, after research revealed that they can contain up to 25 per cent more than other varieties.

Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), the Blood Pressure Association's sister charity, surveyed 190 jars, pots and packets of pasta sauces, including those by celebrity chefs. Branded and supermarket own-label products from Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Morrison’s, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Somerfield and the Co-op were included.

Ten packets of crisps

Combined, the branded sauces, including Dolmio, Ragu, Jamie Oliver and Loyd Grossman averaged at 1.17g of salt per 100g, while supermarket own-label products combined averaged at around 0.86g of salt per 100g, 25% less than the branded products. One of Jamie Oliver's sauces contained salt equivalent to ten packets of ready-salted crisps.

Researchers also said comparing similar sauces by portion size was difficult as different products had differing suggested portion sizes.

“Pasta with sauce is a quick and simple meal for many of us,” said Katharine Jenner, Nutritionist and CASH Campaign Manager. “But this shows it can be incredibly hard to choose a healthy option. 22 of the 190 products we looked at do not meet the 2010 Food Standards Agency targets for salt content [1]. We urge manufacturers to reduce their salt content and improve their labelling immediately.”

Hannah Brinsden, who carried out the research, said: “In general, sauces containing ingredients such as olives and bacon tend to be saltiest, whereas sauces with chilli or basil tend to be lower in salt. Better still, many of the sauces we looked at can be made easily and more cheaply at home, with a far lower level of salt."


“Salt puts up our blood pressure, which is the major risk factor for strokes, heart failure and heart disease, the leading causes of death and disability in the UK,” says Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of CASH and the BPA. “It is shocking to see so many products still so poorly labelled and high in salt. However, many brands, in particular supermarket own brands, have far less salt, proving that it is not necessary to add loads of salt to make a tasty product. Reducing the amount of salt we eat will reduceour risk of suffering a stroke or a heart attack.”

What they found:

Tomato-based sauces

These had the largest salt content. The highest salt product was Jamie Oliver’s Spicy Olive and Garlic sauce with 3.0g of salt per 100g. Per half a 350g jar this works out as 5.3g (as stated on pack), which is nearly all (88%) of an adult’s recommended limit of 6g of salt per day in one serving, and the same salt content as over ten packets of ready-salted crisps. Weight Watchers’ Roasted Garlic pasta sauce contains just 0.1g of salt per 100g, a thirtieth of the Jamie Oliver sauce’s salt level.

The highest salt supermarket own brand sauce was Sainsbury’s Puttanesca Pasta Sauce, which contains 2.0g of salt per 100g.  The Co-operative Tomato & Olive Pasta Sauce contains 0.7g of salt per 100g, over four times lower than the Jamie Oliver sauce and almost three times lower than the Sainsbury’s sauce.

Bologonese sauces

Huge variations were found in other sauces with similar ingredients, for example Loyd Grossman’s Bolognese sauce contains 1.5g of salt per 100g whilst ASDA’s Good For You Bolognese was found to contain just 0.3g of salt per 100g, a fifth of the salt content of the Lloyd Grossman version.

Stir-through sauces

Huge variation was also found in stir-through sauces, which are thicker and more concentrated than standard pasta sauces so have smaller serving sizes. The highest salt stir-through in this survey was Sacla’s Spicy Tomato & Pepper stir-through which contains 2.0g of salt per 100g, while the lowest product was Sacla’s Oven Roasted Tomato & Rocket Stir-through, which contains 1.0g/100g, half the amount of the other Sacla product.

Carbonara sauces

Looking at carbonara sauces, Dolmio Express Creamy Carbonara Microwaveable sauce contains 1.5g of salt per 100g, while Morrisons Eat Smart Carbonara Pasta Sauce contains a fifth of this level – 0.3g of salt per 100g.

Pesto sauces

Though pesto sauce is eaten in smaller quantities, the survey found it can still contain a lot of salt.   The lowest salt green pesto found was Marks & Spencers’ Pesto Alla Genovese at 1.0g per 100g.  Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Pesto Alla Genovese was the highest salt green pesto in the survey at 3.2g of salt per 100g.  Weight for weight, say CASH, this is saltier than seawater [2]. Researchers said most of the green pesto sauces surveyed would have to carry a red label for their salt content under a ‘traffic light’ labelling system, indicating that they contain more than 1.5g of salt per 100g.

Lowest salt sauces

Weight Watchers had the two lowest salt products found in the survey: Weight Watchers’ Roasted Garlic pasta sauce (0.1g salt per 100g) and Weight Watchers’ Napoletana, (0.15g salt per 100g).  Supermarkets also produce several own-label products under 0.3g of salt per100g, which would be classified as ‘green’ under the traffic light labelling system.

For more details, including a full list of the sauces surveyed and low-salt pasta sauce recipes you can make at home, visit


[1] The 2010 FSA target for pasta sauce is 1.1g of salt per 100g.  The target for pesto and other thick sauces is 3.0g of salt per 100g.

[2] Atlantic seawater contains 1.0g of sodium per 100g, which equates to 2.5g of salt per 100g.

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