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Chinese meals “should carry a health warning”
Experts call for health warnings on Chinese ready meals and takeaways after finding they can contain more salt than five Big Macs
Chinese takeaways and ready-meals can contain astonishing levels of salt according to a new survey by Action on Salt. The campaign group, formerly known as Consensus Action on Salt & Health, are now calling on Public Health England (PHE) to get tough on food manufacturers, demanding new targets for salt levels in food, making front of pack labelling mandatory, and introducing warnings on menus for high-salt dishes.
The takeaways with dangerous levels of salt
Action on Salt analysed takeaway meals from six restaurants in London’s Chinatown and found that one meal can easily contain double your daily 6g maximum salt allowance. A Beef in Black Bean Sauce and Vegetable Noodles combination from Wong Kei restaurant contains a staggering 11.50g of salt. That’s as much salt as five Big Macs and nearing the acute toxic levels.
Half of the main meals analysed contained more than 3g of salt each, and almost all (97%) contained more than 2g, and that’s before you’ve added any sides, starters or sauces.
The supermarket ready-meals that are raising our blood pressure
It’s not just takeaways that will take you over your salt allowance, ready-meals available in popular supermarkets are also excessively salty.
The saltiest options were Slimming World’s Chinese Style Banquet Rice with 4.40g salt in a pack, closely followed by Marks & Spencer Crispy Sweet and Sour Chicken Banquet with 4.13g per pack – that’s more salt than two shop-bought Pizza Express Margherita Pizzas.
When you add side dishes, starters or sauces, you’ll easily exceed 6g in one meal. An egg fried rice dish can contain 4.1g of salt, a duck spring roll and hoisin sauce combo can contain 3.82g, and soy sauce is typically five times saltier than sea water.
Of the 141 ready meals surveyed, nearly half would receive a red label for salt if front of pack labelling was used. Action on Salt want to see these labels made mandatory to make it easier for shoppers to know what they’re buying.
Why excessive salt levels aren’t necessary
While it may be unsurprising that Chinese takeaways are salty, there’s huge variation between restaurants, showing there is no need for such extreme amounts. A sweet and sour dish for example can contain 1g of salt in one restaurant but 3.4g in another.
The same applies for shop-bought ready meals. Tesco’s Vegetable Chow Mein contains just 0.40g per 120g portion but a Sweet & Sour Chicken from Sainsbury’s contains 0.53g per 175g portion, showing the unbelievable salt levels in some products just aren’t necessary.
Time for tougher targets and better labelling
Action on Salt released their findings as part of their annual Salt Awareness Week, which highlights the dangers of salt in food and the responsibilities of the Government and the food industry in preventing life-changing illness.
They’re calling for immediate action from Public Health England (PHE) to resuscitate the salt reduction programme. The UK’s salt reduction programme prevented 18,000 stroke and heart attacks per year up until 2011, but in recent years there has been little action. Salt reduction targets for manufactures were last updated in 2014 and there is no report on whether these have been met or sign of any new ones.
As well as less salt in our food, they want to see better labelling and warnings for the highest salt products.
Mhairi Brown, Assistant Nutritionist at World Action on Salt & Health, says: “If Public Health England is serious about protecting our health, they should consider following the lead of the New York City Board of Health, which requires chain restaurants to put warning labels on high salt dishes, or Chile’s Ministry of Health, which places warning labels on all high salt, sugar and saturated fat products sold in supermarkets.”
Hemini Bharadia, Marketing Manager at Blood Pressure UK comments: “The findings from the survey are very concerning. We are all eating too much salt. This can lead to high blood pressure causing strokes and heart attacks, most of which could be avoided through better lifestyle choices.
“A salty meal once in a while might not seem like a big problem, but in the UK we eat 22 million takeaways every week and Chinese are the most popular. Takeaways are a normal part of life for many, which is why it’s time for Public Health England to take action to stop such high levels of salt being added to our food.”
Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Chairman of Action on Salt and Blood Pressure UK, comments “Salt is the forgotten killer as it puts up our blood pressure, leading to tens of thousands of unnecessary strokes, heart failure and heart attacks every year. Reducing salt is the most cost-effective measure to reduce the number of people dying or suffering from strokes or heart disease. We are now calling on PHE to take immediate action.”
Read the full survey from Action on Salt
See the coverage in the Guardian