The salads that are saltier than pizza

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The salads that are saltier than pizza

New survey finds ready-made salads are so salty they put our health at risk 

A new survey from campaign group Action on Salt has found that ready-made salads might not be such a healthy choice. Some salads from restaurants and fast food outlets contain more than a day’s worth of salt while, shockingly, many options have even increased in their salt content in recent years.

The lobby group are calling for action from the food industry as well as mandatory colour-coded food labelling on menus and packaging. 

The restaurant salads that could give you a heart attack

Action on Salt surveyed ready-to eat salads from 213 restaurants, fast food outlets and coffee shops and found worryingly high amounts of salt. More than a third contained 2g of salt or more, a third of the daily recommended 6g maximum. The worst offender was Nando’s Mediterranean Salad with Chicken Breast and extra hot sauce, with 6.2g salt – more than a day’s worth. 

Surprisingly, a Grand Chicken Caesar Salad with Dough Sticks from Pizza Express’ contains more salt than their Classic Margherita Pizza, and McDonald’s Grilled Chicken and Bacon Salad with Balsamic Style Dressing is just as salty as their Cheeseburger. 

The hidden salt in supermarket options 

Supermarket options are not a safe bet. Of the 312 options surveyed only 17% were low in salt and would receive a green traffic light label, and M&S’s Teriyaki Chicken Sticky Rice Salad contained 3.50g, more than half the daily maximum. 

The salt content of shop bought salads varied hugely, showing there is no need for the worst offenders to be so salty. Morrison’s Chicken and Bacon Pasta contained over four times more salt than Asda’s Spicy Chicken Pasta. 

As well as ridiculous amounts of salt, these seemingly-healthy meals were also often very high in fat and saturated fat, which can lead to raised cholesterol levels and weight gain. Aldi’s Just Tasty Cheese Layered Salad, for example, contained more than three quarters of an adult’s maximum recommended intake for fat at 53.2g, and 84% of the maximum recommended intake for saturated fat with 16.7g.

A lack of progress in salt reduction 

Action on Salt have been campaigning for years for the government and food industry to reduce the amount of salt that’s added to our food. Salt puts up our blood pressure, leading to heart disease, strokes and other illnesses. 

The survey highlights a shameful lack of commitment from manufacturers, with supermarkets making little to no progress. Meanwhile the salt content of salads from restaurants and cafes increased by 13% since they were last surveyed four years ago.  

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Salt and Blood Pressure UK, said, “It’s shocking to see that certain restaurants and supermarkets have failed to take responsibility to reduce salt – especially after our 2014 survey exposed their dangerously salty salads. 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.”

The campaigners call for better labelling

Nutrition labelling was available in many restaurants and fast foods but sometimes only on request, and was missing from most café chains. Action on Salt are now calling for better labelling so that shoppers can make an informed choice, including mandatory colour-coded nutrition labelling. 

Sarah Alderton, Nutritionist at Action on Salt says, “Salads are typically considered to be a healthy option, but restaurants and retailers are continuing to add unnecessarily high amounts of salt and saturated fat to their salads and putting the health of their customers in jeopardy.  We want the food industry to be transparent by displaying clear, colour-coded nutrition information on front of pack or at the point of sale, to help consumers make a more informed decision wherever they choose to eat.”

Top Tips To Ditch the Salt from your salad:

Action on Salt share their advice for looking after your blood pressure when you choose your lunch:

  • Check the label for salt and use the FoodSwitch app to find the healthier supermarket salads
  • Avoid salads with salty ingredients (e.g. feta, parmesan, olives, sundried tomatoes, bacon)
  • Use salad dressing sparingly or better still none at all if it’s provided in a pot on the side. Go for ones without dressing where possible. When eating out ask for the dressing on the side so that you can determine how much (or little) to use
  • Beware of misleading portion sizes - nutrition information ‘per serving’ may be for ¼ or ½ pot etc and not the whole pack, so check to see if you’re eating this amount or more
  • Make your own! You can control what you put in – choose less salty ingredients like beans, chickpeas, plenty of fresh colourful vegetables, salad leaves, lean meat and unsmoked fish. Add herbs, balsamic vinegar or lemon juice for flavour instead of dressings and sauces like mayo which can be high in fat and salt.

Read the full survey from Action on Salt. 

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