The Dairy Council has denied claims from the pressure group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) that food manufacturers add too much salt to cheese.
A CASH survey of more than 750 cheeses in UK supermarkets claimed many cheese products were saltier by concentration than seawater. Cheese was the third biggest contributor of salt to the UK diet, after bread and bacon.
But Dr Judith Bryans, director of the Dairy Council, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the industry had reduced salt levels in cheese, although she added it was a key part of the production process.
“We continue to try to reduce the salt content of cheese but, because it is an integral part of the cheesemaking process and we have to keep cheese safe, we sometimes reach a technological wall,” said Bryans. “It is important for us to produce cheese as safely as we can within our technical ability. So if you set a target for salt reduction in cheeses which then makes cheeses unsafe for people to eat, it is very difficult.”
‘Mature the cheese safely’
Bryans added: “You need salt to mature the cheese safely and to prevent the growth of micro-organisms. So, in some cheddar cheeses, you have less salt than in mature cheddar cheese where you are maturing the cheese for a long time.”
But Katharine Jenner, from CASH, said it was important to reduce the level of salt in diets to protect against the risks of high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes.
“We have a national programme to reduce salt and there’s no reason why cheese and other manufacturers should be left out of this,” said Jenner. “All we are asking is that they just reduce the amount of salt in their cheeses by 10%.”
Jenner said no one would advocate not eating cheese but “if you are interested in your health and trying to lower your blood pressure, you need to find those cheeses that are low in salt and it is quite difficult to find them”.
‘Big difference to health’
CASH said people might be surprised to find cheese contains as much salt as a packet of crisps because it doesn’t taste salty. It wanted people to think about making small salt reductions in their diet to make a big difference to their health.
Bryans said salt levels in packets of cheese were labelled clearly to help people make informed choices about the food they bought.
Graham MacGregor, CASH chairman and professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute, said: “Cheese is still a big contributor of salt in the diet. We urge the government to stop dragging its heels and set new, lower, targets for cheese manufacturers to work towards.”
MacGregor claimed for every one gram reduction in population salt intake would prevent 12,000 heart attacks, stroke and heart failure, half of which would have been fatal.
High salt examples of cheddar and cheddar-style cheese (per 30g portion)
• Morrisons: Smooth & Tangy Farmhouse Cheddar – 0.63g
• Waitrose: West Country Farmhouse Cheddar – 0.58g
• Taw Valley Creamery: Tickler Extra Mature Cheddar – 0.57g
• Kerry LowLow: Mature Cheese – 0.57g
• Pilgrims Choice: Strong and Punchy Lighter Extra Mature Cheese – 0.57g
Low salt examples of Cheddar and Cheddar-style cheese (per 30g portion)
• Wyke Farm: Super Light – 0.37g
• Morrisons: Wm English Extra Mature Cheddar – 0.39g
• M&S: Keen’s Farmhouse Cheddar Handmade in Moorhayes Farm Somerset - 0.44g
• The Co-operative: Healthier Choice Mild White Cheese - 0.45g
• Waitrose: Reduced Fat Lighter Mild Cheese – 0.47g