The news coincides with new research released today by campaign group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), which revealed the extent of salt “hidden” in restaurant meals. CASH has urged chefs to use less salt in their meals, which it claimed was putting consumers’ health at risk.
“Out of home is holding back the changes in consumers’ salt [consumption] practises,” said Dr Susan Jebb, chair of the Food Network (FN).
Jebb, who is also head of diet and population health at the Medical Research Council Human Nutrition Research Unit, was speaking at a conference on nutrition organised by Leatherhead Food Research last Friday [March 8]. She told the conference the FN’s high level steering group had approved the new salt strategy last week.
Salt and calorie reduction remained the FN’s top two priorities for action, she added. But it was necessary to focus activity if further progress was to be made in persuading consumers to reduce their salt intake.
‘Failed to reduce salt’
Several food sectors – particularly processed meats and bakery – had struggled to meet the tough salt reduction targets set for 2012 because of technical and consumer acceptance reasons. At the same time, many smaller manufacturers and much of the catering sector had failed to reduce salt content at all.
Thus, even though great progress had been made by the retail sector, we are still eating too much salt. The average salt intake is 8.1g a day, compared with the maximum daily recommended intake of 6g a day (about a teaspoon), according to the Department of Health. It estimates that reducing salt intakes by just 1g – a pinch of salt – would prevent 4,147 deaths and save the National Health Service £288M every year.
The latest CASH research showed that out of nearly 700 main meals surveyed, over 50% were high in salt and 13 had more than 6g of salt per.
“It’s a national scandal that there is still so much salt in our food,” remarked Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at The Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary University and chairman of CASH. “While efforts have been made by foods in supermarkets to use less salt, chefs’ preference for saltier foods is preventing further progress.”
Of 1,137 people separately surveyed, 54% found restaurant meals too salty and 70% thought chefs should be responsible for helping them to eat less salt.
Jamie Oliver’s Italian
Jamie Oliver’s Italian had the highest level of salt of the celebrity chef restaurants surveyed, with one dish containing nearly one and a half times the daily recommend intake level. Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner was shown to be the best restaurant, with all meals surveyed containing less than 1.5g salt.
The CASH survey looked at 664 main meals from 29 popular high street and celebrity restaurants, fast food and cafes chains. It found that 347 meals had more than 2.4g of salt per portion – that’s 52% of all meals surveyed that would be labelled in a supermarket with a red traffic light.
Celebrity chef restaurants and high street chain restaurants both came out higher than cafes and fast food chains, partly due to larger portion sizes, with an average of 3.1g salt per meal. The 13 saltiest main meals in the survey contained more than 6g of salt.
Five of the top saltiest main meals per portion in the CASH survey:
- JD Wetherspoon’s 10oz gammon with eggs, chips, peas, tomato & flat mushroom (8.9g)
- Jamie’s Italian game meatball (8.1g)
- Carluccio’s spaghetti alle vongole in bianco (8.0g)
- Gordon Ramsay’s The Savoy Grill’s steamed mussels cider cream sauce and fries (7.3g)
- Wagamama’s Yaki Udon (7.0g)
Fast food outlets – number of dishes containing over 2.4g of salt per portion in the CASH survey:
- Pizza Hut (93%)
- Domino’s Pizza (79%)
- Burger King (64%)
- KFC (60%)
- McDonald’s (26%)
- Subway (18%)