A paper by CASH, which has been published in BMJ Open today (August 7), claimed salt levels in cheese were too high, with some products containing more salt than seawater.
Cheese was one of the biggest contributors of salt in the UK diet, with cheddar and cheddar-style cheeses being the most popular choice, it said.
In the paper, CASH compared the salt levels in off-the-shelf cheeses, including branded and own-label.
Branded more likely to be saltier
It said branded cheeses were more likely to contain higher levels of salt, as the manufacturers were less likely to have signed up to the Department of Health’s (DH’s) salt pledge to lower added salt in food.
Own-label cheeses, however, had lower salt levels, as retailers were most likely to be signed up to the DH’s salt pledge.
“Reducing salt is one of the most cost-effective measures to reduce the number of people suffering and dying from strokes, heart attacks and heart failure,” said professor Graham MacGregor, CASH chairman and professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute, Queen Mary University, London.
“Cheese is a big contributor of salt to the UK diet and it is vital that the DH forces the cheese industry to implement the new targets immediately and to set more challenging targets in the future,” added MacGregor.
‘Integral part of the process’
Dr Judith Bryans, Dairy UK chief executive, criticised CASH’s approach and said: “Salt is an integral part of the cheese making process for technical and safety reasons.”
Over the years, the dairy industry and cheese manufacturers had made “significant” steps to reduce the salt content of dairy products, working hard to overcome the technical barriers along the way, she added.
“Lowering salt levels irresponsibly would raise a number of concerns for the cheese industry in terms of food safety and quality,” argued Bryans.
“It is disingenuous to suggest that cheese makers are not doing everything they can to address issues around salt, but they cannot compromise food safety.”
CASH did not dispute Bryans’s argument that cheese was needed for food safety and quality reasons, but drew on the stark contrast between salt levels in branded and own-label products.
“On average, salt content was significantly higher in branded (1.78/100g) cheddar and cheddar-style cheese, compared to supermarket own-label products (1.72g/100g),” it said.
“This demonstrates that it’s technically possible to produce cheese with less salt in it.”
Yet, Bryans said: “Cheddar cheese in particular only contributes to 1% of salt intake in the UK – less than most food groups.
“The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey results show the average British adult only eats 15g of cheese a day, a far cry from 100g a day.”
Top 10 saltiest cheese, according to CASH
- Imported blue cheese
- Other processed cheese
- Blue cheese
- Cheese spread
- Cheddar/cheddar style