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‘Christmas’ themed menus should be renamed ‘Salty’ menus

New research carried out by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) shows that many products on the new ‘Christmas’ and ‘Festive’ themed menus are full of salt [1]. 

8 December 2009


With Christmas fast approaching, and many companies promoting their Christmas-themed special menus, CASH surveyed 87 products including sandwiches, burgers, salads, pies, desserts and crisps available within the ‘Christmas’ and ‘Festive’ ranges at high street coffee shops, fast food outlets and supermarkets [2]. Data was collected from packaging, asking in store where possible, or from the company’s website.

The highest salt product found on the high street was the Eat. Christmas Full Works Sandwich, containing a massive 4.20g salt per portion, over two-thirds of the daily maximum salt intake for adults.  Amongst the coffee shops, the lowest salt sandwiches were the Starbucks Turkey Feast Sandwich, Costa Brie & Cranberry Panini and Caffe Nero Cheddar and Festive Chutney Sandwich all containing 1.8g salt per portion.  These sandwiches are less than half the amount of the Eat. Christmas Full Works Sandwich yet would still be labelled ‘amber’ (medium) for salt under the Food Standards Agency’s traffic light labelling scheme.  The Sainsbury’s Christmas line features a Smoked Turkey and Cranberry sandwich with just 1.05g salt per portion – a quarter of the Eat. Christmas Full Works Sandwich. 

The McDonald’s Festive Menu, offers the ‘Great Cheese and Bacon’ burger (3.3g salt per portion), with a side dish of ‘Cheese Melt Wedges’ (2.2g salt per portion) and the ‘festive dip’ (0.6g salt per portion) as one meal, containing a total of 6.1g of salt.  This is more than the entire adult daily maximum recommended intake for salt in one meal and over double the recommendation for a child [4].   The McDonald’s ‘Cheese Melt Wedges’ contain 2.8g salt per 100g, which weight for weight, is saltier than seawater [4]. 

A full meal at Marks and Spencer’s containing a Turkey and Trimmings salad (1.45g salt per portion), a packet of Roast Gammon and Chutney Crisps (0.55g salt per portion), plus a dessert of a Yule Log (0.12g salt per portion) contains 2.12g, a third of the McDonald’s meal.

If you are thinking a salad lunch could be a healthy option, think again.  The Eat. Christmas Box Christmas Lunch, which contains a pork pie, has 3.0g salt/portion, that’s the equivalent of 6 packets of crisps [6].  The Marks and Spencer’s Turkey and Trimmings Salad contains less than half the amount of salt, at 1.45g per portion.

Even some of the desserts on the Christmas menus were surprisingly high in salt.  A Costa Christmas Chocolate cake has 0.94g salt per portion, that’s the equivalent of nearly 2 packets of crisps [6], swapping to a Costa Mince Tart (0.05g salt per portion), would save 0.89g salt. 

Finding out how much salt is in the products is a difficult task, as there was a lack of labelling at the point of choice.  As usual, the supermarkets were leading the way with more clear and comprehensive front of pack labelling, whilst 5 out of 8 of the coffee shops and fast food outlets did not provide information on salt at the point of choice, and was only available on request at the counter or online, and Greggs the baker did not provide nutritional information in store or even online, making it impossible to tell how much salt you would be consuming.

“Festive themed food is a lovely way of getting in the Christmas spirit” said Katharine Jenner, Nutritionist and CASH Campaign Manager.  “But this survey highlights how much salt could be hiding in your food, without you even knowing it. The huge level of salt seen in some of the products is particularly shocking when you consider that many children may be eating these products. Regularly consuming a high salt diet from a young age can put your health at risk.  We urge these manufacturers to reduce their salt content and provide clear labelling immediately.  To offer new high salt options on the menu when the nation is trying to reduce their salt intake is quite simply irresponsible.

“This survey highlights just how much variation there can be between seemingly similar products” says Hannah Brinsden who carried out the research for CASH.  “The salt in burgers and sandwiches can come from the bread, bacon, cheese and sauces.  When eating lunch on the go, a good alternative to a coffee shop sandwich would be a supermarket-bought one. Better still, make one at home with low salt fillings such as egg or chicken. To see the full list of products and get some ideas for low salt sandwich fillings and a recipe for homemade burgers please visit our website.”

“Salt puts up our blood pressure, which is the major risk factor for strokes, heart failure and heart disease, the leading causes of death and disability in the UK,” says Professor Graham MacGregor, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, and Chairman of CASH.  “It is shocking to see so many new products so high in salt.  Many places with a Christmas themed lunch do not have products so full of salt, proving that it is not necessary to add loads of salt to make a tasty product.  The food industry needs to act now.  A recent study [7] has confirmed that reducing the amount of salt eaten will reduce your risk of suffering a stroke or a heart attack.” 

Ends

[1] A file with the full survey details should be attached with this release.  If it is missing, or you have problems opening the file, please contact Katharine Jenner or Hannah Brinsden on the numbers above.

[2] 87 sweet and savoury products were found online and/or in store from McDonalds, Costa Coffee, Caffe Nero, Starbucks, Subway, Pret A Manger, EAT., Marks & Spencers, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Boots and The Cooperative. Information was collected w/c 23rd Nov 2009, and rechecked on 4th Dec 2009. 

[4] The recommended maximum intake for salt is 6g a day for adults and 3g for children aged 4-6 years

[5] Atlantic seawater contains 1.0g of sodium per 100g, which equates to 2.5g of salt per 100g.

[6] A packet of Walkers Ready Salted crisps contains 0.5g salt per portion

[7] Strazzullo, D’Elia, Kandala and Cappuccio; Salt intake, stroke, and cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of prospective studies. British Medical Journal 2009: 339;b4567

Methodology

- Nutritional information of all the festive menu items was found on the company’s website online, or collected either from labels on the packaging or by asking in store where possible.

- McDonalds, Costa Coffee, Caffe Nero, Starbucks, Subway, Pret A Manger, EAT., Marks & Spencer’s, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Boots and The Cooperative were all found to have a festive menu and at least some nutritional information available. No festive menu was found at KFC, Burger King Wimpy, Morrison’s or Tesco. Greggs was found to have a festive menu but no nutritional information for any of the products was available (customer services were contacted with no success).

- All products mentioned in the press release were checked for availability in store and rechecked in store and online on 4.12.2009.

For media information, contact:

Joel Winston
Public Relations Manager
Queen Mary University of London
email: j.winston@qmul.ac.uk
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