NEW findings reveal some food manufacturers have INCREASED salt levels in their pesto sauces despite warnings that salt damages our health
1 March 2018
A NEW survey by CASH, which was conducted using the new and updated FoodSwitch UK app, shows that many pesto sauces (i.e. one of the UK’s most preferred sauces for pasta), contain much higher amounts of salt than others.
Top of the list is Sacla, the current bestselling pesto brand, with their Italia Organic Vegetarian Pesto No.5 Basil and Italia Pesto No.1 Classic Basil. Both contain an alarming 3.30g salt per 100g, which is 30% saltier than seawater, and contain 2.5 times more salt per 100g than salted peanuts! What’s even more disappointing is the salt levels in both of these pesto products have actually INCREASED since last surveyed in 2009  and now contain over 1.5g of salt per serve – more than a McDonald’s Hamburger.
What’s more, NONE of the branded pesto’s have the Department of Health’s recommended colour-coded front of pack nutrition label, despite some of these products being the worst offenders when it comes to salt. This makes it difficult for consumers to know just how much salt they are eating and to make a healthy choice.
Examples of products with high levels of salt include:
A popular choice among parents, pesto is often given to young children – making it an even bigger contributor towards their salt intakes as the maximum daily recommended intake is much lower for children. In the long term, this could increase a child’s risk of developing high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks later in life.
Pesto is often added to sandwiches, pizzas, meat, fish and pasta dishes alongside other salty ingredients, which can push up the total salt content of meals to over 50% of your maximum daily recommended intake. For example, a pesto, ham and cheese toastie could provide you with over 3g salt.
Pesto was surveyed as part of CASH’s Pasta Sauce Survey in 2009, which highlighted that half of the pesto’s at the time had 2g of salt or more per 100g. This latest survey suggests some improvements have been made in the last 8 years to bring them under the 2017 salt target of 1.38g for pesto and other thick sauces, with significant reductions in some supermarket brands, but also big names such as Jamie Oliver.
Unfortunately, nearly 40% of products still exceed the average salt target for pesto sauces , and with less than three months left until the December 2017 deadline for industry, some companies are clearly not on track to meet the 2017 salt reduction targets for this category.
Pestos are also high in saturated fats, further increasing our risk of developing heart disease. Almost half (44%) of pestos surveyed would receive a red label for saturates on front of pack, and some contain nearly half a days recommended maximum intake in just one serving.
Sarah Alderton, Assistant Nutritionist at CASH explains, “Pesto is an everyday product eaten by adults and children alike, but people might not realise just how salty it can be! That’s why it’s important to check the label; switching from a high to lower salt option could really help to reduce your salt intake. However, given the inconsistent nature of food labelling this is difficult to do. None of the products we surveyed could be described as ‘healthy’, so consider having pesto in smaller portions, less frequently, or try other pasta sauces lower in salt and fat instead.”
Sonia Pombo, Nutritionist and Campaign Manager at CASH adds, “Salt is the forgotten killer as it puts up our blood pressure, leading to thousands of unnecessary strokes and heart attacks every year. Salt reduction is the biggest and most successful public health preventive measure made to date, yet it appears that many food manufacturers have stalled. Our survey shows that large reductions in the amount of salt added are possible, so why isn’t one of the nation’s most popular pesto brands following suit?”
Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of CASH says: “The UK was leading the world in salt reduction, but so far PHE is doing little to ensure that the 2017 salt targets are met, and has not confirmed that they are setting new targets to be achieved by 2020. This is a national scandal as we know we can save thousands of people from unnecessary strokes and heart attacks if population salt intake is reduced, and furthermore, it is the most cost effective health policy.”
Tips for Healthier Pesto: