A new study of pasta sauces has drawn attention to huge differences in salt levels per portion between products, and big gaps in information given on the labels.
Pasta is a favourite quick and easy meal for millions, and during the economic downturn pasta sales have been growing apace. A recent report from Mintel found a 21 per cent increase in UK pasta sales by value between 2007 and 2009, to be worth £811m (including pasta ready meals).
But the UK’s Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) has found that the ready-made pasta sauces on sale in UK supermarkets have massive fluctuations in the salt they contain.
Between the lowest and the highest content the researchers, led by Hannah Brinsden, found a 30-fold difference.
The lowest levels were found in two Weightwatchers products: Roasted Garlic pasta sauce and Napoletana, which had 0.1g per 100g and 0.15g per 100g respectively.
The highest levels were in Jamie Oliver’s Spicy Olive and Garlic sauce, which had 3g per 100g. Guidance daily amounts were given for half a 350g jar, so the researchers took this to be a portion size. However Oliver’s publicist Peter Berry said a half jar is intended for a dish that is shared between four to six people “perhaps as a pizza topping or a pasta ‘dressing’”.
He added that new lower salt versions of Oliver’s sauces have been developed, and will be available for supermarkets to order from December. The new Spicy Olive, Garlic & Tomato sauce will have 0.8g of salt per 100g. These will replace the old, saltier versions as stocks are replenished and all supermarkets are expected to have the lower salt products by late spring.
Excess salt in the diet has repeatedly been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Graham McGregor, CASH chairman and a professor of cardiovascular medicine, said: “It is shocking to see so many products still so poorly labelled and high in salt. However many brands, in particular supermarket own brands, have far less salt, proving that it is not necessary to add loads of salt to make a tasty product.”
The CASH study looked at 190 pasta sauce products – both branded and private label products from leading supermarkets. The private label products contained on average 25 per cent less salt than the branded ones.
Labelling of salt info is a major focal point for action at present, as the Food Standards Agency recently launched a new campaign to encourage consumers to look at salt info on labels – even for products that don’t expect to contain much.
The CASH research found that 73 of the 190 products had no salt or sodium info per portion, and 52 had no portion size info.
Napolina branded products had no information about salt or sodium content at all.