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Cheese survey

July 27th 2006

  • CASH survey shows higher levels of salt in cheese sold to children than ‘adult’ equivalent
cheese survey [DOC 192KB] [XLS 192 KB]


New research by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) has found very large variations in the salt content of many cheeses sold in the UK.  In particular, the survey found that cheese products marketed specifically for children contain higher levels of salt than traditional cheeses such as cheddar.

Kraft Dairylea Light Cheese slices, for instance, contain 2.8g of salt per 100g, far more than mild cheddar from M&S or Morrison’s (1.7g salt/100g).  According to the pack, one 25g Dairylea Light slice contains 0.8g of salt, 40% of a 3 year-old’s total daily limit of 2g.  Even the lowest-salt children’s cheese products surveyed – Kraft Dairylea Triangles and Rippers – contain 2g of salt per 100g, still more than standard cheddar.

“When you think that 100g of Atlantic seawater contains 2.5g of salt, you can see how horribly salty these Dairylea Slices really are,” says Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Consensus Action on Salt and Health and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine.  “Many parents are seduced by the claims that these products contain calcium for strong bones, and yet cheddar contains just as much calcium as Dairylea Light slices, with a lower salt content.  The sodium in salt leaches calcium from bones [1] and a high salt diet is implicated in osteoporosis, so parents choosing these highly salted cheese products may be putting their children’s bones at risk rather than protecting them.”
“The Food Standards Agency has set a target limit of 1.7g of salt per 100g for mild cheddar,” continues Professor MacGregor, “but, under huge pressure from industry, will allow these children’s cheese products to contain up to 2.9g of salt per 100g – higher than the salt concentration of sea water.  Where is the logic in that?  There may be technical reasons why these processed cheeses contain more salt, but surely the advice to parents should be to give their children a traditional cheese like cheddar rather than these very highly salted processed cheeses? [2]”

The CASH survey also highlighted the wide range of salt contents of some cheeses, even within the same category, for sale in the UK.  Cottage cheese (a product viewed by many as healthier than standard cheese) from Tesco or Waitrose, for instance, contains half the salt (0.5g per 100g) as cottage cheese from Sainsbury’s or Somerfield (1g per 100g).  Sainsbury’s Goat’s cheese contains more than twice as much salt (1.8g /100g) as Tesco’s (0.75g per 100g).  And Discover mozzarella contains 1.5g salt per 100g, over seven times as much as Sainsbury’s organic mozzarella at 0.2g per 100g.

These variations very vividly illustrate that the cheese industry could easily make large reductions in the salt contents of most cheeses.

The saltiest cheeses found by CASH were Somerfield ‘So Good’ feta at 6.8g of salt per 100g, which was more than three times as salty as M&S feta (2.2g salt/100g), and Sainsbury’s Pecorino Romano at 7.4g salt per 100g.  “At least pecorino is generally used quite sparingly in cooking or grated over the top of foods,” said Jo Butten, nutritionist for CASH.  “Feta, however, is usually eaten as part of a Greek salad and people can easily eat 30-40g as part of a meal.  30g of this Feta would give them just over 2g of salt – a third of their total daily limit.”   

Another worrying aspect of the CASH survey was the lack of on-pack salt labelling for cheese.  Of the 175 packs of cheese surveyed, only 23 (13%) provided the salt level per serving on pack.  Only 51% of the packs (90) provided the salt level per 100g on the label.  Ironically, the Kraft children’s cheese products had some of the best labelling.  Cheese is often added to cooking or eaten after dinner and consumers could easily miss this out when calculating their daily intake.  And working out how much salt their cheese contains becomes impossible when it is not labelled, thus making cheese a source of hidden salt in the diet.

“Salt puts up blood pressure which is the major cause of strokes, heart attacks and heart failure,” said Professor MacGregor. “We all need to be able to choose foods that are much lower in salt.  This is why clear labelling of the salt content is so important.  If these cheeses were properly labelled, people would be able to see how much salt they are getting from a serving and be able to make an informed choice, and in particular within a category choose a cheese that is lower in salt.”

Reference

[1] Reference for sodium leaching calcium:
Cappucio, F.P., Kalaitzidis, R., Duneclift, S and Eastwood, J.B. (2000). Journal of Nephrology. Unravelling the links between calcium excretion, salt intake, hypertension, kidney stones and bone metabolism.

[2] Comparison of standard cheddar with Dairylea Light slices in a child’s diet:
A sandwich made with one slice of Kraft Dairlylea Light Cheese combined with two slices of average white bread equals 0.8g salt per cheese slice portion and 0.4g of salt per slice of bread (0.8g of salt for two slices of bread). This totals 1.6g of salt (not including butter or margarine) providing 32% of the recommended maximum salt intake for 7-10 year olds, 53% for 4-6 year olds and 80% for 1-3 year olds.

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