High levels of salt hidden in UK's favourite sandwiches

July 5th 2007

  • One sandwich can contain more salt than seven packets of crisps 
  •  41% surveyed contain more salt than a Big Mac

 

New research published today (July 5th 2007) by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) reveals that many shop-bought sandwiches contain more than a third (2g) of the day’s recommended maximum salt limit (6g) in a single serving, and some contain up to 65% of the adult daily limit.[1]

CASH surveyed 140 sandwiches available in the UK.  The research covered the top ten favourite sandwich varieties from nine retailers, one fast-food chain, one bakery and five coffee shops.  Over two fifths – 41% of the sample - (58 sandwiches) contained 2g or more of salt per serving, 33% of the adult daily limit, or the same salt level as a Big Mac [2].  11 sandwiches – almost 8% of those surveyed – contained 3g or more of salt – half the adult daily limit.

Of those surveyed, ASDA Extra Special Yorkshire Ham and Hawes Wensleydale was the saltiest sandwich with 3.9g of salt per serving. This was closely followed by Pret a Manger’s All Day Breakfast sandwich with 3.54g of salt and Tesco’s Finest All Day Breakfast sandwich with 3.5g of salt.  As a standard bag of Walkers Ready Salted Crisps contains 0.5g of salt per bag [3], these high-salt sandwiches contain the equivalent of seven bags of crisps.

The lowest salt sandwiches in the survey were Co-op Healthy Living Tuna and Cucumber and Tesco Healthy Living Chicken Salad, with 0.6g of salt per serving, just 10% of the adult daily salt limit.

“In the UK, we buy almost 1.7 billion sandwiches a year, spending around £2.8 billion [4],” said Carrie Bolt, CASH Project Assistant, who carried out the survey.  “We have calculated that the UK population consumes around 3,000 tonnes of salt each year, just from packaged sandwiches.  Many of us buy a sandwich for our lunch most days of the week, but we need to know how much salt is in those sandwiches.  Choosing a high salt version may take us over the daily limit of salt and could affect our long-term health.  We compared similar sandwiches from different retailers and found some huge variations.  In many cases, some sandwiches can have twice as much salt as another retailer’s sandwich in the same variety.  For instance, a Subway Tuna sandwich has over four times as much salt as a Co-op Healthy Living Tuna and Cucumber sandwich (2.8g versus 0.6g).

“People who buy their sandwich in a supermarket can look at the label and make an informed decision,” continued Carrie Bolt, “but some of the other outlets do not provide nutrition labelling.  In the case of Greggs, this is not so much of a problem as their sandwiches have relatively low salt contents, but Pret a Manger has some of the saltiest sandwiches in our survey and provides no salt information on their sandwiches, or at point of purchase.  We would strongly encourage Pret a Manger to take responsibility for public health and start to include information on their labels or at point of sale.  

“If someone who eats a shop-bought sandwich every day of the working week chooses a lower salt option, they could save themselves at least 5g of salt a week – that’s 250g of salt a year!”

The average salt content for a sandwich in the survey was 1.9g.  As a comparison, many ready-meals contain less than 1.6g of salt in a whole meal.  

"We congratulate those companies who have managed to reduce the amount of salt in their sandwiches," said Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of CASH and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine.  "But there are still a large number of sandwiches that contain high levels of salt, and people are inadvertently eating a lot of salt through choosing these sandwiches.
 
“Cutting our salt intake in the UK is vital, as recent research has shown that people who are able to reduce their salt intake by 2 - 3g per day can reduce their risk of having a stroke or heart attack by one quarter.[5]  And for each 1g of salt we can cut out of our national average intake, we will save over 6,500 lives each year. ”

References
1
Full details of the CASH sandwich survey will be available on the CASH website on 5 July 2007.
2 Information taken from McDonald’s website nutrition counter, available at www.mcdonalds.co.uk
3 The salt content of a standard 34.5g bag of Walkers Ready Salted crisps is 0.5g (please note we have not compared fat or calorie contents).
4 TNS World Panel data: http://www.marketresearchworld.net/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=671&Itemid=
5 Cook NR, Cutler JA, Obarzanek E, Buring JE, Rexrode KM, Kumanyika SK, Appel LJ, Whelton PK. Long term effects of dietary sodium reduction on cardiovascular disease outcomes: observational follow-up of the trials of hypertension prevention (TOHP). BMJ 2007;334:885.  This study showed that people who cut back on the amount of salt in their diet by up to 3g per day could reduce their chances of developing cardiovascular disease by up to 25%.
6 The calculation of 6,500 lives saved for each 1g drop in daily population intake of salt is taken from: Feng J He & Graham A MacGregor. How far should salt intake be reduced? Hypertension. 2003; 42: 1093-1099.