Christmas can be stressful, but it doesn’t need to put up your blood pressure

19th December 2011

  • A Christmas dinner can contain over 15g of salt, or with some planning,  less than your daily maximum of 6g
  • Cooking at home this Christmas can be full of festive fun while avoiding the unnecessary salt
  • Some shop-bought products are just as low as home-made, so check the label!

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Christmas Day has the potential to make our salt intake sky rocket! Eating is central to the festivities with pre-lunch snacks, canapés and a Christmas Dinner which consists of a starter, main meal and dessert.  All of these foods can contain as much as 15.7g of salt [Ref 1], over twice your daily recommended maximum of 6g [Ref 2], a new survey by Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH) has revealed [Ref 3]. But with just a few simple tips and time-savers, your Christmas menu can have up to TEN grams less salt (5.7g of salt).  For some foods it’s well worth spending your time cooking at home to keep the salt down, but if you must save time, use our tips below to go for the lower salt options.  

“Everyone likes to be indulgent at Christmas time, and it’s not just on the day but for the whole of the festive season that we might be treating ourselves to salty food, so our salt intake can really add up” says Kay Dilley, CASH Nutritionist, “But by cooking at home, your Christmas food will be even more delicious as well as lower in salt.”

Cook at home:
Cooking from scratch at home can dramatically cut the salt in your seasonal roast.  Prepared vegetables may be a tempting time-saver, but they tend to have a lot of unnecessary added salt.  For instance Aunt Bessie's ‘Carrot & Swede Perfectly Mashed’ contains 0.8g of salt per portion and Essential Waitrose Roast Potatoes (Frozen) contain 1.03g, that’s already over 2g of salt; home-cooked vegetables with no salt added contain just a trace.  Buying a fresh or frozen turkey and roasting it at home is another salt-saver, pre-prepared joints are often high in salt.

Check the label:
Similar foods can vary hugely in their salt content so it’s a good idea to check the label, especially on snacks such as crisps, olives and nuts; Kettle Ridge Crisps Salt & Malt Vinegar for example contain 0.7g in a 30g portion but Kettle Chips Lightly Salted contain just 0.2g, saving half a gram.  Or you can save over a gram in a starter of smoked salmon, cream cheese and bread just by choosing lower salt options that are available.  Gravy, stuffing, mustard, bread sauce and cheese (for dessert) can also vary; Colman's English Mustard contains 0.42g in a teaspoon (5g) but by checking the label and swapping to Essential Waitrose English Mustard this can be almost halved. Swapping from blue stilton to a stilton or Wensleydale with apricot or cranberry is another simple swap; Sainsbury's Creamy Blue Stilton contains 0.62g per 30g portion, twice as much as Sainsbury's Yorkshire Wensleydale with Apricot at 0.28g salt per portion.  

There are a number of foods which are low in salt or don’t typically vary between brands so you can save your time and buy these foods. Pre-prepared Yorkshire puddings are usually low in salt; Aunt Bessie's 12 Irresistible Yorkshires contain just 0.3g each. Cranberry sauce is also a low salt option, such as the Essential Waitrose Cranberry Sauce with 0.03g per portion. Surprisingly, although shop-bought pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped with bacon) are salty, they don’t tend to be any higher than home-made. Dessert items including Christmas pudding, custard and biscuits for cheese also tend to be similar across the board.

“A third of adults in Britain have raised blood pressure, which leads to heart disease and stroke ,but  as half of those who have it are unaware, it is known as the ‘silent killer’” says Professor Graham MacGregor of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and Chairman of CASH. “The good news is that you can lower your blood pressure at any age.  It is the very high levels of salt that are hidden in our food that puts up both adults’ and children’s blood pressure, so look after yourself and your whole family this Christmas.”


Ref 1: High and low salt options for pre-lunch snacks, a starter, main meal and dessert on Christmas Day (names brands are examples only)

High Salt Christmas MenuSalt (g) per portionLow Salt Christmas MenuSalt (g) per portion
Pre lunch snacks2.2Pre lunch snacks0.5
Sherry / Champagne0Sherry / Champagne0
Kettle Ridge Crisps Salt & Malt Vinegar0.7Kettle Chips Lightly Salted0.2
Pitted Green Olives in Brine0.8Pitted Black Olives in Brine0.3
Salted Peanuts0.7Unsalted Mixed Nuts or Nuts and Dried FruitsTrace
Smoked Salmon2.55Smoked Salmon1.67
Kraft Light Philadelphia0.3Asda Chosen By You Lighter Plain Soft Cheese0.18
Waitrose Love Life Heyford Sliced Bloomer Thick Sliced0.53Waitrose Love Life Stoneground Wholemeal Medium Sliced  0.27
Main meal8.87Main meal2.24
Prepared, Basted Turkey Breast Joint0.79Home-cooked Roast Turkey0.3
Pork Cocktail Sausages0.48Ready-prepared Pigs in Blankets0.45
Dry Cured Streaky Bacon0.60  
Essential Waitrose Roast Potatoes (Frozen)1.03Home-made Roast PotatoesTrace
Ready-prepared Parsnips0.43Home-made Roast ParsnipsTrace
Ready-prepared Brussels Sprouts0.8Home-cooked Brussels SproutsTrace
Aunt Bessie's Carrot & Swede Perfectly Mashed (Frozen)0.8Home-made Mashed Carrot and SwedeTrace
Sausage Meat Stuffing1.38Cranberry & Bramley Apple Stuffing0.47
Aunt Bessie's 12 Irresistible Yorkshires (Frozen)0.3Supermarket Yorkshire Puddings (Frozen)0.1
Tesco Poultry Gravy (Fresh)1.1Waitrose Poultry Gravy (Fresh)0.27
Colman's Bread Sauce Mix0.72Marks & Spencer Bread Sauce (Fresh)0.33
Essential Waitrose Cranberry Sauce0.03Essential Waitrose Cranberry Sauce0.03
Colman's English Mustard0.42Essential Waitrose English Mustard0.25
Christmas pudding0.3Christmas pudding0.3
Fresh Custard0.1Fresh Custard0.1
Sainsbury's Creamy Blue Stilton0.62Sainsbury's Yorkshire Wensleydale With Apricot0.28
Crackers or Biscuits For Cheese0.2Crackers or Biscuits For Cheese0.2
Total Salt Content15.67Total Salt Content5.7


Ref 2 - Recommended maximum salt intakes (SACN 2003)

AgeMaximum Salt Intake
0-6 months<1g / day
6-12 months1g / day
1-3 years2g / day
4-6 years3g / day
7-10 years5g / day
11 years and above6g / day


Ref 3 – Survey Details
• This survey looked at a selection of shop-bought and home-made food items typically eaten on Christmas Day – as identified by CASH.
• Nutrition and product data for packaged items was collected from company websites, in store and from customer services.
• Home-cooked items were checked in Food Standards Agency (2002) McCance and Widdowon’s The Composition of Foods, Sixth summary edition. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry.
• The survey was carried out in December 2011, with all figures in this release being checked on 9th – 12th December 2011.
• Products were selected due to the availability of information and are not necessarily the highest or lowest products available on the market.
• For full survey details contact CASH on the numbers above or visit our website at




Photography by jannoon028,