The biggest survey of its kind reveals the alarming amounts of salt hidden in cheese

29th November 2012

• Cheese could be increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke
• Cheddar is the most popular, yet a portion contains MORE salt than a bag of crisps
• Many cheese products (incl. Roquefort, Cheese Slices, Feta and Halloumi) were found to be saltier by concentration than seawater

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New research from CASH (Consensus Action on Salt and Health) looked at 772 cheese products available in UK supermarkets and found many were unnecessarily high in salt [Ref 1]. Eaten almost daily in lunchtime sandwiches, grated on pasta dishes or as an evening snack with crackers – cheese is a big part of the UK diet, bought by over 98% of households [Ref 2].

Although not the saltiest variety of cheese in the survey, the nation’s favourite cheese, Cheddar [Ref 3], was found to contain more salt than a packet of crisps with an average of 0.52g salt per 30g portion – this includes reduced fat Cheddar-style cheeses [Ref 4].

High examples of Cheddar and Cheddar-style cheese (per 30g portion) [Ref 5]

• Morrisons: Smooth & Tangy Farmhouse Cheddar – 0.63g
• Waitrose: West Country Farmhouse Cheddar – 0.58g
• Taw Valley Creamery: Tickler Extra Mature Cheddar – 0.57g
• Kerry LowLow: Mature Cheese – 0.57g
• Pilgrims Choice: Strong and Punchy Lighter Extra Mature Cheese – 0.57g

Katharine Jenner, Campaign Director of CASH says “We already know most cheese is high in fat; however we often add it to our meals without thinking how much salt it contains. This survey shows that just one portion of cheese can contain more salt than a packet of crisps, so it’s worth looking at the label and choosing a lower salt version of your favourite cheese, or just use a little less next time you get the grater out.   We should all be eating less than 6g salt a day, about a teaspoon, yet we are currently eating much more (8.1g salt/day).”

Salt is NOT necessary in these high amounts, with many Cheddar products containing much less salt.  This clearly demonstrates that it IS possible to reduce salt content of cheese and leads the way for the Department of Health to set new, lower, salt targets for cheese in order to get our salt intakes down [Ref 6].

Low examples of Cheddar and Cheddar-style cheese (per 30g portion)

• Wyke Farm: Super Light – 0.37g
• Morrisons: Wm English Extra Mature Cheddar – 0.39g
• M&S: Keen's Farmhouse Cheddar Handmade in Moorhayes Farm Somerset - 0.44g
• The Co-operative: Healthier Choice Mild White Cheese - 0.45g
• Waitrose: Reduced Fat Lighter Mild Cheese – 0.47g

Per 100g average [Ref 7], Feta (2.51g), Cheese Singles (2.51g) and Halloumi (2.71g) were found to contain more salt per 100g than seawater [Ref 8].  The saltiest type of cheese in the survey was the French sheep’s milk blue cheese Roquefort (3.43g), with many versions containing over a gram of salt per portion – that’s more salt than found in a rasher of bacon [Ref 9]!  Varieties of Mozzarella (0.98g), Emmental (1.07g) and Wensleydale (1.13g) were found to be some of the lowest in the survey, showing how important it is to read the labels.

The research also revealed the huge variation in salt content between cheese products, even within the same category, for example The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Piccante Gorgonzola at 0.98g salt per portion is nearly 6 times saltier than Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Torta con Gorgonzola 0.17g salt per portion. Waitrose Wensleydale at 0.48g per portion is over twice as salty as Tesco Finest Wensleydale (with Cranberries and Blueberries) at 0.2g per portion.

Unknowingly, due to the high amounts of salt in processed cheeses, parents can feed their children an excessive amount of salt by giving them a simple cheese sandwich.  For instance Iceland Cheese Food Slices contain more salt than a packet of crisps in just ONE SLICE at 0.56g salt per 20g portion (2.8g of salt per 100g).  Tesco have recently relaunched their Cheese Slices which have over 25% less salt at 0.4g salt per 20g portion (2.0g salt per 100g).

Graham MacGregor, CASH Chairman and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Wolfson Institute says “Cheese is still a big contributor of salt in the diet. We urge the government to stop dragging its heels and set new, lower, targets for cheese manufacturers to work towards.” He continued by saying that “Even small reductions will have large health benefits, for every one gram reduction in population salt intake we can prevent 12,000 heart attacks, stroke and heart failure, half of which would have been fatal.  The Department of Health must now stop its delaying tactics and set new much lower targets for cheese manufacturers, and make sure they achieve them.  The cheese industry must comply if we are to save the maximum number of lives”

TIPS for making healthier choices:
• Compare nutrition labels & choose the lower salt and lower saturated fat option
• Have smaller portions – 30g is about the size of a matchbox
• Use it less often!  Cheese should be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet
• You may find you need to use less cheese if you use a stronger flavoured cheese

Industry and NGO responses 

Morrisons: The higher salt level Cheddar you highlighted is a Farmhouse Cheddar, which is handmade using a traditional recipe and process, requiring salt to be added by hand.  The salt needs to be present at a slightly higher level than in other Cheddars to carry the strong and characteristic flavour of Farmhouse Cheddar.  The preservative effect of adding slightly more salt is necessary to ensure microbiological stability during the lengthy maturation period and throughout the shelf life of the product. We offer a wide variety of cheese and all of our pre-packed cheese is labelled on front of pack with the nutrition per 30g serving to help customers make an informed choice. We are meeting Government targets for salt in this category.

Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, said: “It’s disheartening that so many versions of those sandwich staples – sliced cheese and cheese spread – are still so high in salt. Moreover, without traffic light labelling on all of these products, it’s often difficult for shoppers to quickly compare how much salt cheese contains. Once again manufacturers are failing to provide parents with enough of a helping hand in making quick but healthy packed lunches and snacks for their children. If the situation is to change, there needs to be a new, lower salt reduction target; coupled with traffic-light labelling being implemented by all manufacturers.”

 

References

Ref 1 -
Survey Details
• This survey looked at the sodium per 100g of 772 cheese products from the 7 leading supermarkets, including supermarket own and branded products  
• Over 30 types of cheese were included such as: Mascarpone, Cottage Cheese, Cream cheese, Mozzarella, Wensleydale, Goat cheese, Emmental, Jarlsberg, Brie, Cheshire, Gruyere, Camembert, Gorzongola, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, Cheddar, Stilton, Gouda, Parmesan, Edam, Feta, Cheese snacks, spread and singles and Halloumi
• All salt data (per 100g and per portion) is calculated from sodium per 100g (sodium x 2.5 = salt)
• The products were also surveyed for their saturated fat content per 100g
• The survey was carried out August - November 2012, with all figures in this release being checked and purchased w/c 19th Nov 2012

Ref 2 - According to the British Cheese Board, in a survey conducted by YouGov, cheese is bought by over 98% of households in the UK and each year we consume around 700,000 tonnes of it. 
           http://cdn.yougov.com/today_uk_import/yg-archives-yougov-cheeses-230911.pdf

Ref 3 - According to the British Cheese Board, Cheddar was the favourite cheese product [41% of respondents listed it as their top choice] http://cdn.yougov.com/today_uk_import/yg-archives-yougov-cheeses-230911.pdf

Ref 4 - A standard 32.5g packet of Walkers Ready Salted Crisps contains 0.5g of salt (8.5% of the daily maximum recommendation of salt)

Ref 5 - Due to inconsistent portion sizes provided by some manufacturers and lack of labelling in others, we have used a standard portion as 30g for an adult, and 20g for a children’s product, calculated from 100g sodium data.  30g is the accepted standard cheese portion size by The Dairy Council http://www.milk.co.uk/default.aspx

Ref 6 Department of Health 2012 salt target: 1.8g per 100g for hard cheese, including Cheddar and Cheddar-style cheeses: http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_125228.pdf

Ref 7 - Average salt content of all cheeses in the survey by 100g salt (calculated from sodium) (See graph below)

Ref 8 - The sodium concentration of seawater is 1g sodium/100g, equivalent to 2.5g salt.

Ref 9 - A recent survey of 130 types of bacon by CASH shows an average of 0.9g per rasher http://www.actiononsalt.org.uk/news/surveys/2012/Bacon%20Survey/83096.html

Erratum 

A previous version of this release contained the following statement in error 'cheese is the 3rd biggest contributor of salt in the diet, after bread and bacon'.  This is incorrect and we apologise.  Cheese provides 4% of the salt in the UK diet and our recommendation remains that cheese should be eaten in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet.