Consensus Action on Salt and Health

News centre menu

Valentine Survey

Embargoed until Wednesday 14 February 2018 – 00.01 hours (UK time)

  • Top retailers are providing excessive salt, calories, saturated fat and sugars in their Valentines meal deals at bargain prices1
  • Shoppers warned they could be damaging their loved one’s heart by opting for certain choices
  • Eating a Marks & Spencer meal combination provides as much salt as SIX McDonald’s Hamburgers2
  • CASH calls for retailers to act more responsibly and only offer discounts for much healthier meals

velentines survey data [PDF 397KB]

For Media Coverage: Valentine's Meal Deals Media Coverage

‘Food is the way to a man’s heart’, yet shoppers are being warned they could be damaging their loved one’s heart by opting for very unhealthy Valentine’s Day Meal Deals being widely promoted at some of the UK’s biggest retailers.

A new survey by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) based at the Wolfson Institute, Barts & The London, Queen Mary University of London, has revealed the excessive and harmful amounts of salt, sugar and saturated fat (saturates) found in the majority of meal deal combinations.

From the Valentine’s meal deals surveyed1, the saltiest meal deal combination is from Marks & Spencer3, offering customers a starter, main, side dish and dessert for two, including a bottle of wine/sparkling wine and a box of chocolates.

Opting for their Italian Antipasto Delicatessen Selection, Gastropub Gammon Shanks with a Rich Orange & Cranberry Sauce, Truffled Cauliflower Cheese and Dutch Apple Tarts would provide a shocking 7.16g salt per person - that’s MORE than an adult’s DAILY maximum recommended intake for salt4 in just one meal, and as much salt as SIX McDonald’s Hamburgers2! The meal would also provide you with 23.9g saturates - 120% daily maximum recommended intake5 - and more than 10 tsp of sugar (41.9g)! This meal combination would bring the total number of calories per person to 1,129kcal, over half an adult’s daily recommended energy intake6. Furthermore, Marks & Spencer is throwing in a 60g box of chocolates that would add an additional 161 calories and 14g sugar per person7!

Swapping for lower salt options in the deal at Marks & Spencer could significantly improve not only your salt content by a huge 78% (7.16g vs. 1.6g per person), but also calorie intake, sugars and saturates (Data Table).

Other meal deal combinations to raise your blood pressure include:

  • Waitrose Scottish Cooked Mussels in a Bisque Sauce, Easy to Cook Coq au Vin, Cauliflower Cheese and a Salted Caramel & Chocolate Tart – 998kcal, 23.5g saturates (118% daily maximum recommended intake), 33.2g sugars ( i.e.8tsp) and 5.49g salt per person (92% of an adults maximum recommended intake); more salt than 8 servings of McDonald’s medium fries8
  • Morrisons Champagne & Scottish Hot Smoked Salmon Risotto, Salmon, Smoked Haddock & King Prawn Fish Pie, The Best Maris Piper Chunky Chips and Belgian Chocolate & Blood Orange Tarts – 1600kcal, 34.4g saturates (172% daily maximum recommended intake), 41.8g sugars (i.e. 10tsp) and 5.45g salt (91% of an adults’ maximum recommended intake); more salt than 15 bags of Walkers Ready Salted Crisps9
  • ASDA Extra Special Cornish Camembert with a Sloe Gin & Cranberry Dip, Extra Special Slow-cooked Pork and Chorizo Stew, Extra Special Garlic & Herb Creamy Mash, Extra Special Broccoli & Cauliflower Cheese and Extra Special Red Velvet Melting Puddings – 1552kcal, 37.6g saturates (nearly twice an adults maximum recommended intake), 53.8g sugars (over 13 tsp) and 5.24g of salt (87% of an adults’ maximum recommended intake); more salt than 2 store bought Pizza Express Margherita Pizzas10.

The findings reveal that there are some healthier meal deal combinations available across all retailers, providing customers with significantly fewer calories, saturates, sugars and salt. Unfortunately, most retailers completely fail to promote healthier choices to their customers. Of the retailers surveyed, only Marks & Spencer, Iceland, The Co-operative and Waitrose provided a small choice of unprocessed fruit and vegetables as a side dish/dessert option as part of the meal deal.  

Sarah Alderton, Assistant Nutritionist at CASH says: “Valentines is a special occasion and therefore it is no surprise that the meals offered in these ‘dine-in’ deals are of a more indulgent nature. However, our survey has shown that you could easily reach your daily calorie intake and consume way over the maximum recommended daily amount of salt, saturates and/or sugar in just one meal, so choose wisely! Healthier combinations are available; we found those that were lower in salt were also typically lower in calories, saturates and sugar too, so it pays to read the label and compare the different options available”.

Sonia Pombo, Campaign Manager at CASH says: “Retailers should have a duty of care to their customers, so it’s very disappointing to see such a poor offering of healthier choices available in their Valentine’s meal deals. Whilst Valentine treats are fine, there is no need to make it at the expense of our health. Many of these meal combinations provide an excessive amount of salt and calories, saturates and sugars, all of which put us at increased risk of heart disease, and could easily be reformulated, with much lower levels of salt”.

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of CASH, adds:“Salt is the forgotten killer as it puts up our blood pressure, leading to tens of thousands of unnecessary strokes, heart failure and heart attacks every year. Reducing salt is the most cost effective measure to reduce the number of people dying or suffering. The UK was leading the world in reducing salt intake, however the current government has done little so far to continue to reduce salt. The government now needs to come up with a new robust plan that slowly reduces the salt content of all foods and stop the food industry from promoting unhealthy products and causing thousands of unnecessary deaths".

Tips for choosing healthier meals this Valentine’s:

  • Use the FoodSwitch UK app to find healthier choices – simply scan the barcode of your regular brand to get colour coded nutrition information and see a list of healthier alternatives
  • Use front of pack colour coded labels to help pick products that are amber and green for salt, saturates and sugars, and less red.
  • Choose fruit or vegetables for the side/dessert option.


National PR – David Clarke: M: 07773 225516

Tweet #LessSalt

Notes to editors:

About CASH
Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) is a group concerned with salt and its effects on health, supported by 25 expert scientific members. CASH is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high salt diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of salt in processed foods as well as salt added to cooking, and at the table.

In the early 2000’s the UK pioneered a salt reduction strategy with the Food Standards Agency and CASH with the setting of incremental salt targets, so that the food industry was slowly reducing the huge and unnecessary amounts of salt they add to food. This resulted in a fall in UK population salt intake, a fall in average blood pressure and more than 12,000 lives have been saved from preventing strokes and heart disease. However in 2010 responsibility for salt reduction was switched to the Department of Health and the food industry was made responsible for policing itself, a policy that unsurprisingly failed. Further salt reduction targets were set to be achieved by 2017 but little action has been taken to ensure the food industry is meeting these targets. PHE are now responsible for the UK salt reduction programme but so far have done little or nothing. All of the above has meant that the salt reduction programme has been slowed down with the result that many thousands of people have died unnecessarily and huge and unnecessary costs have been incurred by the NHS. Salt is the forgotten killer; the time has come for PHE to allocate sufficient resources to immediately resuscitate the UK salt reduction programme.


1. Data was collected from all supermarkets offering a Valentines dine in meal deal for two people (ASDA, Co Op, Iceland, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Tesco and Waitrose) between 8-10th February 2018.  Product data was collected in store from product packaging using the FoodSwitch Data Collector App, and where not available, captured online from the retailers’ website.
2. A McDonald’s Hamburger contains 1.2g salt
3. Valentine’s Meal Deals for 2 on offer:
    a. Marks & Spencer £20 – Starter, main, side dish, dessert, chocolates and a bottle of wine
    b. Iceland £10 – 2 Mains, 1 side and 1 dessert
    c. ASDA £15 – Starter, main, 2 sides, dessert and wine or soft drink
    d. The Co-operative £6 – Main and 2 sides, or 1 side and 1 dessert (for the purpose of this survey, 1 side and 1 dessert was chosen)
    e. Morrisons £15 – Starter, main, side, dessert and bottle of wine
    f. Waitrose £20 – Starter, main, 2 sides, dessert and wine
    g. Tesco £20 – 2 mains, 2 sides, 1 dessert, 1 box of chocolates and wine
4. The maximum recommended daily intake of salt for an adult is 6g day
5. Reference intakes for saturated fat (saturates) is less than 20g/day
6. Reference intake for energy is 2000kcal per day
7. Assuming the box would be shared in one sitting between 2 people
8. A McDonald’s medium fries contains 0.62g salt
9. A bag of Walkers Ready Salted Crisps (25g) contains 0.35g salt
10. A store bought Pizza Express Margherita Pizza (245g) contains 1.96g salt

Return to top