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Action on Salt

Ready meals survey

23rd November 2007

  • Public urged to boycott the few remaining 'worst offenders'

The average salt level of ready meals on sale in UK supermarkets has reduced by 45% over the last four years, according to new research published today. In fact 84% have already reached the Food Standards Agency’s 2010 targets for salt content.

Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) surveyed 101 ready meals from eight retailers and found that the average salt content was 1.8g of salt per serving.  When the Food Standards Agency surveyed ready meals in June 2003, it found that the average salt content was 3.3g, with some ready meals containing almost all of an adult’s recommended maximum daily amount in a single serving [1].  

Only 13% of the sample taken in 2003 contained 2g of salt or less per serving – a third of an adult’s maximum daily amount.  The new research found 66% (67) of ready meals surveyed had 2g or less.   Several (16, 16%) of the meals in the survey contained 1g or less of salt per portion.  

“This is great news,” said Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of CASH and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at St George’s University of London.   “The UK is leading the world in reducing salt in manufactured food, and the fact that so many companies have managed to re-formulate their products with so much less salt proves that a gradual reduction in salt can be done.  We eat over 14 million ready meals each week in Britain, so this food category is an important focus for salt reduction.  We applaud the supermarkets that have made significant salt reductions – their actions are helping to lower blood pressure in this country and thereby save lives.”

But some ready meals still contain relatively high levels of salt.  7% (7) of those surveyed contained 3g or more salt per serving, half an adult’s maximum daily recommended intake .  The CASH research highlighted some particularly bad offenders which people are urged to avoid until their salt content has been reduced:

Highest salt contents in the survey:

  • Asda Indian Chicken Tikka Masala and Pilau Rice 5.0g salt per portion
  • Waitrose Chicken Tikka Masala and Pilau Rice 3.6g salt per portion
  • The Co-operative Group Chicken in Thai Green Curry Sauce with Oriental Rice 3.6g

Worryingly, there were also some “healthy” options that contained more salt than the “standard” products from the same retailer:

  • The Co-operative Group Healthy Living Cottage Pie - 2.3g salt per portion vs. The Co-operative Group Cottage Pie - 1.4g salt per portion
  • Waitrose Perfectly Balanced Spaghetti Bolognese - 2.2g salt per portion vs. Waitrose Spaghetti Bolognese - 1.8g salt per portion.

There were also some “economy” products with more salt per portion than the retailer’s “standard” product:

  • Somerfield Simply Value Spaghetti Bolognese - 2.0g salt per portion vs. Somerfield Spaghetti Bolognese - 1.1g salt per portion
  • Asda Smart Price Spaghetti Bolognese (frozen) - 1.3g salt per portion vs. Asda Spaghetti Bolognese (frozen) - 1.0g salt per portion
  • Sainsbury's Basic Spaghetti Bolognese (frozen) - 2.8g salt per portion vs. Sainsbury’s Spaghetti Bolognese (frozen) - 1.3g salt per portion.

“Eating too much salt is a serious health risk,” says Jo Butten, CASH Nutritionist.   “Salt acts as a long-term toxin that puts up blood pressure in both children and adults [2] and thereby causes strokes and heart attacks.  We know that reducing salt intakes to below the recommended 6g a day for adults and less for children reduces the risk of having a stroke by a quarter [3] and heart attacks by one fifth, so it is really important that people choose lower salt options and avoid these remaining high-salt ready meals until they are reformulated to contain less salt.

“In the meantime, anyone who would like to know how their favourite ready meal compares with others on the market can check our website Heart disease and stroke still kill and disable more people in this country every year than any other disease or condition.  Thousands of lives can be saved each year if we just choose lower salt foods.”


(N.B. the types of ready meals surveyed are not identical to those in our recent survey, but give an overview of the average salt levels in ready meals in 2003)

2 He FJ, MacGregor GA.  Importance of salt in determining blood pressure in children: meta-analysis of controlled trials.  Hypertension 2006; 48: 861-869.

3 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 April 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%.

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