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Action on Salt

Pubs survey

3rd June 2009

  • Research reveals huge amounts of hidden salt in popular pub meals
  • Well over maximum daily limit in one meal

For Media Coverage: Media Coverage for Pubs Survey Press Release

New research carried out by London Environmental Health Officers on behalf of Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) shows that many pub meals can contain huge amounts of salt.  In some cases a three-course meal contains more than the daily maximum limit for an adult.  

Levels of saturated fat in the meals tested were also often very high, with one dish containing more than double the recommended maximum daily intake for women.

In the first London-wide analysis of national pub chains, Environmental Health officers from boroughs across London sampled 57 popular menu items from 16 of some of the UK’s favourite pub chains. Samples were purchased from the restaurants and analysed for their salt, fat, saturated fat and calorie content by the Public Analyst.

The research found that over half (55%) of the main course dishes contained 3g of salt or more, half the maximum recommended intake for a day, and 91% contained more than 2g of salt.  The saltiest main course dish found was Hunter’s Chicken, from Vintage Inns’ Ye Olde Cherry Tree pub in the London Borough of Enfield, with 5.78g of salt.  This is just short of the 6g maximum daily intake for an adult.

The saltiest starter surveyed was Spicy Coated King Prawns from J D Wetherspoons’ Moon & Stars in the London Borough of Havering, with 4.4g of salt per serving.  A third of the starters surveyed (35%) contained more than 3g of salt and half  (50%) contained more than 2g of salt.

Desserts can also contain hidden salt:  Sticky Toffee Pudding from the J D Wetherspoon Goldengrove pub in the London Borough of Newham contained 1.95g of salt, equivalent to almost a third (32.6%) of the daily salt limit for an adult.  A third of the desserts sampled contained more than 1g of salt, equivalent to two packets of crisps.

A three-course meal at Vintage Inns’ Ye Olde Cherry Tree of Tomato and Basil Soup (1.45g salt) followed by the Hunter’s Chicken (5.78g salt) and Sticky Toffee Pudding (1.05g salt) would contain a total of 8.28g of salt, well over the maximum daily limit.

And someone eating the Spicy Coated King Prawns at the J D Wetherspooons Moon & Stars followed by their Fish and Chips and Chocolate Fudge Cake would eat a total of 7.88g of salt.

There were also very high levels of fat and saturated fat in these favourite foods. The recommended daily limit for saturated fat is 20g for women and 30g for men.  But a healthy-sounding pasta dish with char grilled vegetables and pine nuts from Youngs’ The Beaufort in the London Borough of Barnet contained 40.9g of saturated fat, twice the maximum recommended intake for a woman.  A white chocolate cheesecake with winter berries served with vanilla ice cream from The Slug and Lettuce contained 33.2g saturated fat, more than the maximum recommended daily intake for a man.  

“We are now seeing a big difference in the UK between food bought from supermarkets, and foods we eat in pubs and restaurants,” says Carrie Bolt, CASH Nutritionist. “UK food retailers are leading the way in reducing salt levels in our food and making sure that their products are clearly labelled so that shoppers can see how much salt and saturated fat they contain. But more and more of us are eating out on a regular basis and when we buy a meal in a pub or restaurant we generally have no way of knowing how much salt or saturated fat it contains.  
“Some chains are now starting to put nutritional information in their pubs and online menus and we would like to see all pubs adopt this approach. I think that customers would be shocked by how much salt is in their favourite meals and in particular in their desserts as these taste sweet.  How many people would guess that a Sticky Toffee Pudding could contain as much as 1.95g salt, equivalent to two rashers bacon?  We would also like to see pubs cut back on the amount of salt they add during the cooking stage.  Then at least it is the customer’s choice if they would like to add more salt at the table.”

“These high salt pub meals make us very thirsty, encouraging us to drink more,” says Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of CASH and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at St George’s Hospital in London.

“Food retailers in the UK have agreed to new 2012 targets for ready meals of 1.13g salt (maximum), 0.63g salt (average) per 100 grams, set by the Food Standards Agency. CASH would like to see the same 2012 targets set for all pub and restaurant chains and other meals eaten outside the home.

“Keeping our salt consumption below the recommended maximum limits is vital,” says Professor Graham MacGregor.  “If we are to reduce the numbers of people needlessly suffering and dying from heart attacks and strokes, then we all need to reduce our salt intake.  Too much saturated fat leads to raised cholesterol, which in turn is also a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.”

Helen Clark, Area Manager for Food Team, from the London Borough of Wandsworth added: “This is the first London-wide nutritional survey carried out by Environmental Health teams.  What surprised us was not only the wide variation in levels of salt and saturated fat between different meals but also the variation between similar menu items from different pubs.  One sticky toffee pudding served with clotted cream had 21g of saturated fat whereas another served with custard only had 8g.  One beef burger contained 3.28g of salt whereas another contained 2.28g.  This shows that without nutritional labelling of restaurant food as proposed by the Food Standards Agency it is very difficult for the public to choose a healthy option.”

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