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Action on Salt


5th June 2013


  • Over 110 biscuits were as salty, or saltier than, Butterkist Salted Popcorn (0.9g per 100g)
  • Surprisingly, biscuits and other bakery treats are within the top ten contributors of salt intake in the UK diet [3]
  • Children eating as many as 46 packets of biscuits a year each [2] are putting themselves at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure as adults
  • Nearly 90 per cent of biscuits receive an amber traffic light for salt, and 90 per cent are red for sugar [4]
  • CASH calls for the food industry to make biscuits less salty

For full data Biscuit data Final [PDF 578KB]

For Industry and NGO responses click here

For media coverage: Biscuit Survey Media coverage

Research carried out by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), found surprising levels of salt in biscuits sold in local supermarkets [1]. A survey of 479 sweet biscuits from the major supermarket chains found having sweet biscuits with your afternoon cup of tea, or popping a couple in your child’s packed lunch, could be adding more salt to your diet than you think. Parents might be aware that the high levels of sugar found in biscuits are putting their children at increased risk of developing dental caries, obesity and diabetes; but they might not realise that the hidden salt is causing just as much damage - putting them at risk of developing high blood pressure later in life.

Recent data from the UK’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey 2011 [5] show that 60 per cent of 19-64 year olds regularly eat biscuits. And children are eating just as many - if not more – biscuits than adults, with 80 per cent of under-tens eating them on a regular basis (at an average of 1-2 biscuits a day). The maximum advised salt intake for children is also much lower than that of adults; a child aged 4-6 should have half that of an adult, 3g.

Examples of biscuits high in salt

• Asda Fun Size Mini Milk Chocolate Digestives, 0.4g per 25g bag
• Sainsbury’s Giant White Chocolate and Raspberry Cookies, 0.39g per 60g biscuit
• Asda Extra Special All Butter Belgian White Chocolate Cookies, 0.30g per 25g* biscuit
• McVitie’s Mini Gingerbread Men, 0.30g per 25g pack
• Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Ginger and oatflake cookies, 0.26g per 25g* biscuit
• Cadburys Milk Chocolate Digestives, 0.24g per 16g* biscuit
• McVitie’s Milk/Dark Chocolate Hobnobs, 0.20g per 19g* biscuit
*biscuit weight calculated from nutritional information

Children can find as much, or more, salt in one 16g Cadburys Digestive biscuit (0.24g) as the following;

• A chicken nugget (Sainsbury’s Frozen Chicken Nuggets, 0.24g per 17g nugget)
• A fish finger (Birds Eye Cod Fish Fingers, 0.2g per 28g finger)
• Salted popcorn (Butterkist Salted Popcorn, 0.20g per 20g serving)

“Many people will be very surprised to hear that so much salt is added to sweet biscuits.” says CASH Nutritionist Sonia Pombo. “This is in the form of either added salt (sodium chloride) or sodium bicarbonate. Both of these are largely unnecessary in biscuits.  Even if bicarbonate is required, potassium bicarbonate or calcium bicarbonate can be used instead”.

The survey also revealed huge variations in the amount of salt between brands of the same biscuit type. Within digestive biscuits, some branded biscuits were shown to have more than DOUBLE the salt content of some supermarket own brand biscuits e.g. McVitie’s had 0.2g salt per digestive biscuit vs. Sainsbury’s So Organic with 0.09g per digestive biscuit.

Some varieties of biscuits had consistently lower levels of salt across all the brands, with some of the more traditional favourites such as custard creams and chocolate bourbons containing ‘trace’ levels of salt per portion (1 biscuit). However, this doesn’t hide from the fact that a large number of biscuits still contain unnecessary amounts of salt. CASH urge manufacturers to reduce the amount of salt in all their biscuits to the lowest levels possible.

Examples of biscuits low in salt

• Tesco Bourbon Cream Biscuits, trace per 14g biscuit (0.3g salt/100g product)
• Fox’s Fruit and Nut Chunkie, 0.08g per 26g* biscuit (0.3g salt/100g product)
• Waitrose Essential Nice Biscuits, trace per 8g* biscuit (0.3g salt/100g product)
• Jammie Dodgers, trace per 19g* biscuit (0.4g salt/100g product)
• Maryland Double Choc Cookies, trace per 11g* biscuit (0.4g salt/100g product)
*biscuit size calculated from nutritional information

The research also highlighted very confusing nutrition labelling.  Of the 479 biscuits surveyed, 82 per cent gave just one biscuit as a portion size, which is unrealistic - most people would have at least two or three biscuits at a sitting. One in ten products failed to provide nutritional information per portion, and only stated the information per 100g, making it difficult to calculate just how much salt you are eating. Some biscuits such as Oreo, also only put sodium on the labels, and not salt, which may confuse consumers further. Finally, nearly 40 per cent of products did not show front of pack traffic light nutrition labelling at all, which has been shown to make it easier for the shopper to make a healthy, informed, choice [6].  

“With salt hidden in sweet foods as well, how can parents be expected to prevent their children from eating too much salt, putting them at risk of high blood pressure as adults [7], one of the biggest cause of death in the UK?” says Professor Graham MacGregor, CASH Chairman and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary, University of London.  “Manufacturers of biscuits need to remove the large and unnecessary amounts of salt that they put into biscuits”.

Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, says: “When even sweet treats are harbouring a salty secret, it’s clear families face a real battle to cut down on their salt intake. It’s made even more difficult by the fact we have grown accustomed to the taste of salt and so it’s practically impossible to know by sight or taste how salty something actually is. Food labels, ideally using traffic light colours, will help make that clearer to shoppers and then it’s up to us all to keep a lid on the amount of sugar and salt we’re eating – something our waistlines and hearts will thank us for.”

TIPS for making healthier choices:

- Make biscuits a treat and not an everyday occurrence. If you like to snack, opt for healthier alternatives e.g. fruit, nuts and plain popcorn
- When making your own biscuits, be sure to use unsalted butter, or even better, a mono or polyunsaturated fat e.g. corn oil or rapeseed oil
- Baking powder is used as a raising agent when baking, but is not always necessary for biscuits. Avoid where possible or use potassium bicarbonate
- Compare nutrition labels and choose the lower salt options
- If you can’t resist a sweet treat, choose smaller biscuits and ensure you eat fewer of them
- Opt for more traditional biscuits e.g. bourbon biscuits or custard creams which were consistently lower in salt per biscuit across brands

Industry Responses

Morrisons: "All of our biscuits meet the Department of Health’s 2012 Salt Targets, and we work closely with our product development teams to further reduce salt content gradually without affecting quality or taste. Like CASH suggests, biscuits should be enjoyed as a treat and we advise customers to use Guideline Daily Amount on pack to make more informed decisions".

Malcolm Clark, Co-ordinator of Children's Food Campaign, “CASH’s findings are a timely reminder that it’s not just snacks like popcorn and nuts that pack a salty punch. Some of the nation’s most popular biscuits contain the double whammy of high levels of sugar and salt. Many children are already consuming far too much salt in their diets. New front-of-pack nutritional labelling, incorporating traffic lights for salt, will make it easier for parents to pick healthier options. But manufacturers have to play their part too: by reducing the salt in their products, and by bringing in the new labelling as soon as possible.”


Notes to Editor
Go to for more information or contact:
CASH - Professor Graham MacGregor on: 020 7882 6217/07946 40561 or
CASH - Katharine Jenner on: 020 7882 6018 /5941 or 07740 553298,
CASH - Sonia Pombo on: 0207 882 5941
National PR - Jessica Filbey on: 0207 242 2844 / 07967 215 644  
#salt Follow us on twitter at @cashsalt

Survey Details/References
1 – Survey details, full survey data available with this release or on request
• This survey looked the sodium and salt per 100g and per biscuit of 479 sweet biscuit products from 6 leading supermarkets (Asda, The Co-operative, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose), including supermarket own and branded products
• Where possible, data was collected online via the supermarkets website. The Co-operative and Morrison’s do not have nutrition labelling available on their websites, therefore data was collected in store
• Where salt data was not stated (per 100g and per portion), this was calculated from sodium per 100g (sodium x 2.5 = salt)
• The products were also surveyed for their sugar content and front of pack nutrition labelling
• The survey was carried out between the 2nd and 9th April 2013 and products checked week commencing 27th May 2013

2 – Data for average biscuit consumption in 4-6 year olds (including non-consumers) was calculated from 2011 National Diet and Nutrition Survey and based on a four day food diary.
Estimated biscuit consumption for 4-6 year olds is 19.4g a day  7,081g a year  46 packets of Oreo Cookies (154g a packet)

3 – CASH has outlined the different sources of salt in a child and an adult’s diet. Biscuits, Buns, Cakes, Pies, Puddings, Pastries contribute to ~4% of adults 19-64, 6% of child 4-10 (7% of 65+) average daily sodium intakes
Summary of sources in a child’s diet
Summary of sources in an adults diet

4 - Traffic Light Labelling
• Traffic light labelling given per 100g
• Colour coding based on Traffic Light Criteria.
Salt - Red >1.5g/100g, Amber >0.30≤1.50/100g, Green ≤0.30g/100g
Sugar – Red >12.5g/100g, Amber >5.0-12.5g/100g, Green <5.0g/100g

5 – Data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) 2008-2011 was obtained from the UK Data Archives. Biscuit consumption in children was recorded using a 4 day food diary. Average biscuit consumption in children per day (in grams) for those who consumed biscuits on at least one day in under-10 year olds was calculated as 20g (approximately 1-2 biscuits)

6 – Research carried out by the Project Management Panel (PMP) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) showed that shoppers value front of pack nutrition labelling, particularly if they are shopping for children, comparing different products, if they have a particular health concern, or if they are watching their weight (accessed on 30th May 2013)

7 – He and MacGregor carried out a meta-analysis of controlled trials in children which demonstrated that a modest reduction in salt intake caused a significant fall in blood pressure. If continued, this may well lessen the subsequent rise in blood pressure with age and therefore reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
He, F & MacGregor, G (2006) Importance of salt in determining blood pressure in children: Meta-analysis of controlled trials. Hypertension, 48: 861-869.

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