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Action on Salt


Embargoed until 00.01 - Wednesday 4th October 2017

  • NEW findings reveal some food manufacturers have INCREASED salt levels in their pesto sauces despite warnings that salt damages our health
  • Leading pesto brand Sacla Classic Basil Pesto has 18% MORE SALT now than in 2009 [4]
  • Some responsible companies have made large reductions, and will help to save people’s lives
  • Time is running out for food industry; with less thanthree months to go, CASH calls for Public Health England to get tough on enforcing the 2017 salt targets

Pesto survey data [PDF 284KB]

For Media Coverage: Pesto Media Coverage

Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) based at Queen Mary, University of London is calling on Public Health England (PHE) to act tough on the food industry following serious concerns that, with just three months to go, certain food manufacturers are failing to meet the 2017 Salt Reduction Targets.

A NEW survey by CASH, which was conducted using the new and updated FoodSwitch UK app, shows that many pesto sauces (i.e. one of the UK’s most preferred sauces for pasta) contain much higher amounts of salt than others [1].

Top of the list is Sacla, the current bestselling pesto brand [2], with their Italia Organic Vegetarian Pesto No.5 Basil and Italia Pesto No.1 Classic Basil. Both contain an alarming 3.30g salt per 100g, which is 30% saltier than seawater [3], and contain 2.5 times more salt per 100g than salted peanuts [4]! What’s even more disappointing is the salt levels in both of these pesto products have actually INCREASED since last surveyed in 2009 [5] and now contain over 1.5g of salt per serve – more than a McDonald’s Hamburger [6]. 

What’s more, NONE of the branded pesto’s have the Department of Health’s recommended colour-coded front of pack nutrition label, despite some of these products being the worst offenders when it comes to salt. This makes it difficult for consumers to know just how much salt they are eating and to make a healthy choice.

Examples of products with high levels of salt include:

  • Sacla Italia Pesto No.1 Classic Basil – 3.30g per 100g / 1.57g per portion
  • Sacla Italia Pesto No.2 Sun-Dried Tomato – 3.00g per 100g / 1.43g per portion
  • Napolina Green Pesto with Basil – 2.50g per 100g / per portion not available
  • Gino D'Acampo Pesto alla Genovese Basil Pesto – 2.30g per 100g / per portion not available
  • Truly Italian Genovese Basil Pesto – 2.0g per 100g / 1.40g per portion 

Examples of products with lower levels of salt:

  • Tesco Reduced Fat Red Pesto – 0.70g per 100g / 0.33g per portion
  • Aldi Specially Selected Italian Pesto Genovese – 0.88g per 100g / 0.55g per portion
  • Jamie Oliver Green Pesto – 0.90g per 100g / 0.43g per portion
  • Aldi Specially Selected Italian Pesto Rosso – 0.95g per 100g / 0.6g per portion
  • Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Pesto Alla Genovese – 0.99g per 100g / 0.47g per portion

A popular choice among parents, pesto is often given to young children – making it an even bigger contribution towards their salt intakes as the maximum daily recommended intake is much lower for children [7]. In the long term, this could increase a child’s risk of developing high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks later in life.

Pesto is often added to sandwiches, pizzas, meat, fish and pasta dishes alongside other salty ingredients, which can push up the total salt content of meals to over 50% of your maximum daily recommended intake. For example, a pesto, ham and cheese toastie could provide you with over 3g salt [8].

Pesto was surveyed as part of CASH’s Pasta Sauce Survey in 2009 [5], which highlighted that half of the pesto’s at the time had 2g of salt or more per 100g. This latest survey suggests some improvements have been made in the last 8 years to bring them under the 2017 salt target of 1.38g for pesto and other thick sauces [9], with significant reductions in some supermarket brands, but also big names such as Jamie Oliver.

The Salt Target Pesto Winners 

Unfortunately, nearly 40% of products still exceed the average salt target for pesto sauces [9], and with less than 3 months left until the December 2017 deadline for industry, some companies are clearly not on track to meet the 2017 salt reduction targets for this category. 

Pestos are also high in saturated fats, further increasing our risk of developing heart disease. Almost half (44%) of pestos surveyed would receive a red label for saturates on front of pack, and some contain nearly half a days recommended maximum intake in just one serving [10].

Sarah Alderton, Assistant Nutritionist at CASH explains, “Pesto is an everyday product eaten by adults and children alike, but people might not realise just how salty it can be! That’s why it’s important to check the label; switching from a high to lower salt option could really help to reduce your salt intake. However, given the inconsistent nature of food labelling this is difficult to do. None of the products we surveyed could be described as ‘healthy’, so consider having pesto in smaller portions, less frequently, or try other pasta sauces lower in salt and fat instead.” 

Sonia Pombo, Nutritionist and Campaign Manager at CASH adds, “Salt is the forgotten killer as it puts up our blood pressure, leading to thousands of unnecessary strokes and heart attacks every year.  Salt reduction is the biggest and most successful public health preventive measure made to date, yet it appears that many food manufacturers have stalled.  Our survey shows that large reductions in the amount of salt added are possible, so why isn’t one of the nation’s most popular pesto brands following suit?”  

Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of CASH says: “The UK was leading the world in salt reduction, but so far PHE is doing little to ensure that the 2017 salt targets are met, and has not confirmed that they are setting new targets to be achieved by 2020. This is a national scandal as we know we can save thousands of people from unnecessary strokes and heart attacks if population salt intake is reduced, and furthermore, it is the most cost effective health policy.”

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: "Many popular foods can contain a surprising amount of salt. We've been very clear with the food industry on the importance of reducing salt and meeting the 2017 salt targets. Although consumption has reduced by 11%, industry cannot be complacent and PHE will report on their progress next year."

Tips for Healthier Pesto:

  • Opt for healthier versions of pesto in store – they tend to be lower in fat, sugar and salt, but none of them are ‘low’.
  • 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. You can use the SaltSwitch filter to find ones lower in salt!
  • Use a smaller portion size and eat less frequently, especially if giving to children.  Add more veg and fresh basil to your dish for extra flavour and avoid adding salty toppings like cheese or olives
  • Make your own! It’s simple and easy to make and can be stored for up to 7 days in the fridge. Click here for a quick and easy pesto recipe.

Industry Responses

Tesco: Tesco’s Classic Green pesto is due to relaunch in November with a reformulated recipe. Its salt level will nearly halve from 2.0g/100g to 1.1g/100g. As a result of this, all of our pesto range will be under the maximum salt target and pass on the sales weighted average target too

Jamie Oliver: “I’m all about giving the British public more clarity about the food we buy. CASH has done great work to reveal the truth about the dangerous levels of salt in our convenience food. I believe the public deserves easy-to-understand, mandatory nutritional information on the front of all food and drink products. Me and my team redeveloped our range of pesto back in 2010, to make sure we are well within Public Health England targets. We literally did it overnight, so there’s no excuse for other companies not to do the same.”




National PR – David Clarke: M: 07773 225516


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Notes to editors: 


FoodSwitch UK is a free smartphone app that enables consumers to make healthier and smarter food and drink choices – now newly updated with an improved design and nutrition information given per portion - to put consumers in control whilst out shopping.

FoodSwitch UK allows users to scan the barcode of over 100,000 packaged food and drinks sold across major UK supermarkets using their smartphone camera to receive immediate, easy-to-understand ‘traffic light’ colour-coded nutritional information along with suggested similar, healthier products.  

When the barcode of a food or drink product is scanned by a smartphone, FoodSwitch UK instantly searches its database and identifies healthier products by comparing the overall nutritional value of the product based on well researched existing criteria. The overall nutritional rating takes into account a range of different factors important to general health including fats, sugars, salt, protein and fibre. The app, developed by leading UK nutrition research experts and led by The George Institute for Global Health in partnership with CASH, carries no advertising and is supported by 16 health and charitable organisations including Public Health England, Stroke Association and Heart UK.

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 for 75 pesto sauces where nutritional information was available on packaging or websites for per 100g or per portion.  Data was collected by visiting all the main supermarkets Aldi, ASDA, The Co-operative, Iceland, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s & Waitrose in July 2017.  Data for products not found in supermarkets during the visit were collected via the retailer’s website. Nutrient information per portion, where not quoted on pack, was calculated from per 100g data and the recommended serve size where this was stated.


3 - Atlantic seawater contains 1.0g of sodium per 100g, which equates to 2.5g of salt per 100g.

4 – KP Original Salted Peanuts contain 1.3g salt per 100g

5 – Pesto sauces were surveyed as part of a larger pasta sauces survey in 2009. Below is a comparison table comparing the salt content of Sacla pesto sold in 2009 vs 2017 and the percentage increase in salt.

6 – A McDonald’s Hamburger contains 1.2g salt

7 –The maximum daily recommended amount of salt children should eat depends on age (2g/day for 1-3 years, 3g/day for 4-6 years and 5g/day for 7-10 years). Adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day

8 - A pesto, cheese & ham toastie made with Sacla Classic Basil Pesto contains approx. 3.21g salt:

2 thick slices of bread = 0.92g
½ pot Sacla Classic Basil Pesto = 0.75g
25g cheddar cheese = 0.45g
2 slices ham = 1.00g
Butter = 0.09g

Total = 3.21g salt 

9 – 28 out of the 75 pesto sauces surveyed in 2017 exceed the average salt target for the  Pesto and Other Thick Sauces category [1.38g per 100g (average), 1.63g per 100g (maximum)]

10 - The average woman aged 19-64 years should eat no more than 20g of saturated fat a day. Truly Italian Genovese Basil Pesto contains 8.8g saturated fat in a suggested 70g portion 

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