The week of the 29th February to the 6th March marks National Salt Awareness Week here in the UK.
As you can likely glean from the title, the campaign, run by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) aims to increase awareness of the health risks associated with high levels of salt consumption such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, and urges UK consumers to familiarise themselves with the amount of salt going into their diets.
Last year, you might remember that we put together a bit of research looking into fast food outlet concentration in the UK’s most populous towns and cities.
Our findings uncovered that it was the provincial towns and settlements which tended to have the highest number of outlets per capita; and that perhaps the government could be doing more to support independently-run healthy food outlets set up in those towns where the like may not have established a presence.
However, fast food chains are not alone in offering calorie dense, salty foods for public consumption.
High street restaurant chains which specialise in the provision of full service dining are increasing in popularity here in the UK, and achieving significant growth. A report published by the Financial Times found that in the last five years, food and drink outlets have grown at over double the rate of shops and supermarkets.
But although high street chains like Pizza Express may seem like a healthier alternative to their fast food counterparts, this is not always the case.
In fact, main course menu items on offer in these chains may significantly ‘out-salt’ those more popular choices in places like Pizza Hut and McDonald’s.
Who has the saltiest dish?
For this study, we wanted to look at the saltiest dishes in a varied cross-section of popular restaurant chains you might find on the UK high street. However, the nutritional information for this sector is not as readily available as it is among the fast food old guard.
Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC have all taken one positive step towards increasing awareness of the salt content of their meals; by making nutritional information as it relates to their respective menus easily accessible.
We attempted to gauge a range of menus from popular chains operating in the UK, but could sadly only find information for a limited selection of these.
The chains whose information we could readily find have been included in the table below; and these brands deserve praise for their transparency. For those dining at these restaurants, it’s easy to identify which dishes contain the highest and lowest levels of salt.
It should be noted that some chains (Cafe Rouge being one) although they do not have nutritional menus publicly available were willing to provide the nutritional value of individual dishes via email upon request.
|Restaurant||Style||Dish name||Salt per serving (g)|
|Wetherspoons||Pub food||Gammon and eggs||8.8|
|Beefeater||Pub food||Mixed grill||8.1|
|Wagamama||Japanese||Grilled duck ramen||7.6|
|Zizzi||Italian||King prawn diavola rustica||7.5|
|Tortilla||Street food||Barbacoa burrito**||7.4|
|Nando's||Mozambican/Portuguese||Chicken livers and crispy Portuguese roll||5.1|
|Yo Sushi||Japanese||Chicken yakisoba||4.3|
|Barburrito||Street food||Beef burrito wrap*||3.9|
|Loch Fyne||Seafood||Chorizo and seafood fregola||3.43|
|Leon||Healthy||Moroccan meatballs hot box||3|
* - Beef burrito wrap with selected options of white rice, pinto beans, onions and peppers, Ranchera salsa, cheese and guacamole.
** - Barbacoa burrito with selected options of lime-cilantro rice, pinto beans, salsa verde, Monterey Jack cheese and guacamole.
- First place went to the Pizza Express Napoletana, which contains anchovies, capers, olives and mozzarella cheese, and packs a whopping 9.6 grams of salt.
- The daily recommended intake for an adult is 2-6 grams; meaning that the Napoletana carries one and a half times the upper limit of a person’s GDA salt intake.
- The Piccante pizza, a Zizzi offering, contained the highest levels of salt in a survey by CASH analysing pizzas undertaken in 2014, at 10 grams; however the per serving listing of the dish as of Autumn 2015 is now 6.5 grams, indicating that the salt content of this item has since been reduced.
- The King Prawn Diavola Rustica pizza at Zizzi is now their highest offering at 7.5 grams.
- The Wetherspoons’ version of gammon and eggs, which one would presume would be the saltiest of this selection, came in at second.
- Ask’s seafood dish the Risotto Pescatore ranked third. The mixed grill offerings at Wetherspoons and Beefeater came in close behind at fourth and fifth.
- Leon and Loch Fyne’s saltiest offerings were conservative by comparison. The saltiest dishes on offer on their menus were the Moroccan Meatball Hot Box and the Chorizo and Seafood Fregola respectively, at 3 and 3.4 grams a piece.
Fast food chains have earned a reputation for dispensing calorie-dense, unhealthy foods over the years, but it may come as a surprise to many that the salt content of some their signature favourites are dwarfed in comparison to those on offer in more upmarket chains.
|Chain||Meal||Salt per serving (g)|
|Burger King||Whopper and regular fires||3.7|
|KFC||Fully loaded box meal||3.44|
|Domino's||Personal Pepperoni Passion||3.35|
|Taco Bell||Double Decker Taco and Regular Nacho Chips||3.1|
|McDonald's||Big Mac and Regular Fries||2.9|
|Subway||6-inch Italian Subway Melt||2.3|
|Wimpy||The Original Quarter Pounder with Cheese Meal||2.1|
|Pizza Hut||Small Italian Supreme||2.04|
Just to be clear, these fast food outlets do offer saltier dishes than those listed above.
However, that Pizza Express’s saltiest offering comes in at three times that of a regular Big Mac meal is still a surprising statistic.
Salt and health risk
Most people associate a high salt diet with an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, and they’re right to. Along with being overweight, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking, eating too much salt is one of the leading causes of hypertension. This can of course be a precursor to heart disease and stroke.
But circulatory problems are not the only risk when it comes to salt. Regularly eating more than the guideline daily limit of 6 grams per day can increase the likelihood of osteoporosis, stomach cancer, water retention and kidney disease, and even exacerbate conditions like asthma.
For adults, staying within the 2-6 gram range greatly reduces the risk of these conditions developing.
But as we’ve seen, when eating out, remaining within this safe threshold can be a challenge, particularly in those cases where the nutritional info is not readily available.
What’s more, the saltier choices may not be the most obvious on the menu. For example, the Risotto Pescatore at Ask contains more salt than the Calzone Quattro Salami; a pork offering which one would be forgiven for presuming to be the saltiest.
Another important factor to take into consideration is that the menu choices above constitute just one meal; the recommended 6 gram limit for adults refers to the daily amount, and the dishes listed in the table above will not be the only meal a person consumes in a given day.
Where do we start?
Surely with the chain restaurants themselves. Those in charge of the high street brands should be encouraged to follow the example of their fast food counterparts and publish their nutritional information for consumers to see.
When fast food chains didn’t publish nutrition information it was looked upon as a monumental oversight, and rightly so; to their credit, these chains have responded and made this information widely accessible.
However, the fact remains that all major food outlets have a moral duty to provide at least some indication of the nutritional value of the dishes they sell.
The brands listed above have made the noble decision to do so, despite the fact that some of their dishes compare unfavorably to the 2-6 gram GDA.
Urging other brands to follow suit should be the first step in raising awareness of how much salt we eat when we dine out.
What consumers can do
Those actively looking to reduce salt intake should check out the info where it exists, and choose their dish sensibly; and those cooking lunch at home and planning on eating out later in the evening should remember to keep their salt levels in check so as not to overstep the GDA mark by quite so much.
When dining out, consumers should also not be afraid to talk to their server and see which less salty options are available to them. Many restaurants who prepare their food to order will be willing to use less salt in a dish upon request.
For those who want to enjoy the occasional rich dish which might be high in salt, it’s important to remember the mantra so wisely bestowed upon us over Christmas by Michel Roux Jr. And that is: ‘all in moderation.’
Low salt options
In the interests of fairness to those chains above that have made their nutrition information publicly available, we thought it only right to include a summary of their lower salt offerings. The next time you dine out at your favourite chain, below are some meal choices which aren't as high in salt to consider.
|Restaurant||Style||Dish name||Salt per serving (g)|
|Yo Sushi||Japanese||Tuna sashimi||0.1|
|Wagamama||Japanese||Sirloin and shitake salad||0.6|
|Wetherspoons||Pub food||Salmon salad||0.6|
|Harvester||Pub food||Veggie chilli burger||0.64|
|Pizza Express||Italian||Leggera superfood salad||0.8|
|Zizzi||Italian||Porcnini Gigante Tortelloni||0.8|
|Leon||Healthy||Chargrilled chicken superfood salad with chilli||0.9|
|Beefeater||Pub food||Grilled salmon bearnaise||1|
|Nando's||Mozambican-Portuguese||Mixed leaf salad with chicken||1.1|
|Barburrito||Street food||Naked veg burrito**||1.2|
|Loch Fyne||Seafood||Seasonal fish, buttered new potatoes and mixed leaves||1.44|
|Tortilla||Street food||Chicken burrito*||2.08|
* - Chicken burrito with selected options of Mexican rice, peppers and onions, Pico De Gallo salsa and lettuce.
** - Naked veg burrito with pinto beans, double flash fried veg, Ranchera salsa, sour cream and lettuce.
Since publishing the above article, we have been contacted by a representative from Barburrito concerning the nutrition labelling provided on their website, which contained errors regarding the salt content of their food. This information gave a significant overestimation of the salt content of their food.
This information, which was taken by us and originally used in this study, has now been corrected and is available at the Barburrito website.
As a result, the information above has now been amended.