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New CASH Survey Reveals Shockingly High Levels of Salt in Pesto as 2017 Salt Targets Are Ignored

  • 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
  • Some responsible companies have made large reductions, and will help to save people’s lives
  • Time is running out for food industry; with less than three months to go, CASH calls for Public Health England to get tough on enforcing the 2017 salt targets
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 less than 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.
Top of the list is Sacla, the current bestselling pesto brand, 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, and contain 2.5 times more salt per 100g than salted peanuts! 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.
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 contributor towards their salt intakes as the maximum daily recommended intake is much lower for children. 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.
Pesto was surveyed as part of CASH’s Pasta Sauce Survey in 2009, 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, with significant reductions in some supermarket brands, but also big names such as Jamie Oliver.

Unfortunately, nearly 40% of products still exceed the average salt target for pesto sauces [9], and with less than three 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.

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.”

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.
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