Pesto-lovers might want to rethink their love affair with the popular pasta sauce - or at least be more mindful of what they’re buying.
A new survey has revealed that a number of pesto sauces contain far higher amounts of salt than others, with some containing 3.3g salt per 100g - “that’s 30% saltier than seawater” according to Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH).
The health campaign group said some manufacturers had even increased the salt content in pesto sauces, despite salt reduction targets being set by Public Health England (PHE).
In light of the findings, it called on PHE to crack down on salty foods.
Sonia Pombo, nutritionist and campaign manager at CASH, branded salt the “forgotten killer”. She said reducing the nation’s salt intake is “the biggest and most successful public health preventive measure made to date”.
CASH, which is based at Queen Mary University of London, used the FoodSwitch UK app to analyse the salt content of 75 pesto sauces and found nearly 40% of products surveyed exceeded the average salt target for pesto sauces.
It called out two Sacla products - Italia Organic Vegetarian Pesto No.5 Basil and Italia Pesto No.1 Classic Basil - for containing “an alarming 3.3g salt per 100g” and added that salt levels in both of these products have actually increased since a similar survey in 2009.
Pesto products with higher levels of salt:
:: 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
Pesto 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
Adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day. Meanwhile children aged 1-3 should have no more than 2g per day, those aged 4-6 should not exceed 3g of salt per day and 7-10-year-olds should limit salt intake to 5g per day.
CASH called on PHE to “act tough” on the food industry following concerns that certain food manufacturers are failing to meet the 2017 Salt Reduction Targets - the deadline of which is in December.
In response, 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.”
CASH added that none of the branded pesto products surveyed featured the Department of Health’s recommended colour-coded front-of-pack nutrition label, making it even more difficult for people to determine just how much salt they’re eating.
Sarah Alderton, assistant nutritionist at CASH, advised people to switch from a high to lower salt option and, in cases where labelling is unclear, consider having pesto in smaller portions, less frequently, or trying other pasta sauces lower in salt and fat.
Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of CASH, called the survey’s findings a “national scandal”.
“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,” he added.
In response to the survey, a spokesperson for Sacla told HuffPost UK: “We work hard to make authentic Italian products which are good quality, safe to eat and should be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.”
A spokesperson for Napolina said the company is “committed to providing high quality products and ingredients”.
They added: “All our products are clearly labelled, in line with current legislation. Accurate information is included to help consumers make informed decisions.”
Data shows that, overall, salt consumption has fallen in the past decade. According to statistics from PHE, adults cut their average salt consumption by 0.9 grams per day from 2005 to 2014.
HuffPost UK has reached out to the other pesto manufacturers listed and is waiting to hear back.