A campaign group said none of the products it surveyed could be described as ‘healthy’
By Katie Jones
Pesto is often seen as a healthy accompaniment to pasta dishes, but campaigners have warned that some brands now contain more salt than a McDonald’s hamburger.
Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) analysed the nutritional data for 75 pesto sauces on sale in major supermarkets in July. The health group found that some food manufacturers have increased the salt content in pesto sauces, despite its fight to reduce levels.
According to the group’s research, two products by bestselling brand Scala contain 3.30g salt per 100g, which is 30% saltier than seawater and 2.5 times more salt per 100g than salted peanuts. The salt levels in both Italia Organic Vegetarian Pesto No.5 Basil and Italia Pesto No.1 Classic Basil were found to have increased since they were last surveyed in 2009 and now contain over 1.5g of salt per serving, overtaking McDonald’s burgers.
Among the other brands with high levels of salt, Napolina Green Pesto with Basil, Gino D’Acampo Pesto alla Genovese Basil Pesto and Truly Italian Genovese Basil Pesto contained between 2g and 2.5g of salt per 100g.
Brands with lower levels included Tesco Reduced Fat Red Pesto, Aldi’s Specially Selected Italian Pesto Genovese and Specially Selected Pesto Rosso, Jamie Oliver Green Pesto and Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Pesto Alla Genovese, with less than 1g of salt per 100g.
Sarah Alderton, Assistant Nutritionist at Cash, has highlighted the risk of exceeding the maximum daily recommended intake, which is much lower for children. The NHS advices that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day. The daily allowance for children aged 4 to 6 years is 3g.
“Pesto is an everyday product eaten by adults and children alike, but people might not realise just how salty it can be!” she said. Alderton has advised checking the product labels and switching to a lower salt option, but warned: “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.”
Cash has called on Public Health England to “act tough” on food manufacturers to meet the government’s salt reduction targets before the end of the year.
In response, Dr Alison Tedstone from PHE 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.”
A spokesperson for pesto brand Scala told Good Housekeeping: “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.”