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Giving kids a McDonald’s hamburger is something many parents save for special occasions – but another popular mealtime favourite could actually be worse for their health.
According to a study by campaign group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), the average serving of pesto pasta now contains 1.5 g of salt – overtaking a McDonald’s hamburger, which has 1.2g.
This is half of the daily salt allowance for a child aged four to six, according to the NHS.
The study found that the worst offenders were from the UK’s bestselling brand, Sacla.
Its Italia Organic Vegetarian Pesto No.5 Basil and Italia Pesto No.1 Classic Basil were 30% saltier than seawater, and contain 2.5 times more salt per 100g than salted peanuts.
The brands with the the least salt were Tesco Reduced Fat Red Pesto; Aldi Specially Selected Italian Pesto Genovese and Aldi Italian Pesto Rosso; Jamie Oliver Green Pesto; and Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Pesto Alla Genovese, which all contain less than 1g of salt per 100g.
Pesto is also high in saturated fats, with 44% of brands surveyed “potentially receiving a red label for saturates on front of pack labelling.”
The report warned: “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.”
Sarah Alderton, assistant nutritionist at CASH, said: “Pesto is an everyday product eaten by adults and children alike, but people might not realise just how salty it can be.
“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.”
The report stated that nearly 40% of products still exceed the average salt target for pesto sauces, with less than three months left until a government deadline for companies to reduce the amount of salt in food.
“Some companies are clearly not on track to meet the 2017 salt reduction targets for this category,” it added.
Professor Graham MacGregor, CASH Chairman and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London, said: “The UK was leading the world in salt reduction, but so far PHE [Public Health England] 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.”