Do you ever pause over ordering that burger, decide you really should go for the healthy option, and opt for a salad instead? Well, you may be in for a shock. A new survey of chain food stores and restaurants in the UK finds that some salads contain more than twice as much salt as a Big Mac.

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Some salads had a salt content as low as 0.5 g per 170 g serving, such as Waitrose’s quinoa salad.

In 2010, the UK food industry faced calls to lower the salt content of ready-to-eat salads. To gauge how well the industry responded to these criticisms, Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH) surveyed 650 ready-to-eat salads sold by supermarkets, restaurants, cafes and fast food restaurants.

The survey found that 77% of these salads (a total of 511 products) contain more salt than a packet of potato chips.

“Say the word ‘salad’ and you tend to imagine a bowl of healthy stuff nestled amongst some leaves,” says CASH nutritionist Sonia Pombo, “but that’s not accurate.”

“Whilst salad itself is both healthy and tasty, food manufacturers and restaurants continue to add unnecessary salt to the dish, which not only alters the taste and makes you feel bloated, but more seriously, can lead to high blood pressure – the main cause of strokes and heart attacks.”

The survey found that some restaurants served salads containing very high salt content:

  • Pizza Express’ Grand Chicken Caesar Salad – 5.3 g of salt per serving (which, in one meal, is just under the maximum daily recommended salt intake of 6 g and the equivalent of two-and-a-half Big Macs)
  • Pizza Express’ Warm Vegetable & Goats Cheese Salad – 5 g salt/serving (83% of maximum recommended intake)
  • Wagamama’s Lobster Super Salad – 4.5 g salt/serving (75% of daily salt limit)
  • CASH tips for making healthier salad choices

    • Keep an eye out for salty ingredients, such as cheese, capers and anchovies. These will easily up your salt intake.
    • Beware of misleading portion sizes on front of pack, for example, “a third of a packet,” or “1 tablespoon.” This gives favorable values for front-of-pack labeling, when realistically you would eat the whole packet.
    • Many salad dressings are packed with salt and calories. Choose one with less salt, add less to your salad or leave it out completely.
  • Nando’s Mediterranean Salad with Chicken Breast – 4 g salt/serving (67% of recommended daily salt intake).

In addition, the survey found that McDonald’s Crispy Chicken & Bacon Salad contains more salt (1.3 g) than a McDonald’s Hamburger (1.2 g).

Supermarket salads, typically served in smaller portions than restaurant salads (220-380 g), were also found to have high salt content:

  • Morrisons Chicken & Bacon Pasta Salad – 2.8 g salt/290 g serving
  • Marks & Spencer Chicken, Bacon & Sweetcorn Pasta Salad – 2.58 g salt/380 g serving
  • Boots Delicious Simply Tuna & Sweetcorn Pasta Salad – 2.25 g salt/300 g serving
  • John West Light Lunch Moroccan Style Salmon Salad – 2.2 g salt/220 g serving.

Even specialist health food salads – such as “detox” or low-calorie salad options – were found to have high salt content. The Pod Chicken Detox Box, for example, features 4 g of salt per serving – 67% of the maximum daily intake.

Despite this, CASH found some salad options from both restaurants and supermarkets that had a salt content as low as 0.5 g per 170 g serving, such as Waitrose’s Refreshing & Delicate Quinoa & Sugar Snap Pea Salad.

“It is nonsensical that something as seemingly healthy as a salad should contain an ingredient that is proven to be harmful to your health,” says Graham MacGregor, CASH chairman and professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Wolfson Institute, Queen Mary University, London.

Many salads are deceptively high in salt, and the very large variation of salt content shows that the highest ones can easily be reduced. The food industry needs to show much greater responsibility for its customers’ health.”

However, in a related news release, the British Heart Foundation point out that the average salt content in supermarket salads has reduced by 35% since 2005, from 1.64 g per serving to 1.06 g per serving in 2014.

Written by David McNamee