British salt crusaders/researchers Consensus Action on Salt and Health have released a report that reveals restaurant food is really, really salty. (Surprise.) And their list of salt fiends has some familiar names on it: Gordon Ramsay's The Savoy Grill serves a steamed mussels dish with cider cream sauce and fries that clocks in at 7.3g salt per serving, while the game meatballs tested by CASH at Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italian have 8.1g salt per serving. (For context, US Dietary Guidlines recommend 2.3g of salt per day or less.) Heston Blumenthal's Dinner was the most salt-healthy of the celebrity chef-run restaurants they tested.
The Jamie's Italian meatballs were allegedly the "highest salt dish of the celebrity chef restaurants surveyed," but just yesterday CASH ran a retraction (PDF). Jamie Oliver has three full time nutritionists working for him that test and seek to improve the health levels of food across his empire, including cookbook recipes and, yes, restaurant dishes. The salt levels found by CASH were apparently a fluke, and CASH says in the retraction, "Jamie's Italian is in fact doing more to reduce salt in its meals than most other restaurants." So take the below press release (below), the full report (PDF), and the full list of restaurant data (PDF) with a grain of, well, you know.
NEW RESEARCH EXPOSES THE SALT HIDDEN IN RESTAURANT MEALS AS NATIONAL CHARITIES URGE CHEFS TO USE LESS SALT
11th March 2013
CUSTOMERS FIND MEALS 'TOO SALTY', SALT PUTS THEIR HEALTH AT RISK
Out of nearly 700 main meals surveyed, over 50% were HIGH in salt
13 meals surveyed had more than 6g of salt per meal – the maximum recommendation for a WHOLE DAY
Jamie's Italian had the highest salt dish of the celebrity chef restaurants surveyed*, containing nearly one and a half times the daily maximum recommendation for salt
Heston's 'Dinner' shown to be the best restaurant, with all meals surveyed containing less than 1.5g salt
54% of people surveyed find restaurant meals too salty, 70% of people surveyed think chefs should be responsible for helping them to eat less salt
For the first time, research by Consensus Action on Salt and Health [CASH] reveals the shockingly high levels of salt in food purchased in restaurants up and down the country for National Salt Awareness Week 2013 [11th – 17th March]. The survey looked at 664 main meals from 29 popular high street and celebrity restaurants, fast food and cafes chains . The survey found that 347 meals had more than 2.4g of salt per portion – that's 52% of all meals surveyed that would be labelled in a supermarket with a red traffic light .
Celebrity chef restaurants and high street chain restaurants both came out higher than cafes and fast food chains, partly due to larger portion sizes, with an average of 3.1g salt per meal, half a person's daily recommended amount of salt. Shockingly, the thirteen saltiest main meals in the survey contained more than your entire 6g maximum recommended daily allowance of salt.
Five of the top saltiest main meals [portion size stated where known]:
1. JD Wetherspoons' [10oz gammon with eggs, chips, peas, tomato & flat mushroom] = 8.9g salt per portion
2. Jamie's Italian [game meatball] = 8.1g salt per 570g portion
3. Carluccio's [spaghetti alle vongole in bianco] = 8.0g
4. Gordon Ramsay's The Savoy Grill's [steamed mussels cider cream sauce and fries] = 7.3g salt per 510g portion
5. Wagamama's Yaki Udon = 7.0g salt per 620g portion
A selection of main meals from six celebrity chef restaurants were analysed for their salt content [Brasserie Blanc (By Raymond Blanc), Dinner (By Heston Blumenthal), Frankies (By Marco Pierre White), Jamie's Italian (By Jamie Oliver), Fifteen (By Jamie Oliver), Savoy Grill (By Gordon Ramsay)] . Out of the small sample of celebrity chef restaurant meals tested, on average Jamie's Italian had the highest level of salt in their 3 dishes tested, whilst Heston's Dinner was shown to have the lowest values of salt, all below 1.5g of salt per dish.
"We have lifted the lid on chef's cooking and found they are still hooked on the white stuff." says Campaign Director and Nutritionist for CASH, Katharine Jenner. "We are all eating too much salt; if you want to cut down at home you can do; by reading the labels, using less salt in cooking and using less processed food. However it's not so easy when you are grabbing lunch on the go or out for a nice evening meal. As most of the salt we eat is hidden in our food, for National Salt Awareness Week, CASH, with the support of 11 national health charities , we are asking the public to stand up to chefs and ask for 'less salt please!'".
Alongside the food analysis, public research undertaken for Salt Awareness Week found that more than half (54%) of people find restaurant meals too salty, and 9 out of 10 people believe that restaurants and cafes should let them choose if they want to add salt to their meal or not .
Celebrity Chefs Antony Worrall Thompson, Jamie Oliver and Raymond Blanc have already committed to reduce salt levels, Raymond Blanc comments; "I believe that good food does not need more than the very lightest of seasoning - there is no reason for good chefs to mask the flavour of their ingredients by adding too much salt. Remember herby, sour, bitter and acid are also wonderful catalysts of flavour. I fully support CASH and their Salt Awareness Week. Let's all eat better by going easy on the salt."
The café chains such as Costa and Pret a Manger appear to have made some progress, and are at least now provide labelling online so customers can plan their meals ahead. Of the fast foods analysed (McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut and Dominos) Pizza Hut was shown to be the worst (93% of dishes analysed had over 2.4g of salt, however portion sizes were generally larger) and Subway came out on top with less than 1 in 5 meals getting a red traffic light label for salt.
Fast Food outlets – number of dishes containing over 2.4g of salt per portion
1. Pizza Hut = 93%
2. Domino's Pizza = 79%
3. Burger King = 64%
4. KFC = 60%
5. McDonald's = 26%
6. Subway = 18%
National Salt Awareness Week 2013 is encouraging everyone to eat less salt and to enjoy the real flavour of food. Even with great progress being made in the retail sector, we are still eating too much salt, with a population average intake of 8.1 grams per day , much more than the maximum daily recommendation of 6g per day [about a teaspoon]. The Department of Health estimates that reducing salt intakes by just 1g - a pinch of salt - would save 4,147 preventable deaths and £288 million to the NHS every year . A high salt diet is also linked to a number of other serious health conditions such as stomach cancer, osteoporosis and kidney disease.
"It's a national scandal that there is still so much salt in our food." Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at The Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary University and Chairman of CASH comments: "Salt puts up our blood pressure, and as a result, thousands of people die unnecessarily each year from strokes, heart attacks and heart failure. Whilst efforts have been made by foods in supermarkets to use less salt, chefs' preference for saltier foods is preventing further progress. It's clear from our survey that some chefs are not listening to their customers. These chefs need to get their act together and stop shovelling salt in our food"
Tracy Parker, Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said; "We're all eating too much salt and with one in six meals being eaten out of the home, it's important to keep an eye on our salt intake all the time. It's vital restaurants provide clear menu labelling showing us how much salt is our dinner but chefs should ideally be cutting back on the salt they use and giving the diner the choice. Until then, using information on restaurants' websites before you go out can help you eat more healthily when eating out.
The Department of Health has stated that, whilst great efforts to use less salt have been made by retailers and manufacturers who have signed up to the Department of Health's salt reduction pledge, chefs' preference for saltier foods and a culture which places a strong emphasis on salt as a flavour is preventing further progress.
Public Health Minister, Anna Soubry MP said "Too much salt is bad for our health and can lead to conditions such as heart disease and stroke which is why through the Responsibility Deal, we are working with companies to reduce the amount of salt in their foods. We have already seen reduction in salt levels in everyday foods such as bread, cereals and sauces but more needs to be done.
"We will soon be announcing our updated salt strategy, including a review of Responsibility Deal salt targets, where we'll start with a focus on getting more in the catering sector to take action and reduce salt in their foods."
STATEMENT FROM CASH - Sunday 10th March 2013 11am
In our news release embargoed until 00.01 Monday 11th March 2013, we have included results of a survey into salt levels in restaurant food and we make certain statements about Jamie Oliver's Italian collection of restaurants. Having met with representatives from Jamie's Italian and discussed with them our results, we would now accept that Jamie's Italian is in fact doing more to reduce salt in its meals than most other restaurants.
We were not aware before our meeting with Jamie's Italian that Jamie Oliver Ltd employs three full-time nutritionists who regularly test all food across the business —
retail food, book recipes AND restaurant food — and that these tests are sent for independent analysis by a third party. In the case of the salt content of the Jamie's Italian dish 'Jamie's Meatballs' quoted in our news release, we now accept that our result was unusual compared to the regular testing by Jamie's own team and therefore is not representative of Jamie's Italian meals as a whole.
In conclusion, we applaud Jamie's commitment to reducing salt content and for signing up to the Department of Health's Responsibility Deal Salt Catering Pledge, the first celebrity chef to do so. Our important message in National Salt Awareness Week remains the same - that all restaurateurs must be aware of the salt content in their dishes and must take action to reduce it where necessary. Jamie's Italian is leading the way in this respect and we are happy to make that clear.