"Even relatively large reductions in salt content go unnoticed by consumers" - Action on Salt takes on the saltiness of the pizza industry

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

The saltiest pizzas surveyed have more than three times the UK government's recommended salt content. Source: 	LauriPatterson/Getty Images
The saltiest pizzas surveyed have more than three times the UK government's recommended salt content. Source: LauriPatterson/Getty Images

Related tags Salt Salt content Stroke Cardiovascular disease Uk government Pizza

New research by campaign group Action on Salt has revealed the vast salt content within pizzas, with one in two pizzas containing at least the entirety of daily recommended salt levels. The group, which is made up of experts and based in Queen Mary University of London, argue that the government needs to do more to reduce salt content in food.

The research, which surveyed 1,387 pizzas, presents some of the biggest culprits of saltiness in the pizza industry.

For example, Domino’s ‘Sizzler Standard Mozzarella Stuffed Crust Medium Pizza’ contains 21.38g of salt, more than three times the government recommended amount of less than 6g.

The saltiest supermarket pizza is The Pizza Company Takeaway Pizza the Pepperoni Party’, which contains 9.2g of salt, one and a half times the daily recommended intake.

In terms of the sector as a whole, takeaway chains are the biggest culprits with their pizzas containing an average of double the salt content of supermarket brands.

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Around 3m deaths a year are linked to salt consumption. Source: Diana Miller/Getty Images

Action on Salt previously surveyed the salt content of pizza in 2014. Many pizzas are actually more ​salty now than they were then. For example, Domino’s ‘Tandoori Hot Standard Mozzarella Thin & Crispy Crust’ jumped from 5.3g of salt in 2014 to a staggering 14.36 now.

Some companies, such as Pizza Express, Dr. Oetker and Goodfella’s, have manged to cut down their salt content (Goodfella’s have decreased by 29%). Nevertheless, according to Action on Salt, the high salt content remains a major concern.

Salt as a killer

Salt is something that in large quantities can significantly harm human health. But why is it so unhealthy?

Eating too much salt causes raised blood pressure, which in turn is the major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and stroke – responsible for one in four deaths in the UK,” ​Hattie Burt, Senior Policy and International Projects Officer at Action on Salt, told FoodNavigator.

High salt consumption is also linked to kidney disease, osteoporosis and stomach cancer​.”

Why is this dangerous? The answer is linked to the water content in our bodies. “Salt makes our bodies hold onto water,” ​Burt told us. “When we eat too much salt, the extra water in our blood means there is extra pressure on blood vessel walls, raising blood pressure.

When blood pressure is consistently high, it puts strain on the arteries. Over time, this can lead to the development of atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries.

These plaques can narrow the arteries, or break off, and restrict blood flow to the heart and brain, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes​.”

Around 3m deaths each year around the world are linked to salt consumption.

A matter of national concern

When they released their research, Action on Salt called on the UK government, particularly Health Secretary Steve Barclay and Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, to do more to reduce salt content in food.

Efforts have been made to reduce salt in food before, but, according to Action on Salt, the programme has fallen by the wayside.

In the early 2000s, the UK implemented a voluntary salt reduction programme​,” Burt told us, “with the government setting incremental salt targets for the food industry to work towards to gradually reduce salt levels across more than 80 food categories.

By 2011, salt levels in most products had fallen by 20-40%, with no reported impact on sales. At the same time average salt intake, blood pressure and deaths from cardiovascular disease fell​.”

Since then, the programme stopped being enforced effectively. While updated salt targets have been set for 2024, many companies are not meeting them and, as the research shows, salt content is even increasing in some products.

It is now recognised, by the World Health Organization and others, that a mandatory approach is the only way to see real improvements​,” Burt told us.

It’s time for the UK government to bring in legislated targets for salt – as several other countries have already done . . . We cannot afford to continue on the current trajectory​.”

Another suggestion that Burt suggests is expanding the sugary drinks levy, which removed 47,000 tonnes of sugar from UK soft drinks every year between 2015 and 2019, to products with salt in them.

A tiered salt levy should incentivise reformulation in a similar way to the Soft Drinks Industry Levy​,” she told us, “with the added advantage for manufacturers is that reducing salt, especially in solid foods, is much simpler than reducing sugar content, and in most cases does not require a replacement ingredient​.”

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Salt can be significantly reduced in pizza without consumers even noticing, according to Action on Sugar. Source: ilkermetinkursova/Getty Images:

The future for business

The health incentive is clear, but what is the business incentive?

Pizza manufacturers have a lot of scope to reduce salt content in their food, without affecting sales – in fact without consumers even noticing!”​ Burt told us.  

As our research shows, many pizzas now have more salt than they did in 2014, and there is a lot of variation in the salt content of similar pizzas. This means that the viability of less excessively salty pizzas has already been proven.

We are not asking for changes requiring ground-breaking technology, simply that companies producing saltier pizzas reduce salt content to bring them in line with lower salt options already on the market​.”

Thinner bases, smaller slices of toppings such as pepperoni, and even gradually reduced portion sizes can be a path towards less salt.

There are, of course, case studies to show how effective this salt reduction can be, with manufacturers such as Goodfellas reducing their salt content. Does this affect business?

None of the manufactures that we spoke to told us that reducing salt in their pizzas had negatively impacted sales​.” Burt told us.

This isn’t surprising – even relatively large reductions in salt content go unnoticed by consumers, so sales are unaffected.

These companies have clearly decided that it makes good business sense to make healthier products – we just need others to follow suit​.”

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