Some pizzas 'saltier than the sea'

Behind the Headlines

Monday March 26 2012

A salt action group has found over 10g of salt in some pizzas

Some takeaway pizzas are saltier than the Atlantic Ocean, say health campaigners concerned about the amount of salt we eat. Several newspapers have reported on the high levels of salt in pizzas from both takeaway outlets and supermarkets. Some of the pizzas contained more than 10g of salt, which is more than an entire day’s salt allowance.

An analysis of 199 pizzas by the Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH) group found no low-salt options, with over half the takeaway pizzas containing more than 6g of salt – the recommended daily maximum for healthy adults. Shop-bought pizzas generally fared better, but many still contained more than 5g of salt – close to the daily maximum allowance.

Keeping track of how much salt we eat is important as salt can raise blood pressure, in turn raising the risk of problems such as heart attacks and strokes. Many pizzas were also found to be high in fat and saturated fat, again marking them out as an unhealthy option.


Where has the news come from?

The action group CASH is concerned about the amount of salt we eat and its impact on our health. The group comprises academics, physicians and public health experts. CASH recently conducted a survey that examined the amount of salt in pizzas available throughout London. They included 199 margherita and pepperoni pizzas from takeaways, chain restaurants and supermarkets in their study. The CASH report included information on the amount of salt per 100g of food, as well as the amount of saturated fat contained in the pizzas.


How much salt should I eat?

CASH and NHS Choices recommend that adults consume a maximum of 6g of salt a day (approximately one full teaspoon). However, UK adults currently consume an average of 8.6g a day. The recommended maximum daily levels of salt for children are:

  • under 1 year old – less than 1g
  • 1 to 3 years old – 2g 
  • 4 to 6 years old – 3g
  • 5 to 10 years old – 5g
  • 11 years and older – 6g

It is important to limit salt intake as it affects blood pressure and, in turn, the risk of serious health problems such as strokes and heart attacks. CASH estimates that if the nation reduced its intake to recommended levels, it could reduce the number of strokes by 22% and heart attacks by 16%.


Which were the saltiest takeaways?

The CASH survey found that the top five saltiest takeaway pizzas were:

  • Adam & Eve pepperoni pizza in Barnet – 2.73g of salt per 100g of food, equivalent to 10.57g of salt in their 388g pizza
  • La Vera Italia pepperoni pizza in Wandsworth 2.43g of salt per 100g of food, or 10.68g of salt per 439.6g pizza
  • Ciao Bella pepperoni pizza in Havering – 2.21g of salt per 100g of food, or 9.22g of salt per 417.4g pizza
  • Ciao Bella margherita pizza in Havering – 2.13g of salt per 100g of food, or 7.69g of salt per 361.8g pizza
  • Il Mascal Zone pepperoni pizza in Barnet – 2.08g of salt per 100g of food, or 9.21g of salt per 442g pizza

The CASH survey found that more than half of all takeaway pizzas surveyed contained over the recommended maximum of 6g of salt a day. CASH points out that makers of takeaway pizzas do not have to provide nutritional information, which can make it difficult to know how much salt you are consuming.


Which were the saltiest shop-bought pizzas?

The CASH survey found that the top five saltiest shop-bought pizzas were:

  • Tesco full-on-flavour simply pepperoni thin stonebaked pizza (fresh) – 1.8g of salt per 100g of food, equivalent to 4.77g of salt in their 265g pizza
  • Iceland stonebaked spicy double pepperoni pizza (frozen) – 1.7g of salt per 100g of food, or 6.29g of salt per 370g pizza
  • Morrisons extra thin triple pepperoni pizza (frozen) – 1.7g of salt per 100g of food, or 5.81g of salt per 342g pizza
  • Dr. Oetker ristorante pizza pepperoni salame (frozen) 1.68g of salt per 100g of food, or 5.36g of salt per 320g pizza
  • Dr. Oetker Casa di Mama pizza quattro formaggi (frozen) 1.6g of salt per 100g of food, or 6.32g per 395g pizza

Overall, the CASH survey found that 85% of shop-bought pizzas provided nutritional information on the front of the packaging, which may make it easier for customers to choose lower-salt options.


Were there any low-salt options?

Among the 199 shop-bought and takeaway pizzas, CASH did not identify any low-salt options (defined as 0.3g of salt or less per 100g of pizza).

There were, however, several medium-salt options (defined as 0.3-1.5g of salt per 100g). The takeaway with the lowest salt content pizza was Trattoria Pizzeria’s margherita pizza, with 0.778g of salt per 100g of food, equivalent to 2.15g of salt in their 275.8g pizza. However, this pizza contained a high amount of saturated fat.

The lowest salt content in a supermarket pizza was found in the ASDA Chosen by You cheese and tomato pizza, which contained 0.6g salt per 100g of food, equivalent to 0.64g of salt in the 106g pizza. This pizza also had medium levels of saturated fat.


How were the tests performed?

The survey looked at both pepperoni and margherita pizzas available in takeaways in 17 London boroughs and 8 supermarkets. They included 81 takeaway pizzas and 118 supermarket pizzas.

At present, companies selling takeaway pizzas are not required to publish nutritional information such as salt and fat content, so researchers took samples of each pizza and sent them away for lab analysis. They were analysed for the amounts of fat, saturated fat, sodium and calories per 100g. Researchers also recorded the total weight of the pizza, as well as diameter and pepperoni weight.

Supermarket pizzas are required to provide nutritional information on the packaging. For the 118 pizzas in this group, CASH photographed the packages, recording the salt, sodium, calories, fat and saturated fat content per 100g of pizza, as well as whether or not the packaging included a nutritional label on the front, the package weight and the portion weight.


How can I make a low-salt pizza?

CASH says that one way to reduce your daily salt intake and avoid the hidden salt found in many ready-made foods is to make your own pizza. CASH provides the following low-salt, low-fat recipe:

Serves: 2 (1 pizza)
Preparation time: 15-20 minutes plus 1 hour rising time
Cooking time: 30-40 minutes

For the base
300g strong white bread flour, plus extra for rolling out
½ teaspoon (half a 7g sachet) fast-action yeast
Pinch of ground black pepper
100ml warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for greasing
1 garlic clove, crushed

For the sauce
½ teaspoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato purée
1 x 227g tin chopped tomatoes
Pinch of chilli flakes, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped

For the topping
1 yellow pepper, sliced
1 tomato, sliced
100g cooked chicken
2 tablespoons sweetcorn
60g mozzarella, thinly sliced
A few basil leaves, torn, plus extra to garnish 

  1. To make the dough, mix the flour, yeast and black pepper together in a large bowl. In a separate container, mix the water with the oil and garlic and pour into the flour and yeast. Mix together quickly with a spoon until a sticky dough is formed. Leave to stand for 10 minutes.
  2. Dust your hands and a work surface with flour. To knead the dough, hold one side of the dough down with one hand and, with the other hand, push the other side of the dough away from you, stretching it out. Fold the stretched dough back on top of itself and push it down with your palm. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the process for just one minute or until the dough is smooth, elastic and bouncy.
  3. Form a ball with the dough and place it into a bowl greased with a little oil. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
  4. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat and cook the onion and garlic for 5 minutes or until the onion becomes soft and transparent. Stir in the tomato purée followed by the chopped tomatoes, chilli and pepper. Simmer on a low heat for 15-20 minutes until the sauce becomes thick. Stir in the basil for the last few minutes. Use a hand blender to make a smooth sauce.
  5. Once the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/gas 9. Dust a baking sheet with a little flour and use your hands to push the dough outwards to form a round base approximately 30cm (12 inches) across.
  6. Spread the tomato sauce over the pizza base using the back of a spoon. Scatter the toppings over the pizza, top with the basil leaves and cook in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Scatter the remaining basil leaves on top and serve.

Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices


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