/ Food & Drink, Health

How much salt is in your sarnie?

A third of loaves contain as much salt per slice as a packet of crisps, according to Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH). Do you know how much salt is in your sandwich?

And the worst offenders seem to be the ones that look like healthier options: artisan breads or those with seeds or mixed grains. Certainly the latter is something I automatically reach for.

The salt in my sarnies

So I thought I’d work out how much salt my lunchtime sandwich contains. I make my own sandwiches (OK, my husband does) and I tend to rotate between ham, cheese or chicken (not the wafer thin sort).

Turns out my favourite multigrain bread contains almost 0.5g of salt per slice. This means my homemade cheese sarnie (with two pieces of bread) contains around 1.45g of salt (ham would be 1.32g and chicken 1.19g).

A bag of branded salt and vinegar crisps contains 0.49g.

As for high street bought sandwiches, the cheese sandwich I found contained 1.3g salt; ham 0.6g; and a “healthy” chicken and salad sandwich 1.7g. And more surprisingly, a small box of sushi contained 3.3g. That’s over half the maximum daily amount adults should eat which is 6g (less for children).

So maybe my daily food routine is not as healthy as I thought. That’s annoying, as I’ve already had to cut down on some of my favourite foods to lower my cholesterol levels.

I’ve not really thought that much about salt, as I presumed I wasn’t eating too much. I already know that I have to check for hidden salt in foods, but had obviously forgotten about bread. So now I’m going to look more closely at salt levels as well as fat. And I must remember that if it says sodium on the pack you need to multiply that by 2.5: 1g of sodium = 2.5g of salt.

How to cut down on salt

But before we all panic and resort to eating crisps for lunch, remember that sandwiches contain more vital nutrients, such as protein, than crisps. Plus, we’re advised to eat complex carbohydrates like bread, pasta and rice. It’s all about a good balanced diet.

Apparently 75% of the salt we eat is hidden in foods, rather than us adding it, so it’s hard to keep a track of exactly how much we’re eating. But research from CASH shows that Brits eat an average of 8.6g per day, with young men topping 10g a day.

So why is salt an issue? Too much salt can raise your blood pressure. High blood pressure (or hypertension, to give it its technical name) can mean you’re more at risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke. And as it often has no symptoms, unless you visit your GP fairly regularly you may not know you’re at risk.

How can you cut down on salt? Here are a few simple tips: compare labels and choose those with lower levels or no added salt; remember they’re often hidden in products you might not expect; try not to cook with salt and don’t automatically add it to food; choose healthier snacks, like veggies; and go easy on sauces too.

But please don’t stop eating salt altogether because, like all nutrients, our bodies need it – in moderation – to function.

Are you surprised that some breads contain more salt per slice than crisps? Do you focus on cutting down on fat and sugar over salt? And what are your top tips for cutting down on salt?


Thanks Jo for this interesting topic.

Crisps have come in for a lot of publicity because of their high salt and fat content. Fair enough, but they taste salty and greasy and always come with nutritional information on the packet.

On the other hand, bread (especially wholemeal bread) is promoted as a healthy food. It contains salt to improve the flavour but it does not taste salty. A lot of bread is sold without nutritional information.

Jo is right that we need some salt, so maybe salt-free bread is not a good idea. I wonder if it would be help to use ‘salt’ with a lower sodium content, which is widely available in supermarkets. It is a mixture of sodium chloride (salt) and potassium chloride, and many people use this regularly.

So don’t eat too much salt but make sure you eat some salt?

clear and to the point, probably 😉

Take all nutritional advice with a pinch of salt. 🙂

Interesting, and quite surprising too…good tip about multiplying sodium to get salt. My crayfish and rocket (bought) sandwich has 1.9 grams!

One of the reasons for expressing salt content as sodium is to make the number look smaller.

It is actually a good idea to give the amount of sodium rather than the amount of salt (sodium chloride) because it is the amount of sodium that matters. For example, MSG contains sodium but it is not salt.

I was watching The Great British Bake Off last week and the main criticism from the expert to the contestants was not adding enough salt! As one of the main ingredients I guess there needs to be enough to give it some taste, but I was really shocked to hear one slice is the same as a packet of crisps. And especially surprised to hear about the kinds of bread which have most – I often buy Vogel thinking it’s healthier but I’m unwittingly giving my family lots of salt!

We did get into baking our own at one point – shop bought stuff is also laden with chemicals/preservatives to give it a long shelf life – maybe it’s time to start again…

It would be good to know what is in our bread and other bakery products. With small bakers it might not be possible to give accurate nutritional information because of variation between batches, but we could be given a list of ingredients.

Fresh bread is best but the use of preservatives in food might be safer than eating food contaminated with bacteria and moulds. By the time they can be seen or smelled, there will be a lot of microorganisms growing there. Thank goodness that most are harmless.

Remember the live bread machine session Which did a few months ago?
Your expert told me to add more salt than I normally did to get a better loaf, and he was right, my loaves did improve. So I now use 1 heaped teaspoon for each medium sized loaf, that’s about 7 grams a loaf? Say 10 slices, that’s 0.7 grams a slice!

Nearly all the bread I see for sale has no nutritional information on it at all – so how are we supposed to compare types and makes ?

Same goes for quite a few food items especially ones which are not essentials and so I could make a decision on buying . e.g. My favourite soft drinks from Fentimans, and alcoholic drinks like beer.

Are you suggesting that beer is not essential, ramar? No fat, probably no salt and if drunk in moderation it can help provide relief from all the worrying things discussed on Which Conversations?

Yes I would like to know what is in my bread, and what is in my beer.

Like Jo, I go for the interesting breads. They have a nice taste and texture, unlike plain white bread, and there is a lot of choice. I am well aware that salt is added to improve the taste but is bread palatable if made with little or no salt?

snowdin says:
21 November 2011

The problem is that although the author states too much salt can raise blood pressure and this can raise the number of cardiovascular or stroke events it’s all “can” and very little evidence, partly because the appropriate outcome clinical studies have not been adequately performed, and may not be performed in my lifetime since it needs a huge study population with long term follow up and who is going to fund the research? The average reduction in systolic BP in those who are affected by salt is pretty modest at 4mm mercury so a huge population of people needs to be studied to pick up enough events in normal salt / restricted salt groups to prove statistical significance. Reduction may be worth trying in those with high blood pressure to monitor whether it makes much difference in their individual case, then there are issues about whether they can keep up long term compliance when so much is hidden. The only way of making a population impact would appear to be a small reduction in hidden salt while maintaining taste / flavour for the masses because you can’t advise someone on the degree of their own personal risk based on the paucity of current data. Google “Cochrane” and “Salt” to see the pooled systematic reviews available on this.
Bread, and in particular brown bread, is an important component of a high fibre diet, useful for preventing many diseases and bad outcomes, so don’t get too hung up on bread except if eaten to excess.

This has not changed the NHS recommendation that we should restrict our salt intake to 6g per day. See: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2011/07July/Pages/heart-risk-salt-reduction-cochrane-review.aspx

If eaten to provide a source of fibre, it makes sense to eat wholemeal bread and remember that bread is not the only source of fibre, and that other sources contain less salt.

Bernard Bedford says:
25 November 2011

Interesting systematic review picked up in the BMJ editorial this week “Fibre and Prevention of Chronic Diseases” suggesting a building evidence base for whole grain foods having added value over high fibre ones, but UK and US diets generally low in whole grain foods, and especially for children. Limited data in relation to cancer prevention so far, but probable protection against obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “To increase the intake of these foods in Western countries, the health benefits must be actively communicated and the accessibility of wholegrain products greatly improved, preferably with a simple labelling system that helps consumers choose products with high wholegrain contents.”