/ Food & Drink, Health

Are you accidentally stocking up on salt this Christmas?

Christmas lunch

In this guest post we invite Consensus Action on Salt and Health to share their tips on managing your salt intake this Christmas. Their research exposes just how much salt may be hidden in all the trimmings of the day.

Many of us will be tucking into a delicious roast this Christmas, but doing so could add large amounts of unnecessary salt to our diet. Recent research from Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) has revealed the high and unnecessary levels of hidden salt in gravies and stocks by leading brands and supermarkets.

Some stock cubes are made of 50% salt – nearly a teaspoon of salt per cube, though as the labels are confusing and complicated – it is very hard to find the true salt levels. 87% of stocks and 99% of gravies would receive an amber or red traffic light for salt content. Out of the 103 stocks tested, only 13 products would be given a green traffic light for salt!

Christmas gravy – fresh is best

The stock with the highest level of salt in was Aldi Quixo Beef Stock Cubes, with 5.09g salt per cube. At the other end of the scale, Asda’s Extra Special Concentrated Vegetable Stock, has just 0.38g salt per 250g container.

And when it comes to gravy, Bisto’s Original Gravy Powder has 1.66g salt per 100ml. Whereas Waitrose Delicate & Savoury Chicken Gravy has a fraction of the salt at 0.5g per 100ml.

Fresh, ready-made stocks and gravies tend to be lower in salt. Best of all, for free and delicious gravy, why not make your own from the juices (not the fat!) of your turkey?

Eating is central to the Christmas Day festivities – but all those treats can contain as much as 15g of salt, over twice your daily recommended maximum of 6g.

With some clever planning however, you can bring all your favourite foods in under your daily maximum of 6g. For some foods it’s well worth spending your time cooking at home to keep the salt down, but if you must save time, I have some more tips below on how to go for the lower salt options.

Check the food labels

Firstly, be sure to check the label; similar foods can vary hugely in their salt content so it’s a good idea to check the label, especially on snacks such as crisps, olives and nuts.

And secondly, work out which foods are low in salt and potential time savers. There are a number of foods which are low in salt or don’t typically vary between brands – for instance pre-prepared Yorkshire puddings are usually low in salt. Cranberry sauce is also a low salt option. Surprisingly, although shop-bought pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped with bacon) are salty, they don’t tend to be any higher than home-made. Dessert items including Christmas pudding, custard and biscuits for cheese also tend to be similar across the board. Though keep in mind that cheese is very salty, so try and keep your portion to the size of a matchbox.

And remember during the festive season: there are other seasonings apart from salt. Try herbs, spices, lemon and garlic for a delicious meal.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Katharine Jenner, Campaigns Director at Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH). All opinions expressed here are Katharine’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.


“Bisto’s Original Gravy Powder has 1.66g salt per 100ml” ?

Is this the made liquid or the powder. If it’s the powder, it’s low ?

I’m a little confused by the interpretation of the data. Looking at the original data, it would seem that 66% of gravies meet the Dept. of Health’s suggested maximum target for salt, and 99% of the stock cubes. I am all in favour of reducing uneccesary levels of salt ( and sugar, fat etc) in manufactured foods, but as the majority of these products are within target, are the DoH’s targets too high? Or have I misinterpreted the results?

We should be thinking about the amount of sodium we consume each day, rather than salt. Salt is not the only source of sodium in the diet.

I was hoping that you would look at salt in ready-made Christmas food.

The last couple of years we have had to try to simplify our Christmases by buying some pre-prepared food.

Last year it was a ready to roast gammon from M&S that nearly hit the bin as we considered it inedible it was so salty. We also had stuffing from there that was far too salty. We don’t eat pigs in blankets for the same reason and prefer prunes wrapped with bacon.

In the summer we as a family discussed ham and decided that it needs boiling rather than roasting so that it is less salty. It can be glazed afterwards. We’ve consequently just ignored the roasting instructions on the wrapping and boiled it. It was much better.

This year I added a whole can of sweetcorn to the pork sage and onion stuffing and it was still too salty. The pork and chestnut stuffing was too salty and next year we hope we will be able to return to our own recipes without all this salt.

Colman’s bread sauce mix was too salty too. Bread sauce is usually a good foil for salt and it is easy to make so next year hopefully we will be able to get back to the home-made with an onion studded with cloves flavouring the milk.

Please investigate the amount of salt in all these pork products. We don’t eat a lot but used to find lower salt bacon but this is now harder to source.

We agree there is nothing better than gravy made with the juices from the turkey. Just meat juices and a little cornflour thickening. It needed no stock cube or other flavouring. Why can’t we find stock cubes with much less salt?

After boiling up the carcase we had enough stock for a delicious soup. (The easiest way is in a slow cooker as it doesn’t have to be watched so carefully.) Since we had cooked the stuffing separate from the turkey we could easily serve this soup to a friend who has to follow a gluten free diet.

Cans of soup are a staple food for the elderly yet these have a large amount of salt in them. Why?

This piece would be a little more useful if you could put it in context. What is the additional risk (and of what hazard) per 100,000 people of that extra salt on Christmas day? My suspicion is that one life may have been shortened by 10 minutes but even if the danger is greater when factored in with all the other life threatening things we do over Christmas the risk is negligible and not worth fussing over.

If you want more salt you can just add your own.

For the rest of us who don’t – please let us have the opportunity to have to do less cooking in our old age and be able to enjoy the food that the carers heat for us as well as being able to “cheat” in making a good Christmas meal.

It is not just a matter of 10 minutes. It is more importantly a matter of enjoying the flavours of food.

We can’t take salt out.