Food and diet

Salty soups cause a stir

Several newspapers have reported that many shop-bought soups contain very high levels of salt. The Daily Mail reported that some soups can have as much salt as "16 bags of crisps". The Daily Express , said that one particular takeaway soup from a high street food chain contains more than an adult’s entire recommended daily dose.

The news reports are based on an investigation into salt levels in soups sold in the UK. The research was carried out by Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH), an independent group of scientists that wants to bring about a reduction in the high levels of salt in processed foods and to educate the public about the dangers of too much salt.

CASH found that some soups contained particularly high levels of salt. For example, the ‘Very Big Soup Bold Thai Green Chicken Curry’ from Eat contained 8.07g, more than the 6g recommended total daily amount for adults. Overall, 99% of the surveyed products contain more salt per portion than a packet of crisps and one in four of the surveyed soups still fail to meet the 2010 Food Standard Authority (FSA) voluntary targets.

As a CASH spokesperson said: “This survey shows huge amounts of salt can be hidden in seemingly healthy choices.”

There are ways to limit your salt intake, read the advice below or click on the links to the right.

What is CASH?

Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH) is a specialist group of scientists and medical professionals that is concerned with salt and its effects on health. The group was set up in 1996 with the aim of working to reach a consensus with the food industry and government over the harms of a high salt diet. It aims to bring about a reduction in salt levels in processed foods, as well as guiding people to reduce the amount of salt that they add to their diet.

What has CASH said?

CASH has carried out an investigation (December 2009 to February 2010) into the salt levels in soups sold in the UK. Through packaging and online information it surveyed the salt contained in 575 ready-to-eat soups. It looked at soups in cans and cartons, and chilled, branded and supermarket own-label soups, and soups sold over-the-counter in high-street food outlets such as Eat, Pret A Manger and Caffè Nero.

What were the ‘worst’ soups for salt levels?

The worst products in terms of highest salt levels per portion (only the saltiest soups for each group surveyed are presented here):

Cafe soups

  • Eat Bold Thai Green Chicken Curry (8.07g per portion)
  • Eat Bold French Onion (7.5g)
  • Eat Bold Toulouse Sausage, Butter Bean & Lentil (7.23g)

All of these were from Eat’s Very Big Soup range.

Those with the highest levels in standard portion sizes included:

  • Caffè Nero Organic Carrot & Coriander (3.6g)
  • Pret A Manger Lentil & Bacon (3.39g)
  • Pret Classic Tomato Soup (3.1g)
  • Eat Bold Thai Green Chicken Curry (2.82g)

Supermarket fresh soups

  • New Covent Garden Food Co Scotch Broth (2.4g)
  • Marks & Spencer King Prawn Noodle Soup (2.4g)
  • The Yorkshire Provender Onion Soup with Hambleton Ale and Mustard (2.31g)
  • Marks & Spencer Simply Fuller Longer Meatball Minestrone (2.3g)

Ready-to-serve soups

  • Batchelors Soupfulls Classic Beef & Vegetable (3.0g)
  • Batchelors Creamy Chicken Potato & Mushroom (2.6g)
  • Heinz Taste of Home Lancashire Lamb Hotpot (2.6g)
  • Heinz Taste of Home Steak & Guinness Soup (2.6g)

What were the ‘best’ soups?

The best soups in terms of lowest salt levels per portion (only the least saltiest soups for each group surveyed are presented here):

Cafe soups

  • Pret A Manger’s Malaysian Chicken (1.0g)
  • Winter Vegetable Soup (1.16g)
  • Caffè Nero’s Organic Leek & Potato (1.2g) 
  • Eat’s Simple Garden Vegetable (1.23g)

Supermarket fresh soups

  • Tideford Organic Moroccan Vegetable (0.44g)
  • Asda Extra Special Spiced Moroccan Style Soup (0.5g)
  • Sainsbury’s Tomato & Basil (0.75g)
  • Sainsbury’s Carrot & Coriander (0.75g)
  • Sainsbury’s Lentil & Red Pepper soups (0.75g)
  • Asda Extra Special Tomato and Basil (0.75g)

Ready-to-serve soups

  • Morrisons Chicken Noodle Soup (0.5g)
  • Asda Good For You Tomato & Basil Soup (0.5g)
  • Tesco Light Choices Carrot & Coriander (0.5g)
  • Sainsbury’s Cream of Tomato & Red Pepper Soup (0.5g)

What did CASH conclude?

CASH says that high-street cafes are some of the worst offenders for high salt levels, with a total of 10 products from Eat containing more than the 6g a day salt recommendation for adults. The Eat Very Big Soup Bold Thai Green Chicken Curry contains nearly the same amount of salt as three Big Macs and three fries.

  • Overall, 99% of the surveyed products contain more salt per portion than a packet of crisps.
  • One in four of the surveyed soups still fails to meet the 2010 FSA voluntary targets.
  • Only 6% of soups would be eligible to meet the green traffic light labelling system.
  • In total, 23 supermarket products contain 2g of salt or greater per portion, with 18 of these coming from leading brands including Heinz, New Covent Garden Food Co and Batchelors. Although there has been a 17% reduction of salt per 100g soup in the ready-to-eat ranges since CASH last surveyed soups in 2007, there is still a long way to go to meet the salt reduction targets.
  • The supermarkets’ own brands meet 2010 targets in 93% of cases, while the branded products are trailing, with only 66% meeting targets.

Hannah Brinsden, who carried out the research for CASH, summarised: “In general, the cafe-style takeaway soups tend to be saltiest, whereas the fresh soups tend to be lower in salt ... If you are concerned about how much salt you eat, try to avoid soups containing high salt ingredients such as bacon, cheese and chorizo, and instead choose vegetable- and tomato-based ones. The best option, however, would be to make your own.”

What effect does too much salt have on health?

The Food Standards Agency recommends that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt per day. It estimates that the average daily intake may currently be as high as 9.5g per day (CASH estimate 8.6g). High salt levels can have a variety of effects on a person’s health. High salt can affect cardiovascular health, causing high blood pressure and increasing risk of strokes, heart disease and kidney disease.

How do I avoid eating too much salt?

Read the label. See how much salt there is per 100g and per serving. Take note of the serving size as well. This will be more apparent where soups are purchased in containers in supermarkets, but when purchasing in cafes and food outlets, nutritional information should be available on request.

  • As was apparent from the soups that CASH surveyed, there are large variations in salt content in soups with similar flavours. Do not assume that different brands of the same type of soup have similar salt levels.
  • Be aware of the salt coming from other foods, for example if soup is eaten as part of a larger meal, or if it's eaten with bread, another food with typically high levels of salt. As reported by CASH, the latest National Diet Nutrition Survey (NDNS) - also published this month - showed bread to be the greatest contributor of salt to the diet, across all age groups.
  • Consideration should be given to the salt levels in all packaged foods, as these often contain very high levels of salt. The FSA reports that about 75% of our salt intake is already present in the food that we buy, most of which is processed. CASH reports that cereal and cereal products (including bread) contribute 30% of the salt consumed in an adult diet, and 34-37% of that in children.

With all food, the best way of knowing how much salt is in your food is to make it yourself. However, even when cooking your own food, care should be taken regarding the salt contained in cooking items. Another way to reduce salt is to cut down, or eliminate, any extra salt added in cooking, and add less salt at the table. Visit the FSA's website for more information about the salt in your food.

NHS Attribution