Ham and pineapple pizza

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Campaign group Action on Salt has renewed efforts calling for mandatory salt reduction targets after its latest research found that some pizzas contain more than a day’s worth of salt.

Coinciding with Salt Awareness Week (15 to 21 May), the call included urging Health Secretary Steve Barclay and the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to enforce currently voluntary salt targets or expand the Soft Drinks Industry Levy to cover excessively salty food.

The group’s research analysed salt amounts stated in the nutritional information of 1,387 different medium-sized pizzas sold by a total of 10 supermarkets and 12 restaurants and takeaway establishments. Products made by Domino’s Goodfella’s, Morrisons, The Co-op, Bella Italia, Pizza Express, and Papa John’s, among others, were included in the research.

Of those surveyed, takeaway pizzas were found to contain more than double the amount of salt than those bought in supermarkets.

Two-thirds of pizzas sold in restaurants and takeways contained at least six grams of salt – the recommended daily salt intake for adults.

The saltiest pizza overall – Domino’s medium ‘The Sizzler Standard Mozzarella Stuffed Crust’ – had 21.4g of salt. Meanwhile, the saltiest supermarket pizza was found to be ‘The Pizza Company Takeaway Pizza the Pepperoni Party’ with 9.2g.

Restaurant and takeaway companies appeared to show minimal signs of improvement in reducing the salt content of their food, Action on Salt claimed, with 50% of medium pizzas sold revealed to be exceeding respective salt targets. This was in contrast to the retail sector, where fewer than one in five (14%) exceeded the targeted salt maximum.

Less salt saves lives

Action on Salt comprises a group of specialists concerned with salt and its effects on health, based at Queen Mary University of London. Its chairman, Professor Graham MacGregor, said that reducing salt was the most cost-effective measure to lower blood pressure and decrease the number of people suffering from strokes and heart disease.

The group had previously made calls for mandatory salt reduction targets after research published in March found that some slices of bread are saltier than a bag of crisps.

Mhairi Brown, a registered nutritionist and policy lead at Action on Salt, said the government has shown “brilliant leadership” when it launched the Soft Drinks Industry Levy in 2018. The tax on sugary drinks manufacturers has helped to lower the amount of sugar the nation was drinking without raising prices.

“The Chancellor must now expand this successful levy to food companies who refuse to lower excessive salt levels in their food, to protect our health, our economy and our NHS,” added Brown.

PAPA response

However, the Pizza Pasta & Italian Food Association (PAPA), the trade body representing UK pizza producers, dismissed many parts of the report, claiming the pizza industry did not add extra salt to products.

“We find this sensationalist narrative very misleading as the authors have deliberately sought out examples of products with high salt levels,” said PAPA director Jim Winship. “Although a small amount of salt is needed in making the dough for the base – similar to that used in bread making – the majority comes through the toppings and most pizzas have much lower salt levels than the ones quoted.”

Winship also noted that the data had not given salt amounts per portion, which would have been fairer.

“The pizza industry has done an enormous amount of work to reduce salt and fat levels in products and has been recognised for this in Government salt campaign reports,” he continued. “Reality is you cannot make a pizza without some salt and some consumers want these types of product. This story implies that the pizza industry should be refusing to serve customers who want these types of topping.”