The food industry has hit back at the latest research to question the levels of salt in UK shoppers' food by saying low-salt options are available on supermarket shelves and are clearly labelled thanks to the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) system.

Research carried out by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) claims that many pasta sauces on sale in the UK, particularly some branded products and those fronted by celebrity chefs, contain much higher amounts of salt than others.

CASH also claims the pasta sauces' labelling and portion sizes are inconsistent, and in some cases missing completely.

CASH surveyed 190 jars, pots and packets of pasta sauces. Both branded and own-label products from Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Somerfield and the Co-operative Group were included in the research.

Combined, the branded sauces, including Dolmio, Ragu, Jamie Oliver and Loyd Grossman averaged at 1.17g of salt per 100g, while the supermarket own-label products combined averaged around 0.86g of salt per 100g, 25% less than the branded products.

"Comparing similar sauces by portion size proved very difficult as different products had differing suggested portion sizes. Over a third (73 of the 190 products) did not provide salt or sodium data per portion, and over a quarter (52 of the 190 products) gave no portion size information. Napolina products give their customers no information about the salt or sodium content at all. As a result, it was often easier to look at the salt content per 100g when making comparisons, but this does not help the customer to work out how much salt they are eating in a serving of sauce," CASH said.

However, Melanie Leech, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said:
"UK food manufacturers are leading the world on changing the recipes of their products - including pasta sauces - to contain less salt. Consumers have a very wide choice of tasty products to choose from and, as the CASH announcement demonstrates, those who want a lower salt option can find one simply by looking at the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) labels that are found on the front of most food and drink products in the UK."

CASH said the largest range of salt content was seen in the tomato-based pasta sauces. The highest salt product found on the shelves was Jamie Oliver's Spicy Olive and Garlic sauce with 3.0g of salt per 100g. Weight Watchers' Roasted Garlic pasta sauce, by contrast, contains just 0.1g of salt per 100g, a thirtieth of the Jamie Oliver sauce's salt level.

The highest salt supermarket own brand sauce found in the survey was Sainsbury's Puttanesca Pasta Sauce, which contains 2.0g of salt per 100g.  The Co-operative Tomato & Olive Pasta Sauce contains 0.7g of salt per 100g, over four times lower than the Jamie Oliver sauce and almost three times lower than the Sainsbury's sauce.

"Pasta with sauce is a quick and simple meal for many of us," said Katharine Jenner, Nutritionist and CASH campaign manager. "But this survey shows it can be incredibly hard to choose a healthy option. There are still some sauces on the shelves with really high levels of hidden salt. We found a 30-fold variation within the tomato based pasta sauces and 22 of the 190 products we looked at do not meet the 2010 Food Standards Agency targets for salt content. We urge manufacturers to reduce their salt content and improve their labelling immediately."