A survey of popular ready meals published by the Food Standards Agency shows that some ready meals aimed at children have levels of salt as high as standard adult ready meals, and some ‘healthy option’ meals contain more than half a whole day’s target intake. 

The FSA said that many ready meals are very high in salt, with just under half the products surveyed containing more than 40% of the daily adult salt target of 6 grams.

The survey included six types of ready meals that are on sale in most major supermarkets: shepherd’s pie, macaroni cheese, lasagne, chicken korma and rice, spaghetti and meatballs, and chicken nuggets and chips.

Where possible, the standard version of the meal, the ‘healthy choice’ option, and the version aimed at children were bought from seven different supermarkets. The salt content listed on the labels was recorded.

The FSA found that products aimed specifically at children were often high in salt. The target intake for 7-10 year olds is 5 grams per day, but a number of meals, including three of the Asda ‘More for Kids’ products such as macaroni cheese and shepherd’s pie were found to contain more than 40% of the daily target intake for children of this age.

Tesco’s meals do well overall

On average, although ‘healthy eating’ ready meals often contained a little less salt than the standard versions, the differences were small. One meal – Asda ‘Good For You’ lasagne – had 60% of an adult’s target daily intake of 6 grams per day. Safeway had two of the lowest salt products: lasagne and chicken korma and rice from their ‘Eat Smart’ range. Heinz Weightwatchers and Birds Eye Less Than 3% Fat chicken korma were also relatively low in salt.

The FSA said that 83% of all the standard products surveyed contained more than 40% of one day’s target salt intake.

Of those manufacturers that had products in all categories, Tesco’s products contained the least salt overall. Asda had the most products that contained more than 40% of the recommended daily salt intake.

Sainsbury’s shepherd’s pie had 5.9 grams of salt per portion – 98.3% of the target daily salt intake for adults.

Better labelling needed

The FSA said that some producers, such as Findus and Uncle Ben’s, do not include complete nutritional information on their labels, and so the survey (and therefore consumers), could not compare them to other products. The FSA is urging all producers to include full nutritional information on their labels – including amounts of salt, fat (with saturated fat as a proportion of this), and sugar.

Following the Food Standards Agency’s announcement, the Food and Drink Federation, which represents the UK food and drink manufacturing industry said:

“The Food Standards Agency has advised consumers to reduce salt intake.  Our industry is glad to cooperate with the FSA to help achieve that end.

“The majority of products in the ready meals sector are retailer-branded. However, manufacturers are also committed to encouraging consumers of all ages to improve their own health through a balanced diet.”

Last month the Food and Drink Federation announced an industry-wide programme to reduce the salt content of breakfast cereals and soups and sauces.