Salt content in ready meals

Salt content in ready meals

Australians are eating almost DOUBLE the recommended daily intake of salt increasing the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) which is one of the leading causes of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.  High salt intake can also lead to osteoporosis. These health conditions don’t just impact the elderly, adolescents who consume too much salt may have unhealthy changes to their blood vessels (arterial stiffness, or hardening) which can cause issues later in life. At all stages of life, it is important to be aware of your salt intake and weaning yourself off adding salt to foods is not a bad habit to consdier.

How much salt do we actually need?

Our bodies use salt in a myriad of ways for important functions such as nerve and muscle function, fluid balance and blood pressure. However, we don’t need much salt at all for these functions. The suggested dietary target is 2000mg or 5g salt per day. However, the average intake is around 3600mg sodium which is almost double. (source: Nutrient Reference Values for Australia 2017 )

Where is salt coming from? 

Most of the salt we eat isn’t added at the table or during cooking – it’s already in the processed foods we buy. According to Unpack The Salt, ready meals come in as the third top culprit for “salt shockers”, with bread and cooking sauces coming it at first and second!
 

Deep dive

Based on this, we thought we’d take a closer look at how We Feed You compares to other brands of ready meals, given it’s what we do and we have plenty of Australian’s eating our meals. We chose a basic meal that most brands would offer their customers – a pasta bolognese, beef pasta, lasagne style meals and compared the meals per 100g. Just a reminder, you should always check and compared ingredients by the 100g as it gives a true comparison compared to package size. 

Comparing ready meals

According to the Heart Foundation, low salt foods contain fewer than 120mg of sodium per 100g.  We are very proud to say one pasta meal fits into this category and it our very own Pasta Bolognese at only 79mg per 100g and even our Slow Cooked Beef comes in at only 121mg per 100g.

 

Meal - from highest to lowest

Sodium (mg) per 100g

Chef Good Slow Cooked Beef & Vegetable Ravioli

307

Coles Frozen Spaghetti Bolognese with Beef Mince

299

You Foodz Nonna’s Spaghetti Bolognese                

288

My Muscle Chef Spaghetti Bolognese with Lentils & Mushrooms    

282.7

Coles Frozen Beef Lasagne Pasta

276

McCains® spaghetti Bolognese                                           

270

Soulara Perfect Pasta Puttanesca

269

My Muscle Chef Beef Lasagne

253.3

Weight Watchers Beef Bolognese                                       

246

Woolworths Spaghetti Bolognese                                

243

My Muscle Chef Spaghetti Bolognese                          

235.8

My Muscle Chef Chunky Spaghetti Bolognese             

210.6

Light n Easy Spaghetti Bolognese      

193.3

We Feed You Slow Cooked Beef

121

We Feed You Classic Pasta Bolognese  

79

 Data was taken from online sources March/April 2021.

So, we are pretty chuffed with this result but that’s not to say all our meals are this low in salt. Many fit the moderately salty guidelines which is fewer then 400mg of sodium per 100g. Where possible we try to use real ingredients to achieve saltiness like capers, olives or anchovies rather than adding salt to meals for flavour – but these ingredients still add to the total salt content. Salt is also not the enemy, for us it’s all about balance and knowing how much salt is the right amount as part of a balanced diet. It’s also about knowing where your salt is coming from throughout the day. Let’s face it, hot chips without salt simply don’t cut it, but that does not mean you need to add salt to everything.

Photo: Elly Smith


Let’s take a look at the sodium content of some other We Feed You meals.

·      Satay Lemongrass Pork  67mg per 100g

·      Pumpkin & Lentil Dahl  88mg per 100g

·      Slow Cooked Beef  121mg per 100g

·      Lemon & Ginger Chicken 123mg per 100g

·      Thai Green Coconut Curry  128mg per 100g

·      Italian Baked Chicken  146mg per 100g

·      Moroccan Chicken 154mg per 100g

·      Smokey Chipotle Chicken  156mg per 100g

·      Middle Eastern Beef  158mg per 100g

·      Vegetable & Coconut Curry  170mg per 100g

What to check for when buying ready meals.

1. Compare items in the nutrition information table per 100g to get a like comparison.  For example, you'll find many brands under feed with 300g or less portion sizes, this just leaves you feeling hungry and more likely to snack after your meal, thereby adding even more overall salt, sugar or kJ to your daily intake. Look for meals around 350 - 400g, as this should be a satisfying portion for most people without overeating.

In summary, choose meals which are going to be satisfying to avoid snacking. If you do need something more, choose a piece of fruit, yoghurt or small portion of mixed nuts.

2. Read the ingredients list as you may be surprised at all the hidden ingredients. Look for a high percentage of real ingredients like vegetables, lean proteins or wholegrains. Ingredients are listed in descending order by their weight. Therefore, the ingredient listed first is present in the largest amount and the one listed last is in the least amount.

3. Look for a short list of ingredients and ones that you recognise. It can be a mind field trying to get your head around some ingredients lists but a simple rule is “the shorter, the better”. This includes ready meals both in the supermarket and online. You may also be surprised to find that the information you want is not on the packet or online. If it’s not there – ask for it you are entitled to know what you are eating!

Steps to cut back on salt

Check out some of the regular packaged foods you are eating and try to work out approximately how much you are consuming over the course of a day. Are you one of the Australian’s eating almost double your recommended dietary intake?  

The good news is, if it’s creeping up or you are already over, it’s not too hard to cut back. Our taste buds adjust to a lower salt intake especially if this is done gradually over a few weeks. The palate gets used to the ‘real flavour’ of food unmasked by salt and with time you may be surprised at how good real food can taste. Our meals and food philosophy, for example is to reply mostly on the natural characteristics of the ingredients to bring flavour rather than adding too much salt, fat or sugar.

For most people, around 75 per cent of their salt intake comes from processed foods (whether they come in packets, cans, frozen or takeaway) so this is where you will be able to make the most difference. The salt you add to cooking usually accounts for only 15 per cent of the total.

Top tips

  1. When shopping look out for “salt-reduced” or “low salt” foods and those with no added salt. Key foods to watch include (because they contribute to so much of our salt intake) cheese, bacon, ham and other deli meats, bread, cracker biscuits, sauces, soups and packet meal bases. Look for reduced-salt stock, reduced-salt soy sauce and other Asian sauces. Try no-added-salt tinned tomatoes, baked beans, legumes (chickpeas, four-bean mix, lentils).
  2. Cut out or reduce your intake of salty-tasting foods such as potato crisps, corn chips, pretzels and pizza or look for reduced salt varieties.
  3. Avoid sprinkling salt at the table or even have it on the table. Taste your food first.
  4. Don’t add salt if you are cooking with salted ingredients such as bacon, stock powder, soy sauce, fish sauce, hoisin sauce, olives or cheese.
  5. Add flavour with herbs, spices and aromatic ingredients such as lemon juice, mustard and wine. Chilli, onions, garlic and shallots also boost flavour.
  6. Eat more fresh food. Fresh vegetables, fish, meat, rice and pasta cooked without salt have little sodium but are blessed with loads of other important nutrients.
  7. Avoid take away food which doesn’t have a Nutrition Information Panel (NIP). Many Asian style meals for example a very high in sodium from the sauces used, for example soy sauce, fish sauce and oyster sauce. 

Watch out for hidden sodium

  • Seasoning, chicken salt, garlic salt, onion salt, yeast extract
  • Compounds like monosodium glutamate (MSG) 612 or disodium 5’-guanylate 627
  • Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or self-raising flour (typically a combination of flour, baking soda and salt) 

Converting sodium to salt

One level teaspoon of salt weighs 5 grams and has 2000mg of sodium.

To convert sodium to salt, multiply the sodium figure in milligrams (mg) by 2.5 and then divide by 1,000. So the formula is:

milligrams of sodium X 2.5 = milligrams of salt ÷ 1,000

Example

A can of sardines has 350mg of sodium which is shown in the Nutrition Information Panel in the Per Serve column on the back of the label.

To convert 350mg sodium to salt, multiply 350 by 2.5 = 875mg.

Then divide that figure of 875 by 1,000. So 875 ÷ 1,000 is 0.875 grams of salt.

You can also use the Heart Foundation sodium and salt converter here>

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