Some pesto sauces are 'a third saltier than seawater'

Pestos are also high in saturated fats.
Pestos are also high in saturated fats.

The most popular pesto sauces are 30% saltier than seawater - raising children's risk of heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure, scientists warn.

Supermarket bestsellers Italia Organic Vegetarian Pesto No.5 Basil and Italia Pesto No.1 Classic Basil contain an alarming 3.3g per 100g.

The products, made by Sacla, contain two-and-a-half times times more salt than salted peanuts.

Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) said what's worse is levels in both have actually increased since they were last surveyed in 2009.

Classic Basil now has 18% more.

Each has over 1.5g of salt per serving - more than a McDonald's Hamburger.

Saturated fat

They were also high in saturated fat, further endangering cardiovascular health.

The CASH survey of 75 pesto sauces using the FoodSwitch UK smartphone app found none could be considered healthy.

The report said: "In the long term, this could increase a child's risk of developing high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks later in life.

"Pesto is often added to sandwiches, pizzas, meat, fish and pasta dishes alongside other salty ingredients, which can push up the total salt content of meals to over 50% of your maximum daily recommended intake.

"For example, a pesto, ham and cheese toastie could provide you with over 3g salt."

The CASH survey of 75 pesto sauces using the FoodSwitch UK smartphone app found none could be considered healthy.

The research comes amid concerns the nation is overdosing on salt.

Daily limit

The daily limit recommended by health experts is 6g for adults, but the average is 8.1g.

For children aged one to three it is 2g, 3g for four to six-year-olds and 5g for seven to 10s.

The survey found many pesto sauces contain much higher amounts of salt than others.

These also included Napolina Green Pesto with Basil (2.5g per 100g), Gino D'Acampo Pesto alla Genovese Basil Pesto (2.3g) and Truly Italian Genovese Basil Pesto (2.g).

Sarah Alderton, assistant nutritionist at CASH, said: "Pesto is an everyday product eaten by adults and children alike, but people might not realise just how salty it can be.

"That's why it's important to check the label; switching from a high to lower salt option could really help to reduce your salt intake.

"However, given the inconsistent nature of food labelling this is difficult to do.

"None of the products we surveyed could be described as 'healthy', so consider having pesto in smaller portions, less frequently, or try other pasta sauces lower in salt and fat instead."

Pestos are also high in saturated fats, further increasing our risk of developing heart disease.

Average recommendation

Sacla's Italian Genovese Basil Pesto contains 8.8g saturated fat in a suggested 70g portion. The average woman should eat no more than 20g a day.

Almost half (44%) of pestos surveyed would receive a red label for saturates on front of pack, and some contain nearly half a days recommended maximum intake in just one serving.

With less than three months to go, CASH called for Public Health England to get tough on enforcing the 2017 salt targets of 1.38g for pesto and other thick sauces.

Overall 28 of the products, more than a third, exceeded this.

CASH said some responsible companies have made large reductions, and will help to save people's lives, including Jamie Oliver Green Pesto (0.9g per 100g) which was criticised in the last report for having more than three times as much.

Half of the pestos at the time had 2g of salt or more per 100g.

Sonia Pombo, nutritionist and campaign manager at CASH, added: "Salt is the forgotten killer as it puts up our blood pressure, leading to thousands of unnecessary strokes and heart attacks every year.

"Salt reduction is the biggest and most successful public health preventive measure made to date, yet it appears that many food manufacturers have stalled.

"Our survey shows that large reductions in the amount of salt added are possible, so why isn't one of the nation's most popular pesto brands following suit?"

World leader

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of CASH said: "The UK was leading the world in salt reduction, but so far PHE is doing little to ensure that the 2017 salt targets are met, and has not confirmed that they are setting new targets to be achieved by 2020.

"This is a national scandal as we know we can save thousands of people from unnecessary strokes and heart attacks if population salt intake is reduced, and furthermore, it is the most cost effective health policy."

Pesto makers Sacla said its pesto sauces should be enjoyed as part of a "balanced diet" after a survey found its sauces are 30% saltier than seawater.

The company added in a statement: "We work hard to make authentic Italian products which are good quality, safe to eat and should be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet."