Supermarket soups can be up to six times saltier than a portion of McDonald’s fries, MailOnline can reveal.
Despite being seen as a ‘healthy’ meal option, soups made by Cully & Sully, M&S and Leon have up to 2.4g of salt per serving.
By contrast, a small portion of McDonald’s fries or a packet of Walkers ready salted crisps contain 0.4g of salt per portion.
Health chiefs advise adults to eat less than 6g of salt per day — equivalent to around one teaspoon.
Eating too much salt can raise blood pressure, increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease — one of the UK’s leading causes of death.
Around 80 per cent of the salt people eat is hidden in pre-prepared foods, such as soups, sauces and meat.
Experts told MailOnline that consumers view soup as a healthy option and accused manufacturers of needlessly adding salt.
Sonia Pombo, campaign manager for Action on Salt, told MailOnline food companies ‘continue to fill our food with too much salt even when reductions are possible’.
She added: ‘The Government must force the food industry to improve the nutritional quality of their food and ensure many thousands of people don’t die unnecessarily.’
The graphic shows the top 10 saltiest soups sold at the UK’s top supermarkets, measured by how much salt they contain per 300g — half a tub or the recommended serving for most soups. Soups made by Cully & Sully, M&S and Leon contain up to 2.4g of salt per bowl. For comparison, a small portion of McDonald’s fries or a packet of Walkers ready salted crisps contain 0.4g of salt per portion, a sixth of that amount
MailOnline’s analysis analysed more than 100 soups available at the UK’s biggest supermarkets, including Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s.
Dozens of products contained at least 1.8g per portion — the maximum recommended amount per portion of food.
Salt levels in each product was measured per 300g, which is a common serving size for soup.
A chicken and vegetable soup made by Cully & Sully contained 2.4g of salt for 300g but the product is sold in a 400g tub.
M&S’s own chicken and vegetable option, as well as a roast tomato and harissa soup made by Leon, also contained 2.4g of salt.
HOW MUCH SALT SHOULD I EAT?
Eating too much salt can increase blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Adults should eat a maximum of 6g of salt per day.
Between 75 and 80 per cent of the salt people eat is in processed and convenience foods, such as sauces and meat.
For every gram of salt cut from Britons’ average daily intake, there would be 6,000 fewer deaths from strokes and heart attacks per year.
Most labels now give the amount of salt contained in food per portion.
Foods are considered to be low salt and have a green label if they contain less than 0.3g per 100g.
Products with medium salt levels have less than 1.5g per 100g, which is indicated through an amber label.
And products with high amounts of salt have a red label, meaning they contain 1.5g per 100g or 1.8g per portion.
Rounding up the top 10 were other products from Leon, M&S, Cully and Sully, Tesco and Tideford Organics.
The Food Standard Agency’s salt targets set out that soups should contain no more than 1.89g of salt per 300g by 2017.
Under the same targets, soups should also have no more than 1.77g of salt per 300g by 2024.
But the measures are voluntary and campaigners have called for the Government to act tougher to keep the nation healthier.
Ms Pombo, from Action on Salt, told MailOnline: ‘It’s deeply concerning that soup, which many people view as a healthy meal choice, contains so much hidden salt as these shock findings reveal.
‘Unfortunately, this is the case for most of the food we buy, where food companies needlessly pile on the salt without consideration for our health.
‘We cannot take salt out of food once it has been added in, so where possible, read labels and avoid products that are high in salt.’
Professor Gunter Kuhnle, an expert in nutrition and food science at the University of Reading, told MailOnline: ‘I think it is important for consumers to understand that there is often a difference between the perceived “healthiness” of a food and reality.
‘In general, it would be better to focus on a balanced diet than on individual foods.’
He said: ‘If soup is seen as a “healthy option”, consumers might be very surprised, but if it’s just a snack as part of a reasonably balanced diet, it’s probably not so bad.’
Producers have reduced salt content, but this process ‘works best if it is done slowly, as consumers will get used to the lower salt content gradually – whereas a sudden reduction will cause food to taste bland and consumers are more likely to add salt’, he said.
Cutting out salt can also be expensive if it means adding herbs and spices, and this cost could be passed on to the consumer, Professor Kuhnle argued.
But reducing a food’s salt content is ‘not always straightforward’ because it is often used to keep food fresh and extend its shelf life, Professor Kuhnle said.
‘However, the data show that it is important for consumers who want to reduce their salt intake to look at the ingredients and nutrient tables carefully,’ he added.
An M&S spokesperson said it sells a broad range of products and helps its customers make healthier food choices through on-pack labelling. It has a reformulation plan to help reduce salt and boost nutrients, they added.
Rachael Matthews, innovation and product marketing manager at Leon, claimed that its soups contain no added sugar, are gluten free and include two of a person’s five a day.
The chain’s soups contain ingredients such as harissa, basil pesto oil and gobi curry paste ‘which traditionally use salt as a major part of their recipe’, she added.
A Tesco spokesperson said it is working hard to reduce salt in its products and offers a ‘wide selection of healthy options’. They noted that an Action on Salt report named Tesco as the most successful retailer at reducing salt in their meat products.
Cullen Allen, owner of Cully & Sully, said potato-based soups and chowders ‘usually carry a bit more salt for flavour’ and its other soups are lower in salt. ‘But we definitely would never claim to be low salt, just really delicious,’ he said.
‘I think at the end of the day, it would be hard to find a healthier pre-prepared meal than soup made like we do,’ Mr Allen added.
A Tideford Organics spokesperson said it does not position itself as a ‘healthy’ soup range and tries to ‘hit the balance between flavour and making the product as healthy as possible’.
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain
• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide