How much salt is in your restaurant meal?

Cheese and tomato pizza

Whether it's a special night out or a quick meal, high street chain restaurants can seem like a reliable option. But you might be surprised at how much salt is hidden in some dishes. Shalini Rawlley's guide helps you choose more wisely.  

When eating out it is easy go over the recommended maximum intake of salt without even realising. Some dishes alone contain more than double your entire daily maximum (also called reference intake or RI) for salt, which is 6g (about one teaspoon). 

Eating too much salt can damage your health. Over time, too much salt can lead to high blood pressure. This increases your chances of a stroke or a heart attack.

Not all high-street chains publish their nutritional information, but if this is available it can be a useful tool to help you make a healthier choice before you go.

If it’s not available, bear in mind that the saltiest menu options are likely to feature high-salt foods such as processed meats (bacon, sausage, pepperoni), olives and sauces. And menu options making claims such as “lighter”, “low calorie” or suitable for special diets, won’t necessarily be lower in salt, and can even be higher.

All information is based on menu information correct at time of publication.

Pizza Express

 A Pizza Express Logo outside a restaurant

When it comes to starters, watch out for the antipasto platter. The cured meats, olives and cheeses mean it is packed full of salt - one serving alone will send you over your daily maximum for salt. The salads can be better options, especially the "leggera superfood salad" (1.8g salt). The exception is the grand chicken Caesar salad, which comes with dough sticks and contains 5.3g salt. That’s the same as the salt in 11 packets of crisps (based on typical salt content in crisps as listed in McCance and Widdowson 2017.) The Calabrese pizza is their saltiest pizza with 7.4g salt per pizza – the same as the amount in 16 packets of crisps. That’s because of its salty toppings such as sausage (two kinds), cheese (three types) and pesto.

The Grand Caesar salad with dough sticks contains the same amount of salt as 11 packets of crisps.

There are better options such as the “leggera” pizzas, which have a hole cut in the middle and are filled with salad and a reduced-fat dressing. These all have a lower salt content than the classic pizzas, and are lower in saturated fat and calories. The leggera padana is topped with goat’s cheese, caramelised onion, spinach, red onion, tomato and garlic oil and contains 2.1g salt. 

Helpfully, Pizza Express publishes its nutrition information per 100g as well as per portion, which makes it easier to work out whether dishes are “high”, “medium” or “low” in salt as well as saturated fat. However, if your meal tops 1.8g per portion then it is automatically "high" as this is 30% of your RI.

The gluten-free options at Pizza Express are similar in salt content to the main menu options. When it comes to special dietary requirements it’s worth bearing in mind that vegan doesn’t necessarily mean low-salt – the vegan giardiniera classic, topped with ingredients including artichokes, olives and “vegan mozzarella alternative”, contains most of the recommended daily maximum (5.5g salt), and is the highest salt option of the ‘classic’ pizzas.

Watch out for: Antipasto platter (6.5g salt) and calabrese pizza (7.4g salt)

Better choice:  Leggera Padana pizza (2.1g salt)

Nando’s

A Nandos Restaurant 

From a salt point of view, it’s bad news for those who like their chicken extra spicy - the hotter you get the more salt you get when it comes to Nando’s famous chicken. 

A half chicken at medium heat contains 2.6g salt, at ‘hot’ this goes up to 3g, and at extra hot, 3.9g. The lowest-salt options are the “plain-ish” (2.1g) or lemon and herb flavouring (2.5g salt). 

The vegetarian options come with the same spice mix as the chicken, so are not necessarily lower in salt

The chicken wings are also a high salt option. 10 hot chicken wings contain 6.1g salt, which is just over your entire daily maximum. Several smaller pieces of chicken rather than one larger piece will mean there is a greater surface area to cover with the spice baste and the salt that comes with it. 

The vegetarian options come with the same spice mix as the chicken, so are not necessarily lower in salt. The extra hot sweet potato and butternut wrap contains 4g salt and the portobello mushroom and halloumi wrap with lemon and herb contains 3.3g, or 3.4g with medium spice. 

Choose your side dishes carefully. A large side of creamy mash will take you to a third of your daily maximum (2.4g salt) and a large spicy rice is nearly half of your daily maximum (2.8g salt). The large “macho peas” is a better option at 0.8g salt, while the side salad or large corn on the cob are better still, with 0.1g salt, and they’ll help you to your 5-a-day too. 

A Nandos meal of chips and a pitta

The "supergrain salad" and quinoa salad are lower-salt options at 1.3g and 1.7g. The healthier-sounding Mediterranean salad, which contains salty olives and feta, however, gives you more than half your recommended maximum of salt (3.5g) and even more if you get the option with chicken (4.4g). A mixed leaf salad is a better choice, with just 0.1g salt, or 1g with chicken. 

Watch out for: 10 hot chicken wings (6.1g salt)

Better choice: "Supergrain salad" with chicken breast (2.2g)

Pizza Hut

Outside of a Pizza Hut restaurant 

Pizza Hut provides nutritional info on its pizzas by the slice – so remember to multiply what you see by the number of slices you plan to eat, especially if you’re going for the “all you can eat” lunchtime buffet! 

An individual pan pepperoni pizza contains 6 slices, each 0.76g salt – that’s 4.56g salt for a whole pizza, which is more than two thirds of your daily maximum. Adding a stuffed crust or “cheesy bites” crust will take your intake of salt over the daily maximum. Even higher in salt are the Meat Feast, the BBQ Americano, the Philly cheese steak, and the Texas meat meltdown, all of which have over a gram of salt in each slice. 

For a lower salt option, the veggie individual pan has 0.58g per slice or 3.48g for the whole pizza. 

The salad bar is a good place to go if you are trying to cut down on salt. The fresh salad items are best, with zero salt content. Salt levels creep up as you add dressed salad items and garnishes – so be sparing with bacon bits, croutons and dips. 

Watch out for: Individual pan Texas meat meltdown (6.6g salt)

Better choice: Veggie individual pan pizza (3.48g salt)

Harvester  

The ‘Harvester Recommends Breakfast’ is a cooked breakfast which includes two sausages, two rashers of bacon and also comes with an extremely high 7.4g salt, meaning you’ll be well over the daily maximum from breakfast alone. Harvester also offer an ‘unlimited cooked and continental’ option. Choosing an ‘unlimited’ or ‘all you can eat’ option can make it a lot harder to keep track of how much salt you are consuming and often encourages us to eat more than we normally would. 

Better choices include the Boho Breakfast, which is a vegetarian cooked breakfast, meaning that the sausages and bacon have been replaced with a combination of vegan sausages and extra grilled veg. This breakfast has 2.5g salt per portion, so these changes make a big difference. The Eggs California (avocado and tomato salsa with poached eggs and a toasted muffin) contains a more reasonable 1.8g. Avoiding options that include processed meats will help to keep the salt down but don’t assume that vegetarian options are always low salt ones, or that non-vegetarian options are always high in salt. The veggie breakfast bun, a brioche bun with vegan sausage, fried egg, hash browns and Smokey Ketchup is still a high 4.7g salt. 

The “ultimate mixed grill” contains more than double your daily maximum of salt in one single meal.

At lunchtime, the steak and eggs (also available at breakfast) is one of the lower salt options with 1.5g. Ordering a wrap with grilled chicken breast filling contains 1.9g salt, while opting for a falafel and houmous filling will increase the salt to 3.1g. When choosing your sides, go for steamed vegetables instead of fries or spicy rice, to help keep the salt and fat content down. 

In the grill sections, the steaks are relatively reasonable for salt content, containing 2.1-2.3g. But the mixed grill, which includes processed meats such as sausage, gammon, and black pudding, contains well over your maximum daily maximum, at 7.1g. The larger “ultimate mixed grill” contains more than double your daily maximum, with 13g salt.

All the burgers will take you over your daily maximum for salt, with ingredients such as cheese, bacon and BBQ sauce contributing to the salt content. The “ultimate burger”, with cheese, burger sauce, and a half rack of ribs on the side, contains a huge 7.9g salt. Even the vegetarian option, the chipotle bean burger, has salty ingredients such as halloumi cheese and two sauces, and comes in at 6.4g salt. When it comes to chicken, the BBQ chicken stack, with grilled chicken, buttermilk-fried chicken, BBQ sauce, and bacon) contains 7.1g salt, well above the daily maximum. 

If you’re in Harvester, make sure you visit the salad bar (included with most main meals) and load up on fresh vegetables to fill you up and help you towards your five-a-day. Remember that it’s the extras such as croutons, bacon bits and dressings which can pile on the salt. 

Watch out for: Ultimate mixed grill (13g salt and Ultimate burger (7.9g salt)

Better choice: Simply Grilled Chicken (1.9g salt)

Zizzi

Outside a Zizzi restaurant on a highstreet 

Some Zizzi pizzas will take you over your daily maximum for salt (6g) even if you don’t eat anything else all day. This includes the Sofia rustica pizza, whose toppings include spicy chicken, pepperoni, sausage and mozzarella. This pizza alone contains 7.1g salt. Zizzi’s ‘rustica’ pizzas are hand stretched further for a bigger base, meaning more surface area for potentially salty toppings. If you add starters or sharers such as garlic bread, bruschetta or Zizzi mixed olives, the salt content of the meal will continue to rise. A serving of Zizzi spicy nuts, for example, contains 6g salt, so you’d have reached your daily maximum before you start your main meal. Combine that with the Sofia rustica pizza and you’ll be more than double the maximum.

You might think of gluten-free as a healthier choice, but they can be even higher in salt than their gluten-containing equivalent

Watch out for the gluten-free options too. You might think of gluten-free as a healthier choice, but they can be even higher in salt than their gluten-containing equivalent. The non-gluten fiery Italian hot, for example, contains your entire daily maximum (6g) – the standard equivalent, the Italian hot classic, is lower in salt (4.2g). 

Similarly, the vegan and dairy-free alternatives can also be higher in salt, so don’t assume this makes them a better option overall. With 3.9g salt in the vegan/dairy-free margherita classic compared with 3.6 g in the standard version, and 5.4g in the vegan/dairy-free margherita rustica compared with 3.5g in the standard version. 

The lowest-salt standard pizza is the classic margherita at 3.6g – still well over half your recommended maximum. Slightly better are the ‘skinny pizzas’ but although these are designed to be lower in calories than standard menu choices, the salt content is still almost half your daily maximum (2.6g for a skinny king prawn diavola, 2.6g for skinny pollo roquito, or 3.2g for a skinny primavera.) Adding a side salad or vegetables can help fill you up and will contribute to your 5-a-day.

Some of the pasta dishes are also lower-salt options, such spaghetti pomodoro (1.8g) or bolognese (2.2g salt). Zizzi does have a selection of low salt, fat and sugar side dishes to choose from. Adding a side order of green beans, or “Italian naked slaw” of rocket, fennel and beetroot, won’t add any salt. 

Watch out for: Sofia rustica pizza (7g salt)

Better choice: "Green goddess" salad with broccoli (0.9g salt) or salmon (1.34g salt)

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