Is there a way around bacon’s salt problem?

Action on Salt has released new research that shows some bacon products have a higher salt concentration than seawater.

10 January 2020
image credit: Getty Images

Bacon has a serious salt issue. New figures from campaign group Action on Salt suggest that of 171 retail products, 86% have a salt concentration equal to or greater than seawater.

Eating just two rashers of Lidl’s Birchwood Unsmoked Thick Cut Back Bacon, for instance, is equivalent to consuming more than eight bags of ready salted crisps.

One of the worst offenders is Tesco’s Finest Unsmoked Wiltshire Cure Back Bacon Medallions, which contains 5.3g – almost 90% of the recommended daily allowance.

To some extent, this can be explained by functional concerns: to ensure the meat is safely preserved and has a reasonable shelf life, a certain amount is necessary. However, Action on Salt claim the levels are inexplicably high for some products, noting that it is possible to reduce, as evidenced by The Co-op’s Reduced Fat Unsmoked Bacon Medallions, which contain a relatively low 1.45g of salt per 100g.

This Co-op option was the only item examined where a yellow traffic light label could be applied to the packaging – though both Tesco and Iceland have notably opted not to include salt information on front-of-pack labels. More than half of the bacon SKUs assessed exceeded Public Health England's voluntary 2.88g target.

Given the fact that bacon is the biggest contributor to salt after bread in the UK diet, and that we are still far exceeding our daily salt targets, it’s shocking to learn that food manufacturers are still ignoring the voluntary salt reduction targets and putting profits before the health of the nation,” said Sonia Pombo, Campaign Manager for Action on Salt. “We have seen great success with the soft drinks industry levy in driving reformulation, and the government must now consider doing the same for key contributors of salt in UK diet, such as bacon. This way, everyone’s health benefits, including the socially deprived.”

More than a meat problem

While Action on Salt’s new research focuses on traditional bacon, plant-based alternatives aren’t much better. Vivera’s Veggie Bacon Pieces pack in 2.9g of salt per 100g, on par with Marks & Spencer’s Smoked Back Bacon Rashers.

Plant-based Rashers from This, whose founder Andy Shovel describes bacon as the “gold standard of meat lovers,” contain 2.7g per 100g, similar to Iceland’s Unsmoked Back Bacon.

Action on Salt has already taken makers of meat-free goods to task, noting that some items are worse in terms of salt content than their meat-containing equivalents – indeed, the salt contained in This and Vivera’s bacon alternatives are higher than all the retailers’ lower-salt options.

Food Spark has previously featured an article on ways to tackle salt that meet both functional and flavour requirements. But salt isn’t the only reason bacon is under fire. It’s also been criticised for high levels of nitrites and nitrates, which have been linked to cancer through a number of scientific studies, most recently in a meta-analysis by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast, published at the end of last year.

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