A new report launched today by Consensus Action on Salt and Health warns that savoury dips are ‘salt and fat traps’.

“British Summer time is synonymous with a good old fashioned picnic and a great British barbecue, and dips have become a popular item to include at such an occasion. British sales of hummus have risen in recent years, with many a fridge now housing the humble dip. For some dips, their rise in popularity could be attributed to their perceived health benefits; they are seen as a healthy snack, a good source of fibre and protein, and providing “healthy fats”. At a time when sugar is the villain you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that opting for such a savoury snack might be a good idea.

Yet a survey carried out by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) has revealed that these dips contain higher than expected amounts of salt and fat, with some dips containing as much salt as 4 packets of ready salted crisps and more salt per 100g than salted peanuts! In terms of fat, over a fifth of the dips we surveyed had a red front of pack label for saturates, with some containing more fat per serving than a Big Mac!

You might think that all dips are the same when it comes to their nutritional value, but in actual fact some are worse than others, not just between different flavours or types of dip, but between brands themselves. This survey has revealed just how widely the salt content varies between dips. Across all dips salt ranged from 0.25g per 100g to 1.6g per 100g, but there was also considerable variation within the same type of dip across different brands. For example, Lidl Red Pepper Hummus contains 0.43g salt per 100g, whereas Tesco Caramelised Onion Hummus contains 1.6g salt per 100g, over 3 times as much salt! This raises the question that if some manufacturers are capable of keeping the salt content down, why can’t they all?

salsa

What’s more, almost three quarters of hummus products surveyed had a red front of pack label for fat and not one had a green colour for salt. At a time when people are consuming too much salt (average intakes in the UK are over 8g per day versus the recommended maximum daily intake of 6g per day) food manufacturers should be doing all that they can to reduce the salt content of popular food products. And the stark contrast in salt content between some products shows that a lower salt content can be achieved, without compromising on palatability.

Another point to bear in mind, and a bugbear for many, is serving sizes –suggested serving sizes for dips as stated on pack range from 30-85g (30 of the 210 products didn’t state a serving size). Over half suggested a serving size of 50g (i.e. a quarter of a tub), but in all honesty who is likely to eat such a small amount? Portion sizes bear little relation to what people are actually eating, but by stating such small and unrealistic sizes on front of pack, people often think they are eating fewer calories etc. than they really are. This is particularly worrying seeing as dips are often consumed as a snack in between meals, or as an accompaniment to a meal, rather than a main component, but in fact they could be contributing a huge amount towards total fat and possibly salt intakes without counting the rest of the food consumed during the day, especially if they are consumed alongside other foods high in fat and/or salt like crisps, as so often is the case. A 50g serving of Essential Waitrose Cheese and Chive dip, with 31.3g fat per serving and 0.5g of salt, combined with a standard serving of crisps would easily lead you to consuming over half the Reference Intake of fat in one go! And if you had more than the suggested serving? Well it could easily be double that.

It’s important for consumers to know what’s in their food and highlighting these hidden truths is an important step towards changing consumer behaviour and getting people to improve the quality of their diet. This survey highlights more than ever the importance of shopping around, checking the label before purchasing and opting for the healthier option where possible. In this instance, choosing dips like salsa rather than sour cream- or cheese-based dips, which are higher in fat and saturates, and also adopting strategies to avoid overconsumption, like spooning dip onto your plate rather than eating straight from the tub, can all help to improve your health and diet, whilst still enjoying the foods we love. Throw in some healthier sides like carrot and pepper sticks, and we have a winner!

Raising awareness of the salt and fat content of popular foods is important in our fight against obesity and diet-related diseases like cardiovascular disease (heart attacks, strokes etc.), the leading cause of death in the UK. Of course, surveys only serve to raise awareness; without co-operation from food manufacturers consumers will not have healthier choices available to them. Manufacturers have a responsibility to make the food we eat healthier, but this requires a collaborative approach.

If you are interested in cutting back on your salt intake, but can’t quite yet pull yourself away from the dips aisle, check out more info dip on the survey here. You can also download the free health app FoodSwitch, which lets you see whether a food or drink product is high, medium or low in fat, saturates, sugar and salt by scanning its barcode, and provides healthier alternatives to your favourite brands here.”

Here are some other ideas for some healthier dips that you can make at home from Jamie Oliver’s nutrition team:

About Sarah Anne Alderton

Sarah joined Consensus Action on Salt and Health in May 2016 as Assistant Nutritionist, and works on the FoodSwitch health app, helping consumers to make healthier choices when they shop, along with other salt reduction projects in the team. Prior to joining CASH, Sarah worked at the British Nutrition Foundation as an Assistant Nutrition Scientist, helping to develop online training courses, carrying out recipe analysis and writing blogs on child nutrition. She holds a BSc in Nutrition from the University of Surrey.