The data, released by Action on Salt, shows the saltiest takeaway main (beef in black bean sauce and vegetable noodles) contained a staggering 11.5 grams of salt—the equivalent of five Big Macs.
This amount of salt is reaching near-acute toxic levels.
According to the NHS, adults should not consume more than 6 grams of salt a day.
In terms of ready meals, the saltiest Chinese dish was Slimming World’s Chinese banquet rice, with 4.4 grams of salt per 550-gram pack—that’s more than two store-bought Pizza Express margherita pizzas.
As a result of the findings, whose publication coincide with Salt Awareness Week (12 – 15 March), Action on Salt is calling on Public Health England to take immediate action and resuscitate the UK salt reduction programme, including setting new salt targets, making front of packet labelling mandatory, and follow the lead of the New York City Board of Health, which requires chain restaurants to put warning labels on high salt dishes.
The campaign group says every one-gram reduction in salt intake prevents 7,000 deaths, 4,000 of which are premature, from strokes and heart disease.
Too much salt can raise blood pressure, which increases the risk of serious health problems.
Mhairi Brown, assistant nutritionist at World Action on Salt & Health, said: ‘If Public Health England is serious about protecting our health, they should consider following the lead of the New York City Board of Health, which requires chain restaurants to put warning labels on high salt dishes, or Chile’s Ministry of Health, which places warning labels on all high salt, sugar and saturated fat products sold in supermarkets.’
Sonia Pombo, campaign manager at Action on Salt, said: ‘Our data shows that food can be easily reformulated with lower levels of salt, so why haven’t all companies acted responsibly?
‘The lack of front-of-pack colour coded labelling on branded products makes it incredibly difficult for consumers to make healthier choices and that is simply unacceptable.
‘This week, as part of Salt Awareness Week, we are asking everyone, including the food industry, to think first and use less salt.’
Sarah Alderton, assistant nutritionist at Action on Salt, said: ‘Considering how many millions of takeaways and ready meals are eaten in the UK each week, the food industry must be held to account, with new salt targets set by the government to ensure the salt content of these meals is reduced to much lower levels, and fast.
She added: ‘If the food industry doesn’t comply, they should be made mandatory.’
Public Health England’s chief nutritionist, Dr Alison Tedstone, told the BBC a loaf of bread had 40 percent less salt than it used to.
But she admitted some household products were still too high in salt.
She said: ‘We’ve been very clear with the food industry on the importance of meeting the 2017 salt targets.
‘We’ll report on their progress this year and on any necessary advice to government on the next steps.’