Page last updated at 04:41 GMT, Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas dinner 'loaded with salt'

By Jane Hughes
BBC News health correspondent

Christmas dinner with salt per portion: Turkey 0.2g, stuffing 2.5g, gravy 0.6g, chipolatas 0.6g, smoked salmon 3.2g, bread sauce 0.7g, pudding  0.3g, Stilton 0.6g, crisps, nuts, olives etc 2.5g, Total 11.2g

When you sit down to your turkey and Christmas pudding this week, how much thought will you give to whether it's good for you or not?

We all know that the average Christmas dinner is not the most healthy of meals - but new research has revealed it contains more than 11 grammes of salt, almost double the recommended maximum for an entire day.

The group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), analysed an average Christmas dinner for the BBC and found high levels of salt in all three courses.

Too much salt can cause high blood pressure, which is linked to increased risk of stroke and heart disease.

Guinea pigs

We sat down with east London's Murison-Goodwin family for an early Christmas lunch, to see which parts of the festive spread present the biggest risk.

People are eating all this salt unwittingly and putting up their blood pressure
Professor Graham Macgregor
Our meal started with peanuts, crisps and olives.

Billy, eight, James, six, and Tess, three, tucked in with enthusiasm.

But within a few minutes, they had already eaten nearly two grammes of salt each.

We followed the snacks with smoked salmon on brown bread.

That was popular all round, but it turns out there is a price to pay for the tastiness of the salmon - even a small portion has more than three grammes of salt in it.

The turkey itself was not too bad when it comes to salt content, but once we had added supermarket-bought bread sauce, gravy, pre-made stuffing, and two or three chipolatas wrapped in bacon, the total for the meal was already more than 10 grammes.

What one family had

The Christmas pudding and brandy butter was fairly low on salt, but the Stilton and biscuits to follow brought the grand salt total to nearly 12 grammes of salt each.

That is nearly a tablespoonful in a single meal, enough to cause serious health problems if it is consumed on a regular basis.

Serious message

Of course, most of us don't eat that kind of spread more than once in a while, and CASH acknowledge that the salt content of a Christmas dinner will not do any harm if you only eat it now and then.

I'm sure we can get away with it once a year
Janet Goodwin
But they do say there is a serious message behind the research.

Professor Graham Macgregor, CASH chairman, said: "We don't want to get too worried about this - but our survey showed that, surprisingly, there's a lot of hidden salt in a Christmas lunch.

"The reason we are concerned about this is that people are eating all this salt unwittingly and putting up their blood pressure."

When we showed the Murison-Goodwins how much salt they had just eaten, eight-year-old Billy pulled a face.

"Yuk!" he said. "I can't taste any salt."

"I think it's amazing, because you can't really see the salt," said his six-year-old brother, James.

Their dad, Rob Murison, said he was surprised the total was so high.

He said: "We try not to put too much salt in our food, so when you see that amount, it is quite shocking."

But Janet Goodwin accused the researchers of being spoilsports.

"We don't have this sort of food every day," she said.

"I'm sure we can get away with it once a year."

The researchers themselves said they weren't trying to put people off their Christmas dinners.

But it does serve as a reminder that there are high levels of hidden salt in a lot of the food we eat on a regular basis.

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