More than half of snacks marketed as healthy are high in fat, salt or sugar

More than half of seemingly healthy snacks analysed by experts are high in fat, salt and/or sugar, prompting calls for more “honest” labelling.

Action on Salt assessed 119 snacks, including dried/roasted pulses and processed pulse snacks such as lentil curls, chickpea chips and puffs, finding some to be saltier than seawater.

Despite them being on average lower in fat, saturated fat and calories and higher in fibre than standard crisps and flavoured nuts, 43% were high in salt.

The saltiest product surveyed was Eat Real hummus, chilli and lemon flavoured chips – labelled “40% less fat, vegan, gluten free” – with 3.6g salt per 100g, and more than 1g salt in a single suggested serving (28g) – more than in two bags of McDonald’s small french fries.

The saltiest dried pulse snacks were Love Corn salt and Vinegar, and Love Corn habanero chilli, with 2.8g of salt per 100g. One 45g serving of either (1.3g salt) would provide more than a fifth of the maximum recommended daily salt intake and more than in 3.5 bags of Walkers Ready Salted crisps, the researchers found. Seawater contains 2.5g of salt per 100g. Excessive salt consumption has been blamed for thousands of cases of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Sonia Pombo, the campaign manager at Action on Salt, said: “We should all be eating more beans and pulses, but there are better ways of doing it, and eating processed snacks high in salt is not one of them. This important survey has put a spotlight on the unnecessary amounts of salt in ‘healthy’ snacks, and the use of nutrition claims on HFSS [high fat, salt and/or sugar] foods need to be questioned.”

Action on Salt said the majority of products did not display colour-coded nutrition information on the front of packs as per government guidance. But most featured nutrition claims, which, while legal, created a distorted “health halo”, discouraging shoppers from scrutinising the ingredients.

Nutrient-based claims, found on 81% of packs surveyed, included “X kcal per serving”, “less fat”, “no added sugar”, and “source of/high in fibre/protein”. A higher proportion (95%) included claims such as “gluten free”, “vegan”, “all natural” and “no artificial preservatives”.

Action on Salt said it was unclear whether snacks such as those surveyed would fall within the government’s plans to restrict the promotion of unhealthy foods, or whether that would be restricted to foods falling under the current sugar and calorie reduction programmes.

Eat Real and Love Corn were all approached for comment.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Last year Public Health England published new voluntary salt reduction targets to encourage businesses to further reduce salt levels in foods that contribute most to salt intakes. We are banning adverts for foods high in fat, salt and sugar being shown on TV before 9pm and have consulted on a total advertising restriction online of these products.”