CASH surveyed 156 different ready-made salads and pasta bowls in the UK and found that 19 per cent of the samples contained more than 0.6 grams of salt per 100 grams - the target salt level for soup set by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Moreover, some of the salads and pasta bowls tested contained more than one and a half times as much salt as a Big Mac and small French fries (2.5g), said CASH. "Many people think of a salad as a healthy lunch," said Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of CASH and professor of cardiovascular medicine. "And in many cases this is true and we would encourage people to look out for low salt, low fat salads as a good lunchtime option. However, our research shows that there are some salads out there which really ought to carry a health warning, rather than be thought of as a healthy option." Salt is a vital nutrient and is necessary for the body to function, but CASH considers the average daily salt consumption in the western world, between 10 and 12g, far too high. In the UK, Ireland and the USA, over 80 per cent of salt intake comes from processed food, 20 per cent from meat and meat products, and about 35 per cent from cereal and cereal products. "This is an issue of customer choice," said Carrie Bolt, CASH nutritionist and lead researcher of the new study. "I think that many people are not aware how much salt is in these 'healthy' lunchtime choices and I would urge them to check the salt content of their salad and remember that the dressing may also contain large amounts of salt. When high salt dressings are used, and the dressing is already added to the salad, people cannot control the amount of salt that they eat. "People may have no control over the salt in their salad or pasta bowl, but they are able to vote with their feet and choose a lower salt one from a different outlet. This does mean comparing labels. "However, research has shown that only one third of consumers look on labels of products that they buy for the first time so we encourage all consumers to start checking labels," she added. The new research showed that these finished products were formulated to containing massively different amounts of salt, with CASH reporting that the worst offender was the EAT Thai Noodle Salad, which contained 4.4g salt per portion, equivalent to 74 per cent of an adult's recommended daily salt limit. Sourcing of lower salt ingredients was also highlighted as a means to cut salt in the final product. Bacon, cheese and ham were identified as key salt-rich ingredients which could be sourced differently. Dressings also contributed to the salt intake, with the report stating that this could add up to an additional gram of salt to the salad. "Saving 2-3g of salt a day may not sound like a lot, but research shows that people who reduce their salt intake by this sort of amount can reduce their risk of having a heart attack or stroke by a quarter," said MacGregor. "Cutting our salt intake in the UK is vital as for each 1g of salt we can cut out of our national average intake, we will save over 6,500 lives each year." Numerous scientists are convinced that high salt intake is responsible for increasing blood pressure (hypertension), a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) - a disease that causes almost 50 per cent of deaths in Europe. CVD is reported to cost the EU economy an estimated €169bn ($202bn) per year. Yet not everyone agrees with the science behind CASH's claims. Robert Speiser, director of EuSalt, told FoodNavigator last year that he strongly disputes the need for salt intake restrictions. Speiser's concern is that some regulatory bodies, such as the FSA in the UK, focus on certain scientific studies and neglect others. Indeed, many scientific institutions that hold opinions different to EuSalt, such as the Institute of Food Science and Technology, acknowledge that much is still unknown about the relationship between salt consumption and health. In addition, salt remains a vitally important compound in food manufacturing in terms of taste and preservation. In processed meat products, for example, salt is involved in activating proteins that increase water-binding activity. It also improves the binding and textural properties of proteins, helps with the formation of stable batters with fat, and extends shelf-life with its anti-microbacterial effects.