WE ALL LOVE PIZZA – BUT THERE’S SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE TUCKING INTO YOUR NEXT SLICE

Picture the scene – it’s a Friday night, it’s been a long, hard week, and the temptation is to skip cooking and go for something quick and easy, like pizza. Who could argue with that?

However, the amount of salt lurking in some of our favourite varieties makes for sobering reading. The campaign group Action on Salt analysed the salt content of over 1,300 pizzas from restaurants, takeaways and supermarkets. Its data shows that one in two pizzas contain a whole day’s recommended intake – 6g of salt a day, which amounts to roughly one level teaspoon, according to the NHS.

With so much of our dietary focus firmly on sugar and calories, you might not often consider your salt intake. But it shouldn’t be ignored: according to the University of Oxford, excess consumption is thought to be responsible for at least 2.5 million deaths worldwide each year.

The average Briton consumes 8.4g of salt per day on average, 40 per cent more than the recommended daily amount. If a Domino’s stuffed-crust sizzler pizza is your takeaway of choice, you would be racking up 21.3g of salt – three day’s worth – in one sitting. That’s more than is found in three and a half jars of olives.

Takeaway pizzas were found to be the worst culprits: even a basic Domino’s cheese and tomato pizza contained 10.77g of salt, and a Papa John’s double pepperoni stuffed-crust pizza contained 14.31g. But even “posh” sourdough pizzas from Franco Manca are loaded with secret salt: its spicy salami fried onion & chilli-infused honey one contains 7.18g, more than a whole day’s worth. A Zizzi’s rustica pizza margherita contains the equivalent of 1.2 teaspoons of salt.

The human body needs a small amount of salt in order to function properly, but overconsumption can have a negative impact on our health. High salt intake leads to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, responsible for one in four deaths in the UK.

“The lower you can get your salt intake, the better,” says Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary, University of London, and chairman of Action on Salt. “According to the Department of Health and Social Care, each one gram per day reduction in population salt intake saves more than 4,000 premature deaths per year.”

The guideline is 6g per day, but MacGregor says ideally it would be halved again to 3g per day.

What exactly does salt do to your body? “When you eat more salt, you retain more fluid in the body, and over the long term that extra fluid raises your blood pressure,” he says.

“High blood pressure is the biggest killer in the world. It kills more than 10 million people a year. Sixty per cent of all strokes are due to raised blood pressure, and 5 per cent of all heart disease – and they’re the commonest causes of death [worldwide].” Research has also linked excess salt consumption with kidney disease and stomach cancer.

The trouble is, most people don’t realise how much they’re eating. A study published last year in the European Heart Journal suggested that always adding extra salt to a meal knocks an average of two years off life for men and one and a half for women. But it’s the secret salt hidden in processed foods, takeaways and restaurant meals that comprises most of our daily intake.

“In the UK, 80 per cent of our salt comes from the food industry: processed food, bread, cereals, ready prepared meals, cheese, meat products… anything that’s in a package has salt added,” says MacGregor. “And then all the takeaways are stuffed with salt.”

Food manufacturers aren’t legally obliged to reduce salt content: salt targets are voluntary, and research from Oxford University published in 2022 shows that the use of salt hasn’t gone down significantly in the past eight years. Indeed, Action on Salt’s research shows that many of the pizzas they surveyed contained more salt now than they did in 2014.

Unlike the dopamine-inducing “sugar high” we get from sweet treats, there is no real reason our bodies crave salt, MacGregor argues. “The more salt you eat, the more you want, because the salt taste receptors get less sensitive,” he says. If you reduce your salt intake, food might initially taste bland, but it only takes three weeks for taste buds to adapt and become more sensitive to salt.

So, how can you cut back? When it comes to pizza, “a supermarket branded one is generally lower,” says MacGregor. For other secretly salty foods – soups, sauces, bread and cereals, for example – read the labels and try to make lower-salt choices. In your own cooking, Action on Salt advises using fresh and dried herbs, spices, black pepper, chilli and lemon to season food instead of immediately reaching for the salt shaker. Or the healthier option, of course, is to make a pizza from scratch yourself.

A lower-salt pizza to make at home

Angela Hartnett’s basic margherita pizza

Timings

Prep time: 20 minutes, plus 1 hour to prove

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Makes 

Six pizzas

Ingredients for six pizzas

  • 15g fast-action dried yeast, or 20g fresh yeast
  • 700ml warm water
  • 50ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of caster sugar
  • 1kg strong white flour or Italian 00 pasta flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 20g salt

For the topping

  • 450g tomato passata
  • 3 balls of buffalo mozzarella, torn
  • Olive oil, for drizzling
  • About 24 basil leaves, torn

Method

1. Mix the yeast with the warm water, olive oil and pinch of sugar in a bowl and leave it for five minutes for it to activate. It will turn frothy.

2. Sift the flour and salt on to a large flat surface, such as your worktop. Make a well in the centre and pour in 600ml of the yeast mixture. Using a fork, gradually bring the flour in from the sides and start to mix with the liquid. Once it becomes too hard to use a fork, flour your hands and start to knead the mixture into a smooth dough with a springy consistency, adding the rest of the yeast mixture if needed. Place in a large bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave in a warm place for about an hour, until it doubles.

3. When ready, remove from the bowl and with your hands remove the air by pushing the dough – this is called knocking it back.

4. This is ready to use immediately, but if you want to use it later, place in the fridge covered with a tea towel. It will keep there for 24 hours.

5. To cook the pizzas, preheat the oven to 250C/230C fan/Gas 9. Put in a pizza stone, if you have one, or a baking sheet to heat up.

6. Divide the dough into six even portions. On a lightly floured surface, gently roll each one into a ball and then flatten into a circle, moving the dough clockwise as you roll it out to a thickness of 1⁄2cm.

7. Spread about three tablespoons of the passata thinly over one of the bases, leaving a border.

8. Scatter over a sixth of the torn mozzarella and add a drizzle of olive oil.

9. Place on the heated pizza stone or baking sheet and cook for seven to nine minutes until the pizza turns crispy with golden-brown edges. Scatter with basil and serve immediately. Repeat with the rest of the bases and ingredients.

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2023-05-17T16:01:47Z dg43tfdfdgfd