Experts have warned that alarming levels of salt in cheese are contributing to an epidemic of high blood pressure responsible for strokes, heart attacks and thousands of early deaths a year.
Cheese can contain as much salt as junk food products, says Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH).
The campaigning group found a single portion of cheddar has a greater amount than a bag of crisps, while feta, halloumi and other popular types contain higher levels of salt than seawater.
CASH is calling for families to cut down on their consumption of cheese, and also demanding that the Government sets new guidelines for manufacturers to ensure lower levels of salt.
Cheese, which also usually carries high levels of saturated fat, is the third-biggest contributor of salt to the national diet, after bread and bacon.
Together, these alone are responsible for the recommended daily intake of 6 g – about a teaspoon – being exceeded by over a third. The average intake is 8.1 g a day.
Doctors say salt is a major factor in high blood pressure.
A survey of hundreds of supermarket products by CASH found that the saltiest option on the high street was Roquefort with 1g in a typical portion of 30 g.
Halloumi comes in at 0.81 g per 30 g, while feta has an average of just over 0.75 g per 30 g. All three are greater than seawater’s 0.75 g.
In an alarming warning for parents, processed cheeses, which are popular with children, also showed high levels.
Iceland Cheese Food Slices carry more salt in one 20 g portion – 0.56 g – than in a packet of crisps.
However, CASH did find that it is possible for shoppers to switch to relatively low-salt or even salt-free cheese for a healthier option.
Director Katherine Jenner said: “It’s worth looking at the label and choosing a lower-salt version of your favorite cheese, or just use a little less next time you get the grater out.”
CASH chairman Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute in London, said: “We urge the Government to stop dragging its heels and set new, lower, targets for cheese manufacturers to work towards.
“Even small reductions will have large health benefits.
“For every 1g reduction in population salt intake we can prevent 12,000 heart attacks, stroke and heart failure, half of which would have been fatal.”
Director of the Dairy Council, Dr. Judith Bryans, said: “People have been being nourished by cheese sandwiches for many years.
“No one should eat too much of anything, but cheese and dairy are an important part of a healthy diet.”