The modern pizza was invented in Naples in the 1700s, and since then it’s conquered the world.
There’s something about the hearty combination of warm bread and savoury toppings that makes pizza the ultimate “treat” food. Plus, it’s the perfect party food – easy to share, and with flavours to please just about everyone. And everyone really does seem to love it; the value of the global pizza market is predicted to reach USD 233.26 billion in 2023.
Unfortunately, when it comes to nutrition, the mouth-watering content of a typical pizza can really it make it a salt bomb.
Each of the individual components of a pizza bring their own dose of salt, and once fully assembled, most pizzas are well over the daily salt intake recommended by the WHO.
Sodium benchmarks recently updated by the WHO set a limit for salt in pizza at 450mg per 100g.
A single pizza from a leading delivery chain has a whopping 6,702mg of sodium, with each 110g slice having 835mg of sodium. That’s nearly double the target amount for pizza, and 3 slices would exceed someone’s entire daily sodium allowance by 20%.
In a recent report by Action on Salt it was found that half of all pizzas sold in the UK contained the entire RDI of salt or more. When looking at changes in salt levels in UK store-bought pizzas, over the last 9 years in store-bought pizzas had only a 5% reduction in salt. The salt levels in British restaurant and delivery pizzas had over the same period (2014-2023) actually increased.
Let’s take a closer look at how each part of the pizza adds up to a big salt problem.
Bases and crusts
Salt is important for the taste of pizza doughs and has a vital functional role in regulating the yeast activity and getting the texture just right. However, like many bakery products, pizza bases and crusts can be unnecessarily high in sodium.
A recent study has found that the doughs of restaurant and delivery pizzas were as much as 2.23g of salt per 100g. This is over twice as much as the PHE salt reduction target of 1.01g.
The global sodium benchmark for Pizza bases and Pizza crusts as set by the WHO is 330mg per 100g. The perfect pizza crust is a matter of passionate debate. Some prefer the thin Neapolitan style, while others want a chunkier Sicilian or focaccia style base. A medium to thick crust means your pizza will be mostly bread, so the foundation is important.
Building the pizza from a high-sodium base makes it harder – almost impossible – to achieve a healthy sodium level in the final finished pizza. The WHO benchmark for sodium in a whole pizza is 450mg per 100g.
A 150g pizza base from a leading Italian brand contains 880mg of sodium, or 560mg per 100g. So, before we add a single topping or shred of cheese, we’re already over the sodium allowance for the whole pizza.
Creamy, stretchy melted cheese is the favourite part of the pizza for many people. Getting the optimal amount of stretch and coverage is a vitally important for pizza cheese.
Classic pizza cheese is mozzarella. There are other blends of shredded processed pizza cheese too, that can include provolone or cheddar style cheeses.
In the UK, the Public Health authority has set a maximum sodium target for Mozzarella used for pizza toppings to a level of 540mg sodium per 100g. The latest WHO benchmark for mature cheddar is 650 mg sodium per 100g.
Almost all pizza mozzarella, cheddar, and grated processed cheese products exceed those salt targets by a long way. A brand of grated blended cheese has 680g of sodium per 100g.
The WHO processed cheese benchmark applies to plant-based alternatives as well as dairy products. While plant-based cheese may be perceived by some as a healthier choice, we actually found one of the highest sodium products is a leading brand of grated mozzarella-flavoured non-dairy product – with a 920mg per 100g.
The choice of cheese when producing pizza is a key variable in the total salt content of the finished product. Recent research has found the amount of salt in mozzarella cheeses ranged dramatically with the highest in salt having 11 times as much as the lowest.
Tasty toppings are the crowning glory of pizza. The usual processed meats found on a pizza range from chicken or ham to slices of pepperoni. According to research, over a third of Americans order pepperoni on their pizzas, making it the most popular topping.
The processed meats commonly found on a pizza are some of the highest for added salt. Pork products such as sausage, ham, and bacon add delicious flavour to a pizza, they quickly add several grams of sodium too.
Cooked ham products – the kind you may see on a ham and pineapple pizza – are often over the recommended levels for their category. One supermarket roast ham has 752mg sodium per 100g. The sodium benchmark for these products is 540mg per 100g.
Let’s look at that US pizza favourite, pepperoni. One supermarket brand has 1520mg of sodium per 100g. That’s nearly 700mg over the WHO benchmark for processed meat at 830mg per 100g.
In the UK, study of delivery and restaurants pizzas found pepperoni and ham pizzas were the saltiest. The average pepperoni pizza had 9.26g of salt, with some as high as 21.38g of salt. That’s an eye-watering 8,552mg of sodium per 100g.
Traditional Italian Parma ham and Pancetta are other popular toppings and have high salt content. One brand of prepared diced pancetta contains 1140mg of sodium per 100g. And an organic Italian Parma ham has 1720mg of sodium per 100g. Again, far over the 950mg benchmark.
Tomato based pizza sauces are the most popular. We’re all familiar with the classic tangy blend of tomato passata, herbs, and of course SALT. The sweet acidity of the tomato perfectly complements the cheese and goes well with most other toppings.
Pizza sauces and tomato sauces (not concentrated) may have a max of 330mg sodium per 100g according to Public Health England 2024 salt targets and WHO 2025 sodium benchmarks. A passata product by an international pizza restaurant brand promotes a healthy “2 of your 5 vegetables a day” message on pack, while its sodium content far exceeds the WHO benchmark. Is it therefore a nutritional option?
A European brand of pizza sauce was found to have 480mg of sodium per 100g.
Like cheeses, pizza sauce is one of the most variable ingredients for salt content. Some tomato-based sauces have as little as .02g of salt per 100g, while others can have 1.77g of salt per 100g (708mg of sodium).
Putting it all together
Whether it’s chilled or frozen – delivered from a restaurant or cooked at home – a pizza is loaded with sodium and salt.
Sodium benchmarks announced recently by the WHO set a limit for sodium in Pizza at 450mg per 100g. We’ve seen the sodium in its composite parts, and when it’s all added up, a chilled or frozen pizza is very likely to exceed 450mg/100g.
Americans bought 92% more frozen pizzas in March 2020 than the previous March. The spike in demand even led to a frozen pizza shortage in the US. While they are undoubtedly convenient, frozen pizzas pack just as much sodium as delivery pizzas. A frozen pepperoni pizza from a leading brand has 600mg per 100g. A cheese stuffed crust variety has 480mg, and a premium salami and pepper pizza has 532mg per 100g.
Restaurant and home delivery pizzas can be some of the highest in sodium. Research found that out-of-home pizzas contained more than twice the amount of salt compared to supermarket pizzas.
A single 108g slice of plain cheese pizza from a leading delivery chain has 565mg of sodium. When you start to add toppings, that amount quickly stacks up. A pepperoni pizza from the same brand has 690mg per slice, and a “Works” pizza from another leading brand has 872mg of sodium per slice. Just a few slices of this pizza will put you well over your entire RDI for sodium.
Given that most people may have 3 slices in a meal, the salt piles up and can reach up to over half the recommended intake for a whole day.
The “free-from” and plant-based options aren’t exempt from the sodium problem. As we’ve seen with non-dairy cheese alternatives, many of these are just as high in added salt. A premium brand of arrabbiata vegan pizza has 504mg of sodium per 100g. A gluten-free vegan pizza has 544mg of sodium per 100g.
The easy, natural way to slice sodium out of pizza
From this short tour of its ingredients, we seen that producing pizza to meet sodium benchmarks is one big salty challenge. And the latest reports on salt levels in pizzas show that sodium reduction is desperately needed in the pizza sector.
Luckily, there is a simple solution to help meet the challenge. Swapping SALTWELL® – which is naturally 35% lower in sodium – into processed foods in place of PDV salt allows producers to significantly reduce sodium.
And because it’s a natural sea salt, SALTWELL® preserves the flavour and functional elements of the pizza dough, the meat topping, the mozzarella and cheddar cheese, the sauce base product without any bitter aftertaste found with other sodium reduction alternatives.