From simple favourites like peanut butter or ham and cheese, to fancier creations like club sandwiches and panini – the sandwich is a classic convenience food. No cutlery needed – it’s a meal that’s easy to eat on the go – with a minimum of fuss or mess.
It’s a myth that the Earl of Sandwich invented the food. People were serving slices of meat on bread in the 17th century, and a form of the sandwich is said to have existed since the Middle Ages.
Today, sandwich breads are nearly as varied as sandwich fillings themselves. From the humble sliced loaf of white, to rolls, thins, and ciabatta – we’ve never had as much choice. But what about healthy choices?
Sandwich fillings are notoriously salty. Deli meats, cheeses, and condiments are each high-sodium food categories, and we combine them all in sandwiches!
But sandwich bread needs attention too. Many breads and sandwich rolls have sodium levels far in excess of WHO guidance. Some single sandwich rolls have 25% of the daily recommended sodium allowance – before anything is added to them.
We looked at the sodium in various sandwich bread types to see how they measured up to WHO and FDA guidance.
The WHO sets a sodium benchmark for all types of leavened bread (including both white and wholegrain) of 330mg per 100g.
The FDA has different guidance for white and mixed grain bread. All types of white breads have a recommended sodium content of 550mg per 100g. Wheat and multigrain breads have guidance of 490mg per 100g.
While you can make a sandwich out of any kind of bread, this term usually refers to standard sliced square bread loaves. The shape makes it easy to fit into packed lunches, and also matches the shape of deli meat and cheese slices for more convenient assembly.
White breads tend to be saltier than brown or wholemeal loaves. There are exceptions to this, however, one of the saltiest bread we found was a European supermarket multigrain sandwich loaf with 440mg of sodium per 100g. That’s one third over the WHO sodium benchmark for bread.
Several sliced loaves we found had 480mg of sodium per 100g. According to the USDA, the average US white bread has 490mg of sodium, with some as high as 526mg. That means a two-slice sandwich can typically start with 400mg of sodium in the bread alone, before any sauces or fillings are added.
This relatively new kind of bread is often a choice for more health-conscious consumers. Since these slices are much thinner than a traditional bread loaf, they have fewer calories. But the lower calorie count doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthier choice when it comes to sodium.
We found multiple examples of sandwich thins with higher-than-recommended sodium content. The saltiest was a premium brand of gluten free sandwich thins. Although this product would be considered a healthier choice by many as a “free from” food, its sodium content of 452mg per 100g exceeds WHO guidance.
Italian-style sandwich breads
Once, breads like ciabatta and focaccia breads were only found in Italian delis and bakeries. But these traditional breads have now found a home in mainstream supermarkets and cafés.
Panini – Italian-style sandwiches made on ciabatta bread – are so popular now they can be found on many QSR menus.
All the ciabatta breads we looked at exceeded the WHO sodium benchmark of 330mg per sodium. The highest sodium products we saw were both gluten free options: panini and ciabatta rolls. The panini rolls had 440mg of sodium per 100g, and the ciabatta rolls had 480mg of sodium per 100g. That’s 45% over the WHO sodium benchmark for bread.
Buns and rolls
US-style “sub” sandwiches – sometimes called “grinders” – are more popular than ever thanks to the success of QSRs that sell them. People who want to recreate their favourite sub sandwich at home can find sub rolls at the supermarket.
A well-known US hypermarket has single-serving sized white sub rolls that have 570mg of sodium each. This was the second most salty sandwich bread we found in supermarkets across the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia.
Many people prefer to build their sandwich on a roll. There are various styles of roll, from the plain “burger bun” to the “Kaiser roll”.
The Kaiser roll, a large roll with a crusty top, originated in Austria. They are now widely enjoyed in the US and Canada for both hot and cold sandwiches.
These wholesome-looking rolls can hide a salty surprise. We found a supermarket Kaiser roll with 550mg of sodium per 100g. That’s nearly 25% of the FDA’s daily sodium allowance in a single roll, before any fillings are added.
A similar option, the pretzel bun, is a popular sandwich roll. These can have even more sodium, with one single roll containing 580mg of sodium. Again, this is a quarter of the DV for sodium on its own. With fillings like deli meat and cheese, and a side of potato chips, this lunch could easily take up your entire daily sodium allowance.
Slicing the salt out of sandwich breads
Salt is essential to the bread baking process. The right amount of salt is key to the texture and shelf life of the final product.
But many commercially prepared breads contain far more sodium than necessary.
With consumers looking for healthier options, how can bread producers significantly reduce the sodium in their products without affecting taste or function?
There’s a simple, clean label solution. Using Saltwell® as a simple 1:1 replacement for normal salt achieves 35% less sodium in bread and other baked goods. And delivers a the same smooth, natural salty flavour profile, without the bitter taste of some other lower-sodium ingredients.