Large amounts of unnecessary salt are being added to cheese, the health pressure group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash), has warned.
The group analysed 722 cheese portions of 30g each and found many contained more salt than a bag of crisps.
The saltiest type was roquefort at 1.06g per 30g. But within varieties salt content varied – suggesting it is possible to reduce levels.
The Dairy Council said cheese provided a wide range of nutrients.
Too much salt is known to raise blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The survey looked at over 30 different cheese varieties from seven supermarkets over four months up to November 2012, assessing salt content in a standard 30g portion size.
The saltiest cheese varieties were the blue cheese Roquefort, with 1.06g of salt in a 30g portion, feta and halloumi.
The cheese varieties with the lowest salt levels were mozzarella, emmental and wensleydale.
Within cheese varieties there was also a large variation in salt content between products.
- Recommended daily maximum: 6g
- Roquefort, 30g portion: 1.06g salt
- Bacon rasher: 0.9g
- Halloumi, 30g: 0.81g
- Seawater, 30g: 0.75g
- Cheddar, 30g: 0.52g
- Packet of crisps: 0.5g
- Mozzarella, 30g: 0.30g
The survey found that for gorgonzola, one cheese product was nearly six times saltier than the least salty, and large differences were also seen in wensleydale and cheddar.
Cash said salt intake should be less than 6g a day – about a teaspoon – and urged consumers to choose either a lower salt version or eat less cheese.
Cash chairman Prof Graham MacGregor said: “Even small reductions will have large health benefits. For every one gram reduction in population salt intake we can prevent 12,000 heart attacks, stroke and heart failure, half of which would have been fatal.
“The Department of Health must now stop its delaying tactics and set new much lower targets for cheese manufacturers, and make sure they achieve them. The cheese industry must comply if we are to save the maximum number of lives”
Benefits of cheese
But others warned the conclusions Cash has drawn from its research paint an incomplete picture.
Dr Judith Bryans, director of the Dairy Council, a non-profit-making organisation, said: “The Cash survey is mixing up the effect of cheese on health with the effect of salt on health.
“Cheese provides a wide range of nutrients including protein, vitamins and important minerals such as calcium.
“Salt is an integral part of the cheese-making process. It is not added for taste or flavour but for safety and technical reasons.
“Cheese manufacturers have worked very hard to reduce salt levels in their products and worked constructively and positively with government agencies to do this whilst producing products which are nutritious, safe and acceptable to the consumer.”
Around 700,000 tonnes of cheese are consumed by UK households a year, and cheese is the third biggest contributor of salt to the UK diet after bacon and bread.
The Department of Health said it was tackling salt levels in food.
Public Health Minister Anna Soubry said: “Soon we will have a single front-of-pack labelling scheme which will make it easier for people to compare products, and choose the healthier options available.
“Through the Responsibility Deal, we are in discussions with industry about how they can further reduce the salt levels in their food.”