Supermarkets misleading shoppers on healthy food, say nutritionists

Products high in salt and saturated fats are being marketed as healthy by leading supermarkets, BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates has found.

The British Dietetic Association said stores including Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s were being “unhelpful” and “confusing” customers.

The Royal Society for Public Health called for an independent supermarket regulator.

Supermarkets said they were committed to “promoting healthy eating”.

BBC researchers visited the top five supermarkets in the UK and found Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco were stocking products high in salt and saturated fat in sections marked “healthier choices” and “healthy and diet meals”.

Morrisons’ “healthier choices” section contained a vegetarian steak slice with almost 10g of saturated fat – nearly half of the recommended maximum daily amount.

The supermarket said the item “provides customers with a red-meat free alternative”.

Sainsbury’s edamame, coconut and lemongrass falafel contained more than 6g of saturated fat per half pack – around a third of the recommended maximum daily amount – and was located in their “healthier choices” section.

In Tesco’s “healthy and diet meals” section, a “lamb hotpot” contained 8.5g of saturated fat, 45% of the recommended maximum daily amount.

Registered nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed said she was “quite shocked” at some of the items being marketed as ‘healthier choices’.

She said: “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with eating them or consuming them in moderation – but telling consumers these are healthier options is a bit misleading.”

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) said many products are being identified as “healthy” because they are vegetarian, vegan, free from certain ingredients, or have fewer calories.

Supermarket 2
Nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed

But, it said, many have high levels of fat, salt or sugar, and are highly processed.

“Supermarkets should be transparent about how they classify foods, and provide clear information about products,” the RSPH added.

“There must be incentives and penalties for presenting clear and accurate information. Perhaps there is potential to have an independent supermarket regulator. It is important that the good work done so far on labelling is not undermined.”

A British Dietetic Association (BDA) spokesperson said supermarkets had a “duty of care” to their customers.

“It is unhelpful and confusing to the consumer, and supermarkets should avoid doing this,” they added.

“They should be promoting and educating people to buy foods that actually are healthy – not just marketed as being so.”

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