Changing the conversation about health

UK’s top supermarkets ‘misleading shoppers’ on healthy food, investigation finds

The UK’s leading supermarkets – including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – are marketing some products as ‘healthy choices’ to shoppers when they’re laden with bad fats, sugar and salt, a new investigation has claimed.

The Radio 5 Live Investigates show saw researchers examining products marketed as ‘healthy’ by supermarkets

BBC Radio 5 Live sent researchers to the UK’s leading supermarkets and found that products high in saturated fat and salt were being marketed as ‘healthy eating’ products.

A ‘healthier choice’ vegetarian steak slice at Morrisons was found to contain almost 10 grams of saturated fat, around 50 per cent of the recommended daily intake for an adult.

A spokesperson for Morrisons defended the fat content saying the product ‘provides customers with a red-meat free alternative’.

Elsewhere, Tesco offered a “lamb hotpot” containing 8.5 grams of saturated fat, 45 per cent of the recommended maximum daily amount, in a part of the store labelled as “healthy and diet meals”.

This vegetarian steak slice was marketed in ‘healthy meals’ by Morrisons. The product contains around 50 per cent of the daily recommended amount of saturated fat for an adult

And a healthy-sounding edamame, coconut and lemongrass falafel, stocked in Sainsbury’s ‘healthier choices’ section, contained 6 grams of saturated fat per half a pack – around 30 per cent of the daily recommended amount. 

The British Dietetic Association said such labelling was “confusing” and “unhelpful” to customers and the Royal Society for Public Health
(RSPH) said supermarkets should be overseen by an independent regulator.

Charlotte Stirling-Reed, a registered nutritionist, told the radio show, she was ‘quite shocked’ at the how some products could be labelled as healthy choices, saying: “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 RSPH said it’s important that consumers don’t confuse vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free products as always a healthier choice. They are often high in salt, sugar and fat and can be highly processed.

Sainsbury’s puts edamame, coconut and lemongrass falafel in its healthier eating section…but half a pack contains almost a third of an adult’s recommended saturated fat daily intake

It said: “Supermarkets should be transparent about how they classify foods, and provide clear information about products.

“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 spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA) said: ‘It is unhelpful and confusing to the consumer, and supermarkets should avoid doing this.”

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

To listen to the full 5 Live Investigates programme, visitBBC Sounds