Supermarkets are misleading their customers by marketing foods high in salt and saturated fats as healthy, an investigation has found.
Researchers for BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates found that products stocked by leading supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons were marking these items as “healthier choices” and “healthy and diet meals”.
But many items contained high levels of saturated fats and salt and the The British Dietetic Association said this was “unhelpful” and “confusing” for customers.
Sainsbury’s edamame, coconut and lemongrass falafel for example, which is located in their “healthier choices” section, had more than 6g of saturated fat per half pack.
This amounts to about a third of the recommended maximum daily amount.
Tesco’s lamb hotpot, which is also in its section for healthy and diet food, contained 8.5g of saturated fat which is almost half of the recommended maximum daily amount.
And Morrison’s vegetarian steak slice, which is marketed as a “healthier choice” and “provides customers with a red-meat free alternative”, has almost 10g of saturated fat.
Off the back of the investigation, the Royal Society for Public Health has called for an independent regulator for all the UK’s supermarkets.
Speaking to the BBC, a spokesperson for the RSPH said vegetarian, vegan and products that are free from certain ingredients or are lower in calories, are being marketed as healthy.
They added: “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 also told the BBC: “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.”
In a statement, Tesco said: “We are sorry that some of our products were mistakenly included under the ‘Healthy and Diet Meals’ sign and are rectifying this immediately.
All nutritional information is clearly listed on packaging to help customers make informed choices
“All nutritional information is clearly listed on packaging to help customers make informed choices.”
Sainsbury’s added: “Our range of healthier meals are currently stocked alongside our vegetarian and plant-based options. In some cases our signs were not updated to reflect this and we are putting this right.”
And a spokesperson for Morrisons told the BBC: “Our ‘Healthier Choices’ section provides customers with the option to buy an item that is healthier than a product that meets a similar need.
“A ‘Healthier Choices’ cheese will be substantially lower in fat than ones we sell elsewhere but might still carry a red traffic light label.”
i has contacted Morrison’s and the RSPH for further comment.