Five a day the 'unhealthy and salty' way

Statement from CASH on Which? Magazines Report

October 2003

Leading processed food manufacturers ¹ are now labelling and claiming that many of their canned foods such as baked beans, tomato soup and spaghetti in tomato sauce, count towards the recommended intake of at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. This goes against the Department of Health's current 5-a-day logo which can only be used on products that do not have added salt, sugar or fat.

Furthermore, many of these foods are promoted as being "healthy". This is patently untrue and seriously misleading to the public. Any potential benefit of canned fruit and vegetables, for which there is no evidence, is completely outweighed by their very high salt content ² and other unhealthy ingredients such as saturated fat and sugar.

Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of the Action group on Salt says "In my view, this is a deliberate attempt to jump on the healthy eating bandwagon by promoting foods that are clearly not part of a healthy diet, particularly due to their high salt content. Furthermore, there is no evidence that canned fruit and vegetables carry any health benefits - many of the healthy ingredients that are present in fruit and vegetables are likely to be destroyed in the food or canning process. These companies need to stop this labelling and unethical marketing immediately."

The salt content of some canned products is huge - for instance one small can of baked beans can contain 2.5 grams of salt. This represents more salt than is recommended for the whole day for a child, and is just under half of the recommended adult salt intake for the whole day.³ Many of these highly salted products carry special logos aimed at children.

High salt intake in children leads to high blood pressure in adult life. Already over 30% of the adult population in the UK has high blood pressure, which is the major cause of strokes, heart failure and heart attacks. For healthy eating, to prevent strokes, heart attacks and cancer for both children and adults the message is clear:
• Reduce salt intake in adults to less than 6 grams per day and much smaller amounts in children, depending on age.
• Eat less saturated fat and if necessary substitute monounsaturated fat.
• Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, at least five portions a day.
These food companies must act in a much more responsible way. If they do not, the Department of Health and Food Standards Agency need to take immediate legislative action to ban this grossly misleading marketing, particularly to young and vulnerable children.

Notes to Editors
The Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) is a group of medical specialists who are the UK's leading experts on the effects of salt on health. It is working to reduce the amount of salt in processed foods as well as salt added to cooking, and at the table.

¹ Which? Report, 'Behind the Labels' October 2003, pages 16-19
² The table below illustrates the high salt contents of Heinz and other manufacturers products.