Personal Finance

The fat shaming we should be doing

Most people in the UK eat too much saturated fats. That’s not my opinion – it’s on the NHS website. It raises your cholesterol and increases the risk of heart attacks. But as consumers are we being deluded by manufacturers and supermarkets who (entirely legally) camouflage the shocking level of these fats in everyday foods? Let’s stop shaming fat people and start shaming the companies that push these foods.

Jacob’s Mini Cheddars

The small 50g snack bags are sold as part of the £3 lunchtime meal deal at Tesco. The at-a-glance nutritional information says they are 15% of your daily recommended intake of saturated fats. But they are not. The fat information on the bag says it is for a 25g serving, which is only half of the Mini Cheddars in the pack. Eat the whole pack – which nearly everyone will do because, after all, it’s sold as a single person’s lunchtime deal – and you will be taking in 30% of your total fats for the day. And that’s after you’ve probably noshed through a cheese and ham sandwich, using up another 30% to 40% of your allowance.

Jacob’s does not even bother to use the red/amber/green colour-code warning system for the fats, sugar and salt content in this product. It just uses white for everything. It turns out that colour-coding is not compulsory, it’s just a voluntary thing that some use, some don’t. Jacob’s tell me it has made great strides in reducing the saturated fat content of its product, and that it “voluntarily provides nutrition information on the front of our Jacob’s packaging”. It insists the 50g pack is indeed two servings, not one.

Pizza Express supermarket pizzas

They sell around 35m a year, and the nine-inch, 275g, boxed Margherita pizza is the sort of thing that is aimed at a single person, priced at around £2.50. Pizza Express, to its credit, uses the colour warning system, but states that the pizza is “amber” because it’s 30% of your saturates intake for the day. Look more closely and it says the figure is “per half pizza”. Many, if not most, adults will eat the whole pizza, so it’s much more likely to be 60%.

That said, nearly all supermarket own-brand pizzas take the same line, presuming we all have sparrow-like appetites.

Houmous/tzatziki/garlic and onion dips

The celery or carrot sticks may be healthy, but the savoury dips are “salt and fat traps”. A £1, 230g, “essential” hummus dip at Waitrose has an amber warning that it contains 6% of your recommended daily intake of saturates. But along the side of the pot is a separate line that reveals the amber warning is if you eat one-fifth of a pot.

At Tesco, the slightly smaller pots say they are shared between four people. Really? It’s probably true that most people will share a pot of that size, but eating just one-fifth or one-quarter? Somewhat unlikely.

Meanwhile, across the board in supermarkets, chocolate bars are labelled as if you eat just one square or two of a standard-sized bar. And with biscuits it is assumed you daintily eat one or two before resealing the pack. Who are these consumers? Certainly not the averagely overweight Brit.

Action on Salt focuses on the harmful effects of salt rather than saturated fats but it agrees that the portion sizes used by retailers and manufacturers to calculate fat and salt content are “misleading” and “unrealistic”. Manufacturers should either sell the item in the portion size recommended on the front, it argues, or make the portion size more realistic and reflect that in colour-coded warnings.

Personally, I’d prefer manufacturers to put a note on the front of products warning: “If you eat all of this, you will be consuming x% fat” etc. That may make us rather more cautious about stuffing our faces with pizza, dips and chocolate.

Maybe products that exceed 100% of our salt or fat in one go should be sold in plain packaging, like cigarettes. And, ultimately, the lesson is that vast amounts of processed foods are just not good for us.

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