/ Food & Drink, Health

‘One of your five-a-day’ – plus 40% of your salt allowance!

Close up of a ready meal

Some supermarket ready meals use five-a-day logos on their labels, even though they contain high levels of salt, sugar or saturated fat. Would you expect to see a five-a-day label on fatty or salty foods?

I thought I was pretty good at reading labels when I’m in the supermarket and deciding which products deserve a space in my shopping basket. It turns out that I still have a lot to learn, because I put my faith in the ‘five-a-day’ logos that appear on lots of different products.

My mistake was expecting that any product using a ‘five-a-day’ logo would be good for me. It’s got one of my recommended portions of fruit or vegetables in it, so it must be filled with vitamins and general healthy goodness. Right?

In a new investigation, we have found that some supermarket ready meals claiming to contain one or more portions of your five-a-day also contain a few surprises. Surprises like almost half your guideline daily amount (GDA) of salt. Or levels of saturated fat that would be high enough to earn a red traffic light on a nutrition label.

Help with healthy choices

Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day helps us maintain a balanced diet. The five-a-day logo is supposed to be all about helping food shoppers make healthy choices. If that’s really the case, surely it should not appear on a 380g ready meal that contains 37.5g of sugar.

I am genuinely surprised by our findings. I had no idea that food products could use a five-a-day logo even when they are high in saturated fat, salt or sugar.

It looks as though I’m going to have to start looking even more carefully at food labels. Especially if they claim to contain one of my five-a-day. I guess my trips to the supermarket are going to take even longer!

Do you think it’s acceptable for five-a-day’ logos to be used on products that would have red traffic light labels for sugar, salt or saturated fat? Are you surprised by our findings too?


Anyone who over-indulges in beer could point out that it can be a useful source of vitamins and minerals, contains little fat or salt and (in some cases) sugar. Unfortunately, we need to think about the energy contribution and the harmful effects of consuming too much alcohol.

It would be difficult to label foods as healthy or unhealthy because what matters is our overall diet rather than individual foods. Although it is unfortunate that a ready meal is loaded with salt, if it is shown as contributing a portion of fruit/veg it probably does.

I see three important issues relating to salt in foods:

1. We should be referring to the sodium content rather than salt content because sodium is what matters and salt is only one source of sodium. For example, monosodium glutamate is a common component of ready meals. I understand the EU will make this a requirement.

2. Bread is an important source of sodium in many people’s diets, yet none of the bread that I buy has any nutritional information.

3. Alternatives to table salt (branded low salt etc) are readily available. These typically contain a mixture of potassium chloride and sodium chloride (whereas table salt contains just the latter). Using potassium chloride in prepared foods could help cut our intake of sodium with little effect on flavour.

4. Using salt is very much a habit for many people, like taking sugar in tea/coffee. If children are brought up not to add salt, they will not miss it.

NukeThemAll says:
18 February 2013

I agree with all that you say Wavechange, especially the need to concentrate on sodium. Some cake products have shockingly-high leves of sodium, from the ‘baking powder’ (sodium bicarbonate) – culprits are often muffins. (And, no, a blueberry muffin does not count towards your 5 a day, folks!)

However, the problem with using salt substitues such as ‘Lo-Salt’ which is 2/3 potassium chloride, is that many people (myself included) cannot taste the potassium chloride very much – some people hardly at all. Some people can taste it but to them it leaves a strange ‘tang’ which can be unpleasant. I use it when baking my own bread and find substituting for the same mass of salt gives bread which tastes a bit bland but is perfectly acceptable.

I know some people leave salt out all together from home-baked bread (no need to change recipes, I’ve tried it myself, just omit the salt)


Thanks NukeThemAll. I use little salt substitute and had not really appreciated the difference in flavour or that people respond differently.

Another factor is that people are affected differently by sodium, so its most important that those who are sensitive keep an eye on their intake.


I regret we ignore the 5 a day as an instruction and buy food that we believe gives us a balanced diet. It includes fresh meat, fruit and vegetables as well as ready meals (but not of the value variety and from a hopefully reputable retailer). So I suppose I am a logo-sceptic.
I do agree about the salt habit which I have, although I long ago dropped the sugar habit in tea and coffee.
Salt, fat and sugar seem to be added to processed food that needs extra flavour because, presumably, the underlying food is not that great. Easily sorted by eating more fresh food – and not difficult to make tasty nutritious meals that are inexpensive and don’t need much in the way of flavour-enhancers. Schools should teach boys and girls how to do this so they can tell some of their mums.


No, I wouldn’t expect any of the ingredients to exceed 20% of the recommended daily intake.

Although “five-a-day” doesn’t mean you should eat five of the same item – 5 apples, say – no one product should grab more than a 5th of its fair share of unhealthy ingredients.

Brittany P. Hirsch says:
20 February 2013

Salt and sodium are “hidden” in a lot of the foods we love. Experts remind parents to look at the sodium levels in kids’ meals, as they can also be dangerously high and demand that your food providers offer low sodium options.


The trouble for me is that I have completely lost faith in what the supermarkets and manufacturers tell us is in food products. If they can do what they have done by including the most vile ingredients in the so-called value ranges of meat – and I dont mean just horse meat or pork in beef products, but the bits and bobs they add to fat to up the protein content, they can and will do anything to make a fast buck. as consumers we are being lied to consistently.


Nowadays we take the line that supermarkets ( and other companies ) are not to be trusted. Therefore labels, pricing claims and quantities within are not taken for granted. For as long time now we only buy food which has not been processed, as much as possible. Cheaper cut