High street lunch meal deals 'can contain up to 30 teaspoons of sugar'

Health group criticises retailers including WH Smith, Tesco and Morrisons for mix and match deals containing calorific snacks

Some high street lunch meal deals contain the equivalent of up to 30 teaspoons of sugar, according to a survey by a health group which criticises retailers for including super-sized fizzy drinks and calorific snacks such as chocolate and sweets.

Consumers could be putting their health at serious risk by eating and drinking such high sugar combinations on a daily or regular basis, said Action on Sugar.

The worst offenders among the popular “mix and match” offers were two meals from WH Smith and Tesco that each contained 30 teaspoons of sugar – the same as in 79 chocolate fingers, and more than four times an adult’s daily maximum recommended intake.

At the start of this year’s Sugar Awareness Week, Action on Sugar is calling on retailers to ban all drinks and confectionery that would attract a red traffic light label (indicating it is high in sugar) from such cut-price combinations, and to include wider choices of healthy options such as fresh fruit and water.

It points out that by making healthy choices, shoppers can opt for a meal containing just one or two teaspoons of sugar.

The WH Smith combination highlighted is a tuna and sweetcorn on malted brown bread sandwich with a Mountain Dew citrus blast 500ml drink and a bag of Skittles Crazy Sours – a meal containing 811 kcal.

Another “shocking” example cited is Tesco’s smokehouse pulled chicken with Mesquite style sauce, washed down with a Monster Energy 500ml drink and Mars Duo chocolate bar – a meal containing 1,004 kcal.

Others laden with sugar were Morrisons’ sweet chilli chicken wrap with Relentless Passion Punch Energy 500ml drink and millionaire shortbread (28 teaspoons of sugar and 1,048 kcal), and the Co-op’s black bean pulled beef and noodle meal pot with Rockstar Xdurance blueberry pomegranate acai energy 500ml drink and rocky road bar (28 teaspoons of sugar and 855 kcal).

“Eating too much sugar is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay,” said Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar. “Supermarkets pretend to be on the side of their customer’s health to encourage loyalty, but this survey clearly shows that they are not.”

Registered nutritionist Kawther Hashem, researcher at Action on Sugar, added: “These excessively high sugar combos can have a detrimental effect on people’s health, particularly if eaten daily.”

Its meal deal survey includes seven high sugar and seven lower sugar meal deals offered by major retailers. In total, 72% of meal deal drinks sold at Morrisons were found to be high in sugar per drink, compared with just 38% at Marks & Spencer, which offers the lowest proportion of high sugar drinks.

Some drinks contained up to 70g of sugar, the survey said, and were frequently offered in 500ml portions – two servings – despite being sold as part of a lunch meal.

WH Smith was also criticised for not not providing any healthy snack options.

But WH Smith said the example given in the survey was “extreme and wholly unrepresentative of what our customers purchase – making up only 0.004% of meal deals sold”. The retailer said its meal deal was “incredibly popular and contains a number of healthy eating options, including sandwiches and salads”.”

A Morrisons spokesperson said: “We offer thousands of meal deal combinations for just £3, many of which include low sugar and sugar-free drink options.”


Rebecca Smithers Consumer affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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