Value of 'health foods' questioned: Survey reveals high fat and sugar levels

MANY products sold in health food shops are not much better for you than 'unhealthy' foods, according to a new survey. They include carob and high-fibre cereal bars with as much fat and sugar as chocolate, and 'veggie- bangers' with a higher fat content than meat sausages.

The booming health food industry is criticised by the Consumers' Association today for inadequate nutritional labelling and the often poor quality of advice provided by staff in shops.

Seven out of ten shops surveyed by the association sold the wrong homoeopathic remedy without inquiring about symptoms or referring to any books or leaflets, according to Which? Way to Health. Only one out of ten correctly told researchers that guarana, the new natural herb stimulant from Brazil, contains caffeine: four said it did not and five were unsure.

Which? says there should be at least one fully trained member of staff in every health food shop. Shops should also ensure they stock products with good nutritional labelling: many health food products have none.

A basket of less-than-healthy health foods collected by researchers in 50 visits to shops includes 'no added sugar' fruit spreads, carob chocolate, muesli and cereal bars, wholemeal pastry and vegetarian burgers or sausages. Refined white sugar may not have been added and spreads may contain less total sugar than ordinary jams, the survey says, but they often contain sugar from fruit juice which is as bad for teeth and as high in calories as sucrose.

While there may be some health gains from caffeine-free carob bars or higher-fibre cereal bars and wholemeal pastry, high levels of fat and sugar are common. A cereal bar may be as high in fat and sugar as a small Kit- Kat. Some vegetarian sausages contain 30 per cent fat, more than many meat sausages.

The death toll from paracetamol overdoses - higher than any other drug at more than 200 a year - could be avoided if manufacturers built in an antidote, Which? says. A 'safer' paracetamol, Pameton, containing methionine - which helps protect the liver - is available from some chemists.

At recommended doses paracetamol has fewer side-effects than aspirin or ibuprofen but an intentional overdose of the drug can kill, even after a victim has changed his or her mind.