Letter: A lower-cost family diet can still be a healthy one

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Sir: I was most heartened to read your article 'The Sainsbury's trolly for pounds 46.62: could your family live on it?' (16 September) on the subject of healthy eating. It is only by such debate that we can create greater awareness of the need to eat more healthily. Our understanding is that about half the adult population of this country has been categorised as being either overweight or obese, often associated with eating either too much food or not the right balance of foods.

Sainsbury's concern is to encourage more people to follow the healthy eating principles of at least a third more starch than is the current average intake, at least five portions of fruit or vegetables a day and not too much fat. Our object was to give an example of a healthy diet for an average family, and for a family of four on a lower income (no more than pounds 140 per week). When we put together our healthy eating initiative, we were surprised at the lack of detailed data available for the diets of lower income groups in particular.

In selecting typical shopping baskets, we were not able to take into account individual preferences or tastes. Like the Merritts (who were featured in your article), I don't like strawberry jam but many millions do. We were merely giving examples, expecting people to adapt for their own taste within food categories.

Equally, it would be surprising if a family such as the Merritts, used to spending pounds 80- pounds 90 a week on food - twice the figure suggested by the National Food Survey for a lower income group - were not to be disappointed by the lack of variety offered by a less expensive diet. But a lower-cost diet can be more healthy than the current average diet (pounds 54.40 per week according to the National Food Survey 1992) if the principles we advocate are followed.

Above all, what your article illustrates is that a family must plan well when it is choosing to adopt a new diet, especially those on a lower income where flexibility is constrained.

Yours faithfully,


Director of Scientific Services

J. Sainsbury

London, SE1

16 September