Heinz fights for its claim that tins are good for you

Jeremy Laurance
Thursday 24 April 2003 00:00

Eating healthily requires razor-sharp judgement, an excellent memory and, now, it appears, rat-like cunning. As supermarkets begin to apply the coveted "five-a-day" logo to packaging to encourage consumers to eat more fruit and vegetables, the big food manufacturers are squaring up to take on the Department of Health over what counts towards the daily target.

Heinz was censured by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) this week over a poster displaying a can of tomato soup in which tomatoes protruded from each end of the can under the headline "5-a-day the Heinz way".

The poster, which also appeared as a magazine advertisement, claimed the soup contributed two of the five portions a day. But the ASA concluded that Heinz should have said the soup contributed just one portion.

The Heinz website makes it clear that the company considers one can of soup contains four portions of fruit and vegetables. It says: "The rich red tomatoes used to make Heinz Cream of Tomato soup mean a serving [half a can] counts as two portions of fruit and veg."

The authority rejected two other complaints, about the soup and Heinz baked beans and spaghetti, that the company was wrong to claim they were healthy because they contained "relatively high levels of added fat, sugar and salt".

The ASA said consumers would understand that processed products were different from fresh but that, in the context of the five-a-day target, they could count towards the daily aim for fruit and vegetable consumption. It noted that the advertisements encouraged consumers to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

A spokeswoman for the Health Department said the five-a-day target was intended to promote an overall balanced diet and thus no food item could contribute more than two portions a day, however much of it was eaten. In the case of fruit and vegetable juice and tomato puree, they could contribute only one portion a day. "It is about ensuring variety," she said.

The "5-a-day" logo can be used on canned, dried and frozen fruit and vegetables, as well as fresh and chilled, as long as they do not have any added salt, sugar or fat. This restriction angered the food industry which has lobbied to have products such as canned soup included on the basis that they contain substantial quantities of the healthy fruit and vegetables.

The Health Department has appointed a panel of nutritionists to consider the question. It is due to report later this year. The spokeswoman said: "The message to eat more fruit and vegetables is an important one, but this has to be balanced against the need to reduce consumption of fat, salt and added sugars."

To count towards the five-a-day target, a portion must contain 80 grams of fruit or vegetables. However, potatoes, rice, pasta, yams and cassava do not count. They are regarded as starchy, staple vegetables of which we already eat enough. Pulses and beans count but only once a day, however much is eaten.

The department offers the following guide on what counts as one portion: two satsumas, three tablespoons of frozen vegetables, one cereal bowl of green salad, one tablespoon of dried fruit or three tablespoons of tinned fruit.

* The World Health Organisation yesterday released a report which called for an advisory limit on fat to between 15 and 30 per cent of total calories and limiting sugar to 10 per cent. The sugar industry, which lobbied for a 25 per cent limit, claimed the WHO limit was not based on scientific evidence.

* In a report to be published today, the Royal College of Physicians says medical treatment of obesity should be limited to two drugs. It says orlistat and sibutramine may be used in certain patients, when other measures such as diet and exercise have failed.

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