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Added vitamins lead to bad diets

October 1999

Leading food manufacturers are accused today of misleading consumers by marketing 'junk' foods with added vitamins and minerals as healthy foods.

A new report from the Food Commission says there is a growing trend towards promoting foods which are high in fats, sugars and salt as being 'nutritious' because they contain added vitamins or other nutrients.

The Food Commission's survey of 260 vitamin- and mineral-enriched products on supermarket shelves found that three-quarters were high in fat, sugar or salt, based on Department of Health guidelines. Products included sweet biscuits, chocolate products, soft drinks, confectionery, sweet breakfast cereals and hot drinks. The researchers found:

  • Jelly Tots sweets (Rowntree/Nestlé) 80% sugar promoted as 'with real fruit and added vitamin C'
  • Marks & Spencer Crunchy Puffs breakfast cereal, more than half sugar but promoted as 'fortified with vitamins'
  • Yum Tums Iced Gems sugar-topped biscuits (Jacobs/Danone) described as 'a nutritious snack with added vitamins and minerals'.

'Parents want healthy food for their children, but companies are cashing in on our desire to eat more healthily by adding vitamins to 'junk' food. Vitamins don't turn a fatty, sugary product into a healthy one,' says Dr Tim Lobstein, co-director of the Food Commission. 'These products undermine healthy eating advice to cut down on sugary, fatty foods and to eat more foods which naturally contain a wide range of nutrients, such as fruits and vegetables, lean meat and fish,' he says.

The Food Commission, an independent food watchdog, says the UK has one of the most liberal laws in Europe allowing vitamins and minerals to be added to almost any food, regardless of how healthy it is in the first place. Scandinavian countries restrict fortification to very few foods, and most other EU countries only allow limited fortification. The Food Commission wants to see nutrient fortification limited to where there are clear public health benefits.