June 18, 2024


The food dudes

6 healthy foods that might not be quite so good for you

Glass bottle of banana smoothie and a banana - Westend61
Glass bottle of banana smoothie and a banana – Westend61

Pastel pink and as cute as a button, is there a more recognisable sweet than Percy Pig? Conceived in 1992 and sold by Marks & Spencer, the brand of gummy sweets has come to dominate the confectionery market; in 2018, it was estimated that 10 million bags were sold in the UK every year. 

Hence the national schism caused by Henry Dimbleby, who has accused Percy Pig packaging of being “genuinely misleading”. The Leon co-founder, who has been tasked by the government to lead a review of the British food system, spoke of his “bugbear” about the sweet at the launch of his National Food Strategy, citing it as an example of products whose labels are “increasingly littered with boasts that, if not quite white lies, are at least wilfully misleading.”

In the case of Percy, those include claims of containing no artificial colours or flavourings – which while true do not, Dimbleby’s strategy report claims, go far enough to highlight the sweets’ high sugar content. 

It is of course a stretch to consider any sweet a healthy option, but Dimbleby believes more should be done to make nutritional values more transparent across the industry.

“‘Low fat’ often means high starch, but it never says so. The words ‘free from’ and ‘less’ are sprinkled around without context. ‘Free from’ refined sugar, but rigid with fruit sugars? Nutritional values are given ‘per portion’, even when a portion bears no resemblance to the quantity on offer.”

The report also criticises Innocent’s Juicy Water label for saying ‘no added sugar’, despite containing over eight teaspoons of natural sugars from grapes and pears.

With the public’s health of utmost importance, such transparency feels more crucial than ever – and foods that we might assume are healthy don’t always paint the full picture of what’s inside. Such as…


A bowl of granola with milk and berries on wooden, blue background - Claudia Totir
A bowl of granola with milk and berries on wooden, blue background – Claudia Totir

Commonly considered a healthy breakfast option (at least compared to cocoa rice puffs and sugar-coated cornflakes), granola is often celebrated for its generous oat and nut content and high levels of fibre. However many brands are laden with sugar from ‘natural’ sources such as honey and maple syrup.

Deliciously Ella Original Granola, for example (£3.99 for 500g, Holland & Barrett) is part of a range aimed at health-conscious consumers and made to gluten-free, dairy-free and additive-free recipes; yet its sugar content is 15.9g – just over three teaspoons – per 100g, thanks to date syrup and maple syrup in the mix. By contrast, Low Carb® Blueberry & Coconut Crunchy Granola (£5.08 for 500g, Carbzone), contains just 3.6 grams of sugar per 100g.

Thankfully, many brands including Jordans, Dorset Cereals and Kelloggs are now releasing low-sugar cereals, so there is plenty of choice. 


Thick drop of yogurt falling from a spoon - EyeEm
Thick drop of yogurt falling from a spoon – EyeEm

Rich in protein, cultures and healthy fats, yogurt is another popular healthy choice, but many low-fat shop-bought versions (flavoured and otherwise) contain high levels of sugar. 

Total Greek 0% Fat Free Yogurt with Honey (£1 for 170g, Tesco) boasts gut-friendly live cultures but contains a whopping 18.8 grams per 100g, making up 40 per cent of our recommended daily allowance. Meanwhile, despite having ‘no added sugar’ stamped all over the box, Danone Activia 0% Fat Peach Yogurt (£1 for four 125g pots, Asda) is far from sugar-free. The label reveals that each 125g pot contains 9g (about two teaspoons) of sugar.

Swapping dairy for soya-milk yogurt, such as Alpro Soya Strawberry Yogurts (£1.90 for four 125g pots, Tesco) with ‘added calcium and vitamins’ might be considered a healthy choice, but each pot contains 9.9g of sugar. By contrast, Arla Skyr Icelandic Style Yogurt Natural (£1 for 450g, Sainsbury’s), is thick in texture and contains over double the protein per 100g (at 10.6g), and almost half the sugar (4g per 100g, just under a teaspoon).

Ready-made smoothies 

Glass bottle of banana smoothie and a banana - Westend61
Glass bottle of banana smoothie and a banana – Westend61

All fruit juices and smoothies contain a naturally occurring sugar called fructose. If taken from whole fruit, fructose doesn’t add to your intake of free (or added) sugar, but in fruit juice or a smoothie it does. This is due to high levels of fruit purée and concentrated juice. 

Naked Blue Machine Smoothie (£4 for 750ml, Sainsbury’s) has a label that claims it is ‘boosted with vitamins’. It contains only ‘naturally occurring sugars’ from apples, banana, blueberries, blackberries, blackcurrants and goji berries – all good things, but as such it tips some fizzy drinks for its sugar content: 10g of sugar per 100ml, and just over 15 teaspoons in a full 750ml bottle. 100ml of Lilt, for example, contains 4.6g sugar. 

A 250ml glass of Innocent Pomegranate Magic smoothie (£3 for 750ml, Sainsbury’s) contains 34g of sugar (6.8 teaspoons): thats four grams more than an adult’s recommended daily amount. Coca Cola, containing 27g of sugar per 250ml bottle, is left quaking in its wake. 

A less sugary option might be Savse Protein Punch smoothie (£2.95 for 250ml, Sainsbury’s): while still containing 12g – 2.4 teaspoons – per 250ml bottle (under 5g per 100ml), this smoothie has considerably lower levels of the sweet stuff compared to other brands on the market, and contains over 5g of protein, thanks to whey protein, coconut milk and maca (Peruvian ginseng). 

Flavoured water

Two glasses of infused water with lemon slices, blueberries - Getty Images
Two glasses of infused water with lemon slices, blueberries – Getty Images

Sounds pure and virtuous, doesn’t it? Yet flavoured water is not generally sugar free. 

Children are often tempted by the brightly coloured packaging of the Volvic range; however, one 250ml serving of Volvic Juicy Orange natural mineral water (£1 for 1 litre, Tesco) – which bills itself as a ‘still natural water mineral drink’ – contains 10.4g of sugar. Each litre bottle contains 41.6g of sugar – that’s about eight teaspoons.

Robinsons Fruit Shoots Blackcurrant & Apple No Added Sugar (£3.50 for 15 x 200ml, Iceland) is another classic choice for children. On the label, the sugar level is relatively low at 0.8g per 100ml, but Fruit Shoots contain Acesulfame K. Sucralose, an artificial sweetener that some scientific studies have shown may increase the risk of developing systemic chronic inflammation. 

A better option might be DASH flavoured water with wonky cucumber (£14.99 for 12 x 330ml, dash-water.com), a British-made sparkling water infused with a whole ‘wonky’ cucumber that would otherwise go to waste. At just 2 kcal per can and no sugar or saturated fat, it’s a good choice for a refreshing and healthy sip. 

Shop-bought sushi

Maki sushi and California roll - Maximilian Stock
Maki sushi and California roll – Maximilian Stock

Fish, rice and vegetables: healthy ingredients all-round. But shop-bought sushi relies on preservatives to keep fish fresh including rice vinegar and trace amounts of alcohol. The salt level can be high due to a liberal splash of dark or light soy, so it’s worth keeping an eye out if you are watching your salt intake.

Asda Sushi Fish Collection (169g for £2), is high in salt (2.2g per pack), and also contains a high level of sugar – an eyebrow-raising 16g per pack. Tesco Salmon, Prawn & Mackerel Sushi (£3 for 224g) joins the ranks with high sugar and salt content, delivering 10.5g sugar and 1.7g salt per pack. A better option, perhaps, is Waitrose Taiko Sushi Mini Nigiri (£3 for 100g) which comes in much lower at 3.1g of sugar per pack, and 1.4g salt. 

Low-calorie packaged sandwiches

Smoked Salmon Bagel - Getty Images
Smoked Salmon Bagel – Getty Images

Sandwiches are a classic choice for an on-the-go lunch that many of us, even those on a diet, cannot resist. Supermarkets and brands have kept up to date with customer requests for low-fat options, extending the ‘Eat Well’ and ‘Better Life’ ranges.

I’ve always found the so-called ‘war on carbs’ to be confusing for the modern consumer (just ask anyone who now avoids potato because “It’s a carb and I don’t do carbs”) so it’s useful to note that processed carbs including white bread and pasta, eaten in large quantities, are known to cause weight gain. This is thanks to the addition of sugar, a common ingredient in most shop-bought varieties. 

Thankfully, many supermarkets have adapted by releasing  sandwiches and wraps made with wholemeal, rye or spelt bread. Fibre is a vital part of a healthy diet and these varieties are not only marginally better for the body than traditional white but taste good, too. 

Boots Shapers Prawn Mayo Sandwich (£2.99) might be low in calories at 288kcal, but there is nearly 7g of saturated fat within its fluffy wholemeal bread, while Waitrose Love Life Cheese & Tomato Sandwich (£1.80 for a pack of two) offers a lunchtime favourite with its low-calorie version of a cheese and tomato sandwich. Inside you’ll find 3.5g of saturated fat and 5.5g of sugar.

On the lighter side is Marks & Spencer Count on Us tuna sandwich (in-store only) which contains 2.7g of total fat, of which only 1g is saturated.