Nutrition and Healthy Eating

Manufacturers are constantly developing and improving their foods to meet our changing needs and lifestyles. Over the last decade, huge social, economic and demographic changes have influenced eating habits. Increasing time pressures, higher disposable incomes, a rise in the number of working women, people living alone and smaller families mean an increased demand for great tasting foods which are quick and easy to prepare. After safety, taste and nutritional quality are the most important criteria for chilled food manufacturers who offer a wide range of foods including low fat nutritionally balanced products for the more health conscious as well as more indulgent products for that occasional special treat.


The amount of fat in any chilled food will vary from food to food reflecting the fat content of the ingredients used. For example, meat naturally contains fat, and so any meat-based food will also contain fat.

Current Department of Health advice is to cut down on foods that are high in saturated fats because too much can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood which increases the chance of developing heart disease.

Developing reduced fat options

Chilled food manufacturers are aware of these recommendations and, in partnership with their retail customers, take this into account when developing products and recipes. They also provide a further choice of reduced fat ranges for people who want to reduce their fat intake. The amount of fat present is always provided (in grammes) on the pack and usually companies provide information on saturated, mono and polyunsaturated fats.

Trans fats

Trans fats are a type of fat which occur naturally in some foods such as dairy products, beef and lamb. Most trans fats, however, are produced as a result of hydrogenation of vegetable oils, a process that turns liquid vegetable oils into solid fats. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavour stability of foods containing these fats but, during the process, trans fats may be formed which means that foods containing hydrogenated fats or partially hydrogenated fats may also contain trans fats.

Department of Health advice is to cut down on foods that are high in trans fats because, like saturated fat, they are thought to increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood which increases the chance of developing heart disease.

Replacing the ‘bad’ fats

Chilled food manufacturers in partnership with their retail customers, contribute to an ongoing programme to remove added trans-fats from own-label foods. Chilled food manufacturers have taken significant steps towards removing added trans-fats wherever possible by avoiding the use of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and by replacing ‘bad’ (saturated) fats with healthier oils. The growing area of catering has a responsibility of following the lead of this sector.

The amount of fat present in a food is always declared (in grams) on the label and most companies provide information on saturated, mono and polyunsaturated fats. The use of hydrogenated fat must also be declared on the label.

Trans fats consumption going down

In the UK, the consumption of trans fats has been declining and is below Government targets. Indeed the Food Standards Agency has stated that voluntary measures to reduce trans fats in food have resulted in such low consumer intakes that mandatory restrictions are unnecessary. Average dietary intakes in the UK have come down to just 1% of food energy – half of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s (SACN) recommended maximum intake. (SACN recommends that the average trans fat intake should not exceed 2% of food energy.)

UK consumption of trans fats is much lower than saturated fats which poses a far greater health risk for the UK population as the amount people eat is well above the recommended level of 11% – at around 13.3% and so there is now increasing focus on reducing saturated fat in the diet.


Sugars, such as sucrose, lactose, fructose and glucose, are a natural component of many foods including milk, fruit and vegetables. Many chilled foods contain natural sugars but some, such as desserts, will also contain added sugars. Just as chefs add sugar to selected savoury dishes to improve flavour, some manufactured savoury foods may also contain small amounts of added sugar, e.g. sweet and sour dishes, honey glazed meats, sweet chilli dips and some salad dressings.

By law, all sugars used must be listed in descending order by weight in the ingredients list on the pack and the total sugar content is provided in the nutrition information.


Salt (sodium chloride) has been used to preserve and flavour food for centuries. In recent years, however, the salt content of our diet has come under scrutiny because of the sodium content. Whilst some sodium is essential in the diet, too much is believed to have an adverse effect on high blood pressure which increases the risk of heart disease. As a result, the UK Department of Health and Food Standards Agency has recommended that we should reduce our consumption of salt to about 6g per day. It also recommended a reduction in the salt content of prepared foods, which was generally achieved by the chilled food sector by the deadline of 2010.

Using salt only when needed

Chilled food manufacturers are aware of this advice and, in partnership with their retail customers, take these recommendations into account when developing products and recipes. Salt is usually only added to foods when it is integral to the recipe.

The industry is working to reduce levels of salt where possible and in many cases has already achieved the targets set in government guidelines. Indeed CFA was delighted with findings from a 2007 survey of ready meals by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) applauding the sector’s approach.

However, not all sodium in our diet comes from salt. Sodium also occurs naturally in a number of forms (and in variable amounts) in a wide variety of foods and ingredients and, just as with home-made foods, some sodium may be present in chilled foods from the ingredients that are used, for example, in ham or cheese.