The Department of health is considering allowing thousands of products which qualify for amber warning lights for sugar, fat or salt to carry the government’s official five-a-day logo.
The controversial move is being reviewed under proposals to permit composite foods - including ready meals, tinned soups and pizza - to feature the logo in a bid to help more people meet the target.
A panel of experts put together by Public Health England has also discussed the option of allowing only food that would qualify for all green traffic lights under the DH labelling scheme to feature the logo. However, research showed only 2% of the composite products would meet the criteria.
In contrast, 25% of products which had at least one portion of fruit and veg would get at least “amber” lights - which indicates they are fine to eat “most of the time”.
The plans come amid concern over the low levels of fruit and veg intake in UK diets, with the latest results from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) showing the average adult aged 19-64 consumed just 4.1 portions a day on average. The figures are dramatically worse for younger people, especially teenagers, with just 7% of teenage girls and 10% of boys hitting the target.
PHE studied nearly 350 different categories of composite products, including baked beans, meatballs and lasagne, and found 40% contained at least one portion of fruit and veg.
But under the more stringent criteria (just green lights), only tomato soups and “healthier” Indian meals would qualify.
Professor Judith Buttriss, DG of the British Nutrition Foundation, who is on the expert group, said: “If the framework for the five-a-day target is set so high it excludes virtually everything then that’s not going to realistically help in getting more people to the target.
“It’s crazy that the average teenager is eating less than many young children,” she added.
However, one source admitted that the idea of recommending more ready meals, including foods such as risotto, sweet & sour sauces and Italian ready meals, would cause fears among the health lobby. “There are some who fear that in tackling one problem we will cause another.”