Ready meals and breakfast cereals often contain far more fat and salt than claimed on their packaging, according to new research that may make shoppers think twice about eating convenience food.
Laboratory tests found manufacturers of processed food often misled consumers, with some products having up to 91 per cent more fat than was stated on the label. Unrealistically small portion sizes encouraged people to underestimate the calories they were consuming, while some "healthy" supermarket products had more salt or sugar than economy ranges.
An investigation by Channel 4's Dispatches programme, which goes out tomorrow night, looks at Britain's £70bn-a-year food industry.
According to figures it obtained from the Government, the British have the worst diet in Europe and each year around 70,000 people die prematurely. Dispatches established that there is no legal stipulation on the accuracy of labels stating levels of fat, sugar and salt.
Instead, guidelines allow manufacturers a margin of error of up to 30 per cent on fat or salt content.
However, laboratory analysis showed some products substantially exceeded even these margins. Six samples of a Waitrose chocolate pudding contained an average of 45 per cent more fat than was stated on the label, with one sample exceeding the amount quoted on the label by 64 per cent.
Two out of six samples of Sainsbury's chicken curry ready meals were much fattier than shoppers were led to believe. One had a third more fat, whilst another had 91 per cent more fat.
A fifth of 43 products exceeded the margin for error on fat content.