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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 November 2007, 17:34 GMT
What's really in our food?
By Gregg Wallace
Presenter, What's Really In Our Food?

Women shopping in a supermarket
How much do we really know about our food?
Every year we spend 52bn on food. But given how much it can effect our health, our taste-buds and our wallet, it is remarkable how little we know about what is in it.

Are health products as healthy as they promise?

Why does junk food never fill us up and is hospital food actually causing some of us to get more ill?

In this series we went on a journey to answer some of these questions, starting off by looking at the packaging.

Labelling woes

Food labelling is something that gets all of us talking - as food companies, food regulators and shoppers battle it out to decide how to label the products we eat every day accurately.

On our journey we found out that you cannot always quite believe what it says on the tin.

Even the name of a product can hide the reality.

If you do get your magnifying glass out to check out the small print, you can make better shopping decisions
We discovered that it is okay for Marks and Spencer to call its chicken "Oakham chicken" even though it does not come from Oakham.

And it is perfectly legal for Tesco to call a product "crab paste" even if it has got more mackerel than crab in it.


But as we become more savvy about how we spend our money, the supermarkets and food manufacturers have responded to the pressure to tell us more about what is in our food.

Pick up a tin and it is covered in nutritional labelling, long ingredient lists, traffic light labels, and guideline daily amounts.

The information is there, but you need to take time to read it. If you do get your magnifying glass out to check out the small print, you can make better shopping decisions.

Balanced diet

At the other end of the spectrum the British public is still in the throes of an extended love-affair with junk food.

In moderation, junk food need not be bad for us
We spend billions of pounds a year on fast food and our addiction is fuelling an obesity crisis.

Almost one in four adults is now classed as obese. We asked a fitness instructor to eat nothing except junk food for nine days while continuing to train and watched how her fitness levels were significantly reduced.


But we adore junk food. Do we really have to give up all those burgers, pizzas and kebabs?

The answer from all the senior dieticians and experts we asked was: "you don't have to." Instead, we just need to eat it in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet.

Quick food

And what about ready meals? With greater pressure on our time, we spend less time cooking nowadays than we used to and the market for ready meals has soared.

We now eat 15 million of them a week.

Now I have always been a bit suspicious of ready meals. They have a reputation for being high in salt and fat and low on taste.

But when I had a close look, I found out that increasingly firms are reducing the salt and sometimes even the fat levels and they are pulling in celebrity chefs to design recipes and improve their image.

I tasted more ready meals in the making of this programme than I have ever done before, and I have to admit, despite the fact I started off hating them, they were not all that bad.

But I am still worried about what they are doing to our country's cooking skills.

Hospital meals

Somewhere else not necessarily known for giving us fabulous food is hospitals.

Simple things like serving food cold or delivering the dishes in the wrong order can put patients off their food
Let us face it, their reputation has left something to be desired.

We decided to investigate amid widespread evidence that patients are being failed by the quality of the food they are served.

Research suggests that 40% of old people go in to hospital malnourished, but the risk of being malnourished actually rises to up to 60% once they are in hospital.


We asked a patient to film undercover in hospital and found out that simple things like serving food cold or delivering the dishes in the wrong order can put patients off their food.

We also show how some hospitals are re-training staff in how to feed a patient to ensure that vulnerable people do not end up malnourished.


Finally, something else we are eating more and more of is health food. We might like burgers, but we also like goji berries and fruit shakes.

The food industry is making about 4.5bn a year from healthy eating.

But we found that some of the claims made about healthy food are made on the basis of rather thin evidence.

For instance, loads of us buy expensive yogurts or margarines with added pro-biotics but the scientific jury is still out on how effective these foods are.

And many dieticians do not believe there is such a thing as "superfoods", describing it instead as a marketing term to get us to part with more of our cash on expensive products.

What's Really In Our Food was broadcast on Monday 26 to Friday 30 November 2007 at 0915 GMT on BBC One

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