Valentine's Day meals 'shockingly unhealthy', find health scientists

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Supermarkets are selling Valentine's Day meal deals containing "shockingly unhealthy" amounts of salt, sugar and fat at bargain prices, according to a survey.

One of Marks & Spencer's Valentine's £20 meal deals contains as much salt as six McDonald's hamburgers, while a £20 Waitrose meal of mussels, coq au vin, cauliflower cheese and a chocolate tart contains 118% of the maximum recommended intake of saturates, eight teaspoons of sugar and more salt than eight servings of McDonald's medium fries, Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) found.

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Cash found "excessive and harmful" amounts of salt, sugar and saturated fats in the majority of meal deal combinations it surveyed and called on retailers to "act more responsibly" and only offer discounts on healthier meals.

The saltiest meal deal combination was from M&S, which offers a starter, main, side dish, dessert, bottle of wine and a box of chocolates.

Cash found that its Italian Antipasto Delicatessen Selection, Gastropub gammon shanks with a rich orange and cranberry sauce, truffled cauliflower cheese and Dutch apple tarts would provide 7.16g of salt per person - more than an adult's daily recommended intake - as well as 120% of the daily maximum recommended intake of saturates and more than 10 teaspoons of sugar.

The box of chocolates adds an additional 161 calories and 14g of sugar per person.

A £15 deal at Morrisons consisting of Champagne and Scottish hot smoked salmon risotto, fish pie, chunky chips and chocolate and orange tarts contained 172% of the recommended saturates for a day, 10 teaspoons of sugar and more salt than 15 bags of ready salted crisps.

A deal at Asda, also costing £15, of Cornish camembert, pork and chorizo stew, mash, broccoli and cauliflower cheese and melting puddings contained more than 13 teaspoons of sugar and more salt than two store-bought Pizza Express Margherita pizzas.

Of the retailers surveyed, only M&S, Iceland, The Co-operative and Waitrose provided a small choice of unprocessed fruit and vegetables as a side dish or dessert option as part of the meal deal.

Sonia Pombo, campaign manager at Cash, said: "Retailers should have a duty of care to their customers, so it's very disappointing to see such a poor offering of healthier choices available in their Valentine's meal deals.

"Whilst Valentine treats are fine, there is no need to make it at the expense of our health. Many of these meal combinations provide an excessive amount of salt and calories, saturates and sugars, all of which put us at increased risk of heart disease, and could easily be reformulated, with much lower levels of salt."

Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Cash, said: "Salt is the forgotten killer as it puts up our blood pressure, leading to tens of thousands of unnecessary strokes, heart failure and heart attacks every year.

"The Government now needs to come up with a new robust plan that slowly reduces the salt content of all foods and stop the food industry from promoting unhealthy products and causing thousands of unnecessary deaths."