Hospital meals high in salt and fat, says Which?Survey reveals many canteens lack healthy options

23 October 2008

Hospital care

Being prepared can make your hospital stay easier

Some hospital canteens are regularly serving meals with too much salt and saturated fat, according to a new Which? report.

We sent dietitians to test catering facilities at 21 hospitals across the UK.

Measured against Food Standards Agency (FSA) guidelines, 18 of the 21 main meals (86%) contained too much salt, 14 (67%) contained too much saturated fat and 11 (52%) contained too much fat.

High fat hospital food

Which? also surveyed more than 1,500 people who had eaten in a hospital canteen in the previous year.

Around one in five were disappointed with the options available. One customer said: ‘Lots of dishes in the canteen were served with chips and high in fat. This surprised me, as the hospital is dedicated solely to heart surgery.’

Only four of the 21 hospitals Which? investigated highlighted a healthy option on their menu. Vegetarian hot meals were sold at all hospitals visited by the dietitians, but in 13 cases they were cheese-based and high in fat.

Good hospital practices

It isn't all bad news as 47% of those surveyed thought the quality of hospital canteen food was excellent or good. 

Which? researchers did find examples of good practice. Two hospitals - East Surrey Hospital and University College Hospital, London - provided meals within FSA guidelines; three hospitals provided nutrition labelling, making it easier for people to choose healthier options; and five had healthy eating promotions around the hospital.

The NHS is the largest employer in the UK, with around 1.5 million staff. It serves more than 300 million meals a year, mainly to staff, visitors and out-patients in hospital canteens.

Better food labelling

Nikki Ratcliff, Head of Services Research at Which?, says: ‘Hospitals have a responsibility to serve and promote healthy food, so the situation at the moment is farcical. Although we did find some examples of good practice, most hospitals we visited really need to raise their game.

‘Our results show there’s a need for better sign-posting and labelling to help customers eat more healthily. We’d like to see nutritious options promoted, so the healthy choice becomes the easy choice.’

You can find out how to read food labels in our advice guide

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