Food and drinks are to contain ten per cent less sugar, fat and salt

The contents of vending machines are to become healthier.
The contents of vending machines are to become healthier. / Mitxel Atrio
  • The plan to combat obesity includes healthier school meals and 15 per cent less sugar in coffee sold from vending machines

Madrid. Under an agreement between the Ministry of Health, food and drink manufacturers and distributors, the restaurant sector, social caterers and vending machine businesses, within three years added sugars, saturated fats and salt in the most-consumed products will be reduced by an average of ten per cent.

The Minister of Health, Dolors Montserrat, says this “plan to improve the composition of food and drinks” aims to reduce the high rate of excess weight and obesity among the Spanish population, especially children, and fight against the principal chronic illnesses which are affected by excess weight and excessive consumption of sugar or salt, such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular illnesses (strokes and heart attacks, for example) and various types of cancer.

Manufacturers have promised that by 2020 they will have reduced the added sugars in soft drinks, sweetened fruit juices, dairy products and sauces by ten per cent, and by 18 per cent in mayonnaise. However, the reduction will only be five per cent for industrial bakery products, ice creams and biscuits. The biggest reduction - 21 per cent - will be in isotonic drinks.,

With regard to saturated fats, the producers will reduce these by ten per cent in ready meals and savoury snacks, but again there will only be a five per cent reduction in biscuits and industrial bakery products, sausages and cured meats. On the other hand, the manufacturers of those products have agreed to reduce portion sizes as well.

The biggest reductions in salt will be applied to meat derivatives (16 per cent), ready meals and savoury snacks (10 per cent), although it will be reduced by 13.8 per cent in crisps and just 6.7 per cent in vegetable purees and five per cent in sauces.

Vegetables instead of crisps

The fight against excessive sugar and salt is also being taken up by the bar and restaurant trade and companies which supply vending machines. The former have agreed to reduce the content of their sugar packets by 50 per cent and salt by 33 per cent, provide salt cellars with fewer holes and will not put sauces and dressings on tables unless clients specifically request them. In vending machines, the sugar content will be reduced by 15 per cent in all types of coffees and infusions.

The agreement, to which the companies are adhering voluntarily, includes 180 measures in all; they will reduce the sugars, fats and salt in 3,500 popular food products, which comprise up to 44.5 per cent of daily energy in the shopping baskets of consumers.

Bars and restaurants are also committed to using sunflower and olive oils for frying, providing olive oil to dress salads, increasing the use of skimmed milk by 50 per cent, substituting vegetables and pulses for chips, providing tap water on demand, reducing portion sizes and offering more fruits for dessert.

The vending machines will increase the choice of healthy foods on offer by up to 50 per cent and place them together with those which are low in sugar, fat and salt in preferential positions. They will also raise the presence of mineral waters in drinks machines from 30 per cent to 45 per cent.

Another revolutionary measure, if everyone complies with the agreement, will be in the sector of social meals, in other words the companies which provide meals in schools, hospitals, companies and homes for the elderly. Sources in the sector say they provide one billion meals every year.

They have agreed to offer a healthier menu, increase grilled and oven-baked dishes, lean meat and wholemeal bread, and use more pulses, fish, vegetables and fruit. They will also reduce the amount of precooked and fried foods.