Consumer group Which? has called for all manufacturers to use traffic light nutrition labelling and restaurants to display calorie content after finding that apparently healthy options are “no better than a burger”.
The watchdog tested eight popular lunchtime meals including sandwiches, pastas and salads from high street shops to find that some contained surprisingly high amounts of fat, salt and sugar.
Caffe Nero’s brie and bacon panini contained 624 calories, more than a McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese at 518 calories.
The bacon and brie made the panini high in fat (24.1g), saturates (12g) and salt (3.2g), while caramelised onions added to the sugar content of 15.8g.
Three of the sandwiches tested contained more than three teaspoons of sugar - Pret’s posh cheddar and pickle on artisan, Caffe Nero’s brie and bacon panini and Gregg’s Mexican chicken baguette.
Marks and Spencer’s chicken and smoked bacon salad on soft multigrain contained 694 calories and 37.1 gram of fat - more than a Pizza Express classic Margherita containing 683 calories and 22.5g of fat.
The study also found potentially unrealistic expectations about how much of each meal a consumer would eat in a single sitting.
Asda’s 290g piri piri chicken pasta salad contained two thirds of the recommended daily fat intake at 46.5g and had more fat than a Burger King bacon and cheese whopper.
The packaging said the pot contained three servings, but Which? said it was more likely that someone would eat this by themselves.
And the Morrisons 330g tomato and basil chicken pasta stated that it contained seven servings, but Which? said one person could “easily” eat this for lunch while consuming more calories and fat than contained in a Burger King chicken royale with cheese.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “People will be surprised to find some foods that many of us perceive to be a healthier choice are no better than a burger.
“We want all manufacturers to adopt traffic light nutrition labelling and restaurants to display information about calorie content of food, so consumers can see exactly what products contain.”