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Non-Essential (NEEDNT) food list, a new tool against obesity

New Zealand Medical Journal Friday 24 February 2012, 12:00AM

Media release from New Zealand Medical Journal

Researchers at the University of Otago, Christchurch have developed a new list of 49 'NEEDNT' foods as part of a treatment research programme for obesity.

The list, published in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal, has been developed primarily to help obese people more clearly identify those foods that are best avoided in a healthy diet and only eaten from time to time as a treat, or in some cases avoided altogether.

The researchers describe NEEDNT foods as those which are energy (calorie) dense or high in fat and/or added sugars, foods that are prepared using a high fat cooking method, such as frying or roasting, or those foods which have a large amount of energy relative to their essential nutrient (vitamin and/or mineral) content.

"This list of 49 common foods is a simple quick check to help guide the general public and health professionals to differentiate nutritious foods from those that are merely high calorie," says lead researcher and nutritionist Dr Jane Elmslie.

"Many people struggle to know what to eat if they have a weight problem. The advice out there is often complicated and contradictory. It can be quite difficult to understand the relevance of health-related product endorsements and the information on food labels." 

Dr Elmslie stresses this is not just another list of high calorie foods. "The foods on this list are high in calories, and they are also low in essential nutrients (vitamins and minerals), or are able to be replaced by lower calorie more nutritious alternatives."

The list of 49 foods was compiled using the National Heart Foundation and Diabetes New Zealand's 'Foods to Avoid', 'Stop Eating' and 'Optional Foods' lists, as well as the Canterbury District Health Board's 'Supermarket Shopping Guide'.

The list names the generic food, and suggests a healthier replacement or none at all. For instance some of the foods where there is no easy low energy replacement according to the NEEDNT list are: muesli bars, ice cream, cakes, chocolate, doughnuts, jam, honey, pies and pastries.

"Muesli bars are a classic example of how overweight people can be misled into thinking they're eating healthy food. In fact most muesli bars are high in calories, and fat and sugar, with minimal nutritional value. Essentially they are just another form of biscuit," says Dr Elmslie.

Dr Ria Schroder points out that, "simply avoiding NEEDNT foods is unlikely to be an effective weight reduction strategy on its own. However knowing which foods to make individual rules for, can help people think more carefully about whether what they are eating is nutritious and necessary, or just random recreational grazing."

The authors say that with 63% of New Zealanders now either obese or overweight there is an urgent need for new strategies or guidelines to deal with this growing health issue, and the NEEDNT list is one possible approach.

The authors intend carrying out further research to examine the impact of the NEEDNT list on overweight or obese adults who want to lose weight.

The complete NEEDNT list is in the table below.

For further information contact:

Dr Jane Elmslie
Research Fellow
National Addiction Centre
University of Otago, Christchurch
Tel: 03 3640480 or 337 7600 extension 33560
Mob: 027 646 0098

Dr Ria Schroder
Research Fellow
National Addiction Centre
University of Otago, Christchurch
Tel: 03 3640480
Mob: 027 201 7152

For a list of Otago experts available for media comment, please go to:

1.    Alcoholic drinks     Water/diet soft drinks
2.    Biscuits    *
3.    Butter, lard, dripping or similar fat (used as a spread or in baking/cooking etc.)    Lite margarine or similar spread or omit
4.    Cakes    *
5.    Chocolate    *
6.    Coconut cream     Lite coconut milk/coconut flavoured lite evaporated milk
7.    Condensed milk    *
8.    Cordial     Water/Sugar free cordial
9.    Corn chips    *
10.    Cream (including crème fraiche)    Natural yoghurt (or flavoured yoghurt depending on use)
11.    Crisps (including vegetable crisps)    *
12.    Desserts/puddings    *
13.    Doughnuts    *
14.    Drinking Chocolate, Milo etc.    Cocoa plus artificial sweetener
15.    Energy drinks     Water
16.    Flavoured milk/milkshakes     Trim, Calcitrim or Lite Blue Milk
17.    Fruit tinned in syrup (even lite syrup!)     Fruit tinned in juice/artificially sweetened
18.    Fried food     Boiled, grilled or baked food
19.    Frozen yoghurt     Ordinary yoghurt
20.    Fruit juice (except tomato juice and unsweetened blackcurrant juice)    Fresh fruit (apple, orange, pear etc. + a drink!)
21.    Glucose     Artificial sweetener
22.    High fat crackers (≥ 10g fat per 100g)     Lower fat crackers (≤ 10g fat per 110g)
23.    Honey    *
24.    Hot chips    *
25.    Ice cream    *
26.    Jam    *
27.    Marmalade     *
28.    Mayonnaise    Lite dressings/lite mayonnaise
29.    Muesli bars    *
30.    Muffins    *
31.    Nuts roasted in fat or oil     Dry roasted or raw nuts (≤ 1 handful per day)
32.    Pastries    *
33.    Pies    *
34.    Popcorn with butter or oil     Air popped popcorn
35.    Quiches     Crust-less quiches
36.    Reduced cream     Natural yoghurt
37.    Regular luncheon sausage     Low fat luncheon sausage
38.    Regular powdered drinks (e.g. Raro)    Water/Diet/Sugar free powdered drinks
39.    Regular salami     Low fat salami
40.    Regular sausages     Low fat sausages
41.    Regular soft drinks     Water/Diet soft drinks
42.    Rollups     Fresh fruit
43.    Sour cream     Natural yoghurt
44.    Sugar (added to anything including drinks, baking, cooking etc.)    Artificial sweetener
45.    Sweets/lollies    *
46.    Syrups such as golden syrup, treacle, maple syrup     Artificial sweetener
47.    Toasted muesli and any other breakfast cereal with ≥ 15g sugar per 100g cereal    Breakfast cereal with <15g sugar per 100g cereal, > 6g fibre per 100g cereal and <5g fat per 100g cereal (or <10 g fat per 100g cereal if cereal contains nuts and seeds)
48.    Whole Milk    Trim, Calcitrim or Lite Blue Milk
49.    Yoghurt type products with ≥ 10g sugar per 100g yoghurt    Yoghurt (not more than one a day)

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