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 (see list below) 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 designed as a therapeutic intervention to be used by health professionals with obese or overweight people wanting to lose weight. It’s aimed at differentiating nutritious foods from those that are just high in calories,” says lead researcher and dietitian 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.
Editor's note: Click here to access the full list.