Rolled oats, dried fruit and nuts spring to mind when
considering the main ingredients of a common muesli bar, but
a group of University of Otago researchers want alarm bells
to ring instead.
The snack has made it on to a list of 49 foods people should avoid, putting it
alongside alcohol, doughnuts and pies.
The list of non-essential, energy-dense, nutritionally
deficient (NEEDNT) foods has been compiled during the past
two years by Dr Jane Elmslie, Dr Ria Schroder, Dr Frances
Carter and Prof Doug Sellman, researchers from the
university's Christchurch and Dunedin campuses.
The list, published in the latest New Zealand Medical
Journal, was developed to help obese people more easily
identify foods which were best avoided, or limited, in a
Along with naming the generic foods, the research suggested a
healthier replacement, or none at all.
It was hoped the list would also be a useful tool for medical
practitioners and other health professionals working with
people who wanted to lose weight.
Lead author and dietitian Dr Elmslie said it was aimed at
"differentiating nutritious foods from those that are just
high in calories".
"Many people struggle to know what to eat if they have a
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
Examples included labelling foods high in sugar "low-fat" or
implying they were healthy because they had "organic" or
Even foods which had the Heart Foundation tick may just be
the best option in a category of typically high-calorie foods
such as ice cream, pies and oven chips.
With 63% of New Zealanders either obese or overweight, there
was an urgent need for new strategies or guidelines to deal
with the growing issue, the researchers believed.
A New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey, released last year,
showed 69% of males and 60.6% of females were overweight or
Compared with the 37% of New Zealanders who were considered
overweight, 34% were normal weight.
"Reducing consumption of NEEDNT food is an important health
priority. We are not advocating this as a magic bullet for
everyone ... it is a tool. It's important that what you eat
is nutritious," Dr Elmslie said.
However, this is not simply another list of of high-calorie
foods, because the foods are also either bereft of
nutritional benefits, or could easily be replaced with
lower-calorie, more nutritious alternatives.
Some foods to make the list were orange juice, honey and
muesli bars, which surprised a group of research
"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
another form of biscuit," Dr Elmslie said.
Fruit juice was on the list because, while it contained more
essential nutrients than soft drink, its sugar content was
similar, and it was much higher in energy and lower in
essential nutrients than whole fruit.
Honey was often thought to be healthy because it was natural,
but it contained a high amount of sugar.
Whole milk also made the list because, while it was a
valuable source of calcium and protein, it was a significant
source of energy and saturated fat, and could be replaced by
low-fat milk without having a detrimental effect on overall
nutrition, except in the very young.
Dr Schroder said while simply avoiding NEEDNT foods was
unlikely to be an effective weight-loss strategy, knowing the
specific foods could help people think more carefully about
whether what they ate was "nutritious and necessary, or just
random recreational grazing".
These were foods of which people should be mindful if they
were wanting to lose weight.
The list was used in conjunction with 25 people in a support
group looking at ways of achieving permanent weight loss
through lifestyle change.
The group "overwhelmingly" appreciated how clear and easy the
list was to use.
"It gives them something tangible to think about," Dr