The New Zealand Meat Processors Association has sent Life & Style a right of reply to this story, originally published online yesterday. Please see their comment added at the end.
Want to stack the nutrition odds in your favour? The key is good food so here are five things to never let into your shopping trolley: lollies, biscuits, sugar-sweetened drinks, potato crisps and processed meats.
Known as discretionary foods, all five are high in either added sugars, saturated fat or salt. Discretionary foods provide kilojoules but not many nutrients.
Consuming a lot of discretionary foods and drinks increases your risks of weight gain, obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Unless you're extremely active, it is unlikely that you can eat a lot of these foods and also be a healthy weight.
Dental caries or cavities (holes in your teeth) are the most common and expensive preventable diet-related problem. It's bad enough that one in five adults rate their oral health as fair or poor, the prevalence of dental caries in children is also increasing. If you or your kids are lolly addicts, the best way to avoid dental disease is to give up grazing on confectionery.
• Revealed: state of our kids' teeth
Sugar and other fermentable carbohydrates from highly processed foods are major risk factors for both the start and progress of dental disease. The more lollies you eat, and the more often you eat them, the bigger the risk.
What's more, they'll make you fat. Just 100 grams of jelly babies has over 1,400 kilojoules and over 50 grams of sugar, which is about ten teaspoons. Dump the lolly bag and swap to sugar-free chewing gum to save the kilojoules and your teeth.
Sugar-sweetened beverages include sweetened soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit juice drinks and cordial.
In a trial of over 15,000 adults who were followed up for 15 years, researchers found drinking one or more cups of soft drink a day increased the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 29%, compared to drinking less than one glass a month. And a US study estimated drinking one can of soft drink a day could contribute to over six kilograms of weight gain in just a year, if the kilojoules were not offset by increasing physical activity or by cutting back on food intake.
Since we know these extra kilojoules are usually not offset, you can see why drinking sweet drinks regularly increases the risk of weight gain.
Swap to diet drinks, or soda water if you want the fizz without the kilojoules. Better still, drink water. Unless you're an elite athlete, plain water is all you need during sport.
Crisps of all kinds
Crisps, including potato chips, Burger Rings, Twisties and corn chips, are some of the most popular snack foods in the developed world. And the bigger the bag, the more we eat.
A healthy low-kilojoule alternative is air-popped popcorn. So put the multi-bag of crisps back on the shelf, grab a bag of popcorn kernels, and pop them yourself at home.
Popcorn is wholegrain, more satisfying and cheap. One cup of air-popped popcorn has 150 kilojoules, compared to 550 kilojoules in a 25-gram individual packet of potato crisps. This approximately 400-kilojoule saving is the equivalent of the energy burned up in about a 25-minute walk.
Most biscuits are consumed with a cup of tea or coffee. But the problem is that biscuits provide more than crunchiness. They contain large amounts of kilojoules, unhealthy fats and highly processed carbohydrates. What's more, they're mostly low in fibre and whole grains.
Look at it this way: two cream-filled biscuits contain around 860 kilojoules. You'd need to push your shopping trolley for about an hour to burn that up.
Instead load up on fruit and save on kilojoules. One cup of strawberries has 150 kilojoules, a small bunch grapes 350 kilojoules and a medium banana 365 kilojoules.
Processed meat includes meat products preserved by smoking, curing, salting or the addition of preservatives including nitrite, nitrates, phosphate, glutamate or ascorbic acid. They include bacon, ham, pastrami, salami, corned beef, chorizo, luncheon meats, some sausages, hot dogs, cabanossi and kabana.
There's no completely safe level of intake for these foods. The more processed meats you eat, the greater your risk of developing bowel cancer over a lifetime.
Keep processed meat for when there are no other choices available. Whenever possible, load up with tomatoes and mushrooms, and swap the breakfast bacon for an egg with baked beans and a mixed vegetable grill.
Grab a pack of fresh chicken breast and cook it for use on sandwiches, or buy reduced-fat cheese, canned tuna and salmon, or small cans of four-bean mix.
If you have a recipe that calls for chopped bacon, replace it with diced browned onion and garlic, mixed with a couple of tablespoons of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or pine nuts.
Avoiding the five foods discussed here and replacing them with the suggestions I have outlined will put you on track to a long, healthy life. Ideally these foods will never appear in your shopping trolley, unlike the five foods that should be there every time you're filling up the shopping trolley.
Comment from the New Zealand Meat Processors Association
"As consumers we're constantly bombarded with the latest figures and studies telling us what's good for us, what to eat, what to drink, what to avoid and what to increase. Yesterday's online NZ Herald article titled 'Five foods to always avoid at the supermarket' by Clare Collins presents an unrealistic approach when it comes to advising New Zealanders on their food choices.
"New Zealanders food habits are vastly different compared to overseas. We currently eat around 23g/day of processed meat which is much less than overseas populations where studies are undertaken to observe the effect of diet and disease. It is misleading to state 'There's no completely safe level of intake for these foods.'
"It is well established that the main risk factors around cancer are being overweight, tobacco and alcohol, not any single food or food group. It should also be noted no foods are eaten in isolation, but as part of a varied diet. Chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes are complex conditions and you cannot pinpoint any one food for causing these conditions.
"Whilst processed meat does contribute sodium to the diets of New Zealanders, much work has been done by the processed meat industry to reduce the sodium content of these foods, in particular sausages, bacon and ham, in conjunction with working with the Heart Foundation's HeartSAFE programme. Since the inception of the initiative 5 years ago, 34 tonnes of sodium per annum has been removed from the processed meat supply.
"Despite the drastic recommendation of this article, processed meat can still be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit and wholegrains, providing a convenient source of protein, zinc and iron."
The author of the original story, Clare Collins, is a Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Newcastle. She has received funding from NHMRC, ARC, MLA, HMRI and the University of Newcastle.