A blacklist of foods heavy on calories but light on nutrition has been drawn up to help combat obesity - and honey, muesli bars, whole milk and frozen yoghurt are all included.

Otago University researchers developed the list of 49 "Needn't" foods, published in today's New Zealand Medical Journal, as part of a treatment research programme for obesity.

They stress the list is a guide to help obese people identify which foods could be cut from their diet.

But others say it could be a step towards imposing higher taxes and other measures on junk food.

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"Needn't" foods are high in fat or added sugars, prepared using a high-fat cooking method such as frying, or have a large amount of energy compared to their essential nutrient content.

Some are on the blacklist because there is an easy and healthier alternative, such as substituting skim milk for whole milk.

Others, such as honey, would not be a concern if included in a healthy person's diet.

"Honey is great stuff. But what I hear people tell me is, 'I don't have sugar, I have honey'. But honey is a form of sugar," lead researcher Dr Jane Elmslie said.

The list includes the usual suspects such as pies and doughnuts, but Dr Elmslie, a dietitian, said some foods red-flagged were less obvious.

Muesli bars were often viewed as healthy but were high in calories, fat and sugar, without much nutritional value.

"Essentially they are just another form of biscuit ... Muesli bars are a classic example of how overweight people can be misled into thinking they're eating healthy food."

Frozen yoghurt has a very high sugar content compared to normal yoghurt, vegetable crisps are "fried to within an inch of their life", and even "lite" syrup in canned fruit was too much sugar, Dr Elmslie said.

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Cheese wasn't included - despite its high fat content - because it was an "essential source of calcium".

Dr Elmslie said the list was designed so that GPs and other clinicians could give "something black and white" to obese people to let them know what foods they could avoid.

She and other staff at the National Addictions Centre were concerned nutritional information could be confusing and wanted to single out foods both high in energy and low in nutritional value.

The list of 49 foods was compiled using food lists and information from the National Heart Foundation, Diabetes New Zealand, and the Canterbury District Health Board.

Honey NZ manager Greig Duncan said he didn't think honey should be lumped into the same category as cakes and pies.

Honey had a much slower insulin release rate than sugar, which made it a healthier alternative, and had many other health benefits important for a balanced diet.

"Because honey is such a natural product, it has a lot of bioactivity which is all part of a natural diet. Then you get into Manuka honey which has a whole other lot of benefits."

Fight the Obesity Epidemic director Dr Robyn Toomath said she was sceptical as to how much the list could help change individuals' eating habits.

However, she said that by identifying both unhealthy and nutritionally empty foods, the researchers had shown how it might be possible to target the products through measures such as taxation.

A Health Ministry-commissioned Otago University survey released last September found that 37 per cent of New Zealand adults were overweight and 28 per cent obese.

The proportion overweight has been increasing slowly but steadily, from 34 per cent in 1977. The obese category has expanded much faster, nearly tripling from 10 per cent in the same period.

THE NEEDN'T FOODS

With suggested replacements (* = omit entirely):

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 (more than 10g fat per 100g)

Lower fat crackers (less than 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 (less than 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 more than 15g sugar per 100g cereal

Breakfast cereal with less than 15g sugar per 100g cereal, more than 6g fibre
per 100g cereal and less 5g fat per 100g cereal (or less than 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