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Reducing sugar to help Kiwi heart health

In 2007 we began working with food companies in New Zealand to reduce salt levels in processed food. Now we’re working with them to reduce sugar.

Reducing sugar in processed food

We’ve always known the negative effects that sugar has on dental health. However, through our own research there is now strengthening evidence for an impact of sugar on other risk factors for heart disease such as cholesterol and triglycerides, and type 2 diabetes.

The World Health Organisation has also strengthened its recommendations for countries to lower their sugar intakes.

While sugary drinks remain a significant source of sugar in the diets of New Zealanders there’s also a number of other processed food categories which provide high levels of hidden sugar. 

Reducing sugar in processed foods

We’ve been working with New Zealand and trans-Tasman food companies to set targets and reduce sugar in the following products:

  • Breakfast cereals
  • Cereal and nut/seed bars
  • Tomato sauce
  • Canned baked beans
  • Canned spaghetti

We also aim to develop targets for yoghurts, dairy desserts and cooking sauces (e.g. pasta sauces) by the end of the year.

While companies are open to the idea of sugar reduction, it may be a slower process because this is new territory and, in some ways, more challenging than sodium reduction

What is processed food?

Processed food is a food product that’s been altered through food manufacturing or processing. Sometimes this means adding ingredients to the food such as salt, sugar, flavourings, colours and preservatives. The extra ingredients can add to the taste, texture or help the product last longer.

While there are some processed foods that undergo a small amount of processing (e.g. milk) there are other foods that go through significant processing and can contain high levels of added ingredients including sugar and/or salt.

Examples of processed foods can include:

  • Breakfast cereals
  • Ready meals
  • Cakes
  • Crisps
  • Bread
  • Sausages
  • Canned vegetables

Is processed food bad for you?

Our advice for a heart-healthy diet emphasises plenty of vegetables and fruit and to reduce the intake of processed foods. However with our modern lifestyles and demand for convenience, taste and affordable food some level of processed foods is a reality.

Some processed food categories have high levels of added sugar, which means people can end up eating more sugar without realising.

While reducing sugar in these foods is important it's also useful to check food labels, so you know exactly what’s in the food you’re eating.

Sugar sometimes has different names too. This can make it harder to find it in the list of ingredients. We’ve got a list of alternative names for sugar to help you know what to look for.

Why is sugar bad for you?

It’s OK to eat sugar that occurs naturally in things like fresh fruit and plain milk.

However sugar is added to food like sugary drinks, cakes and biscuits, making them high in calories with little nutritional value. Because these foods don't fill us up, it's easy to have too much of it, which can lead to you becoming overweight, and increase your risk of heart disease. 

How can I reduce sugar in my diet?

If you want to cut back on sugar, you could:

  • Drink water instead of fizzy drinks
  • Eat less processed food – try our healthy recipes for inspiration
  • Check food labels to see how much sugar is in them

Read more about healthy eating