Consumer NZ has revealed that many popular items in Kiwi supermarkets are ultra-processed, meaning they could be very unhealthy.
Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) have a negative effect on the body as they are often packed with “unhealthy nutrients such as sodium and sugar and additives such as sweeteners, colours, and flavours” while being “low in beneficial nutrients like fibre and protein,” Consumer NZ’s research and test writer Belinda Castle says.
“In general, the more processed a product, the less healthy it is,” she adds.
Concerningly, they make up 69% of packaged foods in New Zealand’s supply, according to a University of Auckland report from 2019.
A big reason for their popularity is that they are pre-packaged and ready to eat, making them attractive to buyers as they are quick and easy to prepare.
Many of those are items you might not expect. Consumer NZ shared nutritional stats on some unprocessed foods (tomatoes, potatoes, pork, oats, apples, and soybeans) and compared them with their processed variations.
A fresh tomato, for example, has 0.05g of unsaturated fat, 1.85g of sugar, and 2mg of sodium. In an infographic, they compare those stats with processed and ultra-processed tomato products like sundried tomatoes, creamy tomato soup, and tomato sauce.
“Compared with fresh tomatoes, sundried tomatoes have a higher natural sugar content and more kilojoules,” Consumer NZ says. “Some brands are packaged in oil and have salt or sugar added. Delmaine Sundried Tomatoes have a whopping 1470mg of sodium per 100g.”
Pre-packaged meats, bacon and salami in particular, also have huge numbers of unhealthy nutrients.
“Beehive Streaky Bacon is 11.4% saturated fat and has 890mg of sodium per 100g. Verkerks Dutch Salami tips the sodium scales with 1673mg per 100g”.
They also add that “rating processed meat is linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer and heart disease.”
SOURCE: Consumer NZ
Consumer NZ gave a number of recommendations that would make it easier for Kiwis to make better food choices.
A mandatory health star rating would “give consumers at-a-glance information about a packaged food’s overall nutritional value,” they say.
UPFs are normally marketed to young kids, so regulating food marketing could lead to healthier diets for the next generation of children. They also mention “mandating healthy food policies in schools”.
A tax on sugar drinks is proposed, as well as “government-led reformulation targets for sugar, saturated fat and sodium for key food groups.”