Supermarket chains and retailers have been urged to follow Tesco’s example by providing and promoting lower-sugar soft drinks on their shelves.
The message from obesity expert Professor Donal O’Shea follows the chain’s completion of a five-year plan to reduce the sugar content in all Tesco-branded soft drinks.
It also coincides with renewed government efforts to promote good diet and lifestyle through new healthy eating guidelines, being promoted online and through health professionals and schools.
Tesco Ireland says its customers now consume more than 20% less sugar, on average, from its own-brand soft drinks than in 2011. The final 28 products in the range now contain less than 5g per 100ml, and the retail chain has committed to better position low-sugar drinks in its shops and stock as many of them as it does sugary drinks.
Professor O’Shea, consultant endocrinologist at St Vincent’s University Hospital and St Columcille’s Hospital, welcomed the moves to reduce sugar content and place low-calorie options in prominent places.
“This is exactly what we need to see happening, and it needs to happen across the wider retail sector,” he said.
However, sugary drinks also feature in the top shelf of a revised food pyramid that forms part of the Healthy Food for Life campaign. The sixth shelf contains foods and drinks now separated from the lower five shelves, having no recommended daily servings because experts say their consumption should be limited to once or twice a week.
Material shared online, and circulated to schools and health services, shows that a large glass (200ml) of a sugary drink contain the same 100 calories as four squares of chocolate or a bag of low-fat crisps.
The new campaign from the Government-led Healthy Ireland initiative aims to move the population away from our high consumption of too many food and drinks that are high in sugar, fat and salt, and not enough fruit and vegetables. A survey for the campaign earlier this year showed most Irish people snack on items from the top shelf of the food pyramid up to six times a day.
The key messages include the advice to eat up to seven servings a day of fruit and vegetables, up from the previous ‘five-a-day’ recommendation. They replace breads, wholemeal cereals, potatoes pasta and rice as the bottom shelf of the pyramid, but three to five servings of these foods are still suggested, with higher intake recommended for teenage boys and men up to 50.
Health Promotion Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said additional training resources for healthy eating will be provided in the coming months, while a suite of resources is now already available for dieticians, health professionals and teachers.
A range of simple meal plans for people of different ages and lifestyles are provided, as well as a range of fact sheets on the different groupings contained in the food pyramid.
Some key advice around portion sizes also features in the new guidelines, which are available online at healthyireland.ie.
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