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Why Julie's dedicated to helping us all make healthier food choices

June 07, 2018 11:26 AM

Our Company Nutritionist Julie Dean has seen first hand the impact of obesity-related illnesses in her former role with the NHS. Here she writes about what we're doing to help customers make informed and healthy decisions when they shop...

I think helping people make healthier choices is one of the great challenges of our time, alongside helping the environment.

I used to work in the NHS at the Royal London Hospital, so I’ve seen first-hand the heartbreaking impact that excess weight can have on people’s health.

Diabetes and obesity-related illnesses are one of the biggest strains on the NHS. Obesity costs more than the police service, fire service and the judicial system put together, according to this report from Public Health England. Obesity is avoidable and we are committed at Asda to helping customers make healthier choices to improve their diets and health.

I’m really excited to be in this role at Asda. Working as a dietitian in a hospital you help people one-to-one, whereas here we’re helping thousands of people every time we improve products and can see that every small change we make can have a great impact.

At Asda we’ve been making big strides to lower the amount of sugar in our diets for several years now. Nutrition and health have always been central to Asda’s values and our approach is to think holistically, not just about single nutrients. We want to help people have a balanced diet with more fruit and vegetables and to make it easier for people to choose healthier options.

It's not just about reformulating some of our own brand products so they contain less saturated fat, sugar and salt; it's also about giving people a wider choice – for example by expanding our vegan, vegetarian and Free From ranges for a more sustainable and inclusive diet and providing clearer labelling on our products, like this petal icon which makes it easier at a glance to make a healthier choice.

We look at all aspects of a product's health, including making sure it doesn’t contain too much fat, sugar and salt, but also looking at beneficial components including fibre, fruit and vegetable content of products.

We can have a huge impact on the nation’s health just by gentle nudges and switches like these. We can make such a difference and it’s within our gift to do that.

We’ve been driving sugar reduction for a long time in products such as breakfast cereals, cakes and confectionary – and in 2016 Public Health England introduced a target to reduce the amount of sugar we sell in a range of key product categories by 20% by 2020 as part of their plan to tackle childhood obesity.

We’re on a long-term journey, so we appreciate the targets set by PHE as it’s useful to have clear shared goals like that. We're making great progress – and you can read more here. As an industry we've welcomed the challenge to improve the food we eat and have accelerated the work we were already doing to reduce sugar.

We’re focusing on foods that our customers eat day in and day out – things like our breakfast cereals, morning goods, yogurts and biscuits. It’s a process that takes several months for each product, as we don’t want to change the great taste of products that people love.

It’s not as simple as just replacing sugar with sweeteners, as sugar has a lot of important functions in food and drink. As well as flavour it also provides colour in products like cakes and biscuits; it affects the texture of foods – for example it helps makes cakes airy and light; it supports yeast to do its job to make bread rise; and it affects the way ice cream freezes to give us a soft texture.

Sugar also plays an important role in keeping food safe to eat for longer. So, when we reduce sugar in products, we can impact many characteristics including appearance, taste, texture and shelf life. There are also lots of rules and regulations to adhere to when reducing sugar. Nevertheless, we are looking at lots of ways to reduce the sugar content of our products in a gradual way so that customers' tastes have time to adapt.

We’ll have more to report over the months ahead as we continue to drive sugar and calorie reduction and improve the health credentials of our products, so I'll keep you posted on progress.