Consistent information on the non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES) content of foods and the NMES intake by the population is required in order to allow comparisons between dietary surveys. A critical appraisal of methods of NMES estimation was conducted to investigate whether the different published methods for estimating the NMES content of foods lead to significantly different values for the dietary intake of NMES by children and to consider the relative practicality of each method. NMES values of foods were calculated using three different published descriptions of methods of NMES estimation, and the values were compared within food groups. Dietary intake values for English children aged 11–12 years were calculated using each method and compared in terms of overall NMES intake and the contribution of different food groups to NMES intake. There was no significant difference in the dietary intake of NMES in children between the method used in the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) (81·9 g/d; 95 % CI 79·0, 84·7) and a method developed by the Human Nutrition Research Centre (84·3 g/d; 95 % CI 81·4, 87·2) at Newcastle University, UK, although the latter gave slightly higher values. An earlier method used by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries gave significantly higher values than the other two methods (102·5 g/d; 95 % CI 99·3, 105·6; P<0·05). The method used in the NDNS surveys and the method used by the Human Nutrition Research Centre at Newcastle University are both thorough and detailed methods that give consistent results. However, the method used in the NDNS surveys was more straightforward to apply in practice and is the best method for a single uniform approach to the estimation of NMES.
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