Sugar: Have we had enough in processed food?

Yoplait yogurt
Containers of Yoplait yogurt on the shelf at Santa Venetia Market on March 18, 2011 in San Rafael, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images file

General Mills plans to cut the amount of sugar in its Yoplait Original yogurt by more than 25 percent. The company, which is based in the Twin Cities, announced the plan last week.

That reformulated Yoplait comes amid a growing public debate about sugar and how it affects our health. Just days after the General Mills announcement, new dietary guidelines recommended sharp new limits on the added sugar Americans should consume.

Packaged food companies have come under harsh criticism in recent years for relying on unhealthy ingredients. But there's been a string of news about efforts to change that - General Mills' with Yoplait, and Nestle's announcement last week that it will remove artificial colorings.

"We believe that really health improvements are only successful if they are successful with the consumer," said Maha Tahiri, General Mills vice president and chief health and wellness officer, on MPR News with Tom Weber.

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Tahiri said the change came from listening to consumers and extensive research to make healthy products without compromising taste.

Anjali Athavaley, Thomson Reuters food and beverage reporter, said sales growth in developed markets like the United States has slowed and the major food manufacturers need to change to grow.

"When you hear those announcements, they're all part of a broader effort to stay relevant," she said. "That's not necessarily a sign that it's going to work. These companies are under a lot of pressure to change and to a certain extent they're giving the public and they're giving investors what they want to hear. Whether they can actually deliver the results, that's something that remains to be seen."

Michael Moss, New York Times investigative reporter and author of "Salt Sugar Fat," said that in the past, food manufacturers would add a new line of healthy food to cater to a particular market. That typically didn't change the habits of their main consumers who continued to eat the traditional products. But that trend is changing and could help improve overall consumer health.

"The fact that they are cutting across the board is really significant for effecting food health changes for people without regard to socioeconomics," he said.

But it's not just consumers that are addicted to salt, sugar and fat, Moss said. Companies are too:

Moss said a major element of changing eating habits will be in the marketing and advertising used to entice consumers. In a 2013 New York Times video, Moss found it isn't so easy to make a vegetable like broccoli appealing:

MPR News Producer Julie Siple contributed to this report.