Blog 

Here is where I share my thoughts, ideas and opinions about the world of nutrition, food and health. I hope you find good sense, helpful guidance and inspiration to eat great healthy food that makes you feel good.

I write regularly for GI News, an online newsletter for 60,000+ Australasian and International subscribers interested in the glycemic index (GI) and associated health topics such as diabetes, weight loss and a healthy heart. It’s a great read. http://www.gisymbol.com/category/gi-news/

 

05 Oct 2018

The ethics of meat

Posted by Nicole Senior on Friday, October 05, 2018

The fairy tale farm evokes images of pigs rolling in muddy pigpens, cows grazing in green pastures and hens happily sitting on eggs in wooden hen houses. While this may have been the scene in the 1890s, the reality today is not so pretty. Increasing demand, corporatisation of agriculture and the expectation of low prices has encouraged the intensive production of animal products, along with a decline of our humanity and compassion for animals.

Many of us are blissfully ignorant of how our meat, milk and eggs get to the shops but according to Food Navigator there has been a shift in our attitudes and preferences. Social media, vegan activism and a growing awareness of animal welfare have helped to fuel the rise of flexitarianism, or eating less meat, as well as a rise in ethical claims on food such as ‘free-range’, ‘organic’ and ‘cruelty free’. We take a look at the main welfare issues within animal farming and how industries are responding with more ethical alternatives.

  • Confinement - Chicken and pigs are commonly kept in cages or crates with little room to turn around. Lack of exercise weakens their bones and as chickens are grown unnaturally fast, broken bones are a common issue. Free-range chickens and ‘sow-stall free pork’ offers a more ethical alternative.
  • Denial of natural behaviours – chickens instinctively like to run around, roost, and dust bathe and all these behaviours are denied or severely curtailed in intensive farms. Free range farming allows chicken to engage in their natural behaviours. Similarly, pigs like to root around outside with their specially adapted snouts, and free-range farming allows them to do this.
  • Unwanted babies - Only female chickens are raised for chicken meat and lay eggs, yet 50% of chicks born are males. Shockingly, male chicks are killed, either gassed or – horrifyingly - thrown alive into grinding machines. Similarly, dairy cows only produce milk if they have recently given birth so most calves are slaughtered, except for a small number of female calves that are raised to produce milk themselves.
  • Mutilation – For a variety of reasons, intensive farming often involves hurting animals. Farmers may trim chicken beaks, dock horns, castrate pigs, lambs and calves, clip teeth, dock tails, ring noses, remove horn buds. These painful procedures are usually done without anaesthetic.

Ethical farming

Ethical meat, egg and dairy farming are more labour intensive and therefore more expensive. In the case of milk, organic milk from smaller farms with kinder practices can cost double the amount of conventionally produced milk.  This is out of reach for many.  Another issue is the limited supply of more ethical products. While the situation is changing, ethically produced meat is still harder to find. How we can increase the supply is to demand it, and the food supply will gradually change to give us what we want.

How to be an ethical omnivore

  • Enjoy a plant-based diet and when you eat your ‘just enough’ amount of animal products, choose the most ethical options available to you – a win for the animals and you! Eating just enough animal foods, and perhaps less than you do now, will reduce the cost impact as well.
  • Choose organic, free range, cruelty free or humane choice meat and dairy. Organic farming standards include welfare for farm workers and animals.
  • Choose wild, game meats – such as rabbit, kangaroo, venison (deer) that are free to roam before slaughter (and also have a smaller environmental footprint).
  • Support smaller organic/biodynamic farms – as they use kinder and more environmentally sustainable production methods.
  • Dine at ethical eateries – Support restaurants that use higher welfare animal ingredients – e.g. cage-free eggs. There are online directories such as Choose Wisely in Australia that help locate ethical eateries near you.
  • Eat nose-to-tail and waste nothing – if we’re going to kill animals for food the least we can do is eat everything and not waste it. This means eating all the cuts and not just the popular ones. The bonus is they’re cheaper.

12 Sep 2018

The animal food dilemma

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Meat and dairy products are valuable sources of nutrition yet a recent report by Greenpeace recommends limiting meat intake to 300g per week and dairy intake to 630g per week to lessen our environmental footprint. They say this would reduce global consumption of animal products by 50% by 2050. However, they did not have a nutrition expert involved so how can we be sure this advice supports good health? How do we reconcile the nutritional value of animal foods with their environmental footprint? Lets delve deeper into the animal food dilemma.

What is the most sustainable diet?

Meat has the greatest environmental footprint followed by dairy and then plant-foods.  This is because livestock farming requires more land and water; and animals produce more green house gas (GHG) emissions compared to plant foods.  You may think veganism (eating no animal products at all) is the most sustainable solution to feed our growing global population but you may be surprised to hear that it’s not, because growing crops doesn’t utilise all types of land. For example, some land is useless for growing fruits and vegetables but can be used for dairy farming or livestock grazing. In fact, a vegetarian diet including dairy products (lacto-vegetarian) has been identified as the most sustainable diet.

Eat a diet that is mostly plants, but some animal foods can be included in your diet and still be sustainable.

How much meat do you need?

In grappling with the animal food dilemma, we need to know how much we need – not want or crave, but actually need - for good health.  National dietary recommendations are a good place to start. Meat is part of the ‘meat and protein alternatives’ group that includes red meat, white meat, fish, eggs and plant-based alternatives like pulses, legumes, nuts and seeds.

The US Dietary Guidelines recommend 5-6.5 ounces (around 140g-185g) of meat or protein equivalents per day for a sedentary person.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend 2-3 ‘serves’ of meat or alternatives per day, where one serve is:

65g of cooked red meat (100g raw);

80g cooked poultry (100g raw);

100g cooked fish (115g raw);

2 eggs;

1 cup (150g) cooked legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans);

170g tofu;

or 30g of nuts or seeds.  

If you do the math, both countries are recommending around 1300g (45oz) of meat (or equivalent) per week, which seems a lot more than the 300g limit Greenpeace is recommending, but of course not all serves from this group need to be meat. The Australian guidelines recommend limiting your cooked red meat intake to 455g per week and including plant-based foods in the mix. And remember smaller animals such as chickens and pigs, and wild animals such as deer, bison and kangaroo all have a smaller environmental footprint than cattle.

The question of how much meat we can get away with eating and still look after our health and the environment is hotly debated and depends on a myriad of factors including: location/region, climate, production method, land and water use, feed type, animal genetics, waste management, supply chain efficiency, transport and wastage. We as citizen-eaters can help by eating animals ‘nose-to-tail’ (not just our favourite bits) and not wasting any because throwing animal foods in the bin just adds insult to injury (it wastes the already significant environmental costs in producing it).

Enjoy a variety of protein sources including plant sources but limit meat intake – especially from large, high eco-footprint animals to around 400g a week, or two meals. Whatever you do, don’t waste a skerrick of food, especially animal food.

How much dairy do you need?

While Greenpeace recommend no more than 630g dairy food a week, Australian and US dietary guidelines recommend 2-3 serves of dairy products (or equivalent), or 500-750g a day of dairy milk.

One serve of dairy is:

1 cup of milk or fortified soy milk; or

40g cheese;

200g yoghurt;

100g almonds;

100g firm tofu with calcium

The dairy food group is a good source of many nutrients including calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin B12. While you could meet these dietary requirements using only plant-based foods it is more difficult and you’ll probably need supplements or fortified foods. For example, calcium is available in foods such as almonds, however you would need to eat more than 3 handfuls of almonds (100g) to get just 1 serve of dairy alternatives. If you choose plant-based ‘milks’, choose one with added calcium.

Why is there conflicting advice?

Greenpeace’s advice to consume no more than 300g of meat and 630g dairy products per week appears to conflict with both Australian and US national dietary guidelines, although it doesn’t have to if we chose more plant-based alternatives within the meat and dairy food groups. As Greenpeace correctly points out, you can meet your nutritional requirements with a vegetarian diet or vegan diet supplemented with Vitamin B12. However, there are still lingering nutrition questions we need to answer. For example, which groups (pregnant women, children, athletes, young women, teens?) are likely to experience nutritional shortfalls if meat and dairy are removed or limited from diets? How do we ensure those with higher needs have them met in an animal-food constrained world? If we are to solve the dilemma of animal foods, we need collaboration between environmental scientists and nutrition scientists and dietitians to ensure advice is evidence-based, and our sustainable diets are enjoyable.

The animal food dilemma in a nutshell:

  • Eating less meat reduces your environmental footprint, but you still need to meet your nutritional needs - include healthy plant-based meat and dairy alternatives such as nuts, seeds, legumes, fortified plant ‘milks’ and tofu.
  • If you eat meat make it a side show rather than the main attraction on your plate – fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with grains (or starchy vegetables) and limit meat to a quarter of your plate.
  • Replace some of your meat with plant proteins. For example, try adding lentils to your spaghetti Bolognese, burgers, meatloaf or casseroles; and adding chickpeas, tofu or nuts to curries, soups and salads.

08 Aug 2018

Should you go vegan?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Vegan diets are often perceived as being a healthier, more ethical and more sustainable way to feed our growing global population. But do vegan diets really deserve their health halo?

Vegan diets typically exclude animal derived ingredients (e.g. meat, dairy products, eggs and gelatine) and foods produced using animal labour, such as honey. Vegans eat grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.  According to Google Trends, searches for the term ‘vegan’ have almost tripled over the past 5 years worldwide.  Despite the fact that ‘going vegan’ is going viral, veganism is not new. The Indian religion of Jainism is centred on non-violence and has been practicing veganism since ancient times. Some Jains even avoid eating potatoes as uprooting them kills the plant along with any microorganisms living on it.

Dr. David Jenkins, the nutrition scientist who introduced the world to the glycaemic index and friend of GI News, says his reasons for adopting a vegan diet are nutritional, environmental and humanitarian.

Are vegan diets healthier?

In an article for the Globe and Mail about Dr David Jenkins conversion to veganism, Leslie Beck claims that “plant-based eaters are thinner and have lower cholesterol and blood-pressure levels, a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and lower cancer rates – especially colorectal cancer.” But this is plant-based and not plant-only diets – there isn’t much long term research on health outcomes of people following vegan diets. The fact plant-based diets are healthier might not be that surprising as veggies are well known to be great for your health; they are rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals and low in kilojoules (calories).  However, we can’t ignore that meat, eggs and dairy provide essential nutrients not naturally present in plants such as vitamin B12, vitamin D and long chain omega-3 fats (although mushrooms are fungi and not plants they contain small amounts of B12 and can contain vitamin D if they are exposed to sunlight). While you can find some of these nutrients added to plant-based foods, you must look a bit harder to find them. Or take supplements.  There are risks of missing out on these nutrients and a vegan diet is not necessarily a healthier diet – it all depends what foods you choose and the overall balance of foods. French fries, fake meats (meat analogues), veggie chips, vegan desserts are plant-based but they can also be highly processed and high in saturated fat salt, fat and additives. There are lessons to learn from our vegan friends: eat more legumes, wholegrain cereals, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, which are all healthy options for everyone.

Is veganism the most sustainable diet?

You might think veganism is the most sustainable way to feed our growing global population and vegan activists certainly promote this as a reason to follow them into a plant-only lifestyle.  They have a point. Meat has the greatest environmental footprint, followed by dairy and then plant-foods.  This is because livestock farming requires more land and water; and animals produce more GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions compared to plant-based foods.  However what may surprise you is that veganism doesn’t appear to be the most sustainable dietary pattern because it doesn’t utilise all types of land. Some less fertile land is not suitable for growing fruits and vegetables but can be used for livestock such as dairy cattle. According to a recent analysis the most sustainable eating pattern is (drum roll please) a vegetarian diet including dairy products (a lacto-vegetarian diet).

Another study found some vegan diets have higher environmental impacts than some omnivore diets. Eating locally and eliminating food wastage play a big role in sustainability too.  For example, a locally raised free-range egg has a smaller environmental footprint than an avocado that has been flown halfway across the globe and then thrown in the bin because it went brown in the bottom of your fruit bowl.

Why vegan?

  • Animal welfare: There are no cruelty issues with plants.
  • Environment: Plant-based diets have the advantage, but it’s complicated Reduce your impact by eating mostly plants, locally sourced, and don’t waste food.
  • Nutrition: for good health, eat mostly plants and just enough animal food to meet your nutrient requirements. Vegans need to eat fortified foods or take supplements to meet their needs for hard-to-get nutrients.

01 Jul 2018

plastic-free July

Posted by Nicole Senior on Sunday, July 01, 2018

PLASTIC-FREE JULY

Grocery shoppers in Montreal recently made headlines ditching excessive plastic packaging at the door of their supermarket in protest. Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza introduced a plastic-free aisle. Australian supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths will stop offering single-use plastic bags this month. Chile has boldly approved a nation-wide ban on single-use plastic bags. The anti-plastic movement is growing. We now have a whole month to focus, laser-like, on our own habits: plastic-free July.

 The plastic-free challenge In preparation for ‘Plastic-Free July’ and to share our experiences with you, we decided to take the plunge and ditch single use plastic for a month. Did we succeed? Not entirely. Plastic is so omni-present as to be nearly impossible to avoid. Some swaps were simple; others not so much. It’s really about a shift in mindset and planning. It’s not easy going plastic free, but neither is a dying planet. Here’s what we did.

 To avoid plastic shampoo bottles, we resorted to bar soap instead that left us with scarecrow hair. We are still looking for cosmetics in plastic-free or reusable packaging, and instead have settled for recyclable packaging rather than go completely native. Unwell with a cold? Try seeking relief for a sore throat with lozenges that don’t come in plastic-foil blister packs – impossible. We’d suggest sipping home-made lemon juice and honey and taking it with you in a small re-usable glass jar. Need a nice hot cup of tea or coffee to warm up from the inside? Most tea and coffee come in plastic packaging and take-away cups are lined with plastic making them near impossible to recycle. The best we could do is buy loose-leaf tea and coffee in larger amounts to reduce packaging or take our own re-usable containers to a bulk-produce store. And of course, say no to take away coffee cups and take our own. Grabbing some food on-the-go? It’s a disposable plastic nightmare that made us think twice about doing it at all or search hard for restaurants that use real cutlery and crockery. If you’d like to try ‘Plastic-Free July’ we’ve got the following tips to help you avoid single-use plastics.

 Plastic-free hacks on-the-move

Keep these eco-friendly alternatives in your bag and say “no thanks” to disposable plastics:

  • Metal Spork: An easy (and less flimsy) alternative to disposable plastic cutlery.
  • Reusable Coffee Cup: Some cafes even offer discounts if you BYO reusable cup!
  • Metal Drinking Straw: Ditch plastic straws that harm marine life in favour of reusable metal straws.
  • Glass Storage Container: Useful for bringing lunch to work or taking leftovers home from restaurants.
  • Cloth Bag: For those unplanned trips to the grocery store.
  • Choose full eat-in restaurants with proper crockery and cutlery, or seek out take-aways with biodegradable packaging
  • Avoid disposable plates, cutlery and cups for parties and picnics. Use re-usable or biodegradable.

 Plastic-free food shopping hacks

  • Buy large quantities and decant them into smaller reusable containers, rather than buying single serves.
  • Reusable Produce Sacks/bags: are handy for bringing smaller fruits and veggies like cherries or green beans to the checkout to be weighed.
  • Make your own; bread, yoghurt and snacks to save packaging (and money)
  • Shop local; farmers market, butcher, baker or greengrocer to reduce packaging
  • Ditch plastic food wrap; re-usable wraps are available or use washable containers instead.

 Plastic-free bathroom hacks

  • Metal Safety Razor: Not only do metal razors look great on your vanity; you can also change the blades and re-use the metal razor for a lifetime. The blades are cheap as chips and give you a really close shave!
  • Face Cloth: An alternative to facial scrubs with plastic micro beads and make-up wipes. Keep them fresh by them drying them out after each use, ideally in the sun (have two on the go and alternate)
  • Bar of Soap: The humble but effective alternative to plastic bottles of body wash.
  • Olive Oil or coconut oil: Use a few drops as a moisturiser or anti-frizz serum for unruly hair.
  • Bamboo Toothbrush: A compostable alternative to plastic toothbrushes.
  • Arrowroot Powder: A package-free (and cheaper!) alternative to dry shampoo for those with oily hair.
  • Female hygiene: ladies, join the army of enviro-crusaders ditching disposable feminine hygiene products and try re-usable menstrual cups and underwear (saves money and avoids waste in landfill).

 Thanks to Rachel Ananin aka TheSeasonalDietitian.com for her assistance with this article.

06 Jun 2018

Low energy living

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, June 06, 2018

We use a lot of energy in our everyday lives. Cast your mind back to the last power outage. Did your heart sink as you realised that your mobile battery was at 2%, you couldn’t watch TV or make microwave popcorn and the ice-cream in the fridge melted? The minor and temporary inconvenience of a power outage is the tip of a very large energy iceberg.

Each year the world population is using more and more energy. One way of measuring how much more is Overshoot Day. In 2017, August 2 was Overshoot Day says the Global Footprint Network. What this means is that in just over seven months, we had used up the natural resources such as food and fuel Earth can generate in twelve months. As Overshoot Day moves earlier and earlier each year, we dip more and more into the super fund of natural resources we should be saving for our children’s and their children’s future.

What can we do to make a difference? We can start with adopting some everyday habits that help to reduce our energy use. We don’t necessarily have to go without; but we need to be more aware of the energy we use in our daily lives, be more energy efficient and waste less.

Energy-saving tips

Transport

  • Walk, ride a bike, carpool or take public transport- it saves money and reduces GHG emissions as well as increasing your physical activity.

Shopping

  • Buy healthy whole foods such as oats, brown rice, vegetables, fruit, milk, fresh meat, legumes and eggs, and cut back on (cut out?) highly processed packaged foods that require more energy to produce in the first place and are likely high in salt, saturated fats and highly refined carbohydrates that spike BGLs.
  • Plan your meals and shopping trips to avoid emergency fast food drive-throughs and pizza deliveries.

Cooling and heating

  • Adjust your air-conditioning thermostat to more moderate settings to make it use less energy, such as 18–20 degrees Celsius in winter and 25–27 degrees in summer.
  • Wear more clothes in winter to save on heating (and remember keeping yourself warm uses kilojoules/calories and every little bit helps).
  • Close the door on rooms you’re not using and exclude draughts.

Washing

  • To save energy on water-heating, wash clothes in cold water, only run the dishwasher when its full (and in the middle of the night for off-peak energy pricing), keep showers short and install a water-saving shower head and flow-limiters on your taps.
  • Air-dry clothes rather than use a clothes dryer.

Storage

  • Ensure your fridge is set to the correct temperature – around 3–4 degrees Celsius and get rid of that extra fridge – it’s costing you a lot to run.
  • Don’t open the fridge door too much so it doesn’t have to work as hard to stay cold.

Cooking

  • Use the BBQ outside on hot days - cooking inside heats the house and makes your cooling system work harder.
  • Use your microwave oven or pressure cooker rather than your oven – it is more energy efficient.
  • Defrost frozen foods in the fridge overnight instead of in the microwave to save energy.
  • Use the correct size burner for your saucepan – excess heat wastes energy.
  • If using your oven, think about cooking two things at once to make the most of the energy.

01 May 2018

The Last Straw

Posted by Nicole Senior on Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Single use straws made sense when contaminated cups were an issue. Thanks to improved hygiene standards, catching infectious diseases from drinking vessels is less of an issue but now we have bigger things to worry about. Disposable plastic drinking straws are an environmental disaster.

The problem with straws

Unable to be recycled, plastic straws are used for 20 minutes at most, then remain intact for hundreds of years.  At the popular Manly Beach in Sydney, Australia, scuba diver Kasey Turner found 319 straws during a 20-minute snorkel. Only 1 day later she returned and found an additional 294 straws at the same spot! The following weekend she repeated this exercise and found a further 150 straws, showing just how quickly these straws accumulate. And they’re everywhere. According to the Ocean Conservancy’s 2017 Report, Straws made the list of top 10 pollutants littering international coastlines.[1]

Besides making a mess, straws do terrible damage to aquatic life. A video went viral in 2015 showing a plastic drinking straw being painfully extracted from the nostril of a turtle off Costa Rica (the video has a warning that it may be inappropriate for some users because it is so upsetting). Straws are even swallowed by seabirds, which then puncture vital organs or block airways leading to a horrible death.

Compostable drinking straws are not much better than plastic straws as very few people compost them, and they are not designed to break down in the ocean.

Even if some plastic straws do manage to break down, they become smaller microplastics that fish then eat, and we then eat those fish, plastic and all (yuk).

By 2025 it’s been projected there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans

Straws don’t always suck

Straws do have some great uses.  Not only do they give us that Instagram perfect pout as we sip on a cocktail, they also keep ladies’ lipstick intact, and make for a less messy drinking experience for kids (especially in the car). Straws can also reduce contact between sugary drinks and teeth, which helps prevent cavities and dental erosion. As straws send liquid to the back of the mouth they reduce flavour exposure for those suffering from nausea (e.g. during chemotherapy or morning sickness). Bendy straws also make drinking easier for the less-able, such as the ill, frail, or those with coordination and movement difficulties.

Do you really need a straw?

You don’t drink beer or wine through a straw, so why not just say “no straw please”. Your drinks taste just as good (probably better) without a plastic straw.

Perhaps a bit more ‘slow eating’ (and drinking) would help. Straws tend to go with grab ‘n go drinks with bubbles and sugar. Let’s face it, we could do with less of these. Taking water with you in a re-usable bottle has health and environmental benefits.

But I’m a sucker for straws!

For those of you who can’t give up your straws, there are alternatives, and trendy ones at that. Some bars and cafes already have stainless steel, re-useable straws. You already use their metal cutlery, so why not a metal straw? Metal straws have the added benefit of becoming chilled, which makes your drink even more refreshing, and no plastic taste. You can even buy a stainless-steel straw for home-use and they often come with a cleaning brush. Other plastic straw alternatives include copper, glass and bamboo straws. You can even buy straws from Harvest Straws made from (would you believe it) straw! That’s right, straws have come full circle and are now once again made of wheat or rye straw.

Keeping it green, in a nutshell

  • Single-use plastic straws are an environmental disaster and can be devastating to marine life.
  • To reduce plastic pollution, asks for drinks with “no straw please”
  • For straw devotees, try a reusable drinking straw. 
An example of a reusable drinking straw


19 Mar 2018

Meat-less

Posted by Nicole Senior on Monday, March 19, 2018

Meat-less movement

 ‘Meatless Monday’ is not new. It was started by the US government during World War 1 to reduce consumption of key foods to win the war (interestingly they also had ‘wheatless Wednesday’). It was revived as a health awareness campaign in 2003 to address excessive meat intake in the USA. Since then it has gone from strength to strength. People are seeing the environment benefits of eating meat-free (or less meat) and not just on Mondays. Eating less meat is a growing global movement. According to Google Trends, interest in ‘vegetarian recipes’ has more than doubled over the past 5 years worldwide.  And for those not quite ready to quit meat completely there is now a new category of eaters called ‘flexitarians’ who eat mostly vegetarian foods but have the occasional meaty meal. 

The true cost of meat

There are some costs that are not included in the ticket price of food – the costs to the environment. According to the IPCC, not only are more resources required to produce livestock  compared to plant foods, but their manure produces greenhouse gases too- an environmental double whammy. In countries where there are more cattle and sheep, these animals were the greatest agricultural contributor of greenhouse gases.

What can we do?

There is no doubt meat is nutritious, including red meat. Red meat is a great source of protein, iron and vitamin B-12. However, some of us eat more than we need. To minimise your environmental impact, you need to eat ‘just enough’ meat to meet (pardon the pun) your nutritional requirements. For example, the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommended up to 455g cooked lean red meat per week. Ordering a 500g steak at a restaurant is a week’s worth of red meat on its own. Cooking 500g of raw red meat at a meal is enough for a family of 4. If this doesn’t seem enough, add some plant protein like legumes and plenty of vegetables and some wholegrains to fill the plate.

Enjoy variety

Meat is part of the ‘meat and alternatives’ food group that includes red meat, white meat, fish, eggs and plant-based alternatives like pulses, legumes, nuts and seeds. Aim for 2-3 ‘serves’ of a variety of options from this group per day, where one serve is: 65g of cooked red meat (100g raw); 80g cooked poultry (100g raw); 100g cooked fish (115g raw); 2 eggs; 1 cup (150g) cooked legumes (lentils, chickpeas, black beans); 170g tofu; or 30g nuts or seeds.

 Eating just enough meat, in a nutshell

  • Make meat a side player rather than the main event – aim for ¼ of the plate as meat, half the plate vegetables, and a quarter as grains (or starchy vegetable).
  • Vary your meat choices - smaller animals such as poultry and (sustainable) fish have a smaller footprint. And don’t forget eggs – they offer perfect protein at a smaller environmental cost.
  • Replace some of your meat with plant protein: try adding lentils to your spaghetti Bolognese, burgers, meatloaf or casseroles; or chickpeas or tofu and nuts to curries, soups and salads.

Meatless Monday is not a new concept as this US war poster shows


14 Feb 2018

A more sustainable 2018

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, February 14, 2018

If you resolved to lose weight this year, eat healthier and exercise more, you have just joined a very big club as lifestyle improvements are some of the most popular. This year, why don’t you consider environmental sustainability as well as your health? Luckily there are many things you can do that can help both at the same time.

Drive less

Transportation is responsible for a hefty chunk of our energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (it’s about one-quarter in Australia and the USA). Try walking, cycling or even skating instead of driving as often as you can; it burns kiljoules/calories, it’s free and creates zero GHG emissions. And you can soak up more of your surroundings instead of whizzing straight past in a haze of exhaust fumes. Heck, you may smile and greet a stranger and create a bit more peace and harmony in the world while you’re at it. Catching public transport is better for the environment than driving a car and you usually have a little walk at the beginning and end of the journey.

Drink water

Disposable plastic bottles made up a whopping one-quarter of the litter removed Australia-wide by Clean Up Australia Day volunteers. This is equal to 3600 tonnes of plastic containers in 2016 alone. To put this into perspective this is equal to the weight of around 1000 mid-sized cars. In the USA 40 million containers are estimated to be thrown away every day, and only 30% are recycled. These figures are horrifying when you think of where all these bottles end up: in landfill and our waterways. This year buy a reusable drink bottle and drink water instead of sugary drinks. If you must buy a plastic or glass container, please recycle it, even if you have to take it home first. This is a healthier option both for you and the environment.

Meat-less Monday

A good steak is a great thing, but did you know animal foods make up a large portion of our food-footprint? Around 2kg of greenhouse gas emissions are made in the production of just 80g of lamb. The same emissions arise from a comparatively large 2kg of lentils. Not only are plant foods better for the environment; they are also great for our health, so this is a win-win. Make plant foods the basis of your diet and eat just enough of the animal foods your body requires and waste nothing.

Reduce packaging

In some Sydney preschools, children are given re-usable sandwich bags and water bottles to help them achieve waste-free lunches when they go to ‘big school’. This helps reduce plastic in landfill and reduces litter in school playgrounds. A waste-free lunch is a worthy goal for grown-ups too. Use When you shop for snacks like muesli (granola) bars, nuts, canned fruit, dried fruit, milk and yoghurt, try to avoid individually wrapped items and instead make your own or buy in bulk and portion them out in re-usable containers. For the unavoidable soft plastic packaging waste, find out where you can recycle it. In Australia, the two major supermarkets have soft plastic recycling bins.

Fill your cup

Disposable coffee cups are an environmental disaster. ABC’s War on Waste TV series revealed around 50,000 cups, enough to fill one Melbourne tram, are binned by Aussies every 30 minutes! The situation is likely to be similar in other coffee-loving countries. Contrary to popular belief, most disposable cups are not recyclable as they are lined with plastic to stop leaking. Why not have fewer coffees and treat yourself to a fair-trade barista-made coffee and drink it from your own personalised re-usable cup.

Keeping it green, in a nutshell

  • Take active transport whenever possible; that is, human powered rather than fossil fuel powered transport.
  • Drink water in a re-usable bottle to save pollution and reduce empty kiljoules/calories in sweet drinks (soda).
  • Enjoy a plant-based diet with just enough animal foods.
  • Reduce your waste and your waistline by eating fewer packaged foods (and always recycle).
  • Avoid disposable coffee cups and take your own re-usable cup.

04 Dec 2017

vegan food products are not always the healthier option

Posted by Nicole Senior on Monday, December 04, 2017

The vegan diet is one that is exclusively plant-based and excludes any food derived from animals including meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. According to Google Trends, interest in veganism is exploding; searches for the word ‘vegan’ have tripled over the past 5 years. Australia shows the most interest in vegan foods, followed by Canada and the United States. Vegan diet followers typically do so for a combination of: ethical reasons (not killing animals for food), environmental reasons (generally, plant foods have a smaller environmental footprint than animal foods), or health reasons (they believe a plant-only diet is better for them). It’s this last health-related reason we’re examining in this post.

Foods marketed as vegan have a perceived health halo but are they always the healthier option? Plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds are nutritious options, no question. But like many food and diet trends, when opportunity knocks the market answers with a myriad of products of varying nutritional quality. We take a closer look at the nutritional profile of some good and not-so-good vegan products.

 THE GOOD: good options for meat-free eating

Quorn sausages - Quorn is the brand name for an interesting meat alternative composed of mycoprotein, which is a kind of stringy fungus (similar to mushrooms) that is compressed into more familiar food products such as “mince” and sausages. Quorn sausages contain more fibre per 50g serve than beef sausages, but unfortunately they don’t contain added Vitamin B12.  Vitamin B12 only occurs in animal foods, so adding this essential vitamin to vegan products helps fill this dietary gap. Read more in our previous article on faux meats here (Insert link to faux meat article from Sept issue)

Chickpea & Sesame Seeds Vegetable Burgerscontain less than half the protein of a beef burger but it’s packed with fibre to keep you feeling full. It’s much lower in saturated fat than regular beef burgers.

Soy milk with added calcium - This particular soy milk is a good option as it is naturally higher in protein and has been fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. Be wary that not all dairy-free milks are fortified and may have little protein, vitamins or minerals.

THE NOT SO GOOD: don’t choose these for health reasons

Tofutti Cream Cheese- is soy-based and contains less than half the fat of regular cream cheese, but also less than half the protein. There are 13+ ingredients including sugar, salt, thickening agents, emulsifiers and preservatives. To be fair, regular cream cheese is not a healthy choice either.

Choc Chip Cookies - are gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free and yeast-free, but they are made with refined flours, chocolate, sugar and salt. Like any cookie (vegan or not) these are high kilojoule/calorie treats best eaten sparingly and in small amounts.

Dairy-Free Chocolate- chocolate without the dairy is still chocolate, just because it is vegan doesn’t give you a free pass to eat it in unlimited amounts.

Unsweetened Coconut Milk  - is better than regular coconut milk because it is has half the fat and some calcium added. However, it has 16 times less protein than regular dairy milk, and lots of additives.

Protein Snack Bar - this bar claims it is made from ‘peas, leafy greens, sprouts, grasses and vegetables’ but it doesn’t look green, so we wonder how much green stuff is actually in it. It looks like a cereal bar with caramel and chocolate drizzle. By weight this product actually contains more sugar than it does protein, and the ingredients list is over 50 long!

Chocolate Frozen Dessert- This soy-based frozen dessert is lower in saturated fat than regular dairy ice creams as the fat predominantly comes from vegetable oils. However the kilojoules are similar (or a little higher) to regular chocolate ice cream and the main ingredient is sugar. This is not a health food and best enjoyed in small portions.

The un-plugged truth

  • A ‘vegan’ label does not guarantee a healthy product. Highly processed foods -vegan or not – can be high in kilojoules, saturated fat, salt and sugar.
  • Highly processed vegan foods can still have a large environmental footprint from the resources and energy to manufacture them, and if they’re not nutritious they don’t represent a good health return on the environmental inputs required to make them.
  • For the healthiest vegan options stick to minimally processed plant foods, including products fortified with essential vitamins lacking in vegan diets.

10 Nov 2017

Are gluten free foods better?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Friday, November 10, 2017

In August, the Medical Journal of Australia published an article questioning the existence of non-coeliac gluten or wheat sensitivity. The article was hot media fodder, with most stories including a medical expert suggesting that most people avoiding gluten without being diagnosed with celiac disease didn’t actually need to. The article also concluded that gluten-free diets carry risks, are socially restricting and are costlier than regular diets. We were glad to see this article published and pleased to see this issue being raised because we’ve being saying something similar for years.

While a gluten free diet is the only treatment for coeliac disease, there are many that claim going gluten-free is the magic bullet to weight loss and optimum health for everyone. While there is no good evidence to back this up and a growing number of studies now suggesting it might have adverse effects, the marketing horse has already bolted and gluten-free foods are a large and growing category. We thought we’d take a closer look at them.

Gluten is a stretchy protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, oats, barley and triticale. This protein gives bread the ability to rise and form a light airy loaf. Gluten-free food alternatives are often made with starches and additives rather than wholegrain flours. It is perhaps no surprise that one review found that gluten-free diets are often lower in fibre and higher in saturated fat. This review also noted that gluten-free diets tend to have a higher glycemic index (GI). This is not helpful for overall metabolic health and may leave you feeling hungrier sooner.

We analysed the nutritional value of a muesli bar, mixed grain bread, and a flaked breakfast cereal compared with their gluten-free variants.

 

MUESLI BAR

BREAD

B’FAST CEREAL

NUTRIENT

Gluten-Free Muesli Bars

(35g serve)

Fruit & Nut Muesli Bars

(45g serve)

Gluten-free 5 Seeds

(2 slices 78g)

Mixed Grain

(2 slices (94g)

Gluten-free flakes

(40g serve)

Flakes

??

serve

Energy – kilojoules

614

768

866

980

640

620

Energy - calories

147

183

207

234

153

148

Protein (g)

3.0

4.1

4.9

9.0

2.6

7.9

Fat (g)

- Includes sat fat (g)

6.7

0.9

6.7

1.1

5.9

<1.0

3.0

<1.0

0.6

0.1

0.3

<0.1

Carbohydrates (g)

-Includes sugars (g)

17.7

10.5

25.1

7.8

32.1

3.0

40.4

2.8

33

5.5

26.6

5.8

Sodium (mg)

18

9

312

380

200

144

Dietary Fibre (g)

1.9

3.1

2.5

4.2

1.3

2.6

  

Because the serve sizes aren’t the same, it’s hard to make comparisons about kilojoules/calories, but there’s not a lot in it. Two significant differences stand out. When it comes to protein regular trumps gluten free by a significant margin. The same goes for dietary fibre (something we all need more of).

The down sides of gluten-free

Another factor to consider is the glycemic index (GI) of food. While the glycemic index of the bread we refer to above has not been tested, another similar gluten-free multigrain bread on the market was found to have a high GI (79). Many regular wholegrain breads have a low-medium GI, including this one with a low GI (53). Low GI foods give you more stable blood glucose levels following your meal.

Gluten-free diets tend to be low on grains that are an important source of B vitamins. For example, folate is essential prior to and during pregnancy to help reduce the risk of neural tube defects, and folate is also important for heart health.

Studies have shown that eating wholegrains regularly protects against type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. Avoiding gluten unnecessarily in the pursuit of good health may have the opposite effect.

 The bottom line

  • The gluten-free diet is best for people with celiac disease, but unlikely to be of benefit for the rest of us.
  • A gluten-free diet should only be undertaken after a confirmed diagnosis and best managed with the help of a qualified dietitian.
  • Gluten-free foods can be less healthy: lower in protein and fibre, and higher GI.