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/

 

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.

03 Oct 2017

The faux meat phenomenon

Posted by Nicole Senior on Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Faux (fake) meats have progressed in leaps and bounds since the days of Tofurky roasts. Even devoted meat lovers are being drawn over to the veggie side of life by convincingly tasty ‘not-meats’. Is facon better than bacon? Or are we better off sticking with the real deal?

What in them?

Vegetarian ‘meats’ are made from a variety of non-animal food such as beans, fungi, grains and nuts, and mostly the protein parts. The result is a mass of chewy textured plant proteins with meat-like savoury flavours. Some faux meats are designed to resemble their animal food counterparts, such as soy-protein shaped to look like prawns or even pork belly with the layer of fat and crispy skin to boot- which is pretty amazing work by food technologists although vegans don’t like it much, preferring not to eat anything that even looks like an animal.

Lab-grown meat

Food scientists are working on lab-grown meat and have produced convincing burger patties with meat cells grown in a test tube, removing the need to raise or kill livestock. While this futuristic scenario is now a reality on a small scale, it is super expensive and won’t be meeting the world’s needs for meat anytime soon.

Nutrition

With the rise in popularity of plant-based diets, faux meats are now finding a wider market with people wanting a healthy and sustainable option. However, although they are made from plants (or fungi) their nutritional composition can fall short of ‘superfood’ expectations. Like real bacon and sausages, some faux meat products are highly processed and contain high levels of sodium (salt) and other food additives.

We compared 2 faux meat products and one vegan ‘bacon’ recipe with their real meat equivalents to give you their nutrient profiles. Just a few mouthfuls of Coconut Bacon will use almost your entire daily saturated fat allowance (21.4g out of 24g). The two commercial products we looked at had no Vitamin B12 added, which is a problem for vegans as fortified foods are the only source in a vegan diet. 

 

BACON

SAUSAGES

CHICKEN

Nutrient

Coconut Bacon

(60g serve)

Shortcut Pork Bacon (60g serve)

Quorn Sausages

(50g serve)

Beef Sausages (50g serve)

The Alternative Meat Company Chicken Free Strips (67g serve)

Chicken Stir Fry Strips  (67g serve)

Energy - kilojoules

1235kJ

786kJ

276kJ

551kJ

590kJ

294kJ

Energy - calories

295 calories

188 calories

66 calories

132 calories

141 calories

70 calories

Protein

3.4g

9.2g

6.0g

7.5g

13.3g

14.9g

Fat

- Includes saturated fat

26.8g

21.4g

16.9g

6.4g

1.9g

0.3g

10.3g

4.7g

4.6g

0.5g

1.1g

0.3g

Carbohydrates

- Includes sugars

- Includes starches

7.9g

7.4g

0.4g

0.2g

0.2g

0.0g

5.0g

0.0g

5.0g

2.3g

0.2g

2.1g

9.2g

4.2g

5.0g

0.0g

0.0g

0.0g

Sodium

389mg

689mg

200mg

394mg

367mg

27.5mg

Fibre

6.3g

0.0g

2.0g

0.7g

4.3g

0.0g

Iron

1.0mg

0.3mg

0.3mg

0.7mg

1.9mg

0.3mg

Vitamin B12

0.0μg

0.4μg

0.0μg

2.2μg

0.0μg

0.5μg


Sustainability
Its often said vegetarian diets are more sustainable because plant foods require fewer inputs (e.g. water, feed, energy etc) than meat to produce; however there is more to this story. Highly processed foods require more energy and have long supply chains that add transport inputs and emissions. Smaller animals have a lower eco-footprint than larger ones, and even cattle and sheep can be raised on land than can’t be used for cropping.  Not to mention the social benefits of keeping farming communities around the world viable. Eating some animal foods within a plant based diet produced with more sustainable and fair farming practices can be better for people and planet.  

If you want to eat more sustainably, there are much lower hanging protein solutions. We could eat the whole animal (not just the prime cuts); swap some meat for legumes; and choose more sustainable meat sources. In Australia we are catching on to eating our national emblem, kangaroos as a wild and free-range source of lean meat rich in iron. And of course we could waste less food generally, which is simply throwing away everything that went into producing it, and creating greenhouse gases from food rotting in landfill.

The un-plugged truth

  • You do not need to go meat-free to be healthy; lean unprocessed meats are rich in essential nutrients.
  • Faux meats can have more fibre but can contain more saturated fat and sodium than unprocessed meats- check the label.
  • Be a more sustainable consumer by eating just enough meat, eating nose-to-tail, and don’t waste food.


01 Sep 2017

Can your breakfast clean your liver?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Friday, September 01, 2017

You might remember the lemon detox diet, requiring you to drink a tear-jerking lemon, cayenne pepper and sugar water concoction. Or perhaps you recall the book on the subject of liver cleansing with diet. The concepts of detoxing and cleansing have been heavily criticized by real health experts (the liver and kidneys detox the body already) but they refuse to lay down and die.  Nonetheless, the liver detox/cleansing market is lucrative, and there are loads of detox and cleanse products and diets still out there despite the lack of scientific studies to support them. And now they’re even in our supermarkets. We recently came across a liver cleansing muesli developed by a naturopath and thought we’d investigate.

The liver cleansing muesli contains oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, barley bran, psyllium, barley bran, linseeds, pepitas, which are all good nutritious and high fibre ingredients good for bowel health, but questionable in their liver cleansing abilities.

The product also has an “added botanical for digestive support”, which we assume is the slippery elm ingredient. Slippery elm is herbal medicine made from the bark of the slippery elm tree. Using this ingredient in your breakfast is taking the idea of food as medicine very literally. The company website praises the anti-inflammatory effects of this bark on the digestive tract.

We’re not herbalists, so we checked a professional text on the subject: Herbs and Natural Supplements- an evidence based guide by Lesley Braun and Marc Cohen (Elsevier). We learned that slippery elm was traditionally used by native American tribes to treat wounds and skin irritations, sore throat and coughs and gastrointestinal conditions. Slippery elm contains mucilages that are capable of trapping water and forming a gel that are thought to have soothing properties. Unfortunately the therapeutic effectiveness of slippery elm has not been well investigated under clinical conditions in humans so any beneficial effects are anecdotal, or from in-vitro and animal studies. The ingredients list states the slippery elm is 0.5% of the total, or ¼ of a gram (250mg) per 50g serve, however the typical manufacturer recommended dose is 1 teaspoon three times daily. In summary, this product contains the benefits of fibre from the grains and seeds however it probably doesn’t clean your liver. It might soothe your gut but this is unproven and the dose in a serve of muesli is less than recommended.

The bigger picture here is this product is arguably making health claims and these are strictly regulated in many countries. Under consumer law it is not permitted to make false or misleading claims about a product and a case could be made this product does not deliver on its liver-cleansing promise. Using a health professional endorsement like this product uses a naturopath is a well-used strategy to give the product credibility.

How to look after your liver

To care for your liver, eat plenty of plant foods such as wholegrains, legumes, fruits vegetables, nuts and seeds; exercise regularly; maintain a healthy weight and drink water. Limit alcohol, caffeine and fatty processed foods.

The un-plugged truth

You don’t need to buy detox products or follow detox diets
Muesli is a healthy breakfast choice but probably won’t clean your liver.
To care of your liver, drink less alcohol, exercise regularly, enjoy a healthy plant-based diet, maintain a healthy body weight and drink plenty of water

12 Jul 2017

What is mesquite flour?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, July 12, 2017

It’s not often that I come across a totally new food and so I was pretty excited to find out about mesquite flour. You might have heard of mesquite wood but the pods from the mesquite tree are edible and can be ground into the flour - and what a delightful flour it is. I was sent a sample of organic mesquite bean flour (flour can be made from the pods and beans, but my sample was just the bean). It has a distinctive earthy and sweet aroma a bit like chocolate with a hint of coffee roasty-ness, and a brown colour a little like pale cocoa powder. It is available online and in some health food stores in Australia, but Peter Felker from Case De Mesquite in California would love to hear from potential distributors to make it more widely available. Peter is a plant scientist and his journey to bring this traditional food to the modern marketplace is an interesting story you can read on his website.

Botany

Mesquite trees are part of the Prosopis genus, and cousin to the carob. They originate in the Americas and were a traditional food source for the American Indians. Mesquite is now grown commercially in the USA, and offers a living for rural farmers in South America. You can check out a video of farmers collecting pods in Argentina at Peter’s Facebook page here. You can read more about the composition and fascinating anthropology of mesquite here.


 


Nutrition information

Mesquite bean flour is a tricky food to classify. It consists mostly of carbohydrate but mostly from sugars and fibre rather than starches like in other grain flours. The sugars are mostly sucrose. It has no fat, 7% protein and is very high in fibre (27%). It is gluten free and has a low glycemic index (GI) of 25.

Nutrition information

Serving size: 2 Tablespoons (24g)

Per serve

Per 100g

Energy (kJ)

380 (91 cals)

1582  (378 cals)

Protein (g)

1.7

7

Fat, total (g)

0

0

Fat, saturated (g)

0

0

Carbohydrate, total (g)

20

83

Sugars (g)

13

56

Sodium (mg)

29

122

Fibre (g)

6.5

27



Cooking

 Mesquite bean flour is a delightful addition to baking and you can find recipes here. You simply substitute a small portion of usual flour with mesquite to add its flavour to breads, cakes, biscuits, cookies and pancakes.  You can also add to milk drinks and smoothies, although I think it’s really most natural place is when cooking desserts.Cooking before consumption is recommended on the pack. 


My recipe

I made a small batch of pikelets to check out this new ingredient in action. I used a fairly standard pikelet recipe so I could really assess the mesquite without being distracted. The mesquite gave a nice brown colour and a subtle but lovely novel flavour. I served them with ricotta and a sprinkle of dark drinking chocolate and strawberries which were a really nice accompaniment. I think the chefs are going to have some fun with this ingredient, and you could too.


Mesquite pikelets (mini pancakes) Makes 6 

1/3 cup SR flour

1 Tablespoon mesquite bean flour

1 teaspoons caster sugar

1 egg

¼ cup milk


Combine flour, mesquite and sugar in a bowl.

Add egg and milk and stir well into a batter.

Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat.

Cook pikelets for around 1 minute until bubbles appear on the top and then flip to cook the other side. 

Best enjoyed warm. 

Nutrition content per serve (2 pikelets)

Energy (kJ)

511 (122 cal)

Protein (g)

4.8

Fat, total (g)

0

Fat, saturated (g)

0

Carbohydrate, total (g)

21

Sugars (g)

8

Sodium (mg)

142

Fibre (g)

2.7

 Serving suggestions:

  • Ricotta and a sprinkle of drinking chocolate
  • Maple syrup and sliced banana
  • Chocolate hazelnut spread and strawberries
  • Honey and shaved coconut

03 Jul 2017

are raw desserts healthier?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Monday, July 03, 2017

Raw food diet followers say that cooking foods destroys nutrients and enzymes, and marketers of raw food products claim their products are better for you. Raw desserts are selling like hotcakes (so to speak), as consumers concerned about their health seek to satisfy their basic instincts for sweet pleasure. Are raw desserts nutritionally superior? Let’s take a closer look at the evidence.

Background: what are raw foods?

There are numerous versions of the raw food diet, however the majority of raw foodies won’t eat food cooked above 42°C (108°F), the temperature at which the sun dries out food. Due to the plant-based nature of this diet, it is more popular among vegans and vegetarians. Some of whom choose to eat 100% raw foods, while others choose to include a small amount of cooked foods to make it less restrictive. As an alternative to eat foods ‘a la natural’, instead of frying or baking they use dehydrating machines to concentrate flavours and make foods crispier without heat. They use this process for fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted beans and seaweed.  

Raw desserts

Reading the marketing guff, you’d be forgiven for thinking raw desserts like brownies, slices, bliss balls, bars, cakes and mousses were a free pass into healthy dessert heaven while wearing slim-fitting trousers, but don’t be fooled; these are not everyday foods. They may look gorgeous and contain healthy ingredients such as fruit and nuts, and may be higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals than more orthodox sweets, but because they are usually made with a lot of dried fruit, nuts and seeds (often with a hefty swig of coconut oil) they are very high in calories, and thanks to the coconut oil may also be high in artery-clogging saturated fat too. The table below shows raw and traditional desserts have very similar calorie content. Note the saturated fat in the caramel slice is your maximum daily recommended in one petite 73g portion, gone in about 3 bites.

The raw data on raw desserts

Nutrient

Raw Brownie

(53g serve)

Traditional Brownie

(54g serve)

Raw Choc Caramel Slice

(73g serve)

Traditional Choc Caramel Slice

(67g serve)

Energy - kilojoules

974kJ

917kJ

1554kJ

1345kJ

Energy - calories

233 calories

219 calories

371 calories

321 calories

Protein

2.9g

2.6g

2.5g

3.9g

Fat

- Includes saturated fat

13.0g

2.6g

8.9g

4.1g

31.1g

24.0g

19.4g

13.7g

Carbohydrates

- Includes sugars

- Includes starches

23.2g

22.2g

1.5g

31.6g

25.1g

6.5g

19.6g

18.7g

0.9g

32.6g

25.7g

6.9g

Sodium

88.4mg

54.2g

203.5mg

110.4mg

Fibre

5.2g

0.9g

3.6g

0.7g

Recipes were analysed using Food works

The raw deal

Dessert is dessert - raw or otherwise -  andtypically eaten in addition to main meals. Raw desserts might add extra nutrients, but they will also add extra calories to your day, and possibly store them around your middle. Keep raw desserts for occasional indulgence and don’t kid yourself you are side-tracking the usual nutritional rules because you went “raw”.

The raw truth

  • You do not need to follow a raw food diet to be healthy or lose weight
  • Raw desserts may have more fibre and nutrients but can contain as many calories and saturated fat (or more) than regular desserts
  • Enjoy raw desserts them occasionally and in small amounts.

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

Raw desserts are popping up all over the place. These were at a market stall.

15 Jun 2017

Are ancient grains better?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Thursday, June 15, 2017

Ancient grains lost popularity in the 1700s following the surge in wheat, oat and barley cultivation. Nowadays we can thank novelty-seeking, health conscious consumers for the revival of ancient grains such as spelt, chia, amaranth and quinoa, and their often premium pricing. Clever marketing aims to convince us that these ancient grains are nutritionally superior to more modern variants but it begs the question: are ancient grains superfoods or just super expensive?

What are ancient grains?

While many spell-checks still think ‘quinoa’ is a typo, many people are now familiar with these retro grains. They are added to a growing array of foods - you may have eaten them without even realising it.

Spelt is an older variety of wheat; therefore it contains gluten and can be used to make pasta or a nice loaf of sourdough bread. You can buy spelt flour in many supermarkets nowadays.

Chia is a type of seed; therefore similarly to other seeds, it is gluten-free, rich in healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats, protein and fibre. It has the remarkable ability to absorb water and swells to form a gel, therefore making it a popular ingredient for jams and tapioca-style puddings. If you can get over the fact that chia gel looks like frog eggs, it is quite fun to eat. We quite like it mixed with oats in Bircher muesli.

Amaranth is a gluten-free grain that can be popped like corn. Popped amaranth has a high GI therefore for people with diabetes (and others) it is best eaten in combination with lower GI foods such as oats and nuts for a low glycemic impact. This combination also makes delicious homemade muesli.

Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a gluten-free grain that is high in carbohydrates (68%), low in fat (4.8%) moderate in protein (12%) and low GI. Quinoa works well as a substitute for couscous or rice and can be found at your local supermarket, although the flavour is quite different so don’t think you can get away with a sneaky swap – try it in combination with rice for the more steadfast members of the household.

How do modern grains compare?

You can meet your nutritional needs with ancient or modern grains and seeds. As you can see in the table below, the nutritional profiles of ancient and conventional grains are quite similar, including protein content (which many ancient grains claim to be high in).  It’s sometimes said that modern crops aren’t as nutritious as they used to be but this table shows that isn’t true. There are many environmental (and ethical) issues with modern intensive agriculture but loss of nutritional value isn’t one of them.

What you will notice is quinoa has higher folate content than many other grains. Folate is a B-group vitamin involved in DNA synthesis and can prevent neural tube defects in unborn babies and so of benefit women around conception and during pregnancy. However, in Australia and New Zealand most of our conventional wheat-based bread has folate added so there’s no need to switch to quionoa on that basis.

In terms of the research on grains and health, eating wholegrains of any kind regularly – including good old wheat, oats, rice, rye and barley – is beneficial. For example, eating more wholegrain is linked with a longer life and lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes

 

Nutrient

 

Grains (raw)

Seeds (raw)

Wheat (100g)

Oats (100g)

Rice (100g)

Barley (100g)

Quinoa (100g)

Spelt (100g)

Amaranth (100g)

Chia (100g)

Flaxseeds (100g)

Energy - kilojoules

1418kJ

1628kJ

1536kJ

1481kJ

1540kJ

1414kJ

1552kJ

2033kJ

2234kJ

Energy - calories

339kcal

389kcal

367kcal

354kcal

368kcal

338kcal

371kcal

486kcal

534kcal

Protein

13.7g

16.9g

7.5g

12.5g

14.1g

14.6g

13.6g

16.5g

18.3g

Fat

- Includes sat fats

2.5g

0.5g

6.9g

1.2g

3.2g

0.6g

2.3g

0.5g

6.1g

0.7g

2.4g

0.4g

7.0g

1.5g

30.7g

3.3g

42.2g

3.7g

Carbohydrates

- Includes sugar

- Includes starches

71g

0.9g

64.4g

66g

0g

58.1g

76g

0.7g

75.8g

73g

0.8g

55.4g

64g

0.9g

62.1g

70g

3.0g

57.0g

65g

4.2g

57.3g

42g

1.6g

0g

29g

1.6g

0g

Dietary Fibre

12.2g

10.6g

3.6g

17.3g

7.0g

10.7g

6.7g

34.4g

27.3g

Sodium

2mg

2mg

5g

12g

5mg

8mg

4mg

16mg

30mg

Iron

3.5mg

4.7mg

1.3mg

3.6mg

4.6mg

4.4mg

7.6mg

7.7mg

5.7mg

Magnesium

144mg

177mg

116mg

133mg

197mg

136mg

248mg

335mg

392mg

Zinc

4.2mg

4.0mg

2.1mg

2.8mg

3.1mg

3.3mg

2.9mg

4.6mg

4.3mg

Folate

43μg

56μg

23μg

19μg

184μg

45μg

82μg

87μg[1]

87 μg

Riboflavin

0.1mg

0.1mg

0.1mg

0.3mg

0.3mg

0.1mg

0.2mg

0.2mg

0.2mg

Niacin

6.7mg

1.0mg

6.5mg

4.6mg

1.5mg

6.8mg

0.9mg

8.8mg

3.1mg

Vitamin E

1.0mg

0.4mg

0.6mg

0.6mg

2.4mg

0.8mg

1.2mg

0.5mg

0.3mg

Data from USDA; sugar and starches data from AusFoods 2012 database


What’s good about ancient grains?

Ancient grains are great because they add variety to the diet, giving us additional healthy food options. Instead of rotating between potatoes, rice and pasta at dinner, we now have more choices. These ancient grains also increase the biodiversity of ecosystems, which enhances crop survival and recovery during droughts or disease epidemics. It’s not ideal having most of the worlds food supply provided by a handful of crops if the unthinkable happens and one or several get wiped out by a new disease.

The bottom line?

  • Ancient grains are becoming more popular but are often more expensive.
  • Ancient grains are nutritionally similar to more common and cheaper ones.
  • old and new grains are equally good for you; whole grains are best.

24 May 2017

What is quark?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I remember reading European recipes with quark as an ingredient decades ago and substituting with ricotta because I just couldn't get my hands on the stuff (not be confused with Quorn, the vegetarian meat substitute, or the identically named nerdy physics term describing an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter.) In the food world where I live, there are now two new products in the supermarkets: quark from Aldi described as German, European style cottage cheese, and quark yoghurt from Rokeby farms. I thought I'd tell you a little more about this amusingly named food.

Quark

Quark is a kind of soft, fresh (un-aged) cheese; made by fermenting warm sour milk with mesophile bacterial culture until the curds set and then straining out the liquid(whey). It is a process similar to cottage cheese but quark is smooth in texture as a result of constant stirring rather than lumpy like cottage cheese. The bacterial cultures are different to the thermophile cultures used in yoghurt-making. German and Scandinavian style quark has a higher whey (moisture) content than the drier Eastern European kinds. Quark typically has a low fat content - the one below from Aldi contains 0.3%. I enjoy it as a spread with fruit or honey, but its also great in cakes and sweet desserts (such as cheesecake), breakfast parfaits with fruits and granola, as a sandwich spread, in pancakes and creamy salad dressings.

Quark yoghurt

Quark yoghurt sold under Rokeby Farms brand is a unique product from an Australian company called the Made Group based in Victoria. They have developed a unique cold filtration process to produce high protein, high calcium and low lactose milk and then fermented it using both cheese and yoghurt cultures at a low temperature over a longer time to produce a mild-tasting, more savoury tasting product quark-yoghurt hybrid. And apparently it has been well received in the marketplace as indicated by the consumer feedback shared in company's presentation slide I photographed below. Nutritionally speaking it is very good and the high protein and calcium claims are demonstrated in the nutrition information table. One 170g tub contains around 15g of protein, and an incredible 436-507mg calcium and that's great news to the majority of us who struggle to consume the recommended intake. And its not added calcium, its intrinsic in the high protein milk. After tasting it, I can say it is also delicious and less sweet (lower in sugar) than typical flavoured yoghurts. These products are currently only available in Woolworths supermarkets.