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.


11 Mar 2021

Yams are not sweet potatoes

Posted by 2142 2142 on Thursday, March 11, 2021

Living in Australia, my exposure to the celebration of Thanksgiving was through the American TV shows I watched growing up. I know turkey plays a central role on the thanksgiving table, but I also know candied yams are a traditional side-dish. As thanksgiving is coming, it got me thinking about yams, as I don’t think I’ve ever eaten them.

But wait, I’ve eaten sweet potato and isn’t that the same thing? No. Although the terms are used interchangeably in North America, sweet potatoes (ipomoea batatas) and true yams (Dioscoreaceae) are different things altogether. Although they are both root vegetables (tubers), they aren’t even in the same botanical family. Yams are part of the lily family. Candied yams enjoyed at Thanksgiving aren’t yams at all but sweet potato.

Most yams are grown in Africa and they’re also native to Asia. Yams are cylindrical and come in different sizes, including some that can be up to 25kg each! The most common African species have dark brown, rough skin and white (Diascorea rotundata) or yellow flesh (diascorea cayennensis). The white yam was (diascorea alata) first cultivated in Asia and is known as uhi in Hawaii. The Chinese yam is Diascorea polystachya.  In New Zealand and Polynesia Oxalis tuberosa are referred to as yams, or Oca in Spanish and only 2-3 cm long.

Yams are starchier and drier than sweet potato and typically ground into a paste known in Africa as Iyan, but they can be cooked in many ways. Most yams need to be cooked as eating them raw can cause illness. Boiling, frying or roasting are common, and similar to other starchy vegetables they provide a neutral base on which to serve savoury or sweet dishes. If you’d like to give them a try, find them at specialty greengrocers and perhaps make this African Yam Stew or Yam fries.

Nutritionally yams have high water content, are low in protein, virtually fat-free and contain around 27% carbohydrate of which all is starch. They are a good source of potassium, fibre and also contain vitamin B6 and vitamin C. The yellow flesh varieties are loaded with carotenoid antioxidants. The glycemic index (GI) varies by species. The common African species are medium to high GI, while the New Zealand and Chinese species are low GI.

New Zealand yams (Oxalis tuberosa)

06 Nov 2020

Where there's smoke...

Posted by 2142 2142 on Friday, November 06, 2020

I love the flavour of smoked foods, whether it be salmon, trout, cheese or chicken. And the man of my house has just taken ownership of a bespoke reverse (or offset) smoker built by his mate during downtime at his metal fabrication workshop. He’s excited about all the things he can cook and smoke in it. A reverse smoker can be used as a wood fired oven and/or smoker by adjusting the chimney, which provides many options for cooking style. We’ve tried chicken, beef and potatoes but I’m currently planning wood-fired pizza.  In addition, I was recently gifted a piece of smoked of pork by my friend of Croatian background whose father had smoked it himself in his backyard in a DIY traditional wood smoker. All good. However, I’m troubled by the idea that smoking may not be a healthy way to cook, with all those chemicals and all. We know breathing smoke and cigarette smoking can kill, but what about eating smoked foods?

There are several issues. Firstly, any woman who has ever been pregnant knows smoked salmon is off limits due to the risk of listeria being present. Listeria is a bacteria that causes illness that can harm an unborn baby. This is because the smoking process is not the same as cooking which does kill listeria. The temperatures don’t get high enough in the smoking process. Okay, so there’s the food safety aspect, but what about smoked foods that have been cooked thoroghly. Do any of the chemicals in the smoke present a risk?

The answer is yes, unfortunately. In the scientific literature, smoking foods is a way of contaminating it with carcinogenic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and others. Oh dear! In addition, there have been associations found between populations that consume smoked foods regularly and the risk of cancers of the intestinal tract. What about home-smoking compared to industrial-style smoking during commercial food processing? The news isn’t great with one study finding very little difference in the content of risky chemicals between commercial and home-smoked foods. In addition, commercially produced foods have to comply with safety limits whereas home smoking is a free-for-all.

What are we to make of this? To my mind this means we have to limit our consumption of smoked foods and ensure we’re boosting our defenses by consuming lots of fresh and minimally processed plant foods with natural cancer-fighting activity such as vegetables, mushrooms, fruits, wholegrains, nuts and seeds. As well as making smoked food occasional, we also need to limit the portion size in order to allow our bodies to deal effectively with the chemical incursion. This means a slice of smoked salmon in a wholemeal sandwich or some smoked chicken in a salad might be a better option than a hunk of beef brisket American BBQ style. But we knew that already!

This pic is an offset smoker.

15 Sep 2020

What are plantains and what do you do with them?

Posted by 2142 2142 on Tuesday, September 15, 2020

I once visited a friend and found a giant bunch of what I thought were bananas on her back patio. I learned they were actually plantains. A Filipino friend had given them to her from his own garden. She was keen to give some away as she had way too many and unsure what to do with them. Well, I love a food challenge and can’t bear to let food go to waste so I gratefully accepted her offer and snapped off a dozen or so from the bunch and let the World Wide Web guide me on a journey of discovery.

Plantains are also known as cooking bananas and are starchy rather than sweet. As the alternate name suggests they are always eaten cooked. They can be eaten ripe or unripe (green) and the starchy unripe form has a neutral flavour similar to potato. They are a major staple in central and West Africa, the Caribbean, Central America and the northern parts of South America, and indigenous to tropical South East Asia. They provide a surprising 25% of the carbohydrate requirements of 70 million people in Africa alone. They are a useful food crop because they bear fruit all year.

In Africa, plantains are usually fried or roasted, while in the Caribbean they are boiled and mashed. In Central and South America plantains can be boiled and mashed, or made into chips, patties or dumplings and fried. In these cuisines, plantains provide a neutral palette on which to add flavoursome savoury dishes. In India, Indonesia and the Philippines they tend more to the sweeter side of things, such as steamed plantain and coconut cake, or simply fried and sprinkled with sugar or syrup. Plantains can also be dried and ground into flour.

Nutritionally, plantains are around one third carbohydrate, of which around half is starch and half is sugars . They are very low in protein and fat and a good source of fibre. They also provide useful amounts of vitamin A, C, B6 and potassium. The glycemic index of plantain varies according to the cultivar, how ripe it is and how it is prepared. Unripe, green plantain is generally low GI but some cultivars can be medium or even high when boiled.

You might wonder what I did with my plantains. I went savoury with a Cayeye and Cabeza de Gato (Colombian mashed green plantain, pictured) and then sweet with Caramelised Plantains. If you’re not lucky enough to have a neighbour growing them to share, you can find them in greengrocers and markets, especially in places where immigrants who traditionally eat them live.

05 Aug 2020

The joy of citrus

Posted by 2142 2142 on Wednesday, August 05, 2020

I know its winter because the citrus trees in my neighbourhood are laden with fruit. The citrus fruit family has something for everyone, whether it be the sweet and juicy orange, the cute and easy to peel mandarin, the gorgeously fragrant lime, the cook’s favourite lemon or bittersweet grapefruit. Then there are the more exotic citrus fruits such as the gigantic pomello (aptly named citrus maxima), the oh-so-hip Japanese yuzu or the gorgeous pot plant and preserve favourite, cumquat. There really is a citrus fruit for everybody but the whole citrus family shares the qualities of intensely exhilarating refreshment and beautifully bright colours.

Citrus is famous for its fresh zing, both in your mouth and in the air around you when you peel them. For cooks, their sour astringency makes them ideal to partner with creamy or fatty foods as they ‘slice through’ the richness for an altogether more satisfying mouthful. This is used to great effect in Asian savoury dishes, in the famous French dish duck a l’orange and my grandma’s specialty lemon butter (or lemon curd). Citrus zest packs amazing flavour. Use a microplane or zester and add zest to baking, sauces and anything with a citrus ingredient to turn up the citrus flavour volume to the max. The sourer the citrus, the better they balance with sweetness, so lemon and lime cakes taste divine and lemon curd is sunshine and happiness on a spoon. Citrus are also perfect for juicing but limit to small amounts and eat mostly whole fruit to preserve all their nutritional goodness and fibre. If you only drink citrus you juice yourself this puts a natural brake on your intake. And once you’ve experienced the joy of fresh squeezed, it’s hard to go back.

Citrus fruits are a powerhouse of nutrition. They are perhaps best known for their vitamin C content, however this is only part of their good news story. They are packed with natural phytochemicals with a laundry list of health benefits including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. All this and they are also low GI.

13 May 2020

All about couscous

Posted by 2142 2142 on Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The past few months of diabolical difficulty have turned our focus toward survival. Carb-rich foods have come into their own as affordable, shelf-stable and easy to prepare staples (not to mention the mood boosting benefits). Pasta was one of the foods to disappear from my local supermarket shelves as a result of stockpiling. There was couscous still on the shelf so I guess not everyone is as familiar with this speedy side dish.

Couscous is a kind of tiny pasta made of hard durum wheat semolina that looks a bit like coarse sand and has a mild nutty, sweet flavor. The name may have come from the Arabic word ‘kaskash’ which means to pound into small bits. Couscous is typically steamed, although in Western supermarkets it is most often sold in a pre-steamed, instant form to which you add boiling water (or stock) and allow the ‘grains’ to swell making it quick and easy to prepare. Pearl (or Israeli) couscous also known as moghrabieh is larger balls of crushed durum wheat semolina about the size of small peas, which is boiled to prepare.

Couscous is a traditional staple food in North Africa and served with a stew/casserole on top, such as Moroccan tagine (stew).  Tagines and other stews served lend themselves to tasty, interesting, thrifty, healthy and environmentally sustainable meals that include pulses and legumes, vegetables, nuts, fruit, spices and small amounts of meat. For example, Chickpea tagine with almonds, Chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemon, or Beef tagine with dates. Stews can also be made in a slow cooker that saves times and boosts flavor. Couscous can also be used to make salads in a similar way to rice and pasta.

Couscous is low in fat, high in carbohydrate and contains around 14% protein. Instant couscous has a medium GI (around 65), while some pearl varieties are low (around 52). Most couscous is not wholegrain but seek out wholemeal varieties when you can for added nutritional benefits.

06 Feb 2020

Choose sustainable seafood

Posted by 2142 2142 on Thursday, February 06, 2020

If any food could be considered a super food, it’s seafood (fish and shellfish). High in protein, and low in saturated fat, it’s a major source of healthy long-chain omega-3 fats and rich in nutrients such as iron, zinc, selenium, iodine, and vitamin D. And there is strong evidence eating it is good for the heart. Quality observational studies have shown approximately one to two 100-gram (3-ounce) servings of fatty fish a week – salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines – reduces the risk of heart disease.

There is also consistent evidence that consuming fish two to three times a week along with leafy greens and other fruit and vegetables daily and low GI carbohydrates can reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration, or help to slow its progression if it has already become established.

HOW MUCH SEAFOOD? Nutrition guidelines around the world suggest adults eat two serves of seafood a week. A serving is 100g (3½oz) of cooked (or 115g/4oz raw), which is around the size of your hand, or the amount in a small can.

While battered and deep‐fried fish ’n’ chips are delicious, steamed, broiled/grilled, baked or pan‐fried fish are better options. Boost the health benefits and serve with plenty of vegetables or salad.

WHICH FISH? There is a huge variety of seafood to choose from but we creatures of habit tend to stick to a limited range of our favourites that are quick and easy to prepare and available all year round. However globally, overfishing is a big problem. Taking pressure off fish stocks means we need to branch out and try different types of seafood. An added bonus is the less popular species tend to be cheaper.

If you want to expand your options, ask the fishmonger about what’s local and abundant or check out the “nose to tail” movement that promotes using all of the animal. We as citizen-eaters can help by eating “fin to fin” (i.e. the whole fish and not just our favourite boneless, fillets) and not wasting any because throwing seafood in the bin stinks to high heaven and just adds insult to injury (it wastes the already significant environmental costs in producing it). If you have the space, you can bury your seafood scraps in the yard or garden to enrich the soil.

Look online, and you’ll find there are a number of people and organisations already promoting lesser-known fish with tips on how to choose and recipes to get great results. If you want to be adventurous in the kitchen, a good place to start would be Josh Niland’s, The Whole Fish (Hardie Grant), which is packed with ideas for cooking undervalued and less celebrated fish, and yes, the whole fish.

WHICH FISH IF YOU ARE PREGNANT? Now is the time to be selective. Avoid raw fish (e.g. sashimi, sushi), pre‐cooked prawns and smoked salmon due to the risk of listeria (a bacteria that can cause problems for the unborn child if the mother becomes infected). Fish and seafood are nutritionally important foods during pregnancy but some species contain high levels of mercury and some caution is required. Check your local health authority for which species to limit or avoid but keep in mind most are OK and seafood provides essential nutrients during pregnancy. In general, predator fish species at the top of the food chain accumulate higher levels of mercury – smaller fish species are lower in mercury. Canned fish products are not high in mercury.


Many people are concerned about seafood sustainability but the twice a week recommendation for health (around 200g) is about the amount of fish the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet recommends (28g/day or 196g/week) to eat sustainably within natural limits. In reality most people eat less than this now, so sustainability concerns need not stop you from the twice a week target, provided you choose wisely.

Josh Niland sees sustainability as a three-pronged approach. “First you have to be aware of the stock status of the species, Second you have to be aware of the practices of the fishermen who caught your fish. Was it trawled in large nets or was it individually line caught. Finally, waste minimisation.”

Choosing sustainable seafood is important to ensure an ongoing supply for future generations. How? Look for sustainability logos when shopping for packaged seafood, such as the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) logo. Check out the sustainability status of fresh fish and seafood in your country via websites or apps, such as the SAFS (Status of Australian Fish Stocks).

19 Nov 2019

Alcohol: The pink elephant in the room

Posted by 2142 2142 on Tuesday, November 19, 2019

“Seeing pink elephants” is an expression describing drunken hallucinations, and a pink elephant is the name of a cocktail containing vodka, cranberry juice, raspberry liqueur and limoncello (lemon liqueur). The expression “the elephant in the room” describes a huge and obvious issue not being addressed. As we head into the festive season, let’s talk about alcohol – the large pink elephant in the room.

There’s a lot of talk among diet tribes about all carbs (starches and sugars) being fattening and in particular, about sugar being poison, however when it comes to the “diet wars” we don’t hear much about alcohol. Unlike sugars, alcohol is a poison, albeit government revenue-generating poison. Considering Australian adults consume 4.8% of their daily kilojoules (calories) from alcoholic beverages, you have to wonder why alcohol has escaped being hit by the blame train.

  • Is it the power and influence of the alcohol industry?
  • Is it because alcohol is fun and we’re in denial?
  • Is it because we’re clueless about the adverse health effects and high kilojoule/calorie content?

To focus on the third question, perhaps we are naive about the fattening nature of alcohol because we’re clueless about how many kilojoules/calories we’re consuming in our favourite tipple. While packaged food must carry nutrition labelling including energy content, alcoholic drinks do not. While at least one large Australian company now includes nutrition information on its beers, they stand out in an industry dead against placing this very sobering information on their products.

Let’s be clear: alcohol is high in kilojoules (calories). While carbohydrate provides 16kJ (4 calories) per gram and protein provides 17kJ (4.2 calories) per gram, alcohol provides 29kJ (7 calories) per gram. And being tipsy tends to make us more uninhibited with what we eat – alcohol is a well-known appetite stimulant.

While the sugar-quitting folk warn about the sugar content of drinks, and low-carb beer has a sizeable market following among the “health conscious”, the numbers tell a different story. Most of the kilojoules in alcoholic drinks come from alcohol, not sugars. Low-alcohol beer beats low-carb beer when it comes to being health and weight-friendly, and for staying in better control of how much and what kinds of food you eat with it.

5 POPULAR DRINKS Let’s look at where the kilojoules (calories) come from in 5 popular drinks. Sugars or alcohol? Note that the percentages don’t add up to 100, because there are also starches and proteins present that contribute total energy. We have rounded the figures. 

Ingredients and measures



% Energy

from sugars

% Energy

from alcohol

Regular beer (lager)


105 calories



2 calories



74 calories


White wine (medium)


65 calories



4 calories



55 calories



White rum, 50ml/1⅔oz

Lime juice, 25ml/¾oz

Sugar syrup, 20ml/⅔oz

Fresh mint, 8 leaves

Soda water 30ml/1oz

150 calories



44 calories





105 calories




White rum, 50ml/1⅔oz

Lime juice, ¾oz (25ml)

Sugar syrup, ⅔oz (20ml)

150 calories



44 calories



105 calories




Silver tequila, 40ml/1⅓oz

Cointreau, 20ml/⅔oz

Lime juice, 20ml/⅔oz

155 calories



20 calories




133 calories



Table reproduced and adapted with permission from The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners (The Experiment Publishing, New York).

And did you know excess alcohol consumption is a key risk factor for breast cancer? reports women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer than women who don’t drink any alcohol.

I won’t go into the cultural problem we have with consuming way too much alcohol here, or the health and social costs, except to say they are MAMMOTH. It costs us as a society a lot to drink so much. I love a nice glass of wine or beer, but it would be good to be part of a culture in which getting drunk is not considered normal.

Fighting excessive alcohol consumption is a fight worth having, with no nutritional downsides. Let’s quit the one-nutrient-at-a-time skirmishing and take on a real enemy. Let’s do battle and fight to have the calories/kilojoules clearly printed in at least 10-point type on the label of all alcoholic drinks.

06 Sep 2019

Women, seafood and health

Posted by 2142 2142 on Friday, September 06, 2019

Women and Seafood: Get Hooked.

Seafood is good for the heart and many of us don’t eat enough, including women. We thought we’d look at women in particular because we often overlook our heart health, and because women are still major influencers on food choices in households. It’s time we got hooked in seafood, both for ourselves and our families.

While plant foods are attracting a lot of attention (and for good reasons) we seem to have forgotten that seafood is a superfood. Fish and seafood are staple foods in the Mediterranean diet considered to be one of the healthiest eating patterns in the world. A high seafood intake is also thought to contribute to the healthiness of the traditional Japanese diet. 

Women should eat more seafood because it:

  • Is a nutrient-dense core food: Seafood provides essential nutrients including protein, iron, zinc, iodine and calcium (in fish bones) and omega-3 fats, just to name a few.
  • Supports healthy pregnancy: Eating enough omega-3s during pregnancy and breast-feeding is important for optimal child brain development and may even affect child intelligence.
  • Helps protect against the biggest killer in the world:  Eating fish and seafood regularly reduces your risk of coronary heart disease.

How much seafood should you eat?

Nutrition guidelines around the world suggest adults eat two serves a week. One serve is 100g of cooked (or 115g raw) seafood which is around the size of your hand, or the amount in a small can. While battered and deep fried fish ‘n’ chips are delicious, steamed, broiled/grilled, baked or pan-fried are a healthier options. Be sure to serve fish or seafood with plenty of vegetables or salad to further boost the health benefits of the meal.

Which fish should you choose?

There is a huge variety of seafood to choose from but there are times women need to be selective. If you’re pregnant, avoid raw fish (e.g. sashimi, sushi), pre-cooked prawns and smoked salmon due to the risk of listeria (a bacteria that can cause problems for the unborn child if the mother becomes infected).

Seafood is a nutritionally important food during pregnancy but some species contain high levels of mercury and some caution is required. Check your local health authority for which species to limit or avoid but keep in mind most are OK. In general, predator fish species at the top of the food chain accumulate higher levels of mercury - smaller fish species are lower in mercury. Canned fish are not high in mercury.

What about sustainability?

Choosing sustainable seafood is important to ensure an ongoing supply for future generations. Look for sustainability logos on-pack when shopping for packaged seafood, such as the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) logo. Check out the sustainability status of fresh fish and seafood in your country via websites or apps, such as the SAFS (Status of Australian Fish Stocks).

The dish on fish

  • Seafood provides important nutrients for women, especially during pregnancy.
  • Aim to eat seafood twice a week.
  • During pregnancy, avoid seafood with high mercury content and raw fish due to risk of listeria.
  • Choose sustainable seafood options.

24 Jun 2019

vegan ice cream

Posted by 2142 2142 on Monday, June 24, 2019

VEGAN ICE CREAM – is it the answer to better health and sustainability?

‘You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream’ is a popular soundtrack to food joy. Now vegans, sustainable shoppers and calorie-conscious consumers can get their fix with many big name ice cream brands launching products to cater for these dietary desires. Are these alternative ice creams healthier and better for the planet? Or are we better off sticking with the real deal?

Are vegan ice creams better for the planet?

Plant-based foods generally use fewer resources (e.g. water, feed, energy) and have lower greenhouse gas emissions. However, not all vegan foods are sustainable options due to their high level of processing. Highly processed foods use more energy and their long supply chains add transport inputs and create emissions. For example, the new Magnum Classic Dairy-Free ice cream contains pea protein, but quite a number of steps and resources would be required to turn peas into pea protein and then add it to ice cream. These vegan products are developed to meet consumer demand, not necessarily to boost sustainability.  In the big picture, the planet could do with fewer ice creams (and highly processed foods generally) rather than vegan ones.

Are some ice creams ‘healthier’ than others?

There are ice creams on the market to cater for nearly every diet: vegan, low-calorie, higher protein, gluten-free and even ‘guilt-free’. We compared the nutrients in Magnum Classic to the new Magnum Classic Dairy-free (Unilever Australia). The nutritional profiles are quite similar, with a similar ratio of fat to sugar to obtain the desired flavour and texture. The protein content of the Magnum Classic is slightly higher than its dairy-free counterpart. They are both still highly processed, discretionary (treat) foods. They contain plenty of sugar and calories and roughly half your daily saturated fat allowance (12g for Magnum Classic and 10.1g for Magnum Classic Dairy-Free out of 24g).

The ‘low-calorie and ‘guilt-free’ ice creams are also not as virtuous as they appear. While they may be lower in sugar and calories they are still highly processed treat foods best enjoyed occasionally. As Philippa discussed in her article, these ice creams are often sweetened with sugar alcohols, so for some people they may come with an unwanted side of diarrhoea, bloating or gas. 


Magnum Classic

Magnum Classic Dairy-Free 71g

Per 82g serve

Per 100g

Per 71g serve

Per 100g



262 calories


320 calories


234 calories


330 calories







- Includes saturated fat










- Includes sugars














How to curb cravings

Similar to chocolate, cookies and other treats, ice cream is a food people crave. This is due in part because ice cream is considered naughty or ‘off-limits’. We want what is forbidden, and often eat large amounts when we give in. The answer is, occasionally, choose a modest portion of excellent and delicious ice cream and savour every mouthful.

At other times choose healthy and satisfying sweet foods such as fruit. Our favourite satisfying sweet combos include Greek yoghurt with honey and walnuts or seasonal fresh fruit salad with vanilla yoghurt. Try Kate McGhie’s Banana and Peanut ‘Ice Cream’ recipe in this issue of GI News for a frozen treat that satisfies. Trick your brain into believing that you are eating more by serving it in a smaller dish. Add a drizzle of melted dark chocolate if you fancy it.

Ice Cream in a Nut Shell

  • Vegan and low-calorie ice creams are still highly processed ‘sometimes’ foods that have an impact on our environment and health, just like regular ice cream.
  • No foods are off-limits; enjoy a good quality ice cream from time to time.
  • For everyday sweet treats, choose satisfying wholefoods such as fruit and yoghurt

02 Apr 2019

Our clothing conundrum

Posted by 2142 2142 on Tuesday, April 02, 2019

OK so clothing isn’t really about eating, but it’s a household issue so its worth talking about. Clothing is so cheap these days; many of us purge almost brand new garments from our wardrobes without a second thought. This is unsustainable and unethical.

Environmental Issues

According to ABC’s program War on Waste, Australians throw a massive 6000kg of clothing into landfill every 10 minutes. For those of you thinking you are in the clear because you donate old clothes to charity, sorry to burst your bubble but 85% of donated clothing ends up in landfill. Even charities are groaning under the weight of donations.

Producing a single item of clothing uses a massive amount of resources. According to Fashion Revolution, 2,720 litres of water is used to make just one t-shirt. That’s how much water we normally drink in around 3 years! Not to mention the greenhouse gases released into the air along with the fertilisers, pesticides and toxic dyes that are contaminating waterways. The True Cost movie uncovers the devastating impact that chemicals from textile production have on the health of local communities. Communities located in cotton producing areas are exposed to pesticides and some leather tanneries contaminate drinking water. Sadly these communities experience high levels of particular diseases like cancer and early death.

Ethical Issues

Buying a cheap $5 t-shirt supports the fast fashion industry and perpetuates the cycle of poverty and poor health for garment workers in developing countries like Bangladesh.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh killed more than 1000 people because profits were put above employee safety. This is one of many similar tragedies in the fast fashion industry. In many countries like Bangladesh, garment workers are paid a minimal wage that covers only 60% of the cost of living in a slum. As fast fashion brands generally don’t own garment factories they often wash their hands of these responsibilities. Most of the money that you pay goes into the pocket of the brand and retailer.  If we were to pay garment workers a fair wage so they could access housing, healthcare, education, food and clothing, this would only have a minimal impact on the retail price. According to Fashion Revolution a $46 AUD (26 Euro, $33 USD) t-shirt would only increase in retail price by about $2.50 AUD (1.57 Euro, $1.77 USD).

What Can You Do to Help?

  • Buy only what you need: Choose versatile pieces that you love and will wear over and over again. For special occasions consider renting or borrowing an outfit.
  • Buy second-hand: Buy pre-loved vintage items from a charity store to rescue an item from landfill and buy quality items at a bargain price.
  • Support ethical brands: Support sustainable companies like those using organic cotton, recycled materials and those avoiding toxic dyes. Check out Greenpeace’s list of brands that are working to eliminate hazardous chemicals.
  • Choose quality items: Spend a little more on well-made timeless items. Look for heavier fabrics as well as strong and tidy stitching so they last longer.
  • Choose natural fabrics: Synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon and acrylic are types of plastic so when they are washed, tiny plastic particles enter our waterways. Instead choose natural fabrics like cotton (e.g. denim), linen, silk or wool that don’t release micro-plastics and decompose faster in landfill. A linen sleeveless top can decompose in as little as 2 weeks compared to a polyester dress that may remain in landfill for over 200 years.
  • Launder clothes less often: Try and wear clothes at least 3 times before you wash them. If they’re not dirty, just hang your clothes in the air to dry out and freshen up – as the saying goes, sunshine is a great disinfectant. If you get a stain on your freshly laundered shirt, spot cleaning will suffice. Reduce wear and tear on clothes by hanging them to dry so creases drop out instead of ironing them.

Stinky kitchen sponges, dish cloths and tea towels are gross but can be kept fresh and odour-free by ensuring they dry out completely between uses rather than constantly laundering them. Bacteria need moisture to grow. Keep them dry by hanging out in the sun or in dry air and have a couple in use at once and alternate between them so you always have a dry one ready to go. You can also sterilise clean, wet dish cloths in the microwave to kill germs and then dry them out.

  • Protect your clothing: Use aprons when cooking to protect clothes from hot oil and food stains. Launder dark items inside out to preserve their colour as they may fade in the wash when rubbing against other garments. Do up zips or hooks and turn garments inside out so fabric doesn’t snag.
  • Repair your clothing: Learn how to sew on a button or re-dye your favourite black jeans that have faded over time.
  • Upcycle worn out items: When items are beyond repair, give them a second life. Turn old worn out clothing, tea towels and tablecloths into shopping bags, aprons, cleaning rags and much more!

Ethical Clothing in a Nut Shell

  • Be mindful of the human and environmental costs of fast fashion.
  • Buy only what you need.
  • Choose good quality products made from natural fabrics that will last longer.
  • Only launder garments when they are dirty.
  • Repair worn textiles or get creative and turn them into new useful items.

Further reading


80% of donated clothing ends up in landfill. The solution is to buy less clothing and then dispose of it responsibly.

Thanks to Rachel @theseasonaldietitian for co-writing this article.