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/

 

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.


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.

29 Mar 2017

Do you need sugar-free chocolate?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Easter is the season that will test the New Year’s resolutions of many. You will be quietly going about your grocery shopping and the chocolate bunnies will literally hop right into your shopping trolley! If you’d like to stay on the path of health over Easter, are sugar-free chocolates a better option? Let’s look at what’s in them.

 

First up, what are the typical ingredients in regular chocolate?

  •        Lindt Excellence Smooth Blend 70% Cocoa Dark Chocolate: Cocoa mass, SUGAR, cocoa butter, emulsifier (soy lecithin), vanilla.
  •        Lindt Lindor Milk Block: SUGAR, vegetable fats, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, cocoa mass, lactose, skim milk powder, milk fat, emulsifier (soy lecithin), barley malt extract, flavourings.

 So, what are the typical ingredients in sugar-free chocolate? Numerous sugar replacement additives are used to add flavor, texture and bulk (underlined).

  •        Well Naturally Rich Dark Chocolate: Cocoa mass & cocoa butter (70% cocoa solids), polydextrose, erythritol, soy lecithin, natural flavour, stevia.
  •        Healtheries No Added Sugar Milk Chocolate: Chocolate 57% [Cocoa Solids 40% (Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass), Maltitol, Full Cream Milk Powder, Emulsifier (Soy Lecithin), Natural Flavour, Natural Sweetener (Steviol Glycosides)] Filling 43% [Maltitol, Vegetable Fat, Cocoa Powder, Emulsifier (Soy Lecithin), Natural Flavour].

In sugar-free chocolate, polydextrose, maltitol, erythritol and stevia (steviol glycosides) provide the sweetness and mouth-feel that is normally provided by sugar. While they are safe to eat in moderation, the body is unable to completely absorb polydextrose, maltitol and erythritol and they may produce unwanted side effects if consumed in excess, hence the warning printed in capitals on sugar-free chocolate wrappers: “EXCESS CONSUMPTION MAY HAVE A LAXATIVE EFFECT.”

 

Well Naturally claims their sugar-free chocolate is:

  •        Naturally sweetened with stevia. Contains no artificial colours, flavours, preservatives or sweeteners.
  •        A suitable treat for those wanting to reduce their sugar intake, such as diabetics and those watching their weight [when eaten in moderation].

 Are sugar-replacers “natural” ingredients?

Companies such as Well Naturally claim the sugar-replacements they use are natural, not artificial. Then why do these sugar-replacements (polydextrose, erythritol and stevia) sound so artificial?  

 

While the leaves of the stevia plant are sweet, the manufacturer does not simply crush leaves and mix them into the chocolate. Stevia is produced using a five-step process that involves interactions with chemicals such as resins and alcoholic solvents to change the stevia leaves into steviol glycosides. Natural? Not really. Not like honey from the hive. The word ‘natural’ is not well regulated in the food industry and tends to be subjectively interpreted by manufacturers.

 

What about “no artificial” claims?

“No artificial” claims often make baddies of things that are chemically identical to their “natural” counterparts. For example TO COME. When you get right down to it, if we ate less processed foods the “artificial” colours and flavours problem would almost disappear. A cynic might say the proliferation of “no artificial” claims just give us permission to eat other versions of highly processed, nutrient-poor foods …

 

It’s true that there’s a very small proportion of the population who are very sensitive to “artificial” colours and flavours, but they are sadly also sensitive to naturally occurring chemicals in food as well. While some artificial colours have been implicated in behavioural changes in children, the doses are large and the effects small, and the mechanism of effect is poorly understood. A systematic review and meta-analysis found there isn’t enough evidence to support eliminating artificial colours in children with ADHD. What about preservatives? Chocolate doesn’t typically have any – and in our house it doesn’t last long enough to need them.

 

Is sugar-free chocolate suitable for people living with diabetes and those trying to lose weight?

We put together the following table to see how the nutritional content differs in 100g of dark and milk chocolate compared to the same amount of sugar-free chocolate.

 

Nutrients

Lindt Excellence Smooth Blend (dark) 70% Cocoa

(100g)

Lindt Lindor Milk Block (100g)

Well Naturally No Sugar Added Rich Dark Chocolate (70% cocoa)

(100g)

Healtheries No Added Sugar Milk Chocolate Smooth Centre (100g)

Energy – kilojoules

2530kJ

2550kJ

1980kJ

2200kJ

Energy – calories

605 calories

610 calories

474 calories

525 calories

Protein

6.9g

4.7g

6.8g

5.6g

Fat

— Includes saturated fat

48g

29g

46.1g

34.5g

43.2g

26.2g

37.2g

28.2g

Carbohydrates

— Includes sugars

— Includes starches

33.0g

29.0g

0g

44.3g

43.6g

0g

5.4g

0.7g

0g

6.2g

4.7g

0g

 

Well Naturally claim that when eaten in moderation, their sugar-free chocolate is a suitable treat for people living with diabetes and those who are watching their weight. The Well Naturally Rich Dark Chocolate contains 28% fewer calories while Healtheries No Added Sugar Milk Chocolate Smooth Centre contains 14% fewer calories; therefore it does offer a saving (if you can stop at one). Despite these calorie savings, sugar-free chocolates are still calorie-dense and contain large amounts of saturated (cholesterol-raising) fats. Just a few bites (21g bar) of Healtheries No Added Sugar Milk Chocolate Smooth Centre contains the same amount of calories as a 200g large apple with far less tummy-filling power.

 

The significantly lower carbohydrate content of sugar-free chocolate may be of benefit for people counting carbs to manage their diabetes, but this is less of an issue if portions are limited (100g chocolate is too much at a sitting for anyone). My 91 year old grandmother has diabetes, mild dementia, a wildly sweet tooth and struggles with portion control so I recently bought her some for a birthday treat.

 

Diabetes Australia says, “a healthy eating plan for diabetes can include some sugar…however foods that are high in added sugars and poor sources of nutrients should be consumed sparingly…foods and drinks that have been sweetened with an alternative sweetener such as…sugar-free lollies etc, are best enjoyed occasionally…” And not to promote overconsumption in any way, but the fact is regular chocolate has a low GI. Everybody – including people with diabetes – can enjoy small portions of regular treat foods and don’t need sugar-free versions. In our experience reframing treats as better for you because there’s no sugar added gives us license to eat more and negates any kilojoule saving- we’re illogical creatures!

 

The un-plugged truth

While sugar-free chocolate may offer some advantages at Easter time there is no real need for it. Don’t mistake sugar-free chocolate for a health food. Enjoy small portions of the best chocolate you can afford and savour it slowly and mindfully with respect and appreciation.

 

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

06 Jan 2016

Ten foods I eat rarely and why

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Every now and again I see an article about foods that nutritionists won't eat. So I asked myself: which ten foods would I never eat? Since this is my blog and I don’t have to play along with journalistic tendency to create sensation, I’m going to say: none. Besides foods that are poisonous, or have extreme yuck factor (like fermented yak milk or raw ox blood), I prefer not to take a hard line on less healthy ‘sometimes foods’. Such food judgements don’t sit well with me. I prefer to be a food democrat.  In short, when it comes to food: I never say never! Instead I’m going to put together my own list of foods I eat rarely or very occasionally, and why.

10 Foods I eat rarely and why

  1. Croissants

Despite their romantic aura that conjures Parisian cafes and holiday romances, there is an ugly truth behind these golden breakfast beauties: trans fats. Croissants, Danish pastries and the like are some of the few foods left that are high in trans fats. This is because they are made using commercial shortenings that are partially hydrogenated to achieve their desirable texture and keeping qualities. This industry still needs to come up with an affordable, trans-free shortening product that produces a desirable result. That; and croissants are usually served with butter that adds saturated fats- it’s a bad fats buffet on a plate. Having said all that, when in France (or on Bastille Day), I don’t say no.

  1. Doughnuts

During university I worked a stint in a cafe that made doughnuts and I must confess it is true what they say about working in a cake shop, chocolate factory, donut shop etc. You just get sick of them. However in the fullness of time I have once again stepped into the breach (most notably at the Berry Donut Van) and can say there is a marvel about the magic created with simple ingredients. You’d never predict that frying yeasted dough made with flour and water and then coating them in sugar and cinnamon would taste so good, but indeed it does. But doughnuts are fried dough coated in sugar and there lies the rub. And when you consider the oil is probably solid at room temperature (highly saturated, with or without trans fats, depending) there’s nothing good for health here. And adding jam, sprinkles, compound chocolate, fake cream and custard does nothing to redeem them. No thanks, except in special circumstances (see above regarding the Berry donut van).

  1. Rice crackers

OK; I can tell you’re sceptical about this one, but bear with me. Rice crackers have taken a very high GI (glycemic index) food –rice- and made it worse by refining it more and taking all the water out thus rendering it even less filling. With my hand on my heart I can say I have eaten an entire packet in one sitting (it’s a long story involving a total lack of other options). Talk about a glycemic assault. The good thing about rice is that you eat it with meat and vegetables and these even out the glycemic impact. But not so with rice crackers, which can be eaten all by themselves with a smugness that comes from a ‘99% fat-free’ claim on the label. For your blood glucose you might as well have a handful of jelly beans – at least you know they aren't great and probably stop at a handful. Rice crackers are the poster food of the now-dead low-fat movement. RIP. If they’re at a party and there’s hummus to weight them down a bit, I’ll have a few but that’s about it.

  1. Pork belly

I'm just not into eating pig fat, even if there is a slither of actual meat that qualifies it as ‘pork’. Pork belly is a fashionable food and I've been served it at set-menu events. I've tried to enjoy it but I just don’t. And, I say again it is pig fat. I could think of a thousand ways I’d rather spend my discretionary kilojoules (see points 1,2 and 3 above). There is simply nothing to nutritionally recommend it; no ‘quid’ for your ‘pro-quo’.

  1. Cheap chocolate

This one comes under the ‘life’s too short’ category, as well as the idea that if you’re going to indulge occasionally, you might as go for the best. A modern dietary problem is that there are so many ‘sometimes foods’ around, their quality has suffered. Compound chocolate is a hoax – it’s not real chocolate at all. Shunning mediocrity and embracing quality is a great approach to limiting intake of chocolate and enhancing enjoyment at the same time (and you’re worth it). Chocolate is a gift from the gods (or mother nature) and it is excessive to receive gifts everyday (this is what makes birthdays and Christmas special), so give yourself the gift of good quality chocolate on occasion and enjoy it without guilt.

  1. Sliced white bread

Bread you don’t need to chew is not ideal. Fluffy white bread has almost no fibre and can be eaten too quickly (some say ‘inhaled’). It has a high GI too, so overconsumption comes at a high price for your blood sugar levels. The best bread is wholegrain bread you have to chew well, ideally sourdough. And you can buy it in supermarkets now so it’s not as exclusive as it used to be. And here comes the “but”:  I consider it a peak holiday eating experience to eat cooked prawns on fluffy white rolls with a squeeze of lemon and a beer on the side. There’s a time and a place for every food in this world.

  1. Alcoholic cocktails

Alcoholic cocktails are dangerous. They taste too good and encourage overconsumption. And besides the kilojoule overload, the alcohol intoxication just amplifies the harm (and embarrassment). The cocktail circuit has never been part of my scene, and even less so since I became a parent. I can’t remember the last cocktail I had, but if on my birthday a talented mixologist was to come to my house and whip me up something yummy (but not creamy- see number 8 below) I’d say ‘yes please’ but sip it slowly and stop at one or two.

  1. Cream

I’m not French, as you could most likely guess from this list! I’m not into cream; in or on desserts or sweet drinks or in savoury dishes or sauces. I guess they are all a bit too rich for my blood, and I just don’t enjoy them. My tastes are more attuned to the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Asian flavours and I think these rate well for health and longevity too. Even in cooking I’d rather used an evaporated cooking milk than cream to achieve a much lighter result. I’m not averse to the odd Devonshire tea, however. Fluffy white scones simply beg to be devoured with jam and whipped cream and with a pot of Earl Grey on the side.

  1. Regular soft drinks

I’m not anti-sugar (everything in moderation) but I do think soft drinks are the extreme sport of the beverage world. I reject the challenge of consuming 10-12 teaspoons of sugar in once sitting thanks very much, and prefer to get my food thrills (and kilojoules) from elsewhere. And I prefer to chew rather than drink my kilojoules, and in a more satisfying form. There are occasions that warrant carbonated drinks and on these occasions I choose the ‘diet’, or ‘sugar-free’ options. And I’m here today as proof that high intensity sweeteners do not kill, maim or sicken.

  1. Cheesey things in packets

These include cheese bombs, twisties, cheezels, rings and the like. These are made from highly refined grain flours and starch fillers then extruded into shapes and fried (or baked) and then doused in salt and overly intense flavours and colours. I don’t know about you but I’ve never tasted cheese anything like these “cheesy” flavours. (And don’t get me started on the overly intense faux-flavours of flavoured corn chips – it’s natural only for me). These products invariably have a high GI, zero fibre and loads of salt but are utterly irresistible and disturbingly unsatisfying. Plain potato chips cooked in good oil are much better by comparison but again are sinister in their ability to encourage you to finish the whole packet and reach for a sweet drink to wash them down. All these foods are party foods and do not deserve daily billing.  

Croissants? When in Paris or Bastille Day

25 Nov 2015

Food for camping out

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My teenage nephew is going on a camping adventure with his school. They are going into a national park for five days and four nights and must take all their food with them, and bring all the rubbish out. Luckily, there is drinking water available. He’s asked for my advice about what food to take.

My husband had a great idea: take army ration packs. These have serious teenage boy credibility as well as being nutritionally adequate and compact. I know these packs are designed (by a dietitian) to meet the daily nutritional needs of soldiers so I’m guessing they’ll do the same for my nephew. You can buy army ration packs at army surplus stores, and they are coded with a letter to denote different days so be sure to buy a variety of letters to prevent eating the same thing every day. They contain an entire day’s meals, snacks, condiments and powder to make up with water for beverages.

If you can’t get hold of ration packs, or you’d rather do things differently, here’s a few guidelines and tips to put together an adequate ‘ration pack’ of your own.

Plan it

Write a menu plan of three meals & three snacks and drinks and pack only what you’ll need; you don’t want to carry anything extra. Your objective should be to come back with little to no food.

Energy dense

The aim of camp rations is to cram as much energy and nutrition as possible into a small space. There is a reason military personnel have chocolate as part of their ration packs! Chocolate is energy dense and enjoyable, and this camping trip is an occasion where chocolate has its place in providing energy for exploring the bush, and food-fun in a limited-food situation. In fact, bush-walking is one of the few times chocolate IS appropriate to eat. The point of camping is to survive and have fun, not score 100% for the healthiest food.

Dry foods are good

Water is heavy, so carrying dry foods you can mix with water when you set up camp is efficient. Here are some examples:

Grain foods: pasta (pasta & sauce), oats, rice, noodles, quinoa, roasted chickpeas, muesli, muesli bars, breakfast biscuits.

Vegetables: dried (surprise) peas, beans, carrots, mash potato and mushrooms

Fruit: dried apricots, sultanas, dates and apple

Nuts: all of them! eg Peanuts, almonds, cashews, macadamias

Dairy: powdered milk

Drinks:  sweet drink powders such as milo and sports drinks offer appealing hydration; and tea and coffee for the older teens who like it

Meat etc and alternativesbiltong, powdered egg mix; dried tofu (from Asian grocers), red lentils (these cook in 15 minutes)

Flavourings: dried soup mix, flavour sachets, dried recipe mixes; herb mixes (put these into small seal-able bags), sugar (for oats, tea etc) 

Shelf stable

There are a lot more shelf-stable ready-meals in the supermarket these days. These are ultra-heat treated and sealed and don’t need refrigeration. You just have to check the packaging  of meals to check if they can be boiled in a billy as most are designed for the microwave. These are ideal for evening meals- check out these examples of meals you can boil in your billy (a camping pot used for cooking). As it’s difficult to get dried meat, fish and chicken; canned fish such as tuna, salmon, herring and prawns in single portions, or canned beef and beans is a weight worth carrying. It sounds a bit weird but there are squeezy sachets of fruits and custards made for babies and kids that would work well as a single serve of fruit or dairy.

One pot meals

Here’s how you can create satisfying, flavoursome meals in your billy in four steps.

1. Grain

2. Meat or alternative

3. Vegetables

4. Flavour

  • Moroccan: Wholegrain couscous + red lentils & almonds + dried peas, corn, carrots + Moriccan seasoning.
  • Asian: Instant wholegrain noodles + dried tofu + dried mushroom + Asian seasoning
  • Indian: Brown rice + Madras lentils + dried peas
  • Italian: Pasta & Sauce (dried) + canned salmon & corn 
  • Mexican: Brown rice + Canned beef & beans

Minimise packaging

Choose lightweight packaging materials such as packets and pouches rather than cans because metal is heavy, and glass is heavy and dangerous. Portion out extras like sauces from home into smaller seal-able bags.

An example Day’s menu

Breakfast

Oats and sultanas with (powdered) milk

Tea/coffee/milo

Morning tea

Milo and milk (made from powder)

Muesli bar

Lunch

Instant noodles, dried vegetables and small can of tuna

Roasted chickpeas

Afternoon tea

Dried apricots, almonds and chocolate OR Nut bar

Dinner

One pot pasta: wholegrain pasta + Braised steak (can) + sundried tomatoes

Supper

Milo and milk

Breakfast biscuits

Enjoy your adventure in the great outdoors!

22 Jul 2015

To juice, or not to juice?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, July 22, 2015

You can read a lot about juicing online, including how juice fasting can cure cancer. You should regard this as fiction. Notwithstanding outrageous and unsubstantiated claims, there is a feel good factor around juicing. It’s something about consuming nature’s colourful bounty in its freshest, most concentrated, easy to digest form. And the juice bar craze provides the social reinforcement that drinking juice is cool thing to do. Everybody wants to be healthier and juicing seems like an easy way to do something good for you. But, there are downsides. Such as the fact you miss out on fibre, or that juices are a concentrated source of kilojoules (calories) with a similar sugar content to many soft drinks. It’s partly for these reasons that I've never been a home juicer, and only a very occasional juice buyer. I've always preferred to eat my fruit and veggies whole. On a more practical note, I've never had the space for a juicer and have been very put off by all the washing up! But, I've been given a whiz-bang juicer and have to give it a go. Here is what I've learned:

Pros

  • Fresh juices can be delicious, and it’s fun to experiment with different combinations
  • Juicing fruits and veggies actually increases the bio-availability of the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals inside them by breaking down the physical structure and cell walls.
  • Adding vegetables to your juice helps you eat more of them
  • The two men in my household like it (and do less well at vegetable eating than I do, despite my best efforts)
  • My Breville juicer has a large chute which means you don’t need to cut fruit into pieces, you can throw in whole apples, pears, oranges etc
  • You can use fruit and veg that are 'ugly' and thus reduce waste (and they're usually cheaper too)

Cons

  • You miss out on a lot of fibre! Check out the amount produced from just the one glass of my Original recipe ‘Purple Reign’
  • Home juicing creates a lot of washing up. You can minimise it by juicing in batches and storing the juice in the fridge. You do lose some nutrients, but drinking it within a few days reduces losses
  • Home juicers are large and take up a lot of bench space – mine doesn’t fit in any of my cupboards due to its height
  

Ideas for sensible juicing

  • Think of juice as a liquid food, not a beverage to quench thirst – drink water for thirst
  • Limit your portion size of juice to prevent kilojoule blowout – 150ml is ample
  • To limit kilojoules and maximise nutrients, aim for a 70:30 mix of vegetables and fruit
  • Whatever pulp you can’t eat (see below), add back to the earth as compost or food for worms f

Juice recipe: Purple reign

I handful of purple kale

¼ raw beetroot

1 small lemon

1 small passionfruit

NOTE: I find the trick to coming up with winning juice combinations is to work on the principle of balance between tastes: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. This recipe demonstrates this very nicely. The pear and beetroot are sweet, the lemon and passionfruit are sour, and the kale is salty and bitter.

Pulp fiction, or fact?

  • You’ll be pleased to know New York author-chef Dan Barber’s waste focussed pop-up WestEd serves burgers made with juice-bar fruit and vegetable pulp. He considers ‘waste’ to have enormous culinary potential, and I agree! You can use the pulp in cakes, muffins, pasta sauces, soups, stews and fillings. You can find a carrot cake recipe using pulp here . I used the Purple reign pulp in filling for mini-quiche in bread cases, spaghetti sauce (the spaghetti went down a treat with Mr Toddler) and carrot cake to make carrot cake.