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/

 

06 Sep 2019

Women, seafood and health

Posted by Nicole Senior 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 Nicole Senior 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. 

Nutrient

Magnum Classic

Magnum Classic Dairy-Free 71g

Per 82g serve

Per 100g

Per 71g serve

Per 100g

Energy

1090kJ

262 calories

1330kJ

320 calories

980kJ

234 calories

1380kJ

330 calories

Protein

3.2g

3.9g

1.2g

1.6g

Fat

- Includes saturated fat

17.5g

12g

21.3g

14.6g

14.4g

10.1g

20.4g

14.3g

Carbohydrates

- Includes sugars

22.2g

21.9g

27.1g

26.7g

24.0g

19.6g

33.8g

27.6g

Sodium

50mg

60mg

30mg

45mg
















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

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


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.

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

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.

03 May 2017

Do you need to eat meat to get enough protein?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, May 03, 2017

It’s a popular view that you need to eat meat to obtain protein, however this is not the case. Protein exists in many plant based foods and in appreciable quantities.

 

How much do protein do we need?

Well, not as much as you might think. The recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) is 46g a day for women and 64g a day for men aged 19-70 years, with the RDI covering the needs of 95% of the population.  Roughly half the population need less: 37g a day for women and 52g for men is the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR). Elderly people need more protein to preserve muscle.

 

How much protein is in different foods?

Eggs contain perfect quality protein against which all other proteins are measured. Protein quality is a reflection of the number and balance of essential amino acids (protein building blocks) present. People who eat eggs in a meat-free diet are called ovo-vegetarians.

  • One 50g egg contains 6.4g protein

 Dairy foods are great sources of protein. People who eat dairy foods in meat-free diet are called lacto-vegetarians.

  • 1 cup (250ml) of reduced fat milk contains 9.5g protein
  • 200g of low fat yoghurt contains 13.6g protein
  • 40g of cheese (hard variety such as cheddar) contains 9.8g protein

 Some people think of fish as different to meat (people who eat seafood but not meat are called pesco-vegetarians), and fish and seafood are excellent sources of protein.

  • 100g white fish (cooked) contains a hefty 25g of protein
  • 100g Prawns/shrimp (cooked) 24g protein
  • 100g squid/octopus (cooked) 21g protein

 Legumes (pulses) are great low GI foods for vegetarians, and they contain protein. In food selection guides, legumes are placed with the meat group as plant based alternatives. We used to think that because plant proteins were generally short on some essential amino acids compared to animal proteins that you needed to eat ‘complementary plant proteins’ at the same time so the body could make up any shortfalls. However we now know this isn’t necessary because the body maintains an amino acid pool which it can dip into as needed.

  • ½ cup (150g) baked beans in tomato sauce (GI 49) provides around 7g protein
  • ½ cup (130g) canned, drained cannellini beans (GI 31) provides around 8g protein
  • 2/3 cup (125g) cooked red lentils (GI 26) provides around 9g protein
  • 1 cup (180g) cooked split peas (GI 25) provides around 12g protein
  • 1 cup (170g) cooked soy beans (GI 18) provides around 23g protein
  • 100g (3½oz) tofu (raw) provides around 12g protein (GI not relevant)
  • 1 cup (250ml) So Natural light soy milk (GI 44) provides around 5g protein

Breakfast cereals, breads and grains are surprisingly high in protein, and the relatively high protein content of wheat is one of the reasons it has become such a widely grown staple food crop. The following are lower GI examples of grain-based foods:

  • ¾ cup (30g) Kelloggs Special K original (GI 56) provides around 6g protein
  • ¾ cup (45g) Kelloggs All-Bran (GI 44) provides around 7g protein
  • ¼ cup (30g) raw traditional rolled oats (GI 57) provides around 3g protein
  • 1 slice (35g) Tip Top 9-grain Original bread (GI 53) provides around 4g protein
  • 1 slice (40g) Burgen Soy-Lin bread (GI 52) provides around 6g protein
  • 1 cup (170g) cooked brown rice (GI 59–86, so check the tables and choose a low GI one) provides around 5g protein
  • 1 cup (170g) cooked basmati rice (GI 58) provides around 4g protein
  • 1 cup (180g) cooked pasta (GI 35–54) provides around 7g protein
  • 1 cup (180g) cooked fresh rice noodles (GI 40) provides around 3g protein
  • 1 cup (180g) cooked soba/buckwheat noodles (GI 46) provides around 9g protein
  • 1 cup (190g) cooked pearl barley (GI 25) provides around 6g protein
  • 1/2 cup (90g) cooked Nature First Organic quinoa (GI 53) provides around 4g protein

Nuts and seeds are super nutritious foods that also contain protein. In food selection guides, nuts and seeds are placed in with the meat group as plant-based alternatives.

  • A small handful (30g/1oz) of most nuts or seeds will deliver around 5g protein (GI not relevant)

Putting this all together, if you enjoyed the following plant foods over the day in breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, you’d easily make the male RDI for protein.

½ cup Oats                  6g

1 cup milk                   9.5g

 

2 slices Soy-lin bread  8g

20g cheese                   5g

 

1 cup Soba noodles     9g

100g tofu                    12g

 

1 tub yoghurt              13.6g

30g mixed nuts           5g

TOTAL                      68g

 

You don’t need to eat meat to get enough protein because it is easily available in plant foods, however the nutrients meat does provide more efficiently than plant foods is iron, zinc and vitamin B12 and these are the limiting nutrients in a vegetarian diet.

 

There is appreciable amounts of protein in grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

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.