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/

 

15 Sep 2020

What are plantains and what do you do with them?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Tuesday, September 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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



05 Aug 2020

The joy of citrus

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, August 05, 2020

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

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

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

13 May 2020

All about couscous

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, May 13, 2020

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

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

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

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

19 Nov 2019

Alcohol: The pink elephant in the room

Posted by Nicole Senior on Tuesday, November 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients and measures

Total

Energy

% Energy

from sugars

% Energy

from alcohol

Regular beer (lager)

285ml/9½oz

105 calories

433kJ

2%

2 calories

8kJ

71%

74 calories

311kJ

White wine (medium)

100ml/3½oz

65 calories

270kJ

7%

4 calories

17kJ

85%

55 calories

231kJ

Mojito

White rum, 50ml/1⅔oz

Lime juice, 25ml/¾oz

Sugar syrup, 20ml/⅔oz

Fresh mint, 8 leaves

Soda water 30ml/1oz

150 calories

630kJ

29%

44 calories

185kJ

 

 

68%

105 calories

441kJ

 

Daiquiri

White rum, 50ml/1⅔oz

Lime juice, ¾oz (25ml)

Sugar syrup, ⅔oz (20ml)

150 calories

630kJ

29%

44 calories

185kJ

68%

105 calories

441kJ

 

Margarita

Silver tequila, 40ml/1⅓oz

Cointreau, 20ml/⅔oz

Lime juice, 20ml/⅔oz

155 calories

650kJ

13%

20 calories

84kJ

 

84%

133 calories

559kJ

 

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

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

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

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


06 Sep 2019

Women, seafood and health

Posted by 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