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/

 

05 Oct 2018

The ethics of meat

Posted by Nicole Senior on Friday, October 05, 2018

The fairy tale farm evokes images of pigs rolling in muddy pigpens, cows grazing in green pastures and hens happily sitting on eggs in wooden hen houses. While this may have been the scene in the 1890s, the reality today is not so pretty. Increasing demand, corporatisation of agriculture and the expectation of low prices has encouraged the intensive production of animal products, along with a decline of our humanity and compassion for animals.

Many of us are blissfully ignorant of how our meat, milk and eggs get to the shops but according to Food Navigator there has been a shift in our attitudes and preferences. Social media, vegan activism and a growing awareness of animal welfare have helped to fuel the rise of flexitarianism, or eating less meat, as well as a rise in ethical claims on food such as ‘free-range’, ‘organic’ and ‘cruelty free’. We take a look at the main welfare issues within animal farming and how industries are responding with more ethical alternatives.

  • Confinement - Chicken and pigs are commonly kept in cages or crates with little room to turn around. Lack of exercise weakens their bones and as chickens are grown unnaturally fast, broken bones are a common issue. Free-range chickens and ‘sow-stall free pork’ offers a more ethical alternative.
  • Denial of natural behaviours – chickens instinctively like to run around, roost, and dust bathe and all these behaviours are denied or severely curtailed in intensive farms. Free range farming allows chicken to engage in their natural behaviours. Similarly, pigs like to root around outside with their specially adapted snouts, and free-range farming allows them to do this.
  • Unwanted babies - Only female chickens are raised for chicken meat and lay eggs, yet 50% of chicks born are males. Shockingly, male chicks are killed, either gassed or – horrifyingly - thrown alive into grinding machines. Similarly, dairy cows only produce milk if they have recently given birth so most calves are slaughtered, except for a small number of female calves that are raised to produce milk themselves.
  • Mutilation – For a variety of reasons, intensive farming often involves hurting animals. Farmers may trim chicken beaks, dock horns, castrate pigs, lambs and calves, clip teeth, dock tails, ring noses, remove horn buds. These painful procedures are usually done without anaesthetic.

Ethical farming

Ethical meat, egg and dairy farming are more labour intensive and therefore more expensive. In the case of milk, organic milk from smaller farms with kinder practices can cost double the amount of conventionally produced milk.  This is out of reach for many.  Another issue is the limited supply of more ethical products. While the situation is changing, ethically produced meat is still harder to find. How we can increase the supply is to demand it, and the food supply will gradually change to give us what we want.

How to be an ethical omnivore

  • Enjoy a plant-based diet and when you eat your ‘just enough’ amount of animal products, choose the most ethical options available to you – a win for the animals and you! Eating just enough animal foods, and perhaps less than you do now, will reduce the cost impact as well.
  • Choose organic, free range, cruelty free or humane choice meat and dairy. Organic farming standards include welfare for farm workers and animals.
  • Choose wild, game meats – such as rabbit, kangaroo, venison (deer) that are free to roam before slaughter (and also have a smaller environmental footprint).
  • Support smaller organic/biodynamic farms – as they use kinder and more environmentally sustainable production methods.
  • Dine at ethical eateries – Support restaurants that use higher welfare animal ingredients – e.g. cage-free eggs. There are online directories such as Choose Wisely in Australia that help locate ethical eateries near you.
  • Eat nose-to-tail and waste nothing – if we’re going to kill animals for food the least we can do is eat everything and not waste it. This means eating all the cuts and not just the popular ones. The bonus is they’re cheaper.

01 Jul 2018

plastic-free July

Posted by Nicole Senior on Sunday, July 01, 2018

PLASTIC-FREE JULY

Grocery shoppers in Montreal recently made headlines ditching excessive plastic packaging at the door of their supermarket in protest. Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza introduced a plastic-free aisle. Australian supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths will stop offering single-use plastic bags this month. Chile has boldly approved a nation-wide ban on single-use plastic bags. The anti-plastic movement is growing. We now have a whole month to focus, laser-like, on our own habits: plastic-free July.

 The plastic-free challenge In preparation for ‘Plastic-Free July’ and to share our experiences with you, we decided to take the plunge and ditch single use plastic for a month. Did we succeed? Not entirely. Plastic is so omni-present as to be nearly impossible to avoid. Some swaps were simple; others not so much. It’s really about a shift in mindset and planning. It’s not easy going plastic free, but neither is a dying planet. Here’s what we did.

 To avoid plastic shampoo bottles, we resorted to bar soap instead that left us with scarecrow hair. We are still looking for cosmetics in plastic-free or reusable packaging, and instead have settled for recyclable packaging rather than go completely native. Unwell with a cold? Try seeking relief for a sore throat with lozenges that don’t come in plastic-foil blister packs – impossible. We’d suggest sipping home-made lemon juice and honey and taking it with you in a small re-usable glass jar. Need a nice hot cup of tea or coffee to warm up from the inside? Most tea and coffee come in plastic packaging and take-away cups are lined with plastic making them near impossible to recycle. The best we could do is buy loose-leaf tea and coffee in larger amounts to reduce packaging or take our own re-usable containers to a bulk-produce store. And of course, say no to take away coffee cups and take our own. Grabbing some food on-the-go? It’s a disposable plastic nightmare that made us think twice about doing it at all or search hard for restaurants that use real cutlery and crockery. If you’d like to try ‘Plastic-Free July’ we’ve got the following tips to help you avoid single-use plastics.

 Plastic-free hacks on-the-move

Keep these eco-friendly alternatives in your bag and say “no thanks” to disposable plastics:

  • Metal Spork: An easy (and less flimsy) alternative to disposable plastic cutlery.
  • Reusable Coffee Cup: Some cafes even offer discounts if you BYO reusable cup!
  • Metal Drinking Straw: Ditch plastic straws that harm marine life in favour of reusable metal straws.
  • Glass Storage Container: Useful for bringing lunch to work or taking leftovers home from restaurants.
  • Cloth Bag: For those unplanned trips to the grocery store.
  • Choose full eat-in restaurants with proper crockery and cutlery, or seek out take-aways with biodegradable packaging
  • Avoid disposable plates, cutlery and cups for parties and picnics. Use re-usable or biodegradable.

 Plastic-free food shopping hacks

  • Buy large quantities and decant them into smaller reusable containers, rather than buying single serves.
  • Reusable Produce Sacks/bags: are handy for bringing smaller fruits and veggies like cherries or green beans to the checkout to be weighed.
  • Make your own; bread, yoghurt and snacks to save packaging (and money)
  • Shop local; farmers market, butcher, baker or greengrocer to reduce packaging
  • Ditch plastic food wrap; re-usable wraps are available or use washable containers instead.

 Plastic-free bathroom hacks

  • Metal Safety Razor: Not only do metal razors look great on your vanity; you can also change the blades and re-use the metal razor for a lifetime. The blades are cheap as chips and give you a really close shave!
  • Face Cloth: An alternative to facial scrubs with plastic micro beads and make-up wipes. Keep them fresh by them drying them out after each use, ideally in the sun (have two on the go and alternate)
  • Bar of Soap: The humble but effective alternative to plastic bottles of body wash.
  • Olive Oil or coconut oil: Use a few drops as a moisturiser or anti-frizz serum for unruly hair.
  • Bamboo Toothbrush: A compostable alternative to plastic toothbrushes.
  • Arrowroot Powder: A package-free (and cheaper!) alternative to dry shampoo for those with oily hair.
  • Female hygiene: ladies, join the army of enviro-crusaders ditching disposable feminine hygiene products and try re-usable menstrual cups and underwear (saves money and avoids waste in landfill).

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

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.

03 Oct 2017

The faux meat phenomenon

Posted by Nicole Senior on Tuesday, October 03, 2017

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

What in them?

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

Lab-grown meat

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

Nutrition

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

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

 

BACON

SAUSAGES

CHICKEN

Nutrient

Coconut Bacon

(60g serve)

Shortcut Pork Bacon (60g serve)

Quorn Sausages

(50g serve)

Beef Sausages (50g serve)

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

Chicken Stir Fry Strips  (67g serve)

Energy - kilojoules

1235kJ

786kJ

276kJ

551kJ

590kJ

294kJ

Energy - calories

295 calories

188 calories

66 calories

132 calories

141 calories

70 calories

Protein

3.4g

9.2g

6.0g

7.5g

13.3g

14.9g

Fat

- Includes saturated fat

26.8g

21.4g

16.9g

6.4g

1.9g

0.3g

10.3g

4.7g

4.6g

0.5g

1.1g

0.3g

Carbohydrates

- Includes sugars

- Includes starches

7.9g

7.4g

0.4g

0.2g

0.2g

0.0g

5.0g

0.0g

5.0g

2.3g

0.2g

2.1g

9.2g

4.2g

5.0g

0.0g

0.0g

0.0g

Sodium

389mg

689mg

200mg

394mg

367mg

27.5mg

Fibre

6.3g

0.0g

2.0g

0.7g

4.3g

0.0g

Iron

1.0mg

0.3mg

0.3mg

0.7mg

1.9mg

0.3mg

Vitamin B12

0.0μg

0.4μg

0.0μg

2.2μg

0.0μg

0.5μg


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

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

The un-plugged truth

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


01 Sep 2017

Can your breakfast clean your liver?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Friday, September 01, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

How to look after your liver

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

The un-plugged truth

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

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.

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.