Blog 

Here is where I share my thoughts, ideas and opinions about the world of nutrition, food and health. I hope you find good sense, helpful guidance and inspiration to eat great healthy food that makes you feel good.

I write regularly for GI News, an online newsletter for 60,000+ Australasian and International subscribers interested in the glycemic index (GI) and associated health topics such as diabetes, weight loss and a healthy heart. It’s a great read. http://www.gisymbol.com/category/gi-news/

 

04 Dec 2017

vegan food products are not always the healthier option

Posted by Nicole Senior on Monday, December 04, 2017

The vegan diet is one that is exclusively plant-based and excludes any food derived from animals including meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. According to Google Trends, interest in veganism is exploding; searches for the word ‘vegan’ have tripled over the past 5 years. Australia shows the most interest in vegan foods, followed by Canada and the United States. Vegan diet followers typically do so for a combination of: ethical reasons (not killing animals for food), environmental reasons (generally, plant foods have a smaller environmental footprint than animal foods), or health reasons (they believe a plant-only diet is better for them). It’s this last health-related reason we’re examining in this post.

Foods marketed as vegan have a perceived health halo but are they always the healthier option? Plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds are nutritious options, no question. But like many food and diet trends, when opportunity knocks the market answers with a myriad of products of varying nutritional quality. We take a closer look at the nutritional profile of some good and not-so-good vegan products.

 THE GOOD: good options for meat-free eating

Quorn sausages - Quorn is the brand name for an interesting meat alternative composed of mycoprotein, which is a kind of stringy fungus (similar to mushrooms) that is compressed into more familiar food products such as “mince” and sausages. Quorn sausages contain more fibre per 50g serve than beef sausages, but unfortunately they don’t contain added Vitamin B12.  Vitamin B12 only occurs in animal foods, so adding this essential vitamin to vegan products helps fill this dietary gap. Read more in our previous article on faux meats here (Insert link to faux meat article from Sept issue)

Chickpea & Sesame Seeds Vegetable Burgerscontain less than half the protein of a beef burger but it’s packed with fibre to keep you feeling full. It’s much lower in saturated fat than regular beef burgers.

Soy milk with added calcium - This particular soy milk is a good option as it is naturally higher in protein and has been fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. Be wary that not all dairy-free milks are fortified and may have little protein, vitamins or minerals.

THE NOT SO GOOD: don’t choose these for health reasons

Tofutti Cream Cheese- is soy-based and contains less than half the fat of regular cream cheese, but also less than half the protein. There are 13+ ingredients including sugar, salt, thickening agents, emulsifiers and preservatives. To be fair, regular cream cheese is not a healthy choice either.

Choc Chip Cookies - are gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free and yeast-free, but they are made with refined flours, chocolate, sugar and salt. Like any cookie (vegan or not) these are high kilojoule/calorie treats best eaten sparingly and in small amounts.

Dairy-Free Chocolate- chocolate without the dairy is still chocolate, just because it is vegan doesn’t give you a free pass to eat it in unlimited amounts.

Unsweetened Coconut Milk  - is better than regular coconut milk because it is has half the fat and some calcium added. However, it has 16 times less protein than regular dairy milk, and lots of additives.

Protein Snack Bar - this bar claims it is made from ‘peas, leafy greens, sprouts, grasses and vegetables’ but it doesn’t look green, so we wonder how much green stuff is actually in it. It looks like a cereal bar with caramel and chocolate drizzle. By weight this product actually contains more sugar than it does protein, and the ingredients list is over 50 long!

Chocolate Frozen Dessert- This soy-based frozen dessert is lower in saturated fat than regular dairy ice creams as the fat predominantly comes from vegetable oils. However the kilojoules are similar (or a little higher) to regular chocolate ice cream and the main ingredient is sugar. This is not a health food and best enjoyed in small portions.

The un-plugged truth

  • A ‘vegan’ label does not guarantee a healthy product. Highly processed foods -vegan or not – can be high in kilojoules, saturated fat, salt and sugar.
  • Highly processed vegan foods can still have a large environmental footprint from the resources and energy to manufacture them, and if they’re not nutritious they don’t represent a good health return on the environmental inputs required to make them.
  • For the healthiest vegan options stick to minimally processed plant foods, including products fortified with essential vitamins lacking in vegan diets.

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.


15 Jun 2017

Are ancient grains better?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Thursday, June 15, 2017

Ancient grains lost popularity in the 1700s following the surge in wheat, oat and barley cultivation. Nowadays we can thank novelty-seeking, health conscious consumers for the revival of ancient grains such as spelt, chia, amaranth and quinoa, and their often premium pricing. Clever marketing aims to convince us that these ancient grains are nutritionally superior to more modern variants but it begs the question: are ancient grains superfoods or just super expensive?

What are ancient grains?

While many spell-checks still think ‘quinoa’ is a typo, many people are now familiar with these retro grains. They are added to a growing array of foods - you may have eaten them without even realising it.

Spelt is an older variety of wheat; therefore it contains gluten and can be used to make pasta or a nice loaf of sourdough bread. You can buy spelt flour in many supermarkets nowadays.

Chia is a type of seed; therefore similarly to other seeds, it is gluten-free, rich in healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats, protein and fibre. It has the remarkable ability to absorb water and swells to form a gel, therefore making it a popular ingredient for jams and tapioca-style puddings. If you can get over the fact that chia gel looks like frog eggs, it is quite fun to eat. We quite like it mixed with oats in Bircher muesli.

Amaranth is a gluten-free grain that can be popped like corn. Popped amaranth has a high GI therefore for people with diabetes (and others) it is best eaten in combination with lower GI foods such as oats and nuts for a low glycemic impact. This combination also makes delicious homemade muesli.

Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a gluten-free grain that is high in carbohydrates (68%), low in fat (4.8%) moderate in protein (12%) and low GI. Quinoa works well as a substitute for couscous or rice and can be found at your local supermarket, although the flavour is quite different so don’t think you can get away with a sneaky swap – try it in combination with rice for the more steadfast members of the household.

How do modern grains compare?

You can meet your nutritional needs with ancient or modern grains and seeds. As you can see in the table below, the nutritional profiles of ancient and conventional grains are quite similar, including protein content (which many ancient grains claim to be high in).  It’s sometimes said that modern crops aren’t as nutritious as they used to be but this table shows that isn’t true. There are many environmental (and ethical) issues with modern intensive agriculture but loss of nutritional value isn’t one of them.

What you will notice is quinoa has higher folate content than many other grains. Folate is a B-group vitamin involved in DNA synthesis and can prevent neural tube defects in unborn babies and so of benefit women around conception and during pregnancy. However, in Australia and New Zealand most of our conventional wheat-based bread has folate added so there’s no need to switch to quionoa on that basis.

In terms of the research on grains and health, eating wholegrains of any kind regularly – including good old wheat, oats, rice, rye and barley – is beneficial. For example, eating more wholegrain is linked with a longer life and lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes

 

Nutrient

 

Grains (raw)

Seeds (raw)

Wheat (100g)

Oats (100g)

Rice (100g)

Barley (100g)

Quinoa (100g)

Spelt (100g)

Amaranth (100g)

Chia (100g)

Flaxseeds (100g)

Energy - kilojoules

1418kJ

1628kJ

1536kJ

1481kJ

1540kJ

1414kJ

1552kJ

2033kJ

2234kJ

Energy - calories

339kcal

389kcal

367kcal

354kcal

368kcal

338kcal

371kcal

486kcal

534kcal

Protein

13.7g

16.9g

7.5g

12.5g

14.1g

14.6g

13.6g

16.5g

18.3g

Fat

- Includes sat fats

2.5g

0.5g

6.9g

1.2g

3.2g

0.6g

2.3g

0.5g

6.1g

0.7g

2.4g

0.4g

7.0g

1.5g

30.7g

3.3g

42.2g

3.7g

Carbohydrates

- Includes sugar

- Includes starches

71g

0.9g

64.4g

66g

0g

58.1g

76g

0.7g

75.8g

73g

0.8g

55.4g

64g

0.9g

62.1g

70g

3.0g

57.0g

65g

4.2g

57.3g

42g

1.6g

0g

29g

1.6g

0g

Dietary Fibre

12.2g

10.6g

3.6g

17.3g

7.0g

10.7g

6.7g

34.4g

27.3g

Sodium

2mg

2mg

5g

12g

5mg

8mg

4mg

16mg

30mg

Iron

3.5mg

4.7mg

1.3mg

3.6mg

4.6mg

4.4mg

7.6mg

7.7mg

5.7mg

Magnesium

144mg

177mg

116mg

133mg

197mg

136mg

248mg

335mg

392mg

Zinc

4.2mg

4.0mg

2.1mg

2.8mg

3.1mg

3.3mg

2.9mg

4.6mg

4.3mg

Folate

43μg

56μg

23μg

19μg

184μg

45μg

82μg

87μg[1]

87 μg

Riboflavin

0.1mg

0.1mg

0.1mg

0.3mg

0.3mg

0.1mg

0.2mg

0.2mg

0.2mg

Niacin

6.7mg

1.0mg

6.5mg

4.6mg

1.5mg

6.8mg

0.9mg

8.8mg

3.1mg

Vitamin E

1.0mg

0.4mg

0.6mg

0.6mg

2.4mg

0.8mg

1.2mg

0.5mg

0.3mg

Data from USDA; sugar and starches data from AusFoods 2012 database


What’s good about ancient grains?

Ancient grains are great because they add variety to the diet, giving us additional healthy food options. Instead of rotating between potatoes, rice and pasta at dinner, we now have more choices. These ancient grains also increase the biodiversity of ecosystems, which enhances crop survival and recovery during droughts or disease epidemics. It’s not ideal having most of the worlds food supply provided by a handful of crops if the unthinkable happens and one or several get wiped out by a new disease.

The bottom line?

  • Ancient grains are becoming more popular but are often more expensive.
  • Ancient grains are nutritionally similar to more common and cheaper ones.
  • old and new grains are equally good for you; whole grains are best.

24 May 2017

What is quark?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I remember reading European recipes with quark as an ingredient decades ago and substituting with ricotta because I just couldn't get my hands on the stuff (not be confused with Quorn, the vegetarian meat substitute, or the identically named nerdy physics term describing an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter.) In the food world where I live, there are now two new products in the supermarkets: quark from Aldi described as German, European style cottage cheese, and quark yoghurt from Rokeby farms. I thought I'd tell you a little more about this amusingly named food.

Quark

Quark is a kind of soft, fresh (un-aged) cheese; made by fermenting warm sour milk with mesophile bacterial culture until the curds set and then straining out the liquid(whey). It is a process similar to cottage cheese but quark is smooth in texture as a result of constant stirring rather than lumpy like cottage cheese. The bacterial cultures are different to the thermophile cultures used in yoghurt-making. German and Scandinavian style quark has a higher whey (moisture) content than the drier Eastern European kinds. Quark typically has a low fat content - the one below from Aldi contains 0.3%. I enjoy it as a spread with fruit or honey, but its also great in cakes and sweet desserts (such as cheesecake), breakfast parfaits with fruits and granola, as a sandwich spread, in pancakes and creamy salad dressings.

Quark yoghurt

Quark yoghurt sold under Rokeby Farms brand is a unique product from an Australian company called the Made Group based in Victoria. They have developed a unique cold filtration process to produce high protein, high calcium and low lactose milk and then fermented it using both cheese and yoghurt cultures at a low temperature over a longer time to produce a mild-tasting, more savoury tasting product quark-yoghurt hybrid. And apparently it has been well received in the marketplace as indicated by the consumer feedback shared in company's presentation slide I photographed below. Nutritionally speaking it is very good and the high protein and calcium claims are demonstrated in the nutrition information table. One 170g tub contains around 15g of protein, and an incredible 436-507mg calcium and that's great news to the majority of us who struggle to consume the recommended intake. And its not added calcium, its intrinsic in the high protein milk. After tasting it, I can say it is also delicious and less sweet (lower in sugar) than typical flavoured yoghurts. These products are currently only available in Woolworths supermarkets.

29 Mar 2017

Do you need sugar-free chocolate?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, March 29, 2017

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Well Naturally claims their sugar-free chocolate is:

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

 Are sugar-replacers “natural” ingredients?

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

 

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

 

What about “no artificial” claims?

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Nutrients

Lindt Excellence Smooth Blend (dark) 70% Cocoa

(100g)

Lindt Lindor Milk Block (100g)

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

(100g)

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

Energy – kilojoules

2530kJ

2550kJ

1980kJ

2200kJ

Energy – calories

605 calories

610 calories

474 calories

525 calories

Protein

6.9g

4.7g

6.8g

5.6g

Fat

— Includes saturated fat

48g

29g

46.1g

34.5g

43.2g

26.2g

37.2g

28.2g

Carbohydrates

— Includes sugars

— Includes starches

33.0g

29.0g

0g

44.3g

43.6g

0g

5.4g

0.7g

0g

6.2g

4.7g

0g

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The un-plugged truth

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

 

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

07 Mar 2017

Carbs and your heart

Posted by Nicole Senior on Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Carbohydrates- especially dietary fibres and resistant starch- are important for a healthy gut and happy gut microbiota but the types of carbs you eat are important for your heart as well.

It’s well known the types of fats you eat are very influential on your cholesterol levels but less well known that carbohydrates are no longer neutral in the cardiovascular risk equation. Choosing the wrong carbs increases your risk of heart disease. This was demonstrated in a study published by the Harvard Group in 2015. They compared the effect of saturated fats, unsaturated fats and sources of carbohydrate on the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) in two large cohorts: the 84,628 women nurses and 42,908 male health professionals followed up over 24-30 years. They found the typical result that saturated fats increased risk and unsaturated fats (especially polyunsaturated fats) were protective. Also unsurprising was their finding that wholegrains were also protective. But the real newsflash came with their finding that refined starches and added sugars were positively associated with CHD. Oh dear: refined starch and sugar are just as bad as saturated fats for the risk of heart disease. While the message is well and truly out about reducing added sugars, refined starches are what GI expert Dr Alan Barclay calls ‘the dark continent of nutrition’- we’re clueless. You can read more about this in a previous issue of GI News here.

If this sounds like an added complication you could have done without, relax. What this means in terms of everyday food choices is the stuff we’ve been banging on about for years and very much within your reach. It’s a matter of choosing quality carbs.

Here’s your three step plan to better quality carbs:

1.       Ensure at least half your grain foods are wholegrain

  • Choose wholegrain and high fibre breakfast cereals
  • Use wholegrain bread and crispbread
  • Buy wholemeal pasta, noodles, couscous and brown rice

2.       Choose lower GI carbs as often as possible

  • Look for dense grainy breads, breads with with seeds or soy, or sourdough
  • Buy lower GI rices such as basmati, Doongara, wild rice
  • Include pulses and legumes in your meals (eg chickpeas, kidney beans, soy beans)
  • Choose lower GI potatoes and starchy vegetables (eg Carisma, Nicola, taro, kumara, parsnip)

3.       Limit added sugars and refined starches

  • Leave sugary drinks such as soft drinks, flavoured waters and sports drinks to special occasions
  • Enjoy confectionary such as candy (lollies) and chocolates occasionally and in small amounts
  • Enjoy cakes, biscuits (cookies), pastries, sweet buns and donuts sometimes and in small amounts
  • Limit the quantity and frequency of white bread, white rice (and rice crackers), regular potatoes and low-fibre breakfast cereals (eg puffed rice, flaked corn)
  • Limit highly processed food products with high levels of refined starches such as potato crisps, rice crisps and crackers, extruded savoury snacks (potato thins, cheesy puffs, twists etc)
  • Limit foods with high levels of added refined starches such as maltodextrin (check the label) and all the food additives with the term ‘starch’ in the name (additive code numbers 1400-1451). Remember, the ingredients are listed in order by weight on the label so starches near the top of the ingredients list are present in the largest proportion.

23 Nov 2015

Down sides of eating out

Posted by Nicole Senior on Monday, November 23, 2015

I was fortunate enough to take a week’s holiday with my family recently. It was a delightful location with a very relaxing vibe and the weather was lovely. We stayed in an apartment with a kitchen so we were able to self-cater. This was great as we could by food from the local shops. This is good on many levels, not least of which the money is you save compared to eating out. But as chief cook in our family, I was rather looking forward to taking time off from the dinner shift so we ate out for five nights in a row. This is very unusual for us but it taught me a lot about how difficult it is to eat well when you rely on restaurant meals. In short, it was fun but by the end of the week my clothes felt a little tighter- I wouldn’t like eat this way any more than a week! I reckon I’ve summed up the reasons why I came home with a little more holiday baggage than I took with me.

Large portions

Restaurant meals are larger than those you cook yourself. They want to provide the perception of value and cater for the largest appetites so as not to leave diners hungry. It’s a challenge to leave food on your plate, especially when it is very delicious and different to the food you usually eat (there’s novelty value).

Salty

It’s no secret chef’s love to season the food they cook, and in order to heighten the taste appeal they use quite a lot of salt and salty ingredients. Restaurant meals are salty as a rule. Eating salty food contributes to fluid retention.

Drinks

Sure you can order water but restaurants are great at tempting you with a variety of sweetened and alcoholic drinks. It seems almost unnatural to eat out without alcohol; and wine is good for you because of the antioxidants, right? That may be, but alcoholic drinks are also high kilojoules with the multiplier effect of reducing your inhibitions and enhancing your appetite. Odds are you’ll eat more when you drink.

Fewer vegetables

I’m not sure why, but vegetables seem almost an after-thought rather than an essential part of a meal. And then there’s that annoying phenomenon of having to order (and pay for) vegetables separately. There are more salads appearing on restaurant menus, but some way to go before hot vegetables take their rightful place in restaurant meals and menus.

The answer is cooking!

A short holiday is one thing but if you eat out regularly you can minimise these influences by choosing healthy options, smaller sized meals and saying no to wine, but this is hard both logistically and attitudinally. Even if you eat out often, it’s hard to detach from the idea that it’s a special occasion and all healthy rules can be forgotten.

The lesson of this blog is that cooking matters. Cooking is good for you, and cooking helps you manage your weight. Eating out is fun; just keep it to minimum for your health.

09 Aug 2015

Healthy Active Kids Program

Posted by Nicole Senior on Sunday, August 09, 2015

Have you heard of the Healthy Active Kids Program? It's a free web-based education program for children to teach them about healthy eating and active living.  It was designed in collaboration with teachers to offer a grab-and-go teaching resource for schools. Apparently, schools, teachers, and kids all like using the materials and enjoy learning about this important subject. And there are materials for parents to teach kids at home as well including recipes and vegetable gardening tips, and a kids corner with games, videos and advice about how to pack a healthy balanced lunchbox and what a balanced meals looks like on the plate.
The surprising thing is who is behind this program; Nestle. Yep, a huge company that makes familiar brands such as Milo, Maggi noodles and Uncle Toby's cereals. Right now you're probably thinking the program is full of advertising for these brands but the entire program is totally unbranded. There are no Nestle brand or product mentions at all. The company says it is doing it because they want to contribute to the health and well being of children. While there is often criticism of 'big food', this company needs to be acknowledged for their significant investment and commitment to teaching kids about healthy living.

So if you or your child's school want to get in on some great nutrition education resources, check out the website 

Disclosure: Nicole attended a briefing on this program organised by Nestle in Canberra, and her travel and accommodation was paid for by them.

Image: home page of Healthy Active Kids website

22 Jul 2015

To juice, or not to juice?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, July 22, 2015

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

Ideas for sensible juicing

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

Juice recipe: Purple reign

I handful of purple kale

¼ raw beetroot

1 small lemon

1 small passionfruit

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

Pulp fiction, or fact?

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

02 Jun 2015

Nuts are the new black

Posted by Nicole Senior on Tuesday, June 02, 2015

In case you haven’t noticed, nuts are the new black. The rock-star food experiencing a very well deserved reputational transformation. Of course they’re good for you, and it begs the question how we veered off-course from this fact in the past. Until recently nuts were considered too fattening to eat, especially for dieters. I’m happy to report this is no longer the case. We have thankfully moved on from the narrow perspective of nutritionism (looking at food only as the nutrients it contains) and looking at nuts as a wholefood with a complexity that outshines the numbers on a nutrition information panel. And the proof is now overwhelmingly positive from many different types of nutrition research that nuts are good for general health, heart health and, intriguingly, weight control.

How, I hear you ask, can nuts assist in weight control when they are (theoretically) high in fat and kilojoules? Well this is the wholefood magic of it all. Nut eaters weight less because:

  • Nuts really satisfy. That is to say they are satiating and cause you to feel fuller for longer helping you to eat less over the day.
  • Nuts reduce hunger due to their satisfying combination of protein, healthy fats and fibre. Nuts put the brakes on overeating.
  • Nuts give you a metabolic boost. They increase your metabolic rate by 5-10%
  • Nuts are satisfyingly crunchy to eat. The sound you hear inside your head when you chomp down on nuts sends signals of satisfaction to your brain. How very unexpectedly clever is that?
  • The oils in nuts are not fully absorbed. The fibre within nuts holds back up to 20% of the fat and thus not all the kilojoules on your lips ends up on your hips (or anywhere else for that matter). Who knew incomplete digestion could be so helpful?

I ‘heart’ nuts and apparently nuts ‘heart’ your heart as well. They look after your ticker in a number of ways but the upshot is eating a handful of nuts a day reduces your risk of falling off the twig early from cardiovascular disease by 25-50%. Now that’s impressive. What great news that such a delicious food can be so good for you. It’s the marvellous combination of healthy fats, fibre, phytosterols, phytochemicals, arginine, vitamin E and potassium that seems to do the trick.

I’ve been banging on about the goodness of nuts for years but this prose in praise of nuts has been brought about by the release of a new report: The effect of nut consumption on heart health: a systematic review of the literature which you can read yourself at http://bit.ly/NutsandHeartHealthReport (and more reports on other health issues besides).

Oh, and in case you were wondering, all nuts are good. Go forth and enjoy whatever takes your fancy, and fancy a variety of different nuts to ensure you get your fill of the rainbow of flavours and unique talents of each and every kind.In case you haven’t noticed, nuts are the new black. The rock-star food experiencing a very well deserved reputational transformation. Of course they’re good for you, and it begs the question how we veered off-course from this fact in the past. Until recently nuts were considered too fattening to eat, especially for dieters. I’m happy to report this is no longer the case. We have thankfully moved on from the narrow perspective of nutritionism (looking at food only as the nutrients it contains) and looking at nuts as a wholefood with a complexity that outshines the numbers on a nutrition information panel. And the proof is now overwhelmingly positive from many different types of nutrition research that nuts are good for general health, heart health and, intriguingly, weight control.

How, I hear you ask, can nuts assist in weight control when they are (theoretically) high in fat and kilojoules? Well this is the wholefood magic of it all. Nut eaters weight less because:

  • Nuts really satisfy. That is to say they are satiating and cause you to feel fuller for longer helping you to eat less over the day.
  • Nuts reduce hunger due to their satisfying combination of protein, healthy fats and fibre. Nuts put the brakes on overeating.
  • Nuts give you a metabolic boost. They increase your metabolic rate by 5-10%
  • Nuts are satisfyingly crunchy to eat. The sound you hear inside your head when you chomp down on nuts sends signals of satisfaction to your brain. How very unexpectedly clever is that?
  • The oils in nuts are not fully absorbed. The fibre within nuts holds back up to 20% of the fat and thus not all the kilojoules on your lips ends up on your hips (or anywhere else for that matter). Who knew incomplete digestion could be so helpful?

I ‘heart’ nuts and apparently nuts ‘heart’ your heart as well. They look after your ticker in a number of ways but the upshot is eating a handful of nuts a day reduces your risk of falling off the twig early from cardiovascular disease by 25-50%. Now that’s impressive. What great news that such a delicious food can be so good for you. It’s the marvellous combination of healthy fats, fibre, phytosterols, phytochemicals, arginine, vitamin E and potassium that seems to do the trick.

I’ve been banging on about the goodness of nuts for years but this prose in praise of nuts has been brought about by the release of a new report: The effect of nut consumption on heart health: a systematic review of the literature which you can read yourself at http://bit.ly/NutsandHeartHealthReport (and more reports on other health issues besides).

Oh, and in case you were wondering, all nuts are good. Go forth and enjoy whatever takes your fancy, and fancy a variety of different nuts to ensure you get your fill of the rainbow of flavours and unique talents of each and every kind.