Blog 

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

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

 

06 Sep 2019

Women, seafood and health

Posted by Nicole Senior on Friday, September 06, 2019

Women and Seafood: Get Hooked.

Seafood is good for the heart and many of us don’t eat enough, including women. We thought we’d look at women in particular because we often overlook our heart health, and because women are still major influencers on food choices in households. It’s time we got hooked in seafood, both for ourselves and our families.

While plant foods are attracting a lot of attention (and for good reasons) we seem to have forgotten that seafood is a superfood. Fish and seafood are staple foods in the Mediterranean diet considered to be one of the healthiest eating patterns in the world. A high seafood intake is also thought to contribute to the healthiness of the traditional Japanese diet. 

Women should eat more seafood because it:

  • Is a nutrient-dense core food: Seafood provides essential nutrients including protein, iron, zinc, iodine and calcium (in fish bones) and omega-3 fats, just to name a few.
  • Supports healthy pregnancy: Eating enough omega-3s during pregnancy and breast-feeding is important for optimal child brain development and may even affect child intelligence.
  • Helps protect against the biggest killer in the world:  Eating fish and seafood regularly reduces your risk of coronary heart disease.

How much seafood should you eat?

Nutrition guidelines around the world suggest adults eat two serves a week. One serve is 100g of cooked (or 115g raw) seafood which is around the size of your hand, or the amount in a small can. While battered and deep fried fish ‘n’ chips are delicious, steamed, broiled/grilled, baked or pan-fried are a healthier options. Be sure to serve fish or seafood with plenty of vegetables or salad to further boost the health benefits of the meal.

Which fish should you choose?

There is a huge variety of seafood to choose from but there are times women need to be selective. If you’re pregnant, avoid raw fish (e.g. sashimi, sushi), pre-cooked prawns and smoked salmon due to the risk of listeria (a bacteria that can cause problems for the unborn child if the mother becomes infected).

Seafood is a nutritionally important food during pregnancy but some species contain high levels of mercury and some caution is required. Check your local health authority for which species to limit or avoid but keep in mind most are OK. In general, predator fish species at the top of the food chain accumulate higher levels of mercury - smaller fish species are lower in mercury. Canned fish are not high in mercury.

What about sustainability?

Choosing sustainable seafood is important to ensure an ongoing supply for future generations. Look for sustainability logos on-pack when shopping for packaged seafood, such as the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) logo. Check out the sustainability status of fresh fish and seafood in your country via websites or apps, such as the SAFS (Status of Australian Fish Stocks).


The dish on fish

  • Seafood provides important nutrients for women, especially during pregnancy.
  • Aim to eat seafood twice a week.
  • During pregnancy, avoid seafood with high mercury content and raw fish due to risk of listeria.
  • Choose sustainable seafood options.

24 Jun 2019

vegan ice cream

Posted by Nicole Senior on Monday, June 24, 2019

VEGAN ICE CREAM – is it the answer to better health and sustainability?

‘You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream’ is a popular soundtrack to food joy. Now vegans, sustainable shoppers and calorie-conscious consumers can get their fix with many big name ice cream brands launching products to cater for these dietary desires. Are these alternative ice creams healthier and better for the planet? Or are we better off sticking with the real deal?

Are vegan ice creams better for the planet?

Plant-based foods generally use fewer resources (e.g. water, feed, energy) and have lower greenhouse gas emissions. However, not all vegan foods are sustainable options due to their high level of processing. Highly processed foods use more energy and their long supply chains add transport inputs and create emissions. For example, the new Magnum Classic Dairy-Free ice cream contains pea protein, but quite a number of steps and resources would be required to turn peas into pea protein and then add it to ice cream. These vegan products are developed to meet consumer demand, not necessarily to boost sustainability.  In the big picture, the planet could do with fewer ice creams (and highly processed foods generally) rather than vegan ones.

Are some ice creams ‘healthier’ than others?

There are ice creams on the market to cater for nearly every diet: vegan, low-calorie, higher protein, gluten-free and even ‘guilt-free’. We compared the nutrients in Magnum Classic to the new Magnum Classic Dairy-free (Unilever Australia). The nutritional profiles are quite similar, with a similar ratio of fat to sugar to obtain the desired flavour and texture. The protein content of the Magnum Classic is slightly higher than its dairy-free counterpart. They are both still highly processed, discretionary (treat) foods. They contain plenty of sugar and calories and roughly half your daily saturated fat allowance (12g for Magnum Classic and 10.1g for Magnum Classic Dairy-Free out of 24g).

The ‘low-calorie and ‘guilt-free’ ice creams are also not as virtuous as they appear. While they may be lower in sugar and calories they are still highly processed treat foods best enjoyed occasionally. As Philippa discussed in her article, these ice creams are often sweetened with sugar alcohols, so for some people they may come with an unwanted side of diarrhoea, bloating or gas. 

Nutrient

Magnum Classic

Magnum Classic Dairy-Free 71g

Per 82g serve

Per 100g

Per 71g serve

Per 100g

Energy

1090kJ

262 calories

1330kJ

320 calories

980kJ

234 calories

1380kJ

330 calories

Protein

3.2g

3.9g

1.2g

1.6g

Fat

- Includes saturated fat

17.5g

12g

21.3g

14.6g

14.4g

10.1g

20.4g

14.3g

Carbohydrates

- Includes sugars

22.2g

21.9g

27.1g

26.7g

24.0g

19.6g

33.8g

27.6g

Sodium

50mg

60mg

30mg

45mg
















How to curb cravings

Similar to chocolate, cookies and other treats, ice cream is a food people crave. This is due in part because ice cream is considered naughty or ‘off-limits’. We want what is forbidden, and often eat large amounts when we give in. The answer is, occasionally, choose a modest portion of excellent and delicious ice cream and savour every mouthful.

At other times choose healthy and satisfying sweet foods such as fruit. Our favourite satisfying sweet combos include Greek yoghurt with honey and walnuts or seasonal fresh fruit salad with vanilla yoghurt. Try Kate McGhie’s Banana and Peanut ‘Ice Cream’ recipe in this issue of GI News for a frozen treat that satisfies. Trick your brain into believing that you are eating more by serving it in a smaller dish. Add a drizzle of melted dark chocolate if you fancy it.

Ice Cream in a Nut Shell

  • Vegan and low-calorie ice creams are still highly processed ‘sometimes’ foods that have an impact on our environment and health, just like regular ice cream.
  • No foods are off-limits; enjoy a good quality ice cream from time to time.
  • For everyday sweet treats, choose satisfying wholefoods such as fruit and yoghurt

01 Mar 2019

our problem with e-waste

Posted by Nicole Senior on Friday, March 01, 2019

OUR E-WASTE PROBLEM

Were you gifted yet another unneeded donut maker or fondue fountain for Christmas? After being stored in your kitchen for a short while, your electronic waste or ‘e-waste’ will eventually be thrown into landfill. E-waste includes any gadgets with a battery or power cord, including kitchen appliances and white goods. Throwing these unwanted items into landfill isn’t just wasteful; it is harmful to our environment.

The Issue With E-Waste

The consequences of our lust for the latest and greatest gadgets are disturbing. The Victorian Government (Australia) reported that in 2016, we produced almost 45 million tonnes of e-waste globally and sadly only 20 percent was recycled. The rest went straight to landfill. Burying enormous volumes of e-waste is simply not sustainable.

When we throw away electronics, we waste the resources used to make them and produce even more greenhouse gases trying to mine and process more metals for new ones. E-waste contains valuable metals that can be recycled and reused multiple times. We are literally throwing away tonnes of precious metals like copper, gold and silver every year. These resources are limited, once they end up in landfill, they are gone forever. The Victorian Government is putting a ban on e-waste in landfill from 1 July 2019 (you could lobby your government to do the same).

If not recycled properly, our devices can end up in e-waste graveyards in Asia, Africa and South America. There you can find children gathering and burning e-waste while inhaling toxic fumes that increase their risk of lead poisoning. Burying e-waste is also a bad idea as heavy metals can leach into the soil and potentially enter the food chain. According to community group Clean Up Australia, a massive 70% of the toxic chemicals in landfill, such as mercury and lead, come from e-waste.

Do you really need to upgrade?

Only upgrade your gadgets when they have reached the end of their life and cannot be repaired. Before buying new electronics do your research and invest in items that can be repaired and recycled. Often slimmer designs are glued or soldered together, making them difficult to recycle or repair. Support companies that create sustainable designs.

How to Recycle Your E-Waste

If you have somehow ended up with more electronics than you can use, give them to friends or a local charity. Check out online communities like Oz Recycle where you can give away unwanted electronics to people who need them. For any electronics containing personal data such as mobile phones or computers, use the factory reset setting to wipe the data before giving them away.

If your e-waste can’t be re-used, recycle it. You can often recycle e-waste for free, just Google ‘nearby e-waste drop off locations’ or contact your local council. Some governments have implemented stewardship schemes that require manufacturers of electronics to fund the collection and recycling of their products when they can no longer be used. In Australia, visit Recycling Near You to find local drop off points for a range of e-waste, even whitegoods and light bulbs. In Europe you can return e-waste to the retailer, as they are required by law organise suitable recycling (why isn’t the rest of the world doing this?). Whereas in the US, recycling schemes vary in each state so you will need to contact your local government authority to find drop off points.

E-Waste in a Nut Shell

  • To reduce your environmental footprint, minimise your e-waste.
  • Extend the life of your electronics by repairing them and replace only as needed.
  • Recycle electronic appliances and gadgets at the end of their life.
  • Choose electronic goods carefully and support companies with repairable and recyclable designs.

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

Key links to information in this article

https://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/Campaigns/eWaste/Why-recycle-ewaste

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4957139/

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275152363_The_Global_E-waste_Monitor_-_2014

https://www.cleanup.org.au/electronic-waste

https://www.ozrecycle.com/

https://recyclingnearyou.com.au/ewastescheme/

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/weee/index_en.htm


24 Jan 2019

Palm oil: friend or foe?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Thursday, January 24, 2019

What is palm oil?

Palm trees are often associated with tropical beaches, sunsets and vacations, so you may be surprised to learn some species produce an oily fruit, from which we extract palm oil. Oil from oil palms (Elaeis guineensis, and Elaeis oleifera) is the world’s cheapest and most popular vegetable oil. Its neutral flavour and aroma, long shelf life and good shortening properties make palm oil a common ingredient in many food products such as biscuits and chips. Palm oil is also very versatile and used broadly across personal care products such as laundry detergents, toothpaste and cosmetics, and is also used in plastics and biofuels. In the EU and USA, if palm oil is used it must be listed in the ingredients list but in Australia it can fall under the more generic ‘vegetable oil’ label or technical names like Palmitate, Sodium Laurel Sulphate or its botanical name elaeis guineensis. You may be consuming more palm oil than you realise.

Does palm oil impact the environment?

On the plus side, palm oil production is the most efficient of all oil crops. One acre of oil palm can produce up to eight times more than other oil crops. This is an environmental benefit, however there are significant down sides. There are millions of hectares of available cleared land suitable for sustainable palm oil production in Indonesia. However, businesses can make extra income from selling cleared timber to help offset the costs of establishing a palm oil plantation and deforestation is common adverse environmental result.  This occurs in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia where the majority of the world’s palm oil is produced. The United Nations Environment Program estimates 7 million hectares of forests are cut down every year – a massive area roughly the size of Portugal. Deforestation destroys the habitats of animals such as orang-utans, rhinos, tigers and elephants. The slash and burn method is the fastest and cheapest method to clear land; sadly many animals lose their homes or are burned alive. Displaced animals often wander back into plantations where they may be stolen by poachers or killed by plantation workers that consider them to be pests. Burning forests also releases carbon dioxide into the air, contributing to global warning. The bad news is forests in Malaysia and Indonesia often sit on carbon rich peat lands and release even more carbon into the atmosphere when burned – an environmental double whammy.

Unfortunately eliminating palm oil from the food supply won’t stop deforestation. Palm oil production generates more oil than any other major oil crop: 6 times more oil than rapeseed (canola) and 10 times more oil than soy. If we switch to another oil this will worsen the deforestation issue. Palm oil also generates much needed income for some of the poorest people in the world, therefore ceasing production would have economical ramifications.

Is palm oil good or bad for our health?

Palm oil is not a healthy choice. Palm oil contains a mixture of fats, of which roughly 50% is saturated fat. This type of fat increases the “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, which are both risk factors for heart disease. The Heart Foundation recommends that less than 10% of your total daily energy intake should come from saturated fat. However, trans fats are even worse and many (cheap) replacements for palm oil are partially hydrogenated and contain trans fats. Trans fats increase “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, but also reduce the “good” HDL cholesterol. Palm oil is not a nutritional superstar, but at least it doesn’t have trans fats and it contains less saturated fat than coconut oil and butter. The best oil choices for health are more unsaturated oils vegetable oils such as olive oil and canola oil, however these are more expensive and do not provide the same technical properties as palm oil.

The most sustainable choice

While it is not realistic to stop using palm oil, we should encourage food companies to choose more ethically and sustainably produced palm oil. There is Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) that does not involve clearing land where there are high concentrations of endangered species or vulnerable ecosystems.

Some companies are making steps in the right direction toward being CSPO by being members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Palm oil in a nutshell:

  • Palm oil is the most commonly used oil in the world, but its production contributes to global warming, deforestation and threatens endangered animal species.
  • If using packaged products, look for Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO).
  • For good health, choose products that contain healthier oils like olive, canola or sunflower oil.
 

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.

12 Sep 2018

The animal food dilemma

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Meat and dairy products are valuable sources of nutrition yet a recent report by Greenpeace recommends limiting meat intake to 300g per week and dairy intake to 630g per week to lessen our environmental footprint. They say this would reduce global consumption of animal products by 50% by 2050. However, they did not have a nutrition expert involved so how can we be sure this advice supports good health? How do we reconcile the nutritional value of animal foods with their environmental footprint? Lets delve deeper into the animal food dilemma.

What is the most sustainable diet?

Meat has the greatest environmental footprint followed by dairy and then plant-foods.  This is because livestock farming requires more land and water; and animals produce more green house gas (GHG) emissions compared to plant foods.  You may think veganism (eating no animal products at all) is the most sustainable solution to feed our growing global population but you may be surprised to hear that it’s not, because growing crops doesn’t utilise all types of land. For example, some land is useless for growing fruits and vegetables but can be used for dairy farming or livestock grazing. In fact, a vegetarian diet including dairy products (lacto-vegetarian) has been identified as the most sustainable diet.

Eat a diet that is mostly plants, but some animal foods can be included in your diet and still be sustainable.

How much meat do you need?

In grappling with the animal food dilemma, we need to know how much we need – not want or crave, but actually need - for good health.  National dietary recommendations are a good place to start. Meat is part of the ‘meat and protein alternatives’ group that includes red meat, white meat, fish, eggs and plant-based alternatives like pulses, legumes, nuts and seeds.

The US Dietary Guidelines recommend 5-6.5 ounces (around 140g-185g) of meat or protein equivalents per day for a sedentary person.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend 2-3 ‘serves’ of meat or alternatives 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, beans);

170g tofu;

or 30g of nuts or seeds.  

If you do the math, both countries are recommending around 1300g (45oz) of meat (or equivalent) per week, which seems a lot more than the 300g limit Greenpeace is recommending, but of course not all serves from this group need to be meat. The Australian guidelines recommend limiting your cooked red meat intake to 455g per week and including plant-based foods in the mix. And remember smaller animals such as chickens and pigs, and wild animals such as deer, bison and kangaroo all have a smaller environmental footprint than cattle.

The question of how much meat we can get away with eating and still look after our health and the environment is hotly debated and depends on a myriad of factors including: location/region, climate, production method, land and water use, feed type, animal genetics, waste management, supply chain efficiency, transport and wastage. We as citizen-eaters can help by eating animals ‘nose-to-tail’ (not just our favourite bits) and not wasting any because throwing animal foods in the bin just adds insult to injury (it wastes the already significant environmental costs in producing it).

Enjoy a variety of protein sources including plant sources but limit meat intake – especially from large, high eco-footprint animals to around 400g a week, or two meals. Whatever you do, don’t waste a skerrick of food, especially animal food.

How much dairy do you need?

While Greenpeace recommend no more than 630g dairy food a week, Australian and US dietary guidelines recommend 2-3 serves of dairy products (or equivalent), or 500-750g a day of dairy milk.

One serve of dairy is:

1 cup of milk or fortified soy milk; or

40g cheese;

200g yoghurt;

100g almonds;

100g firm tofu with calcium

The dairy food group is a good source of many nutrients including calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin B12. While you could meet these dietary requirements using only plant-based foods it is more difficult and you’ll probably need supplements or fortified foods. For example, calcium is available in foods such as almonds, however you would need to eat more than 3 handfuls of almonds (100g) to get just 1 serve of dairy alternatives. If you choose plant-based ‘milks’, choose one with added calcium.

Why is there conflicting advice?

Greenpeace’s advice to consume no more than 300g of meat and 630g dairy products per week appears to conflict with both Australian and US national dietary guidelines, although it doesn’t have to if we chose more plant-based alternatives within the meat and dairy food groups. As Greenpeace correctly points out, you can meet your nutritional requirements with a vegetarian diet or vegan diet supplemented with Vitamin B12. However, there are still lingering nutrition questions we need to answer. For example, which groups (pregnant women, children, athletes, young women, teens?) are likely to experience nutritional shortfalls if meat and dairy are removed or limited from diets? How do we ensure those with higher needs have them met in an animal-food constrained world? If we are to solve the dilemma of animal foods, we need collaboration between environmental scientists and nutrition scientists and dietitians to ensure advice is evidence-based, and our sustainable diets are enjoyable.

The animal food dilemma in a nutshell:

  • Eating less meat reduces your environmental footprint, but you still need to meet your nutritional needs - include healthy plant-based meat and dairy alternatives such as nuts, seeds, legumes, fortified plant ‘milks’ and tofu.
  • If you eat meat make it a side show rather than the main attraction on your plate – fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with grains (or starchy vegetables) and limit meat to a quarter of your plate.
  • Replace some of your meat with plant proteins. For example, try adding lentils to your spaghetti Bolognese, burgers, meatloaf or casseroles; and adding chickpeas, tofu or nuts to curries, soups and salads.

08 Aug 2018

Should you go vegan?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Vegan diets are often perceived as being a healthier, more ethical and more sustainable way to feed our growing global population. But do vegan diets really deserve their health halo?

Vegan diets typically exclude animal derived ingredients (e.g. meat, dairy products, eggs and gelatine) and foods produced using animal labour, such as honey. Vegans eat grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.  According to Google Trends, searches for the term ‘vegan’ have almost tripled over the past 5 years worldwide.  Despite the fact that ‘going vegan’ is going viral, veganism is not new. The Indian religion of Jainism is centred on non-violence and has been practicing veganism since ancient times. Some Jains even avoid eating potatoes as uprooting them kills the plant along with any microorganisms living on it.

Dr. David Jenkins, the nutrition scientist who introduced the world to the glycaemic index and friend of GI News, says his reasons for adopting a vegan diet are nutritional, environmental and humanitarian.

Are vegan diets healthier?

In an article for the Globe and Mail about Dr David Jenkins conversion to veganism, Leslie Beck claims that “plant-based eaters are thinner and have lower cholesterol and blood-pressure levels, a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and lower cancer rates – especially colorectal cancer.” But this is plant-based and not plant-only diets – there isn’t much long term research on health outcomes of people following vegan diets. The fact plant-based diets are healthier might not be that surprising as veggies are well known to be great for your health; they are rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals and low in kilojoules (calories).  However, we can’t ignore that meat, eggs and dairy provide essential nutrients not naturally present in plants such as vitamin B12, vitamin D and long chain omega-3 fats (although mushrooms are fungi and not plants they contain small amounts of B12 and can contain vitamin D if they are exposed to sunlight). While you can find some of these nutrients added to plant-based foods, you must look a bit harder to find them. Or take supplements.  There are risks of missing out on these nutrients and a vegan diet is not necessarily a healthier diet – it all depends what foods you choose and the overall balance of foods. French fries, fake meats (meat analogues), veggie chips, vegan desserts are plant-based but they can also be highly processed and high in saturated fat salt, fat and additives. There are lessons to learn from our vegan friends: eat more legumes, wholegrain cereals, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, which are all healthy options for everyone.

Is veganism the most sustainable diet?

You might think veganism is the most sustainable way to feed our growing global population and vegan activists certainly promote this as a reason to follow them into a plant-only lifestyle.  They have a point. Meat has the greatest environmental footprint, followed by dairy and then plant-foods.  This is because livestock farming requires more land and water; and animals produce more GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions compared to plant-based foods.  However what may surprise you is that veganism doesn’t appear to be the most sustainable dietary pattern because it doesn’t utilise all types of land. Some less fertile land is not suitable for growing fruits and vegetables but can be used for livestock such as dairy cattle. According to a recent analysis the most sustainable eating pattern is (drum roll please) a vegetarian diet including dairy products (a lacto-vegetarian diet).

Another study found some vegan diets have higher environmental impacts than some omnivore diets. Eating locally and eliminating food wastage play a big role in sustainability too.  For example, a locally raised free-range egg has a smaller environmental footprint than an avocado that has been flown halfway across the globe and then thrown in the bin because it went brown in the bottom of your fruit bowl.

Why vegan?

  • Animal welfare: There are no cruelty issues with plants.
  • Environment: Plant-based diets have the advantage, but it’s complicated Reduce your impact by eating mostly plants, locally sourced, and don’t waste food.
  • Nutrition: for good health, eat mostly plants and just enough animal food to meet your nutrient requirements. Vegans need to eat fortified foods or take supplements to meet their needs for hard-to-get nutrients.

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.

06 Jun 2018

Low energy living

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, June 06, 2018

We use a lot of energy in our everyday lives. Cast your mind back to the last power outage. Did your heart sink as you realised that your mobile battery was at 2%, you couldn’t watch TV or make microwave popcorn and the ice-cream in the fridge melted? The minor and temporary inconvenience of a power outage is the tip of a very large energy iceberg.

Each year the world population is using more and more energy. One way of measuring how much more is Overshoot Day. In 2017, August 2 was Overshoot Day says the Global Footprint Network. What this means is that in just over seven months, we had used up the natural resources such as food and fuel Earth can generate in twelve months. As Overshoot Day moves earlier and earlier each year, we dip more and more into the super fund of natural resources we should be saving for our children’s and their children’s future.

What can we do to make a difference? We can start with adopting some everyday habits that help to reduce our energy use. We don’t necessarily have to go without; but we need to be more aware of the energy we use in our daily lives, be more energy efficient and waste less.

Energy-saving tips

Transport

  • Walk, ride a bike, carpool or take public transport- it saves money and reduces GHG emissions as well as increasing your physical activity.

Shopping

  • Buy healthy whole foods such as oats, brown rice, vegetables, fruit, milk, fresh meat, legumes and eggs, and cut back on (cut out?) highly processed packaged foods that require more energy to produce in the first place and are likely high in salt, saturated fats and highly refined carbohydrates that spike BGLs.
  • Plan your meals and shopping trips to avoid emergency fast food drive-throughs and pizza deliveries.

Cooling and heating

  • Adjust your air-conditioning thermostat to more moderate settings to make it use less energy, such as 18–20 degrees Celsius in winter and 25–27 degrees in summer.
  • Wear more clothes in winter to save on heating (and remember keeping yourself warm uses kilojoules/calories and every little bit helps).
  • Close the door on rooms you’re not using and exclude draughts.

Washing

  • To save energy on water-heating, wash clothes in cold water, only run the dishwasher when its full (and in the middle of the night for off-peak energy pricing), keep showers short and install a water-saving shower head and flow-limiters on your taps.
  • Air-dry clothes rather than use a clothes dryer.

Storage

  • Ensure your fridge is set to the correct temperature – around 3–4 degrees Celsius and get rid of that extra fridge – it’s costing you a lot to run.
  • Don’t open the fridge door too much so it doesn’t have to work as hard to stay cold.

Cooking

  • Use the BBQ outside on hot days - cooking inside heats the house and makes your cooling system work harder.
  • Use your microwave oven or pressure cooker rather than your oven – it is more energy efficient.
  • Defrost frozen foods in the fridge overnight instead of in the microwave to save energy.
  • Use the correct size burner for your saucepan – excess heat wastes energy.
  • If using your oven, think about cooking two things at once to make the most of the energy.

01 May 2018

The Last Straw

Posted by Nicole Senior on Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Single use straws made sense when contaminated cups were an issue. Thanks to improved hygiene standards, catching infectious diseases from drinking vessels is less of an issue but now we have bigger things to worry about. Disposable plastic drinking straws are an environmental disaster.

The problem with straws

Unable to be recycled, plastic straws are used for 20 minutes at most, then remain intact for hundreds of years.  At the popular Manly Beach in Sydney, Australia, scuba diver Kasey Turner found 319 straws during a 20-minute snorkel. Only 1 day later she returned and found an additional 294 straws at the same spot! The following weekend she repeated this exercise and found a further 150 straws, showing just how quickly these straws accumulate. And they’re everywhere. According to the Ocean Conservancy’s 2017 Report, Straws made the list of top 10 pollutants littering international coastlines.[1]

Besides making a mess, straws do terrible damage to aquatic life. A video went viral in 2015 showing a plastic drinking straw being painfully extracted from the nostril of a turtle off Costa Rica (the video has a warning that it may be inappropriate for some users because it is so upsetting). Straws are even swallowed by seabirds, which then puncture vital organs or block airways leading to a horrible death.

Compostable drinking straws are not much better than plastic straws as very few people compost them, and they are not designed to break down in the ocean.

Even if some plastic straws do manage to break down, they become smaller microplastics that fish then eat, and we then eat those fish, plastic and all (yuk).

By 2025 it’s been projected there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans

Straws don’t always suck

Straws do have some great uses.  Not only do they give us that Instagram perfect pout as we sip on a cocktail, they also keep ladies’ lipstick intact, and make for a less messy drinking experience for kids (especially in the car). Straws can also reduce contact between sugary drinks and teeth, which helps prevent cavities and dental erosion. As straws send liquid to the back of the mouth they reduce flavour exposure for those suffering from nausea (e.g. during chemotherapy or morning sickness). Bendy straws also make drinking easier for the less-able, such as the ill, frail, or those with coordination and movement difficulties.

Do you really need a straw?

You don’t drink beer or wine through a straw, so why not just say “no straw please”. Your drinks taste just as good (probably better) without a plastic straw.

Perhaps a bit more ‘slow eating’ (and drinking) would help. Straws tend to go with grab ‘n go drinks with bubbles and sugar. Let’s face it, we could do with less of these. Taking water with you in a re-usable bottle has health and environmental benefits.

But I’m a sucker for straws!

For those of you who can’t give up your straws, there are alternatives, and trendy ones at that. Some bars and cafes already have stainless steel, re-useable straws. You already use their metal cutlery, so why not a metal straw? Metal straws have the added benefit of becoming chilled, which makes your drink even more refreshing, and no plastic taste. You can even buy a stainless-steel straw for home-use and they often come with a cleaning brush. Other plastic straw alternatives include copper, glass and bamboo straws. You can even buy straws from Harvest Straws made from (would you believe it) straw! That’s right, straws have come full circle and are now once again made of wheat or rye straw.

Keeping it green, in a nutshell

  • Single-use plastic straws are an environmental disaster and can be devastating to marine life.
  • To reduce plastic pollution, asks for drinks with “no straw please”
  • For straw devotees, try a reusable drinking straw. 
An example of a reusable drinking straw