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/

 

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.

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 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.

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. 

17 Oct 2016

Food myths, profitable half-truths and pseudoscience

Posted by Nicole Senior on Monday, October 17, 2016

No doubt you’ve heard word on the street that saturated fat is no longer bad for your cholesterol or bad for your heart. You’ve probably heard the seemingly welcome news to enjoy butter on your toast and chomp through fatty chops with newfound freedom. Don’t you know that sugar and vegetable oils are the new baddies? It’s all been a conspiracy you see. Those nasty drug companies, cane farmers and oilseed farmers are simply trying to kill you in order to sell more product. Don’t worry about the bulk of evidence that doesn’t support such assertions, just be reassured the minority of loud and persuasive doctors and researchers (and the odd lawyer) are the only ones who know the real truth. It is because they are not at the centre of the science and research that gives them this enlightened perspective. Where the experts see outliers, they see the hidden truth. We are blind and they are the ones who see. And of course celebrities are also on board with these anti-sugar, anti-oils messages and they know their stuff. Even the ABC has examined the scientific arguments on their smarty-pants show Catalyst and found sugar is the root of all evil. It doesn’t really matter they gave more time to the American made-for-TV kiddie doctor than our home grown world-leading experts on carbohydrates and health. Maybe the experts are just making a mountain out of a molehill with the whole obesity and chronic disease problem. They really have been naïve – the answer has been staring them in the face the whole time: it’s the sugar and oils at the root of all modern maladies. And that National Health and Medical Research Council review of thousands of studies that took three years to complete? Well, that was a token effort. What would they know? The World Heart Federation and our own Heart Foundation with their panel of experts and review of the evidence don’t hold a candle to the single minded efforts of a few committed individuals. And who wouldn’t support the idea of a simple solution, especially when Jill from finance cut out sugar and lost 4 kilograms. And Helen from HR swears coconut oil has cleared up her skin and improved her cholesterol. And John from sales uses butter on everything and hasn’t had a sick day in years.

Ok, now I’ve got that out of my system. The world is full of food and nutrition myths and sometimes I fall into to a funk of cynicism. I pick myself up to fight another day with the thought that it’s all a game. Someone is always controlling the conversation for their own ends. It is my quest to go with the evidence, even when it’s uncool (see last point below). Oh, and if you’re interested here are my evidence based statements regarding the manufactured controversies of the moment (with a little translation into practical daily tips):

Sugar is not toxic. You can enjoy a little sweetness in your life without harm. It’s best to get it in nutritious foods. Keep sweet drinks to a minimum and enjoy confectionary sparingly. Fruit is healthy but best eaten whole. Dilute juice with water.

Vegetable (seed and fruit) oils are good for you. Enjoy a variety of different oils instead of butter for cooking. Olive, canola, sunflower, rice bran – whatever you fancy. The idea that omega-6 fats are harmful is a minority opinion and unsupported by the evidence. And despite a concerted smear campaign, Australian margarines are healthier than butter and recommended by health authorities here and around the world.

16 May 2016

Bulletproof coffee: seriously?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Monday, May 16, 2016

The term bulletproof doesn’t mean its super strong; bulletproof coffee is coffee made with butter. Yep, you read correctly, it is espresso coffee with a knob of butter, and very often a shot of MCT oil as well. Yes, bulletproof coffee is a ‘thing’. Like many fad diet extension products, it may not be a good thing, but it’s a ‘thing’ none the less. Why? Well I can only think the original developer – an American guy named Dave Osprey – was feeling wildly creative and under the hyper-energetic influence of caffeine (or other psychotropic drugs) at the time. According to Wikipedia, he got the idea after drinking yak-butter tea in Tibet.  The Tibetans drink it as a concentrated source of energy to power their punishing climbs in the freezing mountainous environment in which food can be scarce. He thought it might be a winner in the USA. You know, one of the richest and fattest nations on earth. He managed to sell this idea to the masses with the promise bulletproof coffee will make you smarter and boost your metabolism (that’s code for ‘help you lose weight’). There’s no good evidence to support any of these claims and he has no expertise to be making them, yet bulletproof coffee is a ‘thing’. Dave is a silicon valley technology entrepreneur and has an entire ‘bullet-proof diet’ enterprise. I can’t think of another field in which someone with no training or expertise could make a success out of their health hobby-horse. Welcome to the world of fad diets.

And before you think, ‘only in America’, bulletproof coffee has been available in trendy city cafes in Australia for a while but I nearly choked on my proper coffee when I read about a trendy Melbourne cafe developing a new ‘vegan’ version of bullet coffee: a long black with a chunk of butter and MCT oil (medium chain triglycerides) which they suggest boosts metabolism and concentration (I can only assume they have a non-dairy butter of some sort to make it properly vegan). That sounds great but even online chat groups of ‘believers’ contain queries from people not experiencing any of these effects.  There is no good evidence supporting these claims. The proprietors of this cafe and the people that buy their vegan bulletproof coffee must believe the ridiculous health claims made about MCT oil and bullet coffee. Of course they are tragically misguided.

Bulletproof coffee has now taken on paleo cache. Perhaps because paleo people think dairy milk is a cursed food humans don’t need because it didn’t exist in pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer times. Of course the flaw in this logic is that butter is made from milk fat and making butter is quite a time intensive activity requiring some sort of kitchen rather than roaming the African savannah. Not to mention getting power and water to the espresso machine. But it’s OK because paleo disciples typically specify bulletproof coffee must be made with butter made from milk from grassfed cows. Well, that’s OK then.

Where do I start with the nutrition nightmare that is bulletproof coffee?

  • First and foremost, it sounds disgusting. An abomination in the temple of coffee worship. The capuchin monks must be rolling in their graves.
  • Coffee used to be a pick-me-up that when consumed with a little milk and sugar, was quite low in kilojoules (calories). Bullet proof coffee turns your coffee into a kilojoule explosion.
  • Despite the fanatical endorsements of celebrity chefs, butter is not a health food. Its dairy fat, and consists mostly of saturated fat that will raise your cholesterol if eaten to excess. I’d say drinking butter in your coffee as well as in the ‘paleo’ or ‘low carb’ gluten free, high protein cookie you’re having with it, is eating butter to excess.
  • MCT is not a weight loss tool. It is pure fat. While in the tightly controlled environment of a lab, MCT oil is metabolised differently to other regular fats and oils and is more rapidly absorbed, metabolised and less likely to be stored as body fat. But in the free-for-all eat-fest that nutrition scientists like to call ‘ad libitum’ eating (the way real people eat in the real world) this distinction doesn’t matter much. MCT is adding energy rather than taking it away, and not in a delicious way. And for diet-tribes that preach fresh, natural and unprocessed foods, MCT is highly processed. You don’t get MCT oil in nature, you make it in a lab by isolating fractions of coconut and palm oil.

 I see a lot of crazy things in the world of fad diets but this one really takes the cake. It is by far the craziest product of the moment.

Yes this is coffee with an oil slick. Eeeeuw! Photo source: LA Times

27 Oct 2015

What you need to know about meat and cancer

Posted by Nicole Senior on Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The headlines today are full of stories about meat and cancer. These have been triggered by the release of a comprehensive report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The report concludes that processed meat is carcinogenic to humans, and red meat is probably carcinogenic. Many media stories have made much of the idea that this places bacon, salami and ham on the same carcinogen list as arsenic, smoking and plutonium. Here’s what you need to know about meat and cancer.

This finding is not new

The evidence has been building for some time that eating too much meat, especially processed meat, increases cancer risk. Dietary Guidelines around the world already take this into account. For example, the Australian Dietary Guidelines do not place processed meat into the Meat food group but classify them as discretionary foods along with alcohol, sweet drinks, confectionary, cakes and donuts. Discretionary foods are foods to be limited because they are high in risky ingredients such as salt, sugar, saturated fat and kilojoules. These guidelines also suggest limiting lean red meat to no more than 450g per week.

Processed meat does not carry the same risk as smoking or arsenic

Although the IARC has now classified processed meat as a carcinogen, eating lots of it does not carry the same relative risk as smoking or taking arsenic. The relative risk of eating lots of processed meat is quite small by comparison, which is not to say we should ignore it but we need to keep things in perspective.

Enjoy processed meats occasionally and in small amounts

We’ve known for some time that processed meat is not an everyday choice. Processed meats are strongly flavoured and a little goes a long way in cooking. In practical terms, use them sparingly. Bacon is not a healthy choice for breakfast every day, but eating a rasher with an egg on wholegrain toast with a side of tomato and spinach is a better way to go. Pizza lovers, stick to once a week at most and try the less meat-heavy toppings such as seafood and vegetables rather than three or four different kind of processed meat such as ‘meat-lovers’ or ‘supreme’ all the time. Enjoy your pizza with a salad.

Don’t overdo red meat

Lean red meat is a nutrient dense food and a great source of iron and zinc. You don’t need to give it up altogether but simply ensure you’re eating less than 450g a week. Dietary surveys tell us that in Australia, its only men who need to cut back to meet this target. Women are not overdoing it, and some may benefit from eating a little more in order to meet their iron needs. While many steak restaurants, pubs and clubs haven’t yet caught on, we are in the midst of a culinary revolution where meat is not longer the main event on the plate and vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts are stepping up to take their rightful place in a balanced meal.

Enjoy plenty of protective plant foods

Why do people following the traditional Mediterranean diet seem to live longer and healthier lives? Because they eat a mostly plant based diet. They never eat a meal without vegetables, and never go a day without fruit. Meat is a tasty garnish rather than hanging off the edge of the plate. Meals have colour, texture and flavour.  Plant foods are loaded with beneficial nutrients, including phytochemicals with anti-cancer activity. Plant foods are protective so make sure you get enough. Eating some meat in this context is absolutely fine.

Enjoy an active lifestyle

When it comes to cancer, meat is only one of the many lifestyle factors that are important in influencing your risk. We know physical activity is protective, as is preventing obesity. The same old, well known messages about not smoking still stand; and the risks are significantly greater than those posed by eating too much meat or processed meat. Let’s face it, we know all this stuff but your challenge is making it happen in your own life. If you need help, please make an appointment to see an Accredited Practising Dietitian (or Registered Dietitian in the USA) to help you enjoy a healthy balanced diet that suits you.


Eating too much processed meat increases your risk of cancer so eat occasionally and in small amounts in a mostly plant based diet


11 May 2015

Is raw food best?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Monday, May 11, 2015

Nothing beats the crunch of a raw carrot or the crispness of lettuce and cucumber in a salad. However, you can take a good idea to extremes. There is a whole diet tribe who only eat raw foods, believing it to be best for weight loss, health, wellbeing, longevity and prevention of disease. It’s kind of like the advanced, super duper version of the vegan diet. Raw foodists are responsible for the rise of raw cacao (discussed last time), cold-pressed virgin coconut oil, green smoothies, protein balls and cauliflower pizza bases (!). Raw food diet followers exist on raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, sprouted beans and seaweed – none of which can be heated above 37.8°C (116°F), about body temperature – or else they believe enzymes will be destroyed and the food won’t be as well digested and absorbed. This is a load of rubbish. The enzymes are for the plants’ benefit, not ours. Enzymes are very small proteins and are almost instantly denatured during digestion like any other protein in our food.

The idea that plant foods should be eaten raw to extract their nutrition is just false. In fact, so called ‘anti-nutrient’ factors in raw plant foods make them harder to digest. Phytates can reduce absorption of minerals such as iron and zinc, and nuts contain enzyme inhibitors in the skin. Of course, the level of some vitamins (such as vitamin C) and antioxidants (sulforaphane) are reduced by the cooking process; however, in a mixed diet this is not an issue (still, don’t boil the life out of your vegetables but lightly steam, microwave, stir-fry or roast them instead). I know a whole bunch of raw foodists will be horrified at my mention of the microwave, which many natural health proponents say will kill you slowly. That's also rubbish; that is to say there is no evidence to back this up.

Processing vegetables by juicing, mashing, pureeing or cooking actually releases more vitamins and antioxidants from vegetables than eating them raw and whole. For example, more lycopene (an antioxidant) is absorbed from a tomato pasta sauce than raw tomatoes, and the same goes for beta-carotene from carrots. The physical effects, as well as higher temperature, soften and break the tough cell walls in plant foods so their inner goodies can be released. In fact, an Italian study comparing steaming, boiling and frying found all methods increased the availability of antioxidants in zucchini (courgettes), carrots and broccoli. The availability of cancer-fighting indoles in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage is also higher after cooking.

Because it is very bulky, high in fibre and nutrient-sparse, a raw food diet carries a very high risk for people with higher nutritional needs, such as children and pregnant women—they need a lot of nutrients the body can easily get at. If you have sensitive bowels, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, this diet will only lead to tears (from pain in your gut) because of its very high fibre content. And the taste? I’ll leave that for you to decide, but I contend this is an extreme diet you do out of conviction rather than enjoyment. And looking on raw food diet websites, their recipes seem to be heavy on sweet treats such as raw chocolate cheesecake, puddings and biscuits, perhaps because this diet is desperate to convince us it's not all jaw-fatigue and rumbling bowels, but it can be some fun too. 

But like all fad diets. this one is really about belonging to a tribe. Being ultra-choosy about the food you eat and going to a lot of trouble to prepare it is a folly of the wealthy and well-fed and a by-product of a culture in which fashion and celebrity trump science and common sense. Luckily, the raw food tribe is typically young and appearance-conscious and will let it go in time - it's just too much hard work and incompatible with family life.

Long story short Besides being a heck of a lot of trouble, you do not need to follow a raw food diet to be healthy. Enjoy a balanced diet from all the food groups and a variety of raw and cooked foods.

Hungry for more? Read Richard Wrangham’s book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. Its a fascinating exploration into the origins and physiological imperatives of cooking.


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