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/

 

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.


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.

09 Oct 2015

Happy healthy eating anecdotes

Posted by Nicole Senior on Friday, October 09, 2015

Two stories were shared with me this week that made me feel really good. We hear a lot about the evils of big food, and the media is awash with bad news stories about the state of our national diet, but this week I heard some good news.

The first story came from a playgroup mum whose 5 year old son is really switched on by the new Health Star Ratings. He loves using it, especially in the breakfast cereal aisle. When his sister chooses a cereal with one or two stars he objects and points her in the direction of cereals with more stars. And mum is pleasantly surprised by the number of cereals the kids like that also have 4 or 5 stars. It’s a fact that the breakfast cereal category has the highest take-up of the voluntary Health Star Rating system, making it easy to find healthier options in a very large and potentially confusing category. And this category is getting healthier all the time- there is no shortage of healthier options with 3.5 stars or more. And we know how important breakfast is for kids. Research tells us that cereal is the most popular breakfast choice among Australian children, and eating them is associated with diets higher in vitamins and minerals, a greater likelihood of meeting nutrient intakes, and a lower risk of being overweight. 

The second story came from another mum who spends a lot of time on the road with two under five year-old- boys. She was delighted that McDonald’s restaurant offered a children’s meal with a wrap, apple slices and water, with no chips or sugary drink. She said sometimes it’s just easier to eat in the car, and Macca’s is one of the few options available. To have healthy items on the menu was enough for her to text me about her triumph - and it made me smile to receive it. Sure, she and I know its better to eat a meal at the table with the whole family but in her busy life its sometimes a necessity to eat on the go, and fast food meets her needs on these occasions. Isn't it great there are now healthier fast foods available?

These two stories exemplify the progress being made in the Australian food supply: the development of healthier food products, and a useful and trustworthy front of pack labelling system to point people toward them in the supermarket.  I'm proud to say this work is being supported and enabled by dietitian colleagues. Yes, dietitians are working every day behind the scenes to bring you healthier food products, and then telling you about them in an honest and responsible way. It’s one of the things I do, and I love doing it knowing I am contributing toward a healthier food supply. The end game is making healthy choices available, and making them easy choices as well.

18 Mar 2015

New food Product Development - how is it done?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I was fortunate to be invited to the Kellogg's HQ in Sydney by their nutrition team to hear about the role of nutrition and dietitians within the business. It was really pleasing to hear fellow dietitians had a place at the decision table and ensuring better nutrition was considered at every stage. And Kellogg's isn't the only company where this is happening. I'm pleased to know dietitians advocating for better nutrition within other breakfast cereal companies (and food companies in general) including Nestle Uncle Tobys, Sanitarium and Goodness Superfoods. We heard the story about the development of their new Five Whole Grain Muesli, including the importance of consumer research to give people what they want, and the technical skill required to bring their wants to life in a food that is good to eat. I think they've done very well with this natural, minimally processed mixture of wholegrains, nuts, seeds and fruit. It is just like muesli you've mixed yourself, only they've done it for you. Find out more about it here

As an educational exercise, we had the opportunity to develop our own muesli according to a consumer insight brief as part of a small group - just like a company like Kellogg's would do. It was very enlightening and lots of fun too. We needed to develop a new muesli product for 'Millenials': young people who like their food their own way and interested in health and wellbeing, but they don't have a lot of time to cook and prepare food. Sound familiar? Even though I'm past this generation, I could relate to it . We had a range of ingredients at our disposal to mix our new muesli product, and they were labelled with relative costs.

We came up with a product called Superfood Breakfast Blend, and in two variants: Crunchy Fruit-free & Purple Berry Antioxidant.

Crunchy fruit-free had oat clusters as well as quinoa, cashews, pepitas and spices. Purple Berry had whole oats, cranberries, blueberries and blackcurrents as well as rye, quinoa, chia, almonds and sunflower seeds..

We believed our product should:

*Be versatile- Millenials want food their own way and our product  could be eaten as is with milk, used as a topping for fruit and yoghurt, or blended into a smoothie

*Contain wholegrains and superfoods in order to give the target group the functional health benefits they wanted in a form they could talk up with their friends.

*Taste great - this required the addition of nuts (including some coconut), dried fruit, spices and in the case of the fruit-free variant oat clusters stuck together with some added sugar.

*Affordable - we had to pull back on the amounts of some ingredients, and be mindful of how many of the more pricey ingredients we used in each variant because of cost (dried blueberries are very expensive, as is quinoa).

What did this exercise demonstrate? There's a lot involved in developing a new product but at its core you have to make something people want; that meets their needs and wants. There are a lot of technical considerations and constraints. For example, cost - you can develop a brilliant muesli if cost is no barrier but very few people would buy it. Another example is physical form - I wanted to add loads chia seeds to the mix but unless you are incorporating them into clusters, they'll settle at the bottom of the pack. A primary driver is taste but having tasted many of the wholegrains and seeds on their own I can say they don't taste that great on their own. Try eating plain rolled oats with milk- not great.The oat clusters were delicious, because they are held together with added sugar!  I'm of the view that a little sweetness can help the healthy wholegrains go down, but there are plenty of fad diets that would ban our breakfast blend. A little bit of coconut went a long way to add some flavour too, despite adding a little saturated fat to the mix (and unfortunately many Millenials think coconut is a superfood anyway). Spices were an amazing way to add interesting flavour.

You can make your own muesli and try this exercise out for yourself. But don't feel bad if you can't be bothered - most people buy their breakfast cereal ready-made and its a nutritious, quick and easy option especially if you choose products based on wholegrains.


Thanks to Dr Michelle Celander, Senior Nutrition and Regulatory Affairs Manager, Kelloggs Australia and New Zealand, and her team for an enjoyable and informative session. She's the one beaming in the photo below, taken during a deliciously healthy lunch.