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/

 

02 Apr 2019

Our clothing conundrum

Posted by Nicole Senior on Tuesday, April 02, 2019

OK so clothing isn’t really about eating, but it’s a household issue so its worth talking about. Clothing is so cheap these days; many of us purge almost brand new garments from our wardrobes without a second thought. This is unsustainable and unethical.

Environmental Issues

According to ABC’s program War on Waste, Australians throw a massive 6000kg of clothing into landfill every 10 minutes. For those of you thinking you are in the clear because you donate old clothes to charity, sorry to burst your bubble but 85% of donated clothing ends up in landfill. Even charities are groaning under the weight of donations.

Producing a single item of clothing uses a massive amount of resources. According to Fashion Revolution, 2,720 litres of water is used to make just one t-shirt. That’s how much water we normally drink in around 3 years! Not to mention the greenhouse gases released into the air along with the fertilisers, pesticides and toxic dyes that are contaminating waterways. The True Cost movie uncovers the devastating impact that chemicals from textile production have on the health of local communities. Communities located in cotton producing areas are exposed to pesticides and some leather tanneries contaminate drinking water. Sadly these communities experience high levels of particular diseases like cancer and early death.

Ethical Issues

Buying a cheap $5 t-shirt supports the fast fashion industry and perpetuates the cycle of poverty and poor health for garment workers in developing countries like Bangladesh.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh killed more than 1000 people because profits were put above employee safety. This is one of many similar tragedies in the fast fashion industry. In many countries like Bangladesh, garment workers are paid a minimal wage that covers only 60% of the cost of living in a slum. As fast fashion brands generally don’t own garment factories they often wash their hands of these responsibilities. Most of the money that you pay goes into the pocket of the brand and retailer.  If we were to pay garment workers a fair wage so they could access housing, healthcare, education, food and clothing, this would only have a minimal impact on the retail price. According to Fashion Revolution a $46 AUD (26 Euro, $33 USD) t-shirt would only increase in retail price by about $2.50 AUD (1.57 Euro, $1.77 USD).

What Can You Do to Help?

  • Buy only what you need: Choose versatile pieces that you love and will wear over and over again. For special occasions consider renting or borrowing an outfit.
  • Buy second-hand: Buy pre-loved vintage items from a charity store to rescue an item from landfill and buy quality items at a bargain price.
  • Support ethical brands: Support sustainable companies like those using organic cotton, recycled materials and those avoiding toxic dyes. Check out Greenpeace’s list of brands that are working to eliminate hazardous chemicals.
  • Choose quality items: Spend a little more on well-made timeless items. Look for heavier fabrics as well as strong and tidy stitching so they last longer.
  • Choose natural fabrics: Synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon and acrylic are types of plastic so when they are washed, tiny plastic particles enter our waterways. Instead choose natural fabrics like cotton (e.g. denim), linen, silk or wool that don’t release micro-plastics and decompose faster in landfill. A linen sleeveless top can decompose in as little as 2 weeks compared to a polyester dress that may remain in landfill for over 200 years.
  • Launder clothes less often: Try and wear clothes at least 3 times before you wash them. If they’re not dirty, just hang your clothes in the air to dry out and freshen up – as the saying goes, sunshine is a great disinfectant. If you get a stain on your freshly laundered shirt, spot cleaning will suffice. Reduce wear and tear on clothes by hanging them to dry so creases drop out instead of ironing them.

Stinky kitchen sponges, dish cloths and tea towels are gross but can be kept fresh and odour-free by ensuring they dry out completely between uses rather than constantly laundering them. Bacteria need moisture to grow. Keep them dry by hanging out in the sun or in dry air and have a couple in use at once and alternate between them so you always have a dry one ready to go. You can also sterilise clean, wet dish cloths in the microwave to kill germs and then dry them out.

  • Protect your clothing: Use aprons when cooking to protect clothes from hot oil and food stains. Launder dark items inside out to preserve their colour as they may fade in the wash when rubbing against other garments. Do up zips or hooks and turn garments inside out so fabric doesn’t snag.
  • Repair your clothing: Learn how to sew on a button or re-dye your favourite black jeans that have faded over time.
  • Upcycle worn out items: When items are beyond repair, give them a second life. Turn old worn out clothing, tea towels and tablecloths into shopping bags, aprons, cleaning rags and much more!

Ethical Clothing in a Nut Shell

  • Be mindful of the human and environmental costs of fast fashion.
  • Buy only what you need.
  • Choose good quality products made from natural fabrics that will last longer.
  • Only launder garments when they are dirty.
  • Repair worn textiles or get creative and turn them into new useful items.

Further reading

  • https://iview.abc.net.au/show/war-on-waste/series/1/video/DC1624H013S00#playing
  • http://www.abc.net.au/btn/classroom/fashion-waste/10523106
  • https://www.fashionrevolution.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Website_HTBAFR_Booklet_BCxFR_Print.pdf
  • https://www.wwf.ch/sites/default/files/doc-2017-09/2017-09-WWF-Report-Changing_fashion_2017_EN.pdf
  • https://truecostmovie.com/about/

80% of donated clothing ends up in landfill. The solution is to buy less clothing and then dispose of it responsibly.

Thanks to Rachel @theseasonaldietitian for co-writing this article.

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


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.

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.