Mind the doughnut: emotional eating is a habit that can start in childhood

Food can be an extremely effective tool for calming young children. If they are bored on a long car journey, or fed up with being in the pushchair, many parents use snack foods to distract them for a little longer. Or if children are upset because they have hurt themselves or want something they cannot have, the offer of something sweet is often used to “make them feel better”.

But what are the effects of using food as a tool to deal with emotions like boredom or sadness? Does it turn children into adults who cannot cope with being bored or upset without a sweet snack? Probably not. There certainly isn’t any evidence to suggest that occasionally resorting to the biscuit tin will affect children in this way. But what if we do it on a regular basis? What happens when sweets and biscuits become the tool for rewarding children for good behaviour and doing well? Or if food is consistently withheld as a punishment?

There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that using food as a tool or as a reward regularly with children may be associated with a greater risk of emotional eating. In a recent study we explored whether children as young as three preferred to play with toys or eat snack foods if they were feeling stressed.

All the children had just eaten lunch so were not hungry, and were then observed to see what they did in a four minute period – eat or play with toys – whilst waiting for someone to look for a missing final piece of a jigsaw. Children aged three to five did not tend to eat much more in comparison to a control group. However, in a similar experiment when the children were two years older, we found many of the children would eat foods when they were not hungry (emotional overeating), rather than play.

It appears that somewhere between the ages of four and six, the tendency to emotionally overeat may increase in many children. And parents who told us they frequently used food as a reward (or its withdrawal as a punishment) when their children were younger, were more likely to have children who emotionally overate when they were aged five to seven. This suggests that frequent use of food as a reward or punishment in that younger period may predict a greater chance of children using food as an emotional tool later in life.

Of course you may be thinking that your own exposure to “reward” foods hasn’t had any lasting impact on your current eating behaviour. But it is worth considering how society has changed in the last few decades to market and promote high calorie foods to children. Many people believe we live in an “obesogenic society”, where our environment has evolved to promote obesity rather than support healthy eating. The fact that around a third of English school children are overweight or obese is testament to this. With grab-bag sized bags of chocolates being promoted to children, supersized portions in fast-food outlets and even clothes shops selling sweets at children’s eye level in queues, it is clear our children need to adapt to cope with constantly being marketed large portions of high calorie foods.

So how can we navigate this complex environment, juggling the balance of making food enjoyable and sociable, whilst helping children to achieve a healthy and balanced diet? Sweet foods are a fun part of life and not necessarily something we want to remove. Even if we eliminated all links between food, emotion and reward in the home, the reality is that society is full of situations where children will experience being given calorie dense foods as a reward or as part of celebrations. It would be a pity to take away the joy that children find in party bags, birthday cakes, Easter eggs and other celebration foods. Perhaps thinking about not just what foods we give children, but also how and why we give certain foods to children at particular times is a good way to start.

Teaching children how to manage their appetites, to eat if they are hungry and to stop if they are full, is an important lesson which is often overlooked.

Eating patterns can usually be tracked across life, so children who learn to use food as a tool to deal with emotional distress early on are much more likely to follow a similar pattern of eating later in adult life. Around three quarters of children who are obese will continue to be obese as adults. Emotional overeating is one factor that has been linked not only with overeating and obesity, but also with the development of eating disorders. To combat this, the way we feed children, and the lessons we provide about how to use food, may be just as important as what we feed them.

Claire Farrow is Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Aston University.

Emma Haycraft is Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Loughborough University.

Jackie Blissett is a Reader in Childhood Eating Behaviour, University of Birmingham.

 

This article first appeared on The Conversation. Read the original here.

 

 

 

Australians failing to meet dietary guidelines

Most Australians do not meet the minimum recommended serves for the five major food groups, according to new figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The report shows that Australian diets are not in line with the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines, which recommend minimum serves for vegetables, fruit, dairy products, lean meats and alternatives, and grain-based foods.

ABS Director of Health, Louise Gates said that adults and children over eight consumed an average of 2.7 serves of vegetables, rather than the 5 serves recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines, according to the latest results from the 2011-12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey.

“Less than 4 per cent of the population consumed enough vegetables and legumes or beans each day,” said Ms Gates.

“One in 10 was meeting the guidelines for dairy products, while one in seven consumed the minimum number of serves of lean meats and alternatives per day.”

“Among the five food groups, fruits and grains had the best compliance, with nearly one in three people consuming the minimum recommended number of serves for each group. However, one-third of the fruit serves was from juice and dried fruit, and two-thirds of the grains and cereals were from refined grains rather than whole grain or high fibre sources,” said Ms Gates.

The report also found that over one-third of the population’s total daily energy intake came from energy-dense, nutrient-poor ‘discretionary foods’ (such as sweetened beverages, alcohol, cakes, confectionery and pastry products).

Lessons from living below the extreme poverty line on $2 a day

Around 2.5 million Australians live below the poverty line on less than $400 a week for a single adult or A$841 for a couple with two children.

I joined 8,500 Australians on the charity challenge last week to live below the extreme poverty line, spending just $2 a day on food for five days.

This is my third year doing the challenge and this year my husband joined me. Having $20 between two seemed to stretch much further than $10 for one person. But it was still tough and my diet was far from complete.

Budgeting and food choices

Essentially, $2 a day bought me a lacto-ovo-pesco vegetarian-style diet (milk, eggs and fish) but with very small quantities of these protein foods.

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Dried chickpeas and a legume-based soup mix added to the protein content and provided a nutritious and tasty soup. The inclusion of flour in the food budget meant I could have damper to accompany my meals.

Vegetable choices were limited to the cheaper ones such as potatoes, butternut, onions and Italian pureed tomato sauce – nothing green in sight.

I had to select cage eggs rather than free range, limiting my choice about animal welfare.

In addition to the limited variety of foods, the exclusion of fruit meant this diet didn’t meet the Australian dietary guidelines. There were no healthy fats such as avocado, oily fish or olive oil. Nor did this diet result in weight loss because it was not low in kilojoules.

Long-term implications

Over five days these nutritional inadequacies would be of little consequence. But over time this type of intake would lead to serious health problems.

Around 760,000 Australian adults (4.5%) are at risk of iron deficiency anaemia. My iron intake averaged 9 milligrams a day, which is only half the recommended dietary allowance of 18 mg a day.

Adequate folate intake is essential in women of childbearing age to prevent neural tube defects in their offspring. My intake was only half of the recommended 400 ug/day. Similarly, my iodine intake, which is needed for normal thyroid function and is particularly important in pregnancy for fetal brain development, was only half the recommended amount.

Had I substituted my homemade damper for commercial bread, I would have received higher amounts of both of these nutrients since bread is required to contain folic acid and iodine.

If I was pregnant, I would not have been able to purchase supplements containing folic acid and iodine, as recommended by clinical antenatal guidelines. As such, policymakers should investigate making these supplements available free of charge on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for vulnerable groups.

Variety is the spice of life

By far the most difficult part of living below the extreme poverty line is the lack of variety. The diet was bland in colour because of the lack of variety, thereby indicating a poorer quality diet.

I repeated the same meal because it’s cheaper to buy in bulk. Leftovers simply cannot be thrown away, so food waste becomes much less than the average 41% of household garbage.

Spending money on beverages was not an option. I drank only water – hot and cold. Next year, teabags will be an essential item.

Time management and forward planning

Another difficulty is the need to plan ahead. Having only $2 a day means that all foods eaten outside of the household need to be prepared beforehand.

I also spent hours more than usual doing the weekly shop. I visited three different grocery stores to compare prices, including a large greengrocer, Aldi and IGA. It pays to shop around but those on low incomes would ill afford the transport costs associated with going from shop to shop.

Australian households’ spending on food

Contrary to popular belief, Australian households spend more on current (unhealthy) diets than required to purchase healthy (recommended) diets. The majority (53-64%) of food budgets is spent on “discretionary” choices: foods that aren’t essential to health that are high in saturated fat and sugar (this includes take-away foods and alcohol).

There has been much debate about the impact of changing the goods and service tax (GST) to encompass basic healthy foods. This would increase the cost of healthy diets by around 10%. In real terms, a healthy diet would cost a family of two adults and two children an extra $56.39 per week.

Since low-income families spend a higher proportion of their disposable income on food, around 30%, this tax change would hit the poorest hardest. Such a change would have a devastating impact on people living below the poverty line.

After five days living on $2 a day for food, I have a much greater respect for those living on a tight budget. And I will think twice before spending two days’ allowance on a coffee, or even buying a bottle of water.

 is Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of Wollongong

This article first appeared on the Conversation. You can read the original here.

CSIRO to examine environmental impact of poor eating

CSIRO will use data from the country’s largest diet survey, the Healthy Diet Score, to look at the role food consumption contributes to our environmental footprint, as well as providing people with a score indicating the nutritional quality of their eating habits.

Improving the national diet can achieve both health benefits and environmental benefits, such as minimising harmful greenhouse gases via reducing processing, packaging and transport requirements.

CSIRO research has found that reducing overconsumption of kilojoules and eating whole foods at the levels recommended in the National Dietary Guidelines could cut the greenhouse gas contribution of the average diet by 25 per cent.

The survey evaluates diet based on food variety, frequency and quantity of the essential food groups, as well as other attributes to calculate greenhouse gas emissions related to food consumption.

This is the first year that the Healthy Diet Score will use survey data to measure the broader environmental impact of poor eating and the findings will be released later this year.

Professor Manny Noakes, CSIRO Research Director for Nutrition and Health and the co-author of the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet, said the impact of poor eating habits reaches further than just an individual’s waistline.

“Obesity and poor nutrition habits negatively affects the broader community,” Professor Noakes said.

“This year’s Healthy Diet Score will help us better qualify the environmental footprint from individuals eating habits.

In addition to overeating kilojoules, the CSIRO estimates that junk food is one of the highest contributors to food related greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for up to 27 per cent of the 14.5 kilograms of diet-related greenhouse gas emissions produced by the average Australian each day.

Last year the country’s diet quality was given a rating of 61/100 using the scientifically validated survey which assesses people’s diet quality against the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Australia’s underwhelming performance in last year’s Healthy Diet Score was driven by the country’s addiction to junk food.

The 2015 survey found that junk food intake was three-times higher than the recommended daily limit.

The CSIRO Healthy Diet Score is a free 10-minute online assessment which evaluates diet quality and identifies areas of improvement and gives your diet a score out of 100.

‘Living here will make you fat’ – do we need a public health warning?

Governments have invested billions in efforts to prevent obesity, yet Australians keep getting fatter, especially in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage.

Over the past two decades, the prevalence of obesity rose in adults from 19% to 28%. The proportion who are overweight remained similar at around 38%. This means two-thirds of Australian adults are now overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) of 25–29.9, or obese (BMI >=30).

A new study published in BMJ Open confirms that obesity is highest in Australians who live in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage. The age-adjusted odds ratio of being overweight or obese was determined for high and low levels of socioeconomic disadvantage. We analysed data collected from almost 37,000 patients based on their interactions with their general practitioners over two years (September 2011 to 2013).

This study is part of the larger Sentinel Practices Data Sourcing project. This aims to develop a surveillance system for monitoring chronic diseases within the Southeastern NSW Primary Health Network.

Patients’ area of residence was categorised using the Socio-Economic Index for Areas of relative socioeconomic disadvantage. Both men and women living in areas of highest socioeconomic disadvantage had a 29% higher risk of being obese. The opposite association was found for being overweight, at least in men (those in areas of lesser relative socioeconomic disadvantage were more likely to be overweight).

What makes low-SES areas ‘obesogenic’?

It is well recognised that an inverse relationship exists between socioeconomic status (SES) and obesity. But the reasons for this are not straightforward.

“Obesogenicity” (the sum of influences that physical surroundings have on promoting excessive weight gain) of neighbourhoods may relate to the food environment (inadequate access to local sources of healthy foods, such as supermarkets and greengrocers, or easy access to unhealthy foods, such as fast-food restaurants) or the physical activity environment (less green space, unsafe neighbourhoods).

In the US, it has been demonstrated that neighbourhoods in lower socioeconomic areas are more “obesogenic” than those in richer areas. This translates to higher levels of obesity in children and adults. But these findings are not directly transferable to Australia.

A study of socioeconomically disadvantaged areas in Victoria ranked neighbourhoods using an index that included three domains:

  • food resources (supermarkets, green grocers, fast-food restaurants);
  • recreational activity resources (gyms, pools, park space); and
  • walkability (four or more intersections within a 2km buffer, walking environment, neighbourhood safety).

Surprisingly, neighbourhood “obesogenicity” was not associated with BMI of residents. It seems other factors may be at play.

Supermarkets and shelf space

Supermarket proximity may not necessarily reflect access to healthier foods. About 30% of supermarket shelf space comprises junk (or non-core) foods. However, the shelf spacededicated to non-core foods does not differ according to the location of the supermarket.

There is also no association between proportion of shelf space allocated to non-core foods and their purchase. But low-SES Australian shoppers do buy significantly more non-core foods than high-SES shoppers, especially chips and sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages and cordials.

This behaviour is likely to be driven by the economics of food choice theory: people on low incomes maximise energy availability per dollar. They buy foods that provide the most energy (usually with few other nutrients) for the least cost. This has been shown to influence food purchases in Indigenous communities.

There may also be less segregation in Australia between neighbourhoods classified as high versus low SES. Or there may be less clustering of fast-food restaurants in low-SES neighbourhoods than occurs in the US. Also, people may not necessarily shop or eat out where they live, particularly if they commute to work and access fast-food outlets on their way home.

Green space effects vary

A study in NSW found that proximity of residence to green space was associated with undertaking more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and having less sitting time in both men and women.

However, this activity translated into lower body weight only in women; those who lived close to green space had a 10-20% lower risk of being overweight or obese, respectively, compared to those who lived further from such areas.

It could be that men compensate for being active by eating more, regardless of where they live, but this hypothesis remains to be proven.

There is little doubt that state government investment to enhance green spaces may promote physical activity in middle-to-older-aged adults. This has to be a good thing, but the impact on obesity may not benefit everyone to the same extent.

How can we reduce obesity in low-SES areas?

Our study provides new insights for population health planning. The findings highlight a need for preventive health initiatives to be specific to gender and the socioeconomic attributes of the target population.

We propose that, in areas of highest socioeconomic disadvantage, primary care providers could have more streamlined approaches to direct obese patients to existing weight loss programs. These include the free government-funded, population-based Get Healthy Information and Coaching Service.

In areas of low socioeconomic disadvantage, efforts could be focused on preventing further weight gain in adults, particularly men, who are already in the overweight range.

Encouraging patients to keep a close eye on their weight could be achieved through routine weighing every time they attend their general practitioners. This is an effective strategy and is relatively simple. However, recording of height and weight measures in general practices especially in regional settings is much lower than optimal.

The (large) elephant in the room

The Australian government has been heavily criticised over recent weeks for its lack of commitment to preventing chronic diseases within the primary health care system. Less than 2% of health funding is spent on prevention.

As part of the Primary Health Care Review, the “Healthier Medicare” package focuses on treatment of chronic diseases, but ignores the elephant in the room – prevention of obesity.

Obesity is the most important cause of chronic conditions, including type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Surely it would make better economic sense to stem the tidal wave of obesity, which brings with it chronic diseases, rather than wait for the already overburdened health system to cope with the increasing prevalence of these conditions.

As well as a health services approach, population-level strategies are urgently required to influence dietary behaviours, with reach across all SES levels.

Other countries are ahead of the game in this regard. For example, MexicoFranceSouth Africa and, most recently, the UK have implemented sugar taxes on soft drinks. Scandinavian countries and Ireland have legislated a reduction of junk-food marketing to children. In Australia, this relies on voluntary adherence by the food industry.

Perhaps neighbourhoods in pockets of high socioeconomic disadvantage need to carry a health risk message: “Living here will make you fat”. Or perhaps policymakers need to look at the glaringly obvious health data and shift resources to where they are most needed to prevent obesity.

Karen Charlton is Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of Wollongong.

Abhijeet Ghosh is Researcher, University of Wollongong.

 

This article first appeared on The Conversation. Read the original here.

 

The Conversation

Parents should beware of baby and toddler snack foods: CHOICE

Despite their claims of being nutritious, packaged snack foods for babies and toddlers are often not as healthy as they seem, according to CHOICE.

The consumer advocacy group looked at more than 80 products marketed at babies and toddlers and asked accredited practising dieticians Laura Ryan and Joan Breakey, and nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton if they believed the products were good snack choices.

The three experts found that the products tended to contain excessive sugar, were generally highly processed, tended to contain little of the fruit and vegetables they used to claim they were healthy, and often used terms like ‘organic’ as proof of their nutritional value.

“Whether it’s in the product name or a claim on the label, the majority of the snacks we looked at reference fruit, vegetables, yoghurt and organic ingredients, creating a ‘health halo’ around products that more often than not don’t deserve it,” CHOICE spokesman Tom Godfrey told the SMH.

Product made by Rafferty’s Garden were included in the review. According to a Rafferty’s Garden spokesperson, the products should only be eaten as occasional snacks and as such they can be part of a healthy diet.

“It is important to note that one serve of our Rafferty’s Garden snack range has approximately half the sugar of a tablespoon of sultanas, a food that is also rich in natural sugars and one that most parents would not consider restricting in their children’s diet,” she said.

Why it’s impossible to actually be a vegetarian

In case you’ve forgotten the section on the food web from high school biology, here’s a quick refresher.

Plants make up the base of every food chain of the food web (also called the food cycle). Plants use available sunlight to convert water from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air into glucose, which gives them the energy they need to live. Unlike plants, animals can’t synthesize their own food. They survive by eating plants or other animals.

Clearly, animals eat plants. What’s not so clear from this picture is that plants also eat animals. They thrive on them, in fact (just Google “fish emulsion”). In my new book, “A Critique of the Moral Defense of Vegetarianism,” I call it the transitivity of eating. And I argue that this means one can’t be a vegetarian.

Chew on this

I’ll pause to let the collective yowls of both biologists and (erstwhile) vegetarians subside.

A transitive property says that if one element in a sequence relates in a certain way to a second element, and the second element relates in the same way to a third, then the first and third elements relate in the same way as well.

Take the well-worn trope “you are what you eat.” Let’s say instead that we are “who” we eat. This makes the claim more personal and also implies that the beings who we make our food aren’t just things.

How our food lives and dies matters. If we are who we eat, our food is who our food eats, too. This means that we are who our food eats in equal measure.

Plants acquire nutrients from the soil, which is composed, among other things, of decayed plant and animal remains. So even those who assume they subsist solely on a plant-based diet actually eat animal remains as well.

This is why it’s impossible to be a vegetarian.

For the record, I’ve been a “vegetarian” for about 20 years and nearly “vegan” for six. I’m not opposed to these eating practices. That isn’t my point. But I do think that many “vegetarians” and “vegans” could stand to pay closer attention to the experiences of the beings who we make our food.

For example, many vegetarians cite the sentience of animals as a reason to abstain from eating them. But there’s good reason to believe that plants are sentient, too. In other words, they’re acutely aware of and responsive to their surroundings, and they respond, in kind, to both pleasant and unpleasant experiences.

Check out the work of plant scientists Anthony Trewavas, Stefano Mancuso, Daniel Chamowitz and František Baluška if you don’t believe me. They’ve shown that plants share our five senses – and have something like 20 more. They have a hormonal information-processing system that’s homologous to animals’ neural network. They exhibit clear signs of self-awareness and intentionality. And they can even learn and teach.

It’s also important to be aware that “vegetarianism” and “veganism” aren’t always eco-friendly. Look no further than the carbon footprint of your morning coffee, or how much water is required to produce the almonds you enjoy as an afternoon snack.

A word for the skeptics

I suspect how some biologists may respond: first, plants don’t actually eat since eating involves the ingestion – via chewing and swallowing – of other life forms. Second, while it’s true that plants absorb nutrients from the soil and that these nutrients could have come from animals, they’re strictly inorganic: nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and trace amounts of other elements. They’re the constituents of recycled minerals, devoid of any vestiges of animality.

As for the first concern, maybe it would help if I said that both plants and animals take in, consume or make use of, rather than using the word “eat.” I guess I’m just not picky about how I conceptualize what eating entails. The point is that plants ingest carbon dioxide, sunlight, water and minerals that are then used to build and sustain their bodies. Plants consume inasmuch as they produce, and they aren’t the least bit particular about the origins of the minerals they acquire.

With respect to the second concern, why should it matter that the nutrients drawn by plants from animals are inorganic? The point is that they once played in essential role in facilitating animals’ lives. Are we who we eat only if we take in organic matter from the beings who become our food? I confess that I don’t understand why this should be. Privileging organic matter strikes me as a biologist’s bias.

Then there’s the argument that mineral recycling cleanses the nutrients of their animality. This is a contentious claim, and I don’t think this is a fact of the matter. It goes to the core of the way we view our relationship with our food. You could say that there are spiritual issues at stake here, not just matters of biochemistry.

Changing how we view our food

Let’s view our relationship with our food in a different way: by taking into account the fact that we’re part of a community of living beings – plant and animal – who inhabit the place that we make our home.

We’re eaters, yes, and we’re also eaten. That’s right, we’re part of the food web, too! And the well-being of each is dependent on the well-being of all.

From this perspective, what the self-proclaimed “farmosopher” Glenn Albrecht calls sumbiotarianism (from the Greek word sumbioun, to live together) has clear advantages.

Sumbioculture is a form of permaculture, or sustainable agriculture. It’s an organic and biodynamic way of farming that’s consistent with the health of entire ecosystems.

Sumbiotarians eat in harmony with their ecosystem. So they embody, literally, the idea that the well-being of our food – hence, our own well-being – is a function of the health of the land.

In order for our needs to be met, the needs and interests of the land must come first. And in areas where it’s prohibitively difficult to acquire the essential fats that we need from pressed oils alone, this may include forms of animal use – for meat, manure and so forth.

Simply put, living sustainably in such an area – whether it’s New England or the Australian Outback – may well entail relying on animals for food, at least in a limited way.

All life is bound together in a complex web of interdependent relationships among individuals, species and entire ecosystems. Each of us borrows, uses and returns nutrients. This cycle is what permits life to continue. Rich, black soil is so fertile because it’s chock full of the composted remains of the dead along with the waste of the living.

Indeed, it’s not uncommon for indigenous peoples to identify veneration of their ancestors and of their ancestral land with the celebration of the life-giving character of the earth. Consider this from cultural ecologist and Indigenous scholar-activist Melissa Nelson:

The bones of our ancestors have become the soil, the soil grows our food, the food nourishes our bodies, and we become one, literally and metaphorically, with our homelands and territories.

You’re welcome to disagree with me, of course. But it’s worth noting that what I propose has conceptual roots that may be as old as humanity itself. It’s probably worth taking some time to digest this.

 

Andrew Smith is Assistant Professor of English and Philosophy, Drexel University.

This article first appeared on The Conversation. Read the original here.

High fat and sugar diets stop us from feeling full

When we eat a meal, we take for granted that we should feel full afterwards. But eating a diet high in sugar and fat makes it harder for our body to tell if we are full or not.

The typical diet in Western societies consists of highly processed, highly palatable foods, with lots of saturated fat and refined sugar. Examples of specific foods include red meat, vegetable oils, ice cream, sweetened yoghurts, cakes, cereal, biscuits and soft drinks.

These foods are so commonly consumed in developed nations it has become known as the “Western diet”. We know this sort of diet is high calories and therefore tends to make us gain weight. But new research suggests this diet might also impair our ability to stop eating when we’re full, which would be another reason it would make us put on weight.

Gut-brain signals

When you eat a meal, the body releases hormones to tell your brain you are full. These hormones send messages to specific areas of the brain, which are involved in the decision to either stop eating or continue eating. One important area of the brain that receives these messages is the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is involved in memory. People whose hippocampus has been removed are densely amnesic – they are unable to form new memories. But our research suggests another important function of the hippocampus is receiving messages from the gut about internal states such as hunger.

Humans with severe damage to their hippocampus will always say they are hungry, regardless of whether they have just eaten or not. They will eat a full meal, and then only a few minutes later eat an entire second meal. So the hippocampus is very important in telling the body we’re full and don’t need to eat any more.

Rats and mice fed a Western diet have damage to the hippocampus. In our lab, we wanted to know whether eating a Western diet damages the hippocampus in humans too. To test this hypothesis, we looked at memory ability, and the ability to detect signals to indicate fullness.

Our research

Our first study compared two groups of people: those who eat a Western diet, and those with a diet low in saturated fat and refined sugar – a healthy diet. Both groups were matched for age, sex and body mass index.

Both groups were given a range of snacks, followed by some tests of memory ability and then they ate lunch. They were asked to rate how hungry they were before and after the meals, and asked to recall how much they ate during the snack and lunch meals.

Compared to the healthy diet group, the Western diet group had poorer scores on memory tasks, had poorer memory for what they had eaten during the snack period, showed reduced feelings of fullness for the same amount of food eaten, and ate more during the lunch period.

This is the first evidence in otherwise healthy, normal-weight humans that eating a Western diet could be damaging the hippocampus and causing poorer memory ability and reduced sensitivity to feelings of fullness after eating. Because they couldn’t accurately remember what they ate during the snack period, and because they had less sensitivity to feelings of fullness, it is not surprising they ate more during the lunch period.

In a second study, we showed the same effect seems to happen with thirst. When participants were made thirsty by feeding them salty chips, the Western diet group didn’t feel as thirsty, but needed to drink more water to quench their thirst. This suggests the Western diet was impairing their brain’s ability to receive messages from the gut.

What this means for you

It’s not just the calories in a Western diet making us overweight. The diet itself makes us less sensitive to feelings of fullness, causing us to eat more.

But there is some good news. Individuals in the healthy diet group were more sensitive to their internal signals of fullness and thirst. This provides hope that, after taking the initial first step of eating a healthy diet, it might become easier to eat according to your body’s hunger signals and to continue making better dietary choices.

Importantly, these findings were in healthy young adults. This means even if you’re young and of a healthy body weight, you should consider the impact of the food you’re eating on your brain. This information could be a great motivating force to get people to eat a healthy diet and perhaps reduce rates of obesity.

What can we do about it?

Various nutrients have been shown to improve hippocampal dependent memory, and protect against the effects of ageing on the brain.

Omega-3 fatty acids

These are often referred to as a “good fat”. Omega 3 fatty acids include acids critical for brain function. They’re found in fish, avocado and flaxseed.

Antioxidant foods

When cells produce energy, they produce reactive oxygen species which cause damage to the cell. The body can counteract these harmful effects through antioxidants. Various micronutrients have antioxidant properties:

Polyphenols

These micronutrients are found in fruits and vegetables (especially dark berries), as well as coffee, tea, red wine, chocolate and soy. Polyphenols have an antioxidant effect and can also reduce inflammation in the brain. Improved brain function after consuming cocoa has been shown in both young and old adults.

Curcumin

This is a component of turmeric, the spice that gives the yellow colour to a lot of curries. It has been shown to promote brain health through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is speculated the high intake of curcumin in India might explain why there is such a low incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in that country.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E has antioxidant properties and has been shown to improve neurological function with age. It is found in nuts, green leafy vegetables, wheatgerm and vegetable oils such as sunflower and grapeseed.

Folate

Also known as folic acid, folate is found in spinach, oranges and yeast. It is required for optimal brain function, and supplementation with folate has been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline with age.

 

Heather Francis is a Postdoctoral Researcher & Clinical Neuropsychologist, Macquarie University.

 

This article first appeared on the Conversation. Read the original here.

 

 

 Australian sugary drinks tax could prevent thousands of heart attacks and strokes and save 1,600 lives

Last month the United Kingdom announced a sugar tax on soft drinks. The tax will come into effect in 2018, with the funds to be used to address childhood obesity.

The move has been applauded by public health groups internationally. Unsurprisingly, the tax is strongly opposed by powerful groups in the food industry, and the announcement resulted in shares in Coca-Cola temporarily plunging.

In our new research published today in PLOS ONE, for the first time we have modelled the impact of such a tax in Australia. Over 25 years, a 20% rise in the price of soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters would save 1,600 lives. It would also prevent 4,400 heart attacks and 1,100 strokes.

Overall, the savings to the health-care system would add up to A$609 million.

It’s time for Australia to follow the UK’s lead and increase the price of sugary drinks.

What’s wrong with sugary drinks?

The evidence of the negative health impact of these products is clear, particularly with respect to dental health. Sugary drinks are also associated with increased energy intake and, in turn, weight gain and obesity.

Obesity is a leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

Soft drinks are very popular, particularly among children and adolescents. So there is much to be gained, from a population health perspective, from limiting their consumption.

Many countries have already recognised the potential to improve population health by taxing sugary drinks. In recent years, Hungary, Mexico, France and Chile have all implemented a tax. The UK announcement follows a similar one by South Africa earlier in 2016.

Potential impact in Australia

Our PLOS ONE research examined the potential impact of a 20% rise in the prices of sugar-sweetened carbonated soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters on health, health-care expenditure and potential revenue.

As expected, the tax would result in people decreasing their consumption of sugary drinks. The influence of a price increase would be greatest on those who drink a lot of sugary drinks, so the greatest impact would be on younger age groups. This is an important result that is difficult to achieve through other obesity-prevention measures.

The decreases in consumption would result in small declines in the prevalence of obesity of about 0.7% in men and 0.3% in women.

When the health benefits of these changes are modelled for the whole population over their lifetime, the influence of the tax is substantial. The research estimates that it would reduce the number of new type 2 diabetes cases by approximately 800 per year.

Twenty five years after the introduction of the tax, there would be 4,400 fewer cases of heart disease and 1,100 fewer strokes. An estimated 1,600 people would be alive as a result of the tax. Overall, the savings to the health-care system would add up to A$609 million.

Even taking into account declines in consumption, the revenue collected from the tax would be more than A$400m annually. This would provide the government with a significant pool of funds to subsidise healthy food for low-income Australians, contribute to childhood obesity-prevention programs and support the promotion of healthy eating.

If other beverages with added sugar not included in this study (such as energy drinks, fruit drinks, milk-based drinks and cordials) were also taxed, the revenue and health benefits would be even greater.

High sugary drink consumption in Australia

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently released revised guidelines for sugars, recommending that energy from “free sugar” (added by manufacturers, cooks or the consumer) is limited to less than 10% overall.

A recent analysis of added sugar in the Australian population found that most adults and children exceed the WHO recommendation, with sugary drinks accounting for the largest proportion of added sugar.

Just looking at supermarket retail sales, Australians bought around 1.1 billion litres of sugary drinks in 2015 at a cost of A$2.2 billion. This doesn’t include what is bought from fast-food outlets, cinemas, vending machines, hotels and convenience stores.

In many remote Indigenous communities, sugary drink consumption is particularly high. Evidence to Senate Estimates revealed that, in the last financial year, remote Indigenous communities were buying 1.1 million litres of sugary soft drink through community stores. This elicited a response from Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion who said:

I think in remote communities and very remote communities, sugar is just killing the population.

Strong public support

The sugary drinks industry, represented by the Australian Beverages Council, has widely criticised a tax on sugary drinks.

But the majority of Australians support such a tax. A survey in 2012 showed that two-thirds (65%) of respondents were in favour of a tax on soft drinks if the money was used to reduce the cost of healthy food.

This strong public support, together with the substantial health benefits and extra revenue that could be expected from the tax, should make it a highly attractive policy option for the Australian government.

At a time when the cost of preventable disease is threatening to overwhelm the health system, a tax on sugary drinks is an essential element of a comprehensive approach to address poor diets and overweight and obesity.

 

Gary Sacks is Senior Research Fellow, WHO Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention, Deakin University.

Jane Martin is Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition; Senior Fellow, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne.

Lennert Veerman is Senior Research Fellow, School of Population Health, The University of Queensland.

 

This article first appeared in the Conversation. Read the original here. 

We are feeding our toddlers a risky diet – here’s what we should do about it

 

by PhD candidate UCL.

 

The food and drink young children in the UK are consuming could be putting their health at risk. In a new study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, we report that toddlers are consuming too much protein and too many calories for their age, putting them at risk of obesity in later life. We also found that they’re consuming too much salt and not enough fibre, vitamin D or iron.

Our study analysed data from one of the largest dietary datasets for toddlers in the UK, collected in 2008-9 from 2,336 children from the Gemini twin birth cohort. The daily calorie intake of toddlers (21 months old) was 7% higher than recommended by public health nutrition guidelines. And protein intake was approximately three times higher than recommended, with almost all toddlers exceeding the recommendation set by the Department of Health.

Not a sure start

The first two years of life are important for developing healthy eating habits. Children begin to develop dietary preferences that shape their eating behaviour and have a lasting impact on health. Our research suggests that there is cause for concern.

The average daily energy intake for toddlers at 21 months was 1,035 calories; higher than the 968 recommended for children aged two years by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. In all, 63% of children exceeded this recommendation. On average, 40g of protein was consumed per day, but just 15g is recommended by the Department of Health for children aged one to three years.

We know that eating too many calories – not matching the energy consumed with the energy expended – leads to weight gain. But finding out how children consume their calories is important. Increased protein in early life is a risk factor for obesity in early life, and obesity often continues into adulthood. Both the high caloric intakes and the higher than recommended protein intakes found in our study suggest that toddlers today may be at increased risk of obesity and associated health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

The protein source

A previous study in Gemini found that children who ate higher amounts of protein at 21 months of age, gained more weight up to five years of age. It’s important to identify the sources of protein that may be linked to this risk of weight gain.

In Gemini, almost a quarter of children’s calorie intake was consumed in milk and many of the children (13%) were still drinking formula milk at 21 months of age. This suggests that one of the main dietary sources through which children might be obtaining excess protein, is milk. In fact, within Gemini it was protein consumed from dairy (rather than other animal-based protein or plant-based protein) that was driving increases in weight gain up to age five.

At 21 months of age, the transition from a primarily milk-based diet to family food should have occurred, but it appears that a number of children continue to drink large quantities of milk, high in calories and protein. It’s important that, as children begin to consume family food, milk intake is decreased and replaced with water rather than high-calorie, sugary drinks.

As well as getting too much protein, toddlers were also consuming too much salt. Sodium intake was on average 1,148mg a day, almost three times higher than the 500mg recommended. This is a concern because it may set taste preferences for the future, increasing the risk of raised blood pressure in later life. Most salt in the diet comes from processed foods making it more difficult for people to reduce their salt intake. Parents need to be made aware that many processed foods contain high levels of salt and they may need more guidance on checking food labels, choosing lower salt options and limiting the intake of high-salt foods such as ham and cheese.

Fibre intake among many young children was also low, at just half the recommended amount (8g versus 15g per day). Given that high fibre diets have been associated with reduced risks of cancers, coronary heart disease and obesity, it is important for children to consume sufficient amounts.

Iron and vitamin D intakes were also low. Almost 70% of children did not meet the recommended 6.9 micrograms of iron. And average vitamin D intake was 2.3 micrograms a day, falling far short of the 7 micrograms set by the Department of Health. Less than 7% of children met the recommended vitamin D level, and insufficient intake of vitamin D has been associated with poor health, including rickets.

Many toddler foods are now fortified with vitamin D and iron, but children are still not getting enough. Supplements were taken by a small proportion (7%) of children and, although intakes of vitamin D and iron were increased through supplements, most children were still not meeting the recommendations for vitamin D. This underlines the importance of the government recommendations that all children aged six months to five years should take a daily supplement of vitamin D.

Parents need more guidance on the appropriate type, amount and variety of foods and drinks, together with appropriate supplements, in order to reduce obesity and other health problems that may affect their children in later life.

 

This article first appeared on the Conversation. You can read the original here.

 

 

 

 

We are feeding our toddlers a risky diet – here’s what we should do about it

 

by , PhD candidate, UCL

The food and drink young children in the UK are consuming could be putting their health at risk. In a new study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, we report that toddlers are consuming too much protein and too many calories for their age, putting them at risk of obesity in later life. We also found that they’re consuming too much salt and not enough fibre, vitamin D or iron.

Our study analysed data from one of the largest dietary datasets for toddlers in the UK, collected in 2008-9 from 2,336 children from the Gemini twin birth cohort. The daily calorie intake of toddlers (21 months old) was 7% higher than recommended by public health nutrition guidelines. And protein intake was approximately three times higher than recommended, with almost all toddlers exceeding the recommendation set by the Department of Health.

Not a sure start

The first two years of life are important for developing healthy eating habits. Children begin to develop dietary preferences that shape their eating behaviour and have a lasting impact on health. Our research suggests that there is cause for concern.

The average daily energy intake for toddlers at 21 months was 1,035 calories; higher than the 968 recommended for children aged two years by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. In all, 63% of children exceeded this recommendation. On average, 40g of protein was consumed per day, but just 15g is recommended by the Department of Health for children aged one to three years.

We know that eating too many calories – not matching the energy consumed with the energy expended – leads to weight gain. But finding out how children consume their calories is important. Increased protein in early life is a risk factor for obesity in early life, and obesity often continues into adulthood. Both the high caloric intakes and the higher than recommended protein intakes found in our study suggest that toddlers today may be at increased risk of obesity and associated health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

The protein source

A previous study in Gemini found that children who ate higher amounts of protein at 21 months of age, gained more weight up to five years of age. It’s important to identify the sources of protein that may be linked to this risk of weight gain.

In Gemini, almost a quarter of children’s calorie intake was consumed in milk and many of the children (13%) were still drinking formula milk at 21 months of age. This suggests that one of the main dietary sources through which children might be obtaining excess protein, is milk. In fact, within Gemini it was protein consumed from dairy (rather than other animal-based protein or plant-based protein) that was driving increases in weight gain up to age five.

At 21 months of age, the transition from a primarily milk-based diet to family food should have occurred, but it appears that a number of children continue to drink large quantities of milk, high in calories and protein. It’s important that, as children begin to consume family food, milk intake is decreased and replaced with water rather than high-calorie, sugary drinks.

As well as getting too much protein, toddlers were also consuming too much salt. Sodium intake was on average 1,148mg a day, almost three times higher than the 500mg recommended. This is a concern because it may set taste preferences for the future, increasing the risk of raised blood pressure in later life. Most salt in the diet comes from processed foods making it more difficult for people to reduce their salt intake. Parents need to be made aware that many processed foods contain high levels of salt and they may need more guidance on checking food labels, choosing lower salt options and limiting the intake of high-salt foods such as ham and cheese.

Fibre intake among many young children was also low, at just half the recommended amount (8g versus 15g per day). Given that high fibre diets have been associated with reduced risks of cancers, coronary heart disease and obesity, it is important for children to consume sufficient amounts.

Iron and vitamin D intakes were also low. Almost 70% of children did not meet the recommended 6.9 micrograms of iron. And average vitamin D intake was 2.3 micrograms a day, falling far short of the 7 micrograms set by the Department of Health. Less than 7% of children met the recommended vitamin D level, and insufficient intake of vitamin D has been associated with poor health, including rickets.

Many toddler foods are now fortified with vitamin D and iron, but children are still not getting enough. Supplements were taken by a small proportion (7%) of children and, although intakes of vitamin D and iron were increased through supplements, most children were still not meeting the recommendations for vitamin D. This underlines the importance of the government recommendations that all children aged six months to five years should take a daily supplement of vitamin D.

Parents need more guidance on the appropriate type, amount and variety of foods and drinks, together with appropriate supplements, in order to reduce obesity and other health problems that may affect their children in later life.

 

This article first appeared on the Conversation. You can read the original here.

 

 

The influence of protein source on gut microbiome

A study published in the latest edition of The Journal of Nutrition found that a soy diet contributed to a more diverse microbiota than a diet from milk protein sources.

The study, conducted by Elaine Krul, Ph.D., Senior Technical Fellow, DuPont Nutrition & Health, is one of few to evaluate the impact of protein source on the composition of the gut microbiota and provides insight on how including soy protein in the diet can further support cardiometabolic health. .

“It has been suggested that increased microbial diversity in the gut microbiome is a marker of cardiometabolic health, where individuals with low richness have a higher incidence of dyslipidemia, adiposity, weight gain, insulin resistance and inflammation,” said Krul. “Adding lean, high-quality plant proteins such as soy to the diet could be a good strategy for individuals seeking products to support health and wellness goals, including weight management with added cardiometabolic benefits.”

In the study, titled “Soy Protein Compared with Milk Protein in a Western Diet Increases Gut Microbial Diversity and Reduces Serum Lipids in Golden Syrian Hamsters,” diets mimicking the composition of a typical Western human diet containing either milk protein isolate or one of three differently processed DuPont Danisco soy proteins were investigated for their effects on blood cardiometabolic measures, microbiota composition in different sections of the gut, and expression of genes in the liver that are involved in lipid metabolism. The study was conducted in hamsters, an appropriate model for human cholesterol metabolism. The soy-fed hamsters had a more diverse microbiota than those fed the milk diet. Gut microbiota profiles from all soy-fed groups were more similar to each other and showed significant differences in abundance of several key microbial families compared to those in the milk-fed group.

In addition, significant reductions in the concentrations of total cholesterol, triglycerides and atherogenic lipoprotein particles were observed with consumption of soy protein compared to milk protein diets. This adds to the existing evidence supporting the beneficial effects of soy protein to reduce cholesterol and improve fatty acid metabolism.

While DuPont Nutrition & Health has been active over the years in examining the role probiotics play in promoting a healthy microbiome, this is the first study the company has supported that explored the role that protein may play in that regard. “The heart health benefits of soy protein are well-established through numerous clinical and preclinical studies. These results provide insight on how including soy protein in the diet can further support cardiometabolic health through modifying the composition of the microbiome,” added Krul.

DuPont Nutrition & Health continues to explore the impact of changes to the composition of the microbiome and how that impacts health and wellness.  This will help to meet the increasing market interest in incorporating probiotics into protein-containing foods, particularly protein supplements and dry beverages.

QLD introduces compulsory kilojoule labelling for food outlets

The Queensland yesterday passed legislation forcing all food outlets, cafes and supermarkets to display the kilojoule content of their food and drinks at point-of-sale.

Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Cameron Dick said the new laws ensured display of kilojoule information was implemented consistently statewide, spelling a win for the health of all Queenslanders.

“The reality is many of us rely on ready-to-eat meals and snacks from fast food outlets, cafes and grocery stores, to the point where one-third of all Queensland adults are eating takeaway food at least once a week,” he said.

“It is essential for your health to understand exactly what you are eating, but most of us don’t realise how much saturated fat, sugar and salt are in these types of foods.

“These new laws will provide Queenslanders with the nutrition information they need to make informed, healthier food choices.”

The new laws apply to fast-food chains, bakery chains, café chains and supermarkets with at least 20 outlets in Queensland or 50 outlets nationwide.

According to the Government, about 2.5 million adults and children in Queensland are overweight or obese, with obesity in the past estimated as costing the state’s economy more than $11 billion a year.

Mr Dick said food businesses would have 12 months to comply with the scheme.

Australian parents concerned about children’s food choices

New research shows nearly half of Australian parents are concerned their child is unable to make healthy food choices, and 3 in 5 are concerned that their child prefers processed food.

The survey, conducted by Medibank and the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, confirms the need for more to be done to improve the knowledge and confidence among Australian children to grow and cook fresh and healthy food.

“With one in four Australian children obese or overweight, it’s vital that we teach our children to eat well and to be active,” Medibank Chief Medical Officer, Dr Linda Swan, said. “This survey shows that we still have a long way to go to support our children to make healthy food choices for their future.”

More than 1000 Australian primary school children (aged 5 to 12) and their parents participated in the survey, which included questions based on what’s taught through the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. The survey found:

Only 22% of children correctly answered all questions about common fresh food sources. One in four didn’t know that butter comes from cow’s milk and not all children knew that apples and bananas are grown on trees; that potatoes are grown underground; or that tomatoes are grown on vines.

24% of primary school aged children do not eat dinner around the table with their family regularly (i.e. 2-4 days per week, or less often). Children who eat dinner around the table with their family at least once a week have better knowledge about where food comes from and how it is grown.

Three in five parents don’t believe their child would know how to bake a potato, and more than two in five don’t believe their child could boil an egg. Boys are less likely to know how to cook rice on the stove, how to bake a potato, or how to boil an egg.

The survey also revealed that children who knew more about how food is grown and where food comes from were more likely to know how to boil an egg, bake a potato, and cook rice on the stove; and children who are involved in helping to grow fruits and vegetables, and assist with grocery shopping and preparing meals at home, knew more about where food comes from and how it is grown.

Coca-Cola reveals $1.7 million spending on health research in Australia

Coca-Cola has released details of its $1.7 million funding on health research in Australia and all the groups it has supported over the past five years.

The SMH reports that the soft drink giant promised to publish this information two weeks ago, following a revelation by Fairfax that the company had failed to reveal it.

The full list of 36 organisations included the University of Sydney, Nutrition Society of Australia, Ted Noffs Foundation, Bicycle Network, Sports Medicine Australia, University of Queensland, police citizen youth clubs, Australian Paralympic Committee and the Exercise is Medicine Project.

American Anti-sugar campaigner Professor Marion Nestle told the ABC that, because of evidence that sugar is a major cause of obesity, organisations which research obesity run the risk of compromising their integrity if they receive funding from soft drink makers.

"If they are doing research on diet and health then the Coca-Cola funding is going to make them look as if they are working for the company. I don't think that's good for their independence or their research," she told the ABC.

"Many of these studies look like they are just there to make it easier for the company to make health claims for its products."

Professor Stephen Simpson, one of Australia's leaders in obesity research, told the ABC industry funding should be made through an industry future fund.

"What that would be, would be a substantial fund to which the industry contributes, but that's the end of their relationship," he said.

Coca-Cola said in its disclosure that it does not "have the right to prevent publication of the research results" or "provide funding conditioned on the outcome of the research".

Labelling foods with emoji could improve kids’ diets – study

Labelling foods with emoji-like symbols could encourage children to eat healthier foods, according to research competed in the US.

As the Washington Post reports, research carried out by the University of Phoenix and published in the journal Appetite found that, when ‘emolabels’ were added to food and children were told that happy labels identified healthy foods, most children swapped to the healthy option.

The study involved children from kindergarten to sixth grade who were asked to choose four food items each from two shopping aisles. One aisle included products with the emolables, while the products in the other aisle carried no labels.

In the aisle with the labels 83 per cent of children changed of their choices to a healthier product.

Greg Privitera, research chair at the Center for Behavioral Health Research for the University of Phoenix School of Advanced Studies lead the study.

According to Privitera the results “tells us that children are using [this] health information to make choices about their food…and that’s something that they aren’t empowered with now.”

He added that, following these findings, he intends to conduct a large-scale, population-based study in the future.

Coca-Cola defends cans as obesity row rages

Coca-Cola Amatil has said it would prefer to see more Australians drinking less of its products instead of a few people drinking a lot amidst a renewed push against the soft drink industry to tackle obesity.

CCA maintained its high-sugar products, like a 375ml can of Coke are not harmful if one can is consumed a week.

According to CCA managing director Alison Watkins, one can a week is not necessarily considered to be unhealthy.

"We would much rather have lots of people drinking small amounts of our product than to have a small number of people drinking a lot of our product," Ms Watkins said

"We are really wanting to make sure that we are part of solving what is undoubtedly a big problem for society -and that is obesity."

Coca-Cola Amatil was responding to criticisms by leading researcher Professor Marion Nestle from New York University.

Professor Nestle is on sabbatical with the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre and delivered a lecture on Tuesday night to a packed theatre.

She claimed soft drink companies around the world were distorting the truth about their products to keep profits growing.

"There is so much evidence now that drinking sugars in form of liquids is not good for health," she said.

Official figures show that more than half of Australians are overweight or obese. More than a quarter fall into the obese category.

Coca-Cola Amatil told the ABC it will be disclosing details of its funding to research organisations in a couple of months. 

Is that muesli bar you put in your child’s lunchbox actually healthy?

There are rows upon rows of packaged snack foods in supermarkets, including snack bars made from muesli, cereal, nuts, seeds and fruit. Many of the labels on the packages shout out words such as “natural”, “protein”, “oaty”, “super-food”, “wholegrain”, “light”, “gluten-free” and “97% fat-free!”.

But these words can mask unhealthy products. Many processed snack bars are high in added sugar, refined starch and fat.

Knowing what is in snack bars is of particular importance to parents given nearly one in fivetwo- to 18-year-olds consume these muesli or cereal-style bars, and one in four Australian children are overweight or obese.

So, how do you navigate the confusing snack bar terrain? Here are five tips.

1. Check the ingredients on the packets

Choose more products that have the following ingredients in higher quantities. Some, such as nuts and oats, should be listed as the first ingredients on the back of the packet:

  • grains such as oats, barley and quinoa. Even if a product boasts it is “whole grain”, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best choice. Whole grain usually means higher in fibre, which is good, but can also mean high glycemic index (GI) if the grain has been overly processed
  • nuts and seeds, which provide beneficial nutrients including protein, good fats, fibre, micronutrients and phytochemicals (nutrients naturally occurring in plants)
  • dried fruit, which provides beneficial nutrients including carbohydrate, fibre, micronutrients and phytochemicals. Just remember dried fruit sticks to teeth and can contribute to tooth decay, and some dried fruit can have added sugar, such as cranberries. Whole fruit is always better
  • ingredients like “dietary fibre” (such as inulin or psyllium husk), milk powder or solids and whey/milk protein.

Choose products that contain some:

  • honey, my preferred choice of sweetener, which can be low GI and provides small amounts of proteins, enzymes, amino acids, minerals, trace elements, vitamins, aroma compounds and polyphenols (micronutrients that can prevent disease)
  • coconut flesh, which provides nutrients including fibre, micronutrients and saturated fat, which is likely healthier than the saturated fat in meat, and likely less healthy than the fat and oils in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and fish
  • oils like vegetable oil, sunflower oil and canola oil. These contain n-6 polyunsaturated fats, which may protect the cardiovascular system, but they are also calorie-dense.

I would suggest the following snack bar products over other products (including alternative products made by same brand), as they likely provide better nutrition, including being higher in fibre and lower in GI: Carman’s fruit-free muesli barBe Natural Deluxe Nut Bars Nut Delight and Goodness Superfoods better for U! Cranberry Nut Cereal Bars.

Choose fewer products that have higher quantities of any combination of the following ingredients:

  • added sugars: the list of these is endless and includes sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar (also called sucrose sugar), glucose sugar, golden syrup, malt syrup, brown rice, rice, rice malt syrup and fruit juice. (I have particular issue with things like brown rice syrup, because people mistakenly think it’s “good for you”, when in fact it is a readily digestiblehigh GI sugar mix that provides little else than sugar. Added sugars are a real public health problem and intakes should be reduced in most people)
  • added fats such as butter and cream. These foods are high in saturated fat, which evidence shows can damage the cardiovascular system
  • processed high GI starches such as wheat starch, wheat puffs, wheat flakes, wheat flour, rice flour, rice crisps, puffed rice, maltodextrin and maize flour (the wholegrain options are better, such as wholegrain wheat flour)
  • chocolate or “yoghurt compound” (which is basically chocolate), which is high in saturated fat and sugar
  • salt, which is not good for your cardiovascular system in excess
  • artificial colours and flavours and other additives, which you will see on most ingredient lists of processed snack foods, such as soy lethicin (see below).

This list means trying to avoid a large percentage of the muesli/cereal/nut/seed/fruit bars out there.

2. Look at the food additives

Food Standards Australia New Zealand provides an online list of food additives. Additives are used in processed foods to improve taste, appearance, quality, stability and storage life.

Some people think all additives are bad. Some of them are in fact natural. Vitamin C/ascorbic acid (additive number 300) can be added to foods, but is also naturally present in fruit. The human body can’t distinguish between a chemical naturally present in a food and the same chemical present as an additive.

However, some additives may cause problems such as damage to the guthyperactivity in children and potential cancer links. Don’t demonise all additives but do decrease processed food intake – and for more reasons than just additives.

3. Look at the health star rating

The government’s health star food rating system has its flaws, including that it doesn’t take into account every nutritional aspect of a processed food product. However, it is useful when comparing different snack bars: if you choose one that has five stars it is likely better nutritionally than one with three stars.

4. Home-made is better than processed

This won’t be welcome news to your free time: home-made versions of processed snack foods are the best. Being able to make a muesli bar/slice that is packed with ingredients such as oats, nuts, seeds, free-range eggs and extra virgin olive oil (lightly flavoured) will provide a healthy snack for your child.

Luckily you can make one big batch that should last for a week’s worth of lunchboxes between a few kids. See hereand here for more lunchbox ideas.

5. Mostly and sometimes

I don’t believe in all-or-nothing when it comes to life, including nutrition. Maybe your little one really loves the chocolate- and yoghurt-covered snack bars? Well, perhaps one of each per week in his/her lunchbox is an idea.

You don’t want to be overly restrictive with your child’s food, because this may have the opposite effect to what you intended and increase their eating and weight over time.

 

Rebecca Charlotte Reynolds is a lecturer in Nutrition at UNSW, Australia.

This article first appeared in the Conversation.

Traces of weedkiller found in German beer

Traces of a well-known weedkiller ingredient, glyphosate has been found in Germany's 14 most popular beers, according to a German environmental group.

Reuters reports that researchers from the Munich Environmental Institute tested the beers and found that all contained levels of glyphosate above the 0.1 microgram limit allowed in German drinking water.

The beer with the highest trace level was Hasseroeder, a beer brewed in Saxony-Anhalt in eastern Germany, which had 29.74 micrograms a litre; while the beverage with the lowest level was Augustiner, a Munich-made beer, with 0.46 micrograms a litre.

Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment pointed out that the results do not represent a risk to public health.

"An adult would have to drink around 1000 litres of beer a day to ingest enough quantities to be harmful for health," it said in a statement.

Glyphosate is found in the well-known weed killer, Roundup. The World Health Organisation's cancer research committee has said glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans.

Should we eat red meat? The nutrition and the ethics

Many types of red meat and red meat products are available, from farmers' markets, to supermarkets, to restaurants. The impacts of their production and consumption on human health, animal welfare and the environment are complex.

So what should we be thinking about when we’re deciding whether or not to eat red meat?

The nutrition

Consuming lean products and different cuts, or muscles, of meat from cattle, sheep, pig, goat and kangaroo is recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines as part of a balanced diet. Lean refers to animal muscle tissue that has lower amounts of total fat and saturated fat compared to higher-fat alternatives.

Most lean red meats are cuts, rather than processed products such as hot dogs or canned meat. Cuts provide many beneficial nutrients, including: protein, vitamin B12, zinc, iron and unsaturated fat (such as omega-3 polyunsaturated fats).

In comparison, fattier red meat cuts and most processed meat products provide higher amounts of potentially harmful nutrients, such as saturated fats, salt and sodium nitrate.

In general, horse and kangaroo meats have been reported to have the lowest total fat and highest polyunsaturated fat contents. Beef and sheep meats have the highest total fat and lowest polyunsaturated fat. Grass-fed beef is a better source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats compared to grain-fed beef, although fish provides significantly more omega-3 than any red meat.

Australian livestock is mostly grass-fed in fields, rather than grain-fed in feedlots. This is better for both nutrient levels in the meat and animal and environmental ethics. Feedlots are more common in the United States, for example.

The type of grain that is fed to an animal affects its muscle nutrient composition, as well as shelf-life, taste, colour and quality. For example, pigs can be fed on a certain amount and type of linseed to increase omega-3 polyunsaturated fat in their meat.

Associations with ill health

The links between red meat products and human health are not fully understood, but you may have seen recent media reports about processed meat and cancer risk.

It is likely that eating less processed meat will reduce your risk of getting cancer. It’s also probable eating less red meat will reduce your cancer risk.

Similarly, if unsaturated fats – especially polyunsaturated fats – replace saturated fats (for example, in red meat) in someone’s diet, the risk of coronary heart disease might be reduced. Further, processed meats have been linked to a higher incidence of coronary heart disease and diabetes.

The ethics

The ethics of consuming food, including animal produce, is a fraught topic for both animal welfare and environmental damage. The vast scale of commercialised livestock production is overwhelming.

Yes, any food that humans consume comes with consequences, especially when that food is mass-produced. However, with red meat, efficiency and cost can outweigh animal welfare when animals become “a commodity, a unit in the production line”. And there is huge environmental damage from livestock production, such as methane from manure and enteric fermentation (that is, farts!).

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations stated in 2006:

The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.

It must be hoped the animal welfare and environmental aspects of food consumption will be highlighted in future revisions of the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

What can you do?

You probably care about your health, and hopefully you care about other animals and the environment. Luckily, you can do a few things to try to improve all of these aspects of red meat and red meat product consumption:

  • When (or if) you eat red meat: choose leaner options that have less total and saturated fat, such as lean beef mince in place of standard beef mince; choose meats that contain more polyunsaturated fats, such as kangaroo or grass-fed beef (I don’t envisage many Australians eating horse, which is also higher in these fats); avoid processed meat such as bacon, sausages and salami; and buy from retailers and eat at restaurants where the red meat is sourced from more ethical, smaller-scale, local and sustainable farms
  • Eat less red meat (Meat Free Mondays is one good idea)
  • Join the 4% of the Australian population following vegetarian or vegan eating habits.

 

Rebecca Charlotte Reynolds is a lecturer in Nutrition at UNSW Australia.

This article first appeared in the Conversation. You can read the original here.