Coca-Cola has announced details of Powerade’s new Australian Summer campaign ‘Smash the Sweat’.
The campaign is designed to encourage consumers to smash the sticky, humid conditions associated with the season through the launch of limited edition Powerade sport-themed ‘shrink packs’ aimed at generating cut-through during the key summer period.
The strategy, said the company, revolves around tapping into the Aussie’s love of sports through collectable summer sports-themed packaging, featuring imagery from a range of sports including rugby, cricket, basketball, tennis, soccer and athletics.
The signature packs are signed by sporting legends and Powerade Ambassadors Greg Inglis, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Bogut.
Appearing from early November, the limited edition packs will be promoted in-store at point-of-sale and supported on social media channels in the build up to summer.
As the summer sport season kicks off, the campaign will be boosted through outdoor media calling on consumers to ‘Smash the Sweat’.
Sarah Illy, Brand Activation Manager, Powerade, said: “We all love an Aussie summer, but with the hot, sticky conditions it becomes even more important to stay hydrated. So this summer we are challenging people to ‘Smash the Sweat’. Being a sports-obsessed nation, we decided to tap into that trend through our collectable sport-themed packs to encourage people to be active and stay hydrated.”
“The limited edition bottles have been inspired by Australian sporting legends with the objective of keeping Powerade ION4 top of mind for rehydration needs. Powerade ION4… is scientifically formulated to help replace four of the electrolytes lost in sweat and is an ideal way to ‘Smash the Sweat’ this summer,” said Illy.
Almost half of Australian consumers say they wished there were more ‘all-natural’ food products on the shelves, showcasing a clear gap in the market that could drive healthier bottom lines for manufacturers and retailers, research has revealed.
Findings from Nielsen’s Global Health and Ingredient-Sentiment Survey highlights that consumers are adopting a back-to-basics mindset where a focus on simple ingredients and fewer artificial or processed foods is a priority.
“Informed and savvy consumers are demanding more from the foods they eat and are happy to pay more if they believe it is better for them,” explained Michael Elam-Rye, Associate Director – Retail at Nielsen.
“This presents an opportunity for food manufacturers to increase share by offering and marketing products that are formulated with good-for-you ingredients, and an opportunity for retailers to trade consumers up with more premium priced products.”
For Australian consumers, animal products that contain antibiotics or hormones are the most worrying, with six in 10 consumers saying that they actively avoid these products.
The top 10 ingredients that Australian consumers avoid include antibiotics/hormones in animals products, MSG, artificial additives, foods with BPA packaging, sugar, genetically modified foods, and sodium.
Close to nine in 10 respondents said they avoid specific ingredients because they believe them to be harmful to their own or their family’s health; while six in 10 consumers said they are concerned about the long-term health impact of artificial ingredients in their diet.
Should we eat breakfast every day? How much dairy should we have? Should we use artificial sweeteners to replace sugar? If we had the answers to these questions, we could address some of today’s biggest public health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
Consumer choice is often guided by recommendations about what we should eat, and these recommendations also play a role in the food that’s available for us. Recommendations take the form of dietary guidelines, food companies’ health claims, and clinical advice.
But there’s a problem. Recommendations are often conflicting and the source of advice not always transparent.
In September, a JAMA Internal Medicine study revealed that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid scientists at Harvard University to minimise the link between sugar and heart disease. The historical papers the study was based on showed researchers were paid to shift the blame from sugar to fat as responsible for the heart disease epidemic.
The paper’s authors suggested many of today’s dietary recommendations may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry. And some experts have since questioned whether such misinformation can have led to today’s obesity crisis.
We’d like to think industry influence of this scale won’t happen again. We’d like to have enough systems in place to shine a spotlight on any potential bias, or risk of it, as soon as it happens. But the reason it took so long to expose the sugar industry’s tactics is bias can be well hidden. To avoid the potentially huge ramifications, we need much better systems in place when it comes to nutrition research.
How are national guidelines put together?
Governments issue national dietary guidelines to inform people’s food choices and the nation’s food policies. To be credible and scientifically sound, they should obviously be built on rigorous evidence.
Best practice for creating guidelines includes beginning the process with a systematic review, which is a study that identifies all the available evidence on a particular research question. This ensures studies favourable to a particular party can’t be cherry-picked. But systematic reviews are only as valid as the studies out there.
An important part of any systematic review is to evaluate the biases in the studies included. Public health dietary guidelines and policies are influenced by political, economic and social factors. That’s inescapable. But if the evidence on which these decisions are based is flawed, the entire foundation for systematic reviews, guidelines and policy, crumbles.
Bias in research is the systematic error or deviation from true results or inferences of a study. Pharmaceutical, tobacco or chemical industry funding of research biases human studies towards outcomes favourable to the sponsor.
Even when studies use similar rigorous methods – such as keeping study information away from participants (blinding) or removing selection bias between groups of patients (randomisation) – studies sponsored by a drug’s manufacturer are more likely to find the drug is more effective or less harmful than a placebo or other drugs.
This bias in pharmaceutical industry sponsored studies is just like the sugar industry sponsored studies that downplayed sugar’s link to heart disease while putting the blame on fat.
Financial conflicts of interest between researchers and industry have also been associated with research outcomes that favour companies researchers are affiliated with.
So how does this happen? How can industry-funded studies use methods similar to non-industry funded studies but have different results? Because bias can be introduced in several ways, such as in the research agenda itself, the way research questions are asked, how the studies are conducted behind the scenes, and the publication of the studies.
Industry influences on these other sources of bias in research often remains hidden for decades.
It did this by funding “distracting” research through The Center for Indoor Air Research, which three tobacco companies created and funded. Throughout the 1990s, this centre funded dozens of research projects that suggested components of indoor air, such as carpet off-gases or dirty air filters, were more harmful than tobacco. The centre did not fund research on secondhand smoke.
There is a high risk of bias when the methodology of the study (how the study is designed) leads to an error when assessing the magnitude or direction of results. Clinical trials with a high risk of methodological bias (such as those lacking randomisation or blinding) are more likely to exaggerate the efficacy of drugs and underestimate their harms.
A 2007 paper that compared over 500 studies found those funded by pharmaceutical companies were half as likely to report negative effects of corticosteroid drugs (used to treat allergies and asthma) than those not funded by pharmaceutical companies.
Many industry-sponsored studies of drugs are conducted for regulatory approval and the regulators require certain methodological standards. So often, the design of industry-sponsored studies is pretty good and the bias is elsewhere. It can be in how the questions are framed or another common form: publication bias.
Publication bias occurs when entire research studies are not published, or only selected results from the studies are published. It is a common myth publication bias comes about because scientific journal editors reject studies that don’t support the hypothesis or question the studies were asking. These are called negative or statistically non-significant studies. But negative research is as likely to get published as positive research. So it’s not that.
Analysis of internal pharmaceutical industry documents from 1994 to 1998 shows the pharmaceutical industry had a deliberate strategy to suppress publication of sponsored research unfavourable to its products. Industry-funded investigators were not allowed to publish negative research that did not support the efficacy or safety of the drugs being tested.
This has contributed to a clinical literature dominated by studies demonstrating the efficacy or safety of drugs. The tobacco industry also has a history of stopping the publication of research it funded if the findings didn’t lean in favour of tobacco products.
Previous research on bias in tobacco, pharmaceutical, and other industry-sponsored research is relevant here because the biases that affect research outcomes are the same, regardless of the exposure or intervention being studied. When it comes to nutrition research, we actually know little about how corporate sponsorship or conflicts of interest might bias the research agenda, design, outcomes and reporting.
Industry influence on nutrition research
The credibility of nutrition research has come under attack because the funding source is often not transparent and industry-funded research affects food policy. But we actually know very little about how sponsorship biases nutrition research.
Our systematic review, published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, identified and evaluated all studies that assessed the association between food industry sponsorship and published outcomes of nutrition studies.
We were surprised to find few studies examining the effects of industry sponsorship on the actual, numerical findings of the studies. Only two of 12 studies assessed the association between food-industry sponsorship and the statistical significance of research results, and neither found a link.
Only one paper found studies sponsored by the food industry reported significantly smaller harmful effects of consuming soft drinks than those without industry sponsorship. Overall, our review showed we know very little about the association between industry sponsorship or authors’ conflicts of interest and the actual results of nutrition research.
More studies assessed the association of industry sponsorship with authors’ conclusions or interpretations of their findings (not the results). Eight reports, when taken together, found industry sponsored studies had a 31% increase in risk, compared to non-industry sponsored studies, of having a conclusion favouring the sponsor’s product.
So what we know is that food industry sponsorship is associated with researchers interpreting their findings to favour the sponsor’s products. Conclusions don’t always agree with results but can be spun to make readers’ interpretations more favourable.
For example, a study might find that a particular diet leads to weight loss and an increase in heart disease but the harmful effects of heart disease are omitted from the conclusion. Only the weight loss is mentioned. This spin on conclusions is a tactic in other industries and can influence how research is interpreted.
But it is the results (the research data) that really matters. From the standpoint of developing systematic reviews and evidence-based recommendations, the results are more important than conclusions because only the data, and not a researchers interpretation of them, are included in the reviews.
We need more rigorous investigation of the effects of industry sponsorship on the results of both primary nutrition studies and reviews. For example, our recent study examined 31 reviews of the effects of artificial sweeteners on weight loss. We found reviews funded by artificial sweetener companies were about 17 times as likely to have statistically significant results showing artificial sweeteners use is associated with weight loss, compared to reviews with other sponsors.
Nutrition research agenda
Our studies mentioned above didn’t identify any differences in the quality of industry-sponsored and non-industry sponsored nutrition research. But, similar to research sponsored by the pharmaceutical or tobacco industries, sponsors could affect outcomes by setting the research agenda, framing the questions or influencing publication.
A research agenda focused on single ingredients (such as sugar) or foods (such as nuts) rather than their interactions or dietary patterns may favour food-industry interests. This is because it may provide a platform to market a certain type of food or processed foods containing or lacking specific ingredients, such as sugar-free drinks.
Most data sources used to study publication bias in other research areas are not available for nutrition research, which make it more difficult to detect.
Researchers have identified publication bias in pharmaceutical and tobacco research by comparing the full reports of drug studies submitted to regulatory agencies with publications in the scientific literature. Researchers have also compared data released in legal settlements with published research articles. There are no similar regulatory databases for foods or dietary products.
It is possible to use statistical methods to estimate publication bias in large samples of nutrition research, as in other research areas. Interviewing industry-funded researchers could be another way to identify publication bias.
Another obstacle to rigorously assessing bias in nutrition research is the lack of transparency about funding sources and conflicts of interest. Our review of artificial-sweetener studies found authors of 42% of them had conflicts of interest not disclosed in the published article.
Also, about one third of the reviews didn’t disclose their funding sources. Although disclosure in journals is improving over time, not all journals enforce disclosure guidelines for author conflicts of interest and research funding sources.
Reducing bias in nutrition research
Studies on research bias related to pharmaceutical and tobacco industry sponsorship and conflicts of interest has led to international reforms. These have been in the area of government requirements for research transparency and data accessibility, stricter journal and university standards for managing conflicts of interest, and methodological standards for critiquing and reporting evidence (and conducting systematic reviews). Similar reforms are needed in nutrition research.
Further studies will determine which mechanisms to reduce bias should be urgently implemented for nutrition research. Options include:
refined methods for evaluating studies used in systematic reviews
enforced policies for disclosing, managing or eliminating financial conflicts of interest across all nutrition-related journals and professional associations
mechanisms to reduce publication bias, such as study registries that describe the methods of ongoing studies, or providing open access data
revised research agendas to address neglected topics and to produce studies relevant to population health, without corporate sponsors driving the agenda
independent sources of funding for nutrition research, or, at a minimum, industry sources pooling their funding with research funds administered by an independent party.
In the current economic climate, in which industry funding is encouraged by universities, studying bias is important and contentious research.
Research institutions should implement strategies that reduce the risk of bias when industry sponsors research. They could do this by a risk-benefit assessment for accepting industry sponsorship of research. This would evaluate the sponsor’s control of the design, conduct and publication of the research, as well as any risk to the institution’s reputation.
The full effects of industry sponsorship and financial conflicts of interest on nutrition research remain hidden. An evidence base as rigorous and extensive as the the one on bias in pharmaceutical and tobacco research is needed to illuminate how nutrition research is at risk of bias.
Each month, 11.5 million Australians consume fast food. Alongside traditional burger, fried chicken and pizza chains, new chains are positioning themselves as healthier alternatives to the typical, energy-, saturated fat-, sugar- and salt-laden meals on offer at traditional chains.
We know the fast food environment influences our food choices. Promotions and marketing on labels and websites influence our decisions about the foods we buy. Many chains are now using claims about nutrient content and health benefits on their websites to create a marketing edge and perhaps make us feel less guilty about our next fast food purchase.
The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code defines nutrition content claims as those that state the presence or absence of a nutrient, for example, “contains calcium”. Foods with these claims must meet the minimum (or maximum) quantities for the nutrient in the claim, called the qualifying criteria.
Health claims are those that relate to a food-health relationship, such as “contains calcium for healthy bones”. In addition to containing the minimum/maximum quantities of the nutrient, foods carrying these claims must also meet the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criteria, meaning they are healthier foods based on their energy, saturated fat, sugars, sodium, protein, fibre and fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content.
Previously, there has been close scrutiny of grocery foods carrying these sorts of claims, and whether they comply with the requirements of the code. However, any food sold in Australia is subject to this code, and there has been no scrutiny of the claims being made by fast food outlets.
We noticed fast food chains were increasingly using claims on their websites, and given how influential claims are on food choice, we decided to investigate these claims being made by chains.
How honest are fast food chains in their claims?
In 2015, we assessed the claims fast food chains were making on their websites to promote the nutritional value of their foods.
We found more than 40% of menu items being marketed using claims may not have complied with the requirements of the code. These foods did not meet the qualifying criteria set out in the code, meaning consumers could believe these foods are healthier than they actually are.
The chains that fared worst in our study were those positioning themselves as “healthier” – such as a popular juice chain and a popular salad chain (the authors have chosen not to publish the names of the chains).
For example, a Chipotle Pulled Pork Wrap from the salad chain claimed to be low in energy and salt, despite containing more than four times the permitted amount of energy and sodium per 100g.
This product has a similar amount of energy per serve (2051kJ) as a Big Mac (2060kJ), and contained a whopping 1552mg sodium per serve – two-thirds of an adult’s upper daily sodium intake.
Another example is Green Tea Mango Mantra from the juice chain, that supposedly has immunity-boosting powers, despite not meeting the requirements of the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criteria and containing between 68-91g sugars per serve – that’s 17-23 teaspoons.
These sorts of claims lull us into a false sense of security that we’re choosing a healthier fast food. Eat these foods too often, and you’ll probably be consuming more kilojoules, fats, and sugars, which could contribute to weight gain.
But it’s not all bad news. Since the study was conducted, several of the offending chains have removed claims that may not have complied. This is because the study was conducted during the phase-in period of the standard on nutrition content and health claims, with this standard becoming mandatory on 18th January 2016. So it’s working to a degree, but many remaining claims still may not comply.
With the “eating-to-go” habit here to stay, healthier fast food chains have an important role to play in ensuring healthy food options are available. They also have a responsibility to ensure the correct nutritional information accompanies them.
The study highlights the need for closer monitoring and enforcement of the Food Standards Code by the state food agencies. Whether fast food chains are deliberately flaunting the code, or have not been adequately educated on the use of claims and the requirements for making them is hard to say.
Regardless, stronger enforcement will ensure customers are able to make healthier fast food choices. In the meantime, relying on the claims is not a good way of making these choices.
The paper reflects a recent wave of evidence supporting a revision of guidelines around dietary fat, including in Australia.
What are dietary fats?
Fats – more correctly referred to as fatty acids – are a major dietary source of energy, along with carbohydrate and protein. Fats can be saturated or unsaturated, terms that refer to the makeup and structure of the fat molecules.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids include the groups of omega-6 and omega-3 fats. The omega-6 linoleic acid and omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid are called essential fats, as humans cannot produce them: we need to obtain these from dietary sources.
Major sources of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids are seeds that are used abundantly in vegetable oils like safflower and sunflower oil. These oils are commonly used to make margarines. Processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, burgers, pizza and chips are therefore high in omega-6.
There is good evidence for the health benefits of monounsaturated fatty acids: these are found in olive oil, macadamia oil, avocado, and selected nuts like almonds and peanuts.
Excess amounts of saturated fatty acids in the diet have been associated with increased risk of clogged arteries and heart disease (although this is complicated and may depend on their source). Saturated fatty acids come primarily from red meat and processed foods, but dairy products, coconut and palm oil also contain them.
Highly processed food also contains trans fatty acids which occur as a result of the hydrogenation of vegetable oils for margarine, commercial cooking and manufacturing. This process alters the structure of the fat, and these are associated with increased risk of heart disease.
How do fats contribute to our health?
Apart from contributing energy that our bodies need to work properly, fats have numerous important health benefits including healthy skin and hair, absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), and insulation to keep us warm.
Omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids are important for brain development. Docosahexaenoic acid is particularly concentrated in our brains, where it has multiple important roles in healthy brain function, cognition and mental health.
Furthermore, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids produce important chemicals that reduce inflammation and blood clotting, and improve blood vessel dilation. Conversely, omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids promote inflammation, clotting and constriction of blood vessels.
A diet low in omega-3 and rich in omega-6 can therefore create a range of problems, including chronic inflammation and poor blood flow. These changes are associated with chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, stroke, mental illness and dementia.
What sorts of fats do Australians eat?
In traditional societies, humans consumed a ratio of roughly 2-1:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. This came about due to diets rich in fish, plant foods and free grazing animals, and eggs from chickens that ate plants high in omega-3 fats.
In industrialised regions such as Europe and the United States, the dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is very different, being closer to 16:1. In Australia it is estimated to be 8:1.
Therefore Australians are not meeting recommended guidelines for omega-3 intake, eating high levels of processed and takeaway foods, a lot of fatty red meat and not enough fish or vegetables.
This diet is associated with high levels of obesity and chronic disease in adult Australians.
It is the responsibility of the governments and international organisations to establish nutrition policies based on science and not continue along the same path of focusing exclusively on calories and energy expenditure, which have failed miserably over the past 30 years.
Confusion around dietary fat: low-fat diets
Since the 1960s there has been a focus on low-fat diets to improve health. However recently recovered documents implicate a role for sugar industry fraud in this focus. A sponsored program of research cast doubt on links between sugar and heart disease, and pointed the finger at fat instead.
There is now increasing high quality evidence that a Mediterranean-style diet high in monounsaturated fat from extra virgin olive oil is superior to a low-fat diet in preventing heart disease and reversing fatty liver, which is associated with metabolic syndrome and risk of type 2 diabetes.
Not only that, but a high fat Mediterranean diet is superior to a low-fat diet for weight loss, and particularly for long term maintenance of weight loss.
This may be at least partly because all calories are not equal: processed foods are thought to provide energy in a form that is more accessible to our bodies compared with raw or unrefined foods.
Fat is also more satiating, which may explain why a Mediterranean-style diet is more sustainable. Extra virgin olive oil is not only highly palatable, but its antioxidant properties have been associated with weight loss.
Confusion around dietary fat: polyunsaturated fatty acids
Guidelines in America and Australia recommend replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat. In practice, this translates to recommending vegetable oils and margarines instead of butter, and thus replacing saturated fat with omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Little heed is paid to dietary content of omega-3 in this approach.
However, omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids are not the same. Recently uncovered data from a study conducted in Sydney in the 1960s showed that margarine containing linoleic acid (omega-6 fat) was associated with increased risk of early death.
When data across a range of studies investigating polyunsaturated fats and heart disease were re-analysed, study outcomes changed when omega-3 and omega-6 were separated rather than treated as a single factor. When separated, omega-6 was found to be a risk factor for mortality, while omega-3 was protective.
Australian dietary guidelines continue to recommend low-fat diets, polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats (without segregating omega-6 and omega-3), and no longer specifically recommend omega-3s for preventing heart disease.
Encouragingly, the recent Nutrition Australia food pyramid has incorporated some significant changes reflecting evidence around the health benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet.
These changes include the placement of vegetables, fruit and legumes at the base of the pyramid, indicating the importance of high intake of plant foods, and extra virgin olive oil is depicted as a healthy fat.
Being a “locavore” means choosing food that is grown locally, and is one way that you can help ensure there is more food to go around.
To feed the predicted nine billion people in the world in 2050, the world will need to produce 70-100% more food. This unprecedented increase in food production will require substantial changes in soil management, land cultivation, and crop production.
The primary reason why eating local is good for the planet is the reduction in energy resources required for transport and storage. Generally, the further a food has travelled from “paddock to plate”, the greater its impact on the environment. This is because of fuel used in transport and increased greenhouse gas emissions used for refrigerated storage.
The global food system lets us eat food from all over the world, all year round. But food miles impact adversely on the nutritional quality of fresh foods, and on the environment.
Yet while eating foods grown close to where we live makes planetary sense, farmers markets and foods grown more sustainably (organically) often carry a price premium, and seem to be targeted to a trendy and wealthy demographic.
The lack of a definition of “eating locally” also raises questions of how to incorporate organic and fair trade produce within the larger sustainability movement, and how to support developing nations.
Global supply chains place great demands on ecosystems and natural resources, and large distances between where food is produced and consumed is often seen as evidence of an unsustainable food system. However, this is not always as straightforward as it appears.
However, 72% of seafood consumed in Australia is imported. Surprisingly, there is little difference between the carbon footprint of meals made using imported seafood compared with those of three domestic wild-caught fish.
10 tips for eating local
So given that eating local can be tricky, here are 10 tips:
1: Become familiar with foods that are grown or produced locally and what time of the year they are available. Seasonal food guides are available from some fruit markets and online such as one developed for south-east Queensland.
2: Look for local farmers markets, community gardens, food co-operatives and community supported agriculture schemes. Green Connect is one example of a community-supported agriculture scheme operating in the Illawarra region of New South Wales. In some states such as Tasmania, a thriving food tourism culture may encourage consumers to eat locally but this concept has not been replicated in other parts of the country.
3: Grow your own fruit and vegetables and keep chickens in your own backyard, or get involved in your local community garden, and trade produce with neighbours.
4: Read the labels of packaged foods. The new “Made in Australia” labelling on foods makes it easier to determine where the food (and its individual components) has been grown, processed and packaged.
5: Choose less processed foods. Generally, the more processed a food is, the more energy and water it requires in the production process. Replace junk food with fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables.
7: Cook meals using fresh ingredients rather than purchasing ready-made meals.
8: Ask your food retailers and manufacturers about the origin of the food you are buying. Locate fruit and vegetable retailers, butchers, delicatessens and fishmongers who sell food produced locally.
9: Limit your intake of alcohol and purchase locally-grown alcohol with the lowest food miles possible. If you enjoy a particular beer or wine, contact the manufacturer to learn about their environmental policies and to advocate for more environmentally friendly production methods.
10: The Fair Food Forager app allows you to search for food outlets that adhere to fair and sustainable practices.
Creating consumer demand for more locally and sustainably produced food is being led not only by food champion Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, but also by our very own Australian Youth Food Movement, whose organisers are passionate about improving the food supply for future generations.
The rate of obesity is increasing worldwide and the increase has been particularly dramatic in young people. Young people are the greatest consumers of high-energy, sugary and fat-laden “junk” foods and sweetened drinks.
The heightened metabolism and rapid growth during puberty can protect against obesity. However, easy access to cheap junk foods and increasingly sedentary lifestyles outweighs the protection from growth spurts.
It is known excessive consumption of junk foods damage areas of the brain essential for learning and memory processes. Neurons in brain regions, including the hippocampus, that encodes memories, no longer work efficiently, leading to poorer learning.
This is of great concern as adolescence is a critical formative period for learning about the world. Adolescence is also a time of newly found independence, including food choices.
Teenage rats that drank sugary beverages were less able to remember a specific location leading to an escape hatch. This was compared to adult rats drinking sugary beverages, and teenage rats that had low-sugar diets.
The brains of the adolescent sugar-diet rats also showed increased levels of inflammation in the hippocampus, disrupting learning and memory function. Inflammation in the brain can contribute to cognitive decline and dementia.
The negative effects of obesity on the brain have been observed in young people too. Obese adolescents performed worse at maths, spelling and mental flexibility than healthy-weight adolescents. Structural brain scans revealed that obese teenagers had smaller hippocampi. This provides evidence that excessive body fat impacts the brain’s learning centre.
Teenage brains are a work in progress
The teenage brain undergoes major developmental changes in terms of structure and function. Adolescence is a period of increased neuroplasticity due to the dramatic changes in connectivity within brain regions.
Brain-imaging studies show that the prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully mature until the early 20s. A major role of the prefrontal cortex is performing executive functions. This term encapsulates behavioural control, attention and decision-making.
Poor regulation of the prefrontal cortex during adolescence can explain the increased risk taking behaviours in teenagers, including dangerous driving, drug use and binge drinking.
Educational efforts to provide teens with information about unsafe behaviours tends to fall on deaf ears. The prefrontal cortex helps us to resist performing behaviours triggered by events in the environment. Resisting these behaviours in the face of immediate reward can be difficult, particularly for teenagers.
Teenage brains love rewards
The risky behaviours teenagers engage in are often immediately rewarding. The brain’s reward system releases the neurotransmitter dopamine when stimulated by pleasurable events, increasing the drive to carry out these activities.
Teenagers are particularly drawn to rewards, including eating tasty foods high in fat and sugar. The adolescent reward system is sensitive to stimulation and may be permanently altered by overactivation during this period.
Combined with the reduced ability to resist rewarding behaviours, it is not surprising that teenagers prefer to eat foods that are easy to obtain and immediately gratifying, even in the face of health advice to the contrary.
Changes in the brain caused by overconsumption of sugary foods during adolescence can manifest in later life as difficulties in experiencing reward. Research has shown male rats that drank sugar water during adolescence showed reduced motivation and enjoyment of rewards when they were adults.
These behaviours are core features of mood disorders including depression. Importantly, this shows that how we eat during adolescence can impact brain function as adults, leading to long-lasting changes in food preference and learning about rewards.
Teenage brains are more plastic
Excessive consumption of junk foods during adolescence could derail normal brain maturation processes. This may alter normal development trajectories, leading to enduring behavioural predispositions – in this case, the habit of consuming fatty and sugar foods, leading to obesity.
Fortunately, the increased plasticity of the adolescent brain means that young people may be more responsive to change. Opportunities to identify and intervene in high-risk youths may avert destructive negative behavioural spirals that may originate in adolescence. This can encourage life-long healthy habits.
Monash University’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics is providing a free online course designed to help members of the public better understand food and health.
For example, did you know that soft drinks and fruit juices sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis?
Conversely animal studies have shown that foods containing virgin olive oil can actually reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis. While a Danish study found that people who ate fatty fish like salmon and sardines had a lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
There is increasing amounts of information available on foods that can – or more importantly can’t – help your health. This month Monash University’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics will launch a free 3 week online course for the general public that will help unravel the myths from the facts about food and nutrition.
According to the Head of the Department Professor Helen Truby (pictured), the course has been created because “there is so much misinformation about nutrition and food,” she said.
“We wanted to provide a course so that the general public can learn about what information is evidence based when it comes to the idea of food as medicine.”
The course follows on from a similar one in May that garnered more than 100,000 comments and 62000 registrations and was in the top ten of all Futurelearn learning courses internationally.
The course starting on 21 October has some additional benefits including a course on foods that can impact, both positively and negatively, on rheumatoid arthritis. In addition there is an interactive component – for instance a user will be asked to choose a food from a virtual vending machine. These results will be collated – giving an insight into the sorts of foods that are chosen at different times of the day or night. “The following week we will have the results and they will form the basis of a discussion that we will have online,” Professor Truby said.
The course aims to explore food’s current role in health and disease; expand the understanding of nutrition science and how it guides us on what and how much to eat for health; and explain how to apply evidenced-based nutrition knowledge to guide what food can be used as medicine.
“A glass of red wine a day could keep polycystic ovaries at bay,” said a news headline this week. This and similar reports were based on research from a team in Poland and California that showed high daily doses – 1,500 mg – of a natural compound found in red wine, called resveratrol, could lower steroid hormone levels in women suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This, in effect, should lower symptoms of PCOS including weight gain, excess hair, infertility and abnormal menstrual cycles.
This is not the first time resveratrol has been linked to health benefits. Back in 2006, headlines announced a “natural substance found in red wine” could extend lifespan in mice. The internet soon became flooded with online sellers of resveratrol supplements ranging from highly pure, to pills containing mashed up grape skins with very little resveratrol.
The fact resveratrol is naturally found in the skin of red grapes then led to the happy idea that drinking lots of red wine can make you live longer. But unfortunately, resveratrol is found at only trace levels in red wine – so you would need to drink over a thousand bottles per day to obtain the amount of resveratrol found in two 250 mg pills.
Other studies of resveratrol in mice then showed benefits to lifespan, diseases such as cancer and diabetes, and inflammation. So why has resveratrol not been made into a drug yet?
When it is taken as a pill, the liver quickly degrades the majority of resveratrol before it can make it into the rest of the body. This means only a very small amount actually gets to other tissues where it could have an effect. So it would have to be given at very high doses.
There has also been controversy as to how resveratrol actually works; in particular whether it activates SIRT1, the enzyme thought to delay the ageing process.
David Sinclair, an Australian based at Harvard Medical School, first showed resveratrol could “turn on” SIRT1 in 2003. With a series of papers in quick succession, Sinclair showed resveratrol extended lifespan in yeast, worms, flies, fish, and mice.
Controversy struck when it was suggested resveratrol was working through “off target” effects, meaning it was interacting with enzymes other than SIRT1. As a small molecule with a simple structure, it is likely resveratrol has non-specific interactions throughout the body, especially at higher doses.
There are still uncertainties as to how specific it is; such as with the recent study involving women with PCOS. PCOS is a common endocrine condition that occurs when follicles in the ovary, which contain egg cells, swell up and the egg cell itself does not mature properly. The eggs contained in these cysts fail to be released at ovulation, which can cause infertility in women.
PCOS is thought to be caused by high levels of male steroid hormones known as androgens. Key risk factors for PCOS are metabolic problems such as high insulin levels, obesity, insulin resistance, and type II diabetes. Body weight reductions can therefore reduce PCOS risk.
Women suffering from PCOS experience irregular or no menstrual cycle, acne, hair growth and elevated levels of the male steroid hormone testosterone. In the recent study, resveratrol treatment lowered levels of testosterone, and its precursor DHEAS – two key steroid hormonal markers of PCOS.
But it’s actually not clear whether the testosterone reduction was due to a direct effect on the release of the hormone itself. This is because insulin, which at high levels can cause metabolic disease, was also reduced. As with other studies, it may be that resveratrol is actually improving metabolism, with reduced PCOS severity as a secondary side-effect. So there is still a lot we don’t know about the compound.
Should people want to go online and buy resveratrol, be aware it has not yet been approved as a drug by regulatory authorities. Also, plant-based resveratrol extracts such as Japanese knotweed contain a crude cocktail of compounds, some of which may be harmful, with only a small amount of resveratrol. Meanwhile, red grape skin pills are likely to contain vanishingly small quantities.
Stay tuned though: efforts to formulate resveratrol so greater proportions actually reach the rest of the body are underway.
Ahead of World Osteoporosis Day on October 20, gold medal swimmer Michael Klim is jumping into the kitchen to highlight research showing kids and teens are missing out on calcium in daily meals – putting their bones at risk as they grow.
Previously unreported data from the most recent Australian Health Survey research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows our children are running the risk of serious bone damage.
Over half of the Australian population aged two years and over had inadequate usual intakes of calcium. In addition, more than half of girls aged 9 to 11 years and 45 per cent of boys aged 9 to 11 years had inadequate usual intakes of calcium.
As kids grow, so should their dairy intake to ensure they are getting enough calcium.
Klim said his online recipes and videos were handy for busy mums but also ideal for kids and teenagers to make themselves.
“Dairy is just a part of life for me – milk is Klim spelt backwards! Seriously, though, I’ve always loved milk and cheese and yoghurt – can’t get enough,” Klim said.
“I was lucky growing up because I had experts to help with my diet. They always highlighted the important role milk, cheese and yoghurt play in both building bones and fuelling my body with the energy it needed to get through the day. Now, as a dad, I just want to get a healthy meal on the table, and these recipes are designed to do just that,” Klim said.
“So with The Dairy Kitchen recipes we are bringing some of that expert nutrition knowledge and combining it with a love of good, easy food that even the fussiest kids and teenagers will want to eat.
“I’m no great chef, but even I can knock up these recipes in record time!”
Dairy Australia dietitian Amber Beaumont helped develop the family friendly recipes and urged parents not to forget about bone health as the fight against osteoporosis starts in the younger years.
“Childhood and the teen years are critical for building strong bones for the future with bones reaching their peak density from around the age of mid 20s to 30,” Beaumont said.
“The Australian Health Survey reveals that an astonishingly high percentage of children aged nine to 16 years, particularly girls, are not getting their daily calcium requirements.
“Dairy foods are the richest source of calcium in the Australian diet. It’s important for parents to check whether their kids are getting enough calcium as the dietary guidelines recommend a different number of serves for different age groups,” Ms. Beaumont said.
As well as calcium, dairy products provide a whole package of bone-building nutrients including protein, potassium and zinc.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is a growing problem worldwide. There are 350,000 people with dementia in Australia and this is set to rise to 900,000 by 2050. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Women over the age of 65 who had a normal caffeine intake were 36% less likely to develop a cognitive impairment.
Unfortunately there are many reasons not to get excited. The study was observational: a look back through data collected over many years. This means many reasons that weren’t explored may account for the findings that women who drank coffee decreased their risk of dementia.
Factors not examined included diet, exercise, general health and use of other medications. Basically, researchers found drinking coffee was associated with lower dementia risk; not that coffee caused the lower risk. Coffee may have nothing to do with it. And there are many other reasons to be sceptical.
The WHIMS was not a planned study originally. It was a sub-study of a large randomised-controlled trial, called the Women’s Health Initiative, examining the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) on postmenopausal women aged over 65.
Although the trial was stopped early, the women continued to be followed up until 2010. The Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study was specifically examining the effects of HRT on memory and dementia. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researchers used this sample to study whether there was a connection between caffeine consumption and new cases of dementia.
The women were all free of dementia when they joined the study between 1995 and 1999. Their cognition – memory and other thinking abilities – was assessed annually in person, until 2007, and then by telephone. For women who showed evidence of cognitive decline over subsequent years, more information was obtained from someone who knew the woman well.
A panel of specialist physicians who reviewed all the information agreed on whether women had developed probable dementia. Caffeine intake, which included tea, cola and other sources of caffeine, was based on questionnaires the women completed.
To isolate the effect of caffeine, the analyses accounted for other reasons that might affect rates of dementia. These were age, education, use of HRT, weight and height, sleep, blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, smoking, alcohol use and how well the women performed cognitively at their first visit.
What were the results?
Of the 6,467 women in WHIMS, 209 developed dementia and 388 developed some cognitive impairment. Greater levels of caffeine intake were associated with a lower incidence of dementia or cognitive impairment.
Researchers divided the women into two halves – the first half contained those who consumed higher amounts of and the second, lower. The average amount of caffeine intake in the lower group was 64 mg per day (roughly under one standard cup of coffee); while in the higher group, it was 261 mg (roughly over three cups).
The women in the upper group had 26% (not 36% as reported by the Daily Mail) less chance of developing dementia than those in the lower. This is a statistically significant difference. But when the women’s level of cognition at recruitment was taken into account, the risk reduction was only 20%, which was no longer statistically significant.
The researchers concede several reasons for caution. For a start, this study only looked at older women. They mention another study from France that found coffee had a protective effect on women but not men. And a third study found European men who drank three cups of coffee per day had the lowest rate of cognitive decline over ten years.
Why else should we be sceptical?
The women in this study weren’t representative of women generally. They were better educated than average and just the fact they had survived to 65 to 80 years at the time they entered the study, and then lived even longer to allow follow-up, means they may have been a healthier group. This is called the survivor bias, which can lead to false conclusions.
Nor was there a clear dose-response outlined with the number of cups of caffeinated coffee per day. This means the actual amount of caffeine was not measured and blood levels were not checked. Plus, people make their coffee at different strengths, and because the basis for the analysis is what the women reported, their ideas around caffeine intake measurements could be unreliable.
Further, the diagnoses of dementia were not based on a clinical assessment. Telephone assessments are more prone to error and this introduces some noise.
Also, if the women drank coffee just before their assessments, the alerting effect may have helped them score better.
Another possible explanation for the findings is that women may have cut back on their coffee just before they enrolled in the study for reasons linked to incipient dementia, also known as mild cognitive impairment. For example, incipient Lewy body dementia can lead to sleep disturbances as its first symptom even before the dementia becomes apparent; so people with symptoms might stop coffee to help sleep better.
What else should we take into account?
Observational studies such as this are not the gold standard. To really assess coffee’s effect on cognitive decline, we would need a planned randomised controlled trial where women are allocated to caffeine or decaffeinated intake and followed for some years. The women and raters would need to be blind as to which group they would be in. Clearly this would be very difficult if not impossible, especially in our café society.
What should readers do? Caffeine is perhaps the most widely used addictive substance in the world and appears safe. People have different reactions to caffeine that may vary with age and health. Some people become more anxious, others find it can improve their performance. I find that as I have grown older, my sleep is more sensitive to caffeine.
Don’t get too hung up on this kind of research. Let’s see more evidence over time. – Henry Brodaty
This is an interesting study but I agree there are major issues with its methods and conclusions. It is unclear exactly how caffeine intake was assessed. The paper states caffeine intake was self-reported using a questionnaire asking about coffee, tea, and cola beverages, but it did not specify whether drinks contained caffeine or not. Hence researchers assumed it was all caffeinated.
It is also disappointing the women were only split into two groups: those who drank more coffee, and those who drank less than average. There is a reasonable chance of misclassification bias, meaning some people in the lower caffeine intake group should really be in the upper group, due to limitations in the assessment of caffeine intake. You normally address this by splitting participants into more than two groups, and often four or five.
It is very interesting that those in the highest caffeine intake group were also less likely to have diabetes at baseline. While this fits with a major review of the relationship between risk of type 2 diabetes and coffee consumption, it’s also possible there is some remaining confounding bias due to better overall health of those with higher caffeine intakes that is not accounted for.
I agree that further longitudinal analyses would be of value, especially if they repeated the measure of coffee and other caffeinated beverages, particularly decaffeinated coffee, over a number of time points. It would be even more interesting to look at results where people changed their intakes over time. – Clare Collins
Researchers at The University of Queensland have begun clinical trials into whether an extract from mangosteen, a tropical fruit found in Indonesia, can help treat schizophrenia.
Queensland Brain Institute Professor John McGrath is conducting the trial into the role of mangosteens in easing symptoms of psychosis.
Previous research has indicated that the very potent antioxidants in mangosteen rind might provide a safe and effective treatment, with no side-effects.
“This is a gentle and safe intervention which evidence so far suggests could improve symptoms, and it’s important we investigate its potential as a matter of urgency,” Professor McGrath said.
“We aren’t suggesting this is a wonder drug, but we must investigate potential new treatments which are safe, effective and don’t have the current medication’s side-effects like weight gain, which can lead to other major health problems.
“Finding better treatments for schizophrenia is difficult, it will take decades, so let’s start now.”
Mangosteen is a tropical evergreen fruit native to Indonesia. The thick purple rind of the fruit contains compounds called xanthones which are often used in herbal teas and traditional medicines.
Antioxidants are thought to work because they restrict potentially damaging molecules known as free radicals, which can build up in certain disease states.
“I’ve found over the years that when you talk to patients or their relatives they say ‘I just don’t want anyone else to go through this,” Professor McGrath said.
“When people join a clinical trial like this, they become our citizen scientists, part of our research team.
“That is an inspiring and heart-warming trust which we hope will ultimately lead to better lives for all patients, even if it’s only a modest improvement.”
High blood pressure is called the silent killer. That’s because it has no symptoms. Having high blood pressure (hypertension) increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease.
There is some good news. High blood pressure can be treated or prevented. Eating oats, fruit and vegetables – and beetroot, in particular – helps. So does avoiding salt, liquorice, caffeine and alcohol.
Optimal blood pressure is 120 mmHg or less over 80 mmHg or less. Lowering it by 1-2 mmHg can have a big impact on reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke, and the nation’s health care costs.
What to eat to lower your blood pressure
A review with five research trials included tested the impact of oats on systolic blood pressure (the first blood pressure number, which is the pressure at which the heart pumps blood) and diastolic blood pressure (the second number, which is when the heart relaxes) in about 400 healthy adults.
The researchers found that systolic blood pressure was 2.7 mmHg lower and diastolic blood pressure was 1.5 mmHg lower when participants ate around 60 grams of rolled oats (a packed half-cup raw oats) or 25 grams of oat bran per day.
This quantity of oats or oat bran contains around four grams of a type of fibre called beta-glucan.
For each extra one gram of total daily fibre, there was an extra 0.11 mmHg reduction in diastolic blood pressure.
But in Australia seven out of ten men and three in ten women eat way more than that – and much more than the upper recommended limit of 5.9 grams of salt (about one teaspoon) or 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
In a review of five trials, people given one to two cups of strong coffee had an increase in their systolic blood pressure of 8.1 mmHg and 5.7 mmHg for diastolic blood pressure, up to about three hours after drinking it.
But three studies that lasted two weeks found drinking coffee did not increase blood pressure compared with decaffeinated coffee or avoiding caffeine. So you need to monitor your individual response to caffeine.
True for almost all situations in life, being proactive is best. And this has been a formative lesson in my time so far: whether reaching out to a potential mentor that inspired me and making time for a coffee and a chat, or walking to work to beat any future risk of cardiovascular disease, or simply being the first to say sorry after a heated disagreement with a good friend. Taking initiative, rather than accepting an outcome. A general and helpful rule in most situations is to be proactive.
But maybe not always.
When it comes to food and our food systems, I have written a lot about the challenges we face and the global double burden of malnutrition that sees a food system and approach to food that results in 1.9 billion people going to bed overweight or obese each night, while almost 800 million wake up hungry.
In children, 42 million under five years are now overweight or obese – across rich and poor countries alike. As our food systems globalise and commodify, food is now a leading driver of climate-related greenhouse gasses, while we waste one in three mouthfuls from plates across the planet.
These challenges are big, and while being proactive in solving them is key – maybe some solutions also lie in being reactive. Maybe it’s not just about innovation from nothing, but taking a moment to realise and react to what’s already there. And capitalise on it.
Here are three simple ways being REACTIVE might be proactive for food, for health and for our wallets.
1. React to the season
Learning and appreciating what grows when in the year is not that simple. Is broccoli a summer veg, or winter? Do we pick tomatoes in June, or January? Sounds like a discussion for the elite, but it’s actually an important conversation for us all.
Reacting to the sights and smells of your supermarket, market or store and buying in season can be better for you, better for the planet and best for your hip pocket.
When you’re next buying groceries, stick to a simple rule. Go for what looks fresh, has less packaging and, above all, is cheap. Food that is in season uses less energy and costs less to store and often looks and tastes best too. It needs less packaging to preserve it and buying when there is an abundance means supply is up and often, prices are down.
A shopping list is great for reducing waste and limiting unnecessary purchases, but being flexible to buy what the seasons offer can have big rewards.
Another great reminder is to refer to a season’s chart relevant to your local area.
2. React to your pantry and its contents
Many great things have come with the rise in reality cooking shows, celebrity chefs and complex recipe books. People are fascinated by food again and in some cases, even getting back in the kitchen.
We snapchat our lunch and instagram breakfast. But one serious downside is that with long and complicated recipes often requiring a specialised trip to the store, we lose the important ability to cook reactively.
With a pantry full of seasonal (fresher and cheaper) produce, the next step is to react to your pantry’s contents – not to a complex recipe book. Start simple with recipes of two or three ingredients. Learn some basics and go from there – but start and build the recipe based on what you have and not what you need.
The outcome is food that is uncomplicated, takes less time and effort to create, is less stressful to cook and costs a lot less to plate. It also means we don’t fill our pantries with half-empty packets of once-off ingredients; and with most food-waste in high-income countries occurring after market, including in our homes, this means we might waste less too.
3. React to your body, and your appetite
Finally, two important parts of the nutrition challenge fuelling our obesity epidemics worldwide are the rise and rise in portion sizes – particularly in junk food – and the rapid expansion of processed snack foods including sugary drinks.
With a pantry full of foods that react to the season, and recipes that react to what you have at home and not what your recipe prescribes, the final step could be to react to ourselves.
Eating slower and eating with others have both been associated with eating less and eating more healthily. In other words, by giving our bodies time to feel full and dining with attention on our food, and our bodies, we give ourselves the chance to stop when we want, and not overconsume.
Eating smaller serves on smaller plates, but coming back for seconds as needed, is also associated with healthier portions and a healthier us.
Reactive is proactive
When it comes to addressing our broken food system with progressive pricing on junk foods, or better supporting school breakfast programmes, or limiting harmful advertising of unhealthy foods aimed at our kids, there is no question.
We must be proactive.
This is also not to put blame on any individual or suggest that ill health is a choice, forgetting the obesogenic environment and deeply broken food system many of us live with.
But from time to time, maybe there are some simple things that many of us can do – and react to – that can make health a little more likely.
When it comes to food, maybe “reactive” is also sometimes proactive.
Love food, health or just hanging out with friends? To celebrate the role food plays in directly and indirectly solving many of our great health challenges, this month the team from NCDFREE have launched a new global campaign. Entitled Feast of Ideas, the concept is for proactive people in all countries to host a meal with friends (be it in a cafe, a park, or at home), over which you discuss topics and challenges proposed by the NCDFREE team and their network. NCDFREE even includes recipes, a shopping list and a step-by-step “how to” guide. Crowdsourcing solutions worldwide and with 200 dinners registered, and counting, you then feed the health solutions from your dinner discussions back to NCDFREE via social media, using #FeastOfIdeas. It is free to take part and running throughout the month of October. Sign up today at ncdfree.org/campaign
Connect with Sandro on Twitter (@sandrodemaio) to comment or share.
We all understand how important breastfeeding is for baby’s health. Breastfeeding mothers often receive a variety of well-intentioned advice about what and what not to eat during this period. But what does the science say?
If you look carefully at the food recommendations for breastfeeding, you will see only minor changes to the diet recommended for all healthy people. This is because during pregnancy, the body prepares for the energy cost of lactation by laying down some additional fat stores.
For the purposes of developing guidelines, breastfeeding women are assumed to produce about 780 millilitres of breast milk per day at an energy cost of 2,800 kilojoules per day. However, the additional energy requirement per day is only 2,100 kj, based on the assumption that fat stores will be used to make up the deficit.
The body also adapts to conserve energy during lactation by decreasing the basal metabolic rate. Heat production and activity levels also often drop after having a baby. In terms of food recommendations, the additional needs equate to an additional two serves of vegetables and three serves of grains per day, bringing both energy and extra nutrients.
So a salad sandwich and some crackers or a larger serve of rice with dinner would suffice. Or you might choose a bowl of soup and a bread roll.
In our nutrition-conscious world, we often assume vitamin supplements are needed during this time. Amazingly, women all over the world – even those who are quite malnourished – usually manage to breastfeed successfully due to their use of nutrient stores.
There are always exceptions; whether the nutrient stores are sufficient to support lactation will depend on diet quality and weight gain during pregnancy. It’s also important to understand more pregnancies and more breastfeeding by an individual will mean her stores will be lower.
Women who are on severe weight-loss diets and have lowered their food intake significantly during lactation have not been well-studied but older research suggests it takes a big deficit before milk production is affected.
In developing countries, there are many large-scale interventions to improve maternal nutrition when it comes to nutrients such as vitamin A, iodine, calcium, iron, protein and energy. This improves rates of death and disease for both the women and their offspring.
A recent review of maternal nutrition and breast milk composition in developed countries with healthy mothers found increased intake of nutrients does not increase the content of those nutrients in the breast milk.
There is some evidence the types of fats in a woman’s diet can influence the fatty acid profile of breast milk but generally the breast milk nutrient profile is mostly unchanged due to the use of nutrition stores.
Women on a long-term vegan diet will often have low vitamin B12 levels and this in turn can mean their breast milk is deficient in B12. This can cause very serious neurological issues for the baby.
As women are producing milk, we are often asked if extra calcium is needed. On average, 210mg of calcium is secreted into breast milk each day but this comes from increased levels of calcium being released from the bones of mothers, which is independent of calcium intake. In fact, six months of exclusive breastfeeding uses only 4% of the body stores of calcium – another clever evolutionary human adaptation to support survival.
What to avoid
After months of avoiding alcohol during pregnancy, women still need to be cautious about drinking and breastfeeding. The current advice, based on the best available evidence, suggests not drinking is the safest option particularly in the first month.
After this, it is suggested no more than two drinks are consumed at any one occasion and waiting to breastfeed will allow time for the alcohol to clear from the mother’s bloodstream and milk.
As for other drinks, the best advice is to drink to thirst – how much any individual needs will depend on climate, body size, milk production and metabolism.
For new mothers, caffeine is another consideration as they reach for coffee to help with the sleepless nights. Caffeine can enter the breast milk and newborn babies take a long time to metabolise it, however a few cups of coffee per day will probably not impact an older baby.
So what about all the advice provided on what not to eat? Foods such as cabbage, chilli, chocolate and tomato are often suggested to be avoided for a more “settled” baby.
There is in fact little evidence to support these claims. A small number of infants may have temporary intolerances to some proteins such dairy and removing this from the mothers diet might assist with symptoms. But this should be done under medical and or dietetic supervision.
In their attempts to cash in on peak hipster, fast-food giants are passing off assembly-line products as small scale, bespoke creations that carry an aura of moral authority.
Six months ago, McDonald’s opened a café in Sydney’s inner-West, where chambray-shirted baristas serve single-origin coffee alongside quinoa salads on wooden boards. The café is called The Corner, but The Guardian soon described it as: “McDonald’s disguised as a hipster café”.
And to customers worldwide, McDonald’s launched its “artisan grilled chicken”, its “artisan roll” and other artisan-manque products. Domino’s released “Artisan Pizza”, and PepsiCo released Kaleb’s Cola, a “craft soda” in a glass bottle bearing the notation, “Honor in Craft”. Nowhere on the bottle is mention of the multinational behind it.
In Australian Coles supermarkets, the Always Fresh brand is promoting its “Artisan Collection” lines as “authentic, carefully-crafted”. Its biscuits and preserves are “hand-crafted”; its crackers are “thoughtfully baked”. In the drinks isle Cascade’s “crafted” range of fizzy drinks includes (inexplicably) a “crafted for Australians” plain soda water.
These descriptors are lies, because mass-producers simply can’t make “craft” or “artisanal” products. These words refer to autonomous human-scale production that’s too mindfully- and bodily-involved for the assembly-line. To a craftperson, conception and physical production are inseparable, and their relationship with their craft — be it breadmaking, songwriting or neurosurgery — is somatic.
Division of labour completely wipes “crafting” from the fabrication process. Craft involves risk and unpredictability; manufacturing, on the other hand, involves predictable and uniform outcomes.
So consider the significance of McDonald’s’ current “How Very Un-McDonald’s” and “Not So Fast Food” campaigns. These campaigns invite us to custom-select ingredients on a touch-screen and enjoy table-service by — who knew? — a person. Faced with a slump in profits, the fast-food giant is experimenting with ways to shed brand-staleness and seduce a 20s-to-30s demographic that regards McDonald’s as distinctly uncool.
But this seems less a gesture towards slow food values and more an admission that the brand and all it represents has become déclassé. When they trade on artisanal notions of authenticity, industrial food giants deny their own, which lies in cheap, standard products manufactured with alienated labour and dispersed supply chains. You can’t be an authentic Tim-Tam if you were “thoughtfully crafted” from seasonal local ingredients.
Spot the difference
Corporate craft-washing campaigns may deceive some, but their mawkish descriptors betray them as sops. McDonald’s “artisan” chicken contains “pantry seasonings” (distinct from industrial flavours) and “100% chicken” (distinct from who-knows-what). Pepsi’s craft soda has “quality ingredients”, no less, devised after “months talking and tasting” (more artisanal than “focus-grouping”).
Genuine craft producers aren’t inclined to spruik these ways, because their customers have the culinary literacy to discern a local sourdough from an industrial soda bread.
In his 2014 book, “The Language of Food”, Stanford University professor Dan Jurafsky observes that good quality food labels and menus tend to be short on adjectives. Marketers of industrial food, on the other hand, oversell with such descriptors as “real”, “artisan”, “quality”, “authentic” and “passionately-crafted”.
But a backlash is mounting. Following recent complaints against the craft claims of Byron Bay Beer, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said:
“We judged that any reasonable consumer would think that it was brewed in Byron Bay by a small Byron Bay brewing company.”
But the beer “was a actually brewed by Carlton and United Brewery out of its large Warnervale brewery.”
David Hollier, president of the Australian Real Craft Brewers Association, said craft beer drinkers believe they are “supporting authentic small, independent… local family-owned breweries. The big two brewers have capitalised on that”.
But CUB was fined A$20,400, and similar cases are emerging overseas. Californian man Evan Parent recently sued brewing giant MillerCoors for claiming its Blue Moon beer is “artfully crafted”. His lawyer Jim Treglio told reporters:
Even insiders are rebelling against such marketing. Last year, the ACCC received “industry intelligence” that Saskia Beer’s “Black Pig” products contained white pig meat. Heritage black pig breeds can be more free-ranging than white pigs, as they are less susceptible to sunburn. The company was ordered to undergo compliance training and publish a corrective notice.
Similarly, Pirovic Enterprises was fined A$300,000 for claiming its eggs were free-range. “Although there were no strict legal definitions of free-range, the court was able to base its findings on consumers’ expectations about what that particular form of farming should involve”, said Associate Professor Jeannie Paterson from the University of Melbourne’s Law School.
The same principle, she says, was applied when Coles was fined A$2.5 million over “freshly baked” bread claims, when the bread was first par-baked in Ireland.
Over there, the Food Safety Authority is reportedly clamping down on “artisan”, “traditional” and “farmhouse” claims, warning that these should only describe products made “in limited quantities by skilled craftspeople” at a “micro-enterprise”, and ingredients should be local where possible. Last week, the Authority ordered McDonald’s to remove artisan claims. This is a regulatory trend moving across Europe and the US, and in Australia, the ACCC is also devising guidelines.
Artisan-posturing by industrial producers isn’t just a matter of regulatory transgressions. Industrial food giants who “craft-wash”, or use idioms of craft while trashing its essential values, are actively obscuring a set of political issues. Ethical consumers are often well-heeled, for sure, but their deep pockets attend to a deeper commitment to small enterprise, localism, fair trade, ethical supply chains, seasonal produce, farm animal welfare, workers’ freedoms and low environmental impact.
Australian consumer law prohibiting deceptive conduct “does not just apply to deliberate lies,” says Paterson. “It also covers conduct that creates a misleading impression by manipulating common community understandings.” So as artisanal deceptions continue to mount, so, too, do the legal precedents for a foodie-pundit backlash.
A friend reckons he has it good. His partner cooks a bacon-hash-brown-fry-up for breakfast every day. “Are you sure?” I said. “Cause that’s exactly what I would feed my partner if I wanted to bump him off!”
It is easy to fall into the trap of giving people you love lots of ultra-processed, high-kilojoule, nutrient-poor foods because they like them. But immediate pleasure comes at a cost.
When the food your loved ones eat is of poor nutritional quality, their odds of developing tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers increase. Is that what you really want for them?
Why shouldn’t you feed them bacon?
Processed meats are preserved by curing, salting, smoking or adding preservatives. They include bacon, ham, salami, chorizo, luncheon meats and some sausages.
Swap your breakfast bacon for a poached egg and grilled tomato on wholegrain bread. Swap chopped bacon in recipes for an onion browned with garlic and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or nuts to add flavour, crunch and nutrients.
Support those you love to cut back their alcohol intake.
Tough love rules
It takes some tough love to serve up what’s “good” for your family members, especially when it is not their favourite.
My child came home from school declaring “You don’t know what it’s like to be the only one without potato chips in your lunch box.” My response? “That must be hard, but you do not know how tough it is being a parent who loves you sooo much that I can’t put chips in your lunchbox.”
These nutrition tips will help get you started at home:
Make food rules. Parents without rules about things such as not skipping breakfast or eating in front of TV have adolescents with worse food habits than those with rules. A supportive home environment for nutrition means kids do eat better.
Never give up encouraging your loved ones to eat more, and a bigger variety, of vegetables and fruit. People who increase their intake of vegetables and fruit also report increased life satisfaction, happiness and well-being.
Show them which foods belong to the basic foods groups and which do not. Young children find it easy to recognise foods packed with essential nutrients, but harder to identify energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods or junk foods. Discretionary foods make up more than one-third (35%) of what Australians eat, compared to the recommended maximum of 15%. Most people need to cut their “discretionary foods” by more than half.
Plan meals and snacks ahead of time. Base them around the five nutrient-rich core foods: vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, lean sources of protein (fish, chicken, meat, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes, dried beans and lentils) and dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese and milk. Prepare school and work lunches the night before and refrigerate them.
Try healthy fast food cooked at home. Instead of ordering in, spread a pizza base with tomato paste and top it with grated carrot and zucchini or other vegetables, some cooked chicken, meat or four-bean mix and grated cheese. Bake until crispy and serve with salad. People who cook more have healthier eating habits, better nutrient intakes and spend less money on take-aways.
Time you spend planning, cooking and getting nutrient-rich food into your loved ones helps them feel better, perform better at school and work, and improves well-being.
Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has dismissed a Liberal backbencher’s suggestion that a sugar tax should be considered as a means to tackle child obesity.
As the Australian reports, on Monday Victorian MP Russell Broadbent told Parliament a 20 per cent tax on all manufacturers and importers of soft drinks would provide the Government with much needed funds to fight the increased incidence of obesity among children.
However, Joyce (pictured) ruled the proposal of hand, saying such a move would devastate the sugar industry.
“We believe that the sugar industry is an incredibly strong industry, especially for the development of north Queensland,” he said
“I’m always reticent to believe that a tax is a cure for anything.”
As the AFR reports, Nationals MP for Capricornia in North Queensland Michelle Landry, agreed with Joyce and claimed a sugar tax would leave many workers from her electorate, which has two sugar mills, out of work.
However, Landry added that food makers could be put under more scrutiny regarding the amount of sugar they use.
“These manufacturers when they make food they do put a lot of sugar into things, and perhaps they should start being more careful about what ingredients they’ll put into things because there’s a lot of sugar,” she said.
While alcohol is a legal and common way many societies stimulate social interaction, when consumed at high levels over long periods it can undermine physical health and cause cancers and other disease. Most people know excessive drinking isn’t good for our health, but how do we know when we’re drinking too much?
Alcohol consumption is associated with long- and short-term consequences. Long-term health consequences include: alcohol-related diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver; stroke; high blood pressure; heart disease; and more than 60 cancers, including of the mouth, lips, throat, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, bowel and breast.
Short-term health consequences include fatalities, physical injury or road accidents due to impaired cognitive performance and diminished reaction times.
Social consequences may include domestic violence, absenteeism, violence and crime.
How much is safe to drink?
It’s important to know the recommendations on drinking to ensure we’re not drinking too much for our own health and for the safety of others.
In 2009, the National Health and Medical Research Council updated the Australian drinking guidelines. The guidelines contain four recommendations to ensure our drinking is “low risk”. Low risk is defined as drinking at a level that reduces the chance an individual will suffer from short-term injury or long-term disease.
Healthy men and women are advised not to drink more than two standard drinks on any one day. If a person drinks less than that, the probability he or she will suffer from long-term alcohol-related disease (such as cancer) is approximately one in 100.
For both men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury to one in 100. Risk of injury includes physical injury, or road accidents due to impaired cognitive performance and diminished reaction times.
Short-term risky drinking is most often associated with intoxication. Intoxication in its mildest form produces slight changes in inhibition, reduced co-ordination and decreased alertness. More extreme forms may involve slurred speech, boisterous or aggressive behaviour, inappropriate sexual behaviour, swaying, rambling conversation and difficulty concentrating.
Who can drink?
Pregnant women are advised to avoid alcohol because of the possibility of alcohol passing through the placenta into the embryo. This may affect brain and other developments of the child.
Settings and their associated customs and norms can influence how much alcohol we consume. People will often consume more alcohol in settings like bars, nightclubs and sports clubs, for example. This is usually because alcohol in these settings is sold, managed and marketed in ways that encourage easier or greater consumption.
People should be aware of this phenomoneon and try to consciously consume moderate amounts in these types of settings.
Symptoms of drinking too much
While all drinking has elements of long- and short-term risk, consistent drinking can lead to dependence and other alcohol-related problems. If you find it hard to stop drinking after you have started, you do things that are not normally expected of you because of your drinking, or you feel you sometimes need a drink in the morning, you may be showing signs of dependence and should consult your GP or a health practitioner.
Another sign of dependence is that, over time, greater amounts of alcohol are required to achieve intoxication. Persistent use and being preoccupied with your consumption, despite evidence of harm, is another sign your drinking might be unhealthily habitual.
If you feel guilty after drinking, have injured someone because of your drinking, or someone has suggested you reduce your drinking, you should also consider talking to someone about your alcohol consumption.
Steps to reduce alcohol consumption
While alcohol is part of our world, we can reduce the risk of short-term harm, disease and dependence. For adults, it is advised you have no more than two standard drinks a day. On any one day it is advised adults should not consume more than four standard drinks in a session.
A good way to cut down on your drinking is to start by ensuring you are having at least one to two alcohol-free days. On these days, you may want to substitute an alcoholic drink with something else, like sugar-free tonic water. This has a sophisticated taste but has no calories or alcohol.
Because of the long- and short-term risks, there should always be room to reduce your alcohol consumption. Perhaps in the long term you could try to avoid consumption during weekdays.
When going to functions where alcohol will be available, have a strategy rehearsed in your mind as to how and why you will not consume alcohol. You may say it is one of your alcohol-free days, you are not drinking today, or you are pacing yourself this week.
People are more health-conscious these days so tend to be more open about not drinking for health and well-being reasons. A non-alcoholic substitute drink will help you feel more socially integrated in these settings.
We should also ensure our children avoid alcohol before the age of 18. This is the safest way of maximising their health and human potential.
Vitamins and minerals are essential for keeping us in good health. While eating a varied diet should give us all the nutrients we need, recent diet and health surveys show the typical Australian diet is far from varied – or even close to what is considered a healthy diet.
To the rescue come vitamin and mineral supplements, but can they deliver on their promises and are they for everyone?
Who needs a supplement?
When writing about supplements, a glib approach is to state we can get everything we need from food, so we don’t need them. Eat your veggies. Don’t take supplements. End of story.
That isn’t the whole story, though. Already, our food supply is fortified with folic acid, iodine and thiamin to prevent serious public health issues related to conditions arising from deficiencies of these nutrients in some groups of people. So the rationale of needing to supplement for best health has some validity, but is underpinned by our generally poor eating habits to begin with.
There are groups of people for whom vitamin and mineral supplements would be recommended. Women planning pregnancy can benefit from a range of nutrients, such as folic acid and iodine, that reduce the risk of birth defects. People with limited exposure to sunlight would certainly be advised to consider a vitamin D supplement.
Frail and aged people are candidates as well due to food access problems, chewing and swallowing difficulties, absorption problems and medication. People with malabsorption problems, some vegetarians and people following chronic low-calorie diets all make the list as well. And, of course, people with a clinically diagnosed deficiency could all benefit from supplementation.
Why nutrients from food are better than from supplements
So should everyone take supplements “just in case”? Not so fast. Taking multivitamins as a nutritional insurance policy may be an issue for more than just your wallet. Seeing a supplement as a solution may contribute to neglecting healthy food choices, and this has bigger consequences for long-term health.
Food is a complex mix of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (plant chemicals). Phytochemicals are an important component of food and help to reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Vitamin and mineral supplements do not provide the benefits of phytochemicals and other components found in food, such as fibre.
Whole foods usually contain vitamins and minerals in different forms – for example, vitamin E occurs in nature in eight different forms – but supplements contain just one of these forms.
If you look at habits linked to long-term health, it is eating plenty of plant-based foods that comes out on top, not so much taking supplements. This meta-analysis of 21 multivitamin-multimineral supplement clinical trials failed to find any benefit of improved life-expectancy or lower risks of heart disease or cancer from taking supplements.
The promise of possible benefits from supplements takes the focus from what really does promote better health and less chronic disease: eating a varied diet with plenty of minimally processed plant-based foods, regular activity, drinking within guideline recommendations and not smoking.
For a healthy adult, if supplements are used, these should normally be taken at levels close to the recommended dietary intake. High-dose supplements should not be taken unless recommended under medical advice.
Formulations of multivitamins vary between manufacturers, with further market segmentation due to products aimed at different genders and life stages. For example, a multivitamin targeting women of childbearing age will likely be higher in iron than one for adult men. The government’s recommended dietary intakes for each vitamin and mineral are set out by gender and age, and manufacturers generally mirror these recommendations in their formulations.
Although taking too much of certain vitamins or minerals can be harmful, the doses present in multivitamins are typically low. After all, you can only pack so much of each nutrient into a multivitamin pill, and often it is not even close to the recommended dietary intake.
Vitamin and mineral supplements can’t replace a healthy diet, but a general multivitamin may help if your diet is inadequate or where there is already a well-supported rationale for you to take one. If you feel you could be lacking in certain vitamins and minerals, it is better to look at changing your diet and lifestyle first, rather than reaching for supplements.