A NEW research laboratory will explore the potential benefits of complex carbohydrates that include natural immune system enhancers and high quality cosmetics.
Adelaide Glycomics in South Australia was launched today and is a collaboration between the University of Adelaide and Agilent Technologies Australia Pty Ltd.
It will be the largest research centre of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and will host cutting edge research in the field of glycoscience (the study of structure and function of glycans).
Director of Adelaide Glycomics Vincent Bulone said complex carbohydrates were critical in every area of biology and were vital in the production of more high function foods.
“We want to turn this into the centre of gravity for carbohydrate analysis in the southern hemisphere and we already have a lot of international collaboration from industry to do a lot of applied research with high potential in a whole range of sectors and industries,” he said.
“Carbohydrates are the most abundant molecules on earth but almost the most complex and heterogeneous. They are also the least understood.
“Because of this we cannot control very easily the properties of the application products we develop and to do this we need to understand the structure and biological properties – with this facility we will be able to do that.”
Carbohydrates are one of the main types of nutrients and are the most important source of energy in the human body.
Adelaide Glycomics will serve as a hub for national and international collaboration in the field of complex carbohydrates across multiple industries.
Some of the potential benefits the centre will explore include new texturing agents for food, creating bioplastics, new drug delivery systems, helping control the composition and quality of wines, producing hair gels and cosmetics, and developing biosensors.
“You can use carbohydrates as a metric and modify them with biomolecules that can be used as sensors. You can use them to couple as protein receptors for sensing pollutants that bind to proteins in polluted water,” Professor Bulone said.
“There is carbohydrate research already happening in Australia, but what we want to do here is have something really comprehensive and world class equivalent to the only other centre of its kind in the world in Georgia, USA.
“The other thing we will do is organise training for the future leaders in R&D in Australia in that area which is going to constantly expand and our society is growing more towards green chemistry, green materials, sustainability, converting waste into products.”
Agilent’s Academia and Collaborations Manager for the South Asia Pacific and Korea region David Bradley said the company was proud to work with the University of Adelaide.
“This collaboration underscores the importance Agilent places on academia, working together to boost scientific outcomes that will provide economic and societal benefits,” he said.
“We have since developed many spectroscopy-based laboratory instruments, and continue to be committed to working with researchers across various industries to develop new applications from insight to outcome.”
The new big thing hitting our supermarket shelves is “A2 milk”. Not only has this resulted in a great debate about whether it is any better for us than regular cow’s milk, but also a bitter feud over labelling between the big dairy companies in the Federal Court.
So what is A2?
Cow’s milk contains protein. The primary group of milk proteins are the caseins. A1 and A2 are the two primary types of beta-casein (beta-casein is one of the three major casein proteins) present in milk. They are simply genetic variants of one another that differ in structure by one amino acid.
Commonly, both A1 and A2 types of casein are expressed in cow’s milk in Europe, America, Australian and New Zealand, and hence the milk we find on our supermarket shelves.
The hype surrounding A2 milk came about after the patenting of a genetic test by the a2 Milk Company. The patent allows the company to determine what type of protein a cow produces in its milk and therefore license dairy farmers that prove their cows express only A2 protein in their milk (and not A1 protein). A2 milk is marketed by the a2 Milk Company to contain only the A2 type of beta-casein.
Initially, there were marketing claims that A1 proteins were harmful to our health, but a full review of the literature by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2009 nullified such claims. Insufficient evidence exists to suggest A1 proteins have a negative effect on our health. The EFSA found no relationship between drinking milk with the A1 protein and non-communicable diseases such as type 1 diabetes, heart disease and autism, which is the focus of much of the hype.
After these findings were released to the public, the marketing focus shifted towards the A1 protein causing digestive discomfort and symptoms usually associated with lactose intolerance (for example, bloating and flatulance).
The first peer-reviewed human study was conducted with a small number of people (41). Only ten of the participants reported an intolerance to commercial cow’s milk. They compared differences after drinking milk containing only the A1 protein versus milk containing only the A2 protein (the milk on our supermarket shelves is usually a combination of the A1 and A2 milk proteins).
Interestingly, they found after drinking the milk containing A1 protein only, participants reported softer stools than when drinking the A2 milk. These results tend to go against the evidence in animal studies that the A1 protein slows down the movement of contents through the gastrointestinal system, which could be thought to bulk up stool content and hence result in harder stools.
The authors of this study suggested the softer stools might have been caused by an increase in gut inflammation caused by consumption of the A1 protein. Gut inflammation can cause malabsorption of fluids and nutrients and hence softer stools. However, the study found no difference in calprotectin (a measure of inflammation) between the two milk groups, so it failed to draw any sound conclusions.
This led to the second study conducted in humans, which was published this year. Unlike the previous study, it did use common commercial milk that contains both the A1 and A2 milk proteins and compared this to consuming milk containing only the A2 protein. It included only people (45 subjects) who self-reported an intolerance to cow’s milk.
Of the 45 subjects, 23 were diagnosed as lactose-intolerant. Someone who is intolerant to cow’s milk has an inability to digest lactose due to a deficiency in the lactase enzyme. But it is important to note lactose is present in both A1 milk and A2 milk.
The results showed A2 milk did not cause an increase in unpleasant digestive symptoms (for example, bloating and flatulence) usually associated with milk consumption in those who are lactose-intolerant. When cow’s milk containing both the A1 and A2 proteins was provided, there was an exacerbation of stomach upset. However, this would be expected for someone who is sensitive to dairy products, or lactose-intolerant.
The changes in inflammatory markers observed in this study need to be interpreted carefully. Despite some statistically significant changes between the two milk groups being noted, these aren’t necessarily clinically relevant and therefore do need further investigation in a much larger study with a greater sample size.
So is A2 worth it?
For those who do not experience any problems with milk consumption, there is no evidence to suggest any benefit in having A2 milk over the common consumed commercial milk, which contains both the A1 and A2 proteins. For less than half the price per litre, the latter would be the favoured option.
For those who self-report an intolerance to milk or are lactose-intolerant, A2 milk may be a suitable selection to prevent commonly reported stomach upset complaints, but so too is lactose-free milk. Lactose-free milk does not contain lactose, which is the naturally occurring sugar that causes the gastrointestinal problems in the lactose-intolerant. Consequently, what is needed is a study comparing the effects of lactose-free milk versus A2 milk in those who are lactose-intolerant.
Most importantly, longer-term studies with larger sample sizes are needed, as both of the studies conducted in humans to date have been conducted with small numbers over short durations.
The most important thing is that we don’t exclude milk products from the diet, as dairy is a rich source of calcium that is readily bio-available (meaning we can absorb the majority of it from this food source). Calcium is essential for the prevention of osteoporosis (brittle or weak bones) and an adult should aim for three dairy serves per day.
Many Australian toddlers are consuming their recommended daily salt intake in just one sitting, an examination of supermarket toddler meals has found. Salty foods accustom the tastebuds to salt and excess sodium intake from salt is linked to high blood pressure and increased risk of stroke and heart attacks in adulthood.
A range of prepared toddler meals investigated by nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton and advocacy group Parents’ Voice, have failed the Food Detectives’ test with products found to contain too much sodium for young children.
Dr Stanton questioned the use of added salt in Only Organic Vegetable Macaroni Cheese (pictured), Only Organic Beef Bolognese Pasta and Heinz Little Kids Ravioli Bolognaise.
“Latest health advice discourages parents from adding salt when they’re cooking at home for toddlers. Adding salt to products marketed to children is unwise and unnecessary.”
Dr Stanton was also concerned with the sodium content in foods marketed for toddlers such as Only Organic Vegetable Macaroni Cheese (273mg), Annabel Karmel Cheeky Chicken & Pumpkin Risotto (230mg) Heinz Little Kids Ravioli Bolognaise (220mg) and Annabel Karmel Beautiful Bolognese Pasta Bake (202mg) per serve
“The Nutrient Reference Value for sodium consumption for Australian children aged 1 to 3 years is 200-400mg per day. It would be hard for parents to keep their children’s sodium consumption to recommended levels if these types of products are consumed regularly.
“These meals are not difficult to prepare and could feature as regular family meals. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that by the age of 12 months, toddlers should be consuming a wide variety of nutritious food as enjoyed by the rest of the family. It is not a good idea to encourage parents/carers, or children themselves, to consume food that’s different to the family’s normal diet. This can result in the development of poor eating habits.”
Another concerning addition was the use of apple juice concentrate and apple juice in the Annabel Karmel meals examined. “These add sugar and accustom young palates to a sweeter taste, but won’t add any significant nutrient content,” Dr Stanton added.
Alice Pryor, Campaigns Manager for Parents’ Voice is concerned that the availability of these products, which are not healthier choices, will reinforce the message that toddlers need special food.
“Parents want to give their children the best start to life, and these products lead parents to believe they are healthy and nutritional meals for their children when many of them are actual laden with hidden salt and sugar. In particular, both Annabel Karmel meals proudly proclaim ‘low in sodium’ on the front of the pack, a claim we think is misleading.
“Most parents of toddlers would struggle to find time in the supermarket to read and compare the small print on the backs of these products. Parents’ Voice is calling on Only Organic, Heinz, and Annabel Karmel to reformulate these products and ensure that their marketing claims are more closely matched to the reality.”
University of Southern Queensland scientists Professor Lindsay Brown and Ursula Kennedy will be sharing their unique insights into food and drink at the Queensland Museum’s After Dark series this week.
Through a program entitled The Science of Beer, Wine & Chocolate, this Queensland Museum initiative combines tastings, demonstrations and facts aplenty.
As leader of USQ’s Functional Foods Research Group (FFRG), Professor Brown will talk on the subject of functional foods like purple carrots, Queen Garnet plums and red grapes which contain anti-inflammatory compounds, anthocyanins.
“These can prevent or reverse chronic diseases, and the development of functional foods as an industry could improve viability throughout our rural communities,” Professor Brown (pictured) said.
“This is why we are proposing these foods for the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases such as obesity, arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. The initial results are really promising,” Professor Brown said.
The Darling Downs and surrounding regions are major producers of these foods, and Professor Brown said even red grape marc, a by-product of winemaking, may prove to be valuable inputs in the developing industry.
“We may be able to produce the foods locally and then undertake the research to treat these common diseases in the people of regional Queensland.”
Many indigenous Australian fruits contain the same compounds, and their effects on chronic diseases are a research objective for USQ’s FFRG in coming years.
Ursula Kennedy has worked in the brewing and wine industries throughout Australia for more than 20 years before taking up her post as a lecturer in viticulture and wine science at USQ.
As an educator and a wine judge with close connections to industry, Ms Kennedy has an eye and a nose for what works with wine, and is looking forward to sharing some of her knowledge in the After Dark series.
Through the use of scientific disciplines, including biology and chemistry, grape growing and wine making have evolved from crude practices developed in ancient times.
“Over hundreds of years, viticulturists and oenologists have developed numerous processes for growing better grapes and making better wine,” Ms Kennedy said.
“Some discoveries were unintentional, some processing aids sound pretty scary or downright gross, and some ideologies seem just a bit oddball – but all have their basis in science.”
USQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Jan Thomas said the inclusion of University experts like Professor Brown and Ms Kennedy was a perfect inclusion in the After Dark program.
“Food and wine are part of our culture and our economy past, present and future, and the University is delighted to have the opportunity for two of its most colourful experts to share their knowledge and passion with the After Dark audience,” Professor Thomas said.
The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet has launched a new initiative, ‘Slimtember’, a four-week campaign encouraging Australians to start eating better and losing weight, while helping to raise money for a great cause.
A portion of the funds raised through Slimtember will be donated to JDRF Australia (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) to help treat and cure Type 1 diabetes in children. The campaign commences on 5 September and registration opens today.
According to CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet Online, September is an ideal time to shed any excess weight accumulated over winter and the opportunity to contribute to a worthy charity might help to double the motivation to act now. It is hoped that everyone who wants to improve their health and lose weight – including work colleagues, families, friends and individuals, will get on board with the campaign.
“We believe Slimtember will provide extra motivation for Australians to eat healthier and lose weight and also raise funds for a worthy cause,” said Professor Manny Noakes, CSIRO Research Director for Nutrition and Health and the co-author of the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet.
According to JDRF Australia CEO, Mike Wilson, Type 1 diabetes currently has no cure and represents 95 percent of all diabetes cases amongst children.
“Both children and adults with T1D need to stay fit and healthy like everyone else. While Slimtember can’t stop T1D, it can help fund vital medical research. It is the support of the public through initiatives such as Slimtember that can make a real difference,” said Wilson.
To join the Slimtember campaign, participants need to register at www.slimtember.org. Registration costs $69 with $10 of the signup fee donated to JDRF Australia.
To help them succeed in the four week challenge, registered participants will be sent a ‘Slimtember’ kit.
Just over a week into the Olympics, most of those watching the events have had at least one moment of awe about the feats of athleticism on display. We all know that competing at the Olympics is the end product of years of training, but how much fuel do elite athletes need?
The energy needs of athletes vary depending on their overall body composition and performance goals, as well as day-to-day training type, duration and intensity. This means energy intake is the one dietary factor that tends to differ most between sports.
An artistic gymnast, for instance, needs to be relatively light but muscular – to work against gravity and perform aerial twists. In Olympic weightlifting, weight categories for competition range from 48kg for women to 105kg-plus for men. This wide range in weight and size results in large differences in the amount of fuel that individual sportspeople need.
That’s about the equivalent of approximately eight slices of bread; two cups of porridge; six pieces of fruit; 200g cooked steak and 200g cooked chicken; two cups cooked rice; two large potatoes; five cups of green and yellow vegetables; 30g nuts; 60g cheese; and 1.5L of milk
Training programs typically vary in duration, intensity and volume over a competition cycle, and this “periodisation” changes the amount of energy needed.
Athletes who chronically restrict food intake (to stay lean, for instance, or to “weigh in” for events) are more likely to experience fatigue, nutrient deficiencies and loss of lean mass and strength. They also risk developing longer-term health issues, such as impaired cardiovascular and bone health, as well as decreased immunity.
The International Olympic Committee has produced a consensus statement on the risks of relative energy deficiency in sport in response to these detrimental effects to help make athletes and coaches aware of this important issue.
How much to eat
But what about the composition of athletes’ diet? Is it more important to get protein or carbs?
Athletes need more protein than sedentary people and recommended requirements are approximately 1.2 to 2g protein per kilogram of body weight per day. So for a rower weighing about 85kg this could be up to 170g of protein a day.
We usually teach athletes about servings of different foods that contain 10g of protein, such as two small eggs; 30g reduced fat cheese; 50g grilled fish; 200g reduced fat yoghurt; four slices of bread; and 35g lean beef or lamb. The protein requirements for athletes are easily achieved as most people in developed countries typically eat close to this amount of protein each day.
Carbohydrate requirements vary depending on the training type, intensity and volume. Most athletes need between three and seven grams per kg of body weight every day.
Endurance athletes, who may be training or competing three or more hours a day, are generally recommended to consume between 6-10g of carbohydrate per kg body weight every day. But this can go up to 12g per kg body weight during more extreme, strenuous training or competition (more than five hours a day).
To support recovery, timing some protein and carbohydrate intake around training is beneficial.
Consuming around 20g of protein (often milk or dairy sources are used) in the immediate post-exercise period is beneficial for supporting increased synthesis or manufacture of protein. This can help athletes gain lean mass and strength.
More rapid restoration of muscle glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrate) can be supported by including 1 to 1.2g carbohydrate per kg per hour for the first four hours after intense (glycogen-depleting) exercise. It’s particularly important if there are repeated, strenuous training sessions over the day or there’s a need for fast recovery (during a strenuous week of repeated competition games or events, for instance).
Eating for gold
Athletes competing at the Rio Games, who are living in the Olympic village, eat at a temporary dining facility that can cater for 4,000 to 5,000 people in one seating. It’s open 24 hours a day and employs hundreds of managers, chefs and service staff.
The menu caters for athletes from a range of competition events – and thus with different energy and nutrient requirements – as well as different cultural and religious beliefs (vegetarian food for Hindus, for instance, or halal meals for Muslims) and food preferences (vegan or lactose-free, for example).
Speciality chefs cater for different regions and there’s usually a focus on the style of eating from the host country. In Rio, for example, there’s a strong emphasis on South American and Brazilian dishes, particularly desserts.
As well as the dining hall, there is a range of other food options where athletes can “grab and go” or eat in a more relaxed environment. Food is also provided for travel to the various competition venues and at the venues themselves.
The complexity of providing food for a major competition has evolved over time in response to increasing numbers of athletes, countries and competition events.
There’s evidence suggesting that more athletes are following different types of dietary regimens, but we don’t know if this is simply a trend or for medical reasons. In particular, requests for gluten-free items have been increasing.
If you’re offered a plate of blackened barbecue food this summer, you might think twice about eating it. It’s commonly thought that food that has been burnt could cause cancer. This is in part down to one particular molecule that forms when food is cooked at high temperatures, known as acrylamide. But while the chemical is a known potential toxin and carcinogen in its industrial form, the link between consuming it in food and developing cancer is much less clear.
The reason we even know about acrylamide’s potential dangers are down to a railway tunnel. Nearly 20 years ago, workers were building a tunnel through the Hallandsås ridge on the Bjäre peninsula in southern Sweden. Cows nearby started to show strange symptoms, staggering around and in some cases collapsing and dying. This prompted an investigation that showed that they had been drinking contaminated stream water and that the contamination was from a toxic molecule, acrylamide.
The construction workers had been using its polymer, polyacrylamide, as a crack sealant. This was, in itself, quite safe. But the polymer-forming reaction was incomplete, so some unreacted acrylamide was still present. The workers were tested to see if they also had unsafe levels of acrylamide in their blood, with a second “control” group of people who had no known exposure to industrial acrylamide used as a benchmark. However, it turned out that the control group also had surprisingly high amounts of acrylamide in their blood.
At first it was thought that burgers might be the source. Then high levels of acrylamide were found in potato products such as fried potatoes, as well as in coffee. It then became clear that acrylamide formation was associated with carbohydrate-rich foods, rather than protein-rich ones, and with foods that had been heated above 120°C (250°F), that is food that has been fried, roasted or baked. This was a new discovery, but acrylamide must always have been formed in this style of cooking, ever since cooking was invented.
Acrylamide is formed in reactions between the natural amino-acid asparagine and some (naturally-occurring) carbohydrates. You don’t find acrylamide in uncooked or boiled food. Dairy, meat or fish products are much less likely to contain acrylamide. It doesn’t matter whether the food is “organic” or not, it’s the type of food that counts. Acrylamide is also formed when smoking tobacco.
A “golden rule” has been suggested: cook food until it goes yellow, not brown or black. This restricts acrylamide formation, though if you cook at too low a temperature you are less likely to kill off bacteria, so there is more risk of food poisoning.
While scientists have identified the source of acrylamide, they haven’t established that it is definitely a carcinogen in humans when consumed at the levels typically found in cooked food. A 2015 review of available data concluded that “dietary acrylamide is not related to the risk of most common cancers”. Although, it added that a modest association for kidney cancer, and for endometrial and ovarian cancers in people who had never smoked, couldn’t be ruled out.
Going back to the barbecue, there are other chemicals in meat that could be a concern. These generally fall into two classes: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs – compounds with several hexagonal “benzene rings” fused together) such as naphthalene and benzopyrene; and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). The PAHs are formed from meat fat and juices dripping onto flames in cooking, and HCAs are generated, again in cooking, from reactions between molecules including amino-acids and sugars.
Animal testing has shown exposure to high levels of chemicals such as these is linked with cancer, but these are levels of exposure much higher than humans would get from eating meat. Some studies do appear to have shown that meat that has been burned, fried or barbecued is associated with higher possibilities of certain cancers, but these links are hard to prove for certain.
If you are really concerned, you could reduce exposure risks by cooking in a microwave rather than over naked flames, and turning meat regularly. You could also eat less meat or replace the meat with vegetables when grilling. Of course, your food may not be as tasty, since grilling, baking or toasting produce a lot of molecules that enhance flavour. But if you have a healthy diet with lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grain food, none of which contain acrylamide, things are easier. It is all a question of proportion.
Australians are being urged to be wary of foods which claim to be ‘natural’ with new research showing that almost 5 in 10 ‘natural’ products are high in saturated fat, sugar and/or salt.
LiveLighter analysed the nutritional quality of 331 supermarket foods with the words ‘natural’ or ‘nature’ on the packaging and found that 154 (47%) were not a core part of a healthy diet, as recommended by the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.
Despite this, more than three in five Australian adults said they were more likely to buy food or drinks described as ‘natural’ .
LiveLighter Victoria Campaign Manager and Accredited Practicing Dietitian Alison McAleese warned that natural doesn’t always equal healthy.
“Just because something says it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s good for you,” Ms McAleese said.
“The word natural can be very hard to define and in Australia there are no clear guidelines for its use on food and drink products, leaving manufacturers free to use the word in a way consumers might not expect.”
Of the 97 ‘natural’ foods found in the snack food aisles, almost 9 in 10 were found to be unhealthy and should not regularly be part of a healthy diet.
“We found that ‘natural’ is most commonly used on products like snack bars, muesli bars, chips, lollies, crackers and biscuits located in the snack food aisles of the supermarket,” Ms McAleese said.
“Unfortunately, the majority of these items are high in saturated fat, sugar and/or salt and should not be eaten on a regular basis.”
Some brands use the words natural or nature in a product name or to describe a product, such as Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup with ‘natural’ ingredients and Ajitas Vege Chips ‘Natural’ flavour, while others go as far as to feature ‘natural’ in their company name, for example the Natural Chip Company and The Natural Confectionery Co.
Heart Foundation Victoria Healthy Living Manager Roni Beauchamp said if you’re looking for a snack that is truly natural and good for you, steer clear of the products in the snack aisles entirely.
“Stick to the outer aisles of the supermarket where you’ll find an abundance of nutritious foods to snack on, like seasonal fruit, vegetables like celery and carrots which you can cut up and enjoy with hummus or ricotta cheese and reduced-fat plain or Greek yoghurt,” Ms Beauchamp said.
“Also consider doing your food shopping at greengrocers, markets, butchers and fish mongers, where you are more likely to be presented with less processed, healthier options.”
Which types of food and drink products carried natural claims?
47 per cent of natural claims were found on discretionary foods (foods high in saturated fat, salt and/or added sugar) – including snack bars and muesli bars, chips, crackers, biscuits and lollies.
21 per cent were found on dairy products – including yoghurt, milk and cheese.
16 per cent were on meat and alternatives – including fish, eggs, nuts and legumes.
10 per cent were on grain foods – including breakfast cereals, quinoa and bread.
5 per cent were on fruit.
2 per cent were on water.
1 per cent were on vegetables – including legumes and beans.
A research team led by Bryan Chin, director of the Auburn University Detection and Food Safety Center, has developed a cheap, portable, and easy-to-use new screening tool to test fresh fruits and vegetables for the presence of bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses. Currently available screening methods for produce can be costly in terms of time, equipment, and expertise. The multidisciplinary research team of engineers, microbiologists, and genomicists based at Auburn University and the University of Georgia wanted to create a new method that could be used more broadly.
The team has developed biosensors that are placed directly upon the fresh fruits or vegetables being analyzed. The eyelash-size biosensors are coated with antibodies and phages (viruses that target specific bacteria) and vibrate when placed within an oscillating magnetic field. If targeted bacteria are present, they bind to the antibodies and phages and change the vibration frequency of the biosensor. These frequency changes help inspectors determine the type and amount of bacteria on a given fruit or vegetable.
“The technology gives us a revolutionary new capability to directly detect food pathogens,” Chin said. It is fast and has both high specificity and sensitivity. In less than 12 minutes, the sensors can detect as few as five hundred Salmonella cells amid a sea of a million bacterial cells. The measurement system costs $750, with each of the disposable biosensors costing less than 1/1000 of a cent.
The biosensors are still in the research and development stage, but moving forward, Chin has his sights set on developing a technology that is even faster and is capable of screening an entire bulk shipment of product, removing sub-sampling entirely.
The research was conducted thanks in part to a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA).
In a study published in Annual Review of Nutrition, researchers suggest a rethinking of human nutrition science through a new framework called “nutritional geometry,” which considers how mixtures of nutrients and other dietary components influence health and disease, rather than focusing on any one nutrient in isolation.
Human nutrition science has historically focused on a single-nutrient approach, which is predicated on a lack of resources or micronutrient deficiency. For instance, the absence of vitamin C in human diets is a known cause of scurvy. But the researchers believe this traditional approach is no longer useful in the face of modern nutrition-related diseases, which are driven by an overabundance of food and an evolved desire for foods containing particular blends of nutrients.
The researchers suggest there is a need for nutrition science to engage with the deep theories of biology developed within the ecological and evolutionary sciences. The integration of these theories into nutrition has already begun in the field of nutritional ecology. Nutritional geometry provides a way of implementing these theories by modelling how nutrients interact with each other to produce the properties of foods and diets and how behavioural and physiological mechanisms engage with these interactions to influence health.
Although more complex than the single-nutrient model, the researchers believe that in the long term this framework can simplify the study of human nutrition by helping to identify those subsets of factors and their interactions that are driving negative health outcomes in our rapidly changing environments. The application of nutritional ecology to humans can also benefit that field through extending its comparative scope to a highly distinctive species whose biology and environment are researched more intensively than any other.
“Our new approach provides a unique method to unify observations from many fields and better understand how nutrients, foods, and diets interact to affect health and disease in humans,” said co-author David Raubenheimer, University of Sydney.
“The ‘nutritional geometry’ framework enables us to plot foods, meals, diets, and dietary patterns together based on their nutrient composition and this helps researchers to observe otherwise overlooked patterns in the links between certain diets, health, and disease.”
State and territory food enforcement agencies are investigating cases of Salmonella, possibly associated with rockmelon, following an increase in cases in a number of states.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) said in a statement that, until further information is received, consumers (especially infants, the elderly, pregnant women or people with compromised immune systems) should not consume rockmelon.
FSANZ will continue to work with the state and territory enforcement agencies and the Federal Department of Health and update its advice to consumers.
According to a NSW Health study, a number of NSW consumers fell ill with Salmonella poisoning after eating rockmelons. The study suggests whole and sliced rockmelons could contain Salmonella.
Rockmelons have been linked to Salmonella poisonings in the past, notably the United States during the 1950s, 1960s and in 2002.
The NSW Food Authority is advising consumers to take some simple precautions to minimise the risk from Salmonella in rockmelons. These include not buying damaged fruit, washing and refrigerating fruit; and washing hands, utensils and cutting boards after eating.
Australia’s most influential female foodies are flexing their culinary muscle, warning women about a stealthy danger that threatens the best years of their lives.
Maggie Beer, Lyndey Milan, Kate McGhie, Christine Manfield and Catherine Saxelby are among the food gurus spearheading Healthy Bones Action Week’s Fit, Fab & 50 Challenge from August 1 to 7.
The Week highlights the painful and potentially crippling effects of osteoporosis, calling on women to make a commitment to bone-healthy food, activity and sunshine.
Determined to make a big noise about the silent disease that strikes without any prior symptoms, the culinary experts want women of all ages, especially those heading into menopause, to realise the benefits of dairy foods and embrace the white side.
To spread the word, they have compiled a selection of inspiring, mouth-watering recipes to get you on your way to upping your bone-boosting calcium, while also sharing some of their own insights and experiences around healthy living and loving life.
The Fit, Fab and 50 cookbook is free to everyone who registers for the Challenge here.
By signing up for the Fit, Fab & 50 Challenge women can kick-start their journey to better bone health. Each day during the Week participants will be supported with healthy eating, exercise and wellbeing with prizes and incentives along the way.
Endocrinologist Dr Sonia Davison, from Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, says that while Healthy Bones Action Week is designed to promote a positive and lively health message, the underlying agenda is urgent, especially as Australia’s population ages.
After menopause, bone density falls quickly as the body’s oestrogen levels drop, and women who want to try new adventures and continue to enjoy life are putting their lifestyle at risk by ignoring bone health.
Virtually all Australian women over 50 are not getting their daily four serves from the dairy food group needed to keep their bones strong, as recommended by the updated Australian Dietary Guidelines.
“One million Australians are estimated to have osteoporosis, and six million are estimated to have osteopenia, which is mild bone thinning that can lead to osteoporosis,’’ Dr Davison says.
“Many of these Australians are not aware of this silent process occurring in their bodies.
“Women underestimate the severity of falls and fractures which evidence shows lead to a loss of independence and a faster track to nursing home admission, especially after a bad hip fracture.”
The potential benefits of moderate coffee drinking outweigh the risks in adult consumers for the majority of major health outcomes, an extensive scientific review has found.
The review was carried out by researchers at Ulster University and published in the June issue of Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, which is published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).
The researchers systematically reviewed 1,277 studies from 1970 to-date on coffee’s effect on human health and found the general scientific consensus is that regular, moderate coffee drinking (defined as 3-4 cups per day) essentially has a neutral effect on health, or can be mildly beneficial.
The review was used to create an exhaustive list of the potential health benefits and risks of coffee consumption on total mortality, cardiovascular disease, cancer, metabolic health, neurological disorders, gastrointestinal conditions, and other miscellaneous health outcomes.
The authors noted causality of risks and benefits cannot be established for either with the research currently available as they are largely based on observational data. Further research is needed to quantify the risk-benefit balance for coffee consumption, as well as identify which of coffee’s many active ingredients, or indeed the combination of such, that could be inducing these health benefits.
Some financial support of this study was provided by Italian coffee roasting company illycafe s.p.a., the authors claimed no conflict of interest regarding the objective search and summary of the literature.
Superfoods are everywhere these days. Once found only in niche health food shops, displays of “exotic” superfoods like açai from the Brazilian Amazon and maca from the Peruvian Andes now appear in supermarket chains, chemists, and convenience stores.
One can hardly open a newspaper or magazine without coming across a list of the top superfoods youshouldbeeating, or an article debunking the entire premise of them.
New superfoods keep coming, too. The latest product, Australian native “bio-food” Gurạdji (ger-ra-je), is promoted as “anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and beneficial to gut health”, while simultaneously being an “undiscovered” superfood used for “thousands of years”.
But what are superfoods, and why do so many Australians find them to be both seductive and confusing? The word itself is the creation of marketing, but their history and popular appeal are more than superficial.
We can study superfoods in two ways: firstly, as a popular way of thinking and talking about food, health, and values; and secondly, as a particular group of food products produced by real people in a global food economy.
Seductive and medicinal
In Australia, consumers are drawn to superfoods because they are positioned between food and medicine. Through focus group interviews with superfoods consumers, I’ve found that this in-between quality is part of what makes superfoods so alluring – “a bit seductive” as one participant put it – and also so confusing, because how much or how often to consume them, and precisely what benefits they offer, are often unclear.
Participants in the study rarely spoke about the taste of superfoods – they focussed more on health benefits. So it’s not surprising that superfoods are most frequently consumed in smoothies, where they are blended together into a meal that’s also a multivitamin and preventative medicine. This smoothie becomes a talismanic object that’s seen as providing protection from many of the health threats of the modern world.
These findings underscore classic anthropological observations about the power of ambiguous objects. They help us to understand why certain foods carry more cultural appeal than others.
But superfood consumers are not as naïve as one might think. Most express scepticism towards superfood health claims and recognise that they are being sold a romantic image. However, they are happy to succumb to a bit of magical thinking and eat superfoods as a sort of extra insurance, because they believe that they might help and probably can’t hurt.
This attitude might not be a big concern for those who choose to buy superfoods. But the focus on individual foods and nutrients might distract from major public health messages of eating a balanced diet, and downplay the impact of increased demand for “exotic” superfoods on producers in the global south.
The lure of ‘all-natural’
Many of us are living, arguably, in an era of functional nutritionism. In wealthy countries like Australia, we’ve largely solved the public health problems of malnutrition. Most research and dietary advice focusses on eating the “right” nutrients and foods to maximise health and prevent chronic disease.
One outcome of this focus is the rise of “functional foods” designed to offer extra nutritional value: vitamin-D fortified orange juice, omega-3 enriched eggs, or cholesterol-lowering margarines, for example.
Many people accept the idea that if we consume large quantities of the right nutrients we can be extra healthy, but reject “functional foods”. They want all those nutrients, but they don’t want to eat highly formulated and often heavily processed foods.
This is where superfoods come into the picture. They embrace the premise of functional nutritionism, and flaunt their high levels of vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients. But they insist these nutrients are better when they come in a more natural form.
For many of the more exotic superfoods, like quinoa, chia seed, and açai, associations with “ancient” or “indigenous” traditions are another major selling point.
For example, chia, a seed native to Mesoamerica, is often called the “superfood of the Aztecs”, while the Peruvian root maca is frequently marketed as the “Inca superfood.”
The assumption that a food or diet is healthier because it is more natural, authentic, and ancient is widespread in contemporary food and nutrition culture: Paleolithic and low-carbohydrate diets are two popular examples.
Food culture researcher Dr Christine Knight has called this trend nutritional primitivism: the tendency to romanticise ancient or indigenous food practices as being inherently healthier because they are supposedly simpler and more in touch with nature.
Superfoods as global food products
Representing superfoods as “exotic” and “primitive” can have consequences for producers in the global south. By depicting superfood production in primitive utopias, the real lives – and real food security and food sovereignty struggles – of these populations are erased in favour of more romantic images.
For example, the packaging of popular Australian superfood brand Power Super Foods features illustrations of indigenous-looking women happily harvesting products by hand in pristine surroundings.
In reality, most superfoods are grown using modern agriculture, with machinery such as tractors and dehydrators. The people who produce superfoods face the same real problems as farmers anywhere, like climate variation and fluctuating prices. But often their struggles are even harder as they have less political and economic power.
All of this doesn’t mean that superfoods aren’t healthy or good for you. But we should be aware that superfoods are a symptom of nutritional confusion and an often-exploitative global food system, not a cure.
This is the fourth article in our ongoing series on food and culture Tastes of a Nation. You can read previous instalments here.
Home cooked meals specifically designed for infants and young children, are not always better than commercially available baby foods, suggests research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Often perceived as the best option, home cooked meals are usually cheaper–unless organic ingredients are used–but they usually exceed energy density and dietary fat recommendations, the findings indicate.
It’s recommended that the introduction of solid foods, known as weaning, begins when a child is 6 months old. It should include a variety of foods to provide a balanced diet rich in a broad range of nutrients.
The researchers wanted to assess how well homemade and commercially available readymade meals designed for infants and young children met age specific national dietary recommendations.
They therefore compared the nutrient content, price, and food group variety of 278 readymade savoury meals, 174 of which were organic, and 408 home cooked meals, made using recipes from 55 bestselling cookbooks designed for the diets of infants and young children.
The pre-prepared meals were all available from major UK supermarkets, a leading pharmacy chain, and a major health and beauty chain.
In terms of the food group content, 16% of the home cooked meals were poultry based compared with 27% of the readymade meals; around one in five (19%) were seafood based vs 7% of the readymade meals; a similar proportion (21%) were meat based compared with 35% of the commercial products; and almost half (44%) were vegetable based compared with around a third (31%) of the readymade meals.
Home cooked meals included a greater variety of vegetables (33) than readymade meals (22), but commercial products contained a greater vegetable variety per meal, averaging 3 compared with 2 for home cooked recipes.
Home cooked meals also provided 26% more energy and 44% more protein and total fat, including saturated fat, than commercial products.
And while almost two thirds (65%) of commercial products met dietary recommendations on energy density, only just over a third of home cooked meals did so, and over half (52%) exceeded the maximum range.
But home cooked meals were around half the price of commercially available readymade meals: £0.33/100 g compared with £0.68/100 g, excluding fuel costs.
“Unlike adult recommendations, which encourage reducing energy density and fats, it is important in infants that food is suitably energy dense in appropriately sized meals to aid growth and development,” the researchers point out.
But they caution: “Dietary fats contribute essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins together with energy and sensory qualities, thus are vital for the growing child, however excessive intakes may impact on childhood obesity and health.”
The researchers highlight that the lower protein content of readymade meals might be due to the higher proportion of early stage meals on the market while predominantly vegetable based meals are recommended for first tastes.
Furthermore, parents may choose to vary the content of recipes, and there are likely to be natural variations in the nutritional content of raw ingredients, thus making direct comparisons harder to make.
Ready meals are a convenient alternative, they say, but suggest that any parent looking to provide their child with a varied diet, should probably not rely solely on this source.
However, they point out: “the high proportion of red meat-based meals and recipes and low seafood meals are of concern when dietary recommendations encourage an increase in oil-rich fish consumption and limitation of red and processed meats.”
The headline image of the University of Melbourne’s Facebook link to its press release about recent research on Bisphenol A (BPA) is of a takeaway coffee cup. The kind that does not have any BPA in it at all . The headline “Obesity Link to BPA” directly below the image of the cup is guaranteed to cause unwarranted consternation in consumers of our favourite takeaway beverage which I’m sure the researchers did not intend.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is one of the most recognizable chemicals to the general public. A component of some kinds of hard plastics, plastic liners for tins (but not paper cups) and certain kinds of thermal paper, it has generated quite a lot of concern as BPA is a mimic of the hormone estrogen.
However, it is a very weak mimic of estrogen (and some other hormones). BPA is typically 10,000 to 100,000 times weaker than estrogen (see for example here). BPA may also act through some other pathways, but again it is not very strong. Studies of our exposure to BPA have consistently shown that we have a safety margin of about 100-1000 fold between the threshold for BPA to produce biological effects and the levels in our bodies.
Still, we are not cavalier about BPA’s presence in our environment and studies continuously reevaluate BPA’s potential for harm, which is where this latest study from the University of Melbourne comes in.
So what did the researchers do?
They took cow embryos and placed them in tissue culture conditions. They then exposed them for four days to either BPA at 1 or 10 nanogram per millilitre of tissue culture solution (1ng/mL) or estrogen at 1 or 10 ng/mL . To make sure that BPA was working through estrogen receptors they also exposed some of the embryos to a combination of BPA and a specific blocker of estrogen receptors.
What did they find?
Both 10 ng/mL BPA and estrogen reduced the number of 8 cell embryos that progressed to blastocysts by around 7% (1 ng/ml of BPA and estrogen had no significant effect). Roughly 10% fewer of the 10 ng/mL treated blastocysts were of implantation quality.
What about obesity where does that fit in?
In embryos treated 10 ng/mL of either BPA or estrogen, there was a roughly 50% increase in glucose uptake and lactate production. This increase was prevented by the selective estrogen receptor blocker (the 1 ng/mL concentration of BPA had no effect).
While there is no direct evidence that increased glucose uptake and utilisation in the embryo will cause obesity later in life, it is at least plausible that this could somehow predispose organisms to obesity later in life.
So should we be worried?
Not really, as well as the link being weak, there are two key issues which means that the relevance to humans is limited.
One is that the concentrations used in the study are very unlikely to be achieved in the human body under normal conditions. 10 ng/mL is a really tiny quantity, and it is hard to visualise this , but the quantities in the human body are even smaller, on the order of picograms/mL (that is a thousand times less).
Measuring the levels of BPA in blood and biological fluid accurately is very difficult. BPA is very rapidly metabolised, most of BPA in the circulation is inactive metabolites. Not only do the low levels stretch the limits of our measuring devices, but BPA present in the plastics that are used to draw and store blood and other biological fluids can contaminate these fluids, giving spuriously high readings.
Very careful measurements and studies using BPA where the hydrogen atoms have been replaced with a heavier isotope of hydrogen (deuterium) have shown that levels of BPA in blood (and hence other body fluids) are well below the 1ng/mL concentration that had no effect in this study (see also here). This is backed up by back calculation from measurement of urinary excretion of BPA and its metabolites.
Another check is calculation of intake from foods and the environment. These show that intake of BPA is 100 to 1000 times less than the new, temporary European Food Safety tolerably daily intake of 4 micrograms per kilogram body weight (which is 1,000 times lower than the lowest levels that show no effect in animal studies).
Recent studies of food exposure from Australian foods showed very low intake levels (with the new limits, you only need to consume 10 cans of soup a day of the soups with the highest BPA content to reach the tolerably daily intake).
So, altogether the evidence is that human levels of BPA are well below the levels that produce these metabolic effects in these cow embryos.
Another issue is the response to BPA. Remember how I said that BPA is 10,000-100,000 times weaker than estrogen? This has been shown in numerous receptor and functional studies, including studies on human estrogen receptors. In the current cow embryo studies BPA and estrogen were approximately equally effective, and the blocker study confirmed that the effect of BPA was through the estrogen receptor, not some novel mechanism (as in this study).
This implies that cow embryo estrogen receptors are different to human receptors and that any extrapolation to humans must be made very carefully.
The take home message?
Don’t panic over BPA and obesity. You are very unlikely to reach the bodily levels of BPA that will cause disruption of glucose metabolism in early embryos. Of course, as I have said before, the best way to reduce BPA intake is to eat fresh, rather than pre-prepared foods, especially fresh fruit and vegetables as Australians in general do not eat enough fresh fruit an vegetables (and eat too many calories, and don’t exercise enough).
Another take home message is to make sure the containers you use to illustrate your press release actually do have BPA in them. You may be consuming too many calories from the milk and sugar in your takeaway coffee, but BPA? No.
 I can’t link directly to the Facebook advertisement. The main illustration on the University of Melbourne press release webpage is cans of soft drink, these do not measurably contribute to BPA intake. It also has the takeaway coffee cup, which is lined with polyethylene, not BPA containing plastic.
 A milligram will cover the head of a pin, a microgram would be a single speck on the head of a pin, you would need a microscope to see a nanogram. In contrast, a teaspoon full of sugar is around 4 grams, one teaspoon in a 250 mL coffee will result in 20 milligrams per millilitre (mg/mL) coffee. Now dilute that a million times and you will get 20 ng/mL.
The following three statements are all true: Eating cookie dough can be dangerous, even after we’ve dealt with any raw eggs. I am a public health faculty member and an expert in health risk communication. My family and I eat raw cookie dough regularly.
If it seems implausible that all three of those statements can be simultaneously true, let me explain.
To start, when most people think about health risks and cookie dough, they think about raw egg. Eggs can be contaminated with salmonella bacteria, and food safety recommendations encourage people to cook eggs until the white and yolk are firm in order to kill any bacteria.
Because of this concern, when my kids and I make cookie dough, we never use regular eggs. Instead, we use eggs that have been pasteurized to kill any harmful bacteria without actually cooking the egg itself. (A great public health innovation, if you ask me!) So, I wasn’t worried about the eggs in the cookie dough.
Now, there is another risk to consider in relation to raw cookie dough: the risk of the flour itself. Over the past two months, General Mills, Inc. first initiated and then expanded a voluntary recall of flour found to be contaminated with E. coli bacteria. While contamination of raw flour is rare, it can happen. Wheat grows in fields close to animals. When they “heed the call of nature,” as the FDA put it, wheat can become contaminated.
In this recent outbreak, 38 people have been sickened since December 2015 and some have been hospitalized because they ate the recalled flour raw, often in the form of cookie dough. One went into kidney failure.
An important safety message – or a half-baked idea?
Such recall notices are extremely important. When we know that a product is contaminated, we can and should make absolutely sure to get rid of it. As soon as I read the recall notice, I checked whether my extra flour was recalled. It wasn’t. If it had been, or even if I hadn’t been sure, I would have thrown it out, no questions.
However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration later also published a notice for consumers warning the public about eating cookie dough. Specific statements included: “the bottom line for you and your kids is don’t eat raw dough,” “don’t give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with” and “don’t make homemade cookie dough ice cream.”
Here’s the question: Is it appropriate for public health officials to imply that no one should eat cookie dough (something that I, and apparently many others, enjoy) because of this risk?
A right to choose?
I’m the last person to say that communications about public health risks are unimportant. Public health officials have a duty to warn people about the health risks associated with raw egg and even raw flour. When we have evidence that specific people are at risk, public health officials need to actively promote the actions that those people can take to minimize the identified risk. Doing so supports both public health objectives and individual decision-making.
By contrast, when a public health agency unequivocally states “don’t eat raw dough” (regardless of whether flour or other ingredients were affected by a recall or not), it is implying (falsely) that no one could rationally disagree.
Well, I’m a public health faculty member, and I disagree.
I know that some public health officials will be horrified by my statement. They will believe that I am undermining their message and giving people permission to put themselves at risk unnecessarily.
But the key word of the previous sentence is “unnecessarily.” Whether something is necessary or not is not a scientific judgment. It is a value judgment. An FDA official may personally believe that eating raw cookie dough isn’t important and choose to never eat it. That is their choice. At the same time, I can believe that eating cookie dough (made from flour known to be not part of the recall and pasteurized eggs) is something that I enjoy enough that I’m willing to put myself and my children at (a very small) risk to do.
Of life and risk
As public health experts, we don’t want people to treat food recalls like math problems and estimate their likelihood of getting sick. If you have affected food, you need to act. Period.
But if I know that my flour is not recalled, then there is no specific reason to believe that the flour is not OK to eat raw. The only risk is the very small, baseline risk – for example, that the flour has been contaminated by a different and as-of-yet unknown source.
We can’t pretend that we live our lives without risk. I put myself and my children at risk every time we get into our car. Every time we eat sushi or rare hamburgers. Every time one of us takes medications. Every time we ride a bike or play soccer.
Yet, many of us choose to do those things anyway, while minimizing risk when we can (for example, by wearing seat belts and bike helmets). We choose life and risk over safety and a life a little less enjoyable. It is not irrational to treat cookie dough the same way.
So, to my fellow public health practitioners: Let’s keep working on informing the public about health risks that they may not anticipate or appreciate. Motivating people to take immediate action about specific food recalls. Encouraging people to minimize risks.
At the same time, let’s all please remind ourselves that our goal is not to minimize all risk, no matter the cost. Our goal is to maximize life. Sometimes maximizing life means warning people that their flour is contaminated and making sure they throw it out. Sometimes maximizing life means letting them enjoy some (carefully prepared) cookie dough without shame.
In the final month of the countdown to the Olympic Games, our sports stars are probably not eating and drinking the Games sponsors’ foods. Again, as in previous Olympics, the Olympic Games sponsors are Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Cadburys, whose foods and drinks are not good choices for athletes due to their lack of nutrition and high levels of salt, sugar and saturated fats.
Unhealthy sponsorship of sport filters all the way down through sport from the elite level to Saturday morning kids’ clubs.
New research released by Cancer Council NSW has revealed eight out of nine food and beverage sponsors of children’s sports development programs in Australia are classified as unhealthy. Brands including McDonald’s, Schweppes, Gatorade and Nutrigrain are all competing for brand exposure in kids’ sport.
Junior development programs are modified versions of popular adult sports, designed to increase children’s participation in sports and encourage more children to be active. Beyond just providing physical activity, these programs should promote healthy behaviours, instead of undermining the healthy lifestyle the programs aim to promote.
Besides logo placement on website homepages, we found sponsorship gave companies naming rights to the development program (such as Nippy’s Spikezone – Nippy’s is a brand of flavoured beverages and Spikezone is kids’ volleyball), branded participant packs (such as Milo in2cricket and McDonald’s for Platypus Lagoon swimming) and branded equipment (McDonald’s for junior cricket and basketball).
While the study was done in 2015, this year the sponsorship landscape for children’s sports looks just as unhealthy. At the time of the study McDonald’s was sponsoring three separate junior sports programs across the country.
In 2016, while no longer a sponsor of Little Athletics nationally, McDonald’s is still involved in Little Athletics across five states, provides branded sports equipment to junior basketball and cricket, provides participant packs and sponsors swimming in Queensland and is a naming rights partner for the South Australian National Football League junior development program.
Schweppes, Gatorade and a local confectionery company are among state Little Athletics sponsors. Surf-lifesaving sponsors include Schweppes and Nutrigrain.
Our study follows on from a 2015 study that looked at sponsors on websites of state and national adult sports and found 10% of sponsors on adult sports sites were unhealthy. The 2015 study found only 14 of 53 different sports organisations in Australia didn’t have “unhealthy” sponsors.
The influence of advertising on children
Children are a major target market for advertising, as they influence their parents’ spending, have their own independent spending habits and have the potential to become brand-loyal and life-long customers.
Sponsorship of development programs offers companies another avenue to expose children to their brand and foster a connection between children and their brand.
An Australian study of five- to 12-year-olds found they associated team sports with the products and messages promoted via the sports’ sponsors.
Sponsorship and branding within sports can influence product recall and enhance children’s attitudes towards that sponsor. Interviews of 10- to 14-year-olds found they think of food and drink companies that sponsor their club and favourite team as “cool”. They even said they’d like to return the favour to these sponsors by buying their products.
Reducing the impact of unhealthy food marketing on children
In recent years we have seen the closure of the National Preventive Health Agency. The agency was set up to drive preventive health policy and programs focusing on obesity, tobacco and harmful alcohol consumption.
One consequence has been the withdrawal of funding to sporting organisations that allowed them to have alcohol-free sponsorship. Some reports suggest these funding cuts have pushed sports to rely again on alcohol sponsorship in the absence of other public funding.
The good news is many sponsors of children’s sports development programs are not food or drink sponsors. It is encouraging that only 11 out of 246 sponsors were food, drink, alcohol or gambling companies. This indicates that many sports are able to seek alternative sponsors. Other major sponsors of kids’ sports development programs included airlines and banks.
The World Health Organisation has made recommendations to reduce children’s exposure to and the power of marketing of foods high in fat, added sugars or salt, including marketing in children’s settings.
Currently, there is no Australian regulation that limits or restricts the type of companies allowed to sponsor children’s sport. Sponsorship of children’s sport should be included in food marketing regulation to reduce the impact unhealthy food marketing has on children.
In the absence of regulation, these companies should exercise responsible marketing practices and withdraw from sports sponsorship so sports consistently promotes healthy messages to those participating and watching.
Wendy Watson, Senior Nutrition Project Officer, Cancer Council NSW, and Clare Hughes, Nutrition Program Manager, Cancer Council NSW, contributed to this article.
Most of us know eating fruit daily is a great way to try to stay healthy, with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating encouraging us to eat two serves a day. This is because they are relatively low in energy content and rich in fibre, antioxidants and some phytochemicals that may have beneficial health effects.
Despite the benefits, less than half of Australians eat enough fruit. To try to make eating fruit easier, get the most nutritionally from what we eat and avoid wastage, it is important to consider the best stage to eat fruits from harvesting to over-ripening.
Fruits vary in nutritional quality
Fruits contain a range of nutrients essential for health, from energy-producing nutrients (mostly carbohydrates with some fat and protein) through to vitamins, minerals and fibre. The amounts of these nutrients vary, however, from one fruit to another.
Predominant sugars vary. In peaches, plums and apricots, there is more glucose than fructose. The opposite is the case in apples and pears. Fruits vary greatly in terms of their glycaemic index and the effect on our blood sugar (glucose).
If we look at vitamin C, relatively high amounts are found in strawberries and citrus fruits compared to bananas, apples, peaches or pears.
Passionfruit contains more phosphorus, an essential mineral used in releasing energy, than papaya. However, the opposite occurs in the case of calcium, the most common mineral in the human body.
According to a recent study, higher consumption of some whole fruits, especially blueberries, grapes and apples, significantly reduced the risk of developing type-2 diabetes. But eating oranges, peaches, plums and apricots had no significant effect. However, this does not mean the latter ones are bad fruits.
Sometimes, combinations of fruits work better than each individual fruit. Mixtures of orange and star fruit juices had higher antioxidant capacity than pure juices.
Even certain stages in fruit maturation showed better health effects. Bioactive compounds are chemicals that occur naturally in fruit and are not technically nutrients but appear to result in health benefits. These are found in higher levels in green (unripened) jujube fruit (red date) than in the ripe fruit.
Green or yellow bananas, does ripeness matter?
Fruit ripening involves a range of complex chemical processes. These cause changes in colour, taste, smell and texture. Generally fruits are more tasty when fully ripened, but this is not always the case. Guava, for example, tends to be more appealing when partially ripe.
Unripe fruits typically contain more complex carbohydrates, which can behave like dietary fibre and break down into sugars upon ripening. Unripe bananas contain higher levels of resistant starch (which we cannot digest, but can be a prebiotic acting as a food supply to the microbes in our gut), which is linked to lower risks of bowel cancer. This decreases during the ripening process.
With respect to vitamins and phytochemicals, researchers found the opposite is the case. The level of vitamin C decreases during the early stages of sweet cherry development but increases at the beginning of fruit darkening and accumulation of the pigment anthocyanin. Levels of glucose and fructose, the main sugars found in cherry fruit development, increase during ripening.
However, over-ripening leads to a loss of nutrients following harvest. It’s also linked to fruit darkening, softening and a general loss of sensory acceptability.
Impact of processing
Fruit can be processed by canning, freezing, drying, chopping, mashing, pureeing or juicing. Processing fruits can improve shelf life, but it can also lead to losses in nutrition due to physical damage, long storage, heating and chilling injury.
Usually, minimally processed fresh-cut fruits such as fresh fruit salad have the same nutritional qualities as the individual fruits. However, tinned fruit salad may contain added sugar as syrup and preservatives, which may be a less healthy option.
Eating whole fruit rather than drinking juice appears to be linked to better health. A study that gave participants whole fruit before a meal found it led to people eating less than if they drank juice. Additionally, those eating whole fruit appeared to have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, although other studies suggest juices with added sugar may be the real problem.
It is also likely some processing such as juicing may help increase availability and quicker absorption of the beneficial nutrients in fruit. The benefits of this need to be weighed against the sugar being more available too.
So which to eat?
Nutritional qualities of fruits vary and it is hard to predict which fruit might be best. Generally, the more different types of fruits you can include in your diet, the better. For many fruits, eating fresh at its correct ripening stage may be more beneficial, perhaps more for taste than nutrition.
Overripe fruits may be still good to eat or easily convert into smoothie, juice or used as an ingredient such as in banana bread. Eating an over-ripe fruit such as a banana does not mean that you are putting more sugars into your body as the total amount of carbohydrates in the fruit does not increase after harvesting.
While fruit products (juice, dried or tinned products) that are higher in sugars and also preservatives in some cases are not as good as whole fruit, consuming fruit in this form is better than consuming no fruit at all.
But fruits alone cannot do all the work. It is important to choose foods from all the core food groups within the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating to reap the maximum health benefits of fruits.
Researchers in the UK say they have developed a food supplement that, when consumed, can reduce cravings for unhealthy foods like pizza but not affect the desire for healthy foods.
The researchers from Imperial College London tested the supplement, inulin-propionate ester on 20 volunteers. They found that it not only reduced cravings in those who consumed it but also resulted in them eating smaller portions.
The supplement is based on a molecule produced by gut bacteria that tells the brain when you’re full and don’t need any more food.
The latest research follows previous work into the feedback pathway. Previously, the team had shown that eating the inulin can increase the production of the molecule propionate in the intestine, which then signals the brain that no more food is needed.
They have now shown that by modifying inulin to contain propionate they could trigger gut bacteria to produce as much as 2.5 times more propionate.
The volunteers were given milkshake containing 10 grams of inulin propionate ester, or regular inulin on its own (as the control).
Then they received MRI scans and were shown pictures of a range of foods, such as salad and fish, or chocolate and cake.
Those who had consumed the inulin-propionate ester supplement had less activity in the reward regions of their brain than the control group, but only when they looked at the high-calorie foods.
Senior author Gary Frost said, “This study shows that this supplement can decrease activity in brain areas associated with food reward at the same time as reducing the amount of food they eat.”
Co-senior author Tony Goldstone noted, “These show that altering how the gut works can change not only appetite in general, but also change how the brain responds when they see high-calorie foods, and how appealing they find the foods to be.”
The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.