Health Check: how do I know if I drink too much?

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.

Evidence shows the brains of children under the age of 18 are still developing. Thus it is recommended children under the age of 18 should avoid consuming alcohol. Consuming alcohol before the age of 18 also increases the risk of numerous poor developmental and social outcomes.

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.

The Conversation

Bosco Rowland, Senior Research Fellow, School of Psychology, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Health Check: can vitamins supplement a poor diet?

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.

We should get all of our vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals from vegetables, but that’s if we’re eating them.

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.

The Conversation

Tim Crowe, Associate Professor in Nutrition, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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A dietitian puts extreme ‘clean eating’ claims to the test – and the results aren’t pretty

“Clean eating” is associated with the healthy lifestyle and body beautiful that is promoted by many online bloggers. While the term is heavily used in social media, there has never been any agreement on what it really means or any comprehensive studies examining the potential benefits of a clean eating lifestyle as a whole.

However, the core principles that the big names in this movement champion appear to be: eliminate processed food; reduce salt intake; eat more vegetables; choose whole grains; eliminate refined sugar; reduce alcohol. For some, you also need to be gluten, dairy, and soya free and to eat raw (depending on how militant you are, food has to be entirely uncooked or only mildly heated). And if you want to be completely “clean” you should probably be vegan, too. Quite a list, then.

And there are also some big players online – including Food Babe, who was voted by Time Magazine as one of the 30 most influential people on the internet – who have significantly influenced this trend.

While some of the principles of clean eating are in line with the best available evidence for losing weight or preventing ill health – such as eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, sticking to wholegrains and limiting processed food – there are plenty of others that don’t stand up to scrutiny. It has been repeatedly proven that dietary restrictions such as a dairy-free diet or gluten-free diet are nutritionally substandard and studies have linked the introduction of a gluten-free diet with increased levels of psychological distress in coeliacs including depression and anxiety.

Some people find it difficult to understand why dietitians and doctors are against the clean eating phenomenon when there are still people eating burgers for breakfast and obesity is on the rise. However, some clean eating is sensationalist promotion of non-evidence based, and extremely restrictive, lifestyles that demonise everyday food essentials. And that can lead followers into having a sense of shame and failure for not eliminating “unclean” foods 100% of the time – so you can see where the negativity from healthcare professionals stems from.

There is significant research disproving many of the principles of the diet. Below are some of the big claims and why they don’t stack up.

Clean eating can cure disease

Some clean eating bloggers claim to have cured themselves of diseases. The kinds of medical conditions that clean eating is supposed to cure are often conditions that are not well understood, such as chronic fatigue, which leaves sufferers desperate for a solution. And where there is desperation there is always someone willing to sell help – however unscientific.

One of the big names in clean eating who believes her diet controls her PoTS – where standing up causes a drop in blood supply to the heart and brain and the heart races to compensate – intestinal issues and headaches through her method of a dairy free, gluten free vegan diet is Deliciously Ella. PoTS, however, has no proven link with food except that a higher salt intake is recommended to help keep blood pressure up. Having too little salt in the diet can exacerbate the problem. The reason that Ella is so much better now is much more likely to be age-related as we know that for 80% of sufferers, symptoms disappear between the ages of 19-24. Ella was diagnosed aged 19 in 2011 and has been blogging about diet for four years.

One thing diet may have helped with though is Ella’s gastroinestinal issues. Her method of eating has a diet that is very low in fermentable carbohydrates or FODMAPs which have been robustly proven to be a cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) which affects up to one in five people.

Clean eating makes you happy!

Many of the clean eating bloggers promote themselves as a model of how you could look if you follow their lifestyle. But it is important to remember that it is their job to look the way they do. If you have a full-time job and a busy life, the chances of you cooking every meal from scratch, never having to grab a sandwich from the supermarket for lunch and being able to work out for two hours a day are very slim. If you try to model your life on theirs you are more than likely to end up feeling like a failure because it is simply not realistic.

Interestingly, many clean eating bloggers claim to have been depressed before clean eating. There has been lots of research into dietary treatments for depression by increasing an amino acid called tryptophan which is a precursor for serotonin production in the brain, which in turn influences good mood. To date, no trial has conclusively proven that increasing dietary tryptophan improves serotonin production or depressive symptoms but a diet in line with clean eating actually has the potential to be low in essential amino acids such as tryptophan.

What is more likely is that all the attention and apparent public approval received for losing weight and improving their appearance has temporarily improved their self-worth.

Clean eating is a good way to lose weight

Clean Eating Alice, 23, is another big name in the game. Alice isn’t vegetarian but her diet is very low in carbohydrate. She claims that her diet and exercise regime has immeasurably improved her health and happiness. It was reported that through her version of clean eating and intensive exercise, she dropped 2st 7lb (16kg) and reduced her body fat percentage from 30% to just 15%.

Alice’s reported body fat percentage is concerning. The minimum essential fat for a woman is between 10-13% – we need this amount to maintain our immune system and maintain healthy hormone levels. Many professional athletes will have a body fat percentage of up to 20% with the normal healthy level around 25%. So holding herself up as a realistic and achievable role model is highly misleading.

Clean eating is good for gut health

The Helmsley Sisters were some of the first to bring the clean eating trend to our attention. Their philosophy aims to help people with their digestion and relationship with food, and teach the importance of gut health. Their recipes eliminate gluten, grains and refined sugar (and minimise natural sugars). However, the majority of people tolerate gluten very well – the exceptions are for people with conditions such as coeliac disease – sugar is absorbed so efficiently it has no impact on digestion and grains provide high levels of prebiotics to feed the good bacteria in your gut. The best thing for gut health is a good, balanced diet.

Clean eating prevents ageing

You need protein for that.

Many bloggers state that clean eating will keep you looking youthful. There is some compelling evidence that antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables can prevent premature skin ageing.

You do, however, also need plenty of good quality protein to maintain the integrity of your skin and therefore extreme clean eating could easily undermine the benefits of the antioxidants.

Clean eating will detox your body

Detox diets are all the rage and the clean eating crew all have their own version of a detox diet. Fortunately, no one needs a detox diet because our liver and our kidneys are always already doing this. Everyone would agree that excessive consumption of highly processed food with lots of additives is not a healthy way to eat. However, neither is following a highly restrictive diet for any amount of time and there is certainly no health benefits associated with “detoxing”.

Some clean eaters promote an alkaline diet to prevent excess acidity in the body. Ironically, our stomach acid is only slightly less acidic than battery acid so anything you eat will be immediately placed into a highly acidic environment where the pH is tightly controlled. You cannot manipulate your body’s pH through diet (as the below tweet suggests) and you don’t need to try.

Clean eating makes you healthier

There are even more extreme examples of clean eating out there including Freelee The Banana Girl who promotes a raw vegan diet of 15 bananas, 40 pieces of fruit and a couple of kilograms of potatoes a day. She claims that eating this way has cured her weight issues, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, poor digestion and acne.

It is hard to pin down the most concerning thing about this diet but the fact that Freelee is consuming 6.5 times more potassium than is recommended and encourages others to do so is a big one. She even consumes 30% more potassium than is shown to cause excess potassium in the blood, which can lead to deadly changes in heart rhythm. That said, whether or not she is absorbing any of the nutrients in her food due to the amount of fibre she is taking in is questionable and if her bowel habits are normal and healthy it is a medical miracle.

Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist and there are many quick courses that give a false air of credibility. There are also no regulations around what people can and can’t recommend as being healthy. It should be very hard to maintain a voice of authority in an area in which you are totally unqualified and in a world where your self worth depends on “likes” and “views” and “followers”.

An obsession with clean eating and the shame that is often associated with eating foods considered to be dirty can also lead to mental health issues such as orthorexia, an eating disorder associated with obsessive healthy eating. Emmy Gilmore, clinical director of eating disorders clinic Recover, even suggested in a recent BBC documentary that many UK clean eating bloggers had sought help from her clinic. So rather than watch videos of supposedly physically healthy girls as gospel, it’s better to develop healthy eating habits that come from sound scientific advice and which balance all the nutrients your body needs.

And if you’re seeking professional advice, find a nutritionist with a degree or a registered dietitian – it’s a protected title so you can be certain that the advice you’re given will be scientifically robust.

The Conversation

Sophie Medlin, ‎Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics, King’s College London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Both statins and a Mediterranean-style diet can help ward off heart disease and stroke

If you’ve ever have the misfortune of a heart attack or are considered at risk of heart disease or stroke, your doctor will probably prescribe a statin drug, such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), to lower your blood cholesterol levels.

Recent reports of an Italian study have suggested adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet may actually better protect people from a heart attack or stroke than taking a statin.

Such a claim can’t really be made. To do so, we’d need a trial in which a large number of well-matched participants were randomly given either statins or a Mediterranean-style diet, and followed faithfully to see the comparative results.

Such a trial is unlikely to occur, as withholding medication from people at risk of heart attack or stroke would be regarded as unethical.

But I also suspect ethics committees would be unlikely to recommend anyone avoid following the healthy features of a Mediterranean-style diet, which so many studies have shown to be protective.

Positive points accrue for protective foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Sven Scheuermeier/Unsplash, CC BY

The Italian study and statins

The recent Italian study randomly enrolled more than 25,000 people, about 1,200 of whom reported a prior history of heart attack, stroke or blocked arteries at enrolment. Each person recorded their usual diet over the next seven years. Researchers recorded deaths from any cause.

Participants’ diets were given a score out of nine, based on how many features of a healthy Mediterranean-style diet they followed. Those with higher scores had a 37% lower risk of premature death compared with those with lower scores.

These results were controlled for confounding factors, including age, sex, smoking, exercise, energy intake, waist-to-hip ratio, blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels and diabetes.

The benefits of statins on various levels of heart health have also been extensively researched. A recent randomised controlled trial compared statins with a placebo in 21 countries in 12,705 people who were at higher-than-average risk of heart disease.

Over the more than five years of this study, those on statins had a 23% reduction in heart attack, stroke or heart-related death compared with those on placebo. There were no differences in diabetes or cancers, but those on statins were 20% more likely to have muscle symptoms, such as weakness or pain, and 18% more likely to have cataract surgery.

Adding nuts to the Mediterranean diet scores more points.

The Mediterranean-style diet

There is no one Mediterranean diet, nor does every Mediterranean country have a diet that ticks every healthy box. However, dozens of studies have defined the features of what makes a Mediterranean dietary pattern healthy.

Primarily, the diet needs to be based on whole or minimally processed foods. Positive points accrue for protective foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, wholegrains, fish, olive oil and modest amounts of alcohol consumed with meals. High intakes of red and processed meats, sugary foods and drinks, refined grain products and fast foods all score negative points.

The benefits of certain Mediterranean diets were first publicised in the 1960s. Researchers found that rates of death from heart disease were three times higher in Northern European countries (top score to Finland) compared with four groups studied in Southern Europe.

These studies have continued for 40 to 50 years, along with others noting changes in populations as well as how eating patterns affect heart disease rates in different areas of Italy.

During the 1990s, the Lyon Heart Study began. This was a long-term study designed for participants who had already had a heart attack. It produced results so favourable for the benefits of Mediterranean eating patterns compared with the standard diet advice usually given that it was stopped early. Results four years later confirmed the original benefits of the Mediterranean eating pattern.

Adding extra olive oil to the Mediterranean diet has extra health benefits.

Even more dramatic results were claimed from the HALE study in Europe. Conducted between 1988 and 2000, the trial involved 2,340 older men and women in 11 European countries.

Those who followed a Mediterranean-style diet and a generally healthy lifestyle – no smoking, moderate alcohol intake and regular physical activity – had more than a 50% lower rate of death from any cause.

A more recent trial in Spain of people who had not had a heart attack but were considered at high risk has confirmed the value of a Mediterranean eating pattern.

One-third of its 7,500 participants were asked to follow a Mediterranean eating pattern and add extra olive oil; another third followed the same basic diet but were given extra tree nuts. The remaining third were asked to follow a low-fat diet, although this section of the study failed as the participants barely changed their fat intake.

The study found adding extra olive oil or nuts to the basic Mediterranean eating style conferred many benefits for heart health. This study also showed that the higher the intake of saturated fat in each group, the worse the results.

Whether the Mediterranean diet can outdo statins may be up for debate. However, there’s no doubting the strong evidence for a Mediterranean eating pattern for everyone. Even for those on statins, a healthy Mediterranean eating pattern has been shown to bring extra benefits.

The Conversation

Rosemary Stanton, Nutritionist & Visiting Fellow, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

China suspends licence of Australian dairy processor

China has suspended the licence of the Camperdown Dairy Company, claiming the company’s products contain harmful bacteria.

The AFR reports that Chinese authorities claim traces of E.coli and staphylococcus bacteria were present in shipments of Camperdown’s fresh milk.

On top of the action taken against the company, Beijing has increased supervision of all dairy products coming into the country from Australia.

Camperdown Dairy General manager, Chris Melville denied the claim.

“If that type of bacteria had been found in our milk we would have been informed straight away and this is the first I’m hearing about it,” he told the AFR.

“We have test results to prove it is not true.”

Camperdown and its parent company has been on something of a high since July when Woolworths awarded Camperdown the right to supply milk to over 220 of its stores in Victoria.

At the time, the company’s management estimated the deal would help it double production.

Carbohydrate research centre established in SA

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.”

Science or Snake Oil: is A2 milk better for you than regular cow’s milk?

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.

The A1 protein produces beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7), which has been shown to alter gastrointestinal function (slowing down bowel movements from stomach to anus) and increase inflammation in the gut in animal studies.

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.

The Conversation

Nicholas Fuller, Research Fellow, Clinical Trials Development & Analysis, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Supermarket toddler meals too salty – study

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.”

After Dark series – USQ experts share insights into food and wine

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.

 ‘Slimtember’ raising money for kids with Type 1 Diabetes

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 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.


From plate to podium: what does it take to fuel Olympic athletes?

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.

Eating right

In endurance sports, such as marathon, triathlon, road cycling and the longer distances in swimming, the amount of training and competition can result in estimated energy requirements in excess of 20 MJ/day.

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?

As the food at the London 2012 Games shows, there’s usually a focus on the style of eating from the host country.
REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

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.

Olympic village dining facilities can cater for between 4,000 and 5,000 people in one seating.
REUTERS/David Gray

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.

Sports dietitians work with Olympic caterers to ensure the menu accommodates all kinds of diets and can guide athletes with their food choices in the dining hall.

The Conversation

Helen O’Connor, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition, University of Sydney; Fiona Pelly, Associate Professor and Discipline Leader Nutrition and Dietics, University of the Sunshine Coast, and Janelle Gifford, Lecturer in Sports and Public Health Nutrition, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Does burnt food give you cancer?

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.

Acrylamide is found in cooked carbohydrate-rich food.

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.

Meaty concerns

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.

The Conversation

Simon Cotton, Senior Lecturer in Chemistry, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Half of ‘natural’ foods unhealthy: report

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.

Researchers develop rapid food safety test

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).

Researchers propose new model for human nutrition

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.”

Investigation into possible Salmonella link with rockmelon

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.

Female foodies have a bone to pick with women about osteoporosis

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.”

Benefits of drinking coffee outweigh risks – study

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.

Smoothies as talismans: the allure of superfoods and the dangers of nutritional primitivism

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 you should be eating, 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.


Nutritional primitivism

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.

The Conversation

Jessica Loyer, PhD Candidate in Humanities, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Home-cooked meals not always better for babies and young children

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.”