New Evidence for BPA and Obesity? Not so fast!

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 [1]. 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 [2]. 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).

That’s it?

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 [2], 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.

[1] 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.

[2] 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 Conversation

Ian Musgrave, Senior lecturer in Pharmacology, University of Adelaide

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

Why public health worries don’t have to ruin your cookie dough

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?

Even a milk shake with dough gets the nix.


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.”

Not surprisingly, this story got picked up by many news outlets. What was interesting about these stories, however, was not their content but their negative tone. For example, The New York Times stated “F.D.A. Ruins Raw Cookie Dough for Everybody.” Another example: InStyle’s article was titled, “Buzzkill Alert: Don’t Eat Raw Cookie Dough.“ The first line of the article reads, “Don’t shoot the messenger.”

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

A rare burger comes with risk on the side.


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.

The Conversation

Brian Zikmund-Fisher, Associate Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education, Interim Co-Director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, University of Michigan

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


Top image:

Unhealthy sport sponsorship continues to target kids

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.

Sponsorship doesn’t just mean a logo on the website, but naming rights and equipment.
John Wardle/Flickr, CC BY

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.

The Conversation

Kathy Chapman, PhD candidate in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Sydney and Bridget Kelly, Senior Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition, University of Wollongong

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

Top image: Flickr/#sung-min, CC BY-SA

Health Check: which fruits are healthier, and in what form?

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.

Eating fruits regularly helps to prevent major diseases such as heart diseases, certain cancers, diabetes and obesity. It can also improve brain health.

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.

Australians eating inadequate fruit and vegetables.
ABS 2013. Australian Health Survey: Updated Results, 2011–12. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.003. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics., Author provided

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.

We can’t properly digest unripe bananas.
Lotte Lohr/Unsplash, CC BY

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.

Fruit juices can contain a lot of sugar, and some even contain added sugar too., CC BY

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.

The Conversation

Senaka Ranadheera, Early Career Research Fellow, Advanced Food Systems Research Unit, College of Health and Biomedicine, Victoria University; Duane Mellor, Associate Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Canberra, and Nenad Naumovski, Asistant Professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Canberra

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

Scientists develop food supplement that cuts junk food cravings [VIDEO]

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.

Too much salt and sugar and not enough exercise – why Australians’ health is lagging

The report card is in. The results are not good. Almost three in four Australian children consume too much sugar, 91.5% of young people do not meet physical activity recommendations, and Australians are among the most obese people in the world.

Today we released Australia’s Health Tracker. It shows how Australia’s health is tracking in terms of preventable chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and their most common risk factors.

Australia’s Health Tracker uses health targets and indicators set by a collaboration of the nation’s leading health researchers to help Australians reach the World Health Organisation’s 2025 targets to improve health around the globe.

One in two Australians have a chronic disease and those on a low income are disproportionately affected. But, crucially, one-third of the disease burden is preventable.

How are we tracking?

Unhealthy lifestyles during childhood lead to chronic diseases later in life. So it’s concerning that one in four Australian children are overweight or obese. More than 70% don’t meet physical activity recommendations. And junk food contributes too much (39.4% on average) to their daily energy requirements.

To keep children healthy, Australia has national recommendations that those aged five to 17 do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

Junk foods (high in kilojoules, saturated fat, added sugars and salt) should be eaten only sometimes and in small amounts. International guidelines recommend that added sugar should make up a maximum of 10% of energy consumed.

For young people, the proportion aged 12-17 who smoke daily is relatively low (1.2%). But that increases to 4% of 15- to 17-year-olds.

As well, around 6% of young people binge drink. The most recent data show slightly higher numbers of women attending emergency departments for alcohol-related presentations than in the past (7.5 per 1,000, up from 6.7 per 1,000).

On average, Australian adults consume 62% above the recommended daily intake of salt. High salt consumption contributes to the development of high blood pressure and is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Unsurprisingly then, Australia’s Health Tracker shows that more than four million adults have high blood pressure and one in three have high cholesterol.

As a nation, we’re not on track to reach the 2025 adult targets relevant to mental health, obesity, diabetes and blood pressure.

Australia’s Health Tracker 2016
Australian Health Policy Collaboration

The good news is that public health efforts to reduce risky alcohol consumption and smoking in adults are working.

And Australians are heeding advice to participate in screening programs for breast and bowel cancers. We are well on track to meet our target of 41% of Australians participating in bowel cancer screening (currently 36%) and 54% of women participating in breast cancer screening (currently 53.7%).

What about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders?

Indigenous children and young people are more active than their non-Indigenous peers; 59.5% of children and 34.8% of young people meet the physical activity recommendations. However, Indigenous people aged 15-17 years are 4.5 times more likely to smoke daily than non-Indigenous young people.

The latest data on Indigenous adults shows that:

  • 71.4% are overweight or obese;
  • one in five have high blood pressure;
  • one in four have high cholesterol;
  • almost 40% smoke daily.

Australia’s Health Tracker and The Lancet-Lowitja Institute report card, released in April, highlight the significant work required to close the gap.

A healthier Australia by 2025

Investment in preventive health in Australia in 2013-14 was 1.5% of the national total recurrent health expenditure. This is much lower than investment levels in New Zealand (6.4%), Finland (6.1%) and Canada (5.9%).

Australia’s Health Tracker shows the urgent need for active and effective public health policies and services to improve the health of all Australians. A national collaboration of health organisations and experts has endorsed the report card and urges all Australian governments to commit to substantial and collaborative investment and action.

Governments have significant opportunities to improve Australians’ health by:

  • implementing national, standardised salt limits in bread, margarine and cereals;
  • better regulating food marketing to reduce the consumption of sugar and junk foods;
  • promoting and supporting physical activity in schools, workplaces and communities to help to get us active;
  • continuing efforts in tobacco control.

Policies should focus on low-income and Indigenous populations who are at greater risk.

If you’re worried about your risk of chronic disease and want to make changes to your lifestyle, talk to your doctor, or seek out information and help on:

  • buying and eating healthier foods;
  • increasing your levels of physical activity;
  • participating in cancer screening programs;
  • protecting yourself from the sun;
  • drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day.

Australians can have a healthier future. Governments can and must do more to provide healthier food and healthier environments, and act early on risks for poor health and chronic disease.

The Conversation

Rebecca Lindberg, Research Coordinator, Victoria University; Maximilian de Courten, Professor in Global Public Health, Victoria University, and Rosemary Calder, Director, Health Policy, Victoria University

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

Health Check: is caffeine actually bad for kids?

A recent article in The Guardian said coffee stunting kids’ growth is just a myth promoted by 19th-century manufacturers of a coffee substitute.

So does this mean the long-thought wisdom that coffee is bad for kids is a lie?

Caffeine and diet

Kids normally need a lot of extra nutrition during their adolescent growth spurt, and you might expect the appetite-suppressing effect of caffeine to result in poorer dietary intake and reduced growth.

However, data from the Penn State Young Women’s Health Study indicated growth in teenage girls did not appear to be affected by their caffeine intake – there was no correlation at all.

The girls with the lowest caffeine intakes did have better diets, though, eating less sugar and more fruit and dairy foods. And this may show what the main problem is with kids and caffeine: its association with factors that affect health in other ways.

Caffeine and tooth decay

American data from nationwide health audits indicate that nearly three-quarters of US children consume caffeine, with the most common source being soft drinks (including energy drinks).

Apart from the caffeine content, these sugary drinks – in fact any carbonated drinks – are high in tooth-damaging acid. Compared to adults, kids are more vulnerable to tooth decay as their saliva is less effective at rinsing the teeth and their tooth enamel is softer.

Children’s teeth are more susceptible to decay.
Arindam Bhattacharya/Flickr, CC BY


Another problem is that caffeine-containing soft drinks, iced tea products and Starbucks-style cream-laden coffee drinks are a concentrated source of extra calories in the diet, and their liquid form means our bodies aren’t good at judging when we have had enough.

This makes them a poor choice of drink if there is concern about risk of obesity, and the addictive caffeine in them can make it a harder habit to break.

Sleeping patterns

But what about a weak milky cup of coffee, tea or cocoa, without sugar? While these don’t pose the same nutritional problems, the caffeine might still have an impact on kids’ health by affecting their sleep patterns.

Kids need a lot of sleep. The Australian Sleep Health Foundation recommends up to 11 hours per night for children, or eight to ten hours for teenagers.

It’s hard for teens to get the amount of sleep they need, because they are naturally “night people”. If normal school and work hours require them to be up by seven or eight in the morning it is then important for them to be asleep by ten – something they will often find difficult. It is even harder if they consume caffeine.

Kids will be more affected by caffeine which might affect their sleep.
Jessica Lucia/Flickr, CC BY

Even an early afternoon coffee could have an effect because it can last in the body for up to eight hours, and kids are affected by much smaller caffeine doses because of their smaller body size.

And just as for adults, caffeine can cause anxiety, nausea and headache, as well as affecting heart rhythm in susceptible people.

In one study in children, even one milligram of caffeine per kilogram of body weight caused significant changes in blood pressure and heart rate, as well as nausea in many of the participants.

An average Australian eight-year-old girl weighs about 25 kilograms, and that dose would be equivalent to a cup of tea or five squares of chocolate, or half a weak cappuccino.

Small amounts

But, as previously pointed out, there are also some well-documented health benefits associated with a low-to-moderate intake of coffee – potentially a reduced risk of dementia, depression, diabetes and cancer.

And caffeine-boosted alertness, concentration and mood can be beneficial for children as well as adults, as long as the dose is low enough to avoid unwanted side-effects and addiction. Just note – for kids, that dose is a lot lower than you might have thought.

The Conversation

Suzie Ferrie, Clinical Affiliate, University of Sydney

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

Top image: Jack Fussell/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Research suggests eating grains does not contribute to excess weight

New research challenges the long-standing belief that grains contribute to excess weight, and suggests they are more beneficial than Australians think – for our BMI, our waistlines and our fibre intakes.

An analysis of national ABS data of 9,3411 Australian adults found that eating core grain foods was not linked to the size of your waistline. This is despite 42 per cent of Australians reporting that they limit grain foods to assist with weight loss.

The analysis of the 2011-12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey commissioned by the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) will be unveiled today at an industry Grains for Health Forum in Sydney, hosted by GLNC.

The data reveals that people who eat six or more serves of core grain foods each day, including bread and pasta, have a similar waistline and Body Mass Index (BMI) as people who restrict their intake of grain foods.

Six serves of core grain foods a day, which is the recommendation for Australian adults aged 19 to 50 years, is as easy as a bowl of high fibre breakfast cereal in the morning, a wholemeal sandwich for lunch and a stir-fry with rice for dinner.

Chris Cashman, GLNC Nutrition Program Manager and Accredited Practising Dietitian, said core grain foods are increasingly being viewed as non-essential due to misconceptions that they make people overweight and have minimum nutritional value.

“Grains don’t deserve the bad rap they often get as a result of fad diet trends,” Mr Cashman said.

“In fact, a recent comprehensive audit of all grains on the shelf has confirmed that the vast majority (95 per cent) of white and wholemeal breads are low in sugar – less than 5g per 100g, which equals about one teaspoon; while 81 per cent of loaf breads are a source of plant-based protein and 88 per cent of breakfast cereals are a source of fibre.”

The 2015-2016 Product Audit4, commissioned by GLNC, involved a systematic analysis of 1,890 grain foods, including bread (253 loaves), breakfast cereals (420), as well as pasta, noodles and rice.

How do food manufacturers pick those dates on their product packaging – and what do they mean?

No one wants to serve spoiled food to their families. Conversely, consumers don’t want to throw food away unnecessarily – but we certainly do. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates Americans toss out the equivalent of US$162 billion in food every year, at the retail and consumer levels. Plenty of that food is discarded while still safe to eat.

Part of these losses are due to consumers being confused about the “use-by” and “best before” dates on food packaging. Most U.S. consumers report checking the date before purchasing or consuming a product, even though we don’t seem to have a very good sense of what the dates are telling us. “Sell by,” “best if used by,” “use by” – they all mean different things. Contrary to popular impression, the current system of food product dating isn’t really designed to help us figure out when something from the fridge has passed the line from edible to inedible.

For now, food companies are not required to use a uniform system to determine which type of date to list on their food product, how to determine the date to list or even if they need to list a date on their product at all. The Food Date Labeling Act of 2016, now before Congress, aims to improve the situation by clearly distinguishing between foods that may be past their peak but still ok to eat and foods that are unsafe to consume.

Aside from the labeling issues, how are these dates even generated? Food producers, particularly small-scale companies just entering the food business, often have a difficult time knowing what dates to put on their items. But manufacturers have a few ways – both art and science – to figure out how long their foods will be safe to eat.

Dates can be about rotating product, not necessarily when it’s safe to eat the food.
MdAgDept, CC BY

Consumer confusion

One study estimated 20 percent of food wasted in U.K. households is due to misinterpretation of date labels. Extending the same estimate to the U.S., the average household of four is losing $275-455 per year on needlessly trashed food.

Out of a mistaken concern for food safety, 91 percent of consumers occasionally throw food away based on the “sell by” date – which isn’t really about product safety at all. “Sell by” dates are actually meant to let stores know how to rotate their stock.

A survey conducted by the Food Marketing Institute in 2011 found that among their actions to keep food safe, 37 percent of consumers reported discarding food “every time” it’s past the “use by” date – even though the date only denotes “peak quality” as determined by the manufacturer.

The most we can get from the dates currently listed on food products is a general idea of how long that particular item has been in the marketplace. They don’t tell consumers when the product shifts from being safe to not safe.

Here’s how producers come up with those dates in the first place.

Figuring out when food’s gone foul

A lot of factors determine the usable life of a food product, both in terms of safety and quality. What generally helps foods last longer? Lower moisture content, higher acidity, higher sugar or salt content. Producers can also heat-treat or irradiate foods, use other processing methods or add preservatives such as benzoates to help products maintain their safety and freshness longer.

But no matter the ingredients, additives or treatments, no food lasts forever. Companies need to determine the safe shelf life of a product.

Larger food companies may conduct microbial challenge studies on food products. Researchers add a pathogenic (one that could make people sick) microorganism that’s a concern for that specific product. For example, they could add Listeria moncytogenes to refrigerated packaged deli meats. This bacterium causes listeriosis, a serious infection of particular concern for pregnant women, older adults and young children.

The researchers then store the contaminated food in conditions it’s likely to experience in transportation, in storage, at the store, and in consumers’ homes. They’re thinking about temperature, rough handling and so on.

Every harmful microorganism has a different infective dose, or amount of that organism that would make people sick. After various lengths of storage time, the researchers test the product to determine at what point the level of microorganisms present would likely be too high for safety.

Based on the shelf life determined in a challenge study, the company can then label the product with a “use by” date that would ensure people would consume the product long before it’s no longer safe. Companies usually set the date at least several days earlier than product testing indicated the product will no longer be safe. But there’s no standard for the length of this “safety margin”, it’s set at the manufacturer’s discretion.

Do you even know what the manufacturer meant by this date?
Sascha Grant, CC BY-NC-ND

Another option for food companies is to use mathematical modeling tools that have been developed based on the results of numerous earlier challenge studies. The company can enter information such as the specific type of product, moisture content and acidity level, and expected storage temperatures into a “calculator.” Out comes an estimate of the length of time the product should still be safe under those conditions.

Companies may also perform what’s called a static test. They store their product for an extended period of time under typical conditions the product may face in transport, in storage, at the store, and in consumer homes. This time they don’t add any additional microorganisms.

They just sample the product periodically to check it for safety and quality, including physical, chemical, microbiological, and sensory (taste and smell) changes. When the company has established the longest possible time the product could be stored for safety and quality, they will label the product with a date that is quite a bit earlier to be sure it’s consumed long before it is no longer safe or of the best quality.

Companies may also store the product in special storage chambers which control the temperature, oxygen concentration, and other factors to speed up its deterioration so the estimated shelf life can be determined more quickly (called accelerated testing). Based on the conditions used for testing, the company would then calculate the actual shelf life based on formulas using the estimated shelf life from the rapid testing.

Smaller companies may list a date on their product based on the length of shelf life they have estimated their competitors are using, or they may use reference materials or ask food safety experts for advice on the date to list on their product.

Sometimes it’s an obvious call.
Steven Depolo, CC BY

Even the best dates are only guidelines

Consumers themselves hold a big part of food safety in their own hands. They need to handle food safely after they purchase it, including storing foods under sanitary conditions and at the proper temperature. For instance, don’t allow food that should be refrigerated to be above 40℉ for more than two hours.

If a product has a use-by date on the package, consumers should follow that date to determine when to use or freeze it. If it has a “sell-by” or no date on the package, consumers should follow storage time recommendations for foods kept in the refrigerator or freezer and cupboard.

And use your common sense. If something has visible mold, off odors, the can is bulging or other similar signs, this spoilage could indicate the presence of dangerous microorganisms. In such cases, use the “If in doubt, throw it out” rule. Even something that looks and smells normal can potentially be unsafe to eat, no matter what the label says.

The Conversation

Londa Nwadike, Assistant Professor of Food Safety, Extension Food Safety Specialist at University of Missouri, Kansas State University

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

ACCC takes action against Heinz over ‘healthy’ toddler food

The consumer watchdog is taking action against Heinz for claiming a food which contains 60 per cent sugar is good for toddlers.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has commenced proceedings in the Federal Court against Heinz in relation to its Little Kids Shredz products.

The Shredz products’ packaging features prominent images of fresh fruit and vegetables and statements such as ‘99% fruit and veg’ and ‘Our range of snacks and meals encourages your toddler to independently discover the delicious taste of nutritious food’.

The ACCC alleges that these images and statements represent to consumers that the products are of equivalent nutritional value to fruit and vegetables and are a healthy and nutritious food for children aged one to three years, when this is not the case.

“The ACCC has brought these proceedings because it alleges that Heinz is marketing these products as healthy options for young children when they are not. These products contain over 60 per cent sugar, which is significantly higher than that of natural fruit and vegetables – for example, an apple contains approximately 10 per cent sugar,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, corrective notices and costs.


Does Australia need a sugar tax?

The British Government’s recent decision to combat the rising incidence of obesity in the UK by introducing a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks has stimulated debate about whether a similar tax should be introduced in Australia. Hartley Henderson investigates.

But is a tax an appropriate way to address the issue of overweight and obesity in Australia? Or is more education and better labelling needed, and should more be done by the beverage industry sector to reduce the amount of sugar added to non-alcoholic beverages?

The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) points out that in Australia two thirds of adults and one quarter of children are overweight or obese, that sugary drinks are a major contributor to this, and that they are a risk factor for overweight and obesity, which can increase the risk of many common diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

According to the OPC’s Executive Manager, Jane Martin, the introduction of a levy of 20 percent on the retail price of sugary drinks is recommended by the World Health Organisation as a key policy to address overweight and obesity, particularly in children.

“Added sugar is a key contributor to overweight and obesity and sugary drinks are by far the largest contributor of added sugar in Australian diets,” she told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“Increasing the price of sugary drinks in Australia has the potential to reduce consumption by around 12 percent, putting downward pressure on weight gain and thereby preventing disease and premature death.

“While education around a healthy diet is important, a single intervention in isolation cannot be expected to have a substantial effect on overweight and obesity rates. That is why it is important to have a national healthy weight strategy which includes a range of elements to support healthy eating.

“This should align with recommendations from the World Health Organisation including a tax on sugary drinks, tough restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy food to children, making healthier food available in settings such as hospitals, as well as supporting the widespread adoption of clear food and drink labelling to support healthier choices. This will work to help make the healthy choice the easy choice for Australians.”

Martin believes the nutrition information panel on sugary drinks can be difficult for people to understand and interpret.

“Some health advocates have suggested that icons like teaspoons be used to more clearly represent the amount of sugar in products like soft drinks. The public is interested in how much sugar there is in food and drinks, so this could be a way of helping them better understand how much sugar packaged food and drinks contain,” she said.

“Some work has been done around reformulation and we have seen Coca Cola and Pepsi low sugar cola options and smaller can sizes. However, these tend to be more expensive per 100ml and not as widely available or heavily promoted as their high-sugar products.”

Education not enough

Dr Lennert Veerman from the University of Queensland’s School of Public Health says the current policy of informing people about healthy diets combined with diet and exercise interventions for people with overweight or obesity has failed to slim Australia down.

“It is time to step up the efforts to combat obesity, and a tax on sugary drinks is one promising way to do this. Sugary drinks add calories but no nutrients, and because they don’t contribute to satiety, those calories are ‘extra’,” he told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“There is strong evidence that links consumption of sugary drinks to weight gain and obesity. We also know from studies in Australia and around the world that as prices go up, consumption goes down. The example of Mexico shows that this is no different for a tax on sugary drinks.

“In sum, the evidence is pretty strong that such a levy on sugary drinks would have a beneficial health impact in Australia. Our own findings suggest, for instance, that a levy that increases the price of sugary drinks by 20 percent is likely to prevent 800 new cases of diabetes per year.”

Lennert believes that educating people about a healthy diet is important but not enough, and that it is useful to draw a parallel with tobacco policy.

“Telling people to stop smoking was a start, but not very effective. What brought smoking rates down was a combination of information, help lines, smoking restrictions, advertising bans, and taxes. It looks like we are going to need a similar approach with sugary drinks to reduce obesity rates,” he said.

Tax ineffective

However, Geoff Parker CEO of the Australian Beverages Council claims a soft drinks tax will not solve the obesity problem as soft drinks contribute just 1.7 per cent of the daily intake of kilojoules for Australian adults.

“There is still no evidence globally that soft drink has any impact on obesity rates. In fact, European countries like Denmark have introduced and subsequently repealed a ‘fat tax’ within 18 months due to its blatant ineffectiveness. When introduced in Mexico, the tax only reduced dietary intake by 6 calories,” he told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“Whilst theoretical modelling might point to taxes as a solution, in reality these punitive measures are ineffective, inefficient and unfair for a number of reasons.

“On the other hand, there certainly is a need to increase education. A 2014 national poll of 2,136 Australians found that unequivocally, people saw education programs about a healthy diet and physical activity as the most effective way to address overweight and obesity, and the most supported.

“On a scale of nine options to address the problem, respondents ranked nutritional information on labels (2nd) and vending machines (3rd) as the next most effective and supported options. Those measures to address overweight and obesity viewed as the least effective and least supported were a tax on soft drinks (8th out of 9) and restrictions by government on where parents can give their children soft drinks (9th out of 9).

“The non-alcoholic beverages industry has always been committed to ensuring that consumers are provided with high quality, safe and appropriately labelled products. Launched in 2006, the Daily Intake Guide (DIG) was introduced to ensure the energy (kilojoule) content of our beverages is clearly visible for consumers to compare products at the supermarket shelf and therefore make more informed choices.

“In 2014, the Health Star Rating system was developed by the Australian, state and territory governments in collaboration with industry, public health and consumer groups. The energy-only declaration for beverages as part of the new labelling system is slowly replacing the original DIG which the beverages industry voluntarily introduced in 2006.”

Parker said the industry is continuously developing new low and mid-level sugar-sweetened beverages to offer the consumer alternatives to regular kilojoule beverages.

“The industry is working closely with suppliers of various natural sweeteners to decrease the sugar content without altering the taste. In addition to offering more low sugar alternatives, the industry is also working on decreasing the serving sizes,” he said.

New food labels should go further than country of origin

Australia’s new country of origin food labelling laws come into effect on July 1, 2016. The new labels will indicate if food is grown or made in Australia and the proportion of Australian ingredients.

The government has justified the new laws on the basis of the consumer’s right to know where their food is grown and processed. The immediate event that led to the current laws was public concern over the safety of imported frozen berries. The new labels will make it clearer where food is produced, grown, made and packed.

Why stop at country of origin?

Our food choices have far greater consequences than simply where our food is grown and processed. Our everyday food choices have a significant influence on our health and environmental footprint, as well as on ethical issues associated with how food is produced.

So why stop at country of origin? Consumers also have a right to information on the environmental impacts and ethical consequences of their food choices.

The Australian experience suggests while food labels may be necessary, they are not sufficient to ensure healthy eating. Despite existing dietary guidelines, food labels and healthy eating campaigns, Australia has a high and growing percentage of obese and overweight people.

We consume far too few serves of whole fruit and vegetables, and far too many discretionary foods (“treats” that aren’t nutritious). Already there are a plethora of food labels making health claims, but as the Heart Foundation Tick controversy (where fast food outlets were able to use the Heart Foundation Tick) made clear, there remains the need for government oversight and auditing of claims.

The heart foundation tick was retired after some questionable foods were given approval.
Screen Shot

Globally, there is growing interest in the concept of sustainable diets, which combine healthy diets with reduced environmental impacts. Small shifts in our diet can accumulate large benefits for public health and for the health of the planet.

Although still at an early stage, there is emerging consensus on what constitutes a sustainable diet including increasing vegetable and pulse consumption, reducing consumption of highly processed food, moderating meat consumption – particularly processed meat – and minimising food waste.

The question of whether or not dietary guidelines should consider environmental criteria remains contentious. For example, not all members of society would necessarily benefit from a reduction in red meat consumption, but for those consuming quantities of red meat above the Australian Dietary Guidelines, a reduction would have both health and greenhouse gas emissions reduction benefits.

A less contentious intervention would be to target a reduction in consumption of discretionary foods. These contribute to excessive energy intake and also contribute to dietary greenhouse gas emissions while offering little nutritional value. Any moderation of their consumption from the current 36% of energy intake for the average Australian, would result in public health and environmental benefits.

The European Commission is already well down the path of implementing a voluntary environmental labelling system known as the Product Environmental Footprint. Several of the pilot studies have involved food and grocery products.

What makes a good food label?

Food labels are most effective in “nudging” behaviour at the point of purchase. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to comprehend a complicated message, so the label needs to be clear, quickly recognisable and unambiguous.

The new country of origin food labels score well on this criteria.

Food labels need to be easily understood at a quick glance.

Another effective scheme is the Red Tractor food label used in the UK that provides consumers with assurance that specific guidelines for animal welfare, food safety, food sustainability and traceability have been observed during production and processing.

Consumers need to have confidence in the label, trust in the authority behind it, and belief that it represents their best interests.

The arguments for greater scope in food labelling include:

  • the consumer has a right to know the environmental and ethical consequences of their food choices
  • environmental labelling could support more sustainable food consumption and production, making a significant contribution to mitigation of climate change. This can be seen as an extension of water and energy efficiency labelling schemes, which are mandatory for many home appliances
  • a nationally coordinated food labelling scheme could protect consumers from spurious or misleading claims if surveilled by a legislated authority such as the ACCC
  • Australian food exports would be appropriate for international markets.

The arguments against greater scope in food labelling include:

  • greater compliance costs and complexity for industry, especially smaller businesses, and greater administration costs for taxpayers
  • environmental imperatives must not lead to negative health outcomes for people.

Where to next for food labelling?

Perhaps it is inevitable there will be an increase in food labelling in Australia. As labelled products from other countries enter Australia, local consumers will begin to question why we don’t have similar schemes.

Our food exporting sector will also be increasingly exposed to expectations from supply chain partners and retailers in destination countries.

The Conversation

Bill Bellotti, Professor and Director Food Systems Program, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland and Brad Ridoutt, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO Agriculture, CSIRO

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

Study suggests cranberries can decrease UTIs

Today leading experts on infectious disease and urinary tract infections (UTIs) will gather in London to discuss the alarming state of antibiotic resistance and present findings from a landmark study that conclusively shows that cranberries can be a nutritional approach to reducing symptomatic UTIs, and as a result, may be a useful strategy to decrease worldwide use of antibiotics.

According to the study, recently published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, drinking an 240 ml glass of cranberry juice a day reduces symptomatic UTIs by nearly 40 percent in women with recurrent UTIs – reducing the burden of UTIs and reducing the antibiotic use associated with treating recurrent UTIs.

“Currently the primary approach to reducing symptomatic events of UTI is the use of chronic antibiotics for suppression, an approach associated with side effects and development of antibiotic resistance. This study shows that consuming one 8-ounce (240 ml) glass of cranberry juice a day reduces the number of times women suffer from repeat episodes of symptomatic UTI and avoids chronic suppressive antibiotics,” said Dr. Kalpana Gupta, infectious disease specialist and Professor of Medicine at Boston University’s School of Medicine.

An author on the study and panelist at today’s session, Dr. Gupta believes that cranberries can help to reduce the worldwide use of antibiotics and significantly improve the quality of life for women who suffer from recurrent UTI symptoms.


Ingredion obtains health claim for hi-maize resistant starch

Ingredion has obtained a General Level Digestive Health Claim for Hi-Maize resistant starch from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

HI-MAIZE resistant starch is a proprietary type of natural fibre made from corn, manufactured and marketed by Ingredion globally. The unique appeal of the starch is that it is an invisible, ‘white fibre’.

This makes it particularly suitable for products like white breads, flat breads and pasta, popular consumer drinks such as fruit smoothies and protein shakes, helping consumers to eat more fibre without compromising taste and helping close the gap in fibre consumption.

The claim dossier, prepared collaboratively between Ingredion and an external consultant, proposed a claim stating that ‘Resistant Starch 2 (RS2) helps to maintain/support a healthy digestive system when consumed as part of a healthy diet made up of a variety of foods’.

Many public health authorities including the World Health Organisation, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, European Food Safety Authority and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recognise the benefits of resistant starch for digestive health. More than 80 published clinical studies show the compelling health advantages of natural Hi-Maize resistant starch made from high amylose corn.


Victorians don’t know how much salt they’re eating: survey

A survey of over 800 Victorians has shown that most still don’t understand the dangerous levels of salt being consumed, with over two-thirds claiming that they eat less or about the right amount of salt, but many unable to correctly identify high salt foods.

The survey results come as the Heart Foundation and VicHealth launch their “Don’t Trust Your Taste Buds” campaign to urge Victorians to trust the label and not their taste buds when it comes to identifying hidden salt in processed foods.

Heart Foundation Victoria Chief Executive Officer Diana Heggie said the results from the survey showed that the campaign was urgently needed to help get the message out to Victorians.

“The World Health Organization recommends a maximum daily limit of 5g of salt each day for adults and 3g for children, but Victorian adults are consuming almost twice the upper limit,” Heggie said.

“High salt consumption increases the risk of high blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease including heart attack, stroke, kidney and blood vessel disease. Disturbingly, one in 20 deaths in Victoria is attributable to high salt intake – that’s six times the annual road toll.

“About 75 per cent of salt in our diets comes from processed foods. Salt is hiding in the everyday foods we eat and even the most discerning taste buds often won’t be able to taste it.”

This was reinforced when survey participants were asked to rank food products in order of salt content and on average only a quarter were able to correctly identify the food product with the highest salt content across the four food ranking tests.

Results of one question in the survey showed only 16 per cent of respondents were able to identify a serve of cornflakes and milk as having the highest salt content when compared to a 30g serve of popcorn, three chocolate and cream biscuits and 14 rice crackers.

Food promoted by music stars usually unhealthy – study

Most food products promoted by music celebrities like Beyonce, Katy Perry or Snoop Dogg are unhealthy, according to a new study.

A study in the July 2016 Pediatrics examines the food industry’s use of music celebrities to endorse sugary soft drinks and nutrient-poor foods through multi-million-dollar campaigns. Results also demonstrated that these celebrities are highly popular among teenage audiences.

The study, “Popular Music Celebrity Endorsements in Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverage Marketing,” assessed 163 celebrities associated with the 2013 and 2014 Billboard Hot 100 chart, and found 65 entertainers who had one or more food and beverage endorsements between 2000 and 2014.

The study, to be released online June 6, also looked at the nutritional value of endorsed products, and found 81 percent were unhealthy, according to the Nutrient Profile Index.

The healthiest product endorsed was pistachios, but no celebrities endorsed fruits, vegetables, or whole grains. Seventy-one percent of the non-alcoholic beverage endorsements were for sugar-sweetened beverages, with only three endorsements for water or a water-related product, such as a filter.

The food and beverage industry spends $2 billion annually on youth-targeted advertisements. Public health experts have expressed concern over the marketing techniques aimed at teens, and have called for messages that encourage consumption of healthy foods and beverages.

‘Cold-pressed raw milk’ to be sold in NSW

Sydney company Made by Cow will this week start selling unpasteurised milk that has undergone a high water pressure treatment to kill harmful bacteria within it.

The SMH reports that the company has obtained the approval of the NSW Food Authority to start selling the product.

The Authority said in statement it had approved HPP as an alternative to heat pasteurisation for killing harmful bacteria in milk, though it added that it did not endorse any products.

According to the company’s founder Saxon Joye, the product is sourced from one herd of jersey cattle.

“Good herd management, hygienic milking techniques and the cold pressure method have meant we can put 100 per cent safe, raw milk onto supermarket shelves,” he told the SMH.

“The bottles of milk are placed under enormous water pressure, squashed in about 15 per cent, to remove the harmful micro-organisms.”

Despite the fact that some people claim raw milk is more nutritious than pasteurised milk, it is illegal to sell it for human consumption in Australia.

The issue came to a head in 2014 after the death of a three-year old who drank raw milk.

“This process allows people to enjoy the natural, tasty and nutritious goodness of raw milk, without resorting to the use of heat pasteurisation or homogenisation,” Joye told the ABC.

Apart from this new product, all other milk sold for human consumption in Australia has been pasteurised, or briefly heated, to kill bacteria.

The view that pasteurising milk detracts from its nutritional benefits is contentious.

CSIRO food microbiologist Narelle Fegan told the ABC there is “no evidence that the health benefits of milk are substantially compromised by pasteurisation”.

The product will be sold through Harris Farm supermarkets and and About Life health shops.

Image: SMH

Tastes like moral superiority: what makes food ‘good’?

Food choice has become a moral morass. Discussions about food production and consumption are increasingly loaded with moral language. We’ve witnessed burgeoning debates over which agricultural practices and foodstuffs are “sustainable”, what counts as “clean” or “green” living and eating, and who is “responsible” for obesity, to name just a few.

Consumers are increasingly encouraged to seek out a range of ethical foodstuffs, which variously include: local, made in Australia, seasonal, non-genetically modified, humanely-produced, free range, organic, palm oil free, and fair trade.

There’s also increasing emphasis on reducing meat consumption, or even finding substitutes for all types of animal products.

Our research on food values has shown that consumers are increasingly confused by the multitude of food choices available to them. People feel pushed by labelling or peers to buy products when they feel they have inadequate information, or which fail to fulfil certain values.

We’re bombarded with messages about what makes food “good” and “bad”. These categories can tend to reinforce other social distinctions, like race, class, and education level.

Information overload

Our qualitative research as part of a broader food ethics project has shown that parents in particular are increasingly overwhelmed by pressure to eat “ethically”, and feel judged.

They ask how they possibly can do the “right” thing on a restricted budget and in extremely limited time: not everyone can grow vegetables and fruit or raise their own chooks, only shop at expensive farmers’ markets, or go to many outlets in order to buy only “ethical” products.

The sheer amount of information available can cause paralysis. As one participant noted,

There’s a lot of people who point out different things about, you shouldn’t buy this, you shouldn’t buy that, but then you can’t keep up with what’s good for what and what’s bad for what.

As another said:

It gets to the point where it’s just too hard, you just buy it, and you turn into a creature of habit … I just can’t find myself analysing all this stuff. I just want a couple of steaks and you give up, it’s just too much information.

Religious ideas about ‘good’ food

Using moral language in reference to food is not a new phenomenon: nearly every religion has certain food prohibitions. Pork is forbidden in Judaism and Islam and Catholicism bans meat on certain days; the Bible specifically cautions us against gluttony.

Even with declines in organised religion in some Western countries, these distinctions are deeply ingrained in our culture. As with many religious and cultural traditions, what’s improper or forbidden often creates a separation between members and non-members of a group.

Identity claims associated with various contemporary food categories can serve a similar purpose. Consider not only vegetarian, vegan, and other more established labels, but also newer categories such as locavore, freegan, kangatarian (eating vegetables and kangaroo meat only), and flexitarian (eating mostly vegetarian with occasional meat).

Attaching moralising labels to our food such as “good” and “bad”, and to ourselves as eaters can create troubling binary categories.

Expensive, ‘exotic’, and unclear

Food labelling also can bewilder consumers as much as inform them. Labels provide nutrition, provenance, and safety information (for example, “best by” dates and allergen warnings); serve as advertisements; and increasingly include information about ethical issues such as production methods and animal welfare.

The new Australian code for free range egg labelling standards created as much confusion as clarity. While transparency in labelling has been welcomed, many producers and consumer organisations claim that the maximum stocking density is far too high and eggs from hens that never actually go outside could be called “free range”. They emphasise that consumers should boycott what they call “bad eggs”, perhaps in an intentional contrast to what some companies label as “happy eggs”.

“Superfoods” can be confusing too. Rhetoric and marketing emphasises various health claims, but also exoticises their origins, no doubt in part to rationalise their relatively high cost.

Emphasising less familiar and often more expensive ingredients in the context of dietary advice can foster an elitist message, and even fuel food anxieties.

In similar ways, our snobbery toward frozen and processed foods may well be blinding us to their potential advantages. Depending on issues like season and storage and transport methods, some frozen foods might in fact be more nutritious (as well as more convenient) than their fresh counterparts.

As the food historian Rachel Laudan argues, processed and industrialised foods are not automatically bad, although quality matters:

If we unthinkingly assume that good food maps neatly onto old or slow or homemade food…we miss the fact that lots of industrial foodstuffs are better.

We think in black and white

Humans love to divide things into categories and attach labels: this tendency allows to us organise often overwhelmingly complicated amounts of information and develop shortcuts.

However when we divide humans into categories, it’s usually in terms of self/other or us/them. The language associated with food can do the same.

Critics of this moralising language have proposed using phrases like “growing foods” versus “fun foods”. They’re much less grounded in concepts of right and wrong, or good and bad, and emphasise a healthier relationship with food.

We may wish to make particular food choices for ourselves and our families because of deeply held values associated with supporting our local economy, trying not to damage the environment, not contributing through our choices to cruelty to non-human animals or promoting unfair or unhealthy working conditions.

But not everyone has the same values or interprets them in the same way. Nor do we weight them identically: choosing food reflects a complex calculus and there are few simple decisions.

Let’s eliminate judgemental language from our conversations about food policy, but most importantly, let’s stop bringing it to the kitchen table.


Rachel will be online for an Author Q&A between 3:30 and 4:30pm AEST on Thursday June 2, 2016. Post any questions you have in the comments below.

This is the fifth article in our ongoing series on food and culture Tastes of a Nation. You can read previous instalments here.

Do you have a story idea for this series? If so, please contact Madeleine De Gabriele.

The Conversation

Rachel A. Ankeny, Professor of History

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

Dairy avoidance reaching dangerous levels, especially for women

A study has found for the first time that one in six adult Australians are choosing to avoid milk and dairy foods, the majority without a medical diagnosis, leading to public health concerns for women in particular.

The survey, undertaken by CSIRO and the University of Adelaide, found that the vast majority of avoiders (74%) are making this choice to relieve adverse gastrointestinal symptoms such as cramps, bloating or wind.

Far fewer participants cited not liking the taste or because they thought it’s fattening for not including diary in their diets.

The study also revealed that the decision to avoid some or all dairy foods is influenced by a range of sources from outside medical practice such as the internet, media, friends or alternative practitioners.

CSIRO’s Bella Yantcheva, behavioural scientist on the research team, explains the significance of the findings.

“The scale of people restricting their diet without a medical reason is very concerning in terms of the public health implications, especially for women.

“It means there is potential for nutritional deficiencies or imbalances, or the risk that an underlying health condition could be going untreated,” she said.

Dairy foods are important for all of us, but especially for women owing to the calcium content, and foods from the dairy and alternatives group are important throughout life to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

However, the study revealed that more women are avoiding milk and dairy foods than men.

These results follow the team’s similar findings on wheat avoidance, which showed around ten times as many Australians than diagnosed with coeliac disease are avoiding wheat-based foods.

The study reveals that even more people are avoiding dairy products and, in fact, that around one third of the respondents avoiding dairy foods are also avoiding wheat-based foods.

“The numbers show that cutting out significant, basic food groups isn’t a fad but something far more serious,” said Yantcheva.

According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, dairy and grain-based foods are important for a balanced diet.

They contribute significantly to our intake of fibre, protein and a wide range of essential vitamins and nutrients, on top of calcium in dairy’s case.

“It’s not just about missing out on the food type being avoided and risking your health, but also possibly overconsuming other foods to compensate as well,” Yantcheva said.

The paper is published in this month’s issue of Public Health Nutrition.


Prehistoric paleo diet effective for modern weight loss: research

The Palaeolithic, or paleo, diet has been found to be more effective for weight loss than the Australian Dietary Guidelines, according to new research from Edith Cowan University.

The study by ECU’s School of Medical and Health Science involved 39 healthy women, with half eating a paleo diet while the rest were assigned the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE) diet over a four-week period.

The paleo group lost an average of 2kg more over the period than the AGHE diet group.

Lead researcher Angela Genoni said the study also examined the impact on cardiovascular health and found no significant difference between the paleo and AGHE diets.

“While both groups lost weight over the period, the paleo group lost an average of 4.3 per cent of their body weight over the testing period, compared to 1.6 percent for the AGHE group,” she said.

“Despite the greater weight loss, we should be cautious about advocating a diet that cuts out entire food groups.

“Significantly, the paleo diet markedly reduces the calcium intake relative to the AGHE diet because it excludes all dairy products, which could have a negative impact on bone strength, particularly in older people.”

Cardiovascular, Metabolic Effects and Dietary Composition of Ad-Libitum Paleolithic vs. Australian Guide to Healthy Eating Diets: A 4-Week Randomised Trial was recently published in the journal Nutrients.

Associate Professor Amanda Devine, who also contributed to the research, said that more research was needed to fully understand the health implications of the paleo diet.

“There is much more to health than simply weight, so dietary patterns that exclude entire food groups are likely to impact overall health due to a reduction in food variety therefore further research is required in healthy subjects to assess the long term health impacts,” she said

Some researchers, for example have suggested the paleo diet may have been responsible for the extinction of the Neanderthals.

Image: Dai Manuel