Opportunity for frozen vegetables in health-focussed diets

In Australia, producers of frozen vegetables are missing an opportunity to help consumers create high-quality, home-cooked healthy meals without sacrificing time. More Australians are starting to prioritise eating more healthily, and to do so, market research specialist Mintel has information from its surveys that points to increasing fruit and vegetable intake. This is done by following a balanced diet, and cooking more at home, as key steps in this journey.

At the same time, Australians want to make room in their lives for other priorities, such as cultivating strong personal relationships and enjoying social occasions – activities that they understand are important to their health in other ways.

Currently, Australians tend to have frozen vegetables on hand for side dish emergencies. However, these products can actually be promoted to do more – frozen vegetables can act as a shortcut for consumers who are trying to balance many things in their limited time, including eating well. Frozen vegetables provide a solution for time-strapped, yet health-focussed consumers, to create semi-scratch meals that contain lots of vegetables, while still eschewing the processed foods that they seek to avoid. Frozen vegetables are the solution to helping Australians achieve their goal to cook at home more often.

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While Mintel research shows that almost half of urban Australians say they like to cook, the time taken to prepare for cooking, especially when using whole, fresh vegetables, could be better spent on other pursuits.

Enter speed-scratch or “semi-homemade” cooking. This concept, championed in the US by Food Network host Sandra Lee, instructs home cooks to use partially prepared foods to create dishes that feel like they are scratch-made.

Frozen vegetables are suitable for this, especially as they are already washed, peeled and chopped, and often come without the need to be defrosted before being added to a recipe. Positioning frozen produce as a partially prepared ingredient offers consumers a way to prepare something convenient at home without relying on processed foods – something that over two-thirds of urban Australians say they are looking to avoid.

Frozen vegetables can help home cooks in Australia create inspired, intentional meals that are rich in plant-based ingredients by clearly showing consumers the different ways that they can be used. Adding recipes and usage suggestions on pack is an approach that has worked well for the frozen fruit category. For instance, frozen fruit brands have included recipes and usage suggestions for smoothies on pack. These suggestions give consumers more ideas on how to use frozen produce, and they position frozen fruit as a product that consumers would purchase for this purpose.

By taking on a similar strategy, frozen vegetable brands can encourage consumers to buy their products more often than just something to have at home as a backup or emergency side dish.

In addition to helping consumers see frozen vegetables as a speed-scratch solution, brands need to overcome the perception that frozen is lower quality than fresh. This is especially true as Mintel research indicates the importance of freshness to Australians, with over half of them ranking it as the top attribute they seek in food.

However, according to Mintel Purchase Intelligence, a tool that measures consumer reactions to and purchase intent of food and drink products, Australians are unconvinced by the freshness of frozen vegetables. This reflects how frozen vegetable brands are not telling a strong story that communicates the freshness that these products can offer. While many brands use snap-chilling, and do mention this on pack, most are not using their packaging to talk about the benefits of quick freezing in preserving the quality, flavour and nutrition of vegetables. Telling a more dynamic story about freshness and quality can raise the value perception of frozen vegetables, especially when combined with convenience messaging.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Goodness Kitchen offers a good example of how these types of vegetables can communicate freshness and quality. The product uses bright colours and a see-through cut-out that reveals the product inside, which are aspects that set this packaging apart from the many bags and boxes in the frozen aisle. In addition, it uses the back of the pack to tell a full and engaging story about the company and its practices.

Goodness Kitchen talks about organic farming, freshness, nutritional quality and how frozen veggies help to reduce food waste. In an aisle where low price drives purchase intent, communicating the added value one product offers over another could open consumers’ minds to the fact that price is just one element of the value equation.

Brands in Australia have not fully exploited the chance to communicate the freshness and quality of frozen vegetables. There is the potential for these brands to show consumers that frozen products can empower them to achieve their health goals by helping them eat more vegetables, avoid processed foods and cook at home more often with less effort.

Organics awareness month launched in September

Australia’s largest organic awareness campaign will be taking place once more throughout September during Australian Organic Awareness Month (AOAM). Held each Spring, the organic industry’s leading body – Australian Organic – will be promoting the importance of certified organics for both consumer well-being and the environment.

The campaign aims to educate and assist Australians everywhere on the benefits of choosing organic and reassure them that their products are certified – in other words truly organic. Throughout the month, the campaign will share stories about some of Australia’s best and most unique certified organic producers, from a wide range of categories including food, cosmetics, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and packaged foods, kicking off with an event in Sydney, on Tuesday, 3 September at La Porte event space in Rosebery.

“The certified organic industry is diverse with new and interesting products hitting the markets continuously,” said Australian Organic CEO Niki Ford. “The awareness campaign is designed to help promote all certified organic products in store and online by educating consumers on why they should always look for a certification mark such as Australian Organic’s distinctive Bud logo when choosing to buy organic products. Point of sale material and online digital artwork is available for all outlets, individuals and organisations who want to share the message.”

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The latest Australian Organic Market Report for 2019 revealed that Australian demand for certified organic products is now skyrocketing with $1.93 billion dollars generated in domestic sales for 2018. The figure is up $256 million from domestic sales of $1.67 billion for 2017 with the total Australian organic industry now worth $2.6 billion and growing year on year.

The overall number of households saying they have purchased at least one organic product in 2018 lifted to 65 per cent from the previous year. With there being some confusion in recent times about what exactly constitutes an organic product, reassurance is of paramount importance to consumers with more than half of organic buyers (55 per cent) saying that they now look for a certification logo on labels to check if products are organic.

Health and environmental factors have become increasingly important to consumers with many Australians thinking more carefully about what they are consuming and using on their skin. Certified organic standards currently prohibit the use of harmful synthetic agricultural chemicals such as pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

“With more and more consumers demanding transparency when it comes to what they are putting in and, on their bodies, certified organic products offer consumers the surety each ingredient has been rigorously audited and is what it says it is,” said Ms Ford. “Always look for a certification logo to ensure you’re getting what you pay for – no one likes being fooled at the register.”

Here’s why organic produce and products are making such an impact nationally and globally:

10 important things about certified organic products

 

  • Certified organic products are no longer considered to be expensive
    Price is no longer a reason not to buy organic and this is reflected in strong sales. Larger retailers have their own certified organic home-brands which offer a range of products at reasonable prices. Fresh produce can be found at your local organic or farmers’ markets, cutting out the middleman and therefore reducing the costs. You can also find a range of deals online – from specialised online retailers, subscription box delivery services to organic wholesalers.
  • You can get almost anything certified organic.
    Australian Organic’s Bud logo is now found on over 32,000 products in Australia meaning there’s pretty much an organic option available for most things in addition to food and beverages. From bed linen to personal products, cosmetics, cleaning products and clothing to pet food – there are so many certified organic products available. You can even descale your coffee machine organically.
  • Organic produce is said to be better for you
    Recent research supports the claim that organic produce is better for you. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology found that organic apples are more beneficial for your health than those grown in non-organic environments, as they contain a wider variety and larger numbers of beneficial bacteria – including the probiotic lactobacilli. One of the best aspects of certified organic produce is that it’s grown without the use of synthetic chemicals, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Each time you consume something, ask yourself whether you really want to be ingesting these things into your body – remember, you are what you eat!
  • Organic products adhere to strict standards
    Certified Organic products go through a rigorous certification process – from sourcing ingredients, to manufacture and processing, all the way through to getting into stores. To trust a product is truly organic, always look for a certification mark such as the Australian Organic ‘bud’ logo.
  • The term ‘organic’ isn’t regulated in Australia
    Australia is one of the few remaining countries in the modern world that does not regulate the use of the term ‘organic’. This means that anyone can label a product ‘organic’ even if it contains just two per cent of organic ingredients. This misleading labelling leads to distrust and confusion, which is why many shoppers look for certification marks on their organic products to ensure they are truly organic.
  • Organic producers help to create a better environment
    As part of certification standards, certified organic producers adhere to strict rules when it comes to environmental and sustainable practices. From the sustainable sourcing of ingredients, to ruling out harmful synthetic chemicals and pesticides, using and promoting environmentally friendly practices, to maintaining healthier soil and water systems, certified organic products promote a better future for the planet which also helps to promote and protect local wildlife. For instance, certified organic carrots are hand-weeded so there’s no synthetic chemical overspray from weed spraying.
  • Aussie producers use innovative methods
    As some certified organic fruits and veggies are harder to grow than others and attract more pests and diseases certified organic farmers have a diverse array of tools to combat these challenges such as crop rotation, and the attraction of natural bug defenses. Did you know lady bugs can eat up to 50 aphids in a day? Ducks and geese are also commonly used in certified organic vineyards to help control slugs, snails and pests, and their manure helps to fertilise the grape vines (used by Angove Family Winemakers on their estate in South Australia).
  • They care about water resources
    The ACOS (Australian Certified Organic Standard) contains requirements for water efficiency and ecology, ensuring any water leaving the farm is, at minimum, the same quality as first applied; so as to not create environmental pollution or degradation of surrounding areas.
  • The organic industry gives animals a better quality of life
    Animals that are part of the certified organic food chain have a greater quality of life. Livestock must be free-range, free to roam in uncrowded pastures, fed a certified organic diet free from synthetic chemicals and pesticides, raised with zero added hormones, treated with the highest standard of welfare and encouraged to explore their natural behaviours. For instance, certified organic chickens enjoy cage-free, truly free-range lives, where they can scratch and forage in the grass and fields like nature intended. Certified organic bees are also required to have a 5km pollution-free radius around their hive. This ensures that there is no contamination of the honey.
  • By supporting organic you’re supporting Australian farmers
    Certified organic products support the hardworking Australian farmers and workers that produce them. By buying locally and in-season, you’re not only reducing your own carbon footprint, but are also promoting and supporting our economy. Organic certification standards also contain policies regarding fair work and fair trade, including the promotion of socioeconomic benefits and ethical trade programs. When you choose to buy certified organic, you are choosing fair working rights for everyone involved in the production chain.

 

Demand for fresh Australian vegetables continues to rise

The value and volume of fresh Australian vegetable exports have increased in 2017/18, following strong trading conditions in key export markets in Asia and the Middle East, and increased demand for Australian-grown vegetables.

The value of fresh Australian vegetable exports increased by three per cent to $262.4 million in 2017/18, Ausveg reports.

The industry is well placed to meet its goal of 40 per cent growth to $315 million in fresh vegetable exports by 2020, Ausveg explains.

The top five markets for fresh vegetable exports by volume in 2017/18 were the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia, which make up just over 60 per cent of Australia’s total fresh vegetable export volume.

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The top five markets for fresh vegetable exports by value in 2017/18 were Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Malaysia and Hong Kong, with the top three of these markets making up over 50 per cent of the industry’s total fresh vegetable export value.

Ausveg national manager for export development, Michael Coote, said the vegetable industry has seen solid growth in exports across a variety of fresh vegetable products in recent years, with the whole vegetable category averaging 10 per cent year-on-year growth over the past three years.

“Carrots are the number one traded fresh vegetable commodity by both volume and value, with steady year-on-year growth over a sustained period of time indicating that demand for Australian carrots remains strong,” said Coote.

“Over 85 per cent of Australia’s fresh vegetable export volume is comprised of carrots, potatoes and onions. However, we still see positive growth in some other categories, including asparagus, which despite only comprising two per cent of fresh vegetable exports by volume, make up 11 per cent of fresh vegetable export trade by value and are the second highest value fresh vegetable commodity at $28 million,” he said.

Through its work in developing the exporting capabilities of the Australian vegetable industry, Ausveg undertook a wide range of activities during 2018 to help the industry improve its exporting capabilities, including:

  • Five outbound trade missions, taking 42 grower-exporters to key export markets to increase the capability for emerging and existing grower-exporters through in-market trade activities and knowledge-sharing among growers;
  • Six export workshops, which provided 44 attendees with practical and tailored knowledge about the export process; and
  • Eight new market access submissions for different vegetables into Asian markets.

“The industry has increased its focus on boosting the value and volume of its vegetable exports, with work being undertaken by Ausveg, Hort Innovation and other groups in building the exporting skills of Australian growers and providing opportunities to build relationships with foreign buyers, as well as supporting the Taste Australia trade program,” said Coote.

“We are working with growers to ensure they have the skills and knowhow to improve their ability to export their produce and capitalise on increasing demand for fresh, Australian-grown produce.

“We are also working closely with the Australian government and international trading partners to open market access for more vegetable commodities so that our growers can increase their exports into key export markets across Asia and the Middle East,’ said Coote.

Plans in place to grow garlic produced on Australian soil

Australia’s garlic industry has developed a new framework to push the quality and amount of garlic grown on Australian soil.

Only about 20 per cent of garlic sold in Australia is grown domestically.

With the Farming Together program, growers aim to expand production of late-season garlic to meet market demand from April to November – a time when Australia normally imports garlic.

One of the project leaders, grower Bronwyn Richards, said Australia didn’t don’t grow enough garlic to meet demand in its own country.

Garlic was a crop well-suited to small-scale cultivation, often as a diversified crop alongside other primary production, said Richards.

A co-op of 30 garlic growers from Braidwood, NSW, developed a simple model for judging the quality of garlic presented for sale.

It supports growers to grow to that standard.

The program, backed by the Australian Government, supports small-scale growers meeting a demand for Australian-grown, chemical-free garlic.

“The aim for Braidwood is to eventually be a key growing area for some of these later varieties of garlic that like our cold climate,” said Richards.

“The development of a quality framework is a first in our industry.

“It documents how quality can be defined, judged and achieved. We have also developed a simple and easy-to-apply biosecurity plan that could be used by any garlic grower,” she said.

“It will help raise industry awareness of biosecurity issues across all stages of growing and moving garlic.

“Additionally, we believe the financial model developed for our project is scalable and has application to other co-operatives. The model can be contextualised for other industries and co-operative business structures.”

Involvement in the Farming Together program delivered immediate financial benefits to the group, said Richards.

Retail prices improved for the crop, and with a bulk purchase of mulch straw the group was saving $50 a bale.

Farming Together program director Lorraine Gordon said the project delivered learnings that would benefit the whole industry.

The program has been a two-year, $13.8m initiative from the Australian Government designed to help agricultural groups value-add, secure premium pricing, scale-up production, attract capital investment, earn new markets or secure lower input costs.

In two years Farming Together has had contact with more than 28,500 farmers.

The Farming Together pilot program was delivered by Southern Cross University and finished on 30 June 2018.

NZ well positioned to be global player in alternative protein market

Eco conscious millennial consumers are reshaping demand for alternative sources of protein according to the country’s largest manufacturer of vegetarian foods.

Mark Roper spokesperson for Life Health Foods – which makes plant based Bean Supreme and recently launched Alternative Meat Co. products, says growing concern for the environment is leading this demographic to seek out other options to integrate into their diet.

A nationwide survey commissioned by the company has found that millennials aged 18-34 are the most likely demographic to adopt a mostly meat-free lifestyle in the next decade.

“Among this age group, factors such as concern for animal welfare and the environment were some of the most important drivers of purchase choice; whereas if you look at older consumers, health considerations and cost of meat were the primary reasons for choosing vegetarian foods,” he says.

Roper says New Zealand is well positioned to take advantage of this emerging trend – which has seen accelerated growth in the global meat substitute market.

“Our research is showing that many consumers are not completely replacing meat in their diet – instead, they are integrating more meat-free options throughout the week. This makes development of a plant protein market complementary to our existing agricultural exports,” says Roper.

He says the new consumer driven trend is something that farmers should not fear, but rather capitalise on.

“As a producer we are looking at this growth as a promising future market. As well as a growth industry locally, there is increasing demand for these products in the more well-established markets of the US and Europe where there are potentially large export opportunities for us,” he says.

Roper says at the same time, New Zealand is well positioned as a producer nation to capitalise on millennial’s demand for plant based products.

“As a country, we have a strong agricultural research base, we are great at growing crops here, and the development of a more environmentally friendly, alternative protein market will potentially enhance the ‘pure NZ’ brand equity.

“With demand for meat alternatives expected to grow significantly in the coming years, we are looking at other sources of protein that have similar texture and taste to meat and that can be developed into added value products for the domestic and export markets.

“Plants like pea, soy, mushrooms and even seaweed can be made into products with similar properties to meat and food companies around the world are investing millions of dollars to be at the forefront of this,” he says.

Roper says the local market for vegetarian food is developing quickly with category growth exceeding 20 percent per annum.

He says sales of their recently launched Alternative Meat Co. have exceeded initial volume expectations in this market and they have expanded production to accommodate.

“Currently around 80% of our added value vegetarian products that are sold in NZ are made here. With increased demand locally and globally, greater volumes of ingredients will be required from suppliers to meet this opportunity,” he says.

App that challenges you to eat more vegetables

Scientists have come up with an innovative approach to tackling Australia’s poor vegetable intake, with the launch of a new app that challenges people to eat more veggies.

Using a gamified approach, CSIRO’s new VegEze app aims to motivate Australians to add extra vegetables to their daily diets and form long-term, healthier habits through a 21-day ‘Do 3 at Dinner’ challenge.

CSIRO nutritionists will also study how effective the app’s game-like nature is at helping transform people’s eating patterns, as part of a broader research study.

“We need a fresh approach to improve Australia’s vegetable consumption and overall diet quality,” CSIRO Senior Principal Research Scientist Professor Manny Noakes said.

“Our research found two out of three Australian adults are not eating enough vegetables, especially as part of their evening meal. It’s time to find more engaging, effective approaches to help break these entrenched diet habits.”

Challenging users to eat three different vegetables at dinner every day for 21 days, the VegEze app helps people track their intake and tally up vegetable serves, with daily reminders and rewards to help people stay motivated and on-track.

VegEze4

“Committing to eating more vegetables every day is one of the most important ways we can improve our health today. Boosting your intake can be as easy as having three types of vegetables taking up half of your dinner plate,” Professor Noakes said.

“After just a few weeks using the app every day, users should feel more confident in adding more vegetables to their menu and notice some positive changes to their health and wellbeing.

“The beneficial nutrients and fibre from vegetables can help improve digestion, and fill you up – which can help reduce eating too much unhealthy junk food.”

Since May 2015, CSIRO has studied the dietary habits of more than 191,000 adults for its Healthy Diet Score research.

Eating three types of vegetables as part of the evening meal was found to be a key marker in having a better diet, but further research of 1068 adults showed some Australians were being held back from eating more vegetables by low awareness, lack of time and low confidence.

To help people overcome these barriers, the VegEze app features educational resources such as a visual guide to specific vegetable serve sizes, vegetable recipes, nutritional information and motivational rewards.

Information from app users will feed back into CSIRO’s study of Australians’ vegetable consumption, while helping to analyse the app’s effectiveness as an education initiative to improve Australia’s poor vegetable score card.

VegEze has been developed in partnership with Hort Innovation.

Hort Innovation chief executive John Lloyd said the vegetable consumption findings from the initiative will help Australian farmers cater to the needs of consumers.

“Consumer preferences are changing all the time – now it’s pre-packed convenience foods, as well as veggies such as kale and sweet potato. In the not too distant future it could be something else consumers are enjoying,” Mr Lloyd said.

“Research such as that generated from this VegEze initiative helps growers stay ahead of trends, while also encouraging Australians to eat well using a wide selection of vegetable options.”

The technology was developed in Australia in collaboration with digital health solution provider SP Health.

 

Green vegetables linked with better heart health

Getting more greens into your diet could cut your risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 40 per cent, according to new research from Edith Cowan University.

Researchers from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences studied the diets of more than 1000 Western Australian women, focusing on nitrate intake derived from vegetables.

They found that over a 15 year period, those women who had the highest intake of nitrate from vegetables had up to a 40 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease or stroke.

Getting enough greens

PhD student Lauren Blekkenhorst, said the research was built on her previous study that collated data from around the world on the measured nitrate concentration in commonly eaten vegetables.

Nitrate is a compound that is naturally present in the environment and is essential for plant growth.

“We found that leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce, and kale had the highest amounts of nitrate, followed by radish, beetroot, and celery,” she said.

“People get roughly 80 per cent of their average nitrate intake from vegetables so they are the primary source.”

How much is enough?

Ms Blekkenhorst said about 75 g per day (1 serve) of green leafy vegetables would provide enough nitrate to achieve these health benefits.

“This is about one cup of raw vegetables which shouldn’t be too hard for all of us to eat daily,” she said.

How does it work?

Lead researcher, Dr Catherine Bondonno, said that the bacteria living in our mouths were critical for the cardiovascular health benefits observed.

“The bacteria living on our tongue break down the nitrate that we eat into another compound called nitrite. Nitrite and other breakdown products play a key role in regulating our blood pressure,” she said.

“This is the underlying mechanism that is resulting in the long-term improvements in heart health.”

The study ‘Association of dietary nitrate with atherosclerotic vascular disease mortality: a prospective cohort study of older adult women’ was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. ‘Association of vegetable nitrate intake with carotid atherosclerosis and ischemic cerebrovascular disease in older women’ was recently published in the journal Stroke.

 

Country kids not eating enough vegetables – research

Regional and remote kids face unique challenges when it comes to eating the recommended amount of vegetables, new research has found.

An Edith Cowan University-led study has found that children in regional and remote Western Australia need a major boost of vegetables in their diets.

The study, involving children aged 9-13 years and their caregivers from across the state, shows that only a paltry 13.4 per cent of kids get sufficient vegetables in their daily diets.

While many might point to picky eating and a lack of cooking skills, only 11.8 per cent of

caregivers indicated that their children didn’t like the taste of vegetables. A majority also reported knowing how to incorporate vegetables into meals.

Nutrition lecturer and lead author Dr Stephanie Godrich from the School of Medical and Health Sciences said other factors are clearly at play.

“Over half of the respondents indicated they would eat healthier food if their food outlets stocked healthier options,” Dr Godrich said.

“And one-third pointed to food quality as being ‘sub-optimal’.

“This includes vegetables not being fresh in their local shops or spoiling soon after getting home.”

Price was also an issue, with 79.1 per cent believing food was more expensive for them than in other communities.

Choice was a factor – people who agreed they had enough food outlets in their town were ten-times more likely to eat enough vegetables than those who felt strapped for options.

On the plus side, researchers found healthy eating messaging to have a positive effect on habits; caregivers’ ability to recall messages relating to vegetables was linked to adequate vegetable intake among their children.

Promotion and intervention

One recommendation included the implementation of a promotional campaign focusing on vegetable consumption. Future messaging might remind families they have options beyond the fresh produce section.

“Frozen and no added salt tinned offerings provide more opportunities for children to consume adequate quantities of vegetables, at a more affordable cost and with fewer quality issues than fresh vegetables” Dr Godrich says.

“These are convenient, and they are usually more readily available when their fresh counterparts are out of season.

“However, improvements to regional and remote food supply are crucial. Town planning that facilitates multiple options for families to purchase vegetables and greater support for regional-level food supply could be useful strategies.”

Intake of vegetables is particularly important for children, with the vitamins, minerals and fibre shown to help prevent future chronic diseases and moderate weight. The Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013) stipulate that children 9-11 and girls 12-13 should have five serves of vegetables a day, with boys 12-13 needing five and a half serves.

This research was supported by a Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation (Healthway) research grant.

 

Children not eating enough vegetables – report

Children are not eating anywhere near enough vegetables and are relying too much on unhealthy snack foods for energy, the latest Chief Health Officer’s Report shows.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard and NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant today launched the report, What NSW children eat and drink, which shows that only one in 20 children eats enough vegetables each day.

“One in five children in NSW is overweight or obese so we all need to take a good look at what makes it onto the dinner plate,”  Hazzard said.

“A healthy diet sets children up for life – if we support parents to get it right early then they have the best chance possible of heading off potential health, and mental health, illnesses for their children.”

The report surveys eating and drinking habits of children aged five to 15, focusing on fruit and vegetables, treat foods, milk, water and sweetened drinks and fruit drinks.

Half of all kids in NSW eat an unhealthy snack every day and more than 40 per cent eat takeaway at least once a week, which is often high in saturated fat, salt and sugar.

However, three in five children eat the recommended amount of fruit and nearly two- thirds drink enough water.

Dr Chant said the survey findings indicate far too many households regard treat foods as diet staples.

“Snacks such as cakes, biscuits and chips are no longer occasional treats – they make up almost 40 per cent of kids’ total daily energy intake,” Dr Chant said.

“Children should eat about five serves of vegetables a day. We know that diets that are low in vegetables are a risk factor for disease later in life.”

One of the Premier’s Priorities is to reduce overweight and obesity rates of children by five percentage points by 2025.

 

 

“Perfection” now just the starting point for Australian fruit and veg

Australian fruit and vegetable growers have been warned by a visiting US horticulture expert that while the quality of their produce is “better than ever before”, the demands of the average consumer now starts at “perfection”.

In Australia this month to meet with local growers, Rabobank’s California-based senior fruit and vegetable analyst Dr Roland Fumasi (pictured) said the list of qualities that buyers were looking for in fresh produce continued to grow and had changed markedly in recent years.

“Consumers now expect the quality of their fruit and veg to be 100 per cent perfect, 100 per cent of the time,” Dr Fumasi said.

“They expect it to taste amazing, look good and to be extremely convenient and they want this all year-round. And that is just the starting point.”

Dr Fumasi said to gain customer loyalty, growers had to appeal to the deep-seated values of consumers.

“When you look at the buying habits of the middle-class consumer, not only do they now want a high-quality product – they are also looking for staunch food safety, transparency regarding production, sustainable farm practices that leave a lighter footprint on the environment and assurance that farmers are looking after their employees.

“And while these consumer demands are increasing, farmers are now also producing their fruits and vegetables in a more complex environment than ever before, with rising labour costs, water issues, changing environmental policies and government red tape.”

With challenge comes opportunity

While acknowledging the challenge of delivering “perfect” produce, Dr Fumasi insists there is a lot of opportunity to be had for farmers intent on meeting these demands.

“While this trend for high-quality, ethically-produced food is most evident in developed markets, it is also increasingly being seen in developing markets,” he said.

“Along with the rise in the global population we are also seeing a massive increase in the world’s middle class, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Within the next 10 years or so, it is predicted that 66 per cent of the world’s middle- class population will live in the Asia-Pacific and it is in this group of people where we see the biggest growth in fresh fruit and vegetable consumption.”

Dr Fumasi concedes that food safety and consistent quality are still the biggest drawcards for Asian consumers willing to pay a premium for Australian produce but that their demands are likely to catch up with western markets very quickly.

“When you look at developing Asia, we are seeing the market catch up at an incredible rate, so it is only a matter of time until there is a major sector of this market that has the same demands as local Australian markets,” he said.

Online shopping drives transparency

According to Dr Fumasi, the retail trends of grocery shoppers in the US have become increasingly fragmented and the same trend is being witnessed in Australia, particularly among millennial buyers.

“The younger generation seem to be very comfortable purchasing from a variety of retail sources including traditional retailers, farmers markets, and value retailers such as Costco and of course buying online,” he said.

“In the US we have grocery websites that have gained good traction because of their reliability, convenience, traceability and for their ability to share background stories on the produce they sell.

“At the ‘click of a button’ not only are you able to select from 20 different tomatoes, but you can also see where they were grown, how they were grown and by whom, along with nutritional information and recipe ideas.

“Customers are also able to leave reviews, so if the product isn’t up to scratch it won’t be long until the negative reviews start pouring in.”

Dr Fumasi said while big retailers were starting to understand the importance of telling the backstory of the produce they sell, it was also up to farmers to be proactive in engaging with their customers.

“Australia has an excellent reputation for producing safe, delicious, attractive produce and that brand equity is a good platform to build a conversation with customers,” he said.

“Being able to be as open and transparent as possible with an audience and giving them an insight to exactly who you are and what you do, will not only gain loyalty for your brand but is likely to reflect positively on the industry as a whole.

“Today’s consumer has an extensive list of demands from producers and the technology to find the information they want at their fingertips, so it is important that the Australian fruit and vegetable industry is proactive in engaging this consumer and telling its story, before someone else does.”

Responsible for analysing the North American fresh fruit and vegetable industries, Dr Fumasi combines a background in agribusiness research with international market development and finance experience in the agriculture industry.

Food as medicine: your brain really does want you to eat more veggies

This article is part of a three-part package “food as medicine”, exploring how food prevents and cures disease. Read other articles in the series here. The Conversation


As well as our physical health, the quality of our diet matters for our mental and brain health. Observational studies across countries, cultures and age groups show that better-quality diets – those high in vegetables, fruits, other plant foods (such as nuts and legumes), as well as good-quality proteins (such as fish and lean meat) – are consistently associated with reduced depression.

Unhealthy dietary patterns – higher in processed meat, refined grains, sweets and snack foods – are associated with increased depression and often anxiety.

Importantly, these relationships are independent of one another. Lack of nutritious food seems to be a problem even when junk food intake is low, while junk and processed foods seem to be problematic even in those who also eat vegetables, legumes and other nutrient-dense foods. We’ve documented these relationships in adolescents, adults and older adults.

Diet has an impact early in life

The diet-mental health relationship is evident right at the start of life. A study of more than 20,000 mothers and their children showed the children of mothers who ate an unhealthier diet during pregnancy had a higher level of behaviours linked to later mental disorders.

We also saw the children’s diets during the first years of life were associated with these behaviours. This suggests mothers’ diets during pregnancy and early life are both important in influencing the risk for mental health problems in children as they grow.

This is consistent with what we see in animal experiments. Unhealthy diets fed to pregnant animals results in many changes to the brain and behaviour in offspring. This is very important to understand if we want to think about preventing mental disorders in the first place.

Teasing out the cause from the correlation

It’s important to note that, at this stage, most of the existing data in this field come from observational studies, where it is difficult to tease apart cause and effect. Of course, the possibility that mental ill health promoting a change in diet explains the associations, rather than the other way around, is an important one to consider.

What comes first, the junk food or the depression?
from shutterstock.com

Many studies have investigated this and largely ruled it out as the explanation for the associations we see between diet quality and depression. In fact, we published a study suggesting that a past experience of depression was associated with better diets over time.

But the relatively young field of nutritional psychiatry is still lacking data from intervention studies (where study participants are given an intervention that aims to improve their diet in an attempt to affect their mental health). These sorts of studies are important in determining causality and for changing clinical practice.

Our recent trial was the first intervention study to examine the common question of whether diet will improve depression.

We recruited adults with major depressive disorder and randomly assigned them to receive either social support (which is known to be helpful for people with depression), or support from a clinical dietitian, over a three-month period.

The dietary group received information and assistance to improve the quality of their current diets. The focus was on increasing the consumption of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes, fish, lean red meats, olive oil and nuts, while reducing their consumption of unhealthy “extra” foods, such as sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast food, processed meats and sugary drinks.

The results of the study showed that participants in the dietary intervention group had a much greater reduction in their depressive symptoms over the three months, compared to those in the social support group.

At the end of the trial, 32% of those in the dietary support group, compared to 8% of those in the social support group, met criteria for remission of major depression.

These results were not explained by changes in physical activity or body weight, but were closely related to the extent of dietary change. Those who adhered more closely to the dietary program experienced the greatest benefit to their depression symptoms.

While this study now needs to be replicated, it provides preliminary evidence that dietary improvement may be a useful strategy for treating depression.

Depression is a whole-body disorder

It’s important to understand researchers now believe depression is not just a brain disorder, but rather a whole-body disorder, with chronic inflammation being an important risk factor. This inflammation is the result of many environmental stressors common in our lives: poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, overweight and obesity, lack of sleep, lack of vitamin D, as well as stress.

Many of these factors influence gut microbiota (the bacteria and other microorganisms that live in your bowel, also referred to as your “microbiome”), which in turn influence the immune system and – we believe – mood and behaviour.

In fact, gut microbiota affect more than the immune system. New evidence in this field suggests they are important to almost every aspect of health including our metabolism and body weight, and brain function and health. Each of these factors is relevant to depression risk, reinforcing the idea of depression as a whole-body disorder.

What is the human microbiome?

If we do not consume enough nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats, this can lead to insufficiencies in nutrients, antioxidants and fibre. This has a detrimental impact on our immune system, gut microbiota and other aspects of physical and mental health.

Gut microbiota are particularly reliant on an adequate intake of dietary fibre, while the health of the gut may be compromised by added sugars, fats, emulsifiers and artificial sugars found in processed foods.

A diet high in added fats and refined sugars also has a potent negative impact on brain proteins that we know are important in depression: proteins called neurotrophins. These protect the brain against oxidative stress and promote the growth of new brain cells in our hippocampus (a part of the brain critical for learning and memory, and important to mental health). In older adults we have shown that diet quality is related to the size of the hippocampus.

Now we know diet is important to mental and brain health as well as physical health, we need to make healthy eating the easiest, cheapest and most socially acceptable option for people, no matter where they live.


Further reading:

Food as medicine: why do we need to eat so many vegetables and what does a serve actually look like?

Felice Jacka, Principal Research Fellow, Deakin University

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

Food as medicine: why do we need to eat so many vegetables and what does a serve actually look like?

This is the first article in a three-part package “food as medicine”, exploring how food prevents and cures disease. The Conversation


Most Australian adults would know they’re meant to eat two or more serves of fruit and five or more serves of vegetables every day. Whether or not they get there is another question.

A recent national survey reported 45% of Australian women and 56% of Australian men didn’t eat enough fruit. And 90% of women and 96% of men didn’t eat enough vegetables. This figure is worse than for the preceding ten years.

Men had on average 1.6 serves of fruit and 2.3 serves of vegetables per day, and women had 1.8 serves of fruit and 2.5 serves of vegetables. A serve of fresh fruit is a medium piece (about 150 grams) and a serve of vegetables is half a cup of cooked vegetables or about a cup of salad.
Why do we need so many veggies?

A high intake of fruit and vegetables lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. These chronic diseases are unfortunately common – it’s been estimated A$269 million could have been saved in 2008 if everyone in Australia met fruit and vegetable recommendations.

The recommendation to include plenty of vegetables and fruit in our diet is based on a large body of evidence showing the risk of a range of health conditions is reduced as we eat more fruit and vegetables. The specific targets of two serves for fruit and five to six serves for vegetables are largely based on nutrient requirements for healthy people and what diets usually look like for the average Australian.

So to set these guidelines, certain assumptions are made about dietary practices, such as breakfast being based around cereal/grain and dairy foods, and main meals being comprised of meat and vegetables, usually with a side of something starchy like rice, pasta or the humble potato – an Australian staple.

Does this mean it’s the only pattern to meet all the nutrient requirements? No. Could an adult be equally healthy if they ate three serves of fruit and four serves of vegetables? Yes, probably.

Some recent research even suggests our current targets don’t go far enough. It estimates an optimal intake for reducing our risk of heart disease and early death to be around ten serves of fruit and vegetables a day. Whether we are aiming for two and five, or ten serves, is somewhat academic – the clear message is most of us need to increase our fruit and vegetable intake.

Why is two and five such a hard ask?

The populations of most Western countries report eating far less fruit and vegetables than they’re supposed to. So what’s making it so hard for us to get to two and five?

Diets higher in fat, sugar and grains are generally more affordable than the recommended healthy diets high in fruit and veg. In fact, for Australians on low incomes, a healthy food basket for a fortnight would cost 28 to 34% of their income, up to twice the national average for food expenditure.

As a result, people with limited access to food for financial reasons often choose foods with high energy content (because they are filling) over those with high nutritional value but low energy content like fruit and vegetables. These high-energy foods are also easy to over-consume and this may be a contributing factor to weight gain. People who are poorer generally have a diet poorer in quality but not lower in energy content, which contributes to a higher rate of obesity, particularly in women.

Fresh fruit and vegetables cost more to purchase on a dollars per kilojoule basis, and also perish more quickly than processed foods. They take more time and skill to prepare and, after all of that effort, if they don’t get eaten for reasons of personal preference, they go to waste. For many it may not stack up financially to fill the fridge with fruit and vegetables. Under these circumstances, pre-prepared or fast food, which the family is sure to eat without complaint or waste, is all too convenient.

How we can increase veggie intake

The home and school environments are two key influencers of children’s food preferences and intakes. Parents are the “food gatekeepers” and role models particularly for younger children. Where there is parental encouragement, role modelling and family rules, there is an increased fruit and vegetable intake.

Dietary behaviours and food choices often start in childhood and continue through adolescence to adulthood. So encouraging fruit and vegetable intake in schools by mechanisms such as “fruit snack times” may be a good investment.

Policy approaches include subsidies on healthy foods. Other examples include levying a tax on foods of low nutritional value, improved food labelling, and stricter controls on the marketing of unhealthy foods. In Australia debate continues around a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, which could be used to subsidise healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables.

Research has found the more variety in fruit and vegetables available, the more we’ll consume. Those who meet the vegetable recommendation are more likely to report having at least three vegetable varieties at their evening meal. So increasing the number of different vegetables at the main meal is one simple strategy to increase intake.

This could be made a journey of discovery by adding one new vegetable to the household food supply each week. Buying “in season” fruit and vegetables and supplementing fresh varieties with frozen and canned options can bring down the total cost. Then it’s a matter of exploring simple, quick and tasty ways to prepare them so they become preferred foods for the family.

Genevieve James-Martin, Research Dietitian, CSIRO; Gemma Williams, Research Dietitian, CSIRO, and Malcolm Riley, Nutrition Epidemiologist, CSIRO

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

Do vegetarians live longer? Probably, but not because they’re vegetarian

In the past few years, you may have noticed more and more people around you turning away from meat. At dinner parties or family barbecues, on your social media feed or in the news, vegetarianism and its more austere cousin, veganism, are becoming increasingly popular.

While the veggie patty and the superfood salad are not going to totally replace lamb, chicken or beef as Aussie staples any time soon, the number of Australians identifying as a vegetarian is rising steadily.

According to Roy Morgan Research, almost 2.1 million Australian adults now say their diet is all or almost all vegetarian. Ask someone why they are a vegetarian and you are likely to get many different answers. The reasons include environmental, animal welfare and ethical concerns, religious beliefs and, of course, health considerations.

It’s this last factor we set out to investigate. There are several existing studies on the impact of vegetarianism on health, but the results are mixed. A 2013 study, which followed more than 95,000 men and women in the United States from 2002 to 2009, found vegetarians had a 12% lower risk of death from all causes than non-vegetarians.

Given the contentious nature of discussions about vegetarianism and meat eating, these findings generated lots of coverage and vegetarianism advocates hailed the study.

We set out to test these findings, to see if being a vegetarian would translate into lower risk of early death in the Australian population. Australia is home to the largest ongoing study of healthy ageing in the southern hemisphere, the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study. This gives us a pool of more than 260,000 men and women aged 45 and over in New South Wales to work with.

We followed a total of 267,180 men and women over an average of six years. During the follow-up period, 16,836 participants died. When we compared the risk of early death for vegetarians and non-vegetarians, while controlling for a range of other factors, we did not find any statistical difference.

Put more simply, when we crunched the data we found vegetarians did not have a lower risk of early death compared with their meat-eating counterparts.

Vegetarians are less likely to be obese.
from www.shutterstock.com

This lack of “survival advantage” among vegetarians, outlined in our paper in Preventive Medicine, does not come as a complete surprise. In 2015, a United Kingdom-based cohort study concluded vegetarians had a similar risk of death from all causes when compared with non-vegetarians. This is contrary to the US-based study findings.

Does that mean everyone should drop the asparagus, fire up the barbie and fill up on snags, steaks and cheeseburgers? Not necessarily.

Other ‘healthy’ factors

It’s standard practice in epidemiological studies to statistically control for various factors (we call them “confounders” as they may confound an association). We controlled for a number of factors to get a true sense of whether vegetarianism by itself reduces risk of death.

It’s important to acknowledge that in most studies vegetarians tend to be the “health-conscious” people, with overall healthier lifestyle patterns than the norm. For example, among the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up participants, vegetarians were less likely than non-vegetarians to report smoking, drinking excessively, insufficient physical activity and being overweight/obese. They were also less likely to report having heart or metabolic disease or cancer at the start of the study.

In most previous studies, vegetarians did have lower risk of early death from all causes in unadjusted analysis. However, after controlling for other lifestyle factors, such as the ones listed above, the risk reduction often decreased significantly (or even completely vanished).

This suggests other characteristics beyond abstinence from meat may contribute to better health among vegetarians. More simply, it’s the associated healthier behaviours that generally come with being a vegetarian – such as not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly – that explain why vegetarians tend to have better health outcomes than non-vegetarians.

In a separate study we conducted using data from the 45 and Up Study, we found people who ate more fruit and vegetables, particularly those who had seven or more serves per day, had a lower risk of death than those who consumed less, even when other factors were accounted for.

And although there is unclear evidence a vegetarian diet promotes longevity, studies have consistently shown other health benefits. For example, a vegetarian diet has been consistently associated with a reduced risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

A meta-analysis (a statistical analysis that combines data from multiple studies) from 2012 concluded vegetarians had a 29% lower risk of early death from heart disease and an 18% lower risk for cancer.

It’s important to keep in mind that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of the World Health Organisation, has classified the consumption of processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans.

So what does it all mean?

While we can’t say for certain if being a vegetarian helps you live longer, we do know having a well-planned, balanced diet with sufficient fruit and vegetables is certainly good for you.

We also know sufficient physical activity, moderating alcohol consumption and avoiding tobacco smoking are key factors in living longer. And the growing body of evidence shows vegetarians are more likely to have these healthy habits.

The Conversation

Melody Ding, Senior Research Fellow of Public Health, University of Sydney

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

Spinach leaves transformed into bomb-detectors [VIDEO]

Spinach is no longer just a superfood: By embedding leaves with carbon nanotubes, MIT engineers have transformed spinach plants into sensors that can detect explosives and wirelessly relay that information to a handheld device similar to a smartphone.

This is one of the first demonstrations of engineering electronic systems into plants, an approach that the researchers call “plant nanobionics”.

“The goal of plant nanobionics is to introduce nanoparticles into the plant to give it non-native functions,” said Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and the leader of the research team.

In this case, the plants were designed to detect chemical compounds known as nitroaromatics, which are often used in landmines and other explosives. When one of these chemicals is present in the groundwater sampled naturally by the plant, carbon nanotubes embedded in the plant leaves emit a fluorescent signal that can be read with an infrared camera. The camera can be attached to a small computer similar to a smartphone, which then sends an email to the user.

“This is a novel demonstration of how we have overcome the plant/human communication barrier,” said Strano, who believes plant power could also be harnessed to warn of pollutants and environmental conditions such as drought.

Environmental monitoring

Two years ago, in the first demonstration of plant nanobionics, Strano and former MIT postdoc Juan Pablo Giraldo used nanoparticles to enhance plants’ photosynthesis ability and to turn them into sensors for nitric oxide, a pollutant produced by combustion.

Plants are ideally suited for monitoring the environment because they already take in a lot of information from their surroundings, according to Strano.

“Plants are very good analytical chemists,” he said.

“They have an extensive root network in the soil, are constantly sampling groundwater, and have a way to self-power the transport of that water up into the leaves.”

Strano’s lab has previously developed carbon nanotubes that can be used as sensors to detect a wide range of molecules, including hydrogen peroxide, the explosive TNT, and the nerve gas sarin. When the target molecule binds to a polymer wrapped around the nanotube, it alters the tube’s fluorescence.

In the new study, the researchers embedded sensors for nitroaromatic compounds into the leaves of spinach plants. Using a technique called vascular infusion, which involves applying a solution of nanoparticles to the underside of the leaf, they placed the sensors into a leaf layer known as the mesophyll, which is where most photosynthesis takes place.

They also embedded carbon nanotubes that emit a constant fluorescent signal that serves as a reference. This allows the researchers to compare the two fluorescent signals, making it easier to determine if the explosive sensor has detected anything. If there are any explosive molecules in the groundwater, it takes about 10 minutes for the plant to draw them up into the leaves, where they encounter the detector.

To read the signal, the researchers shine a laser onto the leaf, prompting the nanotubes in the leaf to emit near-infrared fluorescent light. This can be detected with a small infrared camera connected to a Raspberry Pi, a US$35 credit-card-sized computer similar to the computer inside a smartphone. The signal could also be detected with a smartphone by removing the infrared filter that most camera phones have, the researchers say.

“This setup could be replaced by a cell phone and the right kind of camera,” said Strano.

“It’s just the infrared filter that would stop you from using your cell phone.”

Using this setup, the researchers can pick up a signal from about one metre away from the plant, and they are now working on increasing that distance.

Michael McAlpine, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota, said this approach holds great potential for engineering not only sensors but many other kinds of bionic plants that might receive radio signals or change color.

“When you have man-made materials infiltrated into a living organism, you can have plants do things that plants don’t ordinarily do,” said McAlpine, who was not involved in the research.

“Once you start to think of living organisms like plants as biomaterials that can be combined with electronic materials, this is all possible.”

“A wealth of information”

So far, the researchers have also engineered spinach plants that can detect dopamine, which influences plant root growth, and they are now working on additional sensors, including some that track the chemicals plants use to convey information within their own tissues.

“Plants are very environmentally responsive,” said Strano.

“They know that there is going to be a drought long before we do. They can detect small changes in the properties of soil and water potential. If we tap into those chemical signaling pathways, there is a wealth of information to access.”

These sensors could also help botanists learn more about the inner workings of plants, monitor plant health, and maximize the yield of rare compounds synthesized by plants such as the Madagascar periwinkle, which produces drugs used to treat cancer.

“These sensors give real-time information from the plant. It is almost like having the plant talk to us about the environment they are in,” said Wong.

“In the case of precision agriculture, having such information can directly affect yield and margins.”

 

This article was sourced from MIT News. Read the original here.

Pickled vegetable range with ‘lift and drain’ packaging

Adelaide food producer Spring Gully Foods has launched a range of pickled vegetables packaged in innovative ‘lift and drain’ baskets.

The range, which is available nationally through Coles, includes Australian grown and processed cucumbers, pickled onions, olives and capsicums.

The lift and drain packaging, in which the products sits in a basket without a container, is an Australian first for this category. The basket can be lifted from the liquid to allow easy use.

“We last processed Australian gherkins about 25 years ago when they were grown by commercial grape growers in the Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley as a secondary crop,” said Spring Gully’s Managing Director Kevin Webb.

“Since then we have been sourcing them from overseas. However, we recently signed a multi-year agreement with a large commercial market gardener at Virginia, north of Adelaide and will receive around 300 tonnes of fresh cucumbers this year. This volume is anticipated to increase year on year.”

Coles General Manager Grocery, Neil Lake said the supermarket is passionate about innovation and supporting Australian businesses to innovate and grow.

“We are proud to work with Spring Gully Foods to grow their business and develop new products for our customers to try. Their focus on innovation has led to these new products being the only items packaged in plastic containers in the category, making it easier and more convenient than ever for Australians to enjoy some of their favourites,” he said.

You say tomato… why some fruits are forever doomed to be called veggies

When it comes to fruit and vegetables, the most common battleground (for parents and public health experts alike) is getting people to eat them. But there’s a battle over semantics too, because many of the things we call “fruit” and “vegetables” … aren’t.

In botanical terms, a fruit is relatively easy to define. It is the structure that develops from the flower, after it has been fertilised, and which typically contains seeds (although there are exceptions, such as bananas).

But while there is no doubt that tomatoes, cucumbers and pumpkins are fruits in the botanical sense, any linguist will tell you that language changes and words take on the meaning that people broadly agree upon and use. We live in a linguistic democracy where the majority rules.

Hence a tomato is still usually called a vegetable – although many people take pride in calling it a fruit, while overlooking other “vegetables” with similar claims to fruit status. If this makes your inner pedant bristle, that’s just tough – trying telling the nearest five-year-old that a pumpkin’s a fruit and see how far you get.

Berries, by definition, are many-seeded, fleshy fruits which are often brightly coloured. They may have a soft or tough outer skin, but they must be fleshy. Oddly, strawberries and raspberries are not really berries at all, because they originate from a single flower which has many ovaries, so they are an aggregate fruit.

True berries are simple fruits that develop from a single flower with a single ovary. Tomatoes and grapes are technically berries, as are avocados, watermelons, pumpkins and bananas. Citrus fruits are also berries and their flesh is renowned for being acidic, which makes the flavour bitter.

Nuts are generally dry, woody fruits that contain a single seed. However, as you might have come to expect by now, things are not always so simple; the word “nut” is often used to describe any woody fruit. So a Brazil nut is actually a seed, whereas the walnut is botanically a “drupe” – a fleshy fruit with a hard inner layer that often persists when the flesh is lost (other drupes include peaches, mangoes and olives).

We all know fruits are good for us, but why are they typically more appetising than vegetables (certainly to kids)? Fruits are often the means by which seeds are dispersed and so the plant, in competition with other plants, needs to attract the right insect, bird or mammal to spread its seeds. This is why fruits are often brightly coloured and rich in nutrition (or at least high in sugar). It is not just humans who like a flash of colour and a soft, sweet sugar hit.

On the other hand, in the case of many leafy vegetables, plants need to protect their leaves from grazing animals and insects. The leaves are valuable and productive assets and so contain chemicals that are often unpalatable. They may be bitter or very strongly flavoured, which may explain why kids are inclined to stay away from them. Luckily, proper cooking and good recipes can often save this situation.

Now eat your veggies

So if fruits are, with a few exceptions, seed-bearing organs, what are vegetables? Here the definition is less clear, because the word “vegetable” has no real botanical meaning.

To a botanist, if the word vegetable is used at all, it would simply mean any plant, in much the same way that plants are collectively referred to as “vegetation”. So we could apply the term vegetable to almost any part of any plant if we wanted to. Hence the term tends to encompass a wide range of foods, particularly green leafy ones.

Cabbage, lettuce, zucchini and cucumber are all described as vegetables (despite the latter two being fruits), and the term has generally come to refer to a specific group of plant parts that are commonly used as foods in various societies. Of course, different cultures eat different parts of different plants. But, generally speaking, in Anglophone cultures the term vegetable is used for plant materials used to make a main meal, while fruits are typically associated with breakfast or dessert.

Alleged veg.
NK/Shutterstock.com

Among the group that is loosely classed as vegetables, there are some interesting and diverse structures. Bulbs, such as onions and garlic, are highly modified shoots that develop as fleshy underground organs from which new plants can develop. They are a form of asexual reproduction, a natural kind of cloning.

The bulb contains all of the ingredients required for the production of a new plant, such as roots, leaves and flower buds. The food reserves it contains – usually starch or sugar – allow a new plant to develop rapidly at the appropriate time, hence the sweetness of onions and the fact that they caramelise so beautifully. Bulbs such as garlic can also contain pungent defensive chemicals to ward off insects or fungi.

The flowers and stems of many vegetables can also be tasty and nutritious. The flowering heads of broccoli and cauliflower are prized, as are the stems of celery and rhubarb. Once again the richness and diversity of flavours arise from the different chemicals that the plants produce to protect their valuable assets from the ravages of grazing by insects and other animals.

Tubers are formed from swollen stem or root tissue, and it’s relatively easy to distinguish between the two because stem tubers have buds, or “eyes”. Potatoes are typical stem tubers, whereas carrots are root tubers. All tubers are storage organs and last only a year. They are rich in starch, which is often readily converted to sugar to fuel the plant’s growth.

These plant-nourishing characteristics also make tubers very nutritious for us. What’s more, their high fibre content and homogeneous internal structure mean they can be cooked in a wide variety of ways: boiled, mashed, chipped, baked or roasted – even though you and I might not necessarily see “eye to eye” on which is tastiest (with all due apologies for the cheesy potato pun).

While the definitions may be debated and the words may have different meanings for different people, one thing is undeniable: whichever way you slice it, fruit and veggies are very good for you. So eat up.

The Conversation

Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany, University of Melbourne

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

Women say vegie eating men smell better

Eat fresh, smell fresh – that’s the message from researchers at Macquarie University, who recently completed a new study indicating that men who eat more vegetables smell more appealing to women.

By providing sweat samples to female participants to evaluate, and cross-referencing it with markers of greater fruit and vegetable intake, the study has found that eating fresh produce results in more pleasant-smelling sweat with “floral, fruity, sweet and medicinal” qualities.

“The news that eating more vegetables can make you smell better comes as no surprise to anyone in our industry,” said AUSVEG spokesperson Shaun Lindhe.

“We already know that consuming the recommended amount of daily serves of vegetables has health and nutritional value, and that eating fresh vegetables is a vital part of a balanced diet, but it’s great that research is continuing to find even more benefits to eating veggies.”

“This research comes on the back of a study in 2015 which found that vegetables help to make your skin look great – so between the nutritional, aesthetic, olfactory and taste benefits, there are myriad reasons to load up your plate with fresh Australian vegetables.”

“When you add in the sound and texture of a crunchy carrot, crisp capsicum or other fresh veggies, having a salad can pay dividends for all five of your senses.”

The Macquarie University study, led by Dr Ian Stephen, asked female participants to evaluate the sweat samples on several affective, qualitative and psychophysical dimensions. This was compared to skin spectrophotometry measures for the male participants.

Previous studies have found that carotenoids, which accumulate in humans through fresh vegetable consumption, contribute to the yellowness of skin in Caucasians, meaning that slightly yellower skin is a mark of greater intake of fruit and vegetables – and has also been found to increase someone’s facial attractiveness to others.

“Australians are incredibly lucky to have our hard-working growers producing high-quality fresh vegetables right in our backyard, so do yourself – and the people around you – a favour by putting more veggies on your plate,” said Lindhe.

Image: Jeremy E.W. Fredericksen via Creative Commons

Vegetarian and ‘flexitarian’ marketing opportunities on the rise

The global trend towards reducing meat intake in the diet has led to the emergence of new opportunities to target vegans, vegetarians, non-meat eaters and non-red-meat eaters. New opportunities are emerging too for so-called flexitarians, who mainly eat a plant-based diet, but do occasionally eat meat.

Innova Market Insights data shows a +60 per cent rise in global food and beverage launches using a vegetarian claim between 2011 and 2015. Launches featuring the term “vegan” also rose to account for 4.3 per cent of total introductions in 2015, up from 2.8 per cent in 2014 and just 1.5 per cent in 2012.

“This trend represents a growing opportunity for high-quality meat alternatives, which is also being reflected in the 24% average annual growth in global meat substitute launches recorded between 2011 and 2015,” said Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights.

Germany has been leading this trend, with high levels of innovative NPD in meat alternatives and meat substitutes, and 69 per cent of consumers claiming to eat meatless meals once a week or more. The US is lagging behind on just 38 per cent, although 120 million Americans do already eat meatless meals, so this must represent a major opportunity.

The trend towards flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets has accelerated the move toward the use of plant-based proteins as meat substitutes. The majority of meat substitutes are still soy- or wheat-protein based, but products are evolving with alternative protein ingredients such as egg, pea, ancient grains and nuts.

Innova Market Insights - Flexitarian Lifestyle is New Trend #IFT16

“Paradoxically, another key area of opportunity in meat substitutes may be in targeting meat eaters as much as vegetarians,” noted Williams. “While many vegetarians may opt for a diet rich in vegetables and beans, meat eaters may turn to meat substitutes if the product is right. Instead of just finding alternatives, technological solutions also need to be focusing on the development of meat substitutes closely mimicking the taste and texture of meat products.”

 

 

Why it’s impossible to actually be a vegetarian

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

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

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

Chew on this

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A word for the skeptics

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

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

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

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

Changing how we view our food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Cost of food stretching household bubdgets: report

The cost of fresh food is the number one factor straining the household budgets of Australian families, according to a new report.

According to the Spend Sacrifice Report compiled by comparethemarket.com.au, the cost of food is a source of anxiety for 88 per cent of families. And the foods causing the biggest worries are fresh produce such as meat, fish and vegetables.

“Providing families with healthy food seemed to put the biggest pressure on budgets,’’ said the site’s spokeswoman Abigail Koch.

“The weekly pressures of buying groceries hurts their budgets the most as opposed to utility bills which are usually only paid every quarter.

“Petrol prices have come down in recent months but this still creates a lot of cost anxiety and people are shopping around for their petrol.”

Behind fresh food, the next biggest factors straining household budgets were fluctuating petrol prices (affecting 83 per cent of respondents) and energy bills (78 per cent).

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that the cost of food and non-alcoholic beverage has increased on average by 2.5 per cent over the last five years.

 

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