Tag Archives: Sydney Morning Herald

Rice: the guilt-free carb

Written by AAP. Published in Sydney Morning Herald on 13 July 2012.


Healthy choice … Basmati rice has a medium GI rating. Photo: Marina Oliphant

It’s been shunned by those on low-carbohydrate diets but rice could experience a healthy resurgence after a study found that most varieties have a low to medium GI rating.

Researchers from the CSIRO and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) also identified the gene responsible for rice GI which would allow growers to develop varieties with lower levels to meet consumer demand.

GI, or glycaemic index, measures the ability of carbohydrates to raise blood sugar levels after eating.

Foods with a high GI are more easily absorbed by the body which can result in blood sugar fluctuations leading to an increased chance of conditions like diabetes.

Low GI foods are absorbed at a slower rate, causing a gradual release of sugar into the blood.

An analysis of more than 200 rice types from around the world by the CSIRO and the IRRI found that rice GI ranges from 48 to 92, with an average of 64.

Low GI foods are those 55 and less, medium GI are measured between 56 and 69 and high GI is 70 and above.

Melissa Fitzgerald from the IRRI said the widely grown Indian rice variety Swarna had a low GI while Australian varieties like Doongara and Basmati had a medium GI.

Dr Tony Bird, a CSIRO Food Futures Flagship researcher, said the results would allow people to make more informed choices about what type of rice to eat.

People aiming for a low-GI diet could swap high GI rice for lower GI rice, Bird said.

It would also enable growers to develop low-GI rice varieties and could assist people with conditions like diabetes, he said.

“This is good news for diabetics and people at risk of diabetes who are trying to control their condition through diet, as it means they can select the right rice to help maintain a healthy, low-GI diet,” he said.

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Posted by on August 14, 2012 in News Articles


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It’s official: We eat too much


Written by Peter Jean. Published in Sydney Morning Herald on 17 July 2012.

It’s no wonder that Australia is the fifth-fattest nation on earth.

A report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that many Australians are consuming too much food that is high in fat and sugar and not enough vegetables or wholegrain cereals.

The report, Australia’s Food and Nutrition 2012, says that Australians exceed the world average consumption of alcohol, sweeteners, milk and animal fats.

Australians eat almost three times as much meat as the world average.

But Australian consumption of vegetables and cereal is below the world average.

The AIHW report said that 90 per cent of people aged 16 years and over failed to eat the recommended five serves of vegetables each day.

Most adults didn’t eat enough fruit and adolescent girls failed to eat enough dairy foods or alternatives.

People in remote areas had difficulty accessing a variety of affordable healthy foods.

The report said that restaurant and takeaway meals was the highest weekly item of food expenditure for Australian households in all income groups.

In 2009-10, high-income households spent $389 on food and beverages each week, equal to 18 per cent of household expenditure.

Low income households spent $113, or 20 per cent of expenditure on food.

AIHW spokeswoman Lisa McGlynn said: “The cost of healthy foods is increasing which means that it is cheaper for some people to eat takeaway food than healthier foods.”

“It can cost less to feed a family on food from some of the fast-food outlets than it can to feed a family on some of the foods that would be considered to be appropriate and what experts recommend a family eat.’’

On average, “treats’’ or extra foods such as chips, biscuits, pastries, soft drinks and alcohol contributed 36 per cent of the energy intake for adults and 40 per cent for children.

How we consume food compared to the rest of the world.

How we consume food compared to the rest of the world. Photo: Keisuke Osawa

One quarter of adults and one in 12 children aged between five and 12 years in Australia are obese.

“That’s about three million people aged over five which puts Australia fifth in the OECD countries for the proportion of the population who are obese,’’ Ms McGlynn said.

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Posted by on August 12, 2012 in News Articles


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Chocolate really is good for you

Written by Daisy Dumas. Published in Sydney Morning Herald on 18 July 2012.

It’s a vice many of us can’t step away from – give up smoking, drinking or swearing and chocolate seems to be the go-to reward mechanism.

So it’s a welcome finding that bars of chocolate may soon come stamped with health claims.

Dark chocolate has been given another accolade in the health stakes – this time receiving the backing of the European Food Safety Authority for its blood circulation-boosting capacities.

Thanks to cocoa flavanols, found in chocolate and cocoa, the sweet-toothed treat has been linked to low blood pressure, heart health and even brain function. Cocoa flavonols stimulate nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels.

On the back of the support, Barry Callebaut AG, one of the world’s largest cocoa buyers, is now seeking European Commission approval to use the impressive health claim on its packaging.

The move comes after the Swiss food giant, which sells to Kraft and Nestlé, conducted a study involving 20 clinical trials over the past seven years. The company has developed a method for preserving up to 80 per cent of the flavonols which are commonly destroyed in mainstream cocoa processing.

It is also, tellingly, linked to rising cocoa costs and concomitant dwindling branded food sales, according to the Wall Street Journal. Health benefits are, of course, worth their weight in gold – and while the label would only apply to chocolates sold within Europe, it may have implications for products further afield, including Australia and the US.

A known anti-oxidant wonder food, dark chocolate already leads the pack when it comes to ‘Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity Units’ (ORACS).

According to the USDA, it contains 13,120 ORACs per 100 grams, where famous antioxidants, blueberries, have a mere 2,400.

But, before chocolate is promoted to one of your health supplements, beware – not all chocolates are created equal and cocoa, sugar, saturated and unsaturated fats and caffeine contents vary. The higher the cocoa content, it goes without saying, the better.

The EC has until early 2013 to make its decision.

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Posted by on August 10, 2012 in News Articles


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The skinny on full-cream


Written by Melissa Davey. Published in Sydney Morning Herald on 29 July 2012.

Australians have been steadily switching from full-cream to low-fat milk over the past decade, with many citing their waistline as a reason, but the results of an international review may have even the most health conscious embracing the full-fat latte once again.

It has been broadly accepted that consuming saturated fat could lead to an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, prompting dietary guidelines to recommend low- and reduced-fat milks and yoghurt as part of a balanced diet.

”These still contain calcium and other nutrients, but with less saturated fat,” the guidelines state.

But in a review examining the link between high-fat dairy and health, published in the latest European Journal of Nutrition, researchers concluded ” … in contrast to the prevailing scientific and public sentiment, dairy fat consumption is not typically associated with an increased risk of weight gain, cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes.

”This is also in contrast to most current dietary guidelines recommending the consumption of fat-reduced milk and dairy products.”

Researchers found 11 out of 16 international studies showed higher dairy fat intake was associated with lower body fat levels and lower long-term weight gain.

The review, led by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Washington, noted that further studies were needed, but concluded there was ”no compelling reason” to avoid the fat found in dairy products.

Statistics from Dairy Australia, the national services body for the dairy industry, show full-cream milk consumption – which contains about 4 per cent fat – is on the decline, making up 49 per cent of milk sales in 2010-2011 compared with nearly 57 per cent in 2000-2001.

But it was too early to call for changes to dietary guidelines in favour of full-cream dairy, said Tim Gill, an associate professor at Sydney University’s Boden institute of obesity, nutrition, exercise & eating disorders.

”I think the jury is still out on the quality and consistency of the evidence we have available to us at this time.

”However, there is no strong evidence linking full-cream dairy with obesity, type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.”

A study he was a part of found no consistent evidence that out of reduced-fat, low-fat or full-fat dairy, one was better than the others. ”But I would still recommend reduced-fat dairy, given its lower fat and calorie content,” he said.

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Posted by on August 8, 2012 in News Articles


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The best alternative to sugar?

Written by Paula Goodyer. Published in Sydney Morning Herald on 24 July 2012.

With links to obesity and heart disease, sugar’s reputation is worse than it’s ever been – but does this make alternative sweeteners a healthier option?

It depends on who you believe. If you think sugar gets a bad rap (‘sweet poison’; pure white and deadly’) it’s mother’s milk compared to aspartame which so many internet sites suggest is guilty of everything from vaginal irritation and weight gain to Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Often used in soft drink, some weight loss products and yoghurts, aspartame is considered safe by Food Standards Australia New Zealand unless you have the rare genetic disorder – phenylketonuria – which all newborn babies in Australia are screened for.  As for cancer, artificial sweeteners including saccharin and cyclamates once linked to cancer  in animals, have been okayed – cautiously – by the World Cancer Research Fund, which says the evidence doesn’t suggest any ‘detectable effect’ on cancer risk.

On the face of it, artificial sweeteners let you have your cake and eat it – you get the sweet taste without paying the price of extra kilojoules from sugar. But are they useful or do they perpetuate and even increase our reliance on highly sweetened foods?

“We don’t know the answer to that, although my belief is that they’re not doing us any good,” says Russell Keast, Associate Professor in Food and Nutrition at Deakin University, who thinks artificial sweeteners may leave us hankering after the real thing.

“Besides having receptors for sweetness on our tongue we also have them through the digestive tract where they pick up signals telling us that carbohydrate foods are on their way,” he explains. “But with a food like an artificially sweetened soft drink you get the sweetness but the carbohydrates never come and the body is saying ‘you promised me energy and it’s not here’ – so the body may feel cheated which drives appetite or increased hunger. “

Whether this happens with foods like artificially sweetened yoghurt which still contains carbohydrates isn’t clear – it’s probably less of an issue but we just don’t know, he says.

If you want to eat less sugar and avoid artificial sweeteners too, there’s a middle road: the plant-based sweetener stevia which is so intensely sweet – 290 times more than sugar -that it only takes a tiny bit to sweeten food (though it does have an odd aftertaste).

I’ve been trialling stevia this week with mixed results. For sweetening your cocoa with fewer kilojoules, stevia hits the spot. It’s okay in porridge too, but less successful in stewed rhubarb – it’s sweet enough but compared to raw sugar, strangely flat and less satisfying. As for baking, I had more success with CSR Smart, the blend of sugar and stevia which seems like a good compromise to me – it has 50 per cent fewer kilojoules because you only use half as much as you would with regular sugar.

But sometimes common sense gets lost when a food like sugar becomes demonised.  Too much sugar spread through the day in breakfast cereal, soft drink, cakes, sweets and packaged foods is a problem – a teaspoon on your porridge isn’t. Instead of spending research dollars searching for the perfect no-kilojoule sugar substitute that lets us eat more sweet stuff with less impact on our weight, wouldn’t it be smarter to eat sugar the old fashioned way? Skip the soft drink, juice, bikkies and too-sweet yoghurt and just add a bit of real sugar to real food when we need to.

“It’s hard to go past the message that says it’s best to avoid highly processed food and to remember that our early food experiences are very important for determining our food preferences as we get older,” adds Russell Keast. “We learn to like what the family exposes us to – and parents should be aware of this.”

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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in News Articles



Go nuts for better health

Written by Graham Osbourne. Published in Sydney Morning Herald on 31 July 2012.


They can be a seat-belt for your heart, reduce the risk of diabetes and bring down cholesterol but stick to just a handful of nuts a day – raw if possible – and avoid additives like salt and sugar.

Tree nuts are increasingly regarded as wonder foods that lower the risk of heart disease, some forms of cancer and type 2 diabetes while providing essential vitamins and minerals including niacin, zinc, folic acid, selenium and magnesium.

They contain more unsaturated fats than animal proteins and can cut levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol, according to numerous studies. And their mix of omega-3 fatty acids, protein and fibre will help you feel full and suppress your appetite.

Plus the fat content helps release satiety hormones in the digestive system, which also helps to curb hunger, adds dietitian Lisa Yates of the Australian Nut Industry Council website A small snack of nuts can lessen your desire to overeat later in the day.

Despite the good news, not all nuts are necessarily nutritious.

In the supermarket snack section, “nature’s bite-sized wonders” are often drowned in salt and/or sugar.

“Anything coated with or tucked inside layers of sugar, toffee, chocolate or ice-cream isn’t going to give you much nutritional benefit, and the calories can quickly add up,” warns US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Judy Caplan, R.D.

Avoid nuts packaged or roasted in oil and instead eat them raw or dry roasted, Caplan told the Huffington Post.  “Roasted nuts may have been heated in unhealthy fats at high temperatures that can destroy their nutrients.”  She also cautions against snacking straight from a box or tub of glazed nuts, such as honey roasted cashews or caramelised Vienna almonds.

“And don’t justify eating a Snickers bar because it’s got peanuts in it.”

Nut butters are another contentious issue, with many warning that they can pack on calories because they’re delicious and easy to eat.

Look for spreads with the fewest ingredients possible, advises Caplan, who notes that most major-brand nut butters contain hydrogenated oils, which are high in saturated fats.

The debate over the caloric content of nuts continues to rage in cyberland – but “sorting out the truth from the propaganda,” as one blogger puts it, is not entirely straightforward. Online magazine has highlighted the case of vegan chef AJ, who dropped 12 pounds (5.4 kilos) in 12 weeks simply by giving up all nuts and seeds.

AJ, who is hypothyroid with a slow basal metabolic rate, says even a moderate amount of healthy fats was too much for her.

“[But] if there’s one myth that needs busting,” insists Yates, “it is that nuts are fattening.”

“Nuts are healthy high-fat food in a fat-phobic world and it is high time we moved on from thinking that the low-fat diet is going to solve our heart disease, diabetes and obesity problems.” Research has moved on from the low-fat mantra of the 80s and 90s, she says.

“Epidemiological [large population] studies have found that as nut consumption increased, body mass index decreased. We also know that nuts help prevent weight gain, which is the first step in losing weight, but like any food, healthy or not, eat too much and you may gain weight – especially if you’re eating more than you need and not burning enough through exercise.”

Yates suggests eating one handful of mixed nuts a day, just 30g, and enjoy them as a snack or add to your meals to make them more exciting.

All nuts are about equal in calories, but their nutrient profile does differ. There are 10 varieties of tree nuts: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts.

  • Almonds are rich in vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant essential to maintaining heart health, with 20 almonds (a handful) providing 85 per cent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin E.
  • Brazil nuts – seeds from a large tree found in the Amazon rainforest – are rich in selenium, a vital mineral and antioxidant.  Just two Brazil nuts a day may prevent heart disease and prostate cancer and can also enhance mood.
  • Cashews are high in magnesium, needed for healthy bones, and are good sources of phytochemicals and antioxidants.  A handful is about 15 cashews.
  • Hazelnuts, the most fibre-rich of all the nuts, contain significant levels of B-group vitamins including folate and vitamin B6.  An average handful is about 20 hazelnuts.
  • Macadamia nuts are high in healthy mono-unsaturated fats, contain all the essential amino acids and have been shown to lower blood cholesterol.  Fifteen macadamias make a handful.
  • Pecans also reduce cholesterol and may delay age-related muscle nerve degeneration, according to a University of Massachusetts study. A handful is about 15 pecans.
  • Pine nuts – the edible seeds of pine trees, removed from pine cones – contain zinc, niacin and manganese and are rich in mono-unsaturated acids. Ancient Greeks and Romans believed pine nuts were an aphrodisiac. Two tablespoons is an average serve.
  • Pistachios are packed with protein, vitamin E and are an excellent source of copper and manganese.  Sixty pistachios makes a 30g serving.
  • Walnuts are loaded with natural plant omega-3s called alphalinoleic acid or ALA. Eating walnuts is “like wearing a seat-belt for your heart,” according to Ten whole walnuts is the suggested average serve.
  • Peanuts, technically legumes but commonly referred to as nuts, are high in vitamin E, folate (for brain development) and may reduce cognitive decline.

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Posted by on August 4, 2012 in News Articles



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