Sunday, December 20, 2009

Juice bars for 2&5?

What do you think of those juice bars where for around $5 you can get about 400 mL of freshly juiced veggies or fruit. My local guy does a carrot/beetroot/ginger/something else concoction that’s pretty good and seems to have about five carrots plus other ingredients juiced into it. Does this count as five serves of vegies?­ asks Gary Norrish.

If you can combine carrot and beetroot and still have a palatable drink, you have done well Gary. Juicing fruits and vegetables will retain the nutrients if consumed soon after. The only thing you may lose is the fibre if that isn't returned to the juice. That’s the key missing ingredient in commercial packaged vegetable and fruit juice too - very little fibre. About half a cup of veg, and one medium fruit, is considered a serve, so I'll leave it to you to work out how many serves you get from your special blend.

Remember that drinking fruit and veg is a lot quicker and easier than eating fruit and veg. This is important for weight control. Eating slows down the rate of kilojoule (calories) consumption giving the body extra time to determine when enough is enough. For example, a 250 mL glass of apple juice is around 460 kJs (110 Cals), the same as one and a half medium apples. Which would take longer to eat and be more filling?

Fibre-free mangoes?

Reader Carmel, from deep into the central west of New South Wales, was astounded that there was a fibre-free mango on the market, as claimed on the label. Not having tried one, my educated guess it that they are suggesting that this mango doesn’t have the stringy bits that stick between your teeth especially as you get close to the pip.

There is a definition for food fibre and the mango folk should not place misleading stickers on their mangoes. Rest assured that the mango still contains fibre that does all the good things fibre does inside you, because when a mango has no fibre we call it juice. But you may not need the dental floss after eating this one.

Are chickens dosed with hormones?

Alyson wants to know if there are hormones in chicken making her daughters fully mature women before they leave primary school. The brief answer is “No” and has been for 40-odd years. In fact, hormones are banned for use in chickens. Around the time the Beatles released their first song the chicken folk stopped giving hormones to their stock. This has been a myth that the chicken industry has done its best to dispel for years.

Of course, you may choose to avoid chickens for other reasons (eg vagetarianism, farming methods), but a concern about hormones need not be one of them. For some more background information on hormones and chickens go to The chicken industry does use antibiotics but only when necessary to keep the chickens healthy.

Stevia? Doesn't she sing with Fleetwood Mac?

Nope. Stevia ia the “new” tabletop sweetener on the market. Vanessa Dwyer, teaching legend from the north-west of Australia wanted some background info on Stevia. When I say “new”, I mean new to Australia. It has been used to sweeten foods in Japan and China for some time, since 1971 and 1984 respectively. There is general agreement that Stevia is safe to add to foods, but like any sweetener you will always have an ongoing debate. Some will argue that there needs to be more testing and others will say that, as it has been consumed for many years in its native habitat (Paraguay), Japan and China, it is likely to be very safe.

Stevia is a natural sweetener extracted from the leaves of a South American plant from the sunflower family. It is virtually calorie-free. French chemists in 1931 extracted stevioside and rebaudioside, the compounds that impart a sweetness about 300 times that of sugar and, unlike aspartame, it is heat stable. A recent review of the evidence in a toxicology journal concluded that it “is safe for human consumption under its intended conditions of use as a general purpose sweetener”. The Australian scientists have come to the same conclusion, hence it is now available.

Reference: Food Chemistry Toxicology 2008; 46 (Suppl 7): S1-S10

Monday, November 30, 2009

Butter vs margarine email

For many years there has been an email hoax doing its best to frighten you from using margarine. Reader Alyson brought it to my attention again. The email claims that margarine is high in trans fats, the kind of fats that act like those evil saturated fats. This is a dead give-away that the email came from the US where many margarines are high in trans fats. In Australia, table margarine has been virtually free of trans fats since 1998.

The email also states that margarine is “one molecule away from being plastic”, which might startle anyone who hasn’t done chemistry at school. For those that have done chemistry, the statement doesn’t make sense on any level.

Water is H2O. Everyone knows that. It is essential for life. Add an oxygen atom and you have H2O2, hydrogen peroxide, a cleaning agent and disinfectant which, if you swallow it can corrode the lining of your throat and make you sick. That makes water just one atom away from a powerful bleaching agent. Just one atom! Should you stop drinking water? OK, it’s a silly game, but lots of people play the “If I don’t understand chemistry, then neither should you” game.

Butter? Marg? Your choice. If your blood cholesterol is high then choose a poly- or mono-unsaturated margarine. Remember, scary emails about food are usually a hoax.

Eat like a cave man

What is the perfect diet? If you go by what you read in the media, you might toss up between the Mediterranean diet, the low-carb diet, or the Japanese diet. Now and again you will hear of the hunter-gatherer diet, or cave man diet, touted as the ideal choice as it was the diet for most of human ancestry.

The hunter-gatherer diet should probably be termed the gatherer-hunter diet as our forebears did more gathering than hunting. Either way, from here on I shall call it the Paleolithic diet. This is the diet we enjoyed before humans started to cultivate plants, domesticate animals and consume dairy foods about 10,000 years ago.

No bread, milk or baked beans for most of evolution

So, for two million years humans and their ancestors dined on wild animals, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds (but not legumes). There were no oils, dairy or grain-based foods in this time. This may be the ideal diet as our physiology evolved to make best use of these foods. Ten thousand years is a relatively short time to adapt to the dramatic changes we have experienced in our diet. Certainly, no-one would suggest that the body was designed to eat Krispy Kreme donuts.

Paleolithic diet improves metabolism

A University of California study was designed to see the effect the Paleolithic Diet on human physiology when compared to the modern diet. Due to the time and commitment required only nine healthy people completed the 17 day trial in which the last 10 days was exclusively the Paleolithic diet. During that time their blood cholesterol dropped by 16%, triglycerides by 35% and a significant drop in blood pressure even though none had high blood pressure in the first place. Blood glucose and insulin levels also improved. There was no weight loss or change in exercise patterns in the group, so any metabolic effects observed were due to the change in diet.

As Professor Loren Cordain, a big fan of the Paleolithic Diet said: "Our genome is very well adapted to wild plant and animal foods, and these giant come-latelys (grains, dairy, legumes) have potential effects of being discordant with our genome”. This small study suggests at least a short-term benefit to trying the diet.

“So what are the recommendations? Reduce processed foods, and increase fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meats and seafood” Cordain concluded. Makes sense all round. There are many adherents to the diet. For more information on the Paleolithic Diet go to

What does it all mean?

I think the debate on the ideal diet is all a bit theoretical. Even if the Paleolithic Diet is the best diet for humans, I don’t think I could live the rest of my life without camembert cheese, red wine and chocolate. I prefer the Comidas del Mundo Diet, which is one I just made up. It doesn’t have a web page yet, but should it become fashionable, then you will know where it began. Basically, you choose good quality food and dishes that originated from around the world and enjoy them, such as tomatoes (origin South America), tea (China), yogurt (Persia), chocolate (Switzerland via South America), macadamias (Australia), and combine that with activities that exercise the brain and body. I might call the combination La Vida Ecléctica Health and Anti-Aging Program. But, then again, I probably won’t. I don’t really like to be programmed.

Reference: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009; 90: 269-275

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Biting less than you can chew

“Don’t put so much in your mouth” is the advice parents give at the dinner table, especially to teenagers just arrived home after sports training. I used to eat at the same table as a motorbike fanatic at boarding college in Adelaide. We used to call him “hoovermouth” as he would fill his mouth until he had cheeks like a trumpet player. He would also eat with oily hands because his theory was that bacteria couldn’t live in oil.

It appears that how much you stick in your mouth could influence how much you keep sticking in your mouth. One weight loss tip has always been to take small bites, chew your food and put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls (assuming you haven’t got your mitts around a burger or dipping your fingers into a bucket of popcorn).

Custard experiment

Now Dutch researchers have added a touch of credibility to that advice. Twenty two healthy, young people, without eating disorders or strange boarding house table habits were selected for the experiment. And they had to like chocolate custard too.

The custard was provided in controlled amounts – small bite size, large bite size and bite size of choice – while also being in the mouth for set amounts of time – three seconds, nine seconds or a time they preferred. The time in the mouth was termed the Oral Processing Time, or OPT, as scientists love acronyms. Every thing was automated. Little beeps would signal when to bite and when to swallow. They were told to stop eating when they felt comfortably full.

Less food, more time

The least total amount of custard was eaten when the bite size was the smallest and the OPT was the longest. Compared to eating the custard ad libitum, they ate 32% less food before feeling full. Once either the bite size was increased or the OPT was shortened, more total food was consumed.

Although the eating situation was highly controlled and therefore not natural, the results were supportive of previous similar research. One earlier study even had people wear a dental prosthetic to reduce the oral cavity in the mouth and found they ate 25% less food. Why hasn’t someone put those on the market yet?

What does it all mean?

It makes sense that if we take longer to eat our meal, the hormones that trigger the appetite centre are going to kick in before we overeat. It also makes sense that we should take a little longer to enjoy the flavour and texture of food (aka chewing).

The advice to bite off smaller amounts and enjoy them over a longer time has always been good advice it seems. There lies one of the problems we have with many take-away foods – their flavour hits the palate quickly in the form of fat, sugar and salt and they are usually soft and quick to eat, chewing hardly required.

Reference: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009; 90: 269-275

Monday, November 9, 2009

Does chocolate give you zits?

Well, your Mum always reckoned it did when you were a teenager. That’s only because she loved you and thought it was helpful advice, not because she had read all the science on the topic. But, then again, there wasn’t much science on the link between food and acne anyway.

A lot of the research conducted last century wasn’t really high quality and led to the scientific view that what you ate probably didn’t make any difference to pimple production. A 1997 review article in the New England Journal of Medicine on the treatment of acne states: “Physicians should dispel the myth that diet or failure to cleanse the skin is responsible for acne.”

Case closed. And then reopened

When subscriber Mel asked if there was a link between chocolate and pimples, the answer would have been easy last century: No, Mel, there isn’t. The research on chocolate and other foods had shown no link between it and pimples. The case was closed. Then the case had to be re-opened again as a new theory emerged. Before I tell you about that, first what is acne?

What is acne?

Acne is an abnormality within the sebaceous glands associated with hair follicles on the face, back and chest. The whole process of acne begins at the age of 7-10 years, when hormonal surges cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge. Acne usually becomes visible in puberty, initiated by an increase in androgen hormones, especially dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS). The sebaceous glands secrete sebum that naturally flows to the surface of the skin. Should this flow be blocked by a plug (called a comedo), the oily sebum accumulates, and bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) feed on the fats in the sebum and accumulate to eventually reach levels that form a pimple. (OK, close your eyes and repeat that back to me).

Not one food, but the diet as a whole

In 2002, a theory was proposed that, as non-westernised societies have almost no acne, a diet of high Glycaemic Index (GI) foods might influence the formation of pimples. Those carbohydrate foods that are quickly digested (ie high GI foods) may trigger high levels of insulin in the blood, elevating Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1), which in turn stimulates sebum production.

Subsequent published research tends to give this theory some credibility. A pilot study at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia on a small group of male teenagers confirmed that a high GI diet influenced hormones to promote acne development. This is still only a theory and more research needs to be done before any conclusions on GI and acne can be made.

As chocolate has a low to moderate GI (and has a moderate insulin response), this theory may not be relevant to chocolate consumption anyway. So, the answer to the original question remains: No, Mel, there isn’t.

What does it all mean?

Although we have a lot more to learn about pimples and diet, it seems safe to say that no single food causes acne; it is more likely to be the effect of the overall diet. As a general rule of thumb, the better the quality of the diet, the lower the GI and the less likelihood of getting a zit. Choosing highly processed foods tends to lead to higher blood glucose levels, higher insulin, changes in hormonal levels and a greater chance of waking up with a huge zit in the middle of your forehead.

Reference: Mol Nutr & Food Research 2008; 52 (6): 718-726

Chocolate after a heart attack

Chocolate is a much studied food. Now there is yet another research paper suggesting that it is never too late for chocolate. It has been long known that the cocoa in chocolate has antioxidants that seem to promote healthy arteries, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clots (eg deep vein thrombosis) and stop LDL-cholesterol from being oxidized into a dangerous form. All good news if you are otherwise healthy and eat only sensible amounts of choc.

But what if you have already had a heart attack and been lucky enough to survive it? A study of 1169 people who had a heart attack in the 1990s found that chocolate eaters had a 27% reduced chance of another attack when compared to those never eating chocolate. Although an occasional nibble conferred some protection, those that ate chocolate at least twice a week had the best outcome. The patients were not asked if the chocolate was milk or dark.

This was an observational study and we must be careful not to conclude that chocolate was the answer. On the other hand, sometimes it is nice to jump to conclusions on certain food experiences.

Reference: Journal of Internal Medicine 2009; 266: 248-257

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How much fruit and veg do we eat?

Let’s see if we have got this right – fruit and vegetables are good for you. Why? Well, there are all those wonderful nutrients, all the antioxidants, plus other stuff that seem to protect our brains and eyes, and add the fibre and plant sterols which help our bowels and heart. Of course, they have no added fats, salt or sugars in their natural state. And they are dolphin safe.

Should we be impressed with the list of benefits from fruit and veg? You would think so. But we aren’t. Every group I present to, whether adult or child, have picked up the 2 & 5 message (two fruits and five serves of vegetables in Australia).

Barely 1 in 5 adults get their 2 & 5

Just released is a US report stating that just over a quarter (27%) of American adults eat enough veggies, while about a third (33%) eat enough fruit. Only 14% of their adult citizens are eating both enough fruit and vegetables.

In Australia, a survey of over 1100 adults showed that one in five people (19%) eat enough vegetables and just over half (57%) eat enough fruit. I would just like to remind you that this was a survey, and when you ask humans about stuff, they love to impress the interviewer (ie they tell fibs), so you can bet those figures are an over estimate.

Fruit bonus

Now comes research telling us that we may have under sold fruit from an antioxidant perspective. When polyphenols, a class of antioxidants, have been measured in the past we only picked up a fifth of the total amount. To find the extra a team of scientists from the UK and Spain used an acid extraction process on apples, peaches and nectarines.

“If non-extractable polyphenols are not considered, the levels of beneficial polyphenols such as proanthocyanidins, ellagic acid and catechin and substantially under estimated,” said lead researcher Sara Arranz.

We have no idea what is a serve size

The good folk promoting fruit and veg tell me they have increased intake by about half a serve of each over the last decade, which is commendable. It may be that one barrier we face is that so many don’t even know what a serve size is. Unbelievably, the survey found that only 4 out of 10 people knew that a piece of fruit (apple, pear, banana) was a serve. What was the other 6 out of 10 thinking? Half an apple? One grape? 0.723 of a medium sized fruit? pi x r2 where r= the radius of the fruit? Who knows? More expectedly, only 1 in 8 knew that half a cup of vegetables was a serve.

Should we tell people to eat less fruit and vegetables?

Here’s a common argument: Don’t tell people the really healthy level of exercise they should do because you will scare them and they won’t do any exercise at all. You have to be gentle with humans and get them to exercise for 30 minutes a day, before you tell them they should really be exercising for 60 minutes a day, and even more if they have “trouble with their weight”. Should we tell people to eat 1 & 3, and then gradually encourage them to move to 2 & 5? I prefer to tell people the truth. Exercise for 60+ minutes a day, eat 2 & 5, tea and coffee don’t dehydrate you, diet soft drinks don’t cause cancer, and the best cricketers still come from Australia!

What does it all mean?

Fruits and vegetables aren’t really contributing to health because we just don’t eat enough for them to give us a benefit. Most people don’t know what serve of fruit and vegetables looks like, so maybe we need to make that clear from the outset. With pictures. And then we pass legislation that states that health promotion advertisements need to be simple and fun and not the dictatorial, finger-wagging warnings we seem to get. I have said it many times – when we make fruit and vegetable advertisements like they make beer ads we might have a decent chance of getting men to eat their greens.

References: Public Health Nutrition 2008; 12 (5): 637-643; Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry 2009; 57: 7298-7303

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

If you stop exercising, your muscle turns to fat

No it doesn’t. Muscle cannot convert to fat. When you stop exercising then muscles will diminish in size, generally lowering your metabolic rate. The drop in kJs/Calories burned through less exercise and a lower metabolism makes it so much easier to gain kilos as fat. Muscles start to shrink after four decades on the planet, so it is a great idea to keep active through life so that you both maintain your muscle mass and keep your metabolic rate up. That applies to both men and women, especially those that enjoy their chocolate.

Women & chocolate

If you crave for a food, then you are normal, or at least in the majority. Over 80% of young women and 75% of young men feel the need for certain foods, while only two out of three older people have the urge to track down specific foods. Chocolate is the single most craved food. No surprises there.

Women love chocolate. They will do almost anything to acquire it. Men too love chocolate, although pizza is more likely to be their first choice. It is often speculated that the desire for chocolate by women is hormonally driven, with the greatest desire just before, and a couple of days after, the onset of menstruation.

The need for chocolate

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recruited 280 women who were either 46, 63 or 82 years old. They had determined that if hormone cycles influenced chocolate desire then there should be a 38% drop in chocolate cravings post-menopausal. However, they found only a 13% drop in cravings. About 90% of pre-menopausal women craved chocolate compared to 76% of post-menopausal women, so it is clear the need for chocolate was profound in most women.

It’s not the hormones

The researchers state that: “the sizeable proportion of women in all age groups who report chocolate and other cravings indicates that the notion of 'craving' is not generation-specific, but rather an experience that is familiar to women of any age.”

Previously, these same researchers had speculated that that this craving could be due to the low levels of progesterone at this time of the month. They gave a dose of progesterone to women who suffered severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) as part of the treatment for PMS. If the theory was correct, then this treatment should also reduce the cravings for chocolate. There was a slight reduction in the craving for chocolate and other sweet foods, but this occurred in both the treatment group and the placebo group. In other words, the administration of progesterone didn’t seem to be the answer.

What does it all mean?

Most of the prevailing evidence suggests that both men and women like chocolate because the flavour elicits the production of endorphins (natures happy chemicals) in the brain. When people are given endorphin blockers, their desire for, and pleasure from, chocolate is greatly diminished. This research on women supports the view that pleasure is the main driver for chocolate and, maybe, the need for pleasure helps dampen any discomfort from periods. This, in turn, supports the view that chocolate should be tax deductable.

(Note: there is no evidence that your love for chocolate is due to a pharmacological effect or a nutrient deficiency. It’s a pleasure thing.)

Reference: Appetite 2009; 53: 256-259

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When is a sweetener artificial?

Artificial sweeteners have been around a very long time. The first sweetener that wasn’t related to sugar or honey was created in 1878 (131 years ago). It was called saccharin. It became a sugar substitute during the sugar restrictions of WWI and WWII, later to become part of the new “dieters” drinks of the 1960s.

Sweeteners have been associated with cancer since massive amounts of saccharin given to rats caused bladder cancer. How much saccharin? About 3000 times the amount any human was likely to consume. This research has now been dismissed and in May 2000 saccharin was removed from the list of potential carcinogens.

The small, sweet protein

The most common sweetener, aspartame, was discovered in 1965 and was approved for use in food in 1983 in the US and 1985 in Australia. You will find aspartame in low joule or low sugar products that are kept cool, such as soft drinks and yogurt.

Aspartame is not really artificial because it is made of two amino acids (phenylalanine and aspartic acid), both of which are found in any food with protein, from bread to beef. And that is why it is only found in cool foods – once you heat it, being a small protein it will lose its original structure and no longer be sweet.

It is the most researched and evaluated food additive in the world, yet many have been active against its use. A lot of fuss over a small protein, or more accurately, a peptide.

No cancer risk found

The cancer-sweetener association is still prevalent. Recently, Italian researchers took a look at sweeteners and the risk of getting cancer of the stomach, pancreas and endometrium. Over 1000 cancer patients were matched with over 2000 controls to see if there was a link between sweetener use and cancer risk. The researchers concluded: “….. the present study adds further evidence on the absence of an association between low-calorie sweetener (including aspartame) consumption and the risk of common neoplasms ..…”

This is not the first paper to absolve sweeteners of cancer blame. Many other cancers have been assessed and were not associated with sweeteners. In 2006 a US study of 285,000 men and 189,000 women found no link between aspartame and leukaemia, lymphomas or brain tumours.

What does it all mean?

The evidence won’t quell the fear mongers. Occasional consumption of aspartame is very unlikely to be a health concern. Even the high end users consume well below the Acceptable Daily Intake for aspartame determined internationally by food scientists. No, food scientists don’t conspire to harm the public. They, in fact, set very high safety margins for sweeteners and other additives such that even the crazy folk who drink two litres of diet soft drink a day won’t be harmed by a sweetener (however, their tooth enamel is likely to be eroded by the acid in soft drinks).


Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 2009; 18 (8): 2235-2238

Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 2006; 15: 1654-1659

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fruit hoaxes

Here is a law that hasn’t been broken since the internet started: Health warnings about food received via email will be a hoax. Yes, that includes those about margarine, Diet Coke, artificial sweeteners, and even the very positive one about bananas.

A recent one proclaimed that fruit should only be eaten on an empty stomach, and never after a meal. A quote from this ludicrous email: “Let’s say you eat two slices of bread and then a slice of fruit. The slice of fruit is ready to go straight through the stomach into the intestines, but is prevented from doing so. In the meantime the whole meal rots and ferments and turns to acid”.

So, let me get this right – when I eat a banana sandwich, the bread races to the pyloric sphincter (where the stomach joins the small intestine) and road blocks the banana from traveling any further? The banana then looks forlorn because it is locked in the stomach and decides to ferment to pass the time.

Embarrassingly out-of-date

This notion would have had some credibility in the 18th century. Then, along came a bloke called William Beaumont who did a range of experiments in the 1820s on another human being called Alexis St Martin. Later Beaumont published a book in 1833 called Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion detailing how he proved that all mixes of food was digested. Nothing rotted or fermented. Every physiology book in the 176 years since has agreed with Beaumont.

You can eat fruit any time of the day, seated or standing, in any season of the year, and in either hemisphere. Gets digested the same. Whenever you read a claim that food rots, putrefies or ferments in your guts, it is just someone going public about not having a clue about basic biology. And that is their right in a democracy. Sadly.

The fruit salad tree

Harry Tomlinson, by all accounts a good and honest bloke, awoke to find that his apple tree was now growing plums and blackberries. The tree in his garden in northern Wales had been growing apples for 30 years before other fruit appeared. He got some publicity back in 2005, with at least one journo asking a horticulturist for an explanation for the “fruit salad” tree. Then someone did the smart and obvious thing. They looked at the tree. You see, Harry was 94 years old, and his sight may not be the best. He was informed by a visiting horticulturist that the maverick fruit had been pasted on the apple tree. Harry wasn’t too pleased. “I think it’s a rotten trick” he told the BBC.

What does it all mean?

It means that some people enjoy fooling others. You have heard the old pearler about only being able to eat fruit before 12 noon. That came from Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, written in their silly book Fit for Life.

I always ask the question “Would this sound logical in a hunter-gatherer lifestyle?” In other words, does it make sense if we consider how people lived 5000 years ago? How would anyone know it is 12 noon five thousand years ago? If a protein meal offered itself early one morning, would it make sense to tell your neighbour “Leave the fish be Joe, it’s way too early to eat protein.”

The digestive tract is very clever. The body is designed to digest all types of food at any time because that made it so much easier for humans to survive.

Does organic food have more nutrients Pt2?

In my last newsletter I mentioned a report that, simply put, said that conventionally grown produce and organically grown produce had similar nutrient profiles. Just as the dust was settling on the conventional vs organic debate, another report, published in Agronomy for Sustainable Development this month, made a case for organic produce.

The new report states that organically grown fruit and vegetables tend to have higher levels of antioxidants, which may benefit human health. There is a logic here, as the antioxidants in plants are often working as nature’s natural pesticides helping the plant keep bugs at bay. If pesticides are not used by the farmer then organic fruit and vegetables have to produce more of their own version to make them less attractive to bugs.

The report also said that the mineral content did not differ between production systems, although there appeared to be higher levels of iron and magnesium in some organically grown vegetables.

Organic produce consumption is on the rise in western societies. As I mentioned in the last newsletter, if you can afford organic then support the movement. We are lucky to have the choice.

You can download the original paper here:

References: Agron Sustain Dev 2009; doi 10.1051/agro/2009019

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Organic food has same nutrients as conventionally grown

The last time I was the messenger on this topic, three people unsubscribed in protest. Once, when I spoke about organically grown food on the radio, a lady from Tasmania kindly took the time to ring and abuse me. It is a very emotional area. Let me see if I can get the message across clearly.

A report published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition came to the conclusion that organically grown produce and livestock had a similar nutrient offering to conventionally grown food. The reviewers trawled all the research for the past 50 years and found only 55 good quality research studies comparing organic and conventionally grown food, many conducted this century. The comparison did not include pesticide residue or the environmental impact.

The price is not right
In many cases, it won’t matter how you dress up organic produce because most people won’t be prepared to pay the premium price. I once inadvertently paid four times the price for organic onions. Most organic produce is at least 50% dearer that the regular type. I’m not suggesting that anyone is getting ripped-off as organic farming will be more labour intensive and therefore command a higher price. On the other hand there will only be a small number of suburbs where organic produce will sell well.

What else is relevant?
The other critical factor is that less than one in ten adults eat enough fruit and vegetables to be good for them. Most adults need to double their vegetable intake to get the benefits they provide, before they start to wonder whether they should go organic or not.

Fresh produce in Australia is tested for pesticide residues. Most farmers will ensure that they meet the withholding times to ensure they are below the Maximum Residue Limits for pesticides, which are set by international scientific agreement. At lot of fresh produce has no detectable pesticide or herbicide residue at the point of sale. All the same, this will not appease many people who prefer no pesticides to be used in the first place (and if they weren’t used then fruit and vegetables will be a lot more expensive than they are now).

What does it all mean?
If you can afford it, and you eat plenty of organic produce, then keep buying it. Many of you already are as the organic market is rapidly growing. It sends a message that you prefer food that is a little more gentle on the environment. For those of us with plenty of mouths to feed and a modest budget, then feel comfortable eating good quality conventionally grown food, as the nutrient levels are very similar to organic produce. Remember that how you look after fresh produce after it has been bought will have the greatest impact on its nutrient content. Eat fresh food as soon as you can after purchase to get the most nutrients from your meal.

References: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009; doi 10.3945/ajcn.2009.28041

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A myth that will never die

At a recent presentation someone told the group that caffeinated drinks dehydrate people. It is always difficult to gently correct a long held belief. I explained that caffeine causes a very small increase in urinary production at most, however, drinking cola soft drinks, tea and coffee do not cause excess urine production or dehydration. Even the more enlightened sports physicians and dietitians now tell athletes that drinking tea and coffee after training helps rehydrate the body.

Nearly a decade ago, Dr Ann Grandjean from the University of Nebraska gave people equal amounts of water and caffeinated beverages and measured their pee output for 24 hours. There was no difference between water and caffeine containing drinks. All subsequent research has shown that caffeinated drinks can be part of your fluid intake.

It is not clear who first said: “The plural of anecdote is not data”. The quote seems to suit many myths. An anecdote or observation is always worth investigating because it can lead to greater understanding. The anecdote that caffeinated drinks cause dehydration has been investigated and proven to be not correct. I might also add that “repetition without understanding slows progress”.

Water for the brain

You might have a bottle or glass of water handy as you read this. We were designed to drink water, so it makes sense that we should make it our main beverage. Does it make you think better? There doesn’t appear to be many studies on water’s ability to improve brain function under our normal daily living conditions. Now, two research papers on kids hints that a water bottle on the school desk could improve cognition.

Very few studies are conducted on children for ethical reasons, so it’s no surprise that, until these two studies were done, only one other research paper had been done on kids, dehydration and thinking skills.

Water improves memory
Forty children aged 8-9 years were selected from two schools in Wales. The kids were tested mid-afternoon on two different days, one when they were given a 300 mL drink of water and one where they weren’t given water. Cognitive testing, lasting for about eight minutes, was scheduled for 30 mins later. The classroom temperature was around 20ºC (68ºF), quite pleasant, although chilly outside. Those that were given water, and observed to drink it, had a better memory (word recall) than those that weren’t given water.

A second study was of 58 children, aged 7-8 years, with half of them receiving 250 mL of additional water. Twenty minutes later they were given a range of cognitive tests. The water drinkers again did better in the tests, such as answering questions after a short story and “spot the difference” between similar cartoon pictures.

Drinks break
Water consumption during sport and hot weather has been encouraged for many decades. Coaches call for a drinks break during training because they know kids and adults function better physically when they are well hydrated. Adult cognitive function begins to decline when they are 1% or more dehydrated (that’s a 70kg adult losing 700 mL of sweat). Less is known about children because they are rarely subjects in dehydration studies. These two studies may be the trigger to start further research to find out how fluid affects young thinking.

What does it all mean?
Both studies were done in the UK when the ambient temperature was less than 10ºC (50ºC) so the kids weren’t likely to be dehydrated after playing outside as they might be during an Australian summer. As young children have an immature thirst mechanism they may become mildly dehydrated when distracted by play and classroom activities and “forget” to drink water. The studies do suggest that the practise of having water bottles in classrooms could well be having educational dividends. Just to think how much smarter I could have been with a water bottle by my side during the physics and chemistry classes. I might have at least remembered Boyle’s Law.

References: Appetite 2009; 52: 776-779; Appetite 2009; 53: 143-146

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lactose Intolerance

Is lactose intolerance natural?

First, what is lactose intolerance? Our major source of lactose is milk (cow, goat, sheep and human) or yogurt. It is not found in hard cheese or butter. At birth, we have a digestive enzyme called lactase to break down lactose in breast milk to its constituent sugars, glucose and galactose, which are then absorbed into the blood.

By the age of 5 years, in many people on the planet their lactase enzyme is no longer produced and they can’t digest lactose. In this case large amounts of lactose can cause intestinal cramping because gut bacteria convert the lactose to gas and lactic acid. Not comfortable. They are now lactose intolerant. (Note here: lactose intolerance is not an allergy).

The human genome reveals more
Geneticists have been able to check DNA from around the world and married their findings to history, enabling to explain why many of us can drink milk later in life without problems. Around 10,000 years ago humans kept cattle as a beast of burden and a source of meat. The ability to handle lactose doesn’t seem to be in anyone around this time. A DNA mutation soon after allowed some people to be able to drink milk well past their 5th birthday and into adulthood.

Clearly, being able to drink cow milk was a benefit during times of food shortage. The mutation then became more dominant in parts of Europe through to northern India. It is thought the mutation occurred independently in parts of Arabia when the camel became domesticated and camels’ milk entered the diet.

Rapid spread of mutation
Studies of DNA from skeletal remains in central Europe show that about 80% of people in that area had the mutation for tolerating lactose about 7000 years ago. That is a rapid spread of a mutation, strongly suggesting that it offered a survival advantage, according to a new book The 10,000 Year Explosion – How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution by Professors of Anthropology Cochran and Harpending.

In fact, being able to tolerate lactose in the diet, allowed the expansion of the Indo-Europeans, tracked by both the spread of lactose tolerance and the Indo-European languages (eg Spanish, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, German, French). Put another way, if your native language was Indo-European in origin, then there was a good chance you could handle lactose over the last 7000 years or so.

Dairy produce better than meat for survival
Dairy farming generates about five times as many Calories (kJs) per area of farming when compared to raising cattle for slaughter. You can quickly see the advantage here. More Calories per hectare means a greater number of people fed, meaning more warriors to defend the land or occupy other lands. Dairy farmers were more mobile and less reliant on seasonal cereal crops, so this helpful mutation meant that both a common language and a survival advantage travelled widely.

It also explains why eastern and southern Asia, Japan, parts of Africa and the indigenous folk of Australia have both a very different language background and the inability to handle lactose after being weaned.

What does it all mean?
Some of us are designed to drink milk and others aren’t. The answer lies in evolution and genetic changes and not in ideology. Milk is a great source of calcium and riboflavin. Calcium can also be found in hard cheese, which has no lactose, and calcium fortified soy drinks. If you enjoy cow milk, I suggest that a reduced-fat milk is your better choice as most of them (in Australia) have more calcium than in regular milk. Well, I’m a dietitian, I had to say that!

Reference: The 10,00 Year Explosion by Gregory Cochran & Henry Harpending, Basic Books, New York 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

Caffeine & Your Brain

Mark Webber has just won the German Grand Prix in a Red Bull sponsored car. Red Bull was one of the first “energy” drinks on the market, laden with caffeine at 80mg of caffeine per 250mL can, about the amount found in a strong cup of coffee. Other caffeine sources are tea and anything with guarana. There is a small amount of caffeine in cocoa and chocolate too.

That morning kick
Caffeinated drinks are the most popular way to start the day in the Western world. Around 2002 there was the first appearance of a study linking caffeine to Alzheimer’s Disease. The surprise was the link was that **too little** caffeine increased the risk of dementia. In the following years there has been much more research showing that caffeine lowered the chance of losing your marbles.

Caffeine & dementia
In Alzheimer’s there is a build-up of beta amyloid proteins in the brain that disrupt memory. In mice, caffeine halts the formation of this nasty protein. Caffeine is also anti-inflammatory, helping to protect the brain further as Alzheimer’s is an inflammatory disease of the brain. That may help explain the results of two recent studies.

A European study tracked 676 men, aged 70-90 years, for over 10 years while assessing their cognitive decline. The lowest decline in brain function was observed in the men drinking 3 cups of coffee a day. Those with the greatest decline were the non-coffee drinkers and those drinking more than 4 cups a day. In fact, if you didn’t drink coffee then your brain went downhill four times quicker than if you had three cups a day. I bet nobody would have predicted that last century.

That’s good news for blokes, but can it apply to women too? A more recent European study of 875 women and 534 men, aged 65-79 years, also found a strong correlation between coffee consumption and dementia in both the men and women. Moderate coffee drinkers reduced their risk of dementia by two-thirds compared to non-drinkers after 21 years of follow-up. What is moderate coffee drinking? Between 3-5 cups a day.

The dose makes the poison
The single most difficult concept to get across to the media and the public is the concept of hormosis, that is, health is not a linear model, it is usually a J or U-shaped curve. We have spoken about this before with alcohol – there is a healthy level of drinking (1-2 standard drinks a day max) either side of which there is less benefit, or a negative effect with heavy drinking (4+ standard drinks a day). The J-shaped curve seems to apply to caffeine too. The least risk of dementia is for 3-5 cups a day, either side of which there appears to be little benefit.

What does it all mean?
The researchers aren’t sure if it is the caffeine alone that works or if other compounds in coffee help, as coffee has anti-oxidant phenolics and any combination of these could be offering protection to the brain. Coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of Parkinson’s Disease and type 2 diabetes as well, but no-one is too sure why. Apart from being anti-inflammatory, caffeine has magnesium that makes insulin more sensitive, reducing diabetes and in turn reducing the risk of dementia. Who knows, but the future may have coffee, or even Red Bull, recommended as a health drink!

While it all looks promising for enjoying a modest amount of coffee, I can’t get too enthused because I don’t drink coffee and the dementia story doesn’t apply for us tea drinkers.

References: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007; 61: 226-232 / Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2009; 16: 85-91

How much caffeine do you consume?

It is very difficult to know the exact amount of caffeine that anyone consumes. You can buy tea bags that come in regular, strong and extra strong, all with differing caffeine levels. Then you might be a jiggler or dangler, all influencing your caffeine intake. Be aware that green tea has the same amount of caffeine as regular tea. A strong cup of coffee will provide about 80mg caffeine, about the same as an “energy” drink. A five minute brew of tea is around 30-50mg caffeine. Two teaspoons of Milo or drinking chocolate has about 2mg caffeine. A can of regular or diet cola will have about 50mg caffeine. Dark chocolate will have around 60mg of caffeine in a 100g block.

If caffeine alone is proven to slow cognitive decline, then the above research hints that somewhere in the region of 150-300mg caffeine is a healthy “dose”.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why are bananas bent?

Because it’s natural, written in their genes. The banana is negatively geotrophic, meaning they grow up against gravitational pull. Cool huh? You won’t see an apple or a cherry try that. You see, the banana starts out straight as the bunch emerges, and then becomes bent as it grows older, just like a radical teenager. The pull tab is where the banana was joined to the plant and the black nubbin at the end is what remains of the flower, at one time pointing upwards. Bananas: the anti-gravity fruit.

Getting kids to eat their veggies

Vegetables were probably never that big in the human diet. We evolved eating meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, fruits, tubers, fungi, berries and insects because that’s where the kilojoules are. When you need energy (kJs/Cals) each day to survive, why bother eating a leaf (lettuce), a flower (broccoli) or something else that is mainly water? Add the fact that 10,000 years ago you never met your grandparents and anyone reaching the age of 30 was seriously old. Back then you weren’t eating to avoid the diseases of aging, such as cancer. You were eating to survive.

So what’s the point you are making?
Simply that humans didn’t evolve as big veggie eaters, so it is no real surprise that we still aren’t big veggie eaters. Sure, we have undeniable evidence that vegetables provide nutrients and bio-active compounds and that eating them helps us control our appetite, reduce our risk of heart disease and some cancers. They are very useful attributes as good-living folk should expect to live, on average, until they are 80-85 years old, not the 30-35 year life span of yesteryear.

Children & vegetables
When I talk to parents, I explain that enjoying vegetables does not come natural with most kids (or adults). Many vegetables are bitter, astringent or just plain bland. All parents know that veggies can be disguised in meatloaf, pasta sauce, stews, soups and the like. Recently a journal article suggested there is another tip that we could employ to swing a child towards a particular vegetable.

Researchers at the University of California told students (average age 20 yrs) that after conducting a series of interviews with them, they now had a good profile on their food preference as a young child, determining whether they either really loved or really hated a particular food when it was first consumed. They were also asked to rate their enjoyment of each food today. Three weeks after the interviews, the students were asked back, where they were given their “personalised food preference profile”. Unknown to them, it included one false statement.

It’s just a little white lie
Those with the false statement that they had loved to eat a specific vegetable as a child, actually started to believe it. They felt much more positively about the vegetable and were more likely to order and eat it. The improved positive view of the vegetable continued for at least two weeks even though they had been told only once, falsely, that they loved the vegetable as a kid.

What does it all mean?
With less than 5% of children eating the designated amount of vegetables each day, it is important that parents remain continually positive around veggies and salad. Parents might also include the line “You just loved tomato/peas/pumpkin when you were a baby. Couldn’t get enough of it”. Saying that a few times (not just once) just might entice that child to include it in their menu, without coercion. It certainly won’t hurt.

Reference: Acta Psychologica 2008; 129: 190-197

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pee sniffers help science

After a feed of asparagus, does your pee smell funny, like boiled cabbage, vegetable soup, or even asparagus? Scientists have recruited pee sniffers to help them find the compounds responsible and the proportion of “detectors” versus “non-detectors”.

To make the asparagus plant less attractive to parasites it produces a compound called asparagusic acid. This same compound, when eaten, is metabolised to other sulphur-containing compounds that provide the characteristic bouquet of your pee after you eat asparagus. Although we all excrete the same compounds after eating asparagus, only around one in two people from a Caucasian background, and nine out of ten from a Chinese background can detect the odour.

Asparagusic acid and its metabolites are harmless. So is their aroma. To me anyway, being a non-detector.

Fat cells are called adipocytes

They are called lots of other things too. Usually nothing too complimentary. When a person gains weight, do they increase the size of their fat cells or increase the number of fat cells they have? Or both?

Once you reach adulthood, the evidence suggests that the number of fat cells is the same in both lean and overweight people, so when you gain weight as an adult you are just cramming more fat into every fat cell such that they enlarge.

Conversely, weight loss in adulthood reduces the size of the fat cells, but not the number. Even those that have undergone surgery to reduce stomach size (gastric stapling) retain the same number of fat cells despite considerable weight loss.

The number of fat cells is determined during childhood
Having fat cells has always been important for human existence. Fat cells became storage packs for reserve energy to help us get through any food shortages we may have encountered. Without fat cells we might be able to live only a day or two without food. With fat cells we have a much longer opportunity to obtain food.

If you cannot change the number of fat cells during the adult years, then any difference in fat cell number must happen during childhood and adolescence. Although there is speculation as to when during our youth we can increase fat cells, it seems that adolescence is a key time of accumulating additional fat cells. You can see why there has been concern about overweight children – three quarters of them become overweight adults. Developing an excess of fat cells during childhood may be one contributing aspect to chunky adults.

Today’s fat is different to 1999 fat
About 10% of your fat cells are renewed every year. Old ones die and are replaced by fresh ones. The average lifespan of a single fat cell is around 8.5 years. Their ability to fill with fat is enormous. Someone at 140 kg having the same number of fat cells as someone at 80 kg just shows you how “efficient” they are at doing their job.

What does it all mean?
The adult body has around 80 billion fat cells. They are there for life, being lost and replaced slowly. You can’t change the number of fat cells you have at your 18th birthday. You can, however, have a big say in their size. The paper did not answer the question whether liposuction permanently reduced fat cell number, although they stressed that there is a “tight regulation of adipocyte number” through life.

Reference: Nature 2008; 453: 783-787

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Watch thou eating habites

William Phiston’s book “The Schoole of Good Manners” was published in 1609, in which he states:
"Some thrust so much into their mouthes at once, that their cheeks swell like bagpipes. Others open their Jawes so wide, that they smacke like Hogges: some blow at the nose. All which are beastly fashions. To drinke or speake when thy mouth is full, is not only slovenly, but dangerous."

Especially for the person opposite, I would add. It does show that, sometimes, it is only the spelling of the advice that changes in 400 years.

William was also keen that you didn’t have your elbows on the table:
"Take heede that thou trouble none of them (table guests) that sit next thee with thine Elbowes, nor those on the other side the table with thy feete."

Or just get a bigger table William. I wonder what table manners have changed over time? A new one this century for our family has been: Hey, no texting at the table!

Food Addiction

Are you addicted to food? It is a question many have tried to answer. If you like sweet foods, chocolate, or pizza, does it follow that these foods have an unhealthy allure? There is a good chance that you crave food three times a day because you need food to survive. It’s called hunger. How does that differ to a desire to eat six Krispy Kreme donuts? (Here, I’ve made a wild assumption that Krispy Kreme donuts can be legally classified as a food).

Nutrient lack?
A favourite theory is that we crave foods that provide a nutrient that we lack. There is no science to back that view. Giving people a nutritionally complete milkshake for five days straight, and nothing more, still stimulated cravings for specific foods. Why wouldn’t it? Only milkshakes all day is boring. We are designed to enjoy a range of foods for pleasure, not just nutrients.

Chocolate is probably the most craved food in Western society. The common view is that chocolate, and cocoa specifically, has addictive compounds. Again there is no evidence for this. You will often read that we crave chocolate for its phenylethylamine (PEA). Two problems here. If PEA was addictive, then why don’t we crave cheese and sausages as they have greater amounts? Secondly, there’s very little PEA in chocolate, and the small amount present is rapidly broken down in the liver. Forget the PEA argument.

There is a lot of evidence that the consumption of pleasant foods, whether that is chocolate, lobster or a double cream brie, triggers the release of natural endorphins (opioid transmitters) in the brain. That means if the endorphins weren’t released at the time of eating, we wouldn’t enjoy the food as much. And that is exactly what happens. Taking a drug called Naltrexone blocks the release of endorphins and dampens the enjoyment of the food, yet doesn’t affect hunger. In fact, Naltrexone doesn’t cause weight loss, suggesting that a craving for food is not the main cause of overweight.

There is also evidence that the environment can elicit a need for certain foods. If life isn’t working out as it should, it makes sense to your body that you eat foods, or drinks, that are comforting and increase the brain opioid levels. Tough day? A gin and tonic with some chocolate will take away some of the pain.

What does it all mean?
Dr Marcia Pelchat from the Monell Chemical Sense Centre in Pennsylvania says it is difficult to find a direct similarity between food craving and drug addiction. A liking for food is healthy and had an evolutionary benefit in encouraging us to seek food we enjoyed. An addiction to drugs may affect similar pleasurable brain transmitters in an unhealthy way. A case of pleasure going haywire. She says that, however, some overweight people often do exhibit “addictive” behaviour regarding food and this is exacerbated when they go through cycles of restriction and abundance (as in going on and off diets) as that can produce an addictive pattern of eating.

Reference: Journal of Nutrition 2009; 139: 620-622

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Truly successful weight loss

No matter your age, you have constantly had to endure weight loss diets, books, magazines and television programs with their own version of the “weight loss breakthrough”. The first published diet book was unleashed in 1864 (that’s 145 years ago, just in case you thought it was a typo) by a gentleman called William Banting, an English coffin maker. It was called a “Letter on Corpulence”. It was also the first best-seller diet book.

13kg lost and kept off
Despite the constant message that virtually everyone fails to lose weight once they become a bit chunky, there is a significant group of people who have lost lots of weight (average 13kg) and kept it off for over a year (and many for over five years). Here is how they did it.

Key characteristics of permanent weight loss
Constant vigilance
Successful people weighed themselves regularly to ensure they remained on-track for a healthy weight. Once their weight began to rise they would quickly make adjustments to their eating and exercise to reverse the trend. They soon learned what had a positive impact on their weight and what didn’t.

Be active each day
The most successful weight losers were also the most active. Although 30 minutes of activity each day, such as walking, helped weight loss, the most successful people were active for 60 minutes a day. This activity can be spread over the day, such as a 30 minute bike ride in the morning and 30 minutes walking the dog in the afternoon. Imagine telling people they need to be active 60 minutes a day to stay lean. You can see why TV-advertised, “Look like this 19 year old model after 5 minutes-a-day” exercise machinery seems attractive.

Eat a low fat meals & snacks
Those that were able to keep their fat intake down found it the easiest eating style to lose weight and maintain a good body weight. Of course, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, lean meats and low fat dairy foods all help keep the fat level low. Successful people still had the very occasional treat, take-away or restaurant meal, but the majority of their meals and snacks were low in fat and kilojoules.

Eat breakfast
Virtually all successful weight losers had breakfast every morning. Enjoying the first meal of the day helps people control their eating during the rest of the day.

Eating consistently
Most successful people eat a similar style of eating each day, whether it is a weekday, a weekend, or a holiday. There was no problem going out to dinner or having a gourmet breakfast occasionally because the moment successful people had a bit of an eating splurge they adjusted their subsequent meals or activity to compensate. For example, they added an extra 30 minutes to their morning walk when they had been out to dinner the night before.

Maintain the healthy eating and active lifestyle
Once successful people had maintained a weight loss for two years or more, they found it much easier to continue their lifestyle. In other words, once a healthy lifestyle became a habit, excess kilos stayed off permanently.

What does it all mean?
For an overweight person to successfully lose weight takes a lot of bloody hard work – much too hard for all but the most determined. Hard work is what it takes to endure, manage and succeed in many aspects of life: marriage, child-raising, career, and following the Fremantle Dockers football team. Life was always meant to be a challenge.

Reference: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2005; 82: 222S-225S; Obesity 2007; 15: 2470-2477

Monday, April 27, 2009

Alcohol & bone health

Toast to your bones

For over a decade you have heard stories about alcohol, especially red wine, being good for your health, seemingly reducing the chance of getting heart disease or dementia. Could that wine with dinner or a beer after work be doing wonders for your bones too?

1-2 drinks a day
Yes, according to a study of 1200 men and 1500 women by the Research Centre on Aging at Tufts University in the US. One or two drinks of wine or beer daily improved the bone mineral density of the hip and spine in men and post-menopausal women. Young women didn’t seem to get the same bone benefit from a tipple.

Often, health authorities frown upon any positive word on alcohol because it is so easy to abuse, with many people take their drinking too enthusiastically and reversing any positives. In addition, very few know what a standard drink looks like. A regular wine glass can easily hold two standard drinks, therefore you now have restaurants providing wine glasses with a standard drink marker on the side.

Fortunately, I have a government permit to mention alcohol in this blog as a recent survey showed that not a single subscriber abused alcohol and all had an exceptionally high IQ.

What is it in alcoholic drinks that could be helping bones?
Apparently beer contains silicon, in the form of orthosilicic acid, which helps promote bone formation. In post-menopausal women, the resveratrol in red wine helps maintain estrogen levels to reduce the rate of bone loss later in life. A regular consumption of small amounts of beer and wine could be having a life-time accumulating effect on bone mineral density. The effect was lost once two standard drinks daily was surpassed.

What does it all mean?
Wise consumption of alcohol (2 or less standard drinks a day) may confer many benefits to the heart, the brain and the skeleton. Of course, those folk that do drink sensibly may be more likely to walk the dog, not smoke, consume adequate calcium, go to the gym, and not ride a skateboard along the metal handrails of a flight of steps, all of which are smart decisions for bone health.

A drink could be providing an independent benefit for your bones, but don’t count on it. If you drink, use it as “adjunct therapy” to other healthy decisions you make in life. This study backs a review of the previous literature published in the American Journal of Medicine (May 2008), supporting 1-2 drinks a day for stronger bones.

Reference: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009; 89: 1188-1196

Low Carb Beers

The low carbohydrate beer has been around for a long time and rises in popularity when the low carb diets take off, which they seem to do about once a decade. I’ve ear-marked the next “lets fret about carbs again” diet best seller for 2014. A can of regular beer has around 10-15g carbohdrate and 600 kJ (145 Cals). The low carb version has 3-5g carbohydrate per can and 470 kJ (110 kJ), which is about the same kilojoule content as a 3% alcohol light beer.

Let’s make this clear (and it has been a fact since 4000 BC, or even earlier), carbohydrate doesn’t make you fat; excess kilojoules make you fat. It doesn’t matter whether the excess kilojoules come from protein, carbohydrate, fat or alcohol, they will all end up as buttock baggage. In reality, it is most likely that any excess kJs will come from fat and/or alcohol (not carbohydrate, unless someone drinks 2L of soft drink a day).

So, if you are concerned about your waist circumference and health, then it makes better sense to choose lower alcohol beers. If you are having just one beer, let’s say, for healthy bones, then have whatever you like. Then again, if you choose your beer on image alone, base your choice on your favourite beer ad.