The abundance and cheap cost of unhealthy food has meant that there is a perception that a healthy diet is one that costs more. A systematic review of direct cost comparisons between healthy and unhealthy diets has indeed found that a healthy diet does cost more, but the difference is smaller than you might think.
A healthy diet, loaded with plenty of fruits, vegetables, minimally processed foods and lean sources of protein is the cornerstone of reducing the risk of many chronic diseases. People from an economically disadvantaged background may find it harder to eat healthier if there is a real or perceived higher cost to eating healthier. It is no surprise that the highest density of fast-food outlets cluster in socially disadvantaged areas and on the surface, this type of food may appear to offer ‘value for money’ all other nutritional concerns aside.
Diabetes is a major public health problem. Each day, 280 Australians will be diagnosed with diabetes with the total number of people in this country with either diabetes or a condition of pre-diabetes standing now at a staggering 3.2 million. Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common form of diabetes and is leading the world-wide explosion in this disease.
There is much we know about how type 2 diabetes can be prevented by lifestyle changes that focus on modest weight loss, eating more foods high in fibre, eating less foods high in saturated fat and getting more active.
What is less clear is what type of dietary pattern is optimal for controlling blood sugar levels in someone already with type 2 diabetes. There have been many clinical trials looking at different dietary approaches to managing type 2 diabetes which include:
Eating only raw foods has emerged as a popular dietary trend. Proclaiming an emotive health message, it is enough to make you think twice before next adding heat to your food. But fear not – on the scales of health, there is little to tip the balance in either direction.
Raw food advocates claim cooking food destroys the natural enzymes and nutrients that would otherwise give us optimal health and control body weight.
A raw food diet is almost entirely plant-based and includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, vegetable oils and juices in their natural uncooked state.
On the pro side, there is great merit in this type of diet. If you are currently eating a lot of processed food, then switching to raw food will be a clear nutritional win.
Fermented foods have been in our diet for thousands of years. Beer and wine are classic examples of fermented foods where yeast converts sugars to alcohol. Other types of fermented foods use bacteria, such as Lactobacillus, to make foods like yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and many others. And when you start talking about bacteria, you move into the realm of probiotics which come with a long list of health claims.
Few people would need to be told how much of a serious problem the obesity problem is in Australia. The most recent Australian data paints a grim picture of our health, with 63% of adults deemed to be carrying too much weight.
Despite the best intentions of public health programs and a never-ending supply of best-selling fad diets to choose from, the Nation’s collective waistline continues to expand. So is the problem too far out of control? Is willpower and personal responsibility not enough in the face of pervasive food marketing, and declining levels of physical activity?
At its heart, overeating and underactivity are indisputably the cause of weight gain, yet the reasons for these occurring in the first place are a complex combination of genetics, environmental factors and psychological reasons.
So you’ve taken the FebFast challenge and committed to 28 alcohol-free days – well done. Far from a well-meaning charity gesture and test of your self-control, drinking less may just come with a bunch of health benefits.
Alcohol is an accepted part of the social structure in Australia, but it is a substance that has the potential to cause a great deal of harm. The effects of alcohol on health are well described and unfortunately, most of it is on the negative side of the health ledger.
Alcohol is a major cause of road injury and a significant contributor to domestic violence while higher rates of heart disease, liver disease, cancer, mental health problems and excess weight are all consequences of long-term heavy drinking. And let’s not forget about the ‘next day’ ill effects from an evening of over-exuberance.
You may have seen some recent press around a book ('Grain Brain') written by a US neurologist with the claim that eating grains (and most carbohydrate foods in general) are a major culprit in causing dementia, depression, ADHD and headaches.
What the book boils down to is yet another variation of a high-fat, low-carbohydrate, gluten-free, saturated fat and high cholesterol diet. Its advice on cutting back on sugar and processed foods, which is supported by just about any dietary recommendation from peak health bodies for all major chronic diseases, is the one positive to come out of it.
The claims made in the book (and lack of any real solid evidence to support them) are so extreme, that you have to ask yourself, why isn't the rest of the medical world aware of these links and warning everyone of similar dangers?
That's because the risk factors for dementia are well-known and very well described and include:
A published review of 13 ‘anti cancer’ diets has arrived at the unsurprising conclusion that there is a lack of solid evidence to support a benefit for any of them, and a real risk of harm from malnutrition from several of them.
When a person is told they have cancer, a common reaction can be to turn away from conventional medical treatments and to seek an unproven remedy that offers the claim of ‘curing’ cancer. Sadly, if a true cancer cure was found, all doctors and health professionals would know about it and cancer would be a thing of the past.
Unproven cancer treatments are sometimes called ‘alternative medicine’, but this is not the case as they do not represent a true alternative to conventional medicine.
I really feel for the public today. Constantly bombarded with conflicting nutrition messages and sensationalist health warnings about particular foods or nutrients. Sugar is toxic. Wheat is the devil incarnate. We are designed to eat like our Palaeolithic ancestors. Glycaemic index is the key to health. Intermittent fasting is the best way to lose weight. Carbohydrates cause weight gain. Coffee is bad for you. Coffee is good for you. I could fill up pages with all of the variations of different health messages, some of them coming into and out of vogue as time moves on.
Working in nutrition for many years, I’ve seen all manner of fads come and go. I’ve read thousands upon thousands of research studies looking at foods, nutrients and health. I’ve commented to the media on all manner of diets. And you know what? The entire field of nutrition and health can be distilled down to some pretty simple basics.
In my last blog for the year, I thought I would tie in a Christmas theme and what better way than by unpicking Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol as a wonderful case study in vitamin D deficiency. Read on for more.
A Christmas Carol is a classic tale describing the life of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and how it was transformed after his encounter with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Truly a joyous and heart-warming story.