Sunday, December 20, 2020

Juice industry in damage control after health star rating changed to rank lower than diet cola

Fruit growers and processors say they are crushed by a decision to cut the health star rating (HSR) for 100-per-cent no-added-sugar juices from five stars to as low as two stars.

The decision came down to a vote at the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation, a group made up of state and territory ministers as part of its ongoing response to the five-year HSR review.

Food is rated from half-a-star to five stars depending on how its healthy and risk nutrients compare but the system has come in for criticism.

The Federal Government's aim in developing the ratings is to give shoppers an easy way to identify better choices of packaged and processed foods, something Agriculture Minister David Littleproud asserts is undermined by this decision.

"What I don't accept is the insanity of this decision, which really has no basis on nutritional value — it really just is mind-numbingly dumb," he said.

Last chance to improve the HSR

The forum's July communique revealed Mr Littleproud's initial push — to see 100-per-cent fresh fruit and vegetable juice with no added sugar receive an automatic HSR score of five stars — not supported and the review recommendations were maintained.

The Minister's last chance to improve the rating was Friday's meeting, when he put forward a proposal aiming for an automatic four HSR, a rating he said was supported by the Commonwealth and the farm industry.

"This was it, this was my second crack at it. I had a go in July and got rolled and then rolled again," Mr Littleproud said.

"It would appear that our bureaucrats are working off some other scientific sheet that what reality is."

Orange industry outrage

Citrus Australia chief executive Nathan Hancock said he was disappointed with the decision.

"It sends a really poor message to our consumers, who, let's face it, need to have more fruit and vegetables," he said.

"Being told that diet soda is better for them than a juice product, we think, is confusing.

"Ministers across the country were given the opportunity to review the information that we provided them on the health benefits of natural juices, and unfortunately states like Queensland let us down."

Mr Hancock said the forum had overlooked the nutritional benefits of drinking juices that cannot be gained from a manufactured product with artificial sweetener.

"The message that they've been giving us is that they want people to drink more water, because it's better for hydration, and they want to take sugar out of the diet," he said.

"Because diet soft drinks have artificial sugars, it elevates them above juices which have natural sugars."

Casualty of the war on sugar

Mr Hancock said the campaign against sugar was painting every type of sugar in a bad light.

"The desire to stamp sugar out of the consumers' diet has been misconstrued and taken off in a different direction," he said.

"There's so many other products consumers are eating these days, unwittingly eating sugar — it's added sugar, it's not naturally in the product."

Mr Hancock said although he was not sure in reality how many people used the HSR when selecting products, it was bound to have a knock-on effect.

"If you do use that system and you let it guide you in the choices that you make, then you're going to be given a bum steer here.

"The other effect is that producers will stop using the HSR system on their products.

"They don't have any faith in it, they don't trust it — it's sending a poor message to the consumer and I think we'll see businesses stop using it."

Producers remove rating

Major juice processors like Nippy's in South Australia are disappointed in the outcome and fear the new downgraded rating will have a significant impact on the industry.

Jeff Knispel, joint managing director of Nippy's group of companies, said the decision to rate Diet Coke higher than fresh juice was counterintuitive.

He believed a health star rating implied a full package of health benefits.

"If you take out all of the nutrients in how you score well in this rating system and focus on sugar, the question is then raised: 'Well, why are we calling it a health star rating?'

"If you are so insistent on the sugar focus, why don't you call it a sugar star rating, because to call it a health star rating is bordering on deceptive."

Nippy's companies in South Australia alone produce about 12.5 million litres of juice per year.

Mr Knispel said they now decided to remove the health star rating from their packaging to limit the negative impact on their products.

"As a company, we don't want to promote a negative message with anything we do with our packaging, so we will remove the logo.

"It's not good news for us, but we will just deal with it as best as we can."

Citrus SA chair Mark Doecke said the group feared it could be faced with less fresh fruit sales, impacting growers and processors.

"If you look at sugar only, of course the Diet Coke has got less sugar in it so it is going to get a higher rating, but it's a bit of a silly way of looking at a product," he said.

Risking food waste

Granite Belt Growers Association vice president Nathan Boronio said it certainly made him question the relevance of the HSR.

"I can't understand why they would want to encourage people to move away from fresh fruit juice."

He said he feared the worst outcome would see people shying away from fruit juice, reducing demand and resulting in fruit being wasted.

"We want to ensure that fruit wastage in this country is reduced; if you discourage people from drinking apple juice, we are going to have more apples being dumped."

Mr Hancock shares those fears and said he was worried about what would happen if juice was widely thought of as unhealthy.

"As an industry we can't afford to have that happen.

"There's a lot of pressure on growers to look at what variety of crop they grow — we might start to see this isn't a viable industry for them into the future, and we may see less and less orange juice produced in Australia."

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Vegans 40% more likely to suffer a bone fracture

Vegans who forgo all foods derived from animals have a far higher risk of broken bones than people who eat meat and fish, a study has shown.

The findings, by Oxford University researchers, have raised concerns that a recent increase in the popularity of veganism will cause health problems unless adherents plan their diets. The NHS advises vegans to think carefully about how they obtain enough calcium, iron and vitamin B12.

The number of vegans in Britain more than doubled to 600,000 between 2016 and 2019, according to surveys by the Vegan Society published this year. Food manufacturers have responded by creating scores of plant products designed to mimic red meat, such as vegan sausage rolls and burgers that “bleed” with beetroot juice.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

The Inuit can survive on an all-meat diet, but can you?

You might have seen celebrities endorsing meat-only diets, claiming it's cured them of chronic diseases and, of course, helped them stay lean.

To people who are tuned in to health research, these diets seem ... iffy.

They certainly go against the Australian dietary guidelines that prioritise fruit, vegetables and grain foods, and recommend limiting animal products to a couple of serves a day.

And for some people, eating meat or even any animal products is absolutely off the table for ethical or environmental reasons.

But let's say you did choose to follow an all-meat diet. Would it be possible to get everything you need from it? And how new is this idea really?

On paper, the carnivore diet looks OKish

The carnivore diet takes the low-carbohydrate approach of paleo, keto or Atkins to a new level, cutting out everything but animal products.

There are variations: some people eat only beef, some eat a wider variety of meat, and whether cheese and butter are on the menu also varies between followers.

But if we approach the question from strictly a health perspective, is it even possible to get all the nutrients your body needs from only animal products?

The answer is yes, or pretty close to it, says Veronique Chachay, a nutrition scientist from the University of Queensland.

She put versions of a carnivorous diet through dietary composition analysis software and found that, depending on the particular mix of animal foods included, pretty much all the necessary vitamins and minerals were accounted for.

"From purely a micronutrient point of view, we can't say people cannot meet their requirements," Dr Chachay says.

Ticking the boxes on nutrients is only part of the story. We know that fibre is important for digestive health and fostering a diversity of health-promoting gut bacteria — and fibre is notably absent in carnivorous diets.

So experts are keen to know more about the science of why some people report feeling good on such diets, even after following them for a long time.

But we don't know much about the long-term impacts of this diet, and scientists are calling for more research.

Lessons from the Inuit diet

The Inuit — First Nations people from northern North America — have a traditional diet made up almost exclusively from animal products.

They're often held up as evidence that a carnivorous diet can be healthy. So what does the Inuit diet actually look like?

Researchers in 2004 conducted surveys in 18 Indigenous communities in Canada where people followed the traditional diet, or pretty close to it.

They found community members ate well over a kilogram a day of animal products, and between 28 and 160 grams a day of plant foods.

The research shows it is possible to thrive on a very animal-heavy diet, says Clare Collins, a professor of nutrition and dietetics at the University of Newcastle.

"[The Inuit people] had a really low carbohydrate intake, a really low vegetable intake on their traditional diet, and they ate some stuff that we wouldn't eat, for example, they ate the organs of a lot of animals, they ate a heck of a lot of seafood, and they ate some of their meat raw, which is actually higher in vitamin C," she says.

"With some of those nutrients, because they ate a lot of those foods, they could meet their requirements."

But Inuit people aren't particularly long-lived. And while the factors that affect life expectancy are hard to tease out, especially when studying First Nations people during modern times, Professor Collins says big drivers do come from diet.

"Life expectancy is not high and they have very high rates of some cancers. It's partly attributable to their genetics. And that's exacerbated by a really high salted, smoked food diet."

In contrast, the traditional diets of the longest-lived peoples in the world have very high vegetable intake, she points out.

But whichever traditional diet you look at: "They're all less refined foods," Professor Collins says.

"And that's the big thing that people don't really want to want to look at."

The myth of the one optimal diet

As with many fad diets, proponents of the carnivore diet often hold it up as the ideal way to eat.

And that's simply not true, Dr Chachay says, because there is no one optimal diet.

We humans are similar to each other, but we're not clones. We have genetic differences. And just like some humans can digest the lactose in milk and others can't, it could be there are other differences that explain why some people report that they thrive on a carnivorous diet.

Dr Chachay's research deals in part with the potential for personalised diets based on an individual's unique genetic makeup, and even the makeup of their microbiome. We're not there yet, but she hopes to see it begin to happen in the near future.

"We will be able to tailor diets and ideal ratios of the micronutrients that would fit with the optimal health for the individual."

And, while the evidence around carnivore diets is sparse, she suspects it may be the case that for some individuals, it works for their bodies.

"What I'm interested in knowing is, these people that practise it, obviously they didn't die after a year. They didn't lose their hair. They didn't start to become completely crazy. They are functioning," she says.

"There's going to be some mechanism behind the scene."