The Choice Guide to Food

The Choice Guide to Food: How to look after your health, your budget and the planet

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: UNSW Press
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Choice Guide to Food
    Book Description:

    Did you know that two eggs have less saturated fat than the ‘unsaturated’ margarine the average person spreads on their toast? Or that Australians throw out 7.5 million tonnes of food each year – enough for three hearty meals for 13.6 million people? Food has become complicated. Every time we go shopping we’re confronted by an overwhelming amount of choice and information. Eggs — yes or no? What’s the latest superfood? How many food miles has our shopping trolley clocked up? Are organic foods worth the extra money? Rosemary Stanton, Australia’s most respected nutritionist, takes a critical look at the key foods, drinks and supplements that line our supermarket shelves, weighs up the nutritional benefits (or concerns) and differing theories and associated environmental costs, and provides commonsense advice to help make shopping and eating simpler, healthier, cheaper and more sustainable.

    eISBN: 978-1-74224-572-0
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 7-8)

    MY FOOD PHILOSOPHY IS SIMPLE: fresh, healthy and delicious meals. I want to know where my food comes from and that its production shows respect for the earth’s limited resources. Foods need to be ‘real’ rather than manufactured ‘lookalikes’. As our knowledge grows, I am delighted to discover that choosing foods with environmental sustainability in mind dovetails beautifully with a healthful diet. Over many years working as a public health nutritionist and sitting on numbers of government committees and advisory boards, I am also conscious of the importance of scientific evidence and of the battle to get sound ideas across...

  4. The basics of healthy eating
    (pp. 9-28)

    NUTRITIONISTS ARE SOMETIMES accused of changing their minds – indeed, countering that perception is one of the reasons for writing this book – but the basic ingredients for a healthy diet have hardly changed in over 50 years. The easiest way to choose foods for good health is to select from each of the five food groups:

    vegetables, including legumes


    cereal grains and wholegrain products made from them

    fish or lean meat or poultry or eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes

    milk, cheese and yoghurt or calcium-enriched substitutes.

    Fruit and vegetables were once combined as a single...

  5. Antioxidants – the hope and the hype
    (pp. 29-34)

    THE LIST OF FOODS promoted for their antioxidants continues to grow. Their antioxidant content is used to promote blueberries, plums and dried plums (prunes), cranberries, exotic berries, broccoli, tea, coffee and chocolate. Few people really understand what antioxidants do but the hype surrounding them has convinced many of us that they’re ‘good’. Indeed, advertisements in popular magazines plug antioxidants as great for preventing ageing, smoothing skin (via moisturisers and facial creams), as an essential part of ‘detoxing’, as aids to body-building (they’re added to powdered soy and milk supplements), and in producing shiny healthy hair (check the shampoo bottle).


  6. Artificial sweeteners– are they safe?
    (pp. 35-42)

    THE FIRST ARTIFICIAL SWEETENER, synthesised in 1879, was saccharin. It was widely used in the 1960s, but was banned in some countries after rat studies reported it was a possible carcinogen. About 50 per cent of the population also experience a bitter aftertaste from saccharin. Cyclamates were discovered next and found favour because many people found their flavour more appealing.

    The range of artificial sweeteners continues to expand as food technologists discover new ways to isolate and synthesise intensely sweet compounds. Artificial sweeteners permitted in Australia (numbers 950–967) must be declared on food labels, along with the words ‘artificially...

  7. Beans and other legumes – ticking all the boxes
    (pp. 43-50)

    FOR ANY FOOD TO GET MY FULL APPROVAL, it must meet three criteria: it must taste good; it mustbegood for you; and it must create minimal environmental damage in its growth and preparation. Legumes (dried peas and beans) tick all three boxes. Add the fact that they are economical and you realise why dried beans and peas feature in most of the world’s great cuisines. People in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries especially have long known the joys and benefits of legumes.

    Apart from traditional vegetarians, Australians have been slow to make great use of legumes, although products...

  8. Bread– the staff of life
    (pp. 51-57)

    THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO, the leavened and unleavened flatbreads enjoyed in countries of the Middle East, southern India, China, and many of the countries around the Mediterranean, including Italy and the countries of North Africa, became part of the daily diet. The grains ground to make these breads included wheat, rye, corn, barley, oats, sorghum, rice and buckwheat. Potatoes, chick peas, lentils and various beans were also ground into flour and used in traditional flatbreads. In many areas where fuels were and still are scarce, flatbreads remain popular because they cook quickly. Those who suffer adverse reactions to the gluten...

  9. Breakfast cereals – a good start to the day?
    (pp. 58-63)

    OVERNIGHT, THE BODY’S METABOLIC RATE SLOWS. Just getting up and moving about raises it somewhat, but eating break fast gets the body going. There is no ideal food for breakfast, but cereals are commonly consumed in Australia.

    Walking down the breakfast cereal aisle, it’s easy to believe that Australians are the world’s largest consumers of breakfast cereals. Most supermarkets stock about 150 different cereal products plus a wide range of breakfast cereal bars. Some breakfast cereals are made from whole grains, and may be highly nutritious products with added dried fruit, nuts and seeds contributing dietary fibre, protein, minerals and...

  10. Butter or margarine – which and why?
    (pp. 64-68)

    WHENEVER I HAVE WRITTEN on this topic over the years, I have been damned by the sellers of both products. The truth is that neither product is all good or all bad and, as with most fatty products, moderation is the key. I must admit, however, that I do not and will not eat margarine, and even though I love the taste of butter I cannot in conscience describe it as a healthy food.

    Historians believe that butter was probably made accidentally, at least as far back as 3500 BC, when nomadic tribes carried milk in leather bags during their...

  11. Chocolate – is it good for us or just heavenly?
    (pp. 69-74)

    ABOUT 4000 YEARS AGO, when Mayan civilisations in South America ‘discovered’ chocolate, they deemed it ‘divine’ – the food of the gods. Modern-day chocoholics agree. Chocolate packs fats, sugar, some nutrients and plenty of kilojoules into a small package, making it an important survival food in times of scarcity. For most other people, however, a high load of kilojoules, fat and sugar can be a recipe for nutritional disaster. Countering that, chocolate is now being hailed as a health food!

    Children would like chocolate to grow on trees – and it does! Cacao trees grow mainly in West Africa and Brazil and...

  12. Coffee – our favourite addiction
    (pp. 75-80)

    FEW OF US WHO DRINK COFFEE consider ourselves drug addicts – but we should. Its caffeine is addictive in the true sense of the word. And as with any addiction, if we don’t get our usual hit we develop symptoms that commonly include headaches, irritability, fatigue and lack of mental alertness. A caffeine hit and we’re back feeling fine! Caffeine is the most widely used drug throughout the world. It wakes us up and improves reaction times. The good news is that most people can keep the addiction to reasonable levels where the caffeine is unlikely to do any harm and...

  13. Eggs – good, bad, and good again
    (pp. 81-85)

    WHEN I WAS A CHILD, EGGS were a staple part of weekday breakfasts, almost always served with bacon and often with the addition of a chop, sausage or baked beans. Hard-working men and hungry teenagers often got eggs with the lot! On weekends, we were allowed to skip the cooked breakfast and have just cereal and toast. At the time, average consumption of eggs was 255 a year, or five a week. Jump forward a few years to the time when most women started working outside the home and the cooked breakfast disappeared – at least during the week. Eggs...

  14. Energy drinks – who needs them?
    (pp. 86-90)

    FUELLED BY AGGRESSIVE MARKETING, there is a growing market for adding stimulants to sugared water and selling the mix as an ‘energy’ drink. It’s not all beer and skittles for the marketers, many of whom also sell regular soft drinks. Many of the hundreds of brands of energy drinks launched in Australia over the last 10 years or so have sunk without trace. The ones that have made it aim their marketing thrust at ‘red-blooded’ young men, and associate the drinks with life in the fast lane, tough sports and implied aggression. The marketing hype implies the drinks will improve...

  15. Fast foods – time to pause and consider
    (pp. 91-99)

    IF THE TERM ‘FAST FOODS’ were used for those foods which are quickly prepared and served, fresh fruit would be the ultimate fast food. But the ‘fast’ in this term refers to foods that are available with minimal waiting time and usually can be eaten quickly.

    Fast eating comes from the foods being moist (usually achieved with a high fat content) and low in fibre so they need little chewing. Eating quickly interferes with the normal appetite control mechanism, which requires food to stay in the mouth and stomach long enough for gut hormones to send a ‘satisfied’ signal to...

  16. Fish and other seafoods – catching the goodness
    (pp. 100-106)

    AUSTRALIAN FISH WERE ONCE damned by some authorities who thought that fish from warmer waters had less omega 3 fatty acids than those from cold waters. Studies of Inuit people in Greenland initially credited their lack of cardiovascular disease to a long-chain omega 3 fatty acid known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), found in seal blubber, salmon, sardines and herrings. However, subsequent studies on the value of the fats in fish soon recognised the even greater value of another omega 3 fatty acid called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Analyses of Australian seafood (fish, crustaceans and molluscs) found they were an excellent source...

  17. Fruits – how good are ‘super fruits’?
    (pp. 107-115)

    FRUITS ARE EXCELLENT FOODS, contributing vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Dietary guidelines recommend we have two servings of fruit a day because fruit helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke. Those who eat fruit regularly are also less likely to be overweight, although this may not apply to those who regularly consume fruit juice.

    Although fruit is so valuable, almost every week a magazine or newspaper features an article on the latest ‘super fruit’. With no accepted definition for super foods, many suppliers make preposterous health claims, with some internet sites claiming their products will cure cancer,...

  18. Grains – go for the goodness of the whole
    (pp. 116-124)

    IT’S HARD TO THINK OF FOODS that have been more important to human history and health than grains. New techniques that allow archeobotanists to measure minute changes in pollens and ancient cereal grains have established that our ancestors used cereal grains well before farming began and much earlier than has been previously assumed. The inhabitants of ohallo II (in areas now included in Israel) made the seeds of wild grasses a major part of their diet at least 19 000 years ago. Archeological evidence now shows that our ancestors congregated where grasses grew and gradually moved to cultivating them as...

  19. Meat – when less is more
    (pp. 125-132)

    BEEF, LAMB AND VEAL ARE PROMOTED as rich sources of protein, iron, zinc, omega 3 fats and vitamin B12. Advertisements suggesting that brain size and human intelligence depend on eating red meat leave vegetarians and those who choose fish and chicken over red meat insulted by the unfounded implications. There is no doubt that red meat is a good source of these nutrients, but the brain neither knows nor cares where they come from. Kangaroo actually tops the class for most nutrients and also has a low level of fat. Although pork is marketed as a white meat in Australia,...

  20. Milk – which one should you choose?
    (pp. 133-142)

    MILK USED TO BE MILK, but these days the dairy cabinet has regular (also called whole or full-cream) milk, reduced-fat (usually reduced to half the usual levels, but other levels are also available), low-fat, skim, a variety of modified milks (some with added skim milk powder to provide extra ‘body’ and nutrients, others with the usual milk fat replaced with fats from canola oil), milks with added plant sterols, lactose-reduced or lactose-free products, buttermilk, A2 milks and products that are organic or have not been homogenised. On the supermarket shelves you can find powdered milks, evaporated milks with varying levels...

  21. Nuts – a healthy harvest
    (pp. 143-152)

    NUTS ARE ONE OF THE ORIGINAL FOODS that our ancestors gathered and it is likely they also played a role in the first human settlements. Excavations in Turkey have uncovered signs of non-migratory groups developing their societies around almond and pistachio trees about 10 000 years ago. Harvesting nuts almost certainly fostered village life and gave rise to the pursuit of agriculture.

    Nuts are basic, healthy and delicious foods so why do they give rise to guilt among many people? The reason probably lies in their fat content. Even though the fat in most nuts is the healthy unsaturated kind,...

  22. Oils – which one?
    (pp. 153-158)

    UNTIL THE 1960s, most Australian kitchens had a pot for dripping collected from roasting beef and another for lard from bacon and pork. Dripping was used for roasting and frying; lard was used for making crisp pastry. Liquid oils were rarely used, except by migrants from mediterranean countries who bought and used their beloved olive oil. At that time, most Anglo-Saxons rejected olive oil as ‘greasy’, although they may have kept a small bottle (bought at a pharmacy, and often so ancient it was rancid) in the bathroom cupboard for external use.

    By the 1970s, dripping and lard had all...

  23. Organically grown foods
    (pp. 159-163)

    GROWERS AND SELLERS OF ORGANIC FOODS are disappointed when some nutritionists don’t share their enthusiasm. The media inevitably picks up on any disagreements, as happened with a recent (2009) report commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency which concluded that organic foods do not contain significantly higher quantities of nutrients than foods produced from conventional agriculture. Organic food groups felt cheated and wondered how the authors could have reached such a conclusion.

    In fact, the British group had not done any fresh testing, having merely collated and summarised previous reports. A study was included only if it fitted scientific control...

  24. Salt – how much is too much?
    (pp. 164-169)

    THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF RESEARCH papers showing the harmful effects of too much sodium from salt. A 2009 analysis published in theBritish Medical Journalexamined 13 studies that had followed more than 170 000 people for up to 19 years and found that the more salt they consumed, the greater their risk of stroke and heart disease.* Yet a recent study that followed 3700 Europeans for eight years reported that those who consumed the most salt hadfewerdeaths from heart disease than those who ate less salt.** Critics of this study noted, however, that a higher intake...

  25. Sauces – add a tasty touch
    (pp. 170-174)

    SAUCES ARE UBIQUITOUS IN CUISINES around the world. They vary greatly, but all add flavour and moisture to foods. The first written record of sauces comes from Roman times, when they consisted of the various juices from meats, or wine, flavoured with herbs and thickened with oil and bread beaten into them. These sauces were more a condiment than something to pour over foods. By the 1500s, many cooks used flour instead of bread as the thickener, and herbs and spices were used with restraint and discrimination so that the sauce did not overpower the dish with which it was...

  26. Seeds – the source of life
    (pp. 175-178)

    SEEDS ARE UNSUNG HEROES and most people’s diets would benefit from their inclusion. They may be small in size, but they pack a powerful nutritional punch. Use them as a snack or add them to muesli and breads, or toast them as a topping for vegetable dishes. The seeds discussed here have no downside and are highly nutritious, either eaten on their own or ground to make pastes such as tahini. However, not all seeds are safe to eat. Apple pips and the seeds within the kernels of apricots, plums and peaches contain some toxic substances, including cyanide.

    Native to...

  27. Snacks – sweet and savoury
    (pp. 179-191)

    THE AVERAGE SUPERMARKET now carries about 1800 different snack foods. When we pay for fuel for our cars we are confronted dozens of snack foods. At train stations, and in many office buildings and hospitals, vending machines are strategically placed to tempt us. Most of their offerings are largely fat with sugar or fat with salt. Few healthy options are available.

    When a group of food marketers once asked me what I would consider to be a healthy snack and I replied ‘fruit’, I was told that wasn’t a snack. I asked why and was told that it didn’t qualify...

  28. Soups and stocks
    (pp. 192-197)

    SOUPS CAN BE WONDERFULLY WARMING winter foods or chilled and refreshing in the heat of summer. soups are also filling, can be frozen, and reheated from their frozen state on the stove top or in a microwave oven. soups are easy to make and home-made soups are likely to be more nutritious than canned and packet soups available in the supermarket. Before buying a ready-made soup or a powdered product, check the ingredient list – you may be paying for salt, flavour enhancers and a range of other additives with little nutritional worth.

    A stock is basically a liquid made by...

  29. Spices – add life to your food
    (pp. 198-207)

    SPICES, FIRST BROUGHT TO EUROPE from India and then from the Spice Islands, have been important for thousands of years. From the fifteenth century onward, European nations competed for the highly profitable spice trade. Wars were fought, lives lost, and the triumphs of explorers such as Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan and sir Francis Drake were due to their search for exotic Eastern spices. Some spices have always been expensive and saffron still gets the prize for being the most expensive food per kilogram.

    Spices add to the pleasures of many dishes. Fortunately, the days have long gone...

  30. Sugars – are they really so sweet?
    (pp. 208-214)

    EVEN BEFORE THEY ARE BORN, the facial expressions of babies exposed to sweetness in their mother’s amniotic fluid show pleasure, while they will purse their lips in response to anything bitter. The love affair with sweetness continues with the first taste of mother’s milk and is confirmed when infants and children are comforted with something sweet to soothe life’s little ills. The food industry reinforces the sweet deal through advertising and promotion of sweet foods and drinks. Millions of years ago, our ancestors probably also discovered that sweet foods tended to be safe to eat whereas bitter-flavoured plants were often...

  31. Tea – green, black, white and herbal
    (pp. 215-220)

    ON A WORLD SCALE, tea is the most popular drink after water, although in Australia it has been overtaken by coffee. all types of tea other than herbal teas come fromCamellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub that prefers high regions or damp areas in the tropics and subtropics. Tea originated in India but was taken to China about 3000 years ago and became the national drink. The Dutch took tea to Europe in 1610, and some 30 years or so later it became common in England. Tea is now grown in China, India, Japan, throughout South-East Asia and in parts...

  32. Vegetables and herbs
    (pp. 221-228)

    NUTRITIONISTS ARE OFTEN ACCUSED of changing their minds, although major nutrition advice has hardly changed over the last 50 years. The call to consume more vegetables has always been with us, but the need has become more urgent as the evening meal is in decline, replaced by a series of snacks and fast foods.

    There are two major reasons for eating vegetables: what they contain and what they don’t contain. Their positive nutritional virtues include being a good source of vitamins (especially C, folate, E and beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A), minerals (especially potassium, magnesium, iron...

  33. Water – essential to life
    (pp. 229-234)

    THE UBIQUITOUS BOTTLE OF WATER has become a seemingly indispensable accessory. Some people apparently can’t get through a meeting, bus ride, lecture, church service or a short wait at the doctor’s surgery without frequent sips of water. Some swimmers at my local pool even stop every two laps to take a few sips ‘to prevent dehydration’.

    Water is more important to life than food. We can survive only a few days without it. Every cell and organ in the body needs water to function. Water is the solvent for the body’s chemical reactions, it transports nutrients, removes waste products, acts...

  34. Wine – and other alcoholic drinks
    (pp. 235-240)

    NO ONE NEEDS ALCOHOL, but civilisations throughout history have found ways to ferment sugars in plants to produce alcohol, which they have used as a food and a drug. In small quantities, alcohol has some overall benefits and red wine has some specific plusses. However, with alcohol, more isneverbetter, and that applies to every kind of alcoholic beverage.

    Alcohol is absorbed from the stomach as well as the small intestine. About 20 per cent of alcohol consumed is absorbed directly into the bloodstream from the stomach. This level may be higher if you drink on an empty stomach...

  35. Yoghurt – and probiotics
    (pp. 241-246)

    IT IS NOT SO LONG AGO that many Australians considered yoghurt a ‘health food’ purchased only by those of a slightly hippy bent. These days yoghurt is a mainstream product and highly regarded as a source of protein, calcium, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12 and a range of other nutritional goodies. As yoghurt has become more popular, some varieties have acquired a hefty helping of added sugar, emulsifiers, thickeners and Other additives. others deserve the health status attributed to them, especially those that provide valuable live bacteria.

    more than 100 years ago, scientists recognised that the protection against gastroenteritis enjoyed...

  36. Resources
    (pp. 247-248)
  37. Index
    (pp. 249-251)