What bulk packaging system should you choose?

When it comes to choosing a bulk packaging system, every business has its own unique needs. There are different types of bulk packaging systems available on the market, and each machine comes with its own uses and advantages.

Some focus more on outer packaging functions such as forming, cleaning, and sealing. Others focus more on the interior of the package through filling, wrapping, and creative packaging solutions. What you’ll need depends on the type of items you’ll be packaging and the type of packaging you’ll be using, as well as your budget.

Form, fill and seal machines (FFS)

These machines are commonly used for food packaging, although they can also be used for other items including liquids and solids. The FFS machine creates a bag from a flat roll of film, while simultaneously filling the bag with the product and sealing the bag once it’s full. The advantages of FFS machines are that they can operate at a high speed and they’re ideal for running the same product continuously.

The cost of the film is cheaper than purchasing pre-made bags, so you will save on operating costs. However, changing the film is time-consuming, and if the bag is dropped it will often break.

Vertical form, fill and seal machines (VFFS)

VFFS machines fill each bag before heat sealing it, labelling it with a time stamp, and auto cutting the bag. Most VFFS machines can operate at about one finished bag per second, so they are ideal for businesses with high output requirements.

They can be used for small individual packages (like sachets) or for larger bags, and they can package a wide variety of materials like seeds, powders, liquids. VFFS machines are suitable for bagging oats, hay, mulch, fertilisers and more.

Bale packaging machines

Bale packaging machines use hydraulic cylinders to compress products to a quarter of their original size. This allows you to store more products, maximise your available space, and save on packing and transportation costs. This type of bulk packaging system is normally used for cereals, rags, sawdust, humus, straw, hay and fodder.

Valve bag fillers

These machines are consistent, accurate, and simple to install and adjust. Valve bag fillers use a two-stage filling system. The majority of product is filled at maximum rate, and then just before the bag reaches its target, the machine reduces the fill rate to a dribble feed.

This way, the machine can stop filling more accurately when the bag reaches its target weight.

Valve bag fillers are relatively small machines, so they don’t take up a lot of floor space. They’re suitable for packaging dry materials, powders and granular products such as soil, mulch, minerals, grains or concrete mix.

Pre-made bags or open mouth baggers

These systems are extremely flexible. They are compatible with paper bags or woven bags, heat sealers, inner liners, stitched outer bags, fold overs and taped seals.

They offer various feeding methods including gravity feeding, auger feeding, and vibratory feeding, providing you with the ability to package unusual products.

You can add dust extraction systems or bag compression functions depending on your business needs. Poly woven bags are, on average, more robust than FFS bags, but your cost per bag will be higher. Open mouth baggers also tend to be slower than FFS systems.

Visit www.accupak.com.au to find out more.

Not everyone loves wheat – so why not remove the bad bits

Wheat is everywhere. It’s in bread, pasta, pastries, biscuits, pizza, batter, cereals, soups, sauces, instant drinks, salad dressing, processed meats and sweets, to name but a few.

The western diet is so infatuated with wheat that most of us eat a kilo or more a week. So why do we love it?

It’s simple. It provides the texture of our pasta, the spring in our bread, the thickening in our soups and sauces, and the crunch in our batter and pastries.

But what some of us crave, others look to avoid. They study ingredients on packaging and travel across town to find processed foods that don’t contain wheat. While they may enjoy the texture, spring, thickness and crunch, they don’t feel well after they eat wheat.

So what’s the problem?

An intolerance

Some have a sensitivity to a small set of wheat proteins called gluten. For a subset of people their reaction is so extreme it’s defined as coeliac disease.

But most people who avoid wheat are not intolerant to gluten but rather to some other substance in wheat. Scientists agree this is likely to be other proteins found in the wheat grain, but it is typically unknown what the culprit is in each case.

This is a frustrating mystery for wheat sensitivity sufferers which hangs over their café breakfasts, luncheons with friends and social dinner parties.

The full set of proteins that make up wheat grains has only recently been revealed, with details published last month in The Plant Journal. These proteins make up the wheat proteome and have been exhaustively mapped out for the first time in wheat by research conducted here in Australia.

With this discovery we now know that, beyond gluten, thousands of different proteins can be found in wheat grain. Some of them we didn’t even know existed before this research was undertaken.

We know when they are made during grain development and we know if they are also found in other parts of the wheat plant such as the leaves, stems and roots. Each of these long wheat grain proteins are digested in our gut to become short peptides.

That means there are hundreds of thousands of different peptides that can be derived from wheat. Most are harmless and good nutrition but for some people, a set of them will make us unwell.

Single out the proteins

Only now that this mapping of the wheat proteome has been completed can we measure each protein separately and see how abundant they are in different varieties of wheat.

This information enables scientists to use mass spectrometers to sift through proteins and peptides by subtle differences in their weight – a difference that can be smaller than the mass as a proton.

We can literally dial up the masses of a particular set of peptides and set the mass spectrometer to work measuring them. The technology is at the cutting edge of new blood tests for disease. It can now be applied to make new measures in wheat.

This means we have a remarkable new opportunity to see wheat in a novel way – as a complex set of proteins that can work for us, or against us.

This breakthrough not only shows us the list of proteins in grain. When paired with wheat genome data (information about the complete set of genes in wheat) it tells us for the first time which of the 100,000 different wheat genes are responsible for making each of the proteins.

Armed with this new information, things really can change. We will ultimately be able to determine which proteins in wheat are causing people to feel unwell. We will then be able to breed wheat varieties that contain less or none of the proteins responsible.

These kinds of selective changes in wheat protein content don’t need to stop at aiding those intolerant to today’s wheat. They can enable wheat varieties to be tailored to make wheats that are better for baking or brewing or thickening.

They can even help us to breed wheat that is better able to survive in harsh environments, to adapt to changes in climates and is better suited to more intensive farming.

This is important because wheat is not just an integral part of the western diet. It is also part of an international plan to raise crop yields to ensure we have food for the estimated 8.5 billion people across the world by 2030.

Safe, benign, abundant, cheap, high quality wheats with protein contents ready for many different applications are a key part of food security and a fairer future.

 

From The Coversation

Health Check: is cheese good for you?

It’s no wonder people are confused about whether it’s good to eat cheese, when even food experts are divided. Some argue that we’re not eating enough of this important source of protein and calcium, while others say the high levels of salt and saturated fat mean we should be eating less.

Whatever your position, it’s becoming increasingly hard to avoid cheese. Whether its grilled halloumi with poached eggs for breakfast, pumpkin and feta salad for lunch, or pepperoni pizza for dinner, cheese is a key ingredient in many regular meals. It’s a popular snack food, with many health professionals promoting crackers and cheese as a high-protein snack. A cheese platter is also the favourite way to kick off afternoon drinks or a barbeque.

So just how much cheese are Australians eating, and is it good for us?

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults eat about 2.5 serves of dairy (including milk, yoghurt and cheese) a day. They also say this should preferably be low-fat to ensure that nutrient needs are met without exceeding energy requirements.

Available sales data for cheese suggest that Australians are eating 13.6kg of cheese per person per year, which works out at 37g per person per day, or just less than one Australian portion (Australian portion sizes are 25% bigger than European Union ones, at 40g compared with 30g).

Fat

It seems that the advice to limit full-fat cheeses to two or three serves per week is being ignored. Low-fat products only made up 29% of dairy products consumed in the last dietary survey while cheese accounted for 99% of the high-fat dairy products consumed.

Full-fat cheese products contain high levels of saturated fat, which can increase the risk of heart disease. A 40g portion of cheese can contain between 2.24g (reduced-fat ricotta) and 9.5g (Danish creamy cheese Havarti) of saturated fat.

This is 11% and 40%, respectively, of the amount used as the reference guide for daily intake labelling. So even though actual recommendations depend on individual energy requirements, it is still clear that we need to limit our consumption of full-fat cheese to avoid excessive amounts of saturated fat.

Saturated fats are bad for heart health.
from www.shutterstock.com

Salt

The levels of sodium in cheese are also something to watch out for as too much salt increases blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Sodium levels in one 40g portion of cheese range from 74mg (4% of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended daily amount) in reduced-fat ricotta, to a scary 1,160mg (58% of the WHO’s recommended daily amount) in halloumi.

Interestingly, processed cheddar contains twice as much sodium as unprocessed cheddar, at 532mg per portion (26% of WHO recommended amount), so it would seem better to opt for the unprocessed version on that basis (although this may have higher levels of saturated fat and less calcium).

Processed cheeses

The definition of a processed cheese is a product manufactured from cheese and products obtained from milk, which is heated and melted, with or without added emulsifying salts, to form a homogeneous mass.

Such products can be produced more cheaply, last longer and are more convenient to use and so are a popular product for kids’ school lunchboxes. Current concerns over increasing childhood obesity in Australia means its important to keep an eye on fat and energy contents of children’s foods.

Kraft singles and Bega Stringers both contain a little less energy, substantially less saturated fat, and about the same amount of sodium and calcium per portion as regular cheddar cheese. Meanwhile, Philadelphia cream cheese contains even less energy and much less sodium but is higher in saturated fat.

Are we getting any nutrition from highly processed cheeses?
from www.shutterstock.com

Health benefits?

A recent meta-analysis of 15 studies, that suggested moderate cheese consumption (up to 40g per day) was associated with reduced heart disease risk, didn’t differentiate between low and full fat cheeses.

The authors (two of whom incidentally work for a leading dairy company in Asia) suggested the calcium, protein, vitamins or minerals (not specified) in cheese might explain the apparent protective health benefits.

Cheese is a good source of calcium and we need calcium for bones and teeth as well as regulating muscle and heart functions.

The recommendations are for most adults and children aged nine and above to eat 1,000-1,300mg of calcium a day. A 40g serving of cheddar cheese contains around 320mg. So you would need to eat at least three portions if you were to get your calcium requirements just from cheese.

So what’s the verdict?

For maximum health outcomes I’d stick to the advice to eat two to three serves of dairy (mainly low fat) per day. This may include one serve of low-fat cheese, with maybe one serve each of low-fat milk and yoghurt to ensure you get enough calcium. I’d also stick with the recommendations to limit full-fat cheeses to two to three serves per week.

  • Enjoy sparingly (two to three times a week): full-fat cheeses, hard cheeses, feta, halloumi, blue cheese.
  • Eat moderate amounts (one portion a day): low-fat cheeses, cottage cheese, reduced fat ricotta, reduced fat mozarella.

The Conversation

Jacqui Webster, Senior Research Fellow, Food Policy. Director of World Health Organization Collaborating Centre on Population Salt Reduction, George Institute for Global Health

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is it time to resurrect the wartime ‘Grow Your Own’ campaign?

During the devastating floods that hit Queensland in 2011, Brisbane and regional centres came perilously close to running out of fresh food. With the central Rocklea produce market underwater, panic-buying soon set in and supermarket shelves emptied fast.

Such events expose the vulnerability of our urban food systems. Climate change and resource depletion present more slow-burning challenges, but the fact remains that urban food policy is at risk of complacency.

Gardening is certainly good for you, but does it have a role to play in increasing urban food security and resilience? Perhaps history can tell us the answer.

While Australian research has focused on recent urban agriculture initiatives, a real-world experiment in gardening for food security took place in Australia more than 70 years ago, during the Second World War.

Winning the war with home-grown food

Britain, facing serious food shortages, began using the slogan “Dig for Victory” in 1939. In Australia, low-key efforts at encouraging home food production began two years later.

A 1941 survey of Melbourne households revealed that 48% of them already produced food of some kind. In spacious middle-ring suburbs the proportion was as high as 88%, whereas in the dense inner cities it was less than 15%. Food production was most common among middle-class and skilled working-class households, and less so among the poor and marginalised.

By 1943, significant food shortfalls were expected in Australia. The government responded with a range of measures, including a large-scale “Grow Your Own” campaign.

Movies, radio broadcasts, public demonstrations, competitions, posters, newspaper ads and brochures all urged home gardeners to grow their own vegetables. It was hoped this would reduce the strain on the commercial food supply, as well as offering substitutes for rationed food items, providing insurance against commercial food supply failures, and easing the demand on items such as fuel and rubber. Municipal councils and schools also ran vegetable production programmes.

A ‘Grow Your Own’ campaign advertisement from around 1943.
PROV, VPRS 10163/P2

While there are no reliable statistics on the campaign’s effectiveness, anecdotal evidence suggests that home food production increased – but not without hitting obstacles along the way.

Wartime disruptions led to shortages of pesticides, seeds, rubber and fertilisers. Livestock and fowl can play an important role in nutrient cycling in sustainable food production, but cows and goats had been excluded from many urban areas in the decades before the war. As a result, competition for local manure was fierce; some gardeners would wait with bucket and shovel for horses on grocery rounds to pass by.

Artificial fertilisers were also expensive and hard to come by. Even the use of blood and bone as an organic fertiliser was restricted, as it was diverted for commercial poultry and pig feed. Alternatives included composting of waste, although this required time and skill, and its nutritional value for plants was limited.

Labour, too, was in short supply. Many able-bodied people had joined the armed forces and others were working long hours in war jobs. This left relatively few urban residents with the time and energy to devote to a vegetable garden. The Women’s Land Army was involved in some urban cultivation, and the YWCA established a “Garden Army” of women who established and tended community gardens on private or public land.

Lessons from the past

What lessons can we learn from this history about the capacity for suburban food production to boost urban food supply in a time of prolonged scarcity?

The most important is that home and community food gardens can contribute meaningfully to resilient urban food systems, but as our urban form is changing we need to explicitly plan for this contribution.

For example, vegetable gardens need space – public or private – that is reasonably open and not crowded by trees. This is one reason why the spacious middle-ring suburbs of Melbourne were more productive than the inner city in 1941.

Sustainable urban food production also requires skill, knowledge and time. Much food gardening today relies heavily on purchased seedlings, manures and pesticides. Resilient food gardens need to have a range of strategies for sourcing essential inputs locally, for example through seed saving networks, composting, local livestock and fowl, and on-site rainwater collection and storage. They also need people with the time and skills to manage these systems.

Vegetable gardening needs skill and knowledge
PROV, VPRS 10163/P2

This history also provides inspiration in the form of stories of self-provisioning by everyday people, such as the 56-year-old woman running a habadashery and confectionery store who in 1941 produced all the vegetables and eggs she and her sister required at their Essendon home.

The low-density form of much of Australia’s urban landscape provides considerable potential for sustainable and resilient food production. But our cities still need to invest in developing the skills and systems to sustain this kind of farming.

This is especially critical for low-income areas where resource scarcity will bite hardest. It is also a task that looks ever more challenging as farms are pushed further from the city, while standard homes on shrinking lot sizes and poorly designed infill development eat up urban garden space.

We may not yet be at the stage of needing a nationwide “Grow Your Own” campaign on the scale seen during wartime. But if we want to increase our cities’ resilience and sustainability, we would be foolish to ignore its lessons.

The Conversation

Andrea Gaynor, Associate Professor of History, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top image: Australian government ‘Grow your own’ campaign billboard, 1943. NAA C2829/2

 

Essays on health: how food companies can sneak bias into scientific research

Should we eat breakfast every day? How much dairy should we have? Should we use artificial sweeteners to replace sugar? If we had the answers to these questions, we could address some of today’s biggest public health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

Consumer choice is often guided by recommendations about what we should eat, and these recommendations also play a role in the food that’s available for us. Recommendations take the form of dietary guidelines, food companies’ health claims, and clinical advice.

But there’s a problem. Recommendations are often conflicting and the source of advice not always transparent.

In September, a JAMA Internal Medicine study revealed that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid scientists at Harvard University to minimise the link between sugar and heart disease. The historical papers the study was based on showed researchers were paid to shift the blame from sugar to fat as responsible for the heart disease epidemic.

The paper’s authors suggested many of today’s dietary recommendations may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry. And some experts have since questioned whether such misinformation can have led to today’s obesity crisis.

We’d like to think industry influence of this scale won’t happen again. We’d like to have enough systems in place to shine a spotlight on any potential bias, or risk of it, as soon as it happens. But the reason it took so long to expose the sugar industry’s tactics is bias can be well hidden. To avoid the potentially huge ramifications, we need much better systems in place when it comes to nutrition research.

Partnerships between industry and research institutions aren’t uncommon.
from shutterstock.com

How are national guidelines put together?

Governments issue national dietary guidelines to inform people’s food choices and the nation’s food policies. To be credible and scientifically sound, they should obviously be built on rigorous evidence.

Best practice for creating guidelines includes beginning the process with a systematic review, which is a study that identifies all the available evidence on a particular research question. This ensures studies favourable to a particular party can’t be cherry-picked. But systematic reviews are only as valid as the studies out there.

An important part of any systematic review is to evaluate the biases in the studies included. Public health dietary guidelines and policies are influenced by political, economic and social factors. That’s inescapable. But if the evidence on which these decisions are based is flawed, the entire foundation for systematic reviews, guidelines and policy, crumbles.

So identifying and minimising bias in each part of the research process – from the researcher’s decision on which question to answer in the study, to the publication of the results – is essential to having a strong evidence base.

Bias in research is the systematic error or deviation from true results or inferences of a study. Pharmaceutical, tobacco or chemical industry funding of research biases human studies towards outcomes favourable to the sponsor.

Even when studies use similar rigorous methods – such as keeping study information away from participants (blinding) or removing selection bias between groups of patients (randomisation) – studies sponsored by a drug’s manufacturer are more likely to find the drug is more effective or less harmful than a placebo or other drugs.

This bias in pharmaceutical industry sponsored studies is just like the sugar industry sponsored studies that downplayed sugar’s link to heart disease while putting the blame on fat.

Tobacco industry-funded studies are more likely to find that tobacco is not harmful compared to studies with other sponsors.
HOW HWEE YOUNG/AAP

Financial conflicts of interest between researchers and industry have also been associated with research outcomes that favour companies researchers are affiliated with.

So how does this happen? How can industry-funded studies use methods similar to non-industry funded studies but have different results? Because bias can be introduced in several ways, such as in the research agenda itself, the way research questions are asked, how the studies are conducted behind the scenes, and the publication of the studies.

Industry influences on these other sources of bias in research often remains hidden for decades.

Types of hidden bias

It took over 40 years to show how the tobacco industry undermined the research agenda on the health effects of secondhand smoke.

It did this by funding “distracting” research through The Center for Indoor Air Research, which three tobacco companies created and funded. Throughout the 1990s, this centre funded dozens of research projects that suggested components of indoor air, such as carpet off-gases or dirty air filters, were more harmful than tobacco. The centre did not fund research on secondhand smoke.

There is a high risk of bias when the methodology of the study (how the study is designed) leads to an error when assessing the magnitude or direction of results. Clinical trials with a high risk of methodological bias (such as those lacking randomisation or blinding) are more likely to exaggerate the efficacy of drugs and underestimate their harms.

A 2007 paper that compared over 500 studies found those funded by pharmaceutical companies were half as likely to report negative effects of corticosteroid drugs (used to treat allergies and asthma) than those not funded by pharmaceutical companies.

Many industry-sponsored studies of drugs are conducted for regulatory approval and the regulators require certain methodological standards. So often, the design of industry-sponsored studies is pretty good and the bias is elsewhere. It can be in how the questions are framed or another common form: publication bias.

Clinical trials with a high risk of methodological bias are more likely to exaggerate the efficacy of drugs and underestimate their harms.
shutterstock.com

Publication bias occurs when entire research studies are not published, or only selected results from the studies are published. It is a common myth publication bias comes about because scientific journal editors reject studies that don’t support the hypothesis or question the studies were asking. These are called negative or statistically non-significant studies. But negative research is as likely to get published as positive research. So it’s not that.

Analysis of internal pharmaceutical industry documents from 1994 to 1998 shows the pharmaceutical industry had a deliberate strategy to suppress publication of sponsored research unfavourable to its products. Industry-funded investigators were not allowed to publish negative research that did not support the efficacy or safety of the drugs being tested.

This has contributed to a clinical literature dominated by studies demonstrating the efficacy or safety of drugs. The tobacco industry also has a history of stopping the publication of research it funded if the findings didn’t lean in favour of tobacco products.

Previous research on bias in tobacco, pharmaceutical, and other industry-sponsored research is relevant here because the biases that affect research outcomes are the same, regardless of the exposure or intervention being studied. When it comes to nutrition research, we actually know little about how corporate sponsorship or conflicts of interest might bias the research agenda, design, outcomes and reporting.

Industry influence on nutrition research

The credibility of nutrition research has come under attack because the funding source is often not transparent and industry-funded research affects food policy. But we actually know very little about how sponsorship biases nutrition research.

Our systematic review, published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, identified and evaluated all studies that assessed the association between food industry sponsorship and published outcomes of nutrition studies.

We were surprised to find few studies examining the effects of industry sponsorship on the actual, numerical findings of the studies. Only two of 12 studies assessed the association between food-industry sponsorship and the statistical significance of research results, and neither found a link.

We know very little about the association between industry sponsorship or authors’ conflicts of interest and the results of nutrition research.
Jordan Whitfield/Unsplash, CC BY

Only one paper found studies sponsored by the food industry reported significantly smaller harmful effects of consuming soft drinks than those without industry sponsorship. Overall, our review showed we know very little about the association between industry sponsorship or authors’ conflicts of interest and the actual results of nutrition research.

More studies assessed the association of industry sponsorship with authors’ conclusions or interpretations of their findings (not the results). Eight reports, when taken together, found industry sponsored studies had a 31% increase in risk, compared to non-industry sponsored studies, of having a conclusion favouring the sponsor’s product.

So what we know is that food industry sponsorship is associated with researchers interpreting their findings to favour the sponsor’s products. Conclusions don’t always agree with results but can be spun to make readers’ interpretations more favourable.

For example, a study might find that a particular diet leads to weight loss and an increase in heart disease but the harmful effects of heart disease are omitted from the conclusion. Only the weight loss is mentioned. This spin on conclusions is a tactic in other industries and can influence how research is interpreted.

But it is the results (the research data) that really matters. From the standpoint of developing systematic reviews and evidence-based recommendations, the results are more important than conclusions because only the data, and not a researchers interpretation of them, are included in the reviews.

We need more rigorous investigation of the effects of industry sponsorship on the results of both primary nutrition studies and reviews. For example, our recent study examined 31 reviews of the effects of artificial sweeteners on weight loss. We found reviews funded by artificial sweetener companies were about 17 times as likely to have statistically significant results showing artificial sweeteners use is associated with weight loss, compared to reviews with other sponsors.

Nutrition research agenda

Our studies mentioned above didn’t identify any differences in the quality of industry-sponsored and non-industry sponsored nutrition research. But, similar to research sponsored by the pharmaceutical or tobacco industries, sponsors could affect outcomes by setting the research agenda, framing the questions or influencing publication.

There is a lack of transparency about funding sources and conflicts of interest in the area of nutrition research.
from shutterstock.com

A research agenda focused on single ingredients (such as sugar) or foods (such as nuts) rather than their interactions or dietary patterns may favour food-industry interests. This is because it may provide a platform to market a certain type of food or processed foods containing or lacking specific ingredients, such as sugar-free drinks.

Most data sources used to study publication bias in other research areas are not available for nutrition research, which make it more difficult to detect.

Researchers have identified publication bias in pharmaceutical and tobacco research by comparing the full reports of drug studies submitted to regulatory agencies with publications in the scientific literature. Researchers have also compared data released in legal settlements with published research articles. There are no similar regulatory databases for foods or dietary products.

It is possible to use statistical methods to estimate publication bias in large samples of nutrition research, as in other research areas. Interviewing industry-funded researchers could be another way to identify publication bias.

Another obstacle to rigorously assessing bias in nutrition research is the lack of transparency about funding sources and conflicts of interest. Our review of artificial-sweetener studies found authors of 42% of them had conflicts of interest not disclosed in the published article.

Also, about one third of the reviews didn’t disclose their funding sources. Although disclosure in journals is improving over time, not all journals enforce disclosure guidelines for author conflicts of interest and research funding sources.

Reducing bias in nutrition research

Studies on research bias related to pharmaceutical and tobacco industry sponsorship and conflicts of interest has led to international reforms. These have been in the area of government requirements for research transparency and data accessibility, stricter journal and university standards for managing conflicts of interest, and methodological standards for critiquing and reporting evidence (and conducting systematic reviews). Similar reforms are needed in nutrition research.

Further studies will determine which mechanisms to reduce bias should be urgently implemented for nutrition research. Options include:

  • refined methods for evaluating studies used in systematic reviews
  • enforced policies for disclosing, managing or eliminating financial conflicts of interest across all nutrition-related journals and professional associations
  • mechanisms to reduce publication bias, such as study registries that describe the methods of ongoing studies, or providing open access data
  • revised research agendas to address neglected topics and to produce studies relevant to population health, without corporate sponsors driving the agenda
  • independent sources of funding for nutrition research, or, at a minimum, industry sources pooling their funding with research funds administered by an independent party.

In the current economic climate, in which industry funding is encouraged by universities, studying bias is important and contentious research.

Research institutions should implement strategies that reduce the risk of bias when industry sponsors research. They could do this by a risk-benefit assessment for accepting industry sponsorship of research. This would evaluate the sponsor’s control of the design, conduct and publication of the research, as well as any risk to the institution’s reputation.

The full effects of industry sponsorship and financial conflicts of interest on nutrition research remain hidden. An evidence base as rigorous and extensive as the the one on bias in pharmaceutical and tobacco research is needed to illuminate how nutrition research is at risk of bias.

The Conversation

Lisa Bero, Chair professor, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cereal producer chooses reliability of solar power

Fronius and Victron Energy have joined forces to help Spanish cereal producer CETOSA – Cereals Torremorell S.A by installing three Fronius inverters alongside six inverter chargers and four BlueSolar charge controllers from Victron Energy, which are claimed to offer continuous and uninterrupted power supply.

In remote regions, an unrestricted power supply cannot always be guaranteed, even in EU countries like Spain. This tends to be due either to a lack of physical grid capacity, or because the grid connection costs do not justify the expected level of usage. In this case, many consumers rely solely on energy produced by diesel generators. However, generators are expensive to maintain, and the high emission levels and drawbacks of fossil fuels are issues that can have a huge impact on both the cost effectiveness of a company and on the environment.

This was the challenge facing cereal producer CETOSA. The family-owned business is the leading member of a group of companies founded in 1984, which specialise in the production and marketing of cereals and fertilisers as well as breeding pigs. To optimise the cost effectiveness of the business and ensure a continuous power supply for production operations, CETOSA opted for solar power produced by their own photovoltaic system. The company turned to solar technology from Fronius and Dutch energy specialist Victron Energy to benefit from their expertise in efficient solar systems.

“The aim of this project was to upgrade CETOSA’s 82 kilowatt photovoltaic system,” says Francisco Heredia, Technical Advisor at Fronius Spain. Three Fronius Symo inverters were installed for this purpose and the energy generator was connected directly to the microgrid – a regional, self-contained power distribution network.

“Our inverters have a special setup for this purpose, with various functions to ensure stable microgrid operation”, adds Heredia. Six Victron Quattro inverter chargers and four Victron BlueSolar charge controllers in CETOSA’s system ensure the agricultural business can store surplus energy that can be used as and when it is needed.

This technology is said to offer advantages in terms of fail-safe operation. Most of the time, the output of the inverter is controlled without communication.

“The frequency droop characteristic of the inverter charger and the inverter ensure optimum power set points,” claims David Hanek, Product Manager at Fronius. “But, should the load be less than the maximum capacity of the PV generator, and if the batteries are already full, automatic power reduction will be required.”

In addition to the frequency droop characteristic, voltage-dependent power reduction and reactive power regulation functions can also be activated. A back-up generator provides another layer of safety. CETOSA also benefits from effective system monitoring – the operator can use the Victron Remote Monitoring Portal (VRM) to view live values, while the Fronius Solar.web online portal provides a comprehensive range of display and analysis functions for all PV system data. The Colour Control (CCGX) acts as a data aggregator between the Fronius Datamanager and the Victron inverter/charger.

This technology means the cereal producer is supplied with energy independently of the public grid.

‘Healthy’ fast food chains not living up to their claims

Each month, 11.5 million Australians consume fast food. Alongside traditional burger, fried chicken and pizza chains, new chains are positioning themselves as healthier alternatives to the typical, energy-, saturated fat-, sugar- and salt-laden meals on offer at traditional chains.

We know the fast food environment influences our food choices. Promotions and marketing on labels and websites influence our decisions about the foods we buy. Many chains are now using claims about nutrient content and health benefits on their websites to create a marketing edge and perhaps make us feel less guilty about our next fast food purchase.

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code defines nutrition content claims as those that state the presence or absence of a nutrient, for example, “contains calcium”. Foods with these claims must meet the minimum (or maximum) quantities for the nutrient in the claim, called the qualifying criteria.

Health claims are those that relate to a food-health relationship, such as “contains calcium for healthy bones”. In addition to containing the minimum/maximum quantities of the nutrient, foods carrying these claims must also meet the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criteria, meaning they are healthier foods based on their energy, saturated fat, sugars, sodium, protein, fibre and fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content.

Previously, there has been close scrutiny of grocery foods carrying these sorts of claims, and whether they comply with the requirements of the code. However, any food sold in Australia is subject to this code, and there has been no scrutiny of the claims being made by fast food outlets.

We noticed fast food chains were increasingly using claims on their websites, and given how influential claims are on food choice, we decided to investigate these claims being made by chains.

How honest are fast food chains in their claims?

In 2015, we assessed the claims fast food chains were making on their websites to promote the nutritional value of their foods.

We found more than 40% of menu items being marketed using claims may not have complied with the requirements of the code. These foods did not meet the qualifying criteria set out in the code, meaning consumers could believe these foods are healthier than they actually are.

The chains that fared worst in our study were those positioning themselves as “healthier” – such as a popular juice chain and a popular salad chain (the authors have chosen not to publish the names of the chains).

For example, a Chipotle Pulled Pork Wrap from the salad chain claimed to be low in energy and salt, despite containing more than four times the permitted amount of energy and sodium per 100g.

This product has a similar amount of energy per serve (2051kJ) as a Big Mac (2060kJ), and contained a whopping 1552mg sodium per serve – two-thirds of an adult’s upper daily sodium intake.

Another example is Green Tea Mango Mantra from the juice chain, that supposedly has immunity-boosting powers, despite not meeting the requirements of the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criteria and containing between 68-91g sugars per serve – that’s 17-23 teaspoons.

These sorts of claims lull us into a false sense of security that we’re choosing a healthier fast food. Eat these foods too often, and you’ll probably be consuming more kilojoules, fats, and sugars, which could contribute to weight gain.

But it’s not all bad news. Since the study was conducted, several of the offending chains have removed claims that may not have complied. This is because the study was conducted during the phase-in period of the standard on nutrition content and health claims, with this standard becoming mandatory on 18th January 2016. So it’s working to a degree, but many remaining claims still may not comply.

With the “eating-to-go” habit here to stay, healthier fast food chains have an important role to play in ensuring healthy food options are available. They also have a responsibility to ensure the correct nutritional information accompanies them.

The study highlights the need for closer monitoring and enforcement of the Food Standards Code by the state food agencies. Whether fast food chains are deliberately flaunting the code, or have not been adequately educated on the use of claims and the requirements for making them is hard to say.

Regardless, stronger enforcement will ensure customers are able to make healthier fast food choices. In the meantime, relying on the claims is not a good way of making these choices.

The Conversation

Lyndal Wellard, PhD Student in Nutrition and Dietetics and Senior Nutrition Project Officer at Cancer Council NSW, University of Sydney; Kathy Chapman, Director of Cancer Programs, Cancer Council NSW; PhD Candidate in Nutrition & Dietetics, University of Sydney, and Margaret Allman-Farinelli, Associate Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top image: Shutterstock

 

Why Australian dietary recommendations on fat need to change

A recent editorial in the journal Open Heart suggests many of us have it all wrong when it comes to the balance of fats we eat.

The authors urge a return to equal amounts of specific types of fats known as omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in order to help combat global obesity.

The paper reflects a recent wave of evidence supporting a revision of guidelines around dietary fat, including in Australia.

What are dietary fats?

Fats – more correctly referred to as fatty acids – are a major dietary source of energy, along with carbohydrate and protein. Fats can be saturated or unsaturated, terms that refer to the makeup and structure of the fat molecules.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids include the groups of omega-6 and omega-3 fats. The omega-6 linoleic acid and omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid are called essential fats, as humans cannot produce them: we need to obtain these from dietary sources.

Major sources of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids are seeds that are used abundantly in vegetable oils like safflower and sunflower oil. These oils are commonly used to make margarines. Processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, burgers, pizza and chips are therefore high in omega-6.

Plant sources of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid are nuts (such as walnuts), seeds (such as linseeds) and green leafy vegetables. The longer chain, more highly unsaturated omega-3s known as eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid come from algae and oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines.

There is good evidence for the health benefits of monounsaturated fatty acids: these are found in olive oil, macadamia oil, avocado, and selected nuts like almonds and peanuts.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Excess amounts of saturated fatty acids in the diet have been associated with increased risk of clogged arteries and heart disease (although this is complicated and may depend on their source). Saturated fatty acids come primarily from red meat and processed foods, but dairy products, coconut and palm oil also contain them.

Highly processed food also contains trans fatty acids which occur as a result of the hydrogenation of vegetable oils for margarine, commercial cooking and manufacturing. This process alters the structure of the fat, and these are associated with increased risk of heart disease.

How do fats contribute to our health?

Apart from contributing energy that our bodies need to work properly, fats have numerous important health benefits including healthy skin and hair, absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), and insulation to keep us warm.

Omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids are important for brain development. Docosahexaenoic acid is particularly concentrated in our brains, where it has multiple important roles in healthy brain function, cognition and mental health.

Furthermore, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids produce important chemicals that reduce inflammation and blood clotting, and improve blood vessel dilation. Conversely, omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids promote inflammation, clotting and constriction of blood vessels.

A diet low in omega-3 and rich in omega-6 can therefore create a range of problems, including chronic inflammation and poor blood flow. These changes are associated with chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, stroke, mental illness and dementia.

What sorts of fats do Australians eat?

In traditional societies, humans consumed a ratio of roughly 2-1:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. This came about due to diets rich in fish, plant foods and free grazing animals, and eggs from chickens that ate plants high in omega-3 fats.

In industrialised regions such as Europe and the United States, the dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is very different, being closer to 16:1. In Australia it is estimated to be 8:1.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Therefore Australians are not meeting recommended guidelines for omega-3 intake, eating high levels of processed and takeaway foods, a lot of fatty red meat and not enough fish or vegetables.

This diet is associated with high levels of obesity and chronic disease in adult Australians.

Furthermore, one in four Australian children is overweight or obese. This age group also consumes excess saturated fat – largely through processed foods – and not enough omega-3 fats.

The recent Open Heart editorial suggests such statistics may be reflective of poor dietary policy:

It is the responsibility of the governments and international organisations to establish nutrition policies based on science and not continue along the same path of focusing exclusively on calories and energy expenditure, which have failed miserably over the past 30 years.

Confusion around dietary fat: low-fat diets

Since the 1960s there has been a focus on low-fat diets to improve health. However recently recovered documents implicate a role for sugar industry fraud in this focus. A sponsored program of research cast doubt on links between sugar and heart disease, and pointed the finger at fat instead.

There is now increasing high quality evidence that a Mediterranean-style diet high in monounsaturated fat from extra virgin olive oil is superior to a low-fat diet in preventing heart disease and reversing fatty liver, which is associated with metabolic syndrome and risk of type 2 diabetes.

Not only that, but a high fat Mediterranean diet is superior to a low-fat diet for weight loss, and particularly for long term maintenance of weight loss.

This may be at least partly because all calories are not equal: processed foods are thought to provide energy in a form that is more accessible to our bodies compared with raw or unrefined foods.

Fat is also more satiating, which may explain why a Mediterranean-style diet is more sustainable. Extra virgin olive oil is not only highly palatable, but its antioxidant properties have been associated with weight loss.

Confusion around dietary fat: polyunsaturated fatty acids

Guidelines in America and Australia recommend replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat. In practice, this translates to recommending vegetable oils and margarines instead of butter, and thus replacing saturated fat with omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Little heed is paid to dietary content of omega-3 in this approach.

However, omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids are not the same. Recently uncovered data from a study conducted in Sydney in the 1960s showed that margarine containing linoleic acid (omega-6 fat) was associated with increased risk of early death.

When data across a range of studies investigating polyunsaturated fats and heart disease were re-analysed, study outcomes changed when omega-3 and omega-6 were separated rather than treated as a single factor. When separated, omega-6 was found to be a risk factor for mortality, while omega-3 was protective.

This supports good evidence linking omega-3s with heart health. Although some recently published research questions the importance of omega-3s in fish oil for prevention of heart disease, this interpretation has been professionally critiqued due to methodological flaws.

So where are we now?

Australian dietary guidelines continue to recommend low-fat diets, polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats (without segregating omega-6 and omega-3), and no longer specifically recommend omega-3s for preventing heart disease.

Encouragingly, the recent Nutrition Australia food pyramid has incorporated some significant changes reflecting evidence around the health benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet.

These changes include the placement of vegetables, fruit and legumes at the base of the pyramid, indicating the importance of high intake of plant foods, and extra virgin olive oil is depicted as a healthy fat.

In light of current evidence and consistent with the recent editorial, Australians can improve their health and maintain a healthy weight by aiming for an equal balance of omega-6 to omega-3 intake.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

The Conversation

Natalie Parletta (formerly Sinn), Senior Research Fellow and Dietitian/Nutritionist, University of South Australia; Barbara Meyer, Associate Professor in School of Medicine, University of Wollongong; Catherine Itsiopoulos, Head of School of Allied Health and Professor of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, La Trobe University, and Karen Murphy, Senior Research Fellow in Nutrition and Cardiovascular Disease and Accredited Practicing Dietitian, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top Image: Shutterstock/Uber Images

 

With the familiar Cavendish banana in danger, can science help it survive?

The banana is the world’s most popular fruit crop, with over 100 million metric tons produced annually in over 130 tropical and subtropical countries. Edible bananas are the result of a genetic accident in nature that created the seedless fruit we enjoy today.

Virtually all the bananas sold across the Western world belong to the so-called Cavendish subgroup of the species and are genetically nearly identical. These bananas are sterile and dependent on propagation via cloning, either by using suckers and cuttings taken from the underground stem or through modern tissue culture.

The familiar bright yellow Cavendish banana is ubiquitous in supermarkets and fruit bowls, but it is in imminent danger. The vast worldwide monoculture of genetically identical plants leaves the Cavendish intensely vulnerable to disease outbreaks.

Fungal diseases severely devastated the banana industry once in history and it could soon happen again if we do not resolve the cause of these problems. Plant scientists, including us, are working out the genetics of wild banana varieties and banana pathogens as we try to prevent a Cavendish crash.

The cautionary tale of ‘Big Mike’

One of the most prominent examples of genetic vulnerability comes from the banana itself. Up until the 1960s, Gros Michel, or “Big Mike,” was the prime variety grown in commercial plantations. Big Mike was so popular with consumers in the West that the banana industry established ever larger monocultures of this variety. Thousands of hectares of tropical forests in Latin America were converted into vast Gros Michel plantations.

But Big Mike’s popularity led to its doom, when a pandemic whipped through these plantations during the 1950s and ‘60’s. A fungal disease called Fusarium wilt or Panama disease nearly wiped out the Gros Michel and brought the global banana export industry to the brink of collapse. A soilborne pathogen was to blame: The fungus Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense (Foc) infected the plants’ root and vascular system. Unable to transport water and nutrients, the plants wilted and died.

A cross-section of a banana plant, infected with the fungus that causes Fusarium wilt.
Gert Kema, CC BY

Fusarium wilt is very difficult to control – it spreads easily in soil, water and infected planting material. Fungicide applications in soil or in the plant’s stem are as of yet ineffective. Moreover, the fungus can persist in the soil for several decades, thus prohibiting replanting of susceptible banana plants.

Is history repeating itself?

Cavendish bananas are resistant to those devastating Fusarium wilt Race 1 strains, so were able to replace the Gros Michel when it fell to the disease. Despite being less rich in taste and logistical challenges involved with merchandising this fruit to international markets at an acceptable quality, Cavendish eventually replaced Gros Michel in commercial banana plantations. The entire banana industry was restructured, and to date, Cavendish accounts for 47 percent of the bananas grown worldwide and 99 percent of all bananas sold commercially for export to developed countries.

Bananas in Costa Rica affected by Black Sigatoka.
Gert Kema, CC BY

But the Cavendish unfortunately has its own weaknesses – most prominently susceptibility to a disease called Black Sigatoka. The fungus Pseudocercospora fijiensis attacks the plants’ leaves, causing cell death that affects photosynthesis and leads to a reduction in fruit production and quality. If Black Sigatoka is left uncontrolled, banana yields can decline by 35 to 50 percent.

Cavendish growers currently manage Black Sigatoka through a combination of pruning infected leaves and applying fungicides. Yearly, it can take 50 or more applications of chemicals to control the disease. Such heavy use of fungicides has negative impacts on the environment and the occupational health of the banana workers, and increases the costs of production. It also helps select for survival the strains of the fungus with higher levels of resistance to these chemicals: As the resistant strains become more prevalent, the disease gets harder to control over time.

Aerial spraying of fungicides on a banana plantation.
Gert Kema, CC BY

To further aggravate the situation, Cavendish is also now under attack from a recently emerged strain of Fusarium oxysporum, known as Tropical Race 4 (TR4). First identified in the early 1990s in Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia, TR4 has since spread to many Southeast Asian countries and on into the Middle East and Africa. If TR4 makes it to Latin America and the Caribbean region, the export banana industry in that part of the world could be in big trouble.

Cavendish varieties have shown little if any resistance against TR4. Growers are relying on temporary solutions – trying to prevent it from entering new regions, using clean planting materials and limiting the transfer of potentially infected soil between farms.

Cavendish banana trees in China infected with new fungal disease TR4.
Andre Drenth, UQ, CC BY

Black Sigatoka and Panama disease both cause serious production losses and are difficult to control. With the right monitoring in place to rapidly intervene and halt their spread, the risks and damage imposed by these diseases can be considerably reduced, as has been recently shown in Australia. But current practices don’t provide the durable solution that’s urgently needed.

Getting started on banana genetic research

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the sad history of Gros Michel, it’s that reliance on a large and genetically uniform monoculture is a risky strategy that is prone to failure. To reduce the vulnerability to diseases, we need more genetic diversity in our cultivated bananas.

Local banana varieties in southern China.
Andre Drenth, UQ, CC BY

Over a thousand species of banana have been recorded in the wild. Although most do not have the desired agronomic characteristics – such as high yields of seedless, nonacidic fruits with long shelf life – that would make them a direct substitute for the Cavendish, they are an untapped genetic resource. Scientists could search within them for resistance genes and other desirable traits to use in engineering and breeding programs.

To date, though, there’s been little effort and insufficient funding for collecting, protecting, characterizing and utilizing wild banana genetic material. Consequently, while almost every other crop used for food production has been significantly improved through plant breeding over the last century, the banana industry has yet to benefit from genetics and plant breeding.

But we have started taking the first steps. We now know the genome sequences of the banana and the fungi that cause Fusarium wilt and Sigatoka. These studies helped illuminate some of the molecular mechanisms by which these fungal pathogens cause disease in the banana. That knowledge provides a basis for identifying disease-resistant genes in wild and cultivated bananas.

Researchers now have the tools to identify resistance genes in wild bananas or other plant species. Then they can use classical plant breeding or genetic engineering to transfer those genes into desired cultivars. Scientists can also use these tools to further study the dynamics and evolution of banana pathogens in the field, and monitor changes in their resistance to fungicides.

Availability of the latest tools and detailed genome sequences, coupled with long-term visionary research in genetics, engineering and plant breeding, can help us keep abreast of the pathogens that are currently menacing the Cavendish banana. Ultimately we need to increase the pool of genetic diversity in cultivated bananas so we’re not dependent on single clones such as the Cavendish or the Gros Michel before it. Otherwise we remain at risk of history repeating itself.

The Conversation

Ioannis Stergiopoulos, Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology, University of California, Davis; André Drenth, Professor of Agriculture and Food Sciences, The University of Queensland, and Gert Kema, Special Professor of Phytopathology, Wageningen University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

10 tips for eating locally and cutting the energy used to produce your food

Being a “locavore” means choosing food that is grown locally, and is one way that you can help ensure there is more food to go around.

To feed the predicted nine billion people in the world in 2050, the world will need to produce 70-100% more food. This unprecedented increase in food production will require substantial changes in soil management, land cultivation, and crop production.

This cannot be achieved without technological advances that increase crop yield and reduce the need to use nitrogen-based fertilisers. The question is how this can be achieved sustainably, while also tackling climate change.

This is where “eating local” comes in.

What is eating local?

The primary reason why eating local is good for the planet is the reduction in energy resources required for transport and storage. Generally, the further a food has travelled from “paddock to plate”, the greater its impact on the environment. This is because of fuel used in transport and increased greenhouse gas emissions used for refrigerated storage.

The mode of transport matters too. Transporting food by air generates 177 times more greenhouse gases than shipping it.

The global food system lets us eat food from all over the world, all year round. But food miles impact adversely on the nutritional quality of fresh foods, and on the environment.

Yet while eating foods grown close to where we live makes planetary sense, farmers markets and foods grown more sustainably (organically) often carry a price premium, and seem to be targeted to a trendy and wealthy demographic.

The lack of a definition of “eating locally” also raises questions of how to incorporate organic and fair trade produce within the larger sustainability movement, and how to support developing nations.

Global supply chains place great demands on ecosystems and natural resources, and large distances between where food is produced and consumed is often seen as evidence of an unsustainable food system. However, this is not always as straightforward as it appears.

Take the case of seafood. Australia is in the enviable position of having been ranked in the top five countries for fisheries management and the majority of commercial fish stocks in Australia are assessed as sustainable.

However, 72% of seafood consumed in Australia is imported. Surprisingly, there is little difference between the carbon footprint of meals made using imported seafood compared with those of three domestic wild-caught fish.

10 tips for eating local

So given that eating local can be tricky, here are 10 tips:

1: Become familiar with foods that are grown or produced locally and what time of the year they are available. Seasonal food guides are available from some fruit markets and online such as one developed for south-east Queensland.

2: Look for local farmers markets, community gardens, food co-operatives and community supported agriculture schemes. Green Connect is one example of a community-supported agriculture scheme operating in the Illawarra region of New South Wales. In some states such as Tasmania, a thriving food tourism culture may encourage consumers to eat locally but this concept has not been replicated in other parts of the country.

3: Grow your own fruit and vegetables and keep chickens in your own backyard, or get involved in your local community garden, and trade produce with neighbours.

4: Read the labels of packaged foods. The new “Made in Australia” labelling on foods makes it easier to determine where the food (and its individual components) has been grown, processed and packaged.

Australia’s origin labelling can help choose food produced closer to home.
Australia government

5: Choose less processed foods. Generally, the more processed a food is, the more energy and water it requires in the production process. Replace junk food with fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables.

6: Take the Eco Friendly Food Challenge and get some friends to join you.

7: Cook meals using fresh ingredients rather than purchasing ready-made meals.

8: Ask your food retailers and manufacturers about the origin of the food you are buying. Locate fruit and vegetable retailers, butchers, delicatessens and fishmongers who sell food produced locally.

9: Limit your intake of alcohol and purchase locally-grown alcohol with the lowest food miles possible. If you enjoy a particular beer or wine, contact the manufacturer to learn about their environmental policies and to advocate for more environmentally friendly production methods.

10: The Fair Food Forager app allows you to search for food outlets that adhere to fair and sustainable practices.

Creating consumer demand for more locally and sustainably produced food is being led not only by food champion Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, but also by our very own Australian Youth Food Movement, whose organisers are passionate about improving the food supply for future generations.

The Conversation

Karen Charlton, Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of Wollongong and Amy Carrad, PhD Candidate – Public Health, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Efficient solutions for fresh produce cooling

When Lindsay Fresh Logistics approached Bruce Townsend, a Director of Cool Dynamics (QLD), about updating their primary distribution warehouse at the Brisbane Markets, he got Bitzer involved.

Lindsay Fresh Logistics needed to update their refrigeration at the Brisbane Markets to handle increased product throughput, different operating conditions and deliver improved operating efficiency.

The Brisbane Markets site had performed reliably over the last twenty years using Bitzer open drive screw racks, Buffalo Trident LDV condensers and Thermfresh air handlers, however this system no longer suited the proposed operating requirements. It also utilised an operating charge in excess of 2,000kg of R22, contained in just three systems, and was going to become dramatically more expensive to keep operational in the future.

As the site needed to keep operating while the plant was upgraded, the idea of swapping the open drive screw racks with semi hermetic screw racks with the central plant operating on R134a was eventually dismissed.

Thinking outside of the box and following on-site discussions between Lindsay Fresh Logistics, Cool Dynamics (QLD) and Bitzer, it was decided that each room would have its own dedicated small charge system which would allow for the other rooms to continue operating on the existing plant as each new system was installed and commissioned.

For efficiency the site went with four Bitzer Commech screw sets, two semi hermetic racks with Varispeed lead compressors, two Varispeed basic units, and a semi-hermetic basic unit.

All were selected to operate on R134a and combined with Buffalo FMC condensers featuring EC fans. These were mounted remotely on a condenser platform engineered and installed by SBP Australia on the warehouse roof and designed to ensure optimal condensing temperatures could be easily maintained regardless of ambient temperature.

New Buffalo BBM series evaporators, which are designed for optimal humidity and air flow, replaced the existing Thermfresh air handlers. All of the Bitzer compressor sets were supplied pre-wired with Carel control systems which were then connected via BACnet to a custom Innotech BMS system to allow for remote communication.

The project was completed over six months with the majority of the work, including the infilled cool room panel by SBP Australia, completed in November.

Lindsay Fresh Logistics were pleased to share their first power bill for December with Cool Dynamics (QLD). It revealed a 29 per cent power saving compared to the previous December period.

As the last of the new equipment was commissioned and the old plant decommissioned the power savings continued to improve. March showed a 37 per cent decrease from the previous corresponding period even with building additions of

three fumigation rooms, one DAF (Department of Agriculture & Fisheries) conditioned facility and three fast cooler rooms.

In February there was a slight anomaly (with temperatures an average of three degrees warmer than in February 2015), so power saving dropped from 37 per cent to 22 per cent, however the new equipment cruised through the heat providing optimal COP efficiency.

“The equipment changeover
took place with minimal disruption to our operation due to the
great communication from Cool Dynamics (QLD) during all stages
of this project,” said Bob McMillan, General Manager of Rocklea Markets site.

“This allowed us to plan for the shutdown of rooms based on product flow so that Cool Dynamics (QLD) could ensure that they had the rooms we needed operating when we required them.

“We have since noticed a considerable drop off in power consumption even though we have added rooms, plus our water consumption would have also decreased with the removal of the Thermfresh units.”

Lindsay Transport Adelaide refrigeration upgrade was also very successful and 2016 is looking to
be a great year for Lindsay Fresh Logistics, in the Brisbane Markets, with the additional cold storage to handle their export market growth, plus an estimated average 32 per cent power saving and continued to be fully supported by Cool Dynamics (QLD) and Bitzer Australia.

 

 

Why sugar is so much worse for teenagers’ brains

The rate of obesity is increasing worldwide and the increase has been particularly dramatic in young people. Young people are the greatest consumers of high-energy, sugary and fat-laden “junk” foods and sweetened drinks.

The heightened metabolism and rapid growth during puberty can protect against obesity. However, easy access to cheap junk foods and increasingly sedentary lifestyles outweighs the protection from growth spurts.

Diets high in refined sugar and saturated fat not only contribute to weight gain and associated health issues, but also have a profoundly detrimental impact on brain function.

It is known excessive consumption of junk foods damage areas of the brain essential for learning and memory processes. Neurons in brain regions, including the hippocampus, that encodes memories, no longer work efficiently, leading to poorer learning.

This is of great concern as adolescence is a critical formative period for learning about the world. Adolescence is also a time of newly found independence, including food choices.

Recent research in rodents has shown the adolescent brain is at an increased risk of developing diet-induced cognitive dysfunction. Adolescent, but not adult, mice develop memory problems after consuming high-fat diets.

Teenage rats that drank sugary beverages were less able to remember a specific location leading to an escape hatch. This was compared to adult rats drinking sugary beverages, and teenage rats that had low-sugar diets.

The brains of the adolescent sugar-diet rats also showed increased levels of inflammation in the hippocampus, disrupting learning and memory function. Inflammation in the brain can contribute to cognitive decline and dementia.

The negative effects of obesity on the brain have been observed in young people too. Obese adolescents performed worse at maths, spelling and mental flexibility than healthy-weight adolescents. Structural brain scans revealed that obese teenagers had smaller hippocampi. This provides evidence that excessive body fat impacts the brain’s learning centre.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Teenage brains are a work in progress

The teenage brain undergoes major developmental changes in terms of structure and function. Adolescence is a period of increased neuroplasticity due to the dramatic changes in connectivity within brain regions.

Brain-imaging studies show that the prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully mature until the early 20s. A major role of the prefrontal cortex is performing executive functions. This term encapsulates behavioural control, attention and decision-making.

Poor regulation of the prefrontal cortex during adolescence can explain the increased risk taking behaviours in teenagers, including dangerous driving, drug use and binge drinking.

Educational efforts to provide teens with information about unsafe behaviours tends to fall on deaf ears. The prefrontal cortex helps us to resist performing behaviours triggered by events in the environment. Resisting these behaviours in the face of immediate reward can be difficult, particularly for teenagers.

Teenage brains love rewards

The risky behaviours teenagers engage in are often immediately rewarding. The brain’s reward system releases the neurotransmitter dopamine when stimulated by pleasurable events, increasing the drive to carry out these activities.

Teenagers are particularly drawn to rewards, including eating tasty foods high in fat and sugar. The adolescent reward system is sensitive to stimulation and may be permanently altered by overactivation during this period.

Combined with the reduced ability to resist rewarding behaviours, it is not surprising that teenagers prefer to eat foods that are easy to obtain and immediately gratifying, even in the face of health advice to the contrary.

Changes in the brain caused by overconsumption of sugary foods during adolescence can manifest in later life as difficulties in experiencing reward. Research has shown male rats that drank sugar water during adolescence showed reduced motivation and enjoyment of rewards when they were adults.

These behaviours are core features of mood disorders including depression. Importantly, this shows that how we eat during adolescence can impact brain function as adults, leading to long-lasting changes in food preference and learning about rewards.

Teenage brains are more plastic

Excessive consumption of junk foods during adolescence could derail normal brain maturation processes. This may alter normal development trajectories, leading to enduring behavioural predispositions – in this case, the habit of consuming fatty and sugar foods, leading to obesity.

Fortunately, the increased plasticity of the adolescent brain means that young people may be more responsive to change. Opportunities to identify and intervene in high-risk youths may avert destructive negative behavioural spirals that may originate in adolescence. This can encourage life-long healthy habits.

The Conversation

Amy Reichelt, Lecturer, ARC DECRA, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Meat wholesale company finds transport solution

Eternity Meat, a meat wholesale company based in Balliang, Victoria had recently struggled to keep up with customer demand until they sought a non-traditional finance option.

The booming transport business relied on old and outdated trailers, one of which dated back to 1982, forcing the owner to borrow trailers from business associates in order to honour his haulage contracts.

Owner Alistair Sadler said the older model trailers were beginning to negatively impact the company’s current clients; one issue was the meat-hanging rails were incompatible with the rails at the meat processing plant, which made unloading difficult.

“We got by and that, I suppose, is the key to our business: We say ‘yes’ and then we wonder how we’re going to do it!” said Sadler.

When. Sadler heard another transport company, Wickham Freight Lines, was selling used trailers, he knew he had to move fast.

The trailers in question, the 1997 and 2004 model FTE fiberglass meat-hanger trailers are rarely seen on the open market.

In a bid to secure finance, Alistair contacted the companies he was already leasing trucks and other equipment from, but they were unreceptive.

“When you grow quickly, you get to a point where your financial exposure is such your lenders don’t want you taking on any more debt,” explains. Sadler.

Sadler approached GoGetta, a specialist equipment funder in the transport sector, after a recommendation from a finance broker: a decision that allowed Sadler to get his business back on the road,.

Sadler said that each week one of his trailers costs him $800 in rent, but it pays for itself over and over from the income it’s generating. “We’ve used GoGetta as a tool to get where we need to be,” Sadler said.  “It allowed us to quickly get the trailers on the road and working. Had we waited six months until we had more equity in the business, we would have missed the opportunity.”

Is the red wine compound resveratrol a miracle drug for infertility and ageing?

“A glass of red wine a day could keep polycystic ovaries at bay,” said a news headline this week. This and similar reports were based on research from a team in Poland and California that showed high daily doses – 1,500 mg – of a natural compound found in red wine, called resveratrol, could lower steroid hormone levels in women suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This, in effect, should lower symptoms of PCOS including weight gain, excess hair, infertility and abnormal menstrual cycles.

This is not the first time resveratrol has been linked to health benefits. Back in 2006, headlines announced a “natural substance found in red wine” could extend lifespan in mice. The internet soon became flooded with online sellers of resveratrol supplements ranging from highly pure, to pills containing mashed up grape skins with very little resveratrol.

The fact resveratrol is naturally found in the skin of red grapes then led to the happy idea that drinking lots of red wine can make you live longer. But unfortunately, resveratrol is found at only trace levels in red wine – so you would need to drink over a thousand bottles per day to obtain the amount of resveratrol found in two 250 mg pills.

Resveratrol is naturally found in the skin of red grapes.
Harsha K R/Flickr, CC BY

The 2006 reports – based on a paper published in the esteemed journal Nature – were exciting for science though. Resveratrol turns on an enzyme called SIRT1, which is thought to enhance the age-delaying benefits of diet and exercise. The Nature study showed resveratrol extended lifespan in a mouse, an animal far more complex than the simple organisms the compound had previously been tested on, such as yeast, worms and flies.

Other studies of resveratrol in mice then showed benefits to lifespan, diseases such as cancer and diabetes, and inflammation. So why has resveratrol not been made into a drug yet?

When it is taken as a pill, the liver quickly degrades the majority of resveratrol before it can make it into the rest of the body. This means only a very small amount actually gets to other tissues where it could have an effect. So it would have to be given at very high doses.

But at doses where it can have an effect, resveratrol can cause gut problems such as diarrhoea. Despite this, small clinical trials using resveratrol in humans have shown some benefits to their metabolism, markers of inflammation, and Alzheimer’s disease.

There has also been controversy as to how resveratrol actually works; in particular whether it activates SIRT1, the enzyme thought to delay the ageing process.

David Sinclair, an Australian based at Harvard Medical School, first showed resveratrol could “turn on” SIRT1 in 2003. With a series of papers in quick succession, Sinclair showed resveratrol extended lifespan in yeast, worms, flies, fish, and mice.

Controversy struck when it was suggested resveratrol was working through “off target” effects, meaning it was interacting with enzymes other than SIRT1. As a small molecule with a simple structure, it is likely resveratrol has non-specific interactions throughout the body, especially at higher doses.

Products containing resveratrol range from being highly pure, to pills containing mashed up grape skins with very little resveratrol.
Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures/Flickr, CC BY

But then in 2012, these doubts were assuaged, when mice genetically engineered to be missing the SIRT1 gene were found to be immune to the effects of resveratrol. In 2013, it was found resveratrol binds to and activates SIRT1 in a very intricate manner. So that part is clear.

There are still uncertainties as to how specific it is; such as with the recent study involving women with PCOS. PCOS is a common endocrine condition that occurs when follicles in the ovary, which contain egg cells, swell up and the egg cell itself does not mature properly. The eggs contained in these cysts fail to be released at ovulation, which can cause infertility in women.

PCOS is thought to be caused by high levels of male steroid hormones known as androgens. Key risk factors for PCOS are metabolic problems such as high insulin levels, obesity, insulin resistance, and type II diabetes. Body weight reductions can therefore reduce PCOS risk.

Women suffering from PCOS experience irregular or no menstrual cycle, acne, hair growth and elevated levels of the male steroid hormone testosterone. In the recent study, resveratrol treatment lowered levels of testosterone, and its precursor DHEAS – two key steroid hormonal markers of PCOS.

But it’s actually not clear whether the testosterone reduction was due to a direct effect on the release of the hormone itself. This is because insulin, which at high levels can cause metabolic disease, was also reduced. As with other studies, it may be that resveratrol is actually improving metabolism, with reduced PCOS severity as a secondary side-effect. So there is still a lot we don’t know about the compound.

Should people want to go online and buy resveratrol, be aware it has not yet been approved as a drug by regulatory authorities. Also, plant-based resveratrol extracts such as Japanese knotweed contain a crude cocktail of compounds, some of which may be harmful, with only a small amount of resveratrol. Meanwhile, red grape skin pills are likely to contain vanishingly small quantities.

Stay tuned though: efforts to formulate resveratrol so greater proportions actually reach the rest of the body are underway.

The Conversation

Lindsay Wu, Senior Lecturer, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The best Christmas present for food makers is a stress free shutdown

For organisations with high intensity production schedules, cost driven decision making and thinly stretched maintenance budgets, shutdowns are viewed as one of the highest risk and intensity work programs in the annual calendar.  Site personnel numbers can balloon, with multiple projects of varying complexity progressing in parallel, all under a singular work permitting, isolation system and HSE (health, safety, environment) department.

In the pressure cooker environments of food processing, your organisation may only decommission one process line at a time, with significant maintenance or project works ongoing in the middle of live production.

No time to plan?  Find some!

Allow approximately nine weeks of planning for every one week of shutdown work delivery. If your Christmas shutdown is going to be five days, have your team assembled and your shutdown manager convening the stakeholder kick-off meeting by early November. There is a lot of effort required to tender and procure the equipment and subcontractor packages, induct temporary personnel, negotiate with operations and marketing teams on recommissioning dates, plan the HAZOPs, draft the SOPs and more.

Put simply, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.

Shutdown planning and management is an art.

Take the time to appreciate the importance of engaging a dedicated shutdown management team to work alongside, especially the manager. An efficient shutdown manager will be able to work across industries and apply suitably rigorous, risk mitigated master planning solutions to enable your operations to resume production inside the shutdown windows.

What is the value of an existing internal team managing shutdown?

Have you sat down to analyse the value of this approach? Consider the potential risks of distracting the attention of your key team members, in order to save on headcount.

A team member who is operating at or above 100% capacity cannot sustain workloads above this.

Internal experts are most valuable as advisors inside shutdown teams, providing site, process and equipment expertise inside each shutdown job. Your team are the quality experts inside the shutdown, not absorbed by the onerous duties involved in management and administration.

What are the lost opportunity costs for shutdown events?

The single most powerful metric you possess when it comes to shutdowns is knowing what one hour of production downtime costs your facility. If you knew your cost, would it change the way you plan your shutdown? Would you move to a compressed continuous 24 hour shut to recover production earlier, for example? Or defer non critical works until another time and refocus your energies elsewhere?

An example of this is an organisation Wiley worked for who incur more than $200,000 cost for every hour loss of production. A few simple hours saved (or lost) can become very significant very quickly.

Long term strategy

Invest the time to collate and rank all of your upcoming works on a 36, 48 or 60 month horizon.

Organisations that strategically extend their planning horizon will unearth amazing savings in both their CAPEX and OPEX budgets.

Wiley have seen savings approaching 20% of project budgets due to long range master planning that challenges why and when your planned works need to be done.

Consider some external assistance

If you thought keeping a facility running was complex, try stopping one.

The diagram below demonstrates that for shutdowns, while the planning window is ten times the length of the five-day delivery program (50 days vs five days), around 90% of the budget is spent during those final days.

Shutdown rules digi 600 x 300px

While the 90% planning window you can see in the diagram above is a minor percentage of overall cost, it is when all of the savings are captured.  A well planned shutdown can refund the cost of the planning effort.

Wiley are often asked by our clients to undertake activities that could be self-performed, but the client simply does not have the time to ensure a quality outcome.

The keys to a successful and efficient facility shutdown are in the planning stages. Choose your personnel wisely and seek advice. There’s no harder work than taking a break.

Chris Fung is the Technical Services Director of Engineering at Wiley. With 20 years of diverse industry experience, Chris has worked across Facilities and Asset Management, Food services, Engineering Consultancy, Aged Care and Operations.

Wiley design build and maintain food manufacturing and processing facilities.

 

Research Check: can drinking coffee reduce your dementia risk?

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is a growing problem worldwide. There are 350,000 people with dementia in Australia and this is set to rise to 900,000 by 2050. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

So if “coffee really can help to prevent dementia”, as a headline by the Daily Mail last week suggested, that would be amazing. This is why the study on which the headline was based received so much interest.

It was reported on by publications such as the the Independent and websites dedicated to anti-ageing research.

According to the Daily Mail, the study showed:

Women over the age of 65 who had a normal caffeine intake were 36% less likely to develop a cognitive impairment.

Unfortunately there are many reasons not to get excited. The study was observational: a look back through data collected over many years. This means many reasons that weren’t explored may account for the findings that women who drank coffee decreased their risk of dementia.

Factors not examined included diet, exercise, general health and use of other medications. Basically, researchers found drinking coffee was associated with lower dementia risk; not that coffee caused the lower risk. Coffee may have nothing to do with it. And there are many other reasons to be sceptical.

The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Where did researchers get their information?

Ira Driscoll and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have published an interesting analysis in the reputable Journals of Gerontology, Medical Sciences. The information they used to come to their conclusions comes from women aged 65 to 80 who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS) and were followed for up to ten years.

The WHIMS was not a planned study originally. It was a sub-study of a large randomised-controlled trial, called the Women’s Health Initiative, examining the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) on postmenopausal women aged over 65.

Although the trial was stopped early, the women continued to be followed up until 2010. The Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study was specifically examining the effects of HRT on memory and dementia. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researchers used this sample to study whether there was a connection between caffeine consumption and new cases of dementia.

The women were all free of dementia when they joined the study between 1995 and 1999. Their cognition – memory and other thinking abilities – was assessed annually in person, until 2007, and then by telephone. For women who showed evidence of cognitive decline over subsequent years, more information was obtained from someone who knew the woman well.

The study was picked up by many publications under many different headlines, such as this one by Sputnik International.
Sputnik International/screenshot

A panel of specialist physicians who reviewed all the information agreed on whether women had developed probable dementia. Caffeine intake, which included tea, cola and other sources of caffeine, was based on questionnaires the women completed.

To isolate the effect of caffeine, the analyses accounted for other reasons that might affect rates of dementia. These were age, education, use of HRT, weight and height, sleep, blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, smoking, alcohol use and how well the women performed cognitively at their first visit.

What were the results?

Of the 6,467 women in WHIMS, 209 developed dementia and 388 developed some cognitive impairment. Greater levels of caffeine intake were associated with a lower incidence of dementia or cognitive impairment.

Researchers divided the women into two halves – the first half contained those who consumed higher amounts of and the second, lower. The average amount of caffeine intake in the lower group was 64 mg per day (roughly under one standard cup of coffee); while in the higher group, it was 261 mg (roughly over three cups).

This study only looked at older women.
from shutterstock.com

The women in the upper group had 26% (not 36% as reported by the Daily Mail) less chance of developing dementia than those in the lower. This is a statistically significant difference. But when the women’s level of cognition at recruitment was taken into account, the risk reduction was only 20%, which was no longer statistically significant.

The researchers concede several reasons for caution. For a start, this study only looked at older women. They mention another study from France that found coffee had a protective effect on women but not men. And a third study found European men who drank three cups of coffee per day had the lowest rate of cognitive decline over ten years.

Why else should we be sceptical?

The women in this study weren’t representative of women generally. They were better educated than average and just the fact they had survived to 65 to 80 years at the time they entered the study, and then lived even longer to allow follow-up, means they may have been a healthier group. This is called the survivor bias, which can lead to false conclusions.

Nor was there a clear dose-response outlined with the number of cups of caffeinated coffee per day. This means the actual amount of caffeine was not measured and blood levels were not checked. Plus, people make their coffee at different strengths, and because the basis for the analysis is what the women reported, their ideas around caffeine intake measurements could be unreliable.

Further, the diagnoses of dementia were not based on a clinical assessment. Telephone assessments are more prone to error and this introduces some noise.

Also, if the women drank coffee just before their assessments, the alerting effect may have helped them score better.

Another possible explanation for the findings is that women may have cut back on their coffee just before they enrolled in the study for reasons linked to incipient dementia, also known as mild cognitive impairment. For example, incipient Lewy body dementia can lead to sleep disturbances as its first symptom even before the dementia becomes apparent; so people with symptoms might stop coffee to help sleep better.

What else should we take into account?

Observational studies such as this are not the gold standard. To really assess coffee’s effect on cognitive decline, we would need a planned randomised controlled trial where women are allocated to caffeine or decaffeinated intake and followed for some years. The women and raters would need to be blind as to which group they would be in. Clearly this would be very difficult if not impossible, especially in our café society.

Caffeine is perhaps the most widely used addictive substance in the world and appears safe.
Dogancan Ozturan/Unsplash

What should readers do? Caffeine is perhaps the most widely used addictive substance in the world and appears safe. People have different reactions to caffeine that may vary with age and health. Some people become more anxious, others find it can improve their performance. I find that as I have grown older, my sleep is more sensitive to caffeine.

There are things you can do that may reduce your risk of dementia, such as eating healthy food, preferably based on the Mediterranean diet of lots of vegetables and fruit and very little saturated fat, and staying physically fit and mentally active.

Don’t get too hung up on this kind of research. Let’s see more evidence over time. – Henry Brodaty

Peer review

This is an interesting study but I agree there are major issues with its methods and conclusions. It is unclear exactly how caffeine intake was assessed. The paper states caffeine intake was self-reported using a questionnaire asking about coffee, tea, and cola beverages, but it did not specify whether drinks contained caffeine or not. Hence researchers assumed it was all caffeinated.

It is also disappointing the women were only split into two groups: those who drank more coffee, and those who drank less than average. There is a reasonable chance of misclassification bias, meaning some people in the lower caffeine intake group should really be in the upper group, due to limitations in the assessment of caffeine intake. You normally address this by splitting participants into more than two groups, and often four or five.

It is very interesting that those in the highest caffeine intake group were also less likely to have diabetes at baseline. While this fits with a major review of the relationship between risk of type 2 diabetes and coffee consumption, it’s also possible there is some remaining confounding bias due to better overall health of those with higher caffeine intakes that is not accounted for.

I agree that further longitudinal analyses would be of value, especially if they repeated the measure of coffee and other caffeinated beverages, particularly decaffeinated coffee, over a number of time points. It would be even more interesting to look at results where people changed their intakes over time. – Clare Collins

The Conversation

Henry Brodaty, Scientia Professor of Ageing and Mental Health, UNSW Australia and Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

No, enjoying a gin and tonic doesn’t mean you’re a psychopath

I was looking at Facebook one evening last week when my attention was captured by the headline “Gin lovers are all massive psychopaths, according to experts” – a somewhat disconcerting thing to read as I sipped the gin and tonic I had in my hand at the time.

As someone whose propensity to empathise with others has seen me spend entire evenings crying over the plight of movie characters, psychopathy has never made its way onto my list of self-diagnoses.

I instantly felt compelled to learn more about how a penchant for gin had become the new diagnostic tool to detect a psychopath. The short story is, it hasn’t.

I determined this reasonably efficiently. A search for the word “gin” in the research paper that prompted this news story produced a grand total of zero hits.

It’s therefore rather concerning that this paper has spawned a huge number of popular articles all reporting this non-existent link, such as this one that has been shared on Facebook nearly 300,000 times.

Depending on what you read, if you’re partial to a gin and tonic you are either a psychopath, or slightly more generously, a possible psychopath.

Other stories have cast the net a bit wider, branding coffee and beer drinkers as potential psychopaths too – which, if you think about it, would make society a pretty scary place.

Booze news

These news stories are misreported accounts of research from the University of Innsbruck. Across two studies, the researchers investigated the relationship between bitter taste preferences and various antisocial personality traits, including psychopathy.

While many tend to think of it as a disorder that afflicts only the most calculating of criminals, psychopathy is also conceptualised as a personality trait that falls along a continuum, with those at the extreme end characterised by superficial charm, callousness, and a lack of empathy.

The researchers measured psychopathy using a brief personality measure that assesses three socially undesirable personality traits: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism – collectively known as the “dark triad”.

Participants indicated their agreement with statements such as “I tend to be callous or insensitive” and “I tend to lack remorse”. Responses were then averaged to create a score for psychopathy and the other traits.

The researchers measured bitter taste preferences in two ways. First, participants were provided with a list of 10 bitter foods and drinks, including coffee, tonic water, beer, radishes and celery, and rated them on a scale from 1 (dislike strongly) to 6 (like strongly). These scores were then averaged to create an overall measure of bitter taste preferences for each person. The researchers also asked participants to rate their liking for bitter foods and drinks in general (as opposed to the specific examples) on the same scale.

The bitter truth

The results reported no significant relationship between psychopathy scores and participants’ preference scores for the specific bitter foods and drinks. That is, those with higher psychopathy scores did not display stronger overall liking for the bitter foods and drinks on the list, including tonic water, coffee and beer.

However, there was a weak correlation between psychopathy scores and participants’ scores on their general preference for bitter tastes. So you might say that people at the psychopathic end of the spectrum are slightly more likely to express a preference for eating or drinking bitter things in general.

How on earth do these findings translate to people who drink gin, coffee or beer being probable psychopaths? Quite simply, they don’t.

The study provided no evidence that an individual’s preference for specific bitter drinks like coffee, beer or tonic water (with or without gin) has any relationship with psychopathy. Even if it had, this would fall a long way short of being able to brand anyone who enjoys a G&T as a psychopath.

The only thing this study found was a weak positive relationship between psychopathy and a general penchant for bitter things. In my view, this link is negligible compared with other, more well established predictors of psychopathy, such as a person’s genes or sex.

If you want to know whether someone is a psychopath, the truth is that most will reveal themselves soon enough, especially if you know the telltale signs – which don’t include whether or not they’re brandishing an aperitif.

The Conversation

Megan Willis, Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, Australian Catholic University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trimming the excess: how cutting down on junk food could help save the environment

Looking for a new reason to cut down on “junk” food? Besides the obvious health-related benefits, I showed in a recent study that discretionary or junk foods make up a significant proportion of food-related environmental impacts.

For an average Australian household, my research found that discretionary food contribute 33-39% of diet-related water use, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and land use.

Why is this a problem? In a warming world with a growing population and dwindling resources, we can no longer afford discretionary consumption that harms both our own and the planet’s health.

Although the topic of sustainable diets is becoming more popular, the debate and proposed policies have not sufficiently questioned the proliferation of junk food products that use scarce resources to produce empty calories.

Sustainable and healthy

The global food system accounts for around 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, 70% of water use and 38% of land use. We urgently need to meet climate targets and ensure food security. But it is increasingly recognised that making agriculture more efficient (to produce more food while using less resources) will not be enough. More sustainable diets are therefore essential.

National dietary guidelines are designed to help us eat more healthily. Recent iterations in Brazil, Sweden and the Netherlands also stress the importance of health and sustainability.

Animal-derived foods generally have bigger total environmental footprints than plant foods. This is because of the significant amounts of land, water and feed required by livestock and the methane released by ruminants.

Many recommendations to achieve healthy and sustainable diets have therefore justifiably focused on the need to reduce meat and animal-derived product consumption.

Diets such as the Mediterranean, rich in vegetables, fruit, legumes and wholegrains, seem to achieve the right balance between health and sustainability. A key characteristic of the traditional Mediterranean diet is the limited amount of discretionary food.

Enter junk foods

The Australian Dietary Guidelines describe discretionary foods as: “foods and drinks not necessary to provide the nutrients the body needs, but that may add variety. Many of these are high in saturated fats, sugars, salt and/or alcohol.”

By contrast, non-discretionary foods are those belonging to the core food groups: fruit, vegetables, cereals, legumes, nuts and seeds, dairy and unprocessed meat.

We all know that discretionary foods are unhealthy, but how do different products compare in terms of environmental impact?

There is a serious absence of research quantifying the environmental impacts of these foods. We would expect that the more processing our food goes through, the greater its overall impact due to cumulative energy and other input requirements.

However, my research shows that it depends on a number of factors – an issue highlighted in other studies on the general environmental impacts of diets. Junk foods almost always use more energy, but land and water use vary between products. Work in this area is still evolving.

However, this variability should not get junk foods off the hook, especially given their contribution to obesity. The question becomes whether these foods are consumed in excess, or whether they have displaced core foods – as can be the case for poorer socioeconomic groups.

The average energy intake of most Australians is above that recommended for their age and activity levels. That means we have to eliminate excess energy consumption, and we could consider eating junk food as a form of food waste.

If less discretionary food is produced, this means either that more unprocessed ingredients are available in their more nutritious forms, or that less agricultural production is necessary. Both could reduce environmental impacts.

What can we do about it?

Well, it’s complicated. The solution should ultimately tackle the heart of the problem, which is why we overconsume these foods in the first place.

Encouraging dietary shifts away from junk foods is challenging because of their cheapness, taste and convenience. Discretionary foods are also aggressively promoted to consumers due to their high profitability.

This last point epitomises what is fundamentally wrong with our food system, and why it’s not supporting health and sustainability in the way it should. While carefully selected food taxes and subsidies, in addition to better labelling and restrictions on junk food advertising, can help reduce their consumption, these consumer-oriented measures are only part of the solution.

Food producers should ultimately be held responsible for the proliferation of cheap discretionary food. We need to encourage divestment away from unhealthy, unsustainable products through regulation and public pressure, following the example of measures to address climate change.

As the developing world continues to transition towards more “Westernised” diets, food consumption patterns are likely to become even more environmentally intensive.

To feed more people sustainably we need to trim off the excess by not only reducing the consumption of animal products, but also by fighting overconsumption of discretionary foods and the associated waste.

The Conversation

Michalis Hadjikakou, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Environmental Sustainability, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Oyster breakthrough opens doors to Asia

A new method to make oysters easier to open is being developed in South Australia.

The method, developed by Simmonds Seafood Marketing Agencies, involves shaving the lip of the oyster to create a small opening where a knife can later be inserted to greatly simplify the shucking process.

The opening is immediately sealed with wax to keep the juices in and the oyster alive.

Inventor and oyster marketer Bob Simmonds said the wax coating also provided branding opportunities because it allowed stickers to be applied that provide information about providence and packing dates.

He said the ability to keep oysters alive while making them easier to open gave them a much greater shelf life compared to the typical pre-shucked product.

“Most oysters are opened, half shelled and then sent to restaurants and hotels. You only get three or four days life out of the product whereas with the new process you probably get 10 to 12 days life out of the product, which is a huge benefit,” Simmonds said.

img - OysterBob_shallow

Trading in Adelaide as Oyster Bob, Simmonds sells 18 to 20 million oysters a year on behalf of South Australian oysters farmers, who produce about a third of Australia’s harvest.

Simmonds has entered a partnership with the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), which now owns the worldwide patents for the procedure, and is working to develop machines to streamline the process.

He said the easy-open oysters would be ideal for the Asian market because of its appetite for live seafood products.

Australia exports more than $1 billion of seafood a year to Asia, driven by strong demand for rock lobster, tuna and abalone.

“All the oysters that are sent out of Australia have been whole live and they are opened overseas but it’s a very laborious task,” Simmonds said.

“If we can take that part of it out of the equation and have an oyster ready to eat, that’s going to appeal to a whole lot of areas – especially China and Asia where they like live product.

img - Oyster Bob_Tall

“It can be opened live at the table and people can see the branding and have a discretionary taste of it just like they do with a bottle of wine.”

Simmonds and the FRDC have secured grants to develop three machines to realise commercialisation.

Oysters processed using the new method could be on the shelves in about a year.

“The product itself performs. It’s now about getting the numbers up,” Simmonds said.

“We’re looking at robotics and laser technology.”

In 2013-14, Australia produced 11,402 tonnes of oysters with a value of about $90 million.

Simmonds said as well as having great potential for export, the new method also was ideal for the retail market.

He said cooking shows on television had created an appetite for freshness among home cooks and made people more adventurous when it came to news ways of serving food.

“Now at retail level we can put them in a dozen pack and people can take them home and open them themselves easily at a dinner party or whatever it may be,” Simmonds said.

“It’s also the novelty factor of doing something a bit different too. Having it live at the table and branded are the essential ingredient to me.

Simmonds said the machines could be potentially sold commercially to other oyster processors once the process was perfected.

“The FRDC and I both believe this is one of the best things to happen to the oyster industry as far as marketing is concerned for a long, long time,” he said

“I don’t say it’s ever going to replace the current method but it’s just another string to the bow.”

Top Image: Federal Senator Anne Ruston and Bob Simmonds (centre) discuss the new oyster innovation with Seafood CRC CEO Dr Len Stephens.

Seven things to eat or avoid to lower your blood pressure

High blood pressure is called the silent killer. That’s because it has no symptoms. Having high blood pressure (hypertension) increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease.

Six million Australian adults (34%) have high blood pressure – 140/90 millimetres of mercury (mmHg) or more – or take medications for it. Of those, four million have high blood pressure that isn’t treated or under control.

No wonder heart disease and stroke directly cost the Australian economy A$7.7 billion a year.

There is some good news. High blood pressure can be treated or prevented. Eating oats, fruit and vegetables – and beetroot, in particular – helps. So does avoiding salt, liquorice, caffeine and alcohol.

Optimal blood pressure is 120 mmHg or less over 80 mmHg or less. Lowering it by 1-2 mmHg can have a big impact on reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke, and the nation’s health care costs.

What to eat to lower your blood pressure

Rolled oats

A review with five research trials included tested the impact of oats on systolic blood pressure (the first blood pressure number, which is the pressure at which the heart pumps blood) and diastolic blood pressure (the second number, which is when the heart relaxes) in about 400 healthy adults.


Further reading: What do my blood pressure numbers mean?


The researchers found that systolic blood pressure was 2.7  mmHg lower and diastolic blood pressure was 1.5 mmHg lower when participants ate around 60 grams of rolled oats (a packed half-cup raw oats) or 25 grams of oat bran per day.

This quantity of oats or oat bran contains around four grams of a type of fibre called beta-glucan.

For each extra one gram of total daily fibre, there was an extra 0.11 mmHg reduction in diastolic blood pressure.

Half a cut of oats a day is enough.
Julia Pajumae/Shutterstock

Recommended minimum daily adult fibre intakes are 30 grams for men and 25 grams for women.

While some of fibre’s effect is due to weight loss, soluble fibres produce bioactive products when they’re fermented in the large bowel. These work directly to lower blood pressure.

To improve your blood pressure, eat rolled oats or oat bran for breakfast, add to meat patties, or mix with breadcrumbs in recipes that call for crumbing.

Beetroot

Beetroot is extremely rich in a compound called inorganic nitrate. During digestion, this gets converted into nitric oxide, which causes arteries to dilate. This directly lowers the pressure in them.

A review of 16 trials of mostly healthy young men found drinking beetroot juice was associated with a 4.4 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure. But it found no change in diastolic blood pressure.

However a recent trial in 68 adults who already had high blood pressure found beetroot juice reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Drinking beetroot juice can lower blood pressure.
Yevgeniya Shal/Shutterstock

The men were randomly assigned to drink 250ml (one cup) of beetroot juice daily for four weeks or a non-active placebo.

Blood pressure in the men who drank the beetroot juice reduced over 24 hours, with systolic blood pressure 7.7 mmHg lower and diastolic blood pressure 5.2 mmHg lower.

Try wrapping whole fresh beetroot in foil and baking in the oven until soft, or grate beetroot and stir-fry with red onion and curry paste and eat as a relish.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is found in fresh vegetables and fruit. An average serve contains 10-40mg of vitamin C.

In a review of 29 short-term trials of vitamin C supplements, people were given 500 mg of vitamin C per day for about eight weeks.

Blood pressure significantly improved, with an average reduction in systolic blood pressure of 3.84 mmHg and 1.48 mmHg for diastolic blood pressure.

Good news for fruit-lovers.
saschanti17/Shutterstock

When only those with existing high blood pressure were considered, the drop in systolic blood pressure was 4.85 mmHg.

However, those at risk of kidney stones need to be cautious about taking vitamin C supplements. Excess vitamin C is excreted via the kidneys and can contribute to the formation of kidney stones.

One advantage of getting more vitamin C from eating more vegetables and fruit is that you boost your potassium intake, which helps counter the effects of sodium from salt.

What to avoid to lower your blood pressure

Salt

Salt or sodium chloride has been used to preserve foods and as a flavour enhancer for centuries.

High salt intakes are associated with higher blood pressure.

Most Australians eat way too much salt.
HandmadePictures/Shutterstock

Adults need between 1.2 to 2.4g of salt each day (one-quarter to a half teaspoon), which is equivalent to 460 to 920mg of sodium.

But in Australia seven out of ten men and three in ten women eat way more than that – and much more than the upper recommended limit of 5.9 grams of salt (about one teaspoon) or 2,300 mg of sodium per day.


Further reading: How much salt is it OK to eat?


If you add salt to food yourself this pushes your sodium intake even higher.

A review of studies involving 3,230 people showed that reducing salt intakes by 4.4 grams a day could reduce systolic blood pressure by about 4.2 mmHg and diastolic by 2.1 mmHg.

In those who had high blood pressure there were even bigger reductions of 5.4 mmHg (systolic) and 2.8 mmHg (diastolic).

Avoid foods high in sodium. Don’t add salt and try to choose lower-salt versions of processed foods.

Alcohol

Consuming one or more alcoholic drink a day is associated with systolic blood pressure that is about 2.7 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure 1.4 mmHg higher than non-drinkers.

Interestingly, when you first drink an alcoholic beverage, blood pressure goes down, only to rise later.

Drinkers have higher blood pressure than non-drinkers.
serenarossi/Shutterstock

A rise in blood pressure after drinking alcohol is more likely to happen when you’re awake, rather during sleep.

The bad news is that larger amounts of alcohol increase your risk of high blood pressure, especially in men, but also to a lesser extent in women.

Liquorice

High blood pressure due to eating black liquorice is rare, but case reports have occurred.

Most liquorice candy sold currently contains very little true liquorice root and therefore, little glycyrrhizic acid (GZA), the active ingredient.

Most liquorice contains very little liquorice root.
Siegi/Shutterstock

Occasionally, liquorice candy does contain GZA in large amounts. GZA causes sodium retention and potassium loss, which contributes to high blood pressure.

So check liquorice food labels. Take care if it contains liquorice root.

Caffeine

Caffeine is most commonly consumed in coffee, tea, cola and energy drinks.

High intakes of caffeine from coffee increase blood pressure in the short term.

You need to monitor your individual response to caffeine.
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In a review of five trials, people given one to two cups of strong coffee had an increase in their systolic blood pressure of 8.1 mmHg and 5.7 mmHg for diastolic blood pressure, up to about three hours after drinking it.

But three studies that lasted two weeks found drinking coffee did not increase blood pressure compared with decaffeinated coffee or avoiding caffeine. So you need to monitor your individual response to caffeine.

The Conversation

Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle; Tracy Burrows, Senior Lecturer Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle, and Tracy Schumacher, Research Associate, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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