Hot Topics

DA’s ‘hot topics’ summarise the latest research and current thinking on topical nutrition issues in the media.

Planning your pantry during the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020)

With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the globe, eating nutritious foods and having an adequate access to food is now top of mind for many.

To help ease some of the confusion, we’ve collated some steps to take to help you feel prepared regarding your food supply, in the event you need to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Preparing your household for quarantine

Recently, we’ve seen people flocking to the stores to stock up on pantry staples. Panic-buying food places greater strain on the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community and increases the risk of food insecurity and poor health. Being sensible at the supermarket is key to looking after the health of our whole community.

In the event of needing to self-quarantine, it’s important to have a plan. This is especially the case if you or a family member falls ill and you can’t leave the house. Making a plan that works for your household (rather than just stockpiling lots of food) means you are well prepared.  It’s also more considerate of others in your community.

The first step is to look at what you already have. Check out what you have in your pantry and freezer and look at their use-by date. You may even be able to free up space at the back of the freezer by throwing out those ‘forgotten foods’ that may no-longer be safe to consume. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), provide some handy tips regarding safe handling and storage of food at home.

Next, make a list of longer lasting and shelf stable foods from the major food groups as outlined below to guide you at the supermarket. Purchase items your household will eat and enjoy, to prevent future food wastage. For canned food, check you have a working can opener (or choose cans with ‘ring pulls’).

Food items to consider:

  • Fruit: Fresh fruit (choose those that last longer such as apples, bananas and citrus fruits), frozen fruits, dried fruit (eat in small amounts) and canned varieties.
  • Vegetables: Fresh produce (choose those that last longer, such as potatoes, onions, carrots, pumpkin, and cabbage), frozen vegetables and canned vegetables (e.g. tinned tomatoes, corn, beetroot etc).
  • Cans of soup
  • Protein sources:
    • Canned fish (e.g. salmon, tuna or sardines)
    • Legumes (canned or dried)
    • Nuts and seeds (including nut butters)
    • Long life milk (UHT or powdered milk)
  • Grains: Consider a range of grains such as rice, pasta, quinoa, cous cous, rolled oats and cereals. Freezing a loaf of bread or wraps can also extend its freshness and shelf life.
  • Long life sauces/herbs and spices: Relying on shelf-stable foods, can increase the sodium in our diet, as salt is used to help preserve foods. Having a range of herbs and spices on hand can help boost the flavour of foods without needing to extra salt.
  • Foods for enjoyment: In times of isolation and uncertainty, having foods that are a source of comfort, or a reminder of daily routine, can be beneficial for your mental health. Some examples include coffee or chocolate. While you won’t need much, it’s important they’re not forgotten.

At the moment, it’s best to focus on easy recipes with simple ingredients. It is also worth cooking a little extra so you have a few meals prepared and frozen in the freezer. This helps to provide meal variety and — if you were to fall ill — means you have a nutritious option ready to go.

For recipe ideas from APDs, see DA’s Smart Eating Recipe collection. Many of these can be easily adapted for canned or frozen goods, and many can be made in batches and frozen for future use. Some examples include:

For more information about food and your health provision, visit your local Accredited Practising Dietitian: dietitiansaustralia.org.au/find-an-apd/  

For additional information about COVID-19, visit: www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert

Introducing a ‘sugar-sweetened beverage tax’ in Australia: One small part of the solution (April 2019)

What’s DA position on a ’sugar-sweetened beverage’ tax?

Taxes on discretionary foods and beverages may be a useful tool for the public health toolbox. Such taxes may help to improve population health if sufficiently large, well designed, clearly communicated and combined with other policies and measures.

DA supports a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) at levels that will impact on consumer behaviour. A tax on SSBs would convey the benefit of drinking fewer beverages high in added sugars. DA considers it important that:

  • a tax on SSBs is sufficiently large (i.e. 20% or higher) to reduce intakes and incentivise a switch to healthy alternatives.
  • all revenue generated from a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is allocated to nutrition-related health programs and policies in Australia.
  • the tax is considered as part of a broad and multifaceted approach to address diet-related health issues, and combined with other interventions, such as:
    • robust obesity prevention public education campaigns;
    • campaigns that target the highest consumers of SSBs;
    • consumer-friendly food and nutrition labelling initiatives (e.g. Health Star Rating (HSR) front-of-pack labelling) with increased support for HSR consumer education;
    • increased access to healthy foods and beverages in public settings (e.g. childcare, schools, workplaces, sport and recreation centres, hospitals, rural and remote stores, shopping centres);
    • tighter regulations on the marketing of food and beverages to children; and
    • a national food reformulation program to reduce the amount of sugar, saturated fat and sodium in foods sold within Australia.
  • the Government gives clear messages that the tax is introduced to improve the health of the population.
  • the impact of a tax (and other measures) on SSBs is routinely monitored and evaluated to determine changes in consumption behaviour and the impact on health outcomes.

Is there evidence to support a tax on SSBs?

Evidence to support a tax on SSBs comes mainly from modelling studies or observational studies of the causal chain linking a SSB tax to health outcomes. Other research to support such a tax on SSBs comes from price elasticity studies, which indicate how price influences demand. Such research suggests that price increases, such as by taxation, can influence purchasing of SSBs and other high sugar products at least in the short term, with the effect being larger at higher levels of taxation.

Real-world evidence regarding the precise impact of a SSB tax on health outcomes remains scarce, with much of the research focussing on sales data and consumption data. However, a case for such a tax can be made, as the available evidence does point to effectiveness.

More information about the research can be found here.

New survey: Be cautious of online nutrition advice not backed by evidence

A survey of 2,000 Australian adults, currently gaining media attention, emphasizes that many people turn to the internet or social media influencers for information on weight loss. But different research suggests they may not trust what they find.

This perhaps unsurprising result – given we live in a digital age – is being reported in the media this week.

According to media reports, 44 per cent of those surveyed by LiveLighter said they used the internet as their preferred source for information on weight loss. General practitioners came in as the second most-preferred choice at 38 per cent, followed by a dietitian or nutritionist (17 per cent), and a social media influencer (12 per cent).

The findings have prompted a call for people to be savvier about where they source their diet advice, and to question the credibility of advice from personalities (or influencers) on social media who are not qualified in nutrition.

But while this survey confirms people look for weight loss information online and through social media, other research suggests they may not trust what they find.

An Omnipoll survey (September 2017) of around 1,200 Australian adults, commissioned by the Dietitians Australia (DA), found almost nine in 10 Australians (85%) trust the nutrition advice of a dietitian[i].

On the flip-side, just 27 per cent trust nutrition advice from the internet, and less than one in four have confidence in the nutrition advice of healthy eating bloggers (23%).

The Omnipoll survey results suggest most Australians strongly back the advice of a qualified nutrition professional.

DA recommends people looking to improve their nutrition or manage their weight seek expert advice and support from an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD).

APDs have spent a lot of time – in fact, at least four years at university – studying nutrition science. This gives them a solid grounding in evaluating scientific research and translating this into evidence-based, flexible advice, that’s tailored to each individual – taking in account factors like a person’s medical history, as well as their needs, goals and lifestyle.

And unlike many celebrities, wellness gurus or social media personalities, APDs are bound by professional standards.

The bottom line:

Be cautious about any nutrition advice found online, including from social media influencers or wellness gurus who don’t have a qualification in nutrition science. Instead, check any nutrition claims with a health professional, such as an APD.

Seek out evidence-based nutrition information from reputable organisations, including through their social media channels, and if you need tailored nutrition advice and support, contact your local APD.

[i] Omnipoll survey (September 2017) of 1,225 Australians aged 18+ years, commissioned by the Dietitians Australia.

The gut microbiome (November 2017)

Digestive health is currently one of the hottest topics in nutrition. But why this sudden interest in a healthy gut? What is the gut microbiome and how is it linked with health?

Gut microbiome
Digestive health is currently one of the hottest topics in nutrition. But why