Australians academics among winners of Asia Research Grant

Australian Dr. Manohar Garg from the University of Newcastle, will receive funding for two nutrition research pieces, as BASF announces the winners of its 2017 Newtrition Asia Research Grant.

The announcement was made at the 13th China Nutrition Science Congress, an international nutrition conference, in Beijing. Now into its fifth run, the grant program is an initiative established by BASF to recognise and support the work of researchers in Asia Pacific who are making scientific advancements specific to Asian diets in the areas of omega-3s and plant sterols.

Each year, proposals from the region are evaluated based on robust selection criteria which include a panel review by a team of health experts as well as BASF’s scientific advisory committee. The five recipients of 2017’s Newtrition Asia Research Grant, and their respective research topics, are as follows:

  • Dr. Manohar Garg, University of Newcastle, Australia: Long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids for the prevention of gestational diabetes: A double-blind randomized controlled trial
  • Dr. Manohar Garg, University of Newcastle, Australia: Complementary and/or synergistic effects of phytosterols and curcumin for reducing cardiovascular disease risk in hyperlipidaemic individuals
  • Dr Mira Dewi, Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia: Associations of maternal dietary intake and blood level of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) in pregnancy, and newborn body composition
  • Dr Patel Kadamb, Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore: Effects of phytosterols on glycosylated haemoglobin and oxidative stress in Type 2 Diabetic Patients
  • Dr Sudathip Sae-tan, Kasetsart University, Thailand: The effects of omega-3 and high intensity interval exercise on body composition, energy expenditure and delayed onset muscle soreness of overweight males

Personalised nutrition emerging as next big trend

Personalised nutrition is rapidly emerging as a key issue for the long term future of the industry, new research has shown. The findings come from a survey by the organisers of the Vitafoods Europe event.

They asked Vitafoods Europe visitors what they saw as the three most important trends in the nutrition industry. For the short term (over the next 12 months) personalised nutrition was picked by one in five respondents (19 per cent). However, when they were asked to think about the long term (the next three years) over a third (35 per cent) identified it as an important trend.

The figures reflect the emergence of new possibilities such as individualised dietary guidelines, wearable technology, and personalised nutrition based on genetic testing. Accordingly, another hot topic for the future was nutrigenomics, which was seen as an important short-term trend for 8 per cent of respondents, but an important long-term trend for twice as many (17 per cent).

The survey also demonstrates the continuing importance of high quality and evidence-based claims in order to meet regulatory requirements and consumer demand. The issue most likely to be seen as important – both now and in the future – was scientifically supported health claims, which was identified as a key trend in the short term by 47 per cent of Vitafoods visitors, and in the long term by 50 er cent.

The health needs created by demographic trends such as population ageing and obesity continue to shape the agenda for much of the industry. Respondents were asked which three health benefit areas were most important to their companies. Healthy ageing, picked by one in four (23 per cent) ranked top, followed by bone and joint health (22 per cent), cardiovascular health (21 per cent), general wellbeing (21 per cent), and weight management (20 per cent).


What’s driving the worldwide obesity epidemic?

The rise of obesity around the globe has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to urge countries to impose a tax on sugary drinks, which are blamed for the spread of the epidemic.

Countries with such different food cultures as, say, Mexico and Palau are facing the same nutritional risks and following the same obesity trends. Our research aims to understand why, and we have examined the link between various facets of globalisation (trade, for instance, or the spread of technologies, and cultural exchanges) and the worldwide changes in health and dietary patterns.

A recent global study reports that worldwide, the proportion of adults who are overweight or obese increased from 29% in 1980 to 37% in 2013. Developed countries still have more overweight people than developing nations, but the gap is shrinking. In Kuwait, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Libya, Qatar, Tonga, and Samoa, obesity levels among women exceed 50% in 2013.

The WHO identifies unhealthy nutrition patterns, along with increasing physical inactivity, as the main drivers of rising body weight around the world. Diets rich in sugar, animal products and fats constitute important risk factors for non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and different types of cancer.

Sugar consumption is still on the rise.
Steve Smith/Flickr, CC BY

In 2012, cardiovascular diseases killed 17.5 million people, making them the number one cause of death globally. Because more than three quarters of those deaths took place in low- and middle-income countries, causing substantial economic costs for their public welfare systems, the WHO classifies food-related chronic diseases as a growing worldwide threat, on par with traditional public health concerns such as under-nutrition and infectious diseases.

The Western world was the first to experience substantial weight gains of their populations, but the 21st century has seen that phenomenon spread to all parts of the globe. In a widely cited 1993 article, University of North Carolina’s Professor Barry Popkin attributes this shift to the “nutrition transition” by which diets became less dominated by starchy staples, fruits, and vegetables and richer in fats (especially from animal products), sugar and processed foods.

A group of women in Durban, South Africa, in 2003.
Sandra Cohen-Rose/flickr, CC BY-SA

The different stages of this transition, Popkin says, are related to social and economic factors, such as industrialisation level, the role of women in the labour force and the availability of food-transforming technologies.

The meat factor

The rise of the percentage of the population that’s overweight, and changes in diet patterns broadly coincide with the globalisation process. Undoubtedly, globalisation has affected people’s lives in various ways, but has it caused a nutrition transition?

In order to answer this question, we have analysed the impact of globalisation on changing dietary patterns and overweight prevalence using data from 70 high- and middle-income countries from 1970 through 2011.

We found that globalisation has led people to consume more meat products. Interestingly, the social dimensions of globalisation (such as the spread of ideas, information, images and people) are responsible for this effect, rather trade or other economic aspects of globalisation.

For instance, if Turkey caught up to the level of social globalisation prevalent in France, meat consumption in Turkey would increase by about 20%. So our analysis takes into account the effect of rising incomes; otherwise, it could be confounded by the connection between higher incomes making both communication technology and meat products more affordable.

An increase in meat consumption and animal fats could lead to people becoming overweight.
Bill Branson

But while the study shows that globalisation affects diets, we could not establish a relationship between globalisation and increasing body weight. One explanation for this result could be that we investigated the question from a bird’s-eye perspective, not taking into account specific circumstances of countries.

So while, on average across the world, globalisation does not seem to be the driver of rising obesity, it may nonetheless play a role in specific countries.

The processed-food impact

An alternative interpretation of this unclear result is that other factors are responsible for the rising prevalence of overweight people around the world. For example, increasing consumption of processed foods is often associated with rising weight levels.

A study in the United States showed that Americans derive three quarters of their energy from processed foods, which contain higher levels of saturated fats, sugar, and sodium than fresh foods.

Haldirams, one of Indians’ favourite snack chain outlet, offers a wide variety of local processed-food.
Shankar S/Flickr, CC BY-SA

The increasing availability of processed foods is related to the rapid expansion of the retail industry. Modern logistics technology help retailers centralise procurement and inventory, which drives down costs and allows very competitive pricing.

After saturating Western markets, supermarkets began to spread to developing countries, which had greater growth prospects. Latin America, central Europe and South Africa saw their grocery store boom in the 1990s. Retailers later opened in Asia and are now entering markets in African countries.

An interesting, yet little explored, aspect in the discussion of processed foods is the role of multinational companies in offering unhealthy “Western diet”, such as fast food and soft drinks. Multinationals are one of the two market leaders in many emerging countries, including Brazil, India, Mexico, and Russia and they are known for substantial food and beverage advertising.

But it remains unclear whether people gain weight because they adopt a Western diet, or whether they largely preserve their taste for regional cuisines but change the nutritional composition of traditional recipes by adding more meat products, fats, and sugar.

In Moscow, obesity is on the rise due to Russians’ changing dietary habits.
WHO /Sergey Volkov

Changing food habits: the role of labour markets

Apart from these supply-side factors, some studies on US data also associate overweight prevalence with changes in the labour market, particularly the increased participation of women.

But on the one hand, working mothers may have less time to prepare meals or to encourage their children to spend active time outside. And on the other, more working hours are likely to boost family income, which can positively influence children’s health through better access to health care, high-quality food, participation in organised sports activities, and higher quality childcare.

Since the decision to work is personal and closely related to individual characters and environment, it is difficult to establish a causal relationship between work status and children’s overweight levels. Some studies report a positive effect, but reliable evidence remains scarce. These studies also focus on the role of working women but not on men when there is no evidence indicating a differential impact of working mothers versus working fathers.

People are also increasingly working rotating night shifts. According to a systematic review carried out by the International Labor Organization, about one in five of all employees in the European Union (25%) work night shifts, and night work often constitutes an integral part of the shift-work system.

Such schedules presumably render it more difficult to establish regular meal habits and may encourage frequent snacking to maintain concentration at work. Finally, because modern technology has greatly reduced physical demands of many workplaces, individuals must eat fewer calories to avoid weight gain.

Eating habits changes and sedentary lifestyles, especially at work, have particularly affected food patterns worldwide.
Roy Niswanger/Flickr, CC BY-ND

While many globalisation-related explanations for obesity seem plausible, robust empirical evidence establishing a causal link is scarce. This is partly due to the fact that food and eating habits have multiple and often interrelated determinants, which makes it challenging to test the causal impact of a single factor. And it’s further aggravated by the fact that some of the proposed causes of obesity interact and potentially amplify each other.

Despite initial academic evidence then, the main drivers of the global rise in obesity levels remain, to a large extent, a black box.

Discover Fabrice Etile and his team’s research work on food with the Axa Research Fund.

The Conversation

Lisa Oberlander, PhD student in nutrition and health economics, Paris School of Economics – École d’économie de Paris; DISDIER Anne-Célia, Directrice de recherche en économie, École Normale Supérieure (ENS) – PSL, and Fabrice Etile, Economist – Paris School of Economics, Directeur de recherche INRA

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


Top Image: Christopher Dombres/Flickr

Separating the hype from facts about food as medicine

Monash University’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics is providing a free online course designed to help members of the public better understand food and health.

For example, did you know that soft drinks and fruit juices sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis?

Conversely animal studies have shown that foods containing virgin olive oil can actually reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis. While a Danish study found that people who ate fatty fish like salmon and sardines had a lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

There is increasing amounts of information available on foods that can – or more importantly can’t – help your health. This month Monash University’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics will launch a free 3 week online course for the general public that will help unravel the myths from the facts about food and nutrition.

According to the Head of the Department Professor Helen Truby (pictured), the course has been created because “there is so much misinformation about nutrition and food,” she said.

“We wanted to provide a course so that the general public can learn about what information is evidence based when it comes to the idea of food as medicine.”

The course follows on from a similar one in May that garnered more than 100,000 comments and 62000 registrations and was in the top ten of all Futurelearn learning courses internationally.

The course starting on 21 October has some additional benefits including a course on foods that can impact, both positively and negatively, on rheumatoid arthritis. In addition there is an interactive component – for instance a user will be asked to choose a food from a virtual vending machine. These results will be collated – giving an insight into the sorts of foods that are chosen at different times of the day or night. “The following week we will have the results and they will form the basis of a discussion that we will have online,” Professor Truby said.

The course aims to explore food’s current role in health and disease; expand the understanding of nutrition science and how it guides us on what and how much to eat for health; and explain how to apply evidenced-based nutrition knowledge to guide what food can be used as medicine.


Researchers propose new model for human nutrition

In a study published in Annual Review of Nutrition, researchers suggest a rethinking of human nutrition science through a new framework called “nutritional geometry,” which considers how mixtures of nutrients and other dietary components influence health and disease, rather than focusing on any one nutrient in isolation.

Human nutrition science has historically focused on a single-nutrient approach, which is predicated on a lack of resources or micronutrient deficiency. For instance, the absence of vitamin C in human diets is a known cause of scurvy. But the researchers believe this traditional approach is no longer useful in the face of modern nutrition-related diseases, which are driven by an overabundance of food and an evolved desire for foods containing particular blends of nutrients.

The researchers suggest there is a need for nutrition science to engage with the deep theories of biology developed within the ecological and evolutionary sciences. The integration of these theories into nutrition has already begun in the field of nutritional ecology. Nutritional geometry provides a way of implementing these theories by modelling how nutrients interact with each other to produce the properties of foods and diets and how behavioural and physiological mechanisms engage with these interactions to influence health.

Although more complex than the single-nutrient model, the researchers believe that in the long term this framework can simplify the study of human nutrition by helping to identify those subsets of factors and their interactions that are driving negative health outcomes in our rapidly changing environments. The application of nutritional ecology to humans can also benefit that field through extending its comparative scope to a highly distinctive species whose biology and environment are researched more intensively than any other.

“Our new approach provides a unique method to unify observations from many fields and better understand how nutrients, foods, and diets interact to affect health and disease in humans,” said co-author David Raubenheimer, University of Sydney.

“The ‘nutritional geometry’ framework enables us to plot foods, meals, diets, and dietary patterns together based on their nutrient composition and this helps researchers to observe otherwise overlooked patterns in the links between certain diets, health, and disease.”

“Akta-Vite” returns to original owners

Sold to Sara Lee in 1984, nutritional supplement drink Akta-Vite has returned to the family of its original owners.

The drink has long been known as a nutritional supplement suitable for children, pregnant women, the sick and the elderly. Nicholas Health and Nutrition will soon relaunch an improved version of the product, “making it one of the most nutritious and delicious chocolate drinks on the market,” said Sophie Nicholas.

“Akta-Vite is already highly nutritious with nine vitamins and minerals, and gives a boost of folate, calcium, thiamine, iron, riboflavin and niacin amongst others. Also, [it is] dairy and lactose free, low in fat and has no artificial colours or flavours. Its great chocolate flavour has ensured popularity with Australian families and contributed to the brand’s success.

“We’re aiming to make it even better for the next generation of Australians.”

The product is available in Coles, Woolworths, selected independent supermarkets, cafés and hospitals.


Mars Food promotes healthier eating

Mars Food Australia have voiced their goal to create and promote healthier food choices for consumers. Today the brand announced their new global Health and Wellbeing Ambition, which involves increasing the nutritional value of their products, improving labelling and encouraging healthy eating among families.

Some of the key initiatives of the Ambition include reductions in sodium and added sugar, labelling to highlight the difference between ‘everyday meals’ and ‘occasional products’, and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in products.

The company also seeks to make their products more accessible around the world and build awareness about the benefits of cooking and eating healthy meals at home.

General Manager of Mars Food Australia, Hamish Thomson, said that as the makers of some of Australia’s most-loved brands, the company has a responsibility to help Australians consume more balanced diets.

“We believe we have significant responsibility to be transparent about our products and to help consumers make informed choices. The Health and Wellbeing Ambition will guide our product development to continue to improve the nutritional content of our portfolio and provide consumers with more information to help make informed, balanced choices,” said Thomson.

“Our ambition is to deliver one billion more healthy meals around dinner tables around the world so that we can make a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of our consumers. This is – and needs to be – a long term strategy to drive real change.”

New high protein milk hits shelves with support from the AIS

The Australian Institute of Sport has backed an all-natural, high protein milk with a partnership with The Complete Dairy company.

Protein is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet and ideally should be spread across the day to form part of each meal. 

According to statistics from the ABS National Nutrition Survey 2011-2012 CSIRO Secondary Analysis, Australians are only getting 15 per cent of their total daily protein intake at breakfast time.

The Complete Dairy has 15g of whole dairy protein in every 250mL glass, or approximately 30 per cent of an average adult's recommended daily intake of protein. 

The new milk offers Australians an easy way to get more protein throughout the day, with nothing artificial and no powders.

According to Head of Sports Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport, Louise Burke, there should be a focus on consuming adequate amounts of protein throughout the day as part of a healthy diet, particularly in the 24 hours after an exercise training session to help stimulate muscle growth and repair.

"The latest research shows protein goals -for general health or sports performancev-are best met by spreading our intake of high quality protein into a regular pattern of meals and snacks over the day," Burke said. 

The cold-filtration technology used to make The Complete Dairy is an all-natural process that increases protein and reduces lactose content, without any additives. The result is a delicious, all-natural milk that’s higher in protein than other white milk.

Overall poor industry performance on global food issues

A report ranking multinational companies for their performance in marketing, labelling and nutrition says the world’s biggest food companies are too slow in reacting to the double burdens of obesity and undernutrition.

Companies were put under the microscope for their performance on corporate strategy, management and governance related to nutrition; formulation and delivery of appropriate affordable and accessible products; and having a positive influence on consumer choice and behaviour, through nutrition information, food marketing and labelling.

In the index compiled by Dutch not-for profit organisation Access to Nutrition Foundation, no company scored higher than Unilever’s fairly modest 6.4 out of 10 and Nestlé’s 5.9 –and not a single other food and beverage firm scored above five for overall ranking.

According to ANF executive director Inge Kaur, industry should view the poor results as a new opportunity.

“Given the global reach of their products, food and beverage companies have a critical role to play in helping to tackle the growing global health crisis caused by poor nutrition. While companies have a social responsibility to tackle global nutrition challenges, doing so also presents a business opportunity as consumers worldwide demand healthier foods,” Kaur said.

Nestle scored especially high for governance with 8.7 and was praised by the foundation for extending its previous definition of a child audience to include new media.

Despite this, the report says that the company has failed to address other key issues raised in the 2013 index, such as raising the definition of the age of a child to 16. It also failed to improve its approach to developing independent consumer-orientated healthy eating programs. 

Access to Nutrition Index: Nestlé leads on breast milk substitute marketing

Nestlé has improved its ranking in the 2016 Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) to first place for its marketing of breast milk substitutes and came second in the overall index.

In committing to marketing breast milk subtitutes responsibly, Nestlé aligned with World Health Organisation Codes and subsequent resolutions that resulted in ATNI improvements.

ATNI 2016 ranks the world's largest 22 food and beverage companies on their nutrition-related commitments and performance across seven categories: governance, products, accessibility, marketing, lifestyles, labelling and engagement. 

Nestlé came top in other sub-categories aside from BMS marketing: general nutrition and undernutrition. The index highlights Nestle's "clear corporate nutrition strategy" that covers reformulation, access to healthy foods and marketing: areas where it has built trust by making clear public commitments. 

ATNI was developed as an independent benchmarking tool for use by investors, health advocates and companies, and is collated using information in the public domain and supplied by companies themselves.

Driven by its passion for nutrition, Nestlé will continue to engage with ATNI, and welcomes the report’s specific recommendations on how it can improve its performance, to tackle global nutrition challenges.

Nestlé to invest in ‘Ecobiotics’ to tackle public health issues

Nestlé Health Science has signed an exclusive agreement outside of the United States and Canada to support the potential future commercialisation of Seres Therapeutics' novel ‘microbiome therapeutics’.

The aim is to treat Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Clostridium difficile (C.diff), an intestinal infection caused by the C.diff bacteria that can be life-threatening in some cases.

Nestlé Health Science will invest USD 120 million upfront to support Seres’ ‘Ecobiotics’, a new class of biological drugs based upon microbial organisms. These target the microbiome – the 100 trillion microorganisms that live in the body.

Scientific has noted that research increasingly links an unhealthy or unbalanced microbiome to a range of health conditions, including IBD and C.diff.

Fonterra and Bellamy’s team up for baby formula

Fonterra Australia and Bellamy’s Australia announced today plans to enter into a five year, multi-million dollar strategic agreement to manufacture a range of new baby nutritional powders.

Fonterra Managing Director Oceania Judith Swales says today’s announcement is part of Fonterra’s transformation of its Australian business.

“This is our strategy in action for Australia where we focus on the areas we can win in a highly competitive market to deliver the best returns,” said Ms Swales.

“We are actively growing our nutritionals business through strategic partnerships and agreements which will see the Darnum nutritionals plant move towards full capacity.”
“Our Australian business has particular ingredients strengths in cheese, whey and nutritionals, complemented by our strong consumer and foodservice businesses; and today’s announcement with Bellamy’s Australia – one of the fastest growing infant formula companies – reaffirms our strength in nutritionals.”

“The Darnum plant is a leading nutritionals plant in Fonterra’s global network. Leveraging our Fonterra Research and Development Centre in Palmerston North, the largest dairy innovation centre in the southern hemisphere, we will bring innovation to the Darnum plant and the nutritionals market to capture growing demand.”

Bellamy’s is one of the fastest growing infant formula companies with strong brand recognition and expertise in the organic ingredient supply chain. Bellamy’s has experienced continued growth over many years, and financial year 2014-15 has been exceptional, achieving revenue growth of 156 per cent from the year prior. Formula comprises 88 per cent of Bellamy’s sales.
“The proposed multi-million dollar strategic agreement will help support the growth of Bellamy’s Organic in Australia and abroad, and builds on our strong current relationship.”
Fonterra and Bellamy’s will finalise the proposed arrangements by the end of the year, with the agreement commencing in 2016.

New analytical methods for micronutrient testing of infant formula

New International Standards have been introduced by the ISO to improve methods of testing vitamins and micronutrients in infant formula.

The nutritional quality of infant formula is often based in international standards and regulations, as it provides essential nutrients for the adequate and development of babies and young children.

Test methods are constantly evolving in an international effort to verify the delivery of nutrients, yet there is a lack of a streamlined approach in which parties can produce similar results around the globe.

A new Stakeholder Panel on Infant Formula and Adult Nutritionals (SPIFAN) project, in which ISO standards are globally integrated and published to help manufacturers of infant formula and official control laboratories check compliance with regulations.

According to ISO Communication Officer Sandrine Tranchard, the new ISO International Standards will be proposed to reference methods that enable them to be utilized for the purposes of dispute resolution internationally.

“This will result in more accurate determination of the nutritional quality of infant formula as well as fewer trade disputes caused by differences in analytical results. In addition, these methods will provide internationally validated anchor points to calibrate routine methods for manufacturing purposes,” Tranchard said.

Approximately 10 to 15 projects are currently underway to provide global stakeholders with up-to-date harmonized methods on other relevant nutrients in infant formula and adult nutritionals.

The Australian Federal Government is currently reviewing legislation to ensure that mums have access to infant formula for children under the age of one, as the popularity of formula feeding in China has meant that health and quality problems become more commonplace as the middle class has continued to rise.

Bega and Blackmores to develop infant formula

Women unable to breastfeed will soon be able to purchase a high quality infant formula developed through a recent partnership between Bega Cheese Ltd and Blackmores Limited.

Using a combination of Blackmores’ expertise in health and Bega’s expertise in dairy manufacturing, the two Australian brands are aligning on sustainably sourcing ingredients and corporate values to deliver nutritional products to mothers across Australia and Asia.

According to Chairman of Bega Cheese Ltd, Barry Irvin, “We are aware from our presence in the Asia region that there is significant demand for infant formula and we believe that, with the combination of Blackmores and Bega, we are uniquely positioned to support those women unable to breastfeed.”

A range of Blackmores and Tatura products will be developed to ensure that products meet the high demand for infant formula whilst maintaining a high standard of quality.