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Faith in numbers
When it comes to calorie or kilojoule counting, it’s the same story – even the most processed of foods never contain exactly the same amount of calories in a serve as the label says. Food regulators in Australia for example recognise the natural variability of foods and allow for this with up to a 45% variation when they make the labelling regulations.

Researchers from Tufts writing in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association report that reduced-calorie packaged food and restaurant meals may contain significantly more calories than stated on the label. The researchers analysed the calorie content of 18 side dishes and entrees from national sit-down chain restaurants, 11 side dishes and entrees from national fast-food restaurants and 10 frozen meals purchased from supermarkets and compared their results to the calorie content information provided to the public by the restaurants and food companies. The frozen foods were tested straight out of their packages and restaurant foods on the portions served.

On average, the researchers found the restaurant dishes contained 18% more calories than stated (and two side dishes exceeded the reported calorie information by nearly 200% percent). The frozen meals had on average 8% more calories than listed. In their conclusion the writers say: ‘On a public scale, the emerging policy initiatives on requiring energy information at the point of purchase may not translate into improved dietary intake if foods typically contain more energy than stated.’

Low GI diet improves insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS

Dr Kate Marsh
Lead researcher Dr Kate Marsh

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal disorders affecting pre-menopausal women and the leading cause of female infertility. Symptoms include irregular or absent periods, infertility or reduced fertility, hirsutism (excess hair growth on the face, chest and abdomen), alopecia (scalp hair loss), acne, obesity and difficulty losing weight and increased risk of miscarriage. Many women also complain of excessive tiredness and fatigue, hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), and poor memory and concentration.

We don’t know why PCOS develops, but we do know that there are a number of different causes and that most women with PCOS are insulin resistant and thus at risk of heart disease and diabetes. Reducing insulin resistance is not only vital for improving PCOS symptoms (regulating menstrual cycles, reducing acne and excessive hair growth and achieving and maintaining a healthier weight), but reducing complications that often follow including heart disease and diabetes.

A recent report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the most effective diet for women with PCOS, and found that while both a conventional healthy diet and a low GI diets led to weight loss in the study, the low GI diet also led to improved insulin sensitivity. In addition, more women had improvements in their menstrual cycle regularity on the low GI diet. Lead author Dr Kate Marsh says: ‘While low GI diets are commonly recommended for women with PCOS based on research findings in other populations such as people with diabetes, this is the first study to show that a low GI diet does have definite benefits for women with PCOS.’

So you think you can dance? So what should you eat?
Emma Sandall
Emma Sandall from Ludwig, a new Australian dance company

If you are one of the thousands auditioning for the next series of ‘So You think You Can Dance’ (or the parent or grandparent of a hopeful contestant), you may be interested in checking out a new blog for dancers on diet. The first posts look at carbs and protein and dehydration and focus on what dancers need to be energised, strong and healthy, able to pick up steps and learn new choreography really fast and to perform at their best. ‘A fascination/obsession for many dancers and dance followers is nutrition and how it affects us as performers and athletes. I am definitely one such dancer,’ writes Emma Sandall, ‘I have always been interested in what I eat and what it does to me once I have eaten it – whether that be to give me energy, give me a ‘high’, build muscle, put on weight, etc. There is a lot of misleading information out there as well as a lot of good research. But how do people work out which is which?’

How friendly are ‘diabetes friendly’ recipes?
Have you noticed that many magazine recipe sections now have labels for their recipes – ‘gluten free’, ‘dairy free’, ‘vegetarian’, ‘diabetes friendly’? ‘Gluten-free’ is a useful one and is a clearly defined term. We know if a food label says ‘gluten free’, the product will contain no wheat, rye, barley, oats (in Australia), and triticale or foods make from them or foods (e.g. sauces, dressings, stocks and spreads) that include them as an ingredient.

‘Diabetes friendly’ isn’t a clearly defined term at all and potentially rather misleading – we have just seen it applied to a fish pie recipe made with mashed ultra high GI desiree potatoes.

High GI fish pie promoted as diabetes friendly

Two quick points: People with diabetes don’t actually need a special diet. And there isn’t one diet for everybody with diabetes. ‘If you have diabetes,’ says dietitian Kaye Foster-Powell, ‘you actually have a great deal of flexibility in the overall make-up of your eating plan. It’s a matter of discovering what suits you best while fitting within these 10 key dietary recommendations:

  1. Choose nutritious carbohydrate foods with a low GI as your staples
  2. Be aware of how much carbohydrate you eat
  3. Get plenty of fibre in your diet
  4. Limit foods that are high in saturated fat
  5. Eat lean protein foods to suit your appetite
  6. Eat fish once or twice a week: if you are vegetarian, make sure you focus on including foods that contain quality proteins and are good sources of omega-3 fats
  7. Use monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil)
  8. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables every day
  9. Limit your salt intake, and
  10. Limit your alcohol intake.’