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Dietary Dilemmas. 
Popular diets can help you lose some weight in the short term, but keeping the weight off after the first year and the diet’s impact on heart health are unclear, according to a new systematic review.

Popular diet books

After analysing clinical trials on four popular diet plans that that promote weight loss and improved cardiovascular health and advocate carbohydrate restriction – Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, and Zone – researchers found:

  • All four result in a modest weight loss at one year, as did those in the control group who received the usual care. Those on the Atkins diet lost an average 4.6 to 10.3 pounds; Weight Watchers participants lost an average 6.6 pounds; Zone dieters lost an average 3.5 to 7 pounds; and control lost about 4.85 pounds.
  • In studies involving head-to-head comparisons, there were no marked differences between Atkins, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets at improving cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, or other cardiovascular risk factors.

Dr David Katz critiques the study in his editorial, “Diets, Diatribes, and a Dearth of Data” in the same journal HERE.

Lose it fast or lose it slow? Fast weight loss is more quickly regained is dietary dogma. But the findings of a two-phase, randomised, non-masked, dietary intervention trial report that an obese person is more likely to achieve a weight loss target of 12.5%, and stick to the weight loss program, if losing weight is done quickly. The initial rate of weight loss did not affect the amount or rate of weight regain: with similar amounts of weight regained by 3 years by participants on both diet programs, who completed both phases of the study.

Fruit and Veg. Getting People to Eat Them.
Worrying about the kids “eating their greens” (or any other veg) goes with the territory of being a parent. But few adults are eating enough fruit and veg either according to the latest National Nutrition Survey. A mere 6.8% Australians met the recommended daily intake (5 serves) of vegetables and 54% the recommended daily intake (2 serves) of fruit.

Popular diet books

Most people know they should eat more fruit and veg; getting them to do so is hard. In recent years, school kitchen-garden programs have been enthusiastically promoted as being the answer to at least get the kids to eat more greens. But, in the first large cluster randomised controlled trial to evaluate a school gardening intervention, little evidence was found to support the claims that school gardening alone can improve children’s fruit and vegetable intake. However, gardening interventions implemented at a high level within schools have the potential to improve children’s daily fruit and vegetable intake by a portion. Improving children’s fruit and vegetable intake remains a challenging task say the researchers. Parents will agree.

To end on a more upbeat note, here’s an opportunity in February for the whole family to celebrate (and tuck into more) tomatoes: the second Tomato Extravaganza in the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney.If you want to grow your own, the October issue of Gardening Australia Organic Gardener has tips on resilient varieties plus a problem-solving guide.

Bulking Up with Maltodextrins in Foods and Pharmaceuticals.  
Maltodextrins are widely used in processed foods as bulking agents or fillers and as fat replacers in “low fat” products – and you will find them listed on the label. They are also widely used in pharmaceuticals (and placebos) as non-active ingredients (excipients) to help provide taste, shape and solubility – but they don’t have to be listed on the label, because they aren’t active ingredients.

Findings of a rodent study in PLosOne demonstrate that maltodextrin exposure “promotes the formation of a novel protective niche for Salmonella through dampening host anti-microbial responses to enhance intracellular survival and mucosal colonization. These results suggest that consumption of processed foods containing the polysaccharide maltodextrin may contribute to a greater risk for enteric infection and may be an environmental priming factor for the development of chronic inflammatory diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease.”  

So what are maltodextrins? Think of maltodextrins (modified food starches) as a family group, not as an individual ingredient. They are carbohydrates: chains of glucose molecules ranging from three to nine glucose units long. They are produced by processing corn (maize), potato, rice, tapioca, or wheat to break down the starch. As they are flavourless and only moderately sweet, they are commonly added to processed foods to provide bulk and texture and to help blend ingredients together. The FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) lists maltodextrin as a GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) additive. In their rush to condemn added sugar, everyone seems to have forgotten about maltodextrins. Why does it matter? They contain essentially the same amount of calories, total carbohydrates, and fibre as do refined sugars and, without fortification, are just as devoid of vitamins and minerals. They also have a high glycemic index. In a nutshell, maltodextrins can be as detrimental to our health as added refined sugar.

This is an edited extract from The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners reproduced courtesy The Experiment Publishing (New York). 

The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners