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Let me sit and think about that…

Posted on September 10th, 2012 by Stephen Hardy | 1 Comment | Print | RSS

Unless you’ve been Rip Van Winkle and slept for the past 20 years, you couldn’t have missed the increasing number of health messages appearing in the media. Quit smoking; drink responsibly; avoid fatty foods; eat more fibre; watch your cholesterol; eat two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables every day…

A recent study published by the University of Sydney has pointed to yet another health risk factor we need to add to this list (1). And it’s something we all do a lot of. Sitting!

So what’s wrong with sitting?

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A Nutritional Paradox: Can Eating Olive Oil Stop You Getting Fat?

Posted on April 5th, 2012 by Alf | No Comments | Print | RSS

For a long time fats have been the nutritional “bad guy”, blamed for everything including heart disease, diabetes and obesity. We talked about this in an earlier blog (Go Easy On Fats!). The food industry picked up on our fear of fats and created a vast array of low fat foods to tempt us. Their marketing departments were also busy with campaigns and slogans like “99% fat free”, “lite”, “no trans fats”, “cholesterol free” and “skimmer”. The not-so-subtle message being the “low fat” food is better for you and will keep you slim. Yet the very same marketing departments were also telling us fats were good for us! We were encouraged to eat certain relatively fatty foods like fish (salmon, herring, and mackerel may have more than 10% fat), avocadoes (10% or more), nuts (more than 50%) and that we needed to take fish or krill oils as fat supplements. With all the mixed messages, no wonder the consumer was confused!

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Expect the Unexpected

Posted on February 11th, 2012 by Stephen Hardy | 2 Comments | Print | RSS

In a previous article I talked about some of the potential problems facing us as the human population continues to rise (Seven Billion and Counting).

To solve these problems we need to get creative, to think differently and we need to think long-term. And we also need a mindset where we see opportunities rather than obstacles.

In 1996 Edward Tenner wrote a landmark book “Why Things Bite Back” (1), about the unintended negative consequences of technological advances. There are many examples we could use for the sort of thing he was referring to. The widespread use of antibiotics led to the rise of resistant and more deadly bacterial strains. Computers were meant to make our lives easier, give us the paperless office and more leisure time. But instead the rate of deforestation increased, we worked longer hours, got RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) from lousy posture and became obese and non-communicative because we sat in front of the screen all day.

Unintended consequences don’t always have to be negative however. They can be just what we need to make us think differently.

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Environmental Pollutants: The Modern Equivalent of “Death By A Thousand Cuts”?

Posted on December 30th, 2011 by Alf | No Comments | Print | RSS

I’m sure you’ve had the experience where you become sick after eating something that was “off” or “didn’t agree with you”. The reason you became sick was there was something toxic in the food you ate or drank, something that had an effect on you within minutes or hours.

Something that has an effect on you within minutes, hours or days is said to have “acute” toxicity. There are many scientific studies showing common environmental and man-made chemicals can be toxic in this way and make animals very sick. These studies also show the dose of a chemical required to make an animal very sick can vary considerably from animal to animal. While genetic differences between the animals are largely responsible for this variability, it’s more complicated than this. How sensitive you may be to an environmental or man-made chemical is not just up to your genetic makeup. You are more vulnerable at certain stages of your life, like during pregnancy or when you are very young. But the story doesn’t end there either.

With acute toxicity you get sick very soon after being exposed to the chemical. That is not the only way a chemical can do harm however. A chemical can also do harm if you are repeatedly exposed to small doses over a very long time. This is referred to as “chronic” toxicity. With chronic toxicity, each small exposure may not produce any immediately apparent ill effects; it is the cumulative effects of the repeated small doses that cause the problem. The death of a thousand cuts was a form of torture and execution practised in Imperial China. None of the individual cuts was fatal but together…

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Seven Billion and Counting

Posted on December 6th, 2011 by Stephen Hardy | 4 Comments | Print | RSS

A month ago we hit an important milestone as a species. It wasn’t some startling new discovery, a medical breakthrough or the completion of a massive engineering project. It was a quiet milestone receiving barely a mention on the evening news. Nevertheless, it was highly significant. With very little fanfare, the world’s human population reached seven billion.

No one knows exactly who the seventh billion person to be born was or where or when they were born. So to mark the event, the United Nations chose October 31 as the date and identified babies in various countries around the globe to act as symbolic heralds for the milestone.

How did we get to this milestone? It’s an important question with a very interesting answer.

It took all of human history to reach 1 billion people in 1800.

It was another 127 years before we reached 2 billion in 1927.

It took 33 more years to reach 3 billion in 1960.

Another 14 years to reach 4 billion in 1974.

Only 13 years to reach 5 billion in 1987.

12 years to reach 6 billion in 1999.

And in 2011 – another 12 years later – we passed 7 billion.

Figures courtesy of the United Nations Population Fund (1).

Look at how fast the population is growing. While it took two human lifetimes to go from 1 to 2 billion, it now takes little more than a decade for the population to increase by the same number. In my lifetime, the world’s human population has increased by over 4 billion.

But growth is a good thing, isn’t it? Shareholders want their stocks, investments and superannuation to go up; we want our houses to increase in value; business owners want greater productivity; employees want more take-home pay and economists and politicians constantly tell us we must have a growing economy to guarantee our future prosperity. So an increasing population must also be good? More people to do the work; more people to buy the goods we make and more people to pay taxes and contribute to the economy. So the faster we grow the better off we are, right? While it sounds great on paper, does it really work that way?

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Something in the air?

Posted on November 1st, 2011 by Alf | No Comments | Print | RSS

What prompted me to write this blog was a recent trip to the rapidly growing Asian city of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. The name of the city is not that important however because this blog applies to other fast growing cities and many long established cities around the globe. I was last in Kuala Lumpur around 12 years ago. Back then the government had big plans to convert what was a relatively undeveloped city into a metropolis, the equal of anything in the developed world. Twelve years on and judging from the large number of skyscrapers, hotels, new roads, apartment blocks, shopping centres and expanded railway system, the government could with some justification state “Mission accomplished”, to paraphrase George W. Bush.

But the breakneck speed of development has come at a price. Pedestrian crossings are ignored and the traffic so congested crossing a road at peak hour is not worth the risk. The constant noise. Footpaths with cracked and uneven surfaces. Inadequate gutters and drains and strange smells coming from storm water. For me however, the most troubling aspect of all this “development” was the quality of the air. You can wear earplugs to keep out the noise. You can get used to taking your life in your hands every time you cross the road, and you can learn to take special care when walking on cracked and uneven pavements. However there is really very little you can do about the quality of the air you breathe – we have to breathe to live!

While the poor quality of the air was obvious at street level, it was much more dramatic looking down from the aircraft as my wife and I flew into the city. All we could see was a dirty opaque haze, enveloping the city. As we descended into the haze to land I began to wonder – Where did the haze come from? What is in polluted city air? And more importantly: Is it safe and what does it do to our bodies? Can it increase the risk of disease? And, if it does, which diseases? I made a mental note to look into the topic when I arrived back in Australia. We know quite a lot about air pollution, because many cities around the world have been monitoring both the levels of air pollution and the types of pollutants for many years. Sadly, we know far less about the long-term health effects of air pollution. Read the rest of this entry »

Think Global, Eat Local

Posted on October 8th, 2011 by Stephen Hardy | No Comments | Print | RSS

I love it when someone makes me think. I also love it when someone puts their money where their mouth is to live their principles. I love it even more when those principles make me look at the way I live and challenges me to be a better person or be more accountable for my life. Such was the case after I ate at the award winning Locavore restaurant at Stirling in the picturesque Adelaide Hills recently.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase:

“If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.”

While we all care about health and the environment, caught up in our daily lives it’s often too hard to think about how to become part of the solution. The children are fighting and late for school; the baby’s just upended his porridge bowl on his head again and the dog’s been sick on the carpet. So how do you find time to make the shift and become part of the solution with so much on your plate? And what happens when you aren’t even aware you are part of the problem? So what can you do and what was it about my meal at the Locavore restaurant that got me thinking? Before I can answer these questions we need some background. Read the rest of this entry »

Go easy on fats!

Posted on September 3rd, 2011 by Alf | No Comments | Print | RSS

Fats get a lot of bad press. Doctors, nutritionists, authors of fad diets, august government departments and disease-focussed not-for-profit charities have for years pointed an accusing finger at fats as villain in a host of degenerative diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes. They have been blamed for the epidemic of obesity in Western countries, although the role of carbohydrates is rightly coming under increasing scrutiny. Industry has responded to our fear of fats by introducing a raft of low fat products labelled “no fat”, “99% fat free” and “lite”, which now line our supermarket shelves. Yet at the same time as we were told fat was bad and urged to reduce our fat intake, we were told some fats were really good for us. Olive oil, evening primrose oil, fish oils, borage oil, flaxseed oils are apparently good for us, as are the so-called “smart fats” or “functional fats” like phosphatidylserine and lecithin. Then there are the “Good fats” – the omega-3 fats, which we were told assist in maintaining better brain function. And, of course, we have the fatty vitamins A, D, and E all of which must be important for our health because they wouldn’t be called vitamins if they weren’t! Given these mixed messages, is it any wonder we are confused? So what is the bottom line? Are fats good or bad for us? Read the rest of this entry »

Just a teacupful of sugar helps the food go down, in a most delightful way!

Posted on August 2nd, 2011 by Alf | No Comments | Print | RSS

On a recent visit to our local greengrocer, I noticed a sign above a small box offering free fruit to children. I asked the shop assistant about the offer and she told me the children visiting the shop with their parents were not very interested in the free fruit. I was not surprised. Given a choice between fresh fruit and chocolate, ice cream or sweets, I have no doubt what most children, or even most adults, would choose. So, what it is about sweets? Why do we crave sugar so much? Read the rest of this entry »

Salt – The ubiquitous food additive

Posted on July 8th, 2011 by Alf | No Comments | Print | RSS

Peanuts are a good food. Plenty of protein (over 20%), dietary fiber (8%), the B vitamins, and minerals such as iron, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus. While fat levels are very high (up to 50%), they are mainly the healthier monounsaturated fats with much smaller amounts of saturated fats (1). Peanut butter, is essentially a paste made from roasted peanuts and a tasty spread very popular with children. On a recent visit to the supermarket I was pleased to find peanut butter in a glass, rather than a plastic container so I bought a jar. I have discussed my concerns about using plastic container for oil rich foods like peanut butter in earlier blogs and in some detail in the Promoting Good Health book “The Silent Threat” which is available through our website. My concern is the possible migration of oil soluble plastic components from the container into the food.

Shortly after I bought the peanut butter, I had a visit from my grandchildren both of whom love peanut butter. Imagine my surprise then when they would not eat the peanut butter in the glass jar I had bought. They both said it had no taste! This got me thinking. Scientists are like that. What was different about the peanut butter in the glass jar? Fortunately I had another jar of peanut butter in the cupboard, in a plastic container. When I gave this peanut butter to my grandchildren they took to it with some relish. So what was different between the two different peanut butters? Read the rest of this entry »