Vegetarian or vegan; 'high in protein'; the magic of fermentation - the Australian Sugar Industry Alliance Nutrition Team shares some of the latest food trends for you to decide whether you should be jumping on or off the bandwagon.
Vegetarian or vegan, meals without meat are becoming more mainstream. Pulses and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans are more common on restaurant menus and in supermarket products. Vegetables have now become part of the main act rather than a side show and this is great news for health.
‘High in protein’ is a common marketing claim on foods and supplements for both slimmers and muscle builders alike. While enjoying whole foods rich in protein like meat, fish, milk and eggs as part of a balanced diet is a good thing, don’t assume processed food products labelled 'high in protein' are slimming or healthy. Most people don’t need to use expensive protein supplements to meet their protein requirements.
Obtaining complex smokey flavours using different fire fuels, bastes and marinades is delicious but avoid charring or burning your food as this can generate dangerous cancer-causing chemicals. To reduce these, marinate your meat before cooking, turn down the heat and shorten the cooking time. And make sure you leave plenty of room on your plate for protective plant foods like grains, vegetables, legumes and nuts.
Foods ‘free-from’ gluten and dairy are now common due to the mistaken belief they’re better for you. Unless you have a medically diagnosed allergy or intolerance, they’re not. In fact they can be less healthy than the traditional version. For example most alternative nut and grain 'milks' are much less nutritious than good old cow’s milk.
‘Everything old is new again’. Young people are again keen to learn how to make jams, chutneys, pickles, relishes and preserves in the quest to eat local home-grown foods, reduce waste and live more sustainably. There can be added sugar and salt, but considering most of these foods are condiments eaten in small amounts it’s no big deal.
If you eat yoghurt or cheese, or drink beer or wine, you experienced the magic of fermentation - a process of using microorganisms such as yeasts, bacteria and fungi as a food production or preservation method. The microorganisms are thought to promote a healthy digestive system by optimising the ‘good bacteria’ living in our bowels. Examples include sourdough bread, sauerkraut and kimchi (cabbage), tempeh and miso (soybeans), kefir milk drink and kombucha tea.
The coconut trend shows no sign of abating. Coconut water is the fat-free liquid from the centre of a young coconut. If you like the taste and can afford it, go for it - just don’t believe the hype. Use coconut cream occasionally due to its high saturated fat content, or choose light coconut milk instead. Virgin coconut oil is not the elixir of youth, the secret to fat loss, or good for your cholesterol - it’s a definite ‘sometimes food’. Extra virgin olive oil is a much healthier option.
As with fat in the past, sugar is having its dark time as a scapegoat for all ills. But rather than embracing a message of moderation, we seem to have jumped straight to banning added sugar and replacing it with highly processed sugar alternatives. Similar to the false hope of fat-free foods, the proliferation of foods with 'no added sugar' is unlikely to save our health. You’re probably better off enjoying a smaller portion of the real deal less often.