Should you avoid meat for good health? How to slice off the facts from the fiction



Meat is a very popular food for most Americans. Its nutritional value is a topic of much debate.
puhhha/Shutterstock.com

Dariush Mozaffarian, Tufts University

More than half of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions resolve to “eat healthier.” If you’re one, you might be confused about the role meat should play in your health.

It’s no wonder you’re confused. One group of scientists says that reducing red and processed meat is a top priority for your health and the planet’s. Another says these foods pose no problems for health. Some of your friends may say it depends, and that grass-fed beef and “nitrite-free” processed meats are fine. At the same time, plant-based meat alternatives are surging in popularity, but with uncertain health effects.

As a cardiologist and professor of nutrition, I’d like to clear up some of the confusion with five myths and five facts about meat.

First, the myths.

Red meat, while very popular, has not been shown to have health benefits.
Natalia Lisovskaya/Shutterstock.com

Myth: Red meat is good for health

Long-term observational studies of heart disease, cancers or death and controlled trials of risk factors like blood cholesterol, glucose and inflammation suggest that modest intake of unprocessed red meat is relatively neutral for health. But, no major studies suggest that eating it provides benefits.

So, while an occasional serving of steak, lamb or pork may not worsen your health, it also won’t improve it. And, too much heme iron, which gives red meat its color, may explain why red meat increases risk of Type 2 diabetes. Eating red meat often, and eating processed meat even occasionally, is also strongly linked to colorectal cancer.

Myth: You should prioritize lean meats

For decades, dietary guidance has focused on lean meats because of their lower fat, saturated fat and cholesterol contents. But these nutrients don’t have strong associations with heart attacks, cancers or other major health outcomes.

Other factors appear more important. Processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, salami and cold cuts, contain high levels of preservatives. Sodium, for example, raises blood pressure and stroke risk, while the body converts nitrites to cancer-causing nitrosamines. Lean or not, these products aren’t healthy.

Myth: Focus on a ‘plant-based’ diet

“Plant-based” has quickly, but somewhat misleadingly, become a shorthand for “healthy.” First, not all animal-based foods are bad. Poultry and eggs appear relatively neutral. Dairy may have metabolic benefits, especially for reducing body fat and Type 2 diabetes. And, seafood is linked to several health benefits.

Conversely, many of the worst foods are plant-based. Consider white rice, white bread, fries, refined breakfast cereals, cookies and so on. These foods are high in refined starch and sugar, representing 42% of all calories in the U.S., compared to about 5% of U.S. calories from unprocessed red meats, and 3% from processed meats.

Either a “plant-based” or omnivore diet is not healthy by default. It depends on what you choose to eat.

Myth: Grass-fed beef is better for your health

Conventional livestock eat a combination of forage (grass, other greens, legumes) plus hay with added corn, soy, barley or grain. “Grass-fed,” or “pasture-raised,” livestock eat primarily, but not exclusively, forage. “Grass-finished” livestock should, in theory, only eat forage. But no agency regulates industry’s use of these terms. And “free range” describes where an animal lives, not what it eats.

“Grass-fed” may sound better, but no studies have compared health effects of eating grass-fed versus conventional beef. Nutrient analyses show very modest differences between grass-fed and conventionally raised livestock. You might eat grass-fed beef for personal, environmental or philosophical reasons. But don’t expect health benefits.

Myth: Plant-based meat alternatives are healthier

Products like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat are clearly better for the environment than conventionally raised beef, but their health effects remain uncertain. Most nutrients in plant-based alternatives are, by design, similar to meat. Using genetically engineered yeast, Impossible even adds heme iron. These products also pack a lot of salt. And, like many other ultra-processed foods, they may lead to higher calorie intake and weight gain.

So, what are the facts?

Sausages wrapped in bacon are a double whammy of unhealthy meat, as both bacon and sausage are processed meats.
MShev/Shutterstock.com

Fact: Processed meats are bad for health

Processed meats contain problematic preservatives. Even those labeled “no nitrates or nitrites added” contain nitrite-rich fermented celery powder. A current petition by the Center for Science in the Public Interest asks the FDA to ban the misleading labeling.

Besides the sodium, nitrites and heme, processed meats can contain other carcinogens, produced by charring, smoking or high-temperature frying or grilling. These compounds may not only harm the person who eats these products; they can also cross the placenta and harm a fetus.

Fact: A meatless diet is not, by itself, a healthy diet

Most diet-related diseases are caused by too few health-promoting foods like fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables, whole grains, plant oils, seafood and yogurt. Additional health problems come from too much soda and ultra-processed foods high in salt, refined starch or added sugar. Compared to these major factors, avoiding or occasionally eating unprocessed red meat, by itself, has modest health implications.

Fact: Beef production is devastating the environment

In terms of land use, water use, water pollution and greenhouse gases, unprocessed red meat production causes about five times the environmental impact of fish, dairy or poultry. This impact is about 20 times higher than that of eggs, nuts or legumes, and 45 to 75 times higher than the impact of fruits, vegetables or whole grains. A 2013 UN report concluded that livestock production creates about 15% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, with nearly half coming from beef alone.

Fact: Plant-based meats are better for the environment

Production of plant-based meat alternatives, compared to conventional beef, uses half the energy, one-tenth of the land and water, and produces 90% less greenhouse gas. But, no studies have yet compared plant-based meat alternatives to more natural, less processed options, such as mushrooms or tofu.

Fact: Many questions remain

Which preservatives or other toxins in processed meat cause the most harm? Can we eliminate them? In unprocessed red meats, what exactly increases risk of Type 2 diabetes? What innovations, like feeding cows special strains of seaweed or using regenerative grazing, can reduce the large environmental impacts of meat, even grass-fed beef? What are the health implications of grass-fed beef and plant-based meat alternatives?

Like much in science, the truth about meat is nuanced. Current evidence suggests that people shouldn’t eat unprocessed red meat more than once or twice a week. Grass-fed beef may be modestly better for the environment than traditional production, but environmental harms are still large. Data don’t support major health differences between grass fed and conventional beef.

Similarly, plant-based meat alternatives are better for the planet but not necessarily for our health. Fruits, nuts, beans, vegetables, plant oils and whole grains are still the best bet for both human and planetary health.

[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter. ]The Conversation

Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why it can be hard to stop eating even when you’re full: Some foods may be designed that way



Bet you can’t eat just one.
tlindsayg/Shutterstock

Tera Fazzino, University of Kansas and Kaitlyn Rohde, University of Kansas

All foods are not created equal. Most are palatable, or tasty to eat, which is helpful because we need to eat to survive. For example, a fresh apple is palatable to most people and provides vital nutrients and calories.

But certain foods, such as pizza, potato chips and chocolate chip cookies, are almost irresistible. They’re always in demand at parties, and they’re easy to keep eating, even when we are full.

In these foods, a synergy between key ingredients can create an artificially enhanced palatability experience that is greater than any key ingredient would produce alone. Researchers call this hyperpalatability. Eaters call it delicious.

Initial studies suggest that foods with two or more key ingredients linked to palatability – specifically, sugar, salt, fat or carbohydrates – can activate brain-reward neurocircuits similarly to drugs like cocaine or opioids. They may also be able to bypass mechanisms in our bodies that make us feel full and tell us to stop eating.

Our research focuses on rewarding foods, addictive behaviors and obesity. We recently published a study with nutritional scientist Debra Sullivan that identifies three clusters of key ingredients that can make foods hyperpalatable. Using those definitions, we estimated that nearly two-thirds of foods widely consumed in the U.S. fall into at least one of those three groups.

Documentaries like “Fed Up’ (2014) have linked obesity to food industry practices and American eating habits.

Cracking the codes

Foods that are highly rewarding, easily accessible and cheap are everywhere in our society. Unsurprisingly, eating them has been associated with obesity.

Documentaries in the last 15-20 years have reported that food companies have developed formulas to make palatable foods so enticing. However, manufacturers typically guard their recipes as trade secrets, so academic scientists can’t study them.

Instead, researchers have used descriptive definitions to capture what makes some foods hyperpalatable. For example, in his 2012 book ”Your Food Is Fooling You: How Your Brain Is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt,“ David Kessler, former Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), wrote:

“What are these foods? …. Some are sweetened drinks, chips, cookies, candy, and other snack foods. Then, of course, there are fast food meals – fried chicken, pizza, burgers, and fries.”

But these definitions are not standardized, so it is hard to compare results across studies. And they fail to identify the relevant ingredients. Our study sought to establish a quantitative definition of hyperpalatable foods and then use it to determine how prevalent these foods are in the U.S.

In 2018, 31% of U.S. adults aged 18 and over were obese.
CDC

Three key clusters

We conducted our work in two parts. First we carried out a literature search to identify scientific articles that used descriptive definitions of the full range of palatable foods. We entered these foods into standardized nutrition software to obtain detailed data on the nutrients they contained.

Next we used a graphing procedure to determine whether certain foods appeared to cluster together. We then used the clusters to inform our numeric definition. We found that hyperpalatable foods fell into three distinct clusters:

– Fat and sodium, with more than 25% of total calories (abbreviated as kcal) from fat and at least 0.30% sodium per gram per serving. Bacon and pizza are examples.

– Fat and simple sugars, with more than 20% kcal from fat and more than 20% kcal from simple sugars. Cake is an example.

– Carbohydrates and sodium, with over 40% kcal from carbohydrates and at least 0.20% sodium per gram per serving. Buttered popcorn is an example.

Then we applied our definition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies, or FNDDS, which catalogs foods that Americans report eating in a biennial federal survey on nutrition and health. The database contained 7,757 food items that we used in our analysis.

Over 60% of these foods met our criteria for hyperpalatability. Among them, 70% were in the fat/sodium cluster, including many meats, meat-based dishes, omelets and cheese dips. Another 25% fell into the fat/simple sugars cluster, which included sweets and desserts, but also foods such as glazed carrots and other vegetables cooked with fat and sugar.

Finally, 16% were in the carbohydrate/sodium cluster, which consisted of carbohydrate-dense meal items like pizza, plus breads, cereals and snack foods. Fewer than 10% of foods fell into multiple clusters.

Many hyperpalatable foods are widely available and cheap.
gabriel12/Shutterstock

We also looked at which of the USDA’s food categories contained the most hyperpalatable foods. Over 70% of meats, eggs and grain-based foods in the FNDDS met our criteria for hyperpalatability. We were surprised to find that 49% of foods labeled as containing “reduced,” “low”, or zero levels of sugar, fat, salt and/or calories qualified as hyperpalatable.

Finally, we considered whether our definition captured what we hypothesized it would capture. It identified more than 85% of foods labeled as fast or fried, as well as sweets and desserts. Conversely, it did not capture foods that we hypothesized were not hyperpalatable, such as raw fruits, meats or fish, or 97% of raw vegetables.

Tackling obesity

If scientific evidence supporting our proposed definition of hyperpalatable foods accumulates, and it shows that our definition is associated with overeating and obesity-related outcomes, our findings could be used in several ways.

First, the FDA could require hyperpalatable foods to be labeled – an approach that would alert consumers to what they may be eating while preserving consumer choice. The agency also could regulate or limit specific combinations of ingredients, as a way to reduce the chance of people finding foods that contain them difficult to stop eating.

Consumers also could consider the role of hyperpalatable foods in their own lives. Our team needs to do further work validating our definition before we translate it for the public, but as a first step, individuals can examine whether the foods they eat contain multiple ingredients such as fat and sodium, particularly at high levels. Recent surveys show increased interest among U.S. consumers in making informed food choices, although they often aren’t sure which sources to trust.

One starting point for people concerned about healthy eating is to consume foods that are unlikely to be hyperpalatable – items that occur naturally and have few or no additional ingredients, such as fresh fruit. As food writer Michael Pollan recommends, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

[ Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter. ]The Conversation

Tera Fazzino, Assistant Professor of Psychology; Associate Director of the Cofrin Logan Center for Addiction Research and Treatment, University of Kansas and Kaitlyn Rohde, Research Assistant, Cofrin Logan Center for Addiction Research and Treatment., University of Kansas

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What causes hangovers, blackouts and ‘hangxiety’? Everything you need to know about alcohol these holidays



There’s no way to cure a hangover, even with ‘hair of the dog’.
Louis Hansel

Nicole Lee, Curtin University and Brigid Clancy, University of Newcastle

With the holiday season well underway and New Year’s Eve approaching, you might find yourself drinking more alcohol than usual.

So what actually happens to our body as we drink alcohol and wake up with a hangover?

What about memory blackouts and “hangxiety”, when you can’t remember what happened the night before or wake up with an awful feeling of anxiety?

Let’s look at what the science says – and bust some long-standing myths.

What happens when you drink alcohol?

It doesn’t matter what type of alcohol you drink – or even whether you mix drinks – the effects are basically the same with the same amount of alcohol.




Read more:
Do different drinks make you different drunk?


When you drink alcohol it goes into the stomach and passes into the small intestine where it’s quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.

If you have eaten something, it slows the absorption of alcohol so you don’t get drunk so quickly. That’s why it’s a good idea to eat before and during drinking.

It takes your body about an hour to metabolise 10g, or one standard drink, of alcohol.

(There are calculators that help you estimate your blood alcohol level but everybody breaks down alcohol at a different rate. So these calculators should only be used as a guide.)

What causes memory blackouts?

We all have that friend who has woken up after a big night out and not been able to remember half the night. That’s a “blackout”.

It’s different to “passing out” – you’re still conscious and able to carry out conversation, you just can’t remember it later.

The more alcohol you drink and the faster you drink it, the more likely you are to experience blackouts.

Once alcohol in your blood reaches a certain level, your brain simply stops forming new memories. If you think of your brain like a filing cabinet, files are going straight to the bin, so when you later try to look for them they are lost.

How do I sober up?

If you’ve had too much, there’s no way to sober up quickly. The only thing that can sober you up is time, so that the alcohol can be eliminated from your body.

The caffeine in coffee may make you feel more awake, but it doesn’t help break down alcohol. You will be just as intoxicated and impaired, even if you feel a little less drunk.

The same goes for cold showers, exercise, sweating it out, drinking water, and getting fresh air. These things might help you feel more alert, but they have no impact on your blood alcohol concentration or on the effects of alcohol.

What causes hangovers?

Researchers haven’t identified one single cause of hangovers, but there are a few possible culprits.

Alcohol is a diuretic, so it makes you urinate more often, which can lead to dehydration. This is especially the case if you’re in a hot, sweaty venue or dancing a lot. Dehydration can make you feel dizzy, sleepy and lethargic.

Alcohol can irritate your stomach lining, causing vomiting and diarrhoea, and electrolyte imbalance.

An imbalance of electrolytes (the minerals our body need to function properly) can make you feel tired, nauseated, and cause muscle weakness and cramps.

Hangovers can leave you tired, dehydrated, and with an irritated stomach.
Adrian Swancar/Unsplash

Too much alcohol can cause your blood vessels to dilate (expand), causing a headache. Electrolyte imbalance and dehydration can also contribute to that thumping head the next morning.

Alcohol also interferes with glucose production, resulting in low blood sugar. Not producing enough glucose can leave you feeling sluggish and weak.

Alcohol also disrupts sleep. It can make you feel sleepy at first but it interrupts the circadian cycle, sleep rhythms and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, so later in the night you might wake up.

It can stop you from getting the quality of sleep you need to wake feeling refreshed.

Why ‘hair of the dog’ doesn’t work

There’s no way to cure a hangover, even with “hair of the dog” (having a drink the morning after). But drinking the next morning might delay the onset of symptoms, and therefore make you feel better temporarily.




Read more:
Monday’s medical myth: you can cure a hangover


Your body needs time to rest, metabolise the alcohol you have already had, and repair any damage from a heavy night of drinking. So it’s not a good idea.

If you drink regularly and you find yourself needing a drink the next morning, this may be a sign of alcohol dependence and you should talk with your GP.

Suffering from hangxiety?

Alcohol has many effects on the brain, including that warm, relaxed feeling after a couple of drinks. But if you’ve ever felt unusually anxious after a big night out you might have experienced “hangxiety”.

Over a night of drinking, alcohol stimulates the production of a chemical in the brain called GABA, which calms the brain, and blocks the production of glutamate, a chemical associated with anxiety. This combination is why you feel cheerful and relaxed on a night out.

Your brain likes to be in balance, so in response to drinking it produces more glutamate and blocks GABA. Cue that shaky feeling of anxious dread the next morning.

What can you do if you wake up with hangxiety?

To ease some of the symptoms, try some breathing exercises, some mindfulness practices and be gentle with yourself.

There are also effective treatments for anxiety available that can help. Talk to your GP or check out some resources online.

If you’re already an anxious person, drinking alcohol may help you feel more relaxed in a social situation, but there is an even greater risk that you will feel anxiety the next day.

Prevention is better than a cure

Have a drink of water between alcoholic drinks.
Marvin Meyer/Unsplash

If you choose to drink this holiday season, the best way to avoid hangovers, hangxiety, and blackouts is to stick within recommended limits.

The new draft Australian alcohol guidelines recommend no more than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day.

(If you want to check what a standard drink looks like, use this handy reference.)




Read more:
Cap your alcohol at 10 drinks a week: new draft guidelines


As well as eating to slow the absorption of alcohol, and drinking water in between alcoholic drinks to reduce the negative effects, you can also:

  • set your limits early. Decide before you start the night how much you want to drink, then stick to it

  • count your drinks and avoid shouts

  • slow down, take sips rather than gulps and avoid having shots.

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, call the National Alcohol and other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 to talk through options or check out resources online.The Conversation

Nicole Lee, Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne), Curtin University and Brigid Clancy, PhD Candidate (Psychiatry) & Research Assistant, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Should you avoid meat for good health? How to slice off the facts from the fiction



Meat is a very popular food for most Americans. Its nutritional value is a topic of much debate.
puhhha/Shutterstock.com

Dariush Mozaffarian, Tufts University

More than half of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions resolve to “eat healthier.” If you’re one, you might be confused about the role meat should play in your health.

It’s no wonder you’re confused. One group of scientists says that reducing red and processed meat is a top priority for your health and the planet’s. Another says these foods pose no problems for health. Some of your friends may say it depends, and that grass-fed beef and “nitrite-free” processed meats are fine. At the same time, plant-based meat alternatives are surging in popularity, but with uncertain health effects.

As a cardiologist and professor of nutrition, I’d like to clear up some of the confusion with five myths and five facts about meat.

First, the myths.

Red meat, while very popular, has not been shown to have health benefits.
Natalia Lisovskaya/Shutterstock.com

Myth: Red meat is good for health

Long-term observational studies of heart disease, cancers or death and controlled trials of risk factors like blood cholesterol, glucose and inflammation suggest that modest intake of unprocessed red meat is relatively neutral for health. But, no major studies suggest that eating it provides benefits.

So, while an occasional serving of steak, lamb or pork may not worsen your health, it also won’t improve it. And, too much heme iron, which gives red meat its color, may explain why red meat increases risk of Type 2 diabetes. Eating red meat often, and eating processed meat even occasionally, is also strongly linked to colorectal cancer.

Myth: You should prioritize lean meats

For decades, dietary guidance has focused on lean meats because of their lower fat, saturated fat and cholesterol contents. But these nutrients don’t have strong associations with heart attacks, cancers or other major health outcomes.

Other factors appear more important. Processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, salami and cold cuts, contain high levels of preservatives. Sodium, for example, raises blood pressure and stroke risk, while the body converts nitrites to cancer-causing nitrosamines. Lean or not, these products aren’t healthy.

Myth: Focus on a ‘plant-based’ diet

“Plant-based” has quickly, but somewhat misleadingly, become a shorthand for “healthy.” First, not all animal-based foods are bad. Poultry and eggs appear relatively neutral. Dairy may have metabolic benefits, especially for reducing body fat and Type 2 diabetes. And, seafood is linked to several health benefits.

Conversely, many of the worst foods are plant-based. Consider white rice, white bread, fries, refined breakfast cereals, cookies and so on. These foods are high in refined starch and sugar, representing 42% of all calories in the U.S., compared to about 5% of U.S. calories from unprocessed red meats, and 3% from processed meats.

Either a “plant-based” or omnivore diet is not healthy by default. It depends on what you choose to eat.

Myth: Grass-fed beef is better for your health

Conventional livestock eat a combination of forage (grass, other greens, legumes) plus hay with added corn, soy, barley or grain. “Grass-fed,” or “pasture-raised,” livestock eat primarily, but not exclusively, forage. “Grass-finished” livestock should, in theory, only eat forage. But no agency regulates industry’s use of these terms. And “free range” describes where an animal lives, not what it eats.

“Grass-fed” may sound better, but no studies have compared health effects of eating grass-fed versus conventional beef. Nutrient analyses show very modest differences between grass-fed and conventionally raised livestock. You might eat grass-fed beef for personal, environmental or philosophical reasons. But don’t expect health benefits.

Myth: Plant-based meat alternatives are healthier

Products like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat are clearly better for the environment than conventionally raised beef, but their health effects remain uncertain. Most nutrients in plant-based alternatives are, by design, similar to meat. Using genetically engineered yeast, Impossible even adds heme iron. These products also pack a lot of salt. And, like many other ultra-processed foods, they may lead to higher calorie intake and weight gain.

So, what are the facts?

Sausages wrapped in bacon are a double whammy of unhealthy meat, as both bacon and sausage are processed meats.
MShev/Shutterstock.com

Fact: Processed meats are bad for health

Processed meats contain problematic preservatives. Even those labeled “no nitrates or nitrites added” contain nitrite-rich fermented celery powder. A current petition by the Center for Science in the Public Interest asks the FDA to ban the misleading labeling.

Besides the sodium, nitrites and heme, processed meats can contain other carcinogens, produced by charring, smoking or high-temperature frying or grilling. These compounds may not only harm the person who eats these products; they can also cross the placenta and harm a fetus.

Fact: A meatless diet is not, by itself, a healthy diet

Most diet-related diseases are caused by too few health-promoting foods like fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables, whole grains, plant oils, seafood and yogurt. Additional health problems come from too much soda and ultra-processed foods high in salt, refined starch or added sugar. Compared to these major factors, avoiding or occasionally eating unprocessed red meat, by itself, has modest health implications.

Fact: Beef production is devastating the environment

In terms of land use, water use, water pollution and greenhouse gases, unprocessed red meat production causes about five times the environmental impact of fish, dairy or poultry. This impact is about 20 times higher than that of eggs, nuts or legumes, and 45 to 75 times higher than the impact of fruits, vegetables or whole grains. A 2013 UN report concluded that livestock production creates about 15% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, with nearly half coming from beef alone.

Fact: Plant-based meats are better for the environment

Production of plant-based meat alternatives, compared to conventional beef, uses half the energy, one-tenth of the land and water, and produces 90% less greenhouse gas. But, no studies have yet compared plant-based meat alternatives to more natural, less processed options, such as mushrooms or tofu.

Fact: Many questions remain

Which preservatives or other toxins in processed meat cause the most harm? Can we eliminate them? In unprocessed red meats, what exactly increases risk of Type 2 diabetes? What innovations, like feeding cows special strains of seaweed or using regenerative grazing, can reduce the large environmental impacts of meat, even grass-fed beef? What are the health implications of grass-fed beef and plant-based meat alternatives?

Like much in science, the truth about meat is nuanced. Current evidence suggests that people shouldn’t eat unprocessed red meat more than once or twice a week. Grass-fed beef may be modestly better for the environment than traditional production, but environmental harms are still large. Data don’t support major health differences between grass fed and conventional beef.

Similarly, plant-based meat alternatives are better for the planet but not necessarily for our health. Fruits, nuts, beans, vegetables, plant oils and whole grains are still the best bet for both human and planetary health.

[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter. ]The Conversation

Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hoping to get in shape for summer? Ditch the fads in favour of a diet more likely to stick



The benefits of a juice cleanse or detox aren’t likely to be sustained over time.
Fron shutterstock.com

Yasmine Probst, University of Wollongong and Vivienne Guan, University of Wollongong

Weight gain can creep up on us. Over the winter months we enjoy foods that create a feeling of comfort and warmth. Many of these foods tend to be higher in calories, usually from fat or added sugars.

As we enter the summer months, some of us start to think about getting in shape – and how we’re going to look in a bathing costume.

These concerns might be met with the temptation to seek a “quick fix” to weight loss. But this sort of approach is likely to mean finding yourself back in the same position this time next year.

Looking past the quick fix and fad diets to longer-term solutions will improve your chance of keeping the weight off and staying healthy all year round.




Read more:
Health Check: why do we crave comfort food in winter?


Losing weight shouldn’t be a short-term solution

Extra body fat is a risk factor for developing chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. With two in three Australians carrying too much body fat, many of us may be well-intentioned, but not making the best choices when it comes to what we eat.

Weight loss is largely a balance of choosing the right foods and being physically active in order to tip our internal energy balance scales in the right direction.

For the most part, quick-fix diets are based on calorie restriction as a means of weight loss. They focus on different strategies to get you to eat fewer calories without having to actively think about it.

Fad diets tend to share similar characteristics, such as eating fewer varieties of foods, fasting, and replacing meals.




Read more:
Five food mistakes to avoid if you’re trying to lose weight


But weight loss isn’t just about swapping one or two foods for a month or two; it’s about establishing patterns to teach our bodies new habits that can be maintained into the future.

Fad diets and quick fix options can be limited in several respects. For example, they can be difficult to stick to, or people on them can regain weight quickly after stopping the diet. In some cases, there is insufficient research around their health effects in the longer term.

Exercise is also an important part of losing weight.
From shutterstock.com

Let’s take a look at the way some of these characteristics feature in three popular diets.

Juicing/detoxification

Juicing or detoxification diets usually last two to 21 days and require a person to attempt a juice-focused form of fasting, often in combination with vitamin or mineral supplements in place of all meals.

People on this diet lose weight rapidly because of the extremely low calorie intake. But this is a severely restricted type of diet and particularly difficult to follow long term without a risk of nutrient deficiency.

Also, while it might hold appeal as a marketing buzzword, detoxification is not a process the body needs to go though. Our livers are efficient at detoxifying with very little help.




Read more:
Trust Me, I’m An Expert: what science says about how to lose weight and whether you really need to


Intermittent fasting

An intermittent fasting diet involves a combination of fasting days and usual eating days. The fasting strategies include complete fasting (no food or drinks are consumed on fasting days) and modified fasting (20-25% of calories is consumed on fasting days).

This diet leads to weight loss due to an overall decrease in calorie intake. But it’s hard to stick with the fasting pattern as it results in intense hunger. Similarly, this diet can lead to binge eating on usual eating days.

But even though people are allowed to eat what they want on non-fasting days, research shows most do not over-eat.




Read more:
Blood type, Pioppi, gluten-free and Mediterranean – which popular diets are fads?


Overall, for people who are able to stick with intermittent fasting, we don’t have enough evidence on the benefits and harms of the diet over time.

Long term energy restriction without fasting may result in the same weight outcomes and may be a better approach to continued weight management.

The paleo diet

The palaeolithic (paleo) diet was designed to reflect the foods consumed by our Stone Age ancestors before the agricultural revolution.

The paleo diet excludes processed foods and sugars. This recommendation lines up with the current evidence-based dietary recommendations. However, the paleo diet also excludes two major food groups – grain and dairy foods.

Developing new healthier habits can take time and perseverance, but will pay off.
From shutterstock.com

While short-term weight loss might be achieved, there’s no conclusive proof of benefit for weight loss and nutritional balance in the long term. People who follow the paleo diet might be at risk of nutritional deficiencies if they’re not getting any grains or dairy.

So it’s worth taking cues from the paleo diet in terms of limiting processed foods and sugars. But if you’re thinking of adopting the diet in its entirety, it would be important to seek support from a health professional to ensure you’re not missing out on essential nutrients.

Things to look out for

So how can you tell if a diet is likely to lead to long term weight loss success? Here are some questions to ask:

  1. does it incorporate foods from across the five food groups?

  2. is it flexible and practical?

  3. can the foods be easily bought at the supermarket?

If the answer to these three questions is “yes”, you’re likely on to a good one. But if you’re getting at least one “no”, you might want to think carefully about whether the diet is the right choice for sustained weight loss.




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Four simple food choices that help you lose weight and stay healthy


Of course, seeing results from a diet also depends on your level of commitment. While it may be easier to stay committed in the shorter term, if you want to keep the weight off year round, it’s important to make checking in with your food choices part of your ongoing routine.The Conversation

Yasmine Probst, Associate professor, University of Wollongong and Vivienne Guan, Associate Research Fellow, School of Medicine, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cap your alcohol at 10 drinks a week: new draft guidelines



Further evidence about the harms of alcohol has accumulated over the past decade since the last guidelines were released.
Syda Productions/Shtterstock

Nicole Lee, Curtin University

New draft alcohol guidelines, released today, recommend healthy Australian women and men drink no more than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four on any one day to reduce their risk of health problems.

This is a change from the previous guidelines, released in 2009, that recommended no more than two standard drinks a day (equating to up to 14 a week).

(If you’re unsure what a standard drink looks like, use this handy reference.)

The guidelines also note that for some people – including teens and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding – not drinking is the safest option.




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What are the new recommendations based on?

The National Health and Medical Research Council looked at the latest research and did some mathematical modelling to come to these recommendations.

It found the risk of dying from an alcohol-related disease or injury is about one in 100 if you drink no more than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four on any one day.

So, for every 100 people who stay under these limits, one will die from an alcohol-related disease or injury.

This is considered an “acceptable risk”, given drinking alcohol is common and it’s unlikely people will stop drinking altogether. The draft guidelines take into account that, on average, Australian adults have a drink three times a week.

Why did the guidelines need updating?

Recent research has shown there is a clear link between drinking alcohol and a number of health conditions. These include at least seven cancers (liver, oral cavity, pharyngeal, laryngeal, oesophageal, colorectal, liver and breast cancer in women); diabetes; liver disease; brain impairment; mental health problems; and being overweight or obese.

Some previous research suggested low levels of alcohol might be good for you, but we now know these studies were flawed. Better quality studies have found alcohol does not offer health benefits.




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Health check: is moderate drinking good for me?


The new guidelines are easier to follow than the previous guidelines, which gave recommendations to reduce both short-term harms and longer-term health problems. But some people found these confusing.

Although most Australians drink within the previously recommended limits, one study found one in five adults drank more than the guidelines suggested and almost half could not correctly identify recommended limits.

The draft new guidelines are easier to follow than the old ones.
sama_ja/Shutterstock

Although women tend to be more affected by alcohol than men, at the rates of consumption recommended in the guidelines, there is little difference in long term health effects so the guidelines apply to both men and women.

The recommended limits are aimed at healthy men and women, because some people are at higher risks of problems at lower levels of consumption. These include older people, young people, those with a family history of alcohol problems, people who use other drugs at the same time (including illicit drugs and prescribed medication), and those with physical or mental health problems.

The guidelines are currently in draft form, with a public consultation running until February 24.

After that, there will be an expert review of the guidelines and the final guidelines will be released later in 2020. There may be changes to the way the information is presented but the recommended limits are unlikely to change substantially, given they’re based on very careful and detailed analysis of the evidence.

What’s the risk for people under 18?

The draft guidelines recommend children and young people under 18 years drink no alcohol, to reduce the risk of injury and other health harms.

The good news is most teenagers don’t drink alcohol. Among 12 to 17 year olds, only 20% have had a drink in the past year and 1.4% drink weekly. The number of teenagers who have never had a drink has increased significantly in the last decade, and young people are having their first drink later.




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However, we know teenagers are more affected by alcohol than adults. This includes effects on their developing brain. We also know the earlier someone starts drinking, the more likely they will experience problems, including dependence.

The idea that if you give teenagers small sips of alcohol it will reduce risk of problems later has now been debunked. Teens that have been given even small amounts of alcohol early are more likely to have problems later.

What’s the risk for pregnant and breastfeeding women?

The guidelines recommend women who are pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant or breastfeeding not drink any alcohol, for the safety of their baby.




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We now have a much clearer understanding of the impacts of alcohol on the developing foetus. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a direct result of foetal exposure to alcohol in the womb. Around one in 67 women who drink while pregnant will deliver a baby with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder is characterised by a range of physical, mental, behavioural, and learning disabilities ranging from mild to severe – and is incurable.

Worried about your own or someone else’s drinking?

If you enjoy a drink, stick within these recommended maximums to limit the health risks of alcohol.

If you have trouble sticking to these limits, or you are worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, call the National Alcohol and other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 to talk through options or check out these resources online.




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The Conversation


Nicole Lee, Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne), Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tough nuts: why peanuts trigger such powerful allergic reactions



The humble peanut. Tasty for most, treacherous for some.
Dr Dwan Price, Author provided

Dwan Price, Deakin University

Food allergens are the scourge of the modern school lunchbox. Many foods contain proteins that can set off an oversized immune reaction and one of the fiercest is the humble peanut.

Around 3% of children in Australia have a peanut allergy, and only 1 in 5 of them can expect to outgrow it. For these unlucky people, even trace amounts of peanut can trigger a fatal allergic reaction.

But what sets the peanut apart from other nuts? Why is it so good at being an allergen?

To answer this, we have to explore the pathway from allergen to allergy, and just what it is about an allergen that triggers a response from the immune system.




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How food gets to the immune system

Before coming into contact with the immune system, an allergen in food needs to overcome a series of obstacles. First it needs to pass through the food manufacturing process, and then survive the chemicals and enzymes of the human gut, as well as cross the physical barrier of the intestinal lining.

After achieving all of this, the allergen must still have the identifying features that trigger the immune system to respond.

Many food allergens successfully achieve this, some better than others. This helps us to understand why some food allergies are worse than others.

The most potent allergens – like peanuts – have many characteristics that successfully allow them to overcome these challenges, while other nuts display these traits to a lesser extent.

Strength in numbers

The first characteristic many allergenic foods have, especially peanuts, is strength in numbers. Both tree nuts and peanuts contain multiple different allergens. At last count, cashews contain three allergens, almonds have five, walnuts and hazelnuts have 11 each and peanuts are loaded with no less than 17.

Each allergen has a unique shape, so the immune system recognises each one differently. The more allergens contained in a single food, the higher the potency.
Additionally, many of these allergens also have numerous binding sites for both antibodies and specialised immune cells, further increasing their potency.

Stronger through scorching

The first hurdle for a food allergen is the food manufacturing process. Many nuts are roasted prior to consumption. For most foods, heating changes the structure of proteins in a way that destroys the parts that trigger an immune response. This makes them far less potent as allergens.

This is not the case for many tree nuts: allergens in almonds, cashews and hazelnuts survived roasting with no loss of potency.

And for the major peanut allergens, it’s even worse. Roasting actually makes them more potent.




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The gauntlet of the gut

From here, the allergen will have to survive destruction by both stomach acid and digestive enzymes within the human gut. Many nut allergens have the ability to evade digestion to some degree.

Some simply have a robust structure, but peanut allergens actively inhibit some of the digestive enzymes of the gut. This helps them safely reach the small intestine, where the allergens then need to cross the gut lining to have contact with the immune system.

This is where peanut allergens really stand apart from most other allergens. They have the ability to cross the intestinal cells that make up the gut lining. Given their relative sizes, this is like a bus squeezing itself through a cat flap.

Peanut allergens accomplish this remarkable feat by altering the bonds that hold the gut cells together. They can also cross the lining by hijacking the gut’s own ability to move substances. Once across, the allergens will gain access to the immune system, and from there an allergic response is triggered.

Peanut allergens attack the bonds that hold intestinal cells together.
Dr Dwan Price, Author provided

The combination of multiple allergens, numerous immune binding sites, heat stability, digestion stability, enzyme blocking, and the effect on the gut lining makes peanut a truly nasty nut.

Where to from here?

This leaves us with a nagging question: if peanuts are so potent, why doesn’t everyone develop a peanut allergy? We still don’t know.

Recently, a potential vaccine developed by researchers from the University of South Australia has shown promise in reprogramming the immune system of mice and blood taken from people with peanut allergy. Will this translate to a potential treatment for peanut allergy? We will have to wait and see.

For now, the more we learn about the action of allergens, and the more we understand their effects on our body, the more we can develop new ways to stop them. And eventually, we might outsmart these clever nuts for good.The Conversation

Dwan Price, Molecular Biologist and Postdoc @ Deakin AIRwatch pollen monitoring system., Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The milk, the whole milk and nothing but the milk: the story behind our dairy woes



A dairy cow grazes on the lawns in front of Parliament House in Canberra in 2015, as part of an industry event.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Andrew Fisher, University of Melbourne

The plight of Australia’s dairy farmers is on the political agenda this week, after One Nation leader Pauline Hanson narrowly failed in her Senate bid for a minimum milk price. But getting fair payment for their goods is far from the only challenge dairy farmers face.

Pressure has been mounting on the industry for the past decade. Existing milk alternatives are growing their market share, helped by a rise in veganism and public concern around animal welfare. The agriculture sector is under pressure to reduce its contribution to climate change, and technology advances mean milk may one day be produced without cows at all.

All this has been compounded by devastating and prolonged drought. So here’s the full story of the hurdles farmers face, now and in the future, to get milk into your fridge.

Dairy cattle at milking time at a farm in Rochester, Victoria.
AAP/Tracey Nearmy

Fluctuating farm gate price

The rate at which processors pay farmers for milk is known as the farm gate price. The prices are not regulated and are set by market forces.

In 2016 the milk price crashed when Australia’s two largest dairy processors, Murray Goulburn and Fonterra, lowered the price they would pay from about 48 cents a litre to as low as 40 cents.




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This dramatically cut the incomes of milk suppliers. The number of dairy farmers in Australia fell by 600, or 9% over four years. This exit has been exacerbated by drought.

Since then, the farm gate milk price has increased and in 2019–20 is expected to be 51 cents per litre, due to a weaker Australian dollar and demand from export markets. But forecast global prices for butter, cheese and whole milk powder this financial year remain below that of previous years.

Methane, and milk alternatives

Methane and other livestock emissions comprise about 10% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear in its land use report in August, changes must be made across the food production chain if the world is to keep global warming below the critical 1.5℃ threshold. For beef and dairy livestock, this means changes such as land and manure management, higher-quality feed and genetic improvements. Meeting this challenge cost-effectively, while improving productivity, is no small task.




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Technology may help in curbing greenhouse gas emissions from cows, but it also threatens to replace the dairy industry altogether. Advances in biotech may enable liquid analogous to milk to be produced through bioculture systems, without a cow in sight.

Elsewhere, the rise of plant-based alternatives derived from soybeans, almonds, oats and other sources threatens traditional milk products. This can partly be attributed to increasing numbers of people adopting a vegan diet.

Farmers must overcome a host of challenges to deliver milk to consumers.
Paul Miller/AAP

Taking calves away from cows

For a mammal to produce milk, it must usually become pregnant and produce offspring. Female calves generally go into a farm’s pool of replacement animals, while male dairy calves are sold.

Pure-breed male dairy calves do not naturally lay down a lot of muscle and so do not generally make good beef livestock. Many are sent to the abattoir for slaughter, typically between 5 and 30 days of age. This practice has prompted welfare concerns and means the industry must carefully manage the handling and transport of vulnerable young calves.

Potential solutions include artificial insemination of cows using only semen that will produce female calves. The use of this technology is limited because it reduces conception rates.

There is also growing public concern about the separation of cows and calves not sent to the abbatoir. The calves are typically taken within the first 12-24 hours and reared together in a shed, where they are fed milk or milk replacer. This is thought to maximise the amount of saleable milk and minimise disease transfer from cow to calf, particularly Johne’s Disease. However, recent research has found little evidence to support these practices.

Research has shown that calf-cow separation in the first day of life causes lower distress than abrupt separation at a few weeks of age or older, when the bond is stronger. This is not to say that early separation is not a concern. Rather, in the face of consumer demands for certain ethical standards, simple fixes may be hard to implement.

Topless animal welfare activists protest in Melbourne in February 2019 to raise awareness of what they claim is cruelty within the dairy industry.
Ellen Smith/AAP

The message for consumers

Challenges to the dairy industry will take time and effort to address. Some, such as drought, are out of farmers’ control. Dry conditions and high cost of water, fodder and electricity have forced farmers to cull less productive dairy cows, leading to a decline in production.




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The pressures, and associated debt, create intense stress for farmers, increase family tensions, and have negative flow-on effects throughout rural communities.

Putting aside the political push for a regulated milk price, the key message for dairy consumers is clear. If we want our milk produced in a certain way, we must pay a fair market-based price to cover the costs to farmers of fulfilling our wants.The Conversation

Andrew Fisher, Professor of Cattle & Sheep Production Medicine, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is coconut water good for you? We asked five experts



Nutritionally, coconut water is OK, but it’s healthier to stick to plain water.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Alexandra Hansen, The Conversation

In recent years coconut water has left the palm-treed shores of tropical islands where tourists on lounge chairs stick straws straight into the fruit, and exploded onto supermarket shelves – helped along by beverage giants such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

Marketed as a natural health drink, brands spout various health claims promoting coconut water. So before we drank the Kool-Aid, we thought we’d check in with the experts whether the nutritional claims stack up. Is coconut water part of a healthy diet or we should just stick to good old water from the tap?

We asked five experts if coconut water is good for you.

Four out of five experts said no

Here are their detailed responses:


If you have a “yes or no” health question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: alexandra.hansen@theconversation.edu.au


Clare Collins is affiliated with the Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, the University of Newcastle, NSW. She is an NHMRC Senior Research and Gladys M Brawn Research Fellow. She has received research grants from NHMRC, ARC, Hunter Medical Research Institute, Meat and Livestock Australia, Diabetes Australia, Heart Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, nib foundation, Rijk Zwaan Australia and Greater Charitable Foundation. She has consulted to SHINE Australia, Novo Nordisk, Quality Bakers, the Sax Institute and the ABC. She was a team member conducting systematic reviews to inform the Australian Dietary Guidelines update and the Heart Foundation evidence reviews on meat and dietary patterns. Emma Beckett is a member of the Nutrition Society of Australia, Australian Institute for Food Science and Technology. Her research is funded by the NHMRC and AMP Foundation. She has previously consulted for Kellogg’s. Rebecca Reynolds is a registered nutritionist and the owner of The Real Bok Choy, a nutrition and lifestyle consultancy.The Conversation

Alexandra Hansen, Chief of Staff, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How big alcohol is trying to fool us into thinking drinking is safer than it really is



Australia’s drinking guidelines are currently under review.
From shutterstock.com

Peter Miller, Deakin University

Over recent weeks, the alcohol industry has been drumming up media discussion around Australia’s new drinking guidelines.

Australia’s guidelines on alcohol consumption are under ongoing review by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), with new draft guidelines expected to be released in November.

The alcohol industry has labelled the current guidelines (two standard drinks per day and four in any heavy episode of drinking) as harsh, and voiced concern the guidelines may be tightened further.




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The global alcohol industry has been increasingly proactive in trying to undermine the ever-improving science on the harms associated with the product they make money from manufacturing, promoting and selling.

This is somewhat unsurprising given the industry would be significantly less profitable if we all drank responsibly.

Drinking guidelines

Panels of scientists develop drinking guidelines around the world by assessing the best and most up-to-date evidence on alcohol and health, and determining consumption levels which might put people at risk.

They then provide the information to health professionals and the public to allow people to make informed decisions about consumption. The guidelines are neither imposed nor legislated.

The current 2009 Australian guidelines recommend healthy adults should drink no more than two standard drinks per day to reduce their lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease or injury. They recommend no more than four standard drinks on one occasion to reduce a person’s risk of injury and death.

So how are the industry players trying to protect our drinking culture from such “harsh” guidelines?

Alcohol Beverages Australia: who they are and what they’re claiming

Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) is an industry body for global alcohol producers and retailers, including Asahi Brewers from Japan, Diageo Spirits from the UK, Pernod Ricard from France, Coca-Cola Amatil from the USA, and many others. Bringing together multiple industry groups to lobby government was a key strategy developed by the tobacco industry.

The NHMRC review of Australia’s drinking guidelines was open to public submissions on the health effects of alcohol consumption until January 2017. At this time, the ABA submitted a report claiming drinking alcohol carries health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. They requested the review take this into account in drafting any new guidelines.

In their communications with the media this month, the ABA resurfaced their 2017 submission to the process. It seems they have not updated the information to reflect the latest evidence.




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The most up-to-date evidence has shown previous research was substantially flawed in terms of the relationship between alcohol consumption and heart disease, blood pressure, breast cancer and overall mortality.

We know consuming any type of alcohol increases the risk of developing cancer of the bowel, mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver and breast. The World Health Organisation has classified alcohol as a class 1 carcinogen, along with asbestos and tobacco, for decades.

Any health benefits the ABA demonstrated evidence for is outweighed by the risks.

The current drinking guidelines in Australia recommend no more than two standard drinks per day for healthy adults.
From shutterstock.com

Alongside claiming the benefits of drinking alcohol need to be considered, to make their case, the ABA have compared drinking guidelines across different countries. In doing so, they are seeking to highlight Australia’s guidelines are ‘stricter’ than those of most other countries.

In making sense of these figures, the difference in drink driving levels is worth considering. It takes the average male four standard drinks to reach 0.05 in two hours and around seven standard drinks to reach 0.08. This is a big difference for most of us.

Those countries with 0.08mg of alcohol per L of blood as the legal limit are willing to accept more than triple the risk of having a car accident than Australia’s 0.05.

We need to ask whether these are countries whose health and safety models we want to follow.




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This is not a new problem

The industry is using language like “harsh” and “strict” to ferment public opposition to any tightened guidelines.

This spin strategy is predictable. The alcohol industry has been fighting for many decades to preserve profits over public safety, disregarding consumers’ rights to know the contents of their products, and the harms associated.

They fought against the 0.05 drink driving limit in the 1950s, and have successfully stopped Australian governments telling us about the cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption. For example, while policymakers have proposed warning labels with information about cancer risk be placed on alcoholic drinks, this is yet to eventuate.

The ABA is currently resisting a push to explicitly warn consumers drinking is harmful to unborn babies by means of mandatory labelling on all alcohol containers, suggesting it’s “too much information”.

These examples show how the industry continues to actively muddy efforts to educate the public of the harms of alcohol consumption.




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Notably, we’ve seen all of this before, particularly in the tobacco industry, or “big tobacco”, which has previously employed strategies to minimise health concerns and delay effective legislation.

So it’s hard not to wonder if the ABA are worried about the bottom line of their corporate masters, and therefore trying to influence deliberations through a media campaign, similar to those previously used by the tobacco industry.The Conversation

Peter Miller, Professor of Violence Prevention and Addiction Studies, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.