May 2019

Women’s Health- Iron

Women’s Health Week 2019 focuses on improving the health of women everywhere. With diseases like iron deficiency anaemia affecting over 14% of the female population in the UK alone. Iron is an essential micronutrient which assists with the transport of oxygen around the body. The nutrient has various health benefits such as increasing brain function, regulating body temperature, reducing fatigue and even preventing insomnia.

Dietary iron can be found in various different food sources such as beef, spinach, tofu, lamb, chickpeas etc. However, there is a difference between the iron from meat and vegetable sources. Haem iron is found in meat, whereas non-haem iron is found in plant sources. As you can see in the graph to the left, haem-iron foods are absorbed more effectively.

So meat is obviously the best source of dietary iron, but this isn’t to say that vegetables contain inadequate sources of iron. In fact, eating them together can increase the overall iron content of your meal. See the example of an iron-rich meal below.

Spiced lamb and pine nut burgers with tahini yogurt

  • Tomatoes and lemon contain vitamin C which helps with the absorption of non-haem iron.
  • Meat is already rich in haem-iron, but Try adding chickpeas and spinach to your burger to up your iron intake from plant sources. As well as adding iron you’ll benefit from other nutrients in the vegetables such as fibre, folate and magnesium.
  • Try drinking a glass of orange juice with your meal to increase vitamin C intake. However, you should avoid tea, coffee and soda as to this can increase polyphenols and phytates which restrict iron absorption

Are vegan meat alternatives really any better for you?

Burger king has combined forces with impossible foods to create the ‘impossible whopper’ – a burger that looks and tastes the same but is made from entirely plant-based protein. The vegan whopper will feature the same bun, cheese and condiments as the traditional whopper and is being trailed in 60 restaurants with a potential to expand to other 7,100 US locations later in the year (if the trail goes well). Another plant-based meat-alternative to hit the market is Nestles Garden Gourmet Incredible burger. The firm plan to launch the meat free offering in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, before hitting the US in autumn. Coconut oil has been deemed as a ‘healthy’ saturated fat with its purposed health benefits for beauty and its robust quantity of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are a type of fatty acid where the length of the carbon chain is between 6-12 carbons long. This results in a smaller fat molecule which is quicker to breakdown and thus resulting in a greater absorption of the nutrient. The oil also has backing from a collective of studies on small Caribbean populations which conclude that a diet rich in coconut oil has no effect on the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD) – The risk associated with high intakes of saturated fats. However, these studies are only on small, specific populations and so the likelihood of the results applying to all is minimal. At the end of the day, coconut oil is classed as a saturated fat and current evidence suggests that all saturated fats are risk factors for CVD. So, is the saturated fat in Impossible Whopper really healthy? The fat content of the Whopper is 22 grams compared to the 14 grams of the Impossible version, making it higher in total fat. However, this extra fat may not be all that bad! As well as saturated fat, meat products (mostly of the grass-fed variety) contain unsaturated fats, some of which are beneficial to health, such as omega-3s. When cattle graze on grass, they consume more of a fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3). This in turn, acts as a precursor which can be metabolized by the cattle to produce smaller fatty acid molecules called eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are the molecules that have the beneficial effects associated with omega-3, such as a reduced risk of atherosclerosis, depression and cancer. Last year the World Health Organisation officially classified processed meats as a carcinogen and stated that red meat was a ‘probable’ carcinogen. The report – based on a review of 800 studies – may have caused some to reduce their meat intake and opt for the vegetable alternative instead. But are packaged and processed, fake-meat alternatives any better for you?

While the Impossible Whopper may have less total calories, total fat and sugar, it still contains exactly the same amount of saturated fat as its mea tcounterpart. The total saturated fat of this product is 8 grams – this is 40% of the recommended daily allowance (based on a 2000kcal diet). But if this fat isn’t coming from meat, then who is the culprit?

Coconut oil has been deemed as a ‘healthy’ saturated fat with its purposed health benefits for beauty and its robust quantity of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are a type of fatty acid where the length of the carbon chain is between 6-12 carbons long. This results in a smaller fat molecule which is quicker to breakdown and thus resulting in a greater absorption of the nutrient. The oil also has backing from a collective of studies on small Caribbean populations which conclude that a diet rich in coconut oil has no effect on the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD) – The risk associated with high intakes of saturated fats. However, these studies are only on small, specific populations and so the likelihood of the results applying to all is minimal. At the end of the day, coconut oil is classed as a saturated fat and current evidence suggests that all saturated fats are risk factors for CVD. So, is the saturated fat in Impossible Whopper really healthy?

The fat content of the Whopper is 22 grams compared to the 14 grams of the Impossible version, making it higher in total fat. However, this extra fat may not be all that bad! As well as saturated fat, meat products (mostly of the grass-fed variety) contain unsaturated fats, some of which are beneficial to health, such as omega-3s. When cattle graze on grass, they consume more of a fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3). This in turn, acts as a precursor which can be metabolized by the cattle to produce smaller fatty acid molecules called eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are the molecules that have the beneficial effects associated with omega-3, such as a reduced risk of atherosclerosis, depression and cancer.

The lack of unsaturated fatty acids is not the only nutrient the plant-based burger is lacking in. Where are the beneficial nutrients coming from? Naturally, red meat is high in iron, zinc, selenium and a variety of B vitamins, all of which are more readily available compared to that from plant proteins. Although Impossible claim that their recipe contains all of these nutrients, they have been introduced in a synthetic form. For example, B12 can only naturally be found from animal sources, so must be produced artificially to be included in the vegan product. The issue here is that the absorption rate of plant-based and synthetic nutrients is much lower due to their reduced bioavailability. This means that they cannot be as readily absorbed by the body, so the amount you see on the packet isn’t necessarily what you are consuming.

The Impossible Whopper claims to have as much quality protein as the original by using a combination of potato and soy protein. Therefore, it delivers all 9 of the essential amino acids and should elicit the same effects as animal protein. Although there is a high concentration of vegetables used, it is disappointing to see that there is less than 3 grams of fibre in total (an improvement on the burgers original recipe of 0 grams), meaning that the burger doesn’t qualify as a source of fibre.

The low fibre count could be the result of another unhealthy trait – processing. Both original and meat-free whoppers are processed and so are considered unhealthy. Some may even say that the Impossible version is more processed than its predecessor, arguing that isolated soy and potato protein needs prior processing to extract the desired nutrient. Adding to this, if you compared the ingredients needed to recreate a beef burger and an Impossible burger, you would clearly see that less synthetic and more natural ingredients are needed. From my perspective, a diet consisting of natural whole products rather than ultraprocessed foods is better for health.

Another cause for concern is the sustainability of producing these vegetable proteins. Meat has long been criticized for its effects on climate change and the environmental damage it causes, but what about these ultra-processed vegetable proteins? Impossible burgers main protein component is soy protein which is harvested from industrially grown soybean crops. For example, industrial soybean producers use areas like the Amazon basin in Brazil, where between the years of 2000 and 2005 Brazil lost more than 50,000 square miles of rainforest – a large proportion of that from soybean farming. If continued over the next 2 decades, scientists have predicted that 40% of the Amazon will be destroyed and a further 20% degraded. This could lead to the loss of biodiversity and also the jungles ecology will begin to unravel. Over 20% of vegans and vegetarians choose to eat this way due to environmental concerns, but is eating a plant-based burger such as Impossible Whopper really the more sustainable choice?

Overall, I am not saying that the beef burger is better for health than its alternative-counterpart, but for anyone purchasing these products due to health or sustainability concerns, just take a second look at the nutritional information– it may not be as ‘good’ as you think…

New Zealand National Lamb Week

Sunday Roast- The Sustainable Way

Each year, more and more people are converting to a flexitarian lifestyle, actively reducing their meat consumption due to reasons such as animal welfare, health concerns and sustainability issues. The meat industry is in the line of fire when it comes to sustainability, with the majority of agricultural emissions resonating from livestock farming (especially beef). What if we don’t want to eat less meat, but want to do our part when it comes to being more sustainable? In this article we look at how to put a sustainable twist on a meaty classic – The Sunday roast.

1) Portion sizes The portion size of roast meats depends mostly on the recipe; however, the majority suggest between 125-800g per person, which is vastly out of line with the UK recommendation of 70g of red meat per day. In order to visualise this, the FSAI suggests that the recommended serving size would be similar to the size and thickness of your palm.

2) Reducing waste In 2014, around 8% of beef purchased by UK households became food waste. Most of this could have been avoided if people only purchased what they need, served smaller portions and reused their leftovers in time. Due to this, it would make sense that a sustainable roast has 125g of meat per serving. This allows for a 70g portion for lunch, and a manageable quantity of leftovers for the next day.

3) Sustainable cooking A benefit of using less meat for your roast means that it will cook quicker and in turn, require less energy. This will help to reduce the associated negative environmental impacts of the meal – for example, an hour of oven roasting contributes to 20-30% of the environmental impacts of the whole meal! Why not try a more sustainable method than traditional oven cooking?

4) Meat quality As the government guidelines suggest that we should be consuming less meat, it is imperative that we eat good quality meat -both sustainably and nutritionally. But how do we do this? Grass-fed beef has a much higher nutrient profile than conventional grain-fed beef. It is richer in nutrients such as omega-3, carotenoids, vitamin E and antioxidants. As well as being better nutritionally, grass-fed meat can also be more sustainable due to the applied farming practices. For example, cattle who graze on grass can assist in carbon sequestration, which helps to absorb atmospheric carbon and reduce the amount which is released into the environment.