Health Check: what are nightshade vegetables and are they bad for you?



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No, these veggies are not trying to kill you.
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Duane Mellor, Coventry University and Nenad Naumovski, University of Canberra

If you get your health news from blogs such as Goop and Dr Oz, you might be led to believe a certain group of vegetables called “nightshade vegetables” are bad for you.

The theory goes that members of the plant family Solanaceae, which includes tomatoes, capsicums, chilli peppers, eggplant and potatoes, contain toxins designed to stop us from eating them, which are damaging to our health.

This idea comes from the fact that poisonous berries called “nightshade” are also in the solanaceae family. But that doesn’t mean all plants in this family are toxic, and the nutrient-rich solanaceae vegetables are the building blocks of some of the most healthy dietary patterns on the planet (such as the Mediterranean diet).




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The “toxins” in these vegetables that some have claimed to be the problem are compounds called lectins. Lectins are proteins, the stuff that meat is made up of, or enzymes that exist in many foods and our bodies. They’re slightly different to the proteins in meat and muscle as they have sugars attached to them meaning they can bind cells together.

It’s thought by those who believe lectins are harmful, that they stick the cells in our body together, causing potential damage and pain, such as arthritis. However, the simple act of cooking helps to break down these lectins and the minute risk of any negative action can be easily deactivated.

The other key point is levels in foods vary, while some foods contain them in high quantities (such as kidney beans, which should be eaten cooked), quantities are very low in food we would eat raw such as tomatoes and capsicums.

But aren’t these chemicals designed to stop us eating them?

It’s sometimes thought the reason plants make lectins is to stop them being eaten, and that because of this they must cause us harm. One claim is that they cause inflammation, worsening arthritis. But in our recent review of the research there was little evidence for this.

The evidence that exists on arthritis and other forms of disease related to inflammation (including heart disease) supports the role of the Mediterranean-type diet. This is based on vegetables, including those from the solanaceae family.

It’s a myth compounds plants produce to stop them being eaten are harmful to us.
linh pham unsplash



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It’s also a myth that compounds plants produce to stop them being eaten are harmful to us. Increasingly there’s evidence many of these compounds can have beneficial effects. Polyphenols, which are bitter chemicals found in a range of fruit and vegetables to stop them being eaten have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and maybe even dementia.

Although there are no apparent benefits of lectins, and some theoretical potential of harms (cells sticking together in a test tube, or vomiting after eating raw kidney beans) these naturally occurring chemicals can be easily broken down by cooking.

So, on the plate, lectins are not an issue. And the so-called “nightshade vegetables” have numerous other reasons why they’re benefical for heath, from vitamins and minerals through to fibre and polyphenols. The key is to eat as wide a variety of fruit and vegetables as possible to maximise these health improving factors.

What’s in a name?

The favourite of health bloggers and “superfood” proponents is the goji berry. But surprise, this too belongs to the nightshade family.

Goji berries have been claimed to treat dry skin, promote longevity and even improve sexual desire. Some of these claims might be related to its historical use as a traditional Chinese treatment.

It does contain vitamins A and C, so it’s not devoid of any nutritional value. But any claims of health benefits above and beyond any other kind of berry are currently unproven.

So the message here? Don’t worry too much about which fruits or vegetables famous bloggers or TV doctors tell you to eat or not to eat. Enjoy them all, be sure to get your “two and five” serves, and store and wash them properly before you tuck in.




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The Conversation


Duane Mellor, Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition, Coventry University and Nenad Naumovski, Asistant Professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Canberra

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

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Potatoes are out of favour – but they have strong roots in a healthy lifestyle


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Hazel Flight, Edge Hill University

Potatoes are apparently far from being flavour of the month. Rejected by young people and “clean eaters”, sales are plummeting. But what has the potato done to deserve being treated so distastefully?

Reports claim that millennials prefer rice and noodles, and think that potatoes will make them fat. According to The Grocer magazine potato sales have decreased by 5.4% in the last four years, while sales of rice and noodles have risen by 30%.

But the potato has a proud history. One of the most common and versatile root vegetables, it was first cultivated by the Inca Indians in Peru over 7,000 years ago. Brought to Europe in the 16th century, potatoes have been associated with population surges and increased global urbanisation. There are now as many as 2,000 different varieties being grown in over 160 countries.

Yet today it seems we crave the quick and easy, avoiding anything that requires time or preparation. Potatoes are apparently seen as neither exotic, convenient or healthy.

So why did a once favoured food find itself pushed aside? Well let’s examine the evidence before it is judged guilty. In its defence the potato has all the requirements to form part of a healthy balanced diet.

In 100g of steamed potatoes, you’ll find just 100 calories, no fat, no sodium, no cholesterol, and no gluten. Instead, you’ll get nearly half your daily dose of vitamin C, more potassium than in a banana and plenty of vitamin B6, fibre, magnesium and antioxidants.

Yes, there is starch, which can increase insulin sensitivity – but it can also improve blood sugar control, digestive health, nutrient absorption and satiety (fullness), help curb inflammation in the body, boost immunity and improve blood circulation.

The case against potatoes often seems to rest on accusations of high calorific value. But it is not the actual potatoes which bring the calories, it is the method of cooking.

And yes, potatoes are high in carbohydrates, but these are necessary for long term energy. Many do not know the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. Potatoes are complex carbohydrates which are a necessary part of our everyday diet.

People often listen to the latest diet information and react by thinking that certain food groups are not good for you. In fact, a person requires foods from each nutrient group in order to maintain optimal health. Eating potatoes cooked appropriately in moderation is simply not harmful.

Potatoes are also classified as a high glycemic food, but if eaten as part of a diet which includes high fibre foods such as lentils, beans, nuts and other vegetables, the sugar spike can be counteracted.

Hot stuff.
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A lot of the potato’s PR problem may simply be about portion control. It seems that once we start to eat a bowl of chips or crisps, we find it impossible to stop until they are gone, and all of their salty calories have been consumed. Boiled or baked potatoes on the other hand are very rarely eaten to excess.

When the chips are down

But with rises in obesity, we become obsessed with following the latest diet craze – where usually at least one of the main nutrient groups are significantly decreased or eliminated. As part of this, potatoes have become taboo.

In the 1970’s potatoes formed a staple part of the everyday diet. In the decades since, according to the National Obesity Forum, which compared the habits of 4,000 UK households from 1980 to 2012, eating habits and diets have been getting steadily worse.

This has been mainly due to the introduction of processed foods and ready meals and falls in line with the commencement of the obesity crisis in children. Another reason may be due to more exotic lifestyles. With foods from around the world more readily available, alongside the increasing number of takeaways, the potato has lost some favour. But in our desire to save time and money we may actually be forgetting a key aspect – our overall health and longevity?

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The Conversation

Potatoes deserve to be given another chance. People need to consider the way that they have been cooking and consuming this wonderful vegetable. There is no reason to cast them aside. For a nutritious vegetable which will power up your performance – look no further than the humble spud.

Hazel Flight, Programme Lead Nutrition and Health, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

I’m not overweight, so why do I need to eat healthy foods?



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No, being thin doesn’t mean you can live off junk food.
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Alessandro R Demaio, University of Copenhagen

We all have that one friend whose eating habits and body shape simply don’t add up. While enjoying the unhealthiest of meals and a sedentary lifestyle, somehow they effortlessly retain a slender figure.

At first glance we may assume these slim people are healthy, but it’s not always the case. So if you don’t have weight to worry about, what’s the impetus for avoiding sweet or salty temptations and eating good, nutritious foods instead?

Healthy weight ≠ good health

Body mass index or BMI, the tool most often used to determine “healthy weight ranges”, was designed primarily to track the weight of populations.

While it’s a simple and useful screening tool when looking at groups of people, it’s not a good marker of individual health. This is because BMI is a measure of our height and our weight, and the ratios of their combination. But weight alone doesn’t discriminate between a kilogram of fat versus a kilogram of muscle nor does it account for body shape and fat distribution differences relating to, say, ethnicity or gender.




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Just as not all obese individuals have heart disease risk factors or unhealthy metabolisms (the conversion of food into energy), nor do all lean people have healthy ones.

There’s a well-documented subset of people known as metabolically obese, normal weight individuals. These people are not obese as determined by their height and weight, but may face metabolic dysfunction such as insulin resistance (which leads to a build-up of sugar in the blood), and like their physically obese counterparts are predisposed to type 2 diabetes, high levels of fats in the blood, heart disease and even some cancers.

Food is health

The most compelling reason to eat healthy foods is the correlation between good nutrition and well-being. Coupled with regular exercise, eating a diet rich in whole foods and grains, healthy oils and low in sugar and salt, has been shown to convey a number of benefits. These include a longer life with less pain and suffering, less risk of back pain or muscular problems and even an increased libido.




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Studies from around the world also show people with healthy diets are less likely to experience depression while unhealthy diets may put individuals at an increased risk of depression.

People with nutritious diets are less likely to be depressed.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Food has been identified as an important risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia in older age.

A healthy diet combined with physical activity can strengthen bones and reduce body aches and pains. And these benefits are conferred irrespective of your baseline weight or age.

Health risks aren’t always visible

While it might be easy to take solace in a thinner weight, many of the serious health risks associated with poorer diet are often hidden from plain sight.

Excessive salt consumption can cause the kidneys to hold on to more water, resulting in an increase in blood pressure. High blood pressure strains the arteries that supply blood to our vital organs including our heart and brain, and increases our risk of stroke, dementia, heart attack and kidney disease.

Consumption of high amounts of sugar, especially from sugar sweetened beverages, is associated with an increased risk in fatty liver disease, among many other health problems. This in turn significantly increases our risk of liver scarring, heart disease and stroke.

Recent research has also reconfirmed a link between bowel cancer and red meat consumption. Processed meats such as ham, bacon and salami appear to be especially problematic.

Not only can all of these occur without any visual cues, but they can also develop irrespective of our weight.

Our kids’ health

The importance of a good diet is not just limited to our own health. Children of parents with poor diets are significantly more likely to inherit similarly unhealthy eating habits.

And it doesn’t stop there. Through a mechanism called epigenetics, our health and our diet can result in alterations to the expression of our genes.

We pass our habits on to our kids. Make them good ones.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Animal studies have shown epigenetic changes resulting from poor diet (and other stressors) can influence the healthiness of future generations. Many scientists now believe the same will prove true for humans too.




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Saving lives, and money

Contrary to what many of us think, the latest evidence suggests eating a healthy diet is actually cheaper than consuming the unhealthy foods that now dominate many Australian households.

Analysis of both wealthier and poorer suburbs in Brisbane, for example, showed the average family of four spends 18% more on current diets than would be required if they could more closely adhere to healthy dietary recommendations.

This is not to say eating healthily is easy, accessible or even possible for everyone, but might be more possible than we first think.

Not only would adopting a healthy diet be a beneficial investment for individuals and families, it might also go a long way to curbing the major societal costs from growing weight gain. The annual costs from obesity already add up to A$830 million in Australia alone.

The consequences of poor diet increasingly burden Australians and our health care system. While it’s easy to measure our health based on a reading of the bathroom scales, eating a diverse and nutritious diet will bring overwhelming benefits to everyone – regardless of our current weight.


The ConversationThomas Goodwin contributed to the research and writing of this article.

Alessandro R Demaio, Australian Medical Doctor; Fellow in Global Health & NCDs, University of Copenhagen

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to keep school lunches safe in the heat



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Keep it cool.
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Vincent Ho, Western Sydney University


This article is part of a series that draws on the latest research on back to school transitions. In it, experts explain how best to prepare children for school, and counter difficulties such as stress or bad behaviour.


The school holidays are over but summer isn’t, and we’re bound to have more hot days before the season ends. So how can you avoid making yourself or your kids sick when packing picnics or school lunches in the heat?

The good news is that the bacteria that cause food to spoil are quite different to the bacteria that typically cause food poisoning, and generally don’t make you sick.

But harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning can still end up in lunchboxes and picnics. Controlling the temperature of the food can help minimise the chance of getting sick, or the severity of any food-borne illness.

Food poisoning and spoiling

When left out in the heat, foods such as meat, cheese, fish and milk will spoil and start to smell because of bacteria such as Pseudomonas. But while it’s certainly not a good idea for your child to nibble on spoiled foods, such bacteria don’t usually result in gastrointestinal symptoms.




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On the other hand, more than four million Australians get food poisoning each year. The bacteria responsible for the majority of cases – Salmonella, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli and Listeria– usually come from animal faeces and soil. They don’t change the appearance, smell or taste of food.

The contaminated food can cause symptoms such as nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and chills as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion.

The cause of a specific food poisoning case can be hard to determine. Often the contaminated food is completely consumed and mild cases of diarrhoea can easily be caused by exposure to irritants such as gluten or lactose, as by a toxin, bacteria or virus. It’s usually only when multiple people eating the same food get sick that the source is traced and investigated.

Bacteria flourish in the heat

As with almost any kind of infection, contact with disease-causing bacteria doesn’t inevitably result in disease. We regularly handle a low level of bacterial contamination in the foods we eat without coming to harm. A gram of fresh tofu may contain from 300 to 100,000 bacteria and fermented foods such as miso or yoghurt may contain millions of bacteria per gram.

The number of bacteria in contaminated food is important: a person ingesting a higher amount of virulent bacteria is more likely to fall ill than someone ingesting a much smaller amount. The type of bacteria is also important, as more virulent strains can lead to illness in lower doses.

Yoghurt can contain millions of bacteria per gram.
Upupa4me, CC BY-SA

These bacteria flourish in a zone between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius – known as the temperature “danger zone” – where bacterial reproduction is most rapid.

In the summer heat, the doubling time of bacteria can be as short as 20 minutes. This means a thin slice of a well-washed tomato with 100 bacteria at 8am could contain just over 26 million bacteria by 2pm on the same day.

Storing foods outside the temperature danger zone can dramatically slow the rate at which bacteria can multiply. This is why cold food should be kept below 5 degrees Celsius and hot foods above 60 degrees.




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What can you do?

There are four key steps to safely preparing food:

1) Wash your hands thoroughly before handling food. Use clean utensils and cutting boards

2) Use separate cutting boards for fresh produce and raw meat or poultry to reduce the risk of Salmonella

3) Cook food to the right temperature using a food thermometer

4) Chill perishable foods such as meats, eggs, cheese or yoghurt with at least two cold sources, such as freezer packs, to keep harmful bacteria from multiplying rapidly. Frozen juice poppers can also be used as freezer packs and by lunchtime should be thawed and ready to drink.

An insulated lunchbox should be used for packing perishable foods. Insulated containers such as thermos flasks can also be used to store hot soups and stews.
When packing a child’s lunch the night before, store the food in the refrigerator overnight, so it stays colder for longer.

Finally, teach children to wash their hands with soapy water for 20 seconds before eating. Or pack disposable wipes so they can easily clean their hands before and after eating.




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Getting sick

Despite parents’ best efforts, food poisoning can occur. When it does, oral rehydration is the cornerstone of treatment. You can buy a rehydrating solution of sugar, salt and water from most pharmacists. Or make your own by adding half a level teaspoon of salt and six level teaspoons of sugar dissolved in one litre of clean drinking or boiled water.

A bland diet for a short period of time can be helpful in recovery.

The ConversationFor severe symptoms or for any concerns about your child’s recovery, see your GP.

Vincent Ho, Senior Lecturer and clinical academic gastroenterologist, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Evernote Is Killing Off Its Dedicated Food App


Evernote is one of my favourite apps/web applications and this move doesn’t surprise me. I agree with the thrust of this article also – it has stagnated somewhat I think and a fresh approach may well be needed. This is a good move I think.

Sliced Silverside


I used to buy a lot of sliced silverside at the local deli (Bilo – which is really a Coles store). Why? Well, it goes well on a salad sandwich. However, I don’t buy it anymore and it is unlikely that I will buy any Coles meat at the deli. They changed the silverside supplier from one company to the Coles brand and it is utter rubbish. I might as well suck salt from the salt shaker to get a similar taste. No more Coles products for me at the deli. If they offered some choice it would be good.

There also used to be a good selection of sliced ham – now there is barely a choice with that. That was one of the reasons I started buying the silverside. Now I buy deli products from Woolworths when I get out of town (it’s a bit of a drive). Way to lose customers Bilo/Coles.