The Logical Blog

29. Jun, 2019

Is a burger really a burger without beetroot? Traditionalists think not, but there is no denying the diversity of burgers available for consumption in Australia today. If they're that passionate about one of the fillers, I wonder how they feel about the meat patty? 

I have consumed my fair share of burgers. Back in my red and processed meat-eating days (hello 80s and 90s), I loved nothing more than treating myself to a bacon and egg roll or Aussie style burger with beetroot, what I now call 'plastic' cheese, and pineapple (don't hate me), slathered in tomato sauce. 

Thankfully the days of vegetarians having no choice other than lentil burgers have progressed since then too.  As tasty as some of them are, when you feel like a burger, you want something with a more 'meaty' texture. If you haven't tried the most recent Aussie alternative meat burger product launched yourself never fear, because I have reviewed it for you below. All in the name of science of course. 

Product information

The Alternative Meat Burger is made by The Alternative Meat Co, which is owned by the same people that bring us the Vegie Delights brand: Central-Coast based Life Health Foods.  

Nutrition 

The patty weighs approximately 110g and contains an impressive 20g of vegetable protein (soy, wheat and pea).  Alongside an 85g beef (10% fat) patty which has 22g of protein, it compares quite favourably. Coupled with current evidence which is telling us that plant protein is more beneficial though, it makes the former a clear choice for the health-conscious. As long as they are not intolerant of or allergic to soy, wheat or gluten that is, because it contains all of those.

Dietary fibre is not something you usually expect to find on the nutrition panel of a burger patty, but no-one is happier than this fibre and microbiome-mad nutritionist to see it there.

A big tick also for the use of natural colours and flavours. I am conscious of the fact that it is more expensive, but am personally happy to pay more for better quality ingredients.

The fact that vegetable oil is the third ingredient listed accounts for the 14% fat content, but despite looking on their website for information on the specific type of vegetable oil (hoping it was olive oil due to the stated level of saturated fat), I was unable to locate it.

Sodium content should not be an issue for people basing their diet on predominantly whole foods. After all, a burger is an occasional food not a staple. Having said that, at slightly over a quarter of the maximum recommendation of 2300mg/day, adding cheese and/or other sodium-containing ingredients could easily push this up to half or more of your daily intake. 

People with hypertension, kidney disease, or diabetes, and older and overweight Australians are particularly susceptible to the effect that excess sodium has on blood pressure. However it is prudent that we are all aware of our sodium intake, given that as a nation we consume more than 4 times the daily maximum recommended.

Availability 

Currently only in Coles supermarkets. 

Cost 

$8 per pack, with pack containing 2 thick patties. You may baulk at the price comparison, but consider how much a store-bought burger costs nowadays. You're lucky if you get change from $10.  

At $36/kg it sounds more expensive still, but again, consider the price for a store-bought burger and weigh it up against the pros: nutrition; sustainability; environmental impact; ability to control cooking method and other ingredients etc. There are no cons other than price and packaging that I could find, but more on that next. 

Packaging 

Both hard and soft plastic components are now recyclable, with Coles having soft recycling bins in the front of almost all of their stores now. Would I prefer it was in the deli section & I could buy it wrapped in butcher's paper? Sure, but the current packaging protects the product from spoilage, so it's a trade-off. Less spoilage equals less waste for retailers, which equals lower prices for us consumers. Affordability is a known barrier to healthy eating, so keeping the price as low as possible for healthy options is important if we are trying to improve eating habits at a population level. 

The Assembled Product 

You may be a traditional tomato sauce fan, and that is fine, but I have come to prefer aioli as a binder for salad leaves.  

Building my Meat Alternative Burger hence began with Mrs Oldbucks Mustard Dill Aioli, from just up the road in Berrima, NSW.  Coupled with a lovely 4 leaf mix, beetroot, and half a slice of tasty cheese, my small multigrain roll overfloweth, so it was time to tuck in. 

Of course it doesn't taste exactly the same as a beef patty, it's far less greasy, which is awesome.  The texture is pretty much spot on though, and that’s really important in a burger, because it contains many other ingredients that influence the overall taste after all. 

Rating 

8.5 / 10

19. Jun, 2019

Faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) comes with risks just like any other medical treatment. It can have devastating, even lethal consequences if not properly screened and administered.

Most importantly, we really only have sufficient evidence for the use of FMT in the treatment of Clostridium difficile (C.diff) infections.

All other conditions are still considered to be in the investigational stage, so it is important to be aware of the possible side effects. These can include weight gain or loss and change in mood, particularly depression. This is not surprising given what we know about the gut-brain axis, and the link between food and mood.

Although successful in approximately 80% of C.diff infections, recurrence can occur in as little as a month, so it is certainlly not a miracle cure. For successful transplants though, the improvement in quality of life is marked, even if only for a short time.

"In 2015, the Gastroenterological Society of Australia recommended that..

“FMT should be made available as a treatment option for all patients in the Australian healthcare system with recurrent or refractory [Clostridium difficile infection (CDI)]. This requires that FMT services be developed in at least one public hospital in each state or territory”and

“FMT for indications other than for CDI should be carried out only in the clinical trial setting and with careful evaluation and transparent reporting of efficacy and safety”.

If you are considering FMT, please speak to your GP first so you can make an informed decision. As it is still very much in its infancy, we have no idea what the long term consequences may be.

Given the evidence we have showing the association of certain microbiota with numerous diseases (physical and mental), I urge you to err on the side of caution. 

References: 

Gastroenterological Society of Australia 2015, GESA Position Statement on Faecal microbiota transplant (FMT)

Jackson et al. 2018, 'Gut microbiota associations with common diseases and prescription medications in a population-based cohort', Nature Communications, vol.9, no. 2655

Mcilroy et al. 2018, 'Current and future targets for faecal microbiota transplantation', Human Microbiome Journal. Vol.11

RACP 2019, Much more than a gut feeling for faecal transplant patients, <

https://www.racp.edu.au/news-and-events/media-releases/much-more-than-a-gut-feeling-for-faecal-transplant-patients>

Sparke, C 2019, Warning over safety of faecal transplants, <https://www.ausdoc.com.au/news/warning-over-safety-faecal-transplants>

Want et al. 2017, 'The Human Microbiota in Health and Disease', Engineering, vol.3, no.1, pp.71-82

29. May, 2019

I recently completed 6 months in a role where I was able to directly observe consumer eating habits.  I spoke with people about why they were making their food choices, and found that a key motivator was the prevention of heart disease. 

Cholesterol plays an important role in the production of vitamin D, hormones and bile, which is necessary for fat digestion. It is an essential part of every one of our cells, and our body produces it in the amounts that we need.  Studies show that cholesterol is unlikely to be the cause of heart disease, and it is still unclear if lowering it reduces the risk of developing the disease. 

Despite this, we continue trying to lower our 'bad' cholesterol levels using everything we have in our arsenal.  Today I am examining one of those weapons: phytosterols.  More commonly known as plant sterols, they work by competitively inhibiting cholesterol absorption. 

You have probably heard about plant sterol-containing margarines. Retailing at around $8 per 500g, they claim to help lower your 'bad' cholesterol levels if you eat a tablespoon each day, as part of a healthy diet.  That condition always amuses me, because it begs the question: If you are on a healthy diet, do you actually need this product? How much of the effect 'in conjunction with a healthy diet' is due to the product, and how much to better eating habits or the elimination of highly processed food? 

Western diets already contain very high levels of plant sterols thanks to the incorporation of vegetable oils in processed foods. The combined consumption of plant sterol-enriched products can actually lead to very high concentrations, which can affect the absorption of carotenoids and fat-soluble vitamins, constituting a hazard to children, pregnant and breastfeeding women.  

Western diets also contain high levels of saturated and trans fats through our large intake of meat, dairy products, and fried foods. So if we reduce our consumption of these, most of us will see a natural reduction in our cholesterol levels, without the need for expensive plant sterol-containing products. 

Researchers have also found data suggesting that in patients with the hereditary disease of sitosterolaemia (sitosterol is a plant sterol), epidemiological studies, and recent human cell and animal studies, plant sterols potentially lead to negative cardiovascular effects.  

Based on all of that (often conflicting) information, my recommendation is that you save your money and concern yourself more with the overall quality of your diet if you would like to reduce your risk of heart disease. 

Try to have a more whole foods, plant-based diet, reduce or preferably eliminate processed meat, and use good quality  olive oil. In that way, you will help moderate your cholesterol levels while also getting important nutrients lacking in margarine, such as fibre, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial phytochemicals such as antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation (common in people with heart disease). 

The health benefits of increasing your intake of plant-based foods far outweigh anything you can find in a highly processed food product such as margarine. 

References: 

Kuhlmann, K, Lindtner, O, Bauch, A, Ritter, G, Woerner, B, Niemann B 2005, 'Simulation of prospective phytosterol intake in Germany by novel functional foods' British Journal of Nutrition, vol.93, pp.377–385. 

Patel, MD, Thompson, PD 2006, 'Phytosterols and vascular disease', Atherosclerosis, vol. 186 pp.12–19. 

Weingärtner, O, Böhm, M, Laufs, U 2009, 'Controversial role of plant sterol esters in the management of hypercholesterolaemia', European Heart Journal, vol.30, no.4, pp.404–409.

13. Sep, 2018

OK, so that heading was a bit of clickbait, I admit it. Now that I have your attention though, it's time to have a balanced conversation about low-carb diets.

We are constantly being told that even a small amount of weight loss is good for us, and that is true. But how that weight loss is achieved is often overlooked, and the long term consequences need to be considered. 

The Ketogenic Diet is an accepted therapy for hard to treat paediatric epilepsy which has been in use for almost 100 years. It has come and gone in different fad diet guises such as Atkins, the Zone, Sugar Busters,  Dukan etc, but it was never really meant to be used by the general population.

Much of the weight loss achieved particularly at the beginning of low-carb diets is water, which is used to flush out ketones generated by stored fat breakdown, and excess amino acids from the high protein intake. 

What are ketones? 

Ketones are made by your liver to protect your brain against starvation, a state mimicked by a low-carb diet. The brain is designed to oxidise glucose but adapts to use ketones in such an emergency. 

We now know that traditional (high protein, usually high red meat) low-carb diets increase your cardiovascular disease and diabetes risk, despite the fact that they can reduce your blood glucose levels and help you lose weight. You need to, forgive the pun, 'weigh up' if the weight loss is worth the increased risk of premature death. 

What does the evidence say? 

In a 2014 study using data from over 6,300 adults (<65yo), researchers at the University of Southern California investigated the link between protein intake and mortality (premature death) over an 18 year period. Specifically they looked at how low, medium & high protein intake affected diabetes and cardiovascular mortality, as well as cancer risk. 

  • Low protein was <10% of daily calories
  • Moderate protein was between 10-19% of daily calories
  • High protein was >20% of daily calories

Low carb diets are normally between 20 to 35% daily calories from protein, which is even higher than what was seen in this study.  

The results were scary, and the numbers too big to ignore. Among those without diabetes already, the high protein group had a 73 times (7300%) increase in risk, while the moderates had an almost 23 times (2300%) increase in the risk of developing diabetes. In comparison, high blood pressure has been found to increase the risk of developing diabetes by 60%. 

The high protein group were also four times as likely to die of cancer when compared to the low protein group. 

Animal protein made up the majority of the protein consumed, and the researchers theorise that plays a major role into the extent of the increased risk of premature death. 

How much protein should you eat in order to try to avoid cardiovascular disease or diabetes? 

The Australian guidelines recommend the estimated average requirement for adults (excluding pregnancy & lactation) is between 37 (women) and 52 (men) grams per day. This is probably much less than you thought it was, right? We have had a lifetime of marketing by the meat industry to convince us we need to eat it daily in order to meet our protein needs. It is simply not true. 

All plants contain protein, there is no reason why you can't meet your  intake requirements from vegetables, fruits and dairy or dairy alternatives, with the richest sources being legumes, beans and nuts.  Pescatarians get most of their protein from seafood, a far healthier choice than red meat. 

Fad diets do not work in the long term. They are great for fast, short-term weight loss, a kick-starter if you like. Really good for eliminating cravings, but ultimately unsustainable, because we are human and like food that tastes good and/or is seen as 'forbidden'. Instead of obsessively carb or calorie counting, you need to establish a long term healthy relationship with food. Simply being mindful of what and how much you are consuming, and eating whole foods as much as possible is key. 

You can get the support that you need from a university-qualified nutritionist. We will never unnecessarily cut out groups of foods for a prolonged period of time, because we don't see any food as inherently 'bad'. 

References

Emdin CA, Anderson SG, Woodward M, Rahimi K 2015, 'Usual Blood Pressure and Risk of New-Onset Diabetes', Journal of the American College of Cardiology, vol.66, no.14, pp:1552–62.

Levine ME, Suarez JA, Brandhorst S, Balasubramanian P, Cheng C-W, Madia F, et al 2014, Low protein intake is associated with a major reduction in IGF-1, cancer, and overall mortality in the 65 and younger but not older population', Cell Metabolism, vol.19, no.3, pp:407–17.

National Health & Medical Research Council 2014, Nutrients - Protein, <https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/protein>.

12. Sep, 2018
  1. Cut your cancer risk
  2. Reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes
  3. Mental wellbeing - eating fruit & veg makes you happier! 
  4. Maintain a healthy weight
  5. Look and feel younger

If you'd like further details of these benefits, click here to go to the Meat Free Week website, where you can also find amazing vegetarian recipes. It is a wonderful initiative by Bowel Cancer Australia. Decreasing your meat consumption decreases your risk of getting bowel cancer, one of our biggest killers. 

Image source: https://www.meatfreeweek.org/images/Meat-Free-Week-2018-500x340-Web-Banner-5-amazing-benefits.jpg