A couple of weeks ago I received an email from someone I assume is a reader of this little blog, advising me of a public discussion event here in Adelaide. His very brief email simply stated that there was to be a six-member, expert panel and the topic for discussion was “Food for Health -separating myths from facts”, hosted by the FOODplus Research Centre. Some of you may have heard of FOODplus, but I hadn’t, so I took myself off to Elder Hall this evening to satisfy my curiosity.
Chaired by the Director of the Centre, Professor Robert Gibson, the six person panel was an extraordinary assemblage of intellects, all of whom have a focus on some area of food or nutrition. The panel members consisted of Peter Aggett – the Vice Chair of the UK Government Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, Professor Jennie Brand-Miller – a food scientist with a special focus on carbohydrates, the glycaemic index and insulin resistant diabetes, Professor Dennis Bier – Director of the USDA Children’s Nutrition Research Centre (amongst many other things), Professor Maria Makrides – Professor of Human Nutrition at The University of Adelaide, Professor Bo Lonnerdal – Professor, Department of Nutrition, University of California and Dr. Manny Noakes – the noted CSIRO Dietician and leader of the research team that produced The Total Wellbeing Diet, recently published by Penguin.
This remarkable collection of knowledge is part of the brains-trust that forms the FOODplus Research Centre, a joint venture between The University of Adelaide and the Women’s and Childrens Research Institute. The Centre came about as a result of the perceived need for communication and consultation between agriculturalists and nutritionists with the aim of improving the quality of the food we grow, rather than having to supplement food made from crops that are becoming, more frequently, nutritionally depleted. To do this, they aim to develop research programs in food and nutrition and translate that nutrition research into healthier food products by creating both economic and fact-finding relationships with the food and agriculture industries. While there is ample evidence to show that people with a nutrient-rich diet have better health outcomes than those who don’t, the link between agriculture and health has rarely been attempted in research terms and this centre “will link health researchers with plant and animal scientists, growers and food producers for better outcomes for all”.
With only an hour up their sleeves, the panel set about answering a remarkable range of questions posed by the audience. They covered issues such as the advisability of routine dietary supplements of iron for pregnant women (the results of various studies suggest against this), the advantages of wholemeal bread over white (almost none, much better to go with a wholegrain loaf), high fructose corn syrup added to foods (not an issue here, more so in the US), whether or not fish oil supplements have any effect on foetal brain development or help prevent post natal depression in pregnant women (none shown in research) and much more besides. The time very quickly slipped away and, in closing, each member was asked what message they would have us leave with – their answers were as follows.
Dr. Manny Noakes – food is a constantly moving and changing feast, so we need to keep an open mind about it.
Professor Lonnerdal – eat a varied diet and pay attention to the microflora of your gut – it may be far more important than we realise!
Professor Maria Makrides – there are no magic bullets in nutrition – variety and moderation are the keys.
Professor Dennis Bier – examine nutritional fads closely, eat a variety of foods, keep active and work towards ensuring adequate nutrition for young the women of our society, for they will carry the future.
Professor Jennie Brand-Miller – eat food for well being, not weight loss.
Dr. Peter Aggett – learn when enough is enough. He also further stressed the need for ensuring the nutritional needs of girls is appropriately met.
Yet another South Australian innovation, the FOODplus Research Centre is looking at a broad range of areas, including food allergies, food chain economics and grains and health. There are newsletters available on their website and they hope to have further discussion events in the new year. I will certainly be following their progress and if you want to be on their email list I would urge you to contact them here!