Archive for Nutrition

Bread – What’s Best?

Bread – what’s best for my health?

Wholemeal, rye, multigrain, high-fibre, gluten-free, sourdough, soy and linseed – there are lots of interesting breads to choose from these days. Bread is one of our oldest foods and even today is still considered a staple.

It’s nutritious and filling, low in fat and contributes fibre and protein. With the high extraction rate for milling white flour in Australia, all bread is a good source of three B vitamins thiamin, niacin and folate which we need for energy release. A slice of bread (even white bread) spread with peanut butter or jam makes a healthier snack than cracker biscuits or salty packet snacks like potato crisps.

But with so many varieties today, it’s hard to know which is the best to purchase. Here’s a guide to help you along the supermarket aisle or at the local bakery.

Note:  Bread baked and sold at a bakery or hot bread shop does not have to carry any nutrition information unless it happens to make a claim such as “high in fibre”. However the shop still needs to warn customers about possible allergens such as soy or nuts. Usually a list of these allergens in the breads is displayed near the counter or you can ask for it. By law, it must be provided.

To find out about nutrition in the bread for sale, start by asking the shop for nutrition information. Large chain hot bread shops generally have nutrition figures prepared as a handout or printed on the outer paper bag. Smaller shops often just have the figures on display.

Despite the apparent variety, most hot bread can be classified into four main categories – white, wholemeal, rye or multigrain. It’s the same standard bread mix turned into rolls, baguettes, twists or high-tops. Cheese rolls or olive breads have more fat; fruit loaves have slightly more sugar. If the shop doesn’t have any nutrition information, use the material here to work out the differences between breads.

Ingredients in bread

The basic ingredients of all breads are flour (which can be white, wholemeal, rye or a mixture), water, yeast and a little salt. Other ingredients include skim milk powder, gluten (wheat protein), a little fat (often listed as vegetable oil on the label), cracked (kibbled) grains, seeds, sugar, malt and mould-inhibitor, generally calcium propionate. Despite the many different types or shapes of bread such as square, high top, stick, focaccia, ciabatta, flatbread and rolls, all bread is similar in nutrition terms and can be classified according to the flour it’s made from.

Best choice of bread

Ideally your everyday bread should be a wholegrain variety, either a smooth wholemeal or a more chewy multigrain. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends eating three to 12 serves of grains and cereals a day (mostly wholegrain), depending on age, gender and physical activity level. This means that most adults should eat between four and eight serves per day – two slices of bread is considered one serve.

Wholegrains explained

Many breads now promote the fact that they are wholegrain or that they contain a percentage of whole grains.  What does this mean?

Wholegrain refers to grain foods that contain three components – the outer bran, the germ and inner endosperm – in the proportions that they are found naturally in the original grain.  You don’t have to see intact kernels of grains – they can be ground to a smooth flour, flaked or cracked into bits.

Typical wholegrain foods include wholemeal and some mixed grain breads, crispbreads, rolled oats, many high fibre breakfast cereals, wholemeal pasta and brown rice. They are closer to nature and less refined than white products. They can contain around twice as many naturally-occurring nutrients compared to a processed product.

When grains are milled to produce white flour or white rice, a major portion of the outer bran and germ layers are removed. With them go most of the important nutrients of the grain such as fibre, vitamins and minerals, as well as protective phytonutrients such as lignans and phytates.

Studies show that eating wholegrains can protect against heart disease, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and assist with weight control.  Wholegrains help you feel fuller for longer and reduce your appetite. Many are low GI*, aid regularity and are good for digestion.

*Low GI – Low Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index is a rating of the effect of the food on blood sugar levels and is not necessarily related to the sugar content or the total carbohydrate. Foods considered to be low GI will raise blood sugar slowly and may satisfy hunger for a longer period. Low GI foods can help people with diabetes control their condition. Carbohydrate occurs naturally in food as starch or sugar and provides energy.
Nutritionists recommend that you eat at least half your grain foods as wholegrains. As a general rule, look for the word ‘wholegrain’ on the label. If it doesn’t say wholegrain, then it probably isn’t.

Which bread is that? Breads explained


If you prefer a soft smooth bread, this is a good choice over white bread, with more fibre, B vitamins for energy release, minerals and antioxidants. You may see these breads labelled as wholegrain, wheatmeal or wholewheat – they all mean the same thing. 100 per cent wholemeal flour contains all the components of the wheat grain but it’s been milled to a fine texture.

Multigrain or mixed grain

There are two different types of multigrain bread:

  • Heavier breads that are darker in colour and dense in texture. These are usually based on wholemeal flour with added whole wheat or rye grains which stand out in the slice and add a chewy texture. These are nutritious choices.
  • Lighter multigrain loaves are based on white flour with only a ‘sprinkle’ of softened cracked (kibbled) grains.  These appeal to kids and are a good compromise between the softness of white bread and the wholesomeness of grains.  They’re a good ‘stepping stone’ to heavier breads.

For both types, the grains slow down the rate of absorption of the carbohydrate making them low GI, which is an advantage for people with diabetes. Check the percentage of wholegrains on the label. Ideally go for one with over 50 per cent wholegrains.

Soy & linseed

These breads are made by adding soy grits or soy flour and linseeds (flaxseeds) to a white or wholemeal bread dough.

Originally promoted to menopausal women for their benefits from the phytoestrogens of soy, the research hasn’t lived up to the early promises. There is no consistent evidence that soy reduces the severity or frequency of menopausal symptoms (like hot flushes) or reduces breast cancer.

Nevertheless these are excellent breads, high in fibre, a source of the plant omega 3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and folate, which is important for pregnant women or women wishing to conceive.  These tend to be higher in fat (eight or nine per cent) and have a moist texture, which keeps well.


Rye is a grain closely related to wheat which is traditional in northern European countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Poland and Russia. It produces a heavier darker bread than wheat so is often mixed with white wheaten flour to produce a light rye bread (usually 30 per cent rye, 70 per cent wheat).  Dark rye breads such as black bread, pumpernickel or schinkenbrot are generally 100 per cent rye. It’s also popular as rye crispbreads.

Rye has a low GI, is high in soluble fibre and contains more antioxidants than wheat. A good choice healthwise and it adds variety to your breads.

Note: it contains gluten so it NOT suitable for gluten-free diets.

Fibre-increased white

These have extra fibre added to boost the fibre content without affecting their colour, taste or texture. The sources of fibre are usually soy hulls or white lupin hulls or Hi-Maize, a unique flour high in resistant starch which acts like fibre in the body.

How do these compare with wholemeal?

White fibre-increased bread is not as nutritious as a wholemeal as it still doesn’t contain all the parts of the original wheat grain so lacks the B vitamins, minerals and phyto-nutrients from the bran and germ. It matches the fibre content of a wholemeal but that’s all. This puts it up above regular white bread. It’s a good compromise for children who refuse to eat wholemeal bread.

Fibre count in two slices of different breads and how they compare to the recommended intake

Bread: 2 slices Fibre count
Soft wholemeal, 60g 3.6g
Mixed grain/multigrain, 88g 5.0g
Rye, 83g 4.4g
White, 60g 1.8g
White fibre-increased, 70g 4.2g
Soy-linseed, 85g 4.5g

Recommended Dietary Intake is 25g a day for women and 30g for men.  So two slices of a wholemeal, multigrain, white high-fibre or soy-linseed bread, gives a woman around 16 per cent of her daily fibre intake or 13 per cent for a man.


White bread is made from white flour and has two vitamins added to it (thiamin and folate). In Australia you can now purchase high fibre white bread, low GI white bread, white bread with omega 3 and white bread with iron. White bread with fibre, vitamins and minerals added to it is a healthier choice for children who refuse to eat wholemeal or multigrain bread.

Flat bread, lavash and mountain bread

These are generally made with white flour, so are low in fibre and should not be your main bread choices. However, they add variety and can be enjoyed every now and then.

White bread with added fibre, calcium or omega-3

These breads appear to have it all – soft smooth square sliced bread with no ‘bits’ yet offering those important extras! Remember however that you’re not getting the benefits of a true wholemeal with all the grain.  You get some fibre and a handful of added vitamins, iron or calcium but none of the other grain antioxidants that keep us healthy. Often the quantity you get from the bread is only a fraction of what you’d find in a food that’s a rich source. Think of these breads as a ‘top-up’ only.

See this comparison:

omega-3 amount
2 slices white bread with omega-3 127mg
Small can salmon, 100g 1200mg
Recommended intake* 90-160mg
(but the Heart Foundation suggests
500mg to prevent heart disease)
calcium  amount
2 slices white bread with calcium 145mg
250ml glass regular milk 285mg
250ml calcium-boosted low-fat milk 400mg
Recommended intake** 1000-1300mg
fibre amount
2 slices white bread with fibre, 70g 4.2g
2 slices dense multigrain bread, 88g 5.0g
Bowl bran breakfast cereal, 45g 13g
Recommended intake* 25-30g

*   for adult women (lower end) and men (upper end of the range)
**  for adult men (lower end) and women (upper end of the range)

Which bread is best?

Here are three top tips on choosing and eating bread:

  • Choose mostly wholegrain breads
  • Enjoy white or flat bread varieties occasionally – they are healthier than most crackers biscuits or snack foods
  • Eat a variety of breads

Bread and carbs

With some 45 per cent starchy carbohydrates, bread is a food high in carbohydrates.  For this reason, it’s often eliminated by anyone who’s trying to lose excess weight especially if they’re on a high-protein low-carb diet plan.

How high is bread in carbohydrate? It’s no higher than other common starchy foods and has less than many ‘junk’ foods. Take a look at this comparison:

Total Carbohydrate content
2 thin slices bread, 60g 28g
2 thick toast slices bread, 80g 38g
1 cup cooked rice, 180g 47g
1 medium potato, 150g 25g
½ cup pasta (spaghetti, macaroni) 18g
small can baked beans, 100g 12g
1 medium banana, 140g 20g
1 Danish pastry, 120g 44g
1 cinnamon doughnut, 70g 28g
50g bag corn chips 32g

Why do you lose weight when you cut out bread? Often it’s because you simultaneously cut out the butter/margarine and the toppings that go with it from peanut butter to jam or honey.

However it’s not wise to eliminate all carbohydrates. Our bodies need a minimum amount to fuel the brain (which relies entirely on glucose for energy) and to balance out the protein and fat. Choose a minimum of 3 serves a day of healthy carbohydrates such as a dense wholegrain bread, rye crispbread, brown rice or a high-fibre cereal.  These have plenty of fibre to fill you up, are low in fat and low GI – all good things that help you stay on your diet.

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Milk – Which One?

milkThese days, the milk section of the supermarket can be quite confusing. There’s so many options to choose from – low fat, skim, extra-fat, milk with omega-3, organic milk, soymilk and milk boosted with extra calcium.  And when you notice that they cost more than regular low-fat or home-brand milk, you start to think twice. Is it worth paying the extra and will it really help your health problem?  Nutritionist Catherine Saxelby compares the different varieties available, so that you’re not left crying over spilt milk.

All about milk

One of our basic foods, cow’s milk is the basis of all dairy products and is a major ingredient in foods like yoghurt, cheese, custard, white sauces and soups. Milk is considered essential during childhood to supply protein, vitamins and bone-building calcium – for the first two years of life, milk is the largest single item of food consumed.

Milk is a complete food, containing all vitamins and minerals. It consists of 88 per cent water with around three per cent protein, four per cent milk fat and five per cent lactose or milk sugar. The protein in milk is high quality, supplying all of the eight essential amino acids required by humans. Milk fat or butterfat is high in saturates with over 60 per cent saturated fat, 33 per cent monounsaturated and less then five per cent polyunsaturated, so low-fat milks are recommended for those on cholesterol-lowering programs.

Milk is rich in calcium and its calcium is better absorbed than from other foods. A 300ml carton of milk (whole or skim) contains some 350 milligrams of calcium, which is one-third of the recommended day’s intake of 1000mg for adults. Without milk (or its calcium-rich products yoghurt and cheese), it is quite difficult to reach this total of 1000mg, and obtaining sufficient calcium in the teenage and early adult years is critical to the prevention of osteoporosis or brittle bones.

As well as calcium, milk is a good source of the minerals phosphorus and potassium. Milk carries B group vitamins, particularly riboflavin (vitamin B2). Full cream milk carries vitamins A and D, which are fat soluble. Milk’s riboflavin is susceptible to sunlight and milk in plastic bottles exposed to direct sunlight may lose up to 50 per cent of the vitamin in two hours. Paperboard cartons significantly reduce the penetration of light but do not block it completely. So don’t leave your milk out in full sun.

How to choose

Now that we know milk is an important part of our diets, the question is which one to choose.

Full cream milk

The original milk with around 3.8 per cent milk fat, this still remains the biggest selling type of milk.  Like all milks, it offers quality protein, calcium, B vitamins as well as the fat-soluble vitamins A and D (in fact, it’s one of the few food sources of vitamin D which we usually get from sunlight on our skin).

If you tend to drink it by the glass (250ml), it ends up contributing a fair amount of saturated fat.  So with our overweight sedentary population, nutritionists now recommend anyone over the age of two consume reduced-fat or low-fat milk types.  But full cream still has a place.

Best for:

  • Hungry teens
  • Growing children who burn up a lot of energy or are underweight
  • If you need to put on weight – say if you have lost weight due to illness or are underweight

Reduced-fat milk (often labelled ‘low-fat’)

Reduced-fat milks (Lite White, Lite Start, Physical, Rev, Trim) contain from one per cent to 1.5 per cent fat which is around one-third of what’s found in full cream milk. Children over the age of two can drink reduced fat milk. Vitamin A and D levels are lower than full cream milk as the natural vitamins are removed when the fat is removed. Some milks may have added vitamin A and D to replace those removed; others have extra protein or calcium added.

Best for:

  • A good general milk for families with older children.
  • Most milks are the same in terms of food value so shop for home-brands.

Low-fat milk

Low-fat milks (Hi-Lo, Physical no fat) have less than one per cent milk fat with some as low as 0.15 per cent.  They are made by combining skim with non-fat milk powder or by ultrafiltration.   They are usually richer in calcium, protein and lactose and have a ‘fuller’ flavour, which most people find more acceptable than skim milk.  Some of these milks can fall into the no-fat category – it’s just how the manufacturer has chosen to label them.

Best for:

  • Anyone who wants to combine the best of low-fat with more calcium.

Skim milk/no-fat

Skim or no-fat milks (Shape, Pura Tone, Skimmer, Skinny Milk) contain less than 0.15% fat so are virtually fat free.  This means they have half the kilojoules and virtually none of the fat or cholesterol of full-cream milk. With the fat, however, go the fat-soluble vitamins A and D, which is why skim milks are not suitable for infants (you’ll see this listed on the label).  However they still carry all the protein and calcium of regular milk.

In days gone by, skim milk had a “watery” taste with less mouthfeel than reduced-fat milks. These days, low-fat milks have a better taste thanks to extra milk solids added or the presence of gums to thicken it.

Best for:

  • Anyone on a strict low-fat diet (e.g. gallbladder problems, liver troubles)
  • Anyone who’s serious about losing weight

High calcium

Calcium-boosted milks (Pura Boost, Hi-Lo, Calcium Plus, Anlene) are the highest in calcium per 100ml or per glass so are an easy way to maximise your intake without having to drink a lot.  Most are low-fat and contain added vitamin D and sometimes phosphorus both of which are needed to build bone. These milks are more expensive than regular milks, so if you’re getting enough calcium in your day, there isn’t any need to spend the extra money.

Best for:

  • Anyone with osteoporosis or bone fractures (or come from a family with a history of it).
  • If you struggle to meet your calcium needs (1000 mg a day) and don’t want to drink a lot of milk, this is the answer.
  • Those on a restricted food intake who can’t get enough calcium (e.g. frail older women, anyone recovering from illness or surgery, if you’ve had chemotherapy and can’t eat much).

Soy milk

Available in full-fat and low-fat versions, soy milk is similar to cow’s milk in nutrients and kilojoules , but it can vary a great deal in its calcium content.  Soy milk can be made in two different ways which may influence your choice at the supermarket:

1. Made from whole beans that are soaked, heated and then crushed to extract the milky juice which is blended with water, sweeteners like malted barley or sugar, vegetable oil and salt. Generally lower in calcium (20-80mg glass) but rich in protein and B vitamins. Regarded as more ‘natural’.

2. Blended from soy protein isolate powder, (which is processed from defatted soy flour and contains around 90 per cent pure protein), together with water, oil, sweeteners like sugar or maltodextrin, gums, emulsifier, vitamins, mineral salts and calcium. Generally fortified with vitamins A, B1, B2, B12 and calcium to a level similar to milk (250-290mg per glass). Better flavour, less ‘beany’ taste.

Best for:

  • Anyone with a special dietary need such as lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose) or milk allergy
  • Those who wish to avoid cow’s milk for health reasons such as vegans and vegetarians


Zymil is the only lactose-free fresh milk available in Australia. It has the same level of protein, fat, calcium and vitamins as regular milk but without the lactose (milk sugar). It is also available in reduced fat and long life versions.

Lactose-free milk starts out as regular milk which is first pasteurised and homogenised. A natural enzyme is then added and the milk is packaged and stored for 4-5 days while the enzyme goes to work breaking down the milk sugar. By the time you buy it, the lactose has been broken down and converted into two simple sugars that are more easily digested. Lactose-free milk can be used in exactly the same way as regular milk for cooking.

Best for:

  • Anyone with a special dietary need such as lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose) including most Asians and Australian Aborigines.

Plant sterol milks

Milks containing added plant sterols (Pura Heart Active, Logicol)  are designed to target heart health. Like the sterol spreads, the plant sterols block the absorption of cholesterol and so reduce your cholesterol levels.

A serve (250ml glass) contains 0.8g of plant sterols. To get the cholesterol lowering benefits of plant sterols, research shows you need to consume 2-3g of plant sterols each day – which is equal to three glasses or 750ml each day (you could also eat a combination of milk plus spread plus yoghurt). These milks cost more. If money is not a problem, then go for the plant sterol containing milks, but if money is an issue, a regular low-fat milk may be a better option.

Best for:

  • Anyone with high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes (where you’re more likely to have heart troubles). Remember you need to drink the milk EVERY DAY (or consume enough of the milk or spread or yoghurt to total three serves). They won’t work if you don’t!

Omega-3 milks

Omega-3 can now be found in some milks like Farmers Best or Logicol in a bid to improve heart health and reduce inflammation-related problems like arthritis. The omega-3 acts to reduce inflammation in the blood vessels, thereby promoting a healthy heart. The inclusion of omega-3 in milk does incur an extra fee, with these milks costing more than regular milks. But if you want to save money on milk and still get heart health benefits, why not try making lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise levels, reducing saturated fat intake and increasing fibre intake instead?

Best for:

  • Anyone with high blood pressure or heart problem (not high cholesterol)
  • Children who won’t eat fish and seafood

Goat’s milk

Goat’s milk is very similar to cow’s milk in nutritional value, except for a significantly lower level of folic acid.  Apart from a slightly higher fat content, it provides approximately the same amounts of protein, calcium, most other B vitamins and lactose.

Around 80 per cent of goat’s milk is consumed by people who believe they are allergic to cow’s milk. The remainder react just as badly to goat’s milk, because its proteins have the same immune cross-reactivity as do those in cow’s milk, so both will trigger a reaction in susceptible people.

Most Australians are unaware that goat’s milk is sold raw (unpasteurised) and may carry potentially dangerous bacteria, even though strict hygiene measures are followed during milking.  It should not be fed to infants under one year of age.

UHT (Longlife) milk

UHT stands for “ultra heat treated”. It is subjected to a much higher temperature during pasteurisation, which inactivates all bacteria and enzymes but does not harm the protein or vitamins.  It is then packed aseptically and, if unopened, keeps for about five months unrefrigerated. Once opened, however, it must be refrigerated. Available as regular, reduced-fat, low-fat and skim milk.

Best for:

  • Same comments as for fresh milks.

Farmers Best

This milk is made by removing almost all the saturated fat from regular milk and replacing it with a little monounsaturated fat so it’s healthier for the heart. It was one of the earliest ‘modified’ milks.

At 1.4 per cent, Farmers Best has a similar fat content to light milks but a lot less saturated fat. Only one-third of the total fat is saturated compared to two-thirds in other milks. It tastes better than skim milk and you get more calcium.

Best for:

  • It’s hard to know who will benefit from this.  If you have high cholesterol, you’re better off with a milk with plant sterols.  If your cholesterol is normal and you just want to cut back on saturated fat but you don’t like the taste of skim milk, then Farmers Best can fit the bill.

Organic/raw milk

Organic milk is produced from cows that are reared in a humane way without antibiotics or hormones administered. They graze on pasture that is free from synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. The milk ideally should be packed in recyclable paper containers and is usually not homogenised (so the cream rises to the surface instead of being dispersed throughout).

To ensure you’re buying the genuine thing, look for a milk that carries a certification logo from one of the organic bodies such as National Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAAA) or Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) or Biodynamic Research Institute (Demeter).

Raw unpasteurised milk is sometimes sold at health food shops and is sought after by alternative health groups for its ‘friendly bacteria’ and enzymes. The benefits of raw milk need to be weighed up against the risk of disease.

In Australia, by law, ALL milk must be pasteurised.  Pastuerisation involves a brief heat treatment which inactivates disease-producing bacteria that could cause TB or Brucellosis. However it may also inactivate some of the bio-active substances in fresh milk that have health benefits and slightly reduce levels of vitamins.

Best for:

  • Those who are concerned about the environment or seek to eat as naturally as possibly or to avoid additives.

Wrapping up

There are a lot of different varieties of milk in our supermarkets, and they all vary in cost. In terms of value for money, nothing beats the standard regular or reduced-fat milk. They both provide your family with bone-building calcium and phosphorus, protein, carbohydrate and riboflavin, and they’re low in saturated fat. If you have a particular condition such as osteoporosis or heart disease, the specialised milks are more concentrated in calcium and/or vitamin D or carry sterols or omega-3s and may be more beneficial for you.


Brief nutrition information per 100ml of milk (half a glass)

All figures approximate


Kilojoules Fat (g) Calcium (mg)
Full cream milk (regular) 265 3.5-4.0 118
Reduced fat milk 212 1.4 134
Skim milk 148 0.1 120
High calcium milk 241 1.4 200
Soy milk (regular) * 270 3.4 120
Soy lite  * 170 0.9 120
Lactose free milk 196 1.5 125
Plant sterol milks  174  1.0  123

*  Check the label – these soy milks are fortified with added calcium which is not absorbed as well as the calcium from cow’s milk.

Extended nutrition information for 100ml of milk (half a glass)

 Milk Energy (kJ) Protein (g) Fat (g) Sat Fat (g) Carbs (g) Sugars (g) Sodium (g) Calcium (mg) Extras
Coles Whole Milk 265 3.2 3.4 2.2 4.9 4.9 44 118 Vitamin A – 48ug
Riboflavin – 200mg
Coles Low Fat Milk 193 3.3 1.4 0.9 5.0 5.0 43 124
A2 Full Cream Milk 271 3.1 3.6 2.8 5.0 5.0 48 117 With Beta-casein (not less than 1.0g)
A2 Light Milk 189 3.1 1.3 0.9 5.2 5.2 69 120 With Beta-casein (not less than 1.0g)
Farmers Best with omega-3 229 4.3 1.4 0.4 6.2 6.0 62 145 With omega-3
Anlene – more than just calcium 230 3.8 1.4 0.9 6.8 6.6 59 200 Magnesium – 32mg
Zinc 1.2 mg
Vitamin D – 2.0mg
Pure Organic – unhomogenised 288 3.2 4.1 2.7 4.8 4.8 58 123
Parmalat Pure Organic 99% Fat Free 182 3.4 1.0 0.7 5.1 5.1 58 126
Pura Gold Extra Creamy 314 3.2 4.8 3.1 4.8 4.8 44 115
Pura Light Start 204 4.0 1.0 0.5 5.8 5.8 140 50
Pura Boost – Ultra High Calcium 241 4.5 1.4 0.9 6.7 6.7 50 200 Folate – 40mg
Vitamin D – 0.5ug
Phosphorus – 148mg
Pura Skim 148 3.3 0.1 0.06 5.2 5.2 43 120
Tone Pura 163 4.0 0.1 0.06 5.4 5.4 50 140
Light White 212 3.9 1.4 0.9 5.5 5.5 57 134 Riboflavin 192mg
Pura Kids Omega-3 DHA 265 3.2 3.4 2.2 4.9 4.9 44 118 Omega-3 – 12mg
DHA – 11.7mg
EPA – 0.3mg
Pura Heart Active 174 3.3 1.0 0.5 4.8 4.8 53 123 Plant sterols – 0.32mg
Zymil Lactose Free 271 3.3 3.6 2.4 4.7 4.7 58 123
Goat’s Milk 258 3.2 3.8 2.5 3.7 3.7 68 113
Buttermilk 209 3.6 1.8 1.1 4.2 4.2 52 123 Riboflavin 177mg
Soy Milk 270 3.4 3.4 0.4 5.0 2.0 55 120
Soy Lite 170 3.4 0.9 0.1 4.7 1.9 45 120


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Ideal diet

The ideal diet is high in fibre, vegetables, fish protein, unprocessed cereals and grains, and mono-unsaturated fat, not saturated (animal) fat.

‘Colourful’ fruit and vegetables are the most nutritious in terms of vitamins and minerals. High fibre diets protect against high cholesterol and heart disease, colon cancer and possibly other cancers.

Fish contains omega – 3 fatty acids which can reduce blood fats and blood clotting, and fish bones (sardines and tinned salmon) are a rich source of calcium.

What are phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens are compounds that occur naturally in plants (phyto) and under certain circumstances can have actions like the female hormone oestrogen. When eaten, they bind to oestrogen receptors and may act in a similar way to oestrogen. However, phytoestrogens are much weaker than human oestrogen, so their effects are different from those of hormones found in Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).

Eating a phytoestrogen-rich diet has been linked to reduced rates of heart disease and some cancers. However, populations who have a high phytoestrogen intake also consume predominantly fruit and vegetables and only a little animal fat. Hence it is not yet known whether the lower disease rate in these communities is due to the overall healthy diet and lifestyle, or is linked to the specific effects of phytoestrogens.

It is essential to make the distinction between nutrients consumed in food and nutrients in supplements taken as powders or pills. We need to understand that the latter are not “natural” therapy, but rather pharmacotherapy, which can have adverse effects and should be evaluated with the same rigor as conventional pharmaceuticals. Phytoestrogens in tablet form fall into this category, and taking phytoestrogen supplements as isolated soy protein concentrates, or in tablet form, can not be justified at this stage.

Furthermore, there is conflicting evidence as to whether phytoestrogen supplements are more effective than placebo for relieving menopausal symptoms. Of specific concern is the use of phytoestrogen supplements in women who have had breast cancer, and potential interference with the therapeutic effects of tamoxifen. Soy supplements are therefore not recommended for women with breast cancer or a history of breast cancer. (See Phytoestrogens and breast cancer below)

Phytoestrogens are classified according to their chemical structure. The two groups which have been most researched are the isoflavones, such as soy and the lignans which occur in linseed, grains and vegetables.

There is also some promising but less convincing data that phytoestrogens may improve cognition.
The effect on the heart and other organs however appears may be related to the healthy vegetable proteins in whole foods and not to the phytoestrogens per se.

Phytoestrogens and heart disease

Consuming a diet high in soy may lower total and LDL cholesterol in men and women. Animal studies also indicate components of soy protein may have beneficial effects on blood vessel function. The observed benefits are greater for natural soy protein (tofu or soy flour) than for the extracted phytoestrogens alone.


There is some evidence to suggest that phytoestrogens may protect against cancer of the breast and uterus. The anti-cancer effects may be because phytoestrogens compete with the oestrogen made by our bodies. Phytoestrogens also have anti-cancer effects unrelated to their oestrogenic actions, which appear to be important. Additionally, soy isoflavones can act as antioxidants, which may contribute to their anti-cancer properties.

Phytoestrogens and Breast Cancer

There has been much speculation about phytoestrogens and particularly soy products, and breast cancer risk. This is mainly based on the idea that because these foods contain oestrogen-like compounds, they can stimulate breast tissue like our own body’s oestrogen or prescribed oestrogen might. It is important to remember that the plant oestrogens found in these foods are much weaker than the oestrogen we have in our body.

In 2006 a study was published which examined all the research on phytoestrogens and breast cancer between 1978 and 2004. (Trock, BJ et al 2006. ‘Meta-Analysis of Soy Intake and Breast Cancer Risk’ J of the National Cancer Institute 98 (7), pp 459-471). There were a number of important findings to come out of this analysis. Firstly, it was shown that there is a small reduction in the risk of breast cancer associated with phytoestrogen consumption. The risk of breast cancer was reduced more in premenopausal women who consumed soy compared to postmenopausal women. It has also been shown that a diet high in phytoestrogen in early life (before puberty) may be important for the anti-cancer effects of phytoestrogens in later life.

Secondly, there is conflicting in vivo (real life) and in vitro (test tube) data on the individual isoflavones found in soy, depending on the dose. Sometimes there was a stimulation of human breast cells in the research, and other times there was a prevention of stimulation.

It is important to consider that drawing conclusions from test tube studies of isolated compounds found in foods in no way represents what occurs in the body when a food is eaten. Whole foods contain differing amounts of complex compounds that can behave differently when they are consumed as a food, versus what happens to an isolated compound in a test tube. It is generally agreed that while test tube evaluation of compounds provides important information, there are more suitable methods of assessing safety when evaluating food products.

Thirdly, and most importantly, it is suggested that highly processed soy supplements such as soy protein isolate, isoflavone-rich soy extracts or isoflavone capsules act differently to foods made from soybeans or soy flour. The authors of this review concluded that it is not recommended for women at high risk of breast cancer or breast cancer survivors to take these highly processed soy supplements, such as soy protein isolate, isoflavone-rich soy extracts or isoflavone capsules. There is no evidence to suggest that eating a diet of soy foods in amounts consistent with Asian diet is detrimental to breast health. This finding was again confirmed in a review published in 2008 in Nutrition Journal, stating that there is no evidence that isoflavone intake increases breast cell proliferation (growth) in pre- or postmenopausal with or without a history of breast cancer and that eating phytoestrogens at levels consistent with historical Asian soy food does not result in adverse stimulatory effects on breast tissue.

In summary, it is probably healthy to eat a diet with whole soy foods such as tofu, soy beans, and breads made from soy flour, but to avoid the highly processed soy based supplements as they work differently to the way soy exists in nature.

Phytoestrogens and women’s health

When phytoestrogens act as oestrogens they are much weaker than the oestrogen produced in humans. The outcome of studies examining the effects of soy foods in alleviating hot flushes have varied. Mostly, soy foods have not shown to reduce the frequency of hot flushes in randomized clinical trials. Some studies of soy isoflavone supplements have been shown to reduce hot flush frequency. In general, the reductions are very mild compared to placebo and the effects appear to be equal to that of a ‘dummy’ or placebo formulation.

25 grams (equal to two heaped dessertspoons) of linseeds or flaxseeds daily has been shown to reduce vaginal dryness. These can be sprinkled on breakfast cereals or added to smoothies. Linseeds are also a good source of the oils we cannot make in our body (essential fatty acids). When seeds are ground, these good oils are lost over time (oxidised), so that two weeks after grinding the oils are completely destroyed. To avoid the loss of these good oils, freshly grind the amount of seeds that would be eaten within two weeks (in a food processor, with the nut grinding attachment of a blender or in an electric coffee grinder) and store in the fridge in an airtight container.

General recommendations

Multiple lifestyle factors, including the food we eat, are related to good health and protect against disease. Improving diet at any stage of life will result in health benefits. As well as their estrogenic action, phytoestrogen food sources also offer other nutritional benefits including protein, fibre, and vitamins and minerals.

Food sources

Legumes (particularly soybeans), whole grain cereals, and seeds, are high in phytoestrogens. Consumption of dietary isoflavones is higher in Japan, China and some other Asian countries and considerably lower in Western countries. Traditional Asian foods made from soybeans include tofu, tempeh, miso and edamame (fresh soybeans harvested and eaten in their green phase). Research into the phytoestrogen content of Australian food is continuing.

The content varies in different foods, with some foods exerting a stronger effect than others. Sometimes, the content varies within the same group of foods, for example soy beverages depending on processing and type of soy bean used.

Foods containing Phytoestrogens

soy beans

dried beans





soy beverages



mung beans

sesame seeds





wheat germ


rice bran


soy linseed bread

There are a variety of soy products now readily available. Look for soy milk that contains whole soy beans, rather than soy isolates/ soy protein isolates and choose calcium enriched soy milk for your bone health.

How much each day?

grainsSoy foods are not a regular part of the Australian diet. We need to make changes to the way we eat to get the benefits of these foods. Try including at least one serve of these foods daily:

  • 2-4 slices soy and linseed bread, or multi-grain (for lignans)
  • 1-2 cups soy milk (low fat, calcium enriched)
  • 150 grams tofu
  • 30-40g linseed
  • 1 cup soy beans or other legumes

Try to have a wide variety of plant foods every day, including some of the above.

How to include these foods in your diet

  • Replace some meat meals with cooked dried beans
  • Add linseed to breakfast cereal
  • Make a fruit smoothie with soy milk or half cow’s milk, half soy
  • Add firm tofu to stir fries
  • Make your own muesli with rolled oats, wheatgerm, linseed, sesame seeds, dried fruit and nuts.
  • Eat bread made with soy flour


  • Phytoestrogens are plant derived compounds with oestrogenic activity
  • Phytoestrogen containing food such as soy foods, wholegrains and seeds are healthy food choices containing healthy vegetable protein, fibre and nutrients, and may be included in the diet as part of healthy eating
  • Phytoestrogens bind to oestrogen receptors in the human body, mimicking the effects of oestrogen in some tissues and antagonizing (ie act as an anti-oestrogen) the effects of oestrogen in others
  • Phytoestrogens’ oestrogenic activity is much weaker than human oestrogen and their effects are different from those of hormones found in Hormone Replacement Therapy, (HRT)
  • Phytoestrogens are found in legumes, particularly in soy beans and soy products, and are also found in wholegrains and seeds, including linseeds
  • There is considerable variation between individuals as to how phytoestrogens are metabolized with variable absorption between different women
  • Soy-containing vegetable proteins and phytoestrogens may reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol in men and women
  • Phytoestrogens may have a possible role in osteoporosis prevention and improved cognition but more research is needed.
  • Overall, there is little evidence that phytoestrogens improve menopausal hot flushes.
  • Phytoestrogens consumed in whole food in amounts consistent with an Asian diet do not appear detrimental to breast health.
  • It is not recommended for women at high risk for breast cancer or breast cancer survivors to take highly processed soy supplements, such as soy protein isolate, isoflavone-rich soy extracts or isoflavone capsules

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Nutritional Supplements

Dietary recommendations

breadFor women aged 40 and over dietary recommendations include general food guidelines, such as The Australian guide to healthy eating, and specific nutrient recommendations, as outlined in the Recommended dietary intakes for use in Australia. Recent advances in nutritional science and research have prompted review of recommended dietary intakes (RDIs), and this may result in future recommendations for novel food components such as phytoestrogens and antioxidants.

Currently, RDIs for adult women are divided into two age groups 19-54 years and over 54 years.

RDIs for women over 54 years more closely reflect the needs of women aged 40 and over, particularly menopausal women.

Suggested food servings to achieve a healthy diet for women*

Serves per day†
Sample serving size
Further suggestions
Breads, cereal, rice, pasta, noodles


2 slices bread, 1 bread roll, 1 cup rice Try rye breads, fruit breads, multigrain breads, pasta, noodles. Encourage wholegrain choices


1/2 cup cooked vegetables, 1 cup salad vegetables, 1 small potato Include a wide variety of colourful vegetables


1 medium piece of fruit, 2 smaller pieces of fruit, 1 cup diced or canned fruit
Milk, yoghurt, cheese


1 cup milk, 200g yoghurt, 1 cup soy milk (calcium fortified) Choose low fat varieties. Include some fermented products
Meat, fish, eggs, nuts, legumes


65-100g lean meat, or 80-120g cooked fish (1 small fillet), or 1/2 cup dried beans or lentils, 1/3 cup peanuts or almonds, 1/4 cup seeds (eg, sesame seeds) Include fish 1-2 serves per week (1 medium fillet), includes tinned fish, sardines, tuna
Extra foods‡


Plain biscuits, cake, alcohol, chocolate, crisps, pastries, oils and fats Additional foods can be included if energy requirements are high. Obtain oils through foods such as olives, raw nuts, seeds, grains and legumes, olive and canola oils and seed oils. Watch for fat content of processed foods

*Adapted from The Australian guide to healthy eating.1

†The wide variation in serves is because of individual variation in activity.

‡In addition to the 1-2 serves of extra foods, the guide also recommends modest consumption of margarine on foods like bread and toast and modest amounts of margarine or oil in food preparation.

Zinc and Calcium

The National Nutrition Survey (NNS) showed that mean intakes of zinc and calcium in women aged 45-64 years were below RDIs. Their mean fibre intake of 21g per day was also below the suggested daily intake (30g). Lower intakes of calcium, zinc and fibre in these women correlate with a low intake of breakfast cereals, milk, yoghurt, cheese, fruit, vegetables, fish and seafood, which are good sources of these nutrients.

Mean intake of breakfast cereals was 12.2g per day, much less than a standard serve of 30-45g. Mean daily intakes of fruit of 1.1 serves and vegetables of 3.4 serves were below recommended intakes of two serves of fruit and five of vegetables daily.6 Mean intakes of calcium-rich foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese were all less than a standard serve per day, which might explain why this group’s calcium intake fell short of the RDI, achieved by eating a minimum of 3-4 serves of dairy foods daily. Intake of fish was low (only 12g per day) compared with the National Heart Foundation’s recommendation of at least two fish meals per week (standard serve of 80-120g).

Dietary factors and breast cancer risk have been extensively researched. Women with greater dietary intakes of vitamins A, C and E, and fibre, have a reduced risk of breast cancer.9,10 Large intakes of the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, taken as supplements, do not appear to protect against breast cancer in women whose dietary requirements of these vitamins are met. Further, vitamin A supplements have been associated with a reduction in breast cancer risk among women who have very low vitamin A intake from food, but not for women with an adequate dietary intake.11 Dietary fibre interferes with the enterohepatic circulation of oestrogen metabolites in bile, so that reabsorption and hence recycling of endogenous oestrogen is reduced.12 However, the inverse relationship between vegetable intake and breast cancer risk is not explained by any single dietary factor. The multiple nutrients in vegetables may have a synergistic effect on breast cancer risk, or other, unidentified components may influence risk.13

Alcohol consumption is associated with a linear increase in breast cancer incidence, and it has been proposed that a reduction in alcohol consumption by women who consume alcohol regularly may reduce breast cancer risk.13

Given the high prevalence in Australia of overweight and obesity in women aged 40 and over, and the lower than recommended intake of some important foods and nutrients, women in this age group should be encouraged to follow The Australian guide to healthy eating. Specifically, more emphasis needs to be placed on a diet low in saturated fat, with more breads, cereals, fruits and vegetables, and more calcium-rich foods, as well as maintaining a healthy body weight by balancing food intake and regular physical activity.


Many Australian women over 40 years consume insufficient zinc, calcium and fibre. Greater consumption of foods rich in vitamins A, C and E and fibre is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. Concentrated supplements of A, C and E have no effect on breast cancer risk when dietary intake is adequate, but vitamin A supplementation in women whose dietary intake of vitamin A is inadequate appears to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Alcohol consumption by women has been associated with a linear increase in breast cancer risk.

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Dietary Guidelines

saladThe Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults recommend four simple points to healthy eating.

  • Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods by eating plenty of vegetables, legumes, fruit and wholegrain cereals.
    It is important to also include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives.
    Reduced fat dairy products are preferred and water is the best fluid option.
  • Take care to limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake, choose foods low in salt and limit alcohol if you choose to drink.
    Only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars are recommended.
  • Prevent weight gain by being physically active and eating according to your energy needs.
  • Care for your food through preparing and storing it safely.

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Poor eating has a direct impact on our health and can stop us from functioning at our best. If you’re not eating well, it will have a direct and important effect on your ability to fight disease, heal from injuries, produce new blood cells and products, it affect the skin hair and eyes, your thinking and memory, protection from disease and general feeling of energy, mood and wellbeing.

A poor diet is one where intake of one or more of the important food groups is inadequate or missing. Not eating enough fruit and vegetables, having a high fat diet by regular take-away meals or frequent eating out, avoiding breads and cereals particularly wholegrain cereals, eating a vegetarian diet where the protein foods are not replaced adequately are all examples of poor diet. You don’t have to be overweight to have a poor diet in fact many people of healthy weight eat poorly and are at greater risk of long term ill health.

Some health problems linked with poor diet

  • type 2 diabetes
  • gall bladder disease
  • high blood cholesterol and triglycerides
  • high blood pressure
  • osteoarthritis
  • some cancers
  • impaired fertility
  • lower back pain.

If you’re serious about improving your lifestyle, now is the time to improve what and how much you eat. Healthy eating helps you keep up your energy, gives you a stronger immune system, improves your state of mind, decreases your risk of disease and, helps you lose weight, which in turn will help lower your blood pressure, blood fats such as cholesterol and triglyceride and reduce your type 2 diabetes risk.

Healthy Eating

 Perhaps the most important factors in approaching any eating plan are about being able to follow the diet basics. More…

Dietary Guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults recommend four simple points to healthy eating. Find out…


The ideal diet is high in fibre, vegetables, fish protein, unprocessed cereals and grains, and mono-unsaturated fat, not saturated (animal) fat. Where do phytoestrogens fit in? Find out…

Milk – which one’s right for you?

These days, the milk section of the supermarket can be quite confusing. There’s so many options to choose from – low fat, skim, extra-fat, milk with omega-3, organic milk, soymilk and milk boosted with extra calcium. More…

Bread – what’s best for my health?

Wholemeal, rye, multigrain, high-fibre, gluten-free, sourdough, soy and linseed – there are lots of interesting breads to choose from these days. Bread is one of our oldest foods and even today is still considered a staple. More…

Menus for Healthy Eating

Menus with nutrition analysis suitable for women over 35 years, that are high in calcium, low in saturated fat and salt, moderate in sugar and high in fibre. Learn more…

Nutrition FAQs

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Nutrition Labelling: What Does it Mean?

A food label will tell you a lot of information if you know what you are looking for. Here we will try to explain labels, what they mean, how to choose the best products for your health and how to compare products. More…

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Healthy Eating

How are you feeding your body and how is it affecting your health?

Poor eating has a direct impact on our physical health, weight, mental health and energy and in fact, impacts on every single part of your body.

The facts

On average Australian women are gaining six to seven kilograms every decade. It is easier to put in place measures to prevent weight gain than to lose weight already gained, so if you notice a small progressive weight gain of one or two kilograms per year, it may be helpful to make some simple lifestyle changes to prevent becoming overweight.

Some of the health problems related to poor diet / weight gain include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Gall bladder disease
  • High blood cholesterol and triglycerides
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Some cancers
  • Impaired fertility
  • Lower back pain
  • Heart disease

Long-term lifestyle change is the most effective approach to keeping your health and weight at its best. This means taking care everyday to make some small changes to you diet and physical activity.

How do I start a healthy eating plan?

1. First ASSESS your current diet and weight. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I gaining weight, or have I maintained a healthy weight for the past six months?
  • What are the three most important changes I can make right now to the way I eat? Think about the things you do daily. Should you reduce your alcohol intake, have more low-fat dairy foods, or eat more fruit and vegetables? More ideas are listed below.
  • Can I maintain these changes for a week, a month or a year? Whilst it is good to make changes even for a little while (e.g. a month with no take-away food), the changes you make for a year will be more important. Try some changes for a week or two then re-assess how you are going with them.
  • How will those changes affect the people around me? Sometimes you may have good intentions but the rest of the family don’t share your enthusiasm for extensive changes to their usual meals. Introduce new foods, cooking styles or ideas gradually without too much fuss and you may be surprised how they all enjoy the variety.

2. Next plan and ACT
Try some new foods and recipes, set some small goals. Write out a plan, put it up on view, e.g. put a note on your fridge such as ‘My goal for this week is to eat fresh fruit every day’.

3. Finally REVIEW what you did and alter your plan
Did it work? What should you change? How could you improve your healthy eating plan or make it easier for yourself? Review your plan and write out your new goal for the week

Healthy eating tips

Foods to eat plenty of:

  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit – two to three pieces of fresh fruit and five to seven serves of fresh vegetables each day. These will provide fibre, vitamins, minerals and important antioxidants.
  • Drink plenty of water – six to eight glasses per day.
  • Eat plenty of fish – one to three serves per week. These will provide the important omega-3 fatty acids, which are powerful protectors of the heart and blood vessels. Seek your health practitioner’s advice regarding fish if you are pregnant.
  • Have plenty of calcium – three serves of low-fat dairy foods or substitutes (e.g. calcium fortified soy milks, or if you are unable to consume these products talk to your doctor about bone strength).
  • Include wholegrain foods daily such as wholemeal breads and oat cereals.

Foods to eat small amounts or limit:

  • Limit butter, and animal fat intake. Choose oils wisely e.g. include olive, canola, sunflower or safflower oils.
  • Small amounts of alcohol (no more than one to two glasses per day).
  • Take away or pre-prepared convenience foods such as frozen pies and desserts should be eaten only occasionally.
  • Limit snack foods such as potato crisps, corn chips, biscuits, cakes. Make them occasional treats not everyday foods.

Is there an important meal for the day?

Skipping meals is one of the biggest mistakes women make, particularly if you are trying to manage your weight. Regular meals will maintain your energy and provide the nutrients you need each day, so you will feel more like being active, and less likely to snack. Breakfast is important for improving mood and memory, boosting your metabolism and for weight control. A cereal containing oats, such as porridge, muesli or other wholegrain, high-fibre cereal is ideal with low-fat milk, fruit and wholegrain toast will provide a substantial amount or your requirements of calcium, fibre, B vitamins, zinc and many other nutrients. Those that are labelled low GI will give a slow release of energy and keep you satisfied longer. You may find you snack less which will help your weight.

Is following some of the current fad diets unhealthy?

It’s tempting to look at some of the strict diets that promise quick weight loss. These fad diets are difficult to follow and provide short-term results. Frequent use of these diets with weight gain between  use can cause dehydration, lack of adequate vitamins and minerals, weakness, fatigue, nausea, headaches and constipation. Carbohydrate foods, particularly the carbohydrates from wholegrain wheat, oats, rye, rice, fruit and vegetables, provide important nutrients and fibre, are important to your health and energy and should not be eliminated from your diet. You may however reduce the carbohydrates from sugar, found in biscuits and confectionery without harm.

What about alcohol?

Alcohol is high in kilojoules and, despite small amounts having some benefit, it can have risks if used in excess. One or two standard drinks per day are considered low risk for women. A standard drink is 100mL of wine, 30mL of spirits or 285mL of full-strength beer.

What else will keep my health on track?

If you are physically active, manage stress and avoid smoking and excess alcohol, you’ll feel even better – a great recipe for getting the most out of life.

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