Stop the junk: why Australia scored a ‘C’ for diet

A well balanced diet is essential to good health.

A well-balanced diet is essential to good health.

The results are in: Australia, you’re just not cutting it.

So say the findings of our Healthy Diet Score Survey, a scientifically validated survey that assessed people’s diet quality against the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Over 40,000 people participated in the survey, which evaluated a person’s diet based on variety, frequency and quantity of the essential food groups, as well as individual attributes such as age and gender.

The average score? Only 61/100.

Our consumption of the dreaded ‘discretionary snacks’ – aka junk food – was most to blame, with Aussies on average consuming three times the recommended amount.

According to Professor Manny Noakes, our Research Director for Nutrition and Health and the co-author of the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet Online, the results were concerning.

“The scores were fairly unflattering across all respondents. If we were handing out report cards for diet quality, then Australia would only get a C.”

“While many people scored highly in categories such as water intake and the variety of foods consumed, there is certainly lots of room for improvement in other areas,” said Manny.

There were other positives, including the Coffs Harbour and Grafton region being named as home to Australia’s healthiest eaters (it must be all of those big bananas?).

Overall it was a disappointing outcome – and we can confirm our media team are no dietary angels – but we’re not here to lecture you in words.

We have an infographic for that instead:


Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re all moving to Coffs.

Haven’t taken the survey yet? Put that Freddo Frog down and give it a whirl.

We’re kneading our way to bread that lowers cholesterol

That's how we (bread) roll: a cholesterol absorbing bread could have incredible health benefits for the community

That’s how we (bread) roll: a cholesterol absorbing bread could have incredible health benefits for the community

If we were to tell you that you could lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease – by eating bread, would you be up for it?

It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But maybe it isn’t. We’re trying to make it possible using gene technology and plant breeding techniques to develop new superior wheat varieties.

Why is cholesterol such an issue? Cholesterol is an essential type of fat that is carried in the blood. It’s vital to healthy cell function and hormone regulation, among other things, but too much of it in our bloodstream can be a bad thing – damaging our arteries and leading to heart disease. In fact, the World Health Organisation has estimated that raised cholesterol is estimated to cause 2.6 million deaths annually.

It’s no wonder our scientists have been researching foods to help lower the prevalence of cholesterol related illnesses in the community. And it looks like we’re on to something.

We know that barley and oat grains contain high levels of a soluble fibre called betaglucan (1-3 ,1-4 betaglucan), which can reduce cholesterol reabsorption in the gut. This leads to healthier blood cholesterol levels, lowering the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, wheat (which is one of the most commonly consumed grains in the world) has low levels of betaglucan and it has a slightly different structure to the oat and barley betaglucan, which makes it insoluble.

Betaglucan is made by an enzyme that sits in the membrane at the surface of the plant cell. This enzyme links activated glucose sugars from within the cell and pushes the growing betaglucan polymer chain through a pore in the membrane into the cell wall surrounding the cell.

Betaglucan is made by an enzyme that sits in the membrane at the surface of the plant cell. This enzyme links activated glucose sugars from within the cell and pushes the growing betaglucan polymer chain through a pore in the membrane into the cell wall surrounding the cell. Click on the image for an animated version of the diagram, by Lisa Jobling.

So at the moment, it’s not possible to get cholesterol-lowering benefits from breads unless they have added barley or oat flour. This affects the taste and texture of the bread, which is why people generally prefer bread that’s made wholly from wheat flour. What we want is a bread that maximises the health benefits without sacrificing the flavour and texture that consumers want.

We now know why betaglucan in barley and oats is soluble but in wheat it’s not – and it’s to do with tiny differences between the enzymes that work in barley and oats compared with the one working in wheat to create the betaglucan. In ground breaking research just published, we’ve discovered that just one amino acid (the building blocks of enzymes) difference in the enzyme that forms betaglucan can change the structure and make it more soluble. By changing that one amino acid in the wheat enzyme we should be able to make wheat with more soluble betaglucan and cholesterol lowering properties.

In a proof of principle experiment, we used gene technology to take the gene that makes betaglucan in oats and expressed it in wheat grain. This showed we can simultaneously increase the amount of betaglucan and change its structure making it as soluble as barley betaglucan. We did this in trials using genetically modified plants, a great tool to gain knowledge. We’re using them as a small-scale means to test what’s possible and understand exactly what we need to look for when we get to the next stage which doesn’t involve genetic modification.

The trial wheat plants were grown in a controlled field trial (approved by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator) to get enough grain to evaluate the suitability for bread-making and potential health benefits such as lowering the level of cholesterol reabsorption. If this is successful, we plan to use conventional breeding techniques to develop a wheat for public consumption. This is more difficult and will take a while longer but we think it’s possible.

Our field of dreams

The controlled wheat trial: This is where we are testing how the modified wheat grows

If you’d like to know more about this research and the technical bits check out our webpage or be daring and go straight to the research on Science Advances.

The Showdown: Total Wellbeing and the 5:2 Diet

Studies have shown intermittent fasting can fend off illnesses including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders and may improve insulin sensitivity - but there is still a lot more to learn.

Some studies have shown intermittent fasting can fend off illnesses including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders and may improve insulin sensitivity – but there is still a lot more to learn.

This blog was originally published on the Total Wellbeing Diet website. 

Fans of intermittent fasting programs – think the 5:2 diet – often find they have success with weight loss, so today we are taking a look at the pros and cons of this kind of diet.

While fasting technically refers to not consuming any food or liquid at all, intermittent ‘fasting’ diets, like the 5:2 diet, do involve very minimal calorific intake on the fasting days – we’re talking around 2000 kilojoules all day, compared to the daily recommended intake of around 10,000 for men and 8,700 for women.  These diets run on the premise that you fast for 2 days of the week and consume as many kilojoules as you like on the non-fasting days.

While 5:2 is the most popular configuration, others find they have more success following a 4:3 or 6:1 ratio of non-fasting to fasting days.

The surprising news is, studies are suggesting these diets are successful in achieving weight loss. Even more surprising, Dr Manny Noakes, Research Director of our Food and Nutrition Flagship, says research is revealing people don’t eat more than they usually would on the non-fasting days – which was what many experts expected to see.

The research is still limited, but Dr Noakes says animal studies have been optimistic. Some of these animal studies have shown intermittent fasting can fend off illnesses including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders and may improve insulin sensitivity.

Dr Noakes says she herself would not discourage someone following such a diet that was seeing success, though she cautions there is still a lot to learn before it gets the seal of approval.

“If people who are overweight have struggled to lose weight following other diets, and they find this works for them, then that is great. Weight loss, particularly belly fat, has many health benefits – visceral fat is involved in disrupting blood-sugar regulation and is associated with high cholesterol levels. It’s also a risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.”

On the flipside, Dr Noakes says what we don’t yet know about intermittent fasting is what these diets mean for long term health.

If the person is simply losing weight because they are effectively cutting a lot of kilojoules from their weekly intake, but they are still eating poorly, then I’d have to argue they still need to address their eating habits for longer term health gain.

She says while restricting your kilojoule intake is a guaranteed way to lose weight, cutting back indiscriminately can lead to an unbalanced, unhealthy diet, and recommends a more balanced approach. “It’s important not to cut key food groups including dairy, grains and cereals – you’ll be missing out on some important nutrients essential for good health.”

To summarise the pros and cons:


  • Loss of body fat/ weight for overweight people is of health benefit in general.
  • Early research shows contrary to what scientists expected to see, people do not consume more kilojoules on the non-fasting days.
  • Intermittent fasting diets seem to be as effective as calorie restricted diets for weight loss.
  • There is early research to suggest it is effective in curbing cravings.
  • It provides an easier weight loss plan than standard kilojoule restricting diets – there is no weighing or ‘forbidden’ foods to worry about – on the fasting day, the limited calories will be accounted for very quickly and there are no restrictions on non-fasting days.


  • Fasting diets don’t change the way you eat – there is no evidence at this stage that suggests people eat healthier food than they did prior to starting the diet. While maintaining a healthy body weight is important for good health; a nutritious diet offers important vitamin and minerals.
  • There is limited research on the long term effectiveness – or any long term health issues related to intermittent fasting.
  • This lack of research means we don’t know who the diet works for and who it might not – for example, what medications or illnesses it may interact badly with.
  • Unlike diets that make healthy lifestyle changes – like the Total Wellbeing Diet – fasting diets do not provide advice on how to eat for optimal health, in a way that is sustainable in the long run.

Find out more about how we’re helping transform Australia with our innovative food and health science. 

Science with heart: 5 ways we’re helping medical research in Australia (and the world)

The CardioCel patch.

The CardioCel patch.

Australian company Admedus has been making headlines recently for its innovative medical material, CardioCel. The tiny, flexible patch, made using part of a cow’s heart, is being used to treat potentially devastating birth defects like congenital heart disease – and it’s taking the international medical community by storm.

What’s more, we’re proud as punch to say that we were integrally involved in its success.

Our researchers worked with Admedus to assess the suitability of CardioCel for use in stem cell therapy in heart failure patients by comparing it with another commonly-used product. We found that CardioCel was well suited to cardiovascular cell therapy, and that it could have potentially groundbreaking applications in other areas of stem cell delivery too.

It’s since been implanted in more than 1200 patients across Australia, Europe, North America and Asia.

This is just one of many medical success stories we’ve been a part of. So, just because we like the number five, here’s five more:

3D printed titanium heel bones? Why not

When a Victorian man was facing amputation of his leg due to bone cancer in his heel bone, his doctor turned to us for help. Professor Peter Choong, from Melbourne’s St Vincent Hospital, knew about our work in titanium 3D printing and wondered if we could print a workable heel bone transplant, thus removing the need for amputation. We helped turn his vision – a metallic implant which could support a human body’s weight – into a world first-reality.

Putting blood tests on the spot

We’re working with Universal Biosensors to trial on-the-spot testing and results for a range of crucial blood tests. The immediacy of results means that patients avoid the dreadful stress that comes with waiting, as well as receiving treatment faster.  By broadening the application of point-of-care testing, we will see time and cost savings for already-stretched healthcare providers. Not bad for a little prick.

Supercomputers for (sort of) super hearts

Using the same technology that drives state-of-the-art video games, we created a ‘virtual heart’ simulation that the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute are using to better diagnose and treat heart rhythm disease. Who said nothing good ever came from gaming?

Winning the waiting game in our hospitals
Our Demand Prediction Analysis Tool can predict bed demand in hospital emergency rooms by the hour, day and week, greatly easing the pressure on their emergency wards. A similar technology has already been rolled out in more than 30 hospitals in Queensland (hello, Schoolies!) and is currently being trialled in Victoria.

Know your enemy
Collectively, Alzheimer’s and Type 2 diabetes impact the lives of millions of Australians. Their symptoms on the surface are known only too well – but how they affect us on the cellular level is a mystery to many. We brought the science behind the illnesses to life, using animations that explain very complex biological processes related to each disease with scientific accuracy. This is a truly unique way of zooming in on what happens inside our body, but can’t be seen with the naked eye.

For more information on our medical research, check out the health hub on our new website.

Five tips for enjoying the festive season without gaining weight

The average Aussie risks gaining several kilos over the holiday period. That might sound like a small number, but few of us lose it when the festive season is over. We asked Professor Manny Noakes, research director of our Food and Nutrition Flagship and co-author of the famous Total Wellbeing Diet, for five tips on how to survive the silly season without gaining extra baggage.

'Tis the season of indulgence.

‘Tis the season of indulgence.

1. Don’t just count kilojoules

Restricting your kilojoule intake is a surefire way to lose weight, but cutting back indiscriminately can lead to an unbalanced, unhealthy diet. Noakes recommends a focus on food groups rather than kilojoules counting. Ensuring you include food from each of the essential food groups each day, is a better way to get healthy.

“It is a much easier approach because you get optimal nutrients without having to learn the kilojoules of hundreds of different foods,” Noakes says. The essential food groups include protein foods such as meat, fish, chicken and eggs; dairy foods; low GI grains and cereals; fruits and vegetables, and healthy oils such as spreads and nuts.

2. Limit indulgences

Thirty-five per cent of the average Australian’s diet comes from “discretionary” foods with little nutritional value, such as alcohol, chips, lollies and cakes. That adds up to a whopping 2500-3500 kilojoules a day. “If you want to lose weight, limiting indulgences can have a dramatic impact over a period of time,” says Noakes. Try limiting yourself to one small indulgence per day (see blow), or seven in a week, to give yourself a small reward for eating well.


1 small indulgence equals:

  • 100ml Wine
  • 4 squares of chocolate
  • 1 fun size packet of potato chips
  • 1 scoop of ice cream
  • 1 chocolate biscuit

3. Stand every hour

It’s important to increase your everyday activity to help prevent weight gain and a good place to start is limiting the amount of time you sit per day.

Noakes recommends looking for opportunities to get off the couch or office chair and move wherever possible. For example taking the stairs, having short stand-up meetings at work, standing up when you take a phone call, or standing at parties rather than sitting. “Simply making an effort to spend less time sitting down and stand every hour can improve your health,” says Noakes.

4. Manage your appetite

During the festive season it’s hard to say no to holiday nibbles and cocktails or that extra snag at the weekend BBQ. Proactively managing your appetite with a higher protein, low GI diet can help prevent poor choices. “Protein controls appetite and low GI carbohydrates sustain energy, so having a light meal of 100g of lean protein food with a slice of grainy bread one hour before a party can help keep hunger in check,” says Noakes.

5. Sign up for a formal healthy eating plan

There is evidence showing that people who seek support in their weight loss efforts do better than those who go it alone. “We know that people who take part in weight loss programs find it easier to reach their goals,” says Noakes. “The support that people receive and the regular weight checks contribute to some of that success. The type of eating plan can also make a difference and a higher protein low GI plan has the best evidence for sustained weight loss success.

“The type of eating plan can also make a difference and a higher protein low GI plan has the best evidence for sustained weight loss success. That’s why we are releasing this new version of the Total Wellbeing Diet available as an online program in a new trial.”

Registrations for the online trial of our Total Wellbeing Diet are open until 10 November 2014. The cost for the 12-week program is $99 which is fully refundable if you complete the trial.

This article was originally published on Body & Soul

We need your help! The Total Wellbeing Diet online trial

You new guide to living healthy. Image ©

You new guide to living healthy. Image ©

We’re looking for 5,000 Australians (from ages 18 to 74) to participate in a trial of a new online diet program based on our award-winning and bestselling Total Wellbeing Diet.

It’s easy as – by following a simple, customised eating plan and weighing in on the website once a week over a 12 week period, you can improve your diet and wellbeing. And to top it off, we will refund the $99 registration fee when you finish – but only if you’re quick enough to sign up first!

The good news is, we already know that the diet works – over half a million Aussies have already lost an average of 6.1kgs on the diet – so the online program is just making it easier for everyone out there with a smart phone, tablet or computer. We’re running this trial now to fine-tune the system before a wider public release next year.

Mediterranean Chicken Salad - one of the delicious dishes that will be at your fingertips.

Mediterranean Chicken Salad – one of the delicious dishes that will be at your fingertips.

So what’s the deal?

Our new Total Wellbeing Diet online diary is easy to follow and can be customised to suit your tastes, dietary preferences and lifestyle. Food journals are essential for successful weight management, but most journals only count calories. This diary instantly tallies your food groups and shows you where you’re going right and wrong with your eating plan.

The program will also include practical, realistic exercise programs to help maximise weight loss and wellness benefits. And best of all, you can do it all from your own smart phone.

The findings from this three month trial will be used to develop more engaging online dietary programs that can reach many more people, and will also help us assess how we can inspire healthy eating and provide more support to those that need to lose weight – a major goal of the Total Wellbeing Diet project.

We want to make this program as best as it can be… but we need your help.

If you want to get involved, registration starts from 19 October, and the trial starts on 3 November. Remember, you will need to check in each week with your weight to have the $99 fee refunded.

To register for the trial visit:

CSIRO has licensed Total Wellbeing Diet to SP Health for the development and management of an online next generation Total Wellbeing Diet program, in collaboration with the Glycemic Index Foundation.

** UPDATE: The registration period for the trial has ended, you can pre-register for the January 5 launch of the program here:**

Creative ways we’re keeping fish on your plate

Grilled with garlic, oven baked, or lightly pan fried with a hint of lemon: Blue-eye Trevalla is one of Australia’s premium seafoods, and an iconic fish species for commercial fishers and seafood lovers alike.

A blue-eye dish at a restuarant.

Mmmmmm Blue-eye. Easy to cook, easy to prepare … it’s hard to get it wrong, according to the owner of the Mures seafood restaurant in Hobart.

Despite having been fished commercially for over 40 years in deep waters off southern Australia, the Blue-eye’s early life-history and movement is still shrouded in mystery.

Our research into these aspects of the Blue-eye’s biology aims to give certainty to government regulators and hopefully lead to increases in the catch quota for the fishing industry, which, in recent years, has dropped by 50 per cent due to apparent decreases in the fish’s abundance.

Ear bone’s connected to the catch quota

Using chemical signatures in the make-up of the Blue-eye’s ear bones, we aim to determine the fish’s population structure, early life-history and movement in the fishery area – which extends roughly from Brisbane to Adelaide, and includes several offshore seamounts.

Once the ear bone is daintily plucked from inside a fish’s head, we use laser-based sampling techniques to identify its chemical signature. From this we can infer each individual fish’s geographical origin.

With sufficiently large numbers of sampled fish in specific age groups, and when combined with models of ocean currents, the origins of Blue-eye populations in different fishery areas can be estimated.

These insights enable our analysis of the commercial catch to become location-specific or ‘regionalised’ and reduce many of the uncertainties in the assessment of total stock size.

Dr Alan Williams holds a blue-eye ear bone.

CSIRO’s Dr Alan Williams holds a tiny ear bone from this fresh Blue-eye (Hyperoglyphe antarctica).

A greater confidence in the stock assessment will ensure a sustainable catch for Australia’s fishing industry and the continued availability of Blue-eye for consumers’ plates.

Find out more about the project in this video:


The project is funded by the Australian Government through the CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship, DPI Victoria, and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. Footage and images were taken in Hobart, thanks to the Captain, Russell Potter, and crew of the fishing vessel Diana, and Will Mure and head chef from the Mures Restaurant.

Media contact: t 02 4960 6245 m 0457 563 684


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