Hotdog eating competitions sound like fun in theory, but they are best left to cartoon characters like Homer Simpson. A new study has found that eating fresh foods adds minutes of healthy life each time, but processed* foods take healthy minutes away – placing processed foods like hotdogs firmly in the ‘occasional treat’ basket.
The good news is that a portion of nuts adds almost 26 minutes a serve, while every banana brings a boost of almost 14 minutes, so fresh foods help us to fight back.
The findings come from scientists at the University of Michigan in the US, who evaluated* more than 5800 different foods on their nutritional value and the amount of carbon* needed to produce them.
The study’s Health Nutritional Index calculated the impact of various meals, snacks and drinks. Researchers found that swapping as little as 10 per cent of a person’s diet from processed meats to natural, fresh foods like nuts, fruit and vegetables could add as much as 48 minutes of healthy life a day. Researchers said this simple change also had clear environmental benefits, slashing a person’s daily dietary carbon footprint by a third.
The humble but highly processed hotdog did not perform well in the study, with each hotdog taking the equivalent of more than half an hour of healthy life.
“The 61 grams of processed meat in a hotdog sandwich results in 27 minutes of healthy life lost due to this amount of processed meat alone,” the study authors said.
“Then, when considering the other risk factors, like the sodium* and trans fatty acids* inside the hotdog – counterbalanced* by the benefit of its polyunsaturated* fat and fibres – we arrived at the final value of 36 minutes of healthy life lost per hotdog.”
But does that mean a lifetime ban on the best things in a bun? No – but the results reinforce something everyone already knows: treats like hamburgers, hotdogs and soft drinks are not something anyone should be eating or drinking every day.
The study, published in the journal Nature Food, is based around healthy life expectancy, which is the length of time a person has a good quality of life and lives disease-free.
“The urgency of dietary changes to improve human health and the environment is clear,” said Professor Olivier Jolliet, the study author.
“Our findings demonstrate that small targeted substitutions offer a feasible* and powerful strategy to achieve significant health and environmental benefits without requiring dramatic dietary shifts.”
For Sydney mother-of-two Erica Parker, the results were no surprise. She said making healthy choices was always a priority when feeding her two sons, Scout, 2, and Courtland, 4.
“Courtland had never really had a burger until my second pregnancy,” she said. “I found it a lot harder to cook with him and keep up with healthy eating during this time. So now it’s been a bit more challenging trying to redirect him to healthier options.”
“My other son Scout makes it easier by being incredibly fussy, so we can pick and choose healthy options.” Ms Parker said
But on special occasions, or when the family is short on time, her children still enjoy a cheeseburger.
“However, they do prefer chicken burgers over beef and bacon,” she said.
In fact, stepping away from red meat is something the Parkers share with many other families, including former meat eaters the Ekstroms, with a dramatic shift in how often the average Australian eats meat, with just one in five now eating meat daily. Nicole Ekstrom and husband Henrik made the move to veganism nearly five years ago and she describes her two children Lynn, 11, and Nils, 9, as “flexitarian” – or mainly vegetarian, with occasional meat and other animal products.
”Flexitarianism” is on the rise, with a poll of 1026 Aussies conducted by research firm Toluna finding no significant spike in people becoming vegan or vegetarian, but big shifts among meat-eaters in the amount of red and white meat they eat per week.
One in four respondents said they had already cut back and a further 19 per cent were planning to do so.
Health was the primary driver of the trend. Of those reducing their meat intake, 65 per cent said they were doing so for health reasons, 40 per cent said the high cost of meat was prompting their decision, and 30 per cent said they were motivated by environmental reasons.
But other surveys suggest Australians exceed recommendations for meat eating. ABS data from December, for example, showed that Australians were eating an average of 142.5g of meat and poultry products every day, or almost exactly a kilogram per week, despite the Cancer Council and other health organisations saying we should eat a maximum of 455g of lean, cooked red meat per week.
Meat was a nightly staple for most Australian families last century, but the Toluna survey found one in five people (20 per cent) said they now ate meat every day. Forty-two per cent of respondents said they aimed for one or two meat-free days per week, 24 per cent go without it three or four days per week, and 8 per cent keep themselves vegetarian for five or six days per week. Just 6 per cent said they never eat meat at all.
One in four respondents to the Toluna survey said they had tried plant-based protein alternatives, and of those, two in three said they would eat them in future.
This story was originally published in The Telegraph, UK, and is reprinted with permission, with additional NCA reporting.
- processed: changed by chemical and/or mechanical process
- evaluated: assessed, judged, gauged
- carbon: carbon dioxide or other gaseous carbon compounds released into the atmosphere
- sodium: chemical element found in many foods, like salt used in cooking
- polyunsaturated: healthy fat that includes omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
- feasible: possible, practical, achievable
- How many minutes of life was a serving of nuts found to have?
- What was the cost in minutes of each hotdog eaten?
- How many different foods were assessed in the University of Michigan study?
- According to the Cancer Council, what is the maximum of red meat we should eat a week?
- What does the team “flexitarian” mean?
The Toluna survey found what proportion of Australians eat meat every day?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Food Choices
Interpret the graph below, taken from the study, on how many minutes certain foods add or subtract to a healthy life and a healthy carbon footprint (how the production and processing of the food impacts the environment).
List five facts you’ve learnt from interpreting this graph.
Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Mathematics; Critical and Creative Thinking
Write a two-column list of the pros and cons of eating red meat in your diet.
Do you think your family eats too much or too little of this in your diet?
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science; Critical and Creative Thinking
How to Live Longer
Create an advertising campaign, in whatever format you think will be the most effective (visual, radio, text, jingle, poster), selling your secret guide on how to add minutes to your lifespan, through healthy eating.
Think about using some interesting facts from the article to promote your guide. What will you include in your guide? Possibly some healthy eating recipes, videos, giveaways, gamification rewards system? Is your guide going to be a physical item, an app, access to a website?
How will you be pitching it to; parents, children, schools?
Then create your advertisement using high level persuasive and emotive language to convince your target audience to sign up or purchase your secret guide.
Make sure you outline all that is included to really promote value, as well as show audience consideration.
Share your advertisement with a family member or peer, and see if you can convince them to sign up.