Dreaming of a bright Christmas … then eat more fruit and veg

Dec 25 2013

Professor Clare Collins

Cherries, strawberries and other brightly coloured fruit and vegetables should be on the guilt-free menu over the Christmas break, according to HMRI nutrition and dietitian researcher Professor Clare Collins. They don’t just taste good … they possibly make you look good as well.

“We’re doing a range of studies focused on helping people eat better, one of which involves recruiting young women to eat brightly coloured vegetables and fruit and measuring their skin tone,” Professor Collins, co-director of the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, said.

“These foods are rich in dietary carotenoids, which are like vegetable dye. It seems they come out in your skin and are responsible for a healthy glow. The bottom line is that a bigger variety of fruit and veg will help you feel better, and we may prove it helps you look better.”

For variety, Professor Collins suggests that people put a different vegetable or fruit in their shopping trolley every week.

She says Christmas is a time for celebration, so having a big family meal or two won’t have a major impact on health goals. Making a New Year’s resolution to improve diet should be on everyone’s list though.

“At the end of the year your health is lurking in the back of your mind but you’ve run out of time to make any differences, however it’s not too late to make a commitment to eat better in 2014.

“We’re really interested in getting people involved in some of our research for the New Year. We are starting some new projects targeting young women and guys using technology like smartphones and tablets.”

The Be Positive Be Healthy program coordinated by Dr Melinda Hutchesson was designed to help young women manage their weight using fortnightly e-newsletter and SMS message as reminders. Trial participants also have access to a smartphone ‘app’ that allows them to monitor their eating and exercise to keep on track with weight-loss goals.

“Young women in Australia are gaining weight really rapidly – around six kilos from their early 20s to 30s – so this program helps them maintain a healthy weight,” Dr Hutchesson said.

“They’re too busy for traditional weight loss programs delivered face-to-face in group sessions, but we know that young women are constantly on line. We thought that a website and smartphones were the best way to reach them.”

The pilot study held this year involved 18 women from around the Hunter who, on average, lost 3 per cent of their bodyweight. The program will be expanded to a group of 150 women next year.

Meanwhile, PhD student Lee Ashton is hoping to improve the health of young men with a program tailored to their specific needs. Focus groups are helping him to find the motivators and barriers to healthy eating.

“Men’s life expectancy is shorter than women’s and they have higher rates of obesity,” Mr Ashton said. “Young men are often more interested in playing computer games, and cooking doesn’t necessarily fit with the masculine ideology.

“From our initial focus group we found they wanted more information on how to cook healthy foods and would also like videos and interactive programs.
“We’re now hoping to recruit 60 men aged 18 to 25 for further focus groups, which we’ll be conducting from January to March.”

Members of the public who would like to participate in the trials can phone (02) 4921 6259.

Professor Clare Collins, Dr Melinda Hutchesson and Lee Ashton research in collaboration with HMRI Cardiovascular Program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.