Sugar feeds cancer and addiction

Sugar feeds cancer cells. This is the key finding of a nine year research project published in Nature Communications. This article summarises the findings.

And today on Radio NZ Jesse Mulligan interviewed Robert Lustig about the various ways that we are addicted, and sugar is possibly the most ubiquitous addiction. Here is the interview. Robert Lustig’s new book, The Hacking of the American Mind discusses the influence of the food industry in promoting addiction.

He is down on dopamine. We seek a dopamine by feeding our addictions. He suggests we need more serotonin instead.

Robert Lustig promotes his four Cs to resist addictions and support our happiness.

CONNECT – face to face connections fuel our empathy and build community.

CONTRIBUTE – to friends, families, others and your communities.

COPE – exercise, practice mindfulness and get plenty of sleep.

COOK – real food and avoid processed food.

We feed sugar to our children. We continue to allow it to be promoted widely. This has to change!


Climate change hope

drawdownThe Drawdown project has raised my optimism about climate change. There are plenty of doomsayers who think that we are stuffed. For a whole lot of people, its a problem that is just too big to handle, so the strategy is to ignore it. In New Zealand our government tells us that we are too small to make much impact and they appear to believe, action on climate change and improving the economy are mutually exclusive.

There be dragons!

Centuries ago Europeans had some limiting perceptions that inhibited world travel. Some pre-Columbus maps marked the possible presence of dragons, and there was always the prospect of falling  of the edge of a flat earth. Now we have got better knowledge and GPS!

Our collective perception of climate change is like those centuries old perceptions of the world. Climate change is scarier than dragons, so for most people it seems it is better not to go there – and just hope its not true.

Drawdown has changed all that. As most of us accepted, climate change is the result of an increase in greenhouse gasses but the Drawdown team have quantified targeted reductions of CO2 that will get us to the point where we start to reduce atmospheric concentrations. They have also quantified the top 80 solutions and calculated the CO2 reductions in gigatons. We now have a map and GPS! They acknowledge that the         System is dynamic, so exact calculations are problematic. However most of the calculations are based on trends that are already happening.

So we can move beyond our collective paralysis and choose the solutions that work best in our lives? Here is a link to Drawdown’s Solutions webpage.

Mother Teresa told us “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love”. I love this planet and its more than gravity that makes me attached to it. When it comes to climate change, I can’t do great things, but I can do small things with great love. Not just for the planet, but for all of my descendants, and all those who will suffer as a consequence of climate change. And what encourages me more is the actions I can take to reduce CO2 in my world also have other positive benefits.

Here are some solutions I can work on.

No. 3: Reduce food waste

Drawdown calculates the a 70.5 reduction in gigatons of CO2 over 30 years if we collectively waste less food.

A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions. (Drawdown)

I can reduce waste by growing my own food – that cuts out the waste in the supply chain. I grow my own bananas, so I am not contributing to the waste produced when those bananas that are either too long or too short are discarded. I can also monitor what goes out into the compost. Working my own land and composting returns food waste to the land and increases the organic matter (carbon) in the soil. I only have a little bit of land, but it all helps.

No. 4: Plant-rich diet

I’m reducing my meat intake. Meat takes a whole lot more resources than fruit and vegetables. According to Drawdown this will reduce CO2 by 66 gigatons in 30 years. We can also expect a health dividend from reducing meat intake.

Plant-rich diets reduce emissions and also tend to be healthier, leading to lower rates of chronic disease. According to a 2016 study, business-as-usual emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent through adopting a vegan diet and 63 percent for a vegetarian diet, which includes cheese, milk, and eggs. $1 trillion in annual health-care costs and lost productivity would be saved. (Drawdown)

No. 69: Electric bikes

I want to by an electric vehicle (no. 26) but I have never spent more than $10,000 on a car. But I can get an electric bike. If I do, I will be contributing to the 0.96 of a gigaton in CO2 reductions over 30 years. Not a lot, but every bit helps. And if I keep riding my non-electric bike the result will be better still.

An e-bike’s battery gets its charge from the nearest outlet, tapping into whatever electricity is on hand—from coal-based to solar-powered. E-bikes have higher emissions than a regular bicycle or simply walking, but they still outperform cars, including electric ones. (Drawdown)

So there are just three of the 80 solutions that I can contribute to. How about you?

Child obesity – another damning report

Hot on the heels of the New Zealand Beverage Guidance Council released a policy brief on a sugary drink tax comes the University of Auckland’s Health Food Environment Policy Index. Professor Boyd Swinburn claims the Government lacks the political will to stand up to the food industry and push the necessary policies through.

Professor Swinburn would like to see more community action to see this elevated in the governments perception from a problem to an urgent problem. Action on food quality in schools is a “no brainer” according to Professor Swinburn.

Here is his Radio New Zealand interview.

No more agrochemicals please

I’ve stopped using glyphosate on our land a couple of years ago – and I think that Papatuanuku likes that I am not pouring poison on her anymore. I only sprayed paved surfaces and now my efforts at weed control are more labour intensive – but its worth it. I know when I harvest food from our land it has not been poisoned. And I know that I am not supporting the companies that make these poisons.

This post touches on three agrochemicals that we should not be using.


Take glyphosate for example. According to this heavily referenced study published by the Green Party, it is probably carcinogenic, genotoxic, is a endocrine disruptor and neurotoxin  – and much more. The Greens are asking that it is not used in parks where our children play. In this video Dr Seneff discusses some of the issues with glyphosate including autism.


An extensive European Union study estimated the cost of organophosphate exposure due to reduced children’s IQ levels at 125 billion euros. This Harvard article identifies chlorpyrifos and glyphosate as neurotoxins, claiming they erode intelligence. Organophosphates are damaging to the brain and to the developing foetus.

Organophosphates, such as chlorpyrifos are used widely in New Zealand. Dr. Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Group Aotearoa want chlorpyrifos reassessed here as it is bioaccumulative. Here is Dr Watts presenting on pesticides. Sadly the rate of pesticide use is still on the rise.


If you plant corn seeds, they may have been treated with a neonicotinoid dressing (the pink stuff). If you watched Dr Watt’s presentation she explains the impact of these nasty chemicals on bees. A June 2017 New Scientist magazine article reports a mountain of evidence that neonicotinoids kill bees. A 2015 estimate of the values of bees to the global economy as 265 billion euros.

The value of ecosystem services (including pollination) is about the same total global GDP, but we erode the value of bees, soil biota and aquatic life with our continued use of poisons. We also create detrimental health impacts for people and communities. Why do we do it? Follow the money.

Out of the (water) closet

I have finished reading Gut: The Inside Story of our Body’s Most Under-rated Organ by Giulia Enders. It has challenged my identity. The microbes in me out-number my human cells ten times and I have about 100 trillion microbes in my gut! So am I a person, or a colony? Perhaps I should refer to myself (us) as “we”.

Given that I am out-numbered, how do these microbes influence my behaviour and my health? Rodents infected with the toxoplasmata protozoa lose their fears of cats. This is not a good for survival and Giulia Andrea reports that behaviour of humans infected with toxoplasmata changes too (we get the infection from cats). For example, the risk of being involved in a car accident is increased in infected people, especially in the early active stages of infection.

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Rodents infected with toxoplasmata lose their fear of cats (image from Nature)

My gut bacteria influence my mental and physical well-being and influence what I choose to eat. A recent Scientific American article confirms this.

Gut microbes have also been shown to influence diet and behavior as well as anxiety, depression, hypertension and a variety of other conditions.

Our relationship with our gut biome has evolved over millennia. These are common to all people, with some regional variations. For example, the micro biome of Japanese have   borrowed a gene from marine microorganisms to help breakdown seaweed. Giulia Enders suggests that if we had long enough, our micro biome would adapt to the highly processed foods of the Western diet. Allergies and food intolerances may be caused by our digestive system’s inability to process the foods we are eating. Michael Pollan states the solution succinctly “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”.

To help us rehabilitate our digestion and repopulate the gut with a health-enhancing micro biome we have two options, probiotics and pre-biotics.


Most of us are familiar with these – typically fermented foods containing billions of beneficial bacteria. Common examples are yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha. Probiotic supplements are also available. These are great, but need to be frequently  consumed to maintain the benefits.


These are foods that include residues that make the journey through to the lower gut to sustain beneficial micro-organisms. Dr Frank Jackson tapes about the benefits of probiotics in this video.

His website has a list of the top 11 prebiotic foods. They are listed here with their percentage of fibre (by weight).

  1. raw chicory root (65%)
  2. raw Jerusalem artichoke (31.5%)
  3. raw dandelion greens (24.5%)
  4. raw garlic (17.5%)
  5. raw leeks (11.7%)
  6. raw onion (8.6%)
  7. cooked onion ( 5%)
  8. raw asparagus (5%)
  9. raw wheat bran (5%)
  10. baked wheat flour (4.8%)
  11. raw banana (1%)

This brings us back to local food – food you can grow in your garden.

My digestive system is approximately 7 metres long. Sometimes I am more interested in pandering to the first 100 mm or so – the bit where I can taste the food, rather than the other 6.9 metres. Giulia Anders book teaches us to take more notice of the other end of our digestive system. Perhaps we need to talk more about our digestive systems. You won’t have to go too deep in your Facebook feed to find someone talking about food – maybe we should be less embarrassed about talking about digestive system output- but no selfies please :-).




Food evolution and health in Aotearoa

Our focus at Local Food Northland is about the shift from industrial food systems to sustainable food systems. For us to better understand our current food system reality, we look back to look forward. This is the first of three posts to explore the tides of history that have shaped our food system.

Two hundred years ago was mostly populated by Māori and they ate mostly fresh food – some was dried for preservation or perhaps fermented. Over the last two centuries our dietary patterns have changed dramatically. In conjunction with changes in health care we have longer life spans, but the consequence of our twenty first century diet is an alarming increase in diet-related disease. As my colleague at NorthTec, Nigel Studdart writes:

We are what we eat and what we are becoming is an increasingly overweight and unhealthy population.

There are three major drivers of dietary change in Aotearoa, the impacts of colonisation, industrialisation and consumerism.

food evolution aotearoa


Before the arrival of Europeans, Māori were isolated in Aotearoa and there was therefore no imported food. Neither was food processed beyond cooking, drying or fermenting.

1700s garden

This image from Te Ara is an artist’s impression of a 1700s garden in the Auckland region (drawing by Nancy Tichborne). 

Gardens were community enterprises with crops grown including taro, hue (gourds) and kumara. Helen Leach’s book 1,000 Years of Gardening in New Zealand documents pre-colonial gardening. It includes a drawing by one of Captain Cook’s crew of an East Coast garden with kumara, yam, taro and gourd.

According to Te Ara (The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand) Māori had a life expectancy of about 30. This is low, but better than that of Britain at the time. But “by 1891 the estimated life expectancy of Māori men was 25 and that of women was just 23 (Te Ara). We cannot attribute this to diet, as disease, alienation from land, war, and war’s inevitable consequence, poverty, saw population decline and life expectancy reduce.

Māori adapted quickly to the new foods bought by Europeans, soon producing large quantities of food including potatoes, fruit and meat. By the mid 1800s, Māori were producing flour in their own mills from their own wheat.

Imported foods began to supplement local diets and the appetite for sugar was such that the Chelsea Sugar Refinery was established in 1883. Sugar is increasingly associated with the incidence of non-communicable disease (NCDs). In a food environment where Māori were struggling with the aftermath of war, European diseases, land alienation and the impact of tobacco and alcohol, sugar became another health burden. The world view of the colonialists was shaped in part by social Darwinism and assumption of the innate superiority of Europeans, especially English. In this context, Dr Isaac Featherson said it was the duty of Europeans to “smooth down … [the] dying pillow’ of the Māori race.” Thus the food landscape for Māori in the second half of the nineteenth century was not conducive to health.

The communal approach to gardening was probably one factor that enabled Māori to sustain and recover the population.

Maori population graph

This graph (from Te Ara) shows Māori population from 1841 to 2006.The decline post-Treaty took almost a century to recover. Arguably, the homogenising of assumptions of colonisation continued largely uncontested and dissenting voices unheard through the middle decades of the twentieth century.  The Māori renaissance of the late twentieth century laid the foundation for reshaping the food environment, but the forces of industrialisation and consumerism invoked another form of colonisation that dominated the food landscape as we shall see in the next two posts on this topic.




The nutritional value of local bananas

Professor Barbara Burlingame provided a compelling case study about the nutrient content of local bananas at our February conference. Before returning to New Zealand she spent 16 years with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation including the last four as Deputy Director of the Nutrition Division as was closely involved with the research referred to here.

Professor Burlingame related the story of Pohnpei, a Micronesian Island north of the equator. Over time the people their drifted away from their indigenous diet to consuming increasing quantities of imported food. There were consequences.

The change in food habits from fresh traditional foods to processed imported foods has been accompanied by high prevalence of overweight, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer among the adult population, while micronutrient deficiencies, such as of vitamin A, are prevalent among children[1].

Well intentioned interventions

Starting in the 1960s, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiated supplementary feeding programmes to Pohnpei, using surplus commodities such as rice and tinned foods. These food aid programmes, including a school lunch programme, “introduced rice and processed foods to many children and adults in Pohnpei, establishing new food habits, attitudes and food tastes that persist today”[2].

In a story similar to that of other indigenous communities transitioning from the food systems they controlled to Western diets, the unintended consequences, especially the vitamin A deficiency, sparked further inteventions. Vitamin A supplements, including injections, were provided for children.

Karat banana

The Karat banana, often the first sold food for Pohnpei’s babies. (Photo from Web Ecoist)

Researchers, led by the late Dr Lois Englberger, turned their attention to local foods. Pohnpei has 26 banana cultivars. One of these, Karat, has deep yellow/orange flesh indicating the presence of provitamin A carotenoids.

When analysed for its nutrient profile, the Karat cultivar provided up to 2230 units of carotenes. Another cultivar, Utin Lap has up to 8508 units of carotenes. By contrast, Cavendish, the variety found in supermarkets around the world has less than five units of carotenes. The answer to the debilitating vitamin A deficiency was close by all that time. Consequently the government of the Federated States of Micronesia championed the local food movement and when Dr Englberger died in 2011, they held a memorial service in her honour.

Nutrition of Northland bananas

The health of our food can be evaluated by the nutrients it provides and the impact of artificial chemicals used in its growing, processing, transportation and storage and impacted by the way we cook it.

This website provides detailed coverage of bananas’ food value.

Fruits and vegetables with orange or red flesh are rich in carotenes, so we can anticipate that our locally grown bananas will be closer to the levels found in Cavendish bananas. However, it will be interesting to have the analysis done. Perhaps we could crowdsource funding for this to support the development of the local banana industry.

[1] Let’s go local! Pohnpei promotes local food production and nutrition for health in Indigenous people’s food systems & well-being (2013) Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, page 195).

[2] ibid, page 194


Food as medicine

By Dr Melissa Gilbert

This is the first of hopefully many posts by Dr Melissa Gilbert. It was first published on her blog, The Integrative Doctor.

melissas-harvestI’ve read all the modern whole food books on the trendy bookstore shelves at the moment and I LOVE what’s happening. I love that our attitudes towards food are changing and that we are beginning to understand the true meaning of nourishment. We know now that how we source food is the first and arguably the most important step in the process. Food should be nutrient dense but it should also have a pristine conscience and be laden with good karma.

This all happens well before the food is gathered but contributes monumentally to how that food nourishes and heals our bodies. It’s time for all of us to wake up now, ignorance is no longer an excuse for the pillaging of our planet and quite honestly neither is cost anymore.

Sourcing and preparing healthful food is not about expensive ingredients from the local hipster grocery store. It’s about so much more than that and it starts in our own homes with an attitude analysis followed closely by figuring out what we can do right here, right now.

The first question to ask is, how did the food I have in my house get here? If it came from the other side of the world, is engineered or processed, has additives, added sugar or came from a place where chemicals and it’s carbon footprint are of no mind then change is needed….drastically!

SLOW food isn’t a new concept but it is a way of life that once adopted becomes a source of wellbeing that far surpasses anything experienced so far. Seasonal/Sustainable, Local/Logical, Organic (although karmicly sound is more important than an ‘organic” label) and Whole is the food that will make us better. It is medicine to ensure that our bodies are no longer a hindrance to our learning.

imageThe absence of illness or mediocre wellness is not enough, we must be humming at exactly the right frequency so that we can connect with our whole minds to the truth of our existence. To be distracted by disease, inflammation, fatigue or pain takes us away from the core business of life – to learn and contribute.

A health crisis is not necessary to come to this knowledge, wellness at a higher level can be accessed now. I guess the good and fair questions at this point are around accessibility and equity. The right to be able to live a supremely healthful life is the right of all humans regardless of income, education and location. Awareness and willingness are truly all that is needed for this.

I’m going to mention the obvious in this post but only in passing because the truth is that the knowledge is already intuitive, we just need to tap into it. Foraging and growing food and community gardens and food swaps and trading and sharing and teaching and conserving and preserving and, and, and are already available, already being done, so do it.

If you can’t get online or you can’t get to your local library then go to your nearest neighbour and swap some seeds…the rest will follow.

Who to vote for in the DHB elections?

A big issue we face in local body elections is knowing who to vote for. For those of us interested in moving to more sustainable food systems, the District Health Board (DHB) elections are very important. Our health system remains largely focussed on dealing with primary health care based on orthodox approaches. The massive investment taxpayers make in our health system is captured increasingly by the treatment of non-communicable diseases – for example type 2 diabetes. The default treatments are pharmaceuticals.

I am not qualified in health, but as a person interested in my health and the health of my whanau, I want to see the health system focus much more on nutrition and system change to ensure that all New Zealanders have access to fresh, mostly unprocessed, healthy food. When we achieve this, I am confident that health care will cost a lot less. We will be spending less money on pills and more on food.

Corporate kitchen operators have a reputation nation-wide for cutting corners on the quality of meals delivered to patients. A hospital that feeds, even occasionally, patients biscuits for breakfast, is sending exactly the wrong message to them. Thankfully the Northland DHB was the only DHB to resist the national rollout of pre-packaged meals shipped from out of centralised kitchens. The board insisted that food would continue to be prepared in their hospital’s kitchens. An even better outcome would be to have the kitchen run by local businesses, who purchase directly from local growers.

This reveals two key policies for DHB candidates to champion:

  1. Supporting the localisation of food supplied from hospital kitchens and cafeterias.
  2. Embedding the importance of good nutrition as as a cornerstone of health initiatives.

So far, I know of two candidates for the 2016 elections that are supportive of these aspirations, Debbie Evans and Libby Jones. There may be others – who can you add to the list?

debby-evans libby-jones





Debbie Evans (left) and Libby Jones

Local Food Northland has an aspiration to have 2,000 members by mid 2017. Ideally, in time for the next round of local body elections, we will have at least 5,000. If you want to help us to create a stronger collective voice to influence the policy makers, join us.