All Posts By

Tayla Schuit

Effectiveness of different modes of fasting

Dr Kieron Rooney
3 min read

Is it time to eat yet?

One of the most common questions I get asked when attending community talks is – what do you think about fasting for weight loss? Which is then almost always followed up with – what is the best fasting regimen to follow?

One of the greatest difficulties in answering this question is the scant amount of scientific evidence that compares, head-to-head, one style of fasting to another. As such, when I came across a paper conducting a meta-analysis comparing the effectiveness of different modes of fasting it is an understatement to say I was keen to read it.

First things first – what is a Meta-analysis?

A meta-analysis is where someone takes a whole heap of individual studies that have asked a similar question, and have measured similar things, but in different groups of people, and then puts them all together to pretend it was one large study. The authors of a meta-analysis quantitatively combine the results in the individual studies to come up with an overall combined result.

In the example of this paper, the authors went searching to find as many studies as they could that had compared the effectiveness of intermittent fasting for people trying to lose weight. They found 24 highly controlled studies. The smallest individual study was conducted in 16 people, the largest of the 24 studies was conducted in 332 people, and when the authors combined all 24 studies, they had data from a total of 1768 people that had undergone some form of intermittent fasting.

Importantly, these 1768 people did not all do the same type of intermittent fasting.

In this study there were people that had been in studies investigating alternate day fasting (0 calories or restricted calories one day, eat what you like the next); or they may have been following the 5:2 diet (0 calories or restricted calories two days a week, eat what you like the other 5); or they may have been following a time-restricted eating diet (you can eat everyday … but only in discrete windows of time such as 4-12 hours).

By including all these study designs, the authors were able to do some fancy statistical analyses to compare different types of fasting to each other, without having to run a study of their own that directly compared them.

Sounds neat right?

However, what this does mean is that this is secondary data, being analysed for a purpose not originally designed. So, while the maths is fancy and powerful we do need to keep in mind that it is a statistical study and at no point still, did we have the same person testing different types of fasting to see which worked best for weight loss.

Regardless, what does this study teach us?

First, if you perform any type of intermittent fasting for up to 3 months, you will lose weight compared to simply eating whatever you want whenever you want. However, you can achieve a similar amount of weight loss (up to 12% of body weight in some studies) by simply eating less everyday and not having to fast at all.


Where do we go from here?

Unfortunately, despite the impressive use of 1768 individual data points, we need to appreciate that there were only 24 studies included and not all of them tested the same fasting type – there were 12 studies that looked at alternate day fasting; 8 studies that looked at the 5:2 diet and only 4 that looked at time-restricted feeding. Further, the individuals studied were either overweight or obese, yet did not have any other metabolic condition such as diabetes or metabolic syndrome, so how well we can rely on this for individual advice is very limited. Regardless, we do see here some good mathematical evidence for alternate day fasting as the most effective approach to intermittent fasting for weight loss.

So to answer our first two questions – I think intermittent fasting is a method for weight loss in which the scientific evidence is building to support it as an effective method just as good as trying to reduce how much you eat everyday. And for those of us that like strict rules, intermittent fasting is a viable and a relatively easy method to comply with.

Which method of fasting is the best? I don’t know – but it looks like we have some points in the corner for alternate day fasting here.

Dr Kieron Rooney is a nationally recognised expert in nutrition research and translation into policy and practice.

To date, his novel research has focussed on how high sugar and/or high fat diets impact metabolic health.

He has been a vocal advocate for improved labelling of manufactured products with a number of successful campaigns related to junk foods marketed to children.

Kieron is part of the Good Mood Dudes network of experts available to support your wellbeing program. If you want to soundboard your wellbeing plan or hear how we’d get your program up and running, get in touch with our team for a complimentary strategy call today. 

Starting the year with good mental health

Dr Marianna Szabo
5 min read
The beginning of a new year is often the time to make changes towards a happier, healthier self. But what constitutes a healthier life when it comes to mental health?

According to the World Health Organisation, “mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders” 1 . We do not only want to survive; we want to thrive. Once our basic needs are met, we want to cultivate the best version of ourselves and a meaningful life.

Doing so can increase our resilience at those times when we face life’s inevitable adversities.

Martin Seligman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, motivated a lot of research into psychological well-being and coined the term ‘positive psychology’. According to Seligman’s theory of well-being, there are five ‘building blocks’ towards a fulfilling life. If we apply our strengths to cultivate these five building blocks, we are moving in the direction of ‘flourishing’ 2 . Each of these five building blocks can be more or less important to a person, depending on their values, talents and interests. Each can also be cultivated and strengthened, using various techniques suggested by positive psychology.

What are the building blocks for a fulfilling life, according to positive psychology?

Positive emotions 

Naturally, a person who tends to experience anger, anxiety, or sadness more often than positive emotions, is unlikely to have a satisfying life. We differ in our tendency to experience positive emotions, even when we are going through the same experiences. If you are someone who tends to focus on the negative, remember that positive emotions can in fact be cultivated. We can train ourselves to pay attention to small pleasures in everyday life: a child’s smile, a beautiful tree, the smell of our morning coffee, the feel of clean sheets at night. Intentionally savouring such small pleasures goes a long way to balance out the natural tendency of our minds to seek out negative information.

Some people are drawn to high-energy positive emotions like excitement or enthusiasm, while others enjoy low energy positive emotions like calm, gratitude, awe, or peace. Find out what positive emotions contribute to your wellbeing and practice seeking these out every day, in small ways.

If we work on strengthening  the other ‘building blocks’ described below, they will also add to our overall experience of positive emotions.


Have you ever been so absorbed in an activity that you were barely aware of your surroundings, as if time stopped? It occurs when we fully concentrate our skills and attention on a challenging task, while being free from distractions 3 . It is also called ‘flow’, or more colloquially ‘being in the zone’. This kind of positive engagement is intrinsically enjoyable, and is often experienced by musicians, artists, and sports people.

On the less creative side, the attraction to computer games is also partly an expression of our intrinsic enjoyment of using our skills to master a challenging task. Other (perhaps less addictive), ways to experience flow may be by having a good conversation with an interesting person, reading an engaging book, writing, learning a new language, renovating or fixing things, gardening, playing sport, doing arts and crafts, and so on.

Of course, if you experience flow during your work tasks, you probably found a well-fitting vocation. If not, finding a hobby or other interests where you can experience this type of engagement would help increase the amount of positive emotion and satisfaction in your life.


Humans evolved to be social beings: connecting with others increased our very chance of survival. This has not changed over the millennia: having supportive relationships promotes well-being and helps us cope with difficult times. Loneliness, on the other hand, has been shown to be associated with both mental and physical ill-health.

Again, people differ in the amount, intensity and nature of social relationships they need. Extroverts find large social gathering invigorating and need these to feel more alive. Introverts prefer more quiet social encounters with fewer people, and find they need time alone to re-energise. A lot of people are somewhere in the middle between these two ends of the introversion-extroversion dimension.

Not only do we need others to rely on for support, we also feel better if we act kindly towards others, be they family, friends, or perfect strangers. Doing small acts of kindness for others produces an increase in well-being. If you feel that your life is lacking the kind of connections you need, you may want to put some effort into this ‘building block’ in 2023. Volunteer, join a club, make an effort to reconnect with long-lost friends: the resulting sense of belonging, compassion, kindness, empathy, teamwork, cooperation and camaraderie will add to your sense of well-being.


Many of us have asked the question of “why”: why am I doing this, why am I here, what is the purpose of my life?

Having a sense of purpose puts everything into context and adds a sense of positive energy to life, from work to relationships to many other pursuits.  Finding meaning is learning that there is something greater than yourself.

A sense of meaning can often come from spiritual beliefs and from a sense of belonging to a spiritual or religious community. For those without such beliefs, a sense of purpose can be derived from commitment to family or to a larger community, or to a cause. An active involvement in politics, work organizations, social justice, the environment, animal welfare, or any other cause that you feel is important beyond your everyday concerns will add meaning to your life.

Whatever it is, if you live according to your values, a sense of increased well-being can result.


All building blocks of a satisfying life interact with each other. For example, when we use our strengths towards success and mastery, our accomplishments can also increase positive emotions, such as pride. Conversely, a sense of accomplishment can be derived from our relationships, community engagements, or from our hobbies.

While accomplishments are important, they are probably the most ‘overrated’ aspects of life in our competitive societies.

If, looking back on your life so far, you notice that your achievements, or the pursuit of them, got in the way of taking care of other aspects of your life, such as relationships, flow, or meaning, it might be time to re-evaluate.

A balance among the five ‘building blocks’ is necessary to create a sense of fulfilment in life.

Of course, mental well-being does not mean that we are constantly happy, optimistic and confident. Negative emotions, self-doubt and loss are also a part of the human condition. To live an authentic life, we need to be able to acknowledge and fully experience negative emotion, while also keeping a ‘big picture’ view of our accomplishments, our relationships, and the values that give meaning to it all.



2 Seligman, M. (2012). Flourish – A new understanding of Life's Greatest Goals- and what it

takes to reach them. William Heinemann Australia. (1st ed)

3 Csikszentmihalyi M (1997). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday

Life. New York: Basic Books. (1st ed.).

Dr Marianna Szabo is a Clinical Psychologist, a leading expert in Mindfulness, and a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sydney.

Her research primarily focuses on mental wellbeing, mindfulness, and other meditation practices.

Marianna is part of the Good Mood Dudes network of experts available to support your wellbeing program. If you want to soundboard your wellbeing plan or hear how we’d get your program up and running, get in touch with our team for a complimentary strategy call today. 

What Employees Want

Good Mood Dudes founder Dr. Nicholas Chartres, sits down with The Guardian to discuss the new landscape of work/life balance and what employees expect from their workplace.

As featured in:

With the dust starting to settle after almost 3 years of disruption to our way of life due to Covid-19, evidence of what employees expect in the workplace is now becoming clear. 

While the transition to working from home came with its challenges as employees and employers had to conform to Covid-19 restrictions, what’s emerged is a new way to think about work-life balance. People are now seeking flexible work hours, healthier work environments, and autonomy in their roles over less valuable employee ‘perks’. Good Mood Dudes’ Dr Nick Chartres says “In most businesses right now, it’s all about autonomy and flexibility: the autonomy to select how many days in which people are going into the office, as well as the flexibility to adjust that on a week by week basis”.

But autonomy and flexibility are not the only important things people are seeking. “Natural light, fresh air, and end-of-trip facilities – so people can ride into work or go to the gym at lunchtime – are now pretty much mandatory for a lot of companies,” says Chartres. “Being close to public transport, supermarkets, gyms, parks, and green space is also great.” A workplace that makes the commute to work shorter and easier with the physical destination also being a place of comfort is a top request by employees today. 

Experts suggest that many people are now wanting to walk or cycle to work and when they arrive they want the office environment to offer an enjoyable experience that allows them to work effectively in comfort. Whilst psychosocial factors of company culture can impact the comfort of an employee in an office environment, things like having privacy to focus as well as spaces that support collaboration and interaction with teams are crucial.

Whilst the voices of those who prefer a more laissez-faire approach to leadership are being heard, it is important to remember that every employee is different and will have different needs when it comes to being able to work most effectively. 

If you’re looking to support your employees and are not sure where to start, book a strategy call with us today.

The Debate on Corporate Sponsorship of Our National Sporting Teams

In this opinion piece, Good Mood Dudes founder Dr. Nicholas Chartres provides his view on this article: Australian cricket captain Pat Cummins slammed for hypocritical ‘ethical objections’ of major sponsor Alinta Energy

Over the last two weeks, corporate sponsorship of our national sporting teams has been strongly debated across Australia, from the front pages of our leading newspapers and even the WhatsApp chat I have with former cricket teammates.

Australian men’s cricket captain, Pat Cummins has stated he has ethical issues about team sponsor Alinta Energy. Its parent company has been listed as one of Australia’s highest carbon emitters, and despite its well-publicized claims it is investing in renewable energy sources, is rated very low on The Green Electricity Guide which considers the timeframe companies propose to stop using coal, whether a company frequently causes local environmental harm, and is transparent in their marketing.

Those opposed to the views expressed by Pat Cummins have pointed to the fact that he has already received money from Alinta Energy to appear in ads, that he flies first class, and drives an SUV with high carbon emissions. All valid points that are hard to disagree with. 

And while climate change is the single greatest threat to human and planetary health, the current rates of childhood obesity have immediate consequences for our childrens’ future. The promotion of KFC by the Australian cricket team and its captain is of equal concern.

However, I applaud him for raising the issue.

I personally believe that we could use a threshold that if a company produces, manufactures, distributes, or sells a product that leads to health disparities and social and environmental injustices, then the government should prevent sporting teams from having them as a sponsor. Sport/professional sports should solely be about health promotion, especially for our children, and these industries sell products that erode such benefits. 

It is still not widely understood, but non-communicable diseases (NCDs), or chronic diseases are the main causes of deaths globally. Environmental exposures, including tobacco, petrochemicals, pesticides, ultra-processed food, alcohol, and pharmaceutical drugs like opioids, along with climate change-related events, including extreme weather and wildfires, are the main drivers of these chronic diseases harming human health.

The responses I have received to this idea when raised on my WhatsApp chat ranged from “well then, there will be no one to fund the teams, and the players won’t get paid, so good luck” to “you drink beers, fly on planes, eat Maccas and use Panadol, so..”. 

My response to these comments is grounded in the same logic as why we as a society eventually condemned tobacco advertising in sport – because we know the tobacco industry used sports and sportsmen as a vehicle to hide and distract from the harm of their products.

It remains to be seen, but I think there are still a lot of companies that will be able to fill the void left by these industries sponsoring our sporting teams. It happened when tobacco sponsorship was banned so there is good reason to think the same will happen again. 

Ultra-processed foods: it’s not just their low nutritional value that’s a concern

In this opinion piece, Good Mood Dudes founder Dr. Nicholas Chartres provides his view on this article: Ultra-processed foods: it’s not just their low nutritional value that’s a concern


What if we said that by eating nutrient deficient food, filled with chemicals, you have a significantly higher risk of dying younger from heart disease or cancer?

Pretty scary, huh?

Well in the UK, US and Canada, and Australia ultra-processed foods (nutrient deficient food, filled with chemicals) now account for ~50% or more of calories consumed. 

The food industry has told us that by fortifying these ultra-processed foods with other nutrients, it makes them healthier for us. The Health Star Rating system in Australia is a prime example of this tactic. 

However, it has now been identified that chronic inflammation may be a key contributor to why ultra-processed foods increase our disease risk. The industrial-sounding products and chemicals both within these foods (flavourings, colourings, emulsifiers, and thickeners) and the packets they are served in (very high levels of PFAS or ‘forever’ chemicals are found in various fast food packets) may be recognized by the body as foreign – like an invading bacteria or virus. It is proposed our body goes into fight mode against these harmful agents, causing an inflammatory response.

So why is this so bad?

Scientists have established ten Key Characteristics (KCs) that reflect the properties of cancer-causing hazardous agents. These include things like does the agent alter DNA repair, induce oxidative stress, or does it induce chronic inflammation. These KCSs of carcinogens have been applied in the evaluation of more than 70 carcinogens at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the world’s leading agency for classifying carcinogens. 

When we are continually eating ultra-processed foods (which we must be if ~50% of our diet comes from them), then we are likely to be in a state of chronic inflammation and therefore at a greater risk of disease. 

The article then points to the best ways we can prevent this disease state from happening. 1) Do not eat ultra-processed foods at all, and 2) Eat a plant-based diet.

Simple enough, right?

Well, doing these two things can be extremely difficult. This is because our food environment is flooded with these hyperpalatable food products, their marketing and advertising is ubiquitous and persuasive, and they are very cheap, making them affordable for very low-income communities, who are often the highest consumers of these products. 

So, what is the solution?

Well, part of it has to be government action and regulation, just like how we regulated tobacco, by banning advertising, increasing sales taxes and introducing plain packaging, just to name a few.


Dr Nicholas Chartres is the Director of Science & Policy at the University of California, San Francisco working with the Program of Reproductive Health and the Environment. His work focuses on US federal chemical policy and regulation.

Nick received his PhD from The University of Sydney, where his thesis examined ways to reduce bias in public health guidelines, including the primary studies that are used in our national Dietary Guidelines. Nick also has a Masters in Nutrition.

Everything You Need to Know About Procrastination

“Procrastination is the Thief of Time” (Edward Young, 1683 – 1765)

Procrastination is a common human tendency. We all have, on occasion, postponed tasks despite the negative effects caused by the delay.

When procrastination becomes a habit, it can have serious consequences in life. We don’t only procrastinate at work or in education: we may also avoid obligations such as completing tax returns, delaying making medical appointments, or failing to keep promises towards friends and family. Feelings of guilt, anxiety or depression about the delays can then follow. Unsurprisingly, research has shown that chronic procrastination is associated with lower achievements in education, slower job promotions, and poorer mental and physical health.1

Why do we procrastinate, and how can we overcome this habit?

Procrastination can be caused by a large variety of factors2, which can be grouped into three domains:

1/ task characteristics (e.g., the unpleasantness of the task, unclear instructions or feedback)

2/ environmental factors (e.g., incentives for success, accountability, external distractions)

3/ personality facets (e.g., negative mood, avoidant coping style, poor emotion regulation)

Task characteristics

We often avoid tasks because they are unpleasant (for example, going to the dentist), or they are overwhelmingly large (for example, completing a major project or losing a lot of weight).

Environmental factors

Procrastinators usually do something else instead of the required task. The more available and pleasant that ‘something else’ is compared to the task, the easier it is to procrastinate. This is especially the case if the task does not result in outcomes that are worth the effort (for example, the task seems to have little meaning or value, or you expect that your achievements will not be recognised by others).

Personality facets

Not everybody will procrastinate to the same extent, even if the task is unpleasant. Several personality characteristics make us more likely to procrastinate, given the same task and environmental factors.

Briefly, procrastination can be seen as an attempt at emotion regulation in the face of stress. This attempt is usually successful in the short term but has serious negative consequences in the long-term.

For example, a person may consider the task too overwhelming, boring, or lacking in real value and interest. These perceptions can cause feelings of stress, anxiety, resentment, or other negative emotions. Procrastinators tend to have a lower ability to tolerate and set aside these emotions and concentrate on the task. Instead, the quickest way to reduce these feelings is to walk away from the task, do something else, and even convince ourselves that the other task is just as important.

Unfortunately, the deadline will eventually be so close that avoiding the task is no longer possible, and the procrastinator will finish the job at the last minute, often not having enough time to check for mistakes or create a polished product. If then the feedback is less than positive, the procrastinator may feel guilty (a negative emotion that can lead to more procrastination), or they may be able to maintain self-esteem by telling themselves that they could have done a better job “if only they had more time to do it”. Indeed, this ‘self-handicapping’ behaviour is quite common among people with low confidence in their abilities.

How to reduce procrastination?

Reconsider how you view the task. Procrastinators often focus on the unpleasant or anxiety-provoking aspects of the task. To reduce procrastination, it is important to make sure that all aspects of the task are considered and put into perspective. For that, we need to slow down and think about the task in a different way.

For example, if the task is overwhelming, we may decide to focus on achieving small parts, step by step. Deciding to focus on the time spent working on the task can be helpful. One may set a very rigid schedule: work on the task for exactly 45 minutes, then have a break for exactly 15 minutes and do something to reward yourself. Repeat, rigidly, until you have spent 4 hours working on the task. Have a longer break, then start again.  The most important point is to divert attention from how large and scary the task is and focus on the small achievements. They will add up and the task will be finished.

If starting is particularly difficult, again, take tiny steps. Make it easier on yourself.  Tell yourself: “I’m just going to open the document and read one page. That’s all.” Or, “I’m just going to put on my running shoes and take a walk around the block.” Or, “I’m going to find my tax expense receipts for just one month”. While it may sound like doing such small tasks is ‘not worth it’, they are a whole lot better than not doing anything! Most importantly, they will help you refocus your attention from your perception of how unattainable the task is. This may allow you to reduce your negative emotions about the task and make a start.

Change the task environment. We all know that limiting intrusions and distractions is important to stay focused. Turn off social media reminders.  If needed, put on an email notification saying that you are away from email for a couple of hours.

However, distractions are only a part of the total work environment. The positive and negative consequences associated with the task itself are very important. Were the expectations for the task clearly communicated to you? Do you feel supported, can you turn to someone for advice? Are your achievements recognised by your workplace? If you feel alone, unsupported, and unsure of what it is you need to do, procrastination is more likely.  A conversation with your supervisor may help if your workplace is open to feedback.

Consider your personality and coping style. Empirically supported treatments for chronic procrastination tend to emphasise the development of more effective emotion regulation skills3. People can learn a variety of emotion regulation techniques, such as deep breathing, positive self-talk, or setting up positive experiences as rewards for achieving small steps. Observing and changing one’s own thinking habits and emotion regulation styles is difficult, though. Procrastination is often associated with long-held beliefs (for example, a deep-seated feeling of not being good enough despite evidence for the contrary; or a belief that one needs to cope with everything without asking for help) that are so automatic that we are rarely aware of them. Reading a self-help book about procrastination or seeking professional assistance may be helpful in these cases4.


1Steinert, C., Heim, N., Leichsenring, F. (2021). Procrastination, perfectionism, and other work-related mental problems: prevalence, types, assessment, and treatment. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12.

2Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: a meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychology Bulletin, 133, 65–94. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65

3Malouff, J.M., Schutte, N.S. (2019). The efficacy of interventions aimed at reducing procrastination: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Counseling and Development, 97, 117–127. doi: 10.1002/jcad.12243

4Steel, P. (2010). The procrastination equation: how to stop putting things off and start getting stuff done. Random House Canada.


Dr Marianna Szabo is a Clinical Psychologist, a leading expert in Mindfulness and a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sydney.



Fast Food & Sports Stars Don’t Mix

In this opinion piece, Good Mood Dudes founder Dr. Nicholas Chartres provides his view on this article: GP-turned-MP to demand action on junk food advertising


Kids love sports stars.

They buy the shoes and clothes they wear, the cricket bats they use and the sports drinks they drink.

Therefore, a new bill to stop junk food sponsorship of children’s sport and ads shown during prime-time television like 20/20 cricket, when kids are watching with their families, is a welcome move to help reduce the number of overweight and obese Australian children.

We know from the success of smoking cessation rates globally that advertising, especially via mass media, is one of the most pervasive ways that companies can increase sales and consumption of their harmful products. If we cut advertising, we cut consumption and we can cut the resulting rates of disease that are caused by these harmful products.

Although advertisements for unhealthy foods and drinks are banned during broadcasts of television programs made for pre-schoolers, the average 5-8 old is still being exposed to more than 800 junk food television ads a year. Currently, the federal government has allowed the food industry to govern itself through a self-regulatory code, with junk food companies arguing that they are not advertising to children by sponsoring their sports because they only use their brand names and not pictures of their products.

However, the food industry knows that kids look up to sports stars and they still have a significant opportunity to get our kids hooked on their ultra-processed foods. If Australian men’s cricket captain Pat Cummins can eat KFC and still be one of the best athletes in the world, why wouldn’t an 8-year-old think that he can do the same?

It’s time to get serious and properly protect our children by banning all junk food advertising from sport.


Dr Nicholas Chartres is the Director of Science & Policy at the University of California, San Francisco working with the Program of Reproductive Health and the Environment. His work focuses on US federal chemical policy and regulation.

Nick received his PhD from The University of Sydney, where his thesis examined ways to reduce bias in public health guidelines, including the primary studies that are used in our national Dietary Guidelines. Nick also has a Masters in Nutrition.

The NOVA Food Classification System Explained

NOVA is a system by which foods (and food products) are classified by their degree of processing and the purpose for processing, into one of four groups. It is not an acronym, it is just a name. So we thankfully don’t have to try and remember what it stands for.

How does NOVA classify foods?

Group 1 represents the unprocessed or minimally processed foods and includes edible parts of plants and animals which are either eaten directly after removal from nature (raw) or have had some minor level of processing performed to make them edible such as roasting, boiling, and pasteurisation. 

Group 2 refers to processed culinary ingredients – think oils, syrups, preserves and butter – these are substances obtained from Group 1, but with higher degrees of processing to make products that are used in the kitchen to cook with. The general recommendation then is to make Group 1 foods the basis of your diet using Group 2 foods in small amounts for seasoning and cooking.

As we increase the level of processing towards Groups 3 and 4 however we enter troubled waters. 

Group 3 are plain and simple – processed foods. These will be made from a collection of Group 1 and 2 foods. They contain a handful of ingredients but the process employed is for the purpose of increasing the durability and sensory qualities of the Group 1 and 2 foods. Here we are thinking smoked or cured meats, canned fruits and vegetables, cheeses and breads – and for those waiting to see where beer wine and ciders sit – they are right here as products of fermentation.

Group 4 are the ultra-processed products. A subtle note here that the word “food” is intentionally dropped from the group heading by the NOVA creators. These are industrial formulations typically with 5 or more ingredients. The ingredient list might look like there are Group 1 foods present, but they no longer represent anything like the way nature intended. The ingredients list here reads like a who’s who of chemistry’s rich and famous. Additives whose main purpose is to either mimic the qualities of Group 1 foods or to disguise the bitter taste the many “preservatives”, “emulsifiers” and “humectants” (whatever they are!?) that have been packed into the product possess. Some of the more common Group 4 product examples are supermarket breads, breakfast cereals, muesli bars and packet sauces and many of the frozen reheat meal options.

Which groups of foods should we be consuming? 

The general recommendation in regard to these groups is to consume Group 3 sparingly. They can be consumed in small amounts and as part of a meal based around Groups 1 and 2 but only on occasion. Group 4 however, are to be avoided. That’s it. Just avoid them.

Can ultra-processed foods be healthy?

The avoidance of processed products is far more easily said than done. For the most part, well over a third of our diet comes from products in this group. And more concerning is that many of the Group 4 products can be found with a healthy-looking 5 stars, low GI, tick of approval! These products are aggressively marketed, displace Group 1 foods from our daily diets and have a huge negative impact on our health. In a recent analysis of over 100,000 French adults, compared to those that reported consuming at least one-fifth of their diet from Group 4, overall cancer risk was increased in those consuming higher amounts of Group 4 products.

Progressively, nutritionists around the world are beginning to re-frame their understanding of healthy diets in the context of NOVA classifications. The good news is, we do not have to completely re-invent wheels here. We can look to a number of very popular dietary patterns in the community today as examples that are fundamentally built on diets of Group 1 and 2 foods.

Further reading:

NOVA. The star shines bright. World Nutrition Volume 7, Number 1-3, January-March 2016 [PDF]


Dr. Kieron Rooney completed his PhD in the Department of Biochemistry, within the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney. Kieron’s primary interest focuses on conducting research and using this research to educate others on how what we eat, influences our metabolism. 

When Did Eating A Healthy Diet Become So Hard?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 1 in every 20 Australians consumes the minimum serving of vegetables per day. While over a third of our diet comes from packaged junk food. Nutrition based public education campaigns don’t work. Sure, most of us know what we are supposed to be doing – 5 serves of vegetables, 2 serves of fruit, some protein but not too much, and go easy on the fats – and so to some extent, the message has got through. But they haven’t worked in affecting change or establishing good routine behaviours.

What does the Government have to say?

Governments, past and present, say it is the individuals’ fault for ignoring some 40 years of public awareness campaigns. More than one former Prime Minister and/or Federal Health Minister have proudly proclaimed that the only person that should tell them what to eat is themselves and Governments have no place in restricting food choices. But it is not the fault of the individual. It is a consequence of the food environment in which education must compete against marketing practices that overwhelm the senses and fatigue even the most committed shopper. Messaging in both public health campaigns and marketing practices seem to be widely varied and misinforming in many cases. With some 2 in every 3 Australians overweight or obese, we need a more authorative and thorough approach to public health messaging than just being told what is good for us.

Why are we all so confused on what to eat?

Over the past 40 years there has been and continues to be a fundamental shift in our understanding of nutritional science. In the early days, a reductionist approach was embraced in which foods were identified by their individual nutrients. Such as, did they contain saturated fat or unsaturated fat? Are they high protein or low protein? The result of this approach was a re-conceptualising of food, not as food. But rather as a vehicle of specific nutrients resulting in what is termed nutrient based criteria. Foods were quickly classified good or bad for you on the basis of perhaps only one ingredient. With the most consumed products being made up of three or more ingredients today, this approach can skew the validity of what is healthy and what is not.

The Health Star Rating System

The popular Health Star Rating System (HSR) is derived from this more reductionist approach. Where the apparent health of a food is determined by an algorithm incorporating component ratios of certain ingredients and correction factors for different food categories. While this system relies on science and a few calculations, in no living system, has the accuracy of the star ratings been tested, examined and shown to be true. Controversially, in some studies where interventions were supposed to improve the health of participants, incidence of disease increased. There are many examples of where the HSR fails to meet its lofty advocacy as a universal indicator for healthy choices. Not least the automatic allocation of 5 stars to fruit juice which the World Health Organisation arguably classifies as a sugar sweetened beverage and recommends we avoid. However, if adequately explained, consumers may still be able to find some use in the HSR.

The Glycemic Index or GI

An alternative approach to understanding the healthfulness of some foods has been to focus on the carbohydrate content, both the quantity and quality. The early steps in this approach saw the creation and development of the glycemic index. In brief, members of the community would be asked to eat small portions of a test food and their blood glucose response would be monitored. On another day an equivalent portion of white bread or some other comparative food would be consumed and the relative difference in blood glucose response would be used to calculate the GI. The general belief being – the lower the GI the healthier it is for you.

Over the past 20 or so years, millions of dollars and hours of effort have gone into validating this tool as an indicator of the healthfulness of a product. At the same time however, shortcomings in the methodology and high variability between individuals has chipped away at confidence in this commonly advocated front of pack label.

What do we do now?

If the two most immediately recognisable and advocated front of pack labels for helping consumers make informed choices are of limited use – where does that leave us? Well one of the first things we need to recognise with approaches such as the HSR and the GI, is that they focus only on some of the components in a product. And not necessarily the food, in the context of our daily lives and how we eat. Food is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

When we look beyond our borders we see a vastly different approach to “dietary guidelines”. For example in Brazil, there is no singling out of saturated fat, carbohydrates or even alcohol. Rather there are steps towards a healthy diet focussing on the avoidance of ultra-processed foods. They encourage planning, developing and sharing cooking skills and eating in social contexts. It is out of Brazil that the NOVA food classification was borne. A system that has both excited nutritional science in providing a whole new scope of data to play with but more importantly has provided community members and public health advocates with a simple enough guide to improving diets – focussing on food processing.

The systems and messaging in place in our modern society that were designed to aid in making healthy lifestyle changes when it comes to our diet are confusing and outdated. The government needs to take a new approach in advocating healthy lifestyle changes, like Brazil’s NOVA classification, where emphasis is put onto advocating for healthy food choices according to food proccessing standards without isolating a particular food group.

Further reading:

The NOVA Food Classification System Explained


Dr. Kieron Rooney completed his PhD in the Department of Biochemistry, within the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney. Kieron’s primary interest focuses on conducting research and using this research to educate others on how what we eat, influences our metabolism.

Expert Q&A Introducing: Dr Yu Sun Bin

1. Could you tell us a little about your career and areas of expertise/interest? 

I work as a research fellow and senior lecturer in sleep and circadian health. My research is focused on how sleep and circadian rhythms affect the health of the community as a whole, and my teaching is focused on raising awareness of how important sleep and circadian rhythms are for health and wellbeing. I am particularly interested in how to promote sleep as a healthy habit; the impact of sleep disorders in pregnancy and in women more generally; and also applying circadian science to reducing jetlag.  


2. What drew you to this line of work/research in the first place?

I went to uni thinking I would be a physicist! But I found psychology, particularly the ways of thinking and behaving that we all have in common as humans, more interesting. Since I wanted to focus on the things that people have in common, I was not interested in practicing (clinical) psychology, I was interested in how we can improve health for everyone. This is why I went into further study in public health, because it is all about how the environment we live in affects our health. By environment, I mean all aspects of the environment from our culture, values, and institutions, as well as the built and natural environments. 

Sleep is a great example of something we all do and have in common, which is heavily influenced byhow much we value sleep, when we sleep, and who we sleep with. As a society, we are just beginning to realise how cultural changes in technology and work hours negatively affect our sleep, but we haven’t yet found systemic solutions to preserve sleep and our health.


3. How do you look after your own physical and mental wellbeing?

I get enough sleep and try to be realistic about what can be accomplished in one day. I know that if I over-work, I will only need to spend the next day recovering, rather than having gained extra time! I have learned to be more consistent in my work patterns and to try and approach life as one long marathon where I’m NOT in a hurry to get to the end.


4. Do you have a favourite post-workout cafe?

I think that question assumes I work out! I’m not a fan of gym-based exercise, but a big fan of walking everywhere and long walks with my dogs. I find that a coffee beforehand helps with my motivation to start and my ability to keep going; but no caffeine is needed afterwards. 


5. What is one thing you wish people knew about wellbeing? 

There are no secrets and we’ve known what works for a very long time! For sleep for instance, it’s well documented in the Bible – a text that is thousands of years old – that people knew that sleep deprivation was harmful and understood that insomnia was caused by stress and anxiety. They also understood that alcohol can negatively affect sleep while exercise could improve sleep. 

We also have more recent evidence from the late 1890s, more than a century ago now, where people lamented in medical journals that there was more insomnia due to “the busy-ness of modern life” but that same comment is often made today. Neither the problems nor the answers have changed; we just need to be better at implementing those boring old answers and stop looking for panaceas. 


6. What is one of the most ridiculous things you’ve read or seen about wellbeing that you know to be untrue? 

I try not to repeat things that I know to be untrue. Unfortunately with the way that modern media and social media is designed, commenting on untruths only tends to spread them further!


7. Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or websites on health or wellbeing that you’d recommend?

I think reading books and listening to podcasts you actually enjoy is best for wellbeing! I personally enjoy listening to these podcasts:

  • No Such Thing as a Fish, in which the QI researchers discuss random facts in a light-hearted fashion
  • The Junkees , in which comedians Kitty Flanagan and Dave Hughes talk about and taste-test junk food (everything in moderation!)
  • Swindled, in which an anonymous American narrator with a very dry sense of humour talks about white-collar crimes and institutional and regulatory failures


8. What is your top tip for living a healthy and happy life? 

Spend time outdoors! Apart from getting natural light that is essential for quality sleep, there’s also a whole wealth of research that shows that seeing and being surrounded by greenery, sky, and water provides people with a sense of restoration. We don’t know why exactly, but surely 50 million years of primates living and evolving in natural environments has something to do with it!