Main News RSS news feed from en-AU Women earning $25,000 less than men

Women on average earn $25,534 less than men every year, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency's (WGEA) latest gender pay gap report.

The gender pay gap for total remuneration dropped just 0.7 percentage points to 20.1 per cent in the year to March, according to the report.

Women's average full-time base salary across all industries and occupations was 15 per cent, or $15,144 a year less than men's.

The report said that while the gap was narrowing, all industries had a gender pay gap that favoured men, and more than 45 per cent of employers who undertook a pay gap analysis took no action to address it.

But access to paid parental leave is improving. More than 50 per cent of employers provided staff access to paid parental leave in addition to the government scheme.

WGEA chief executive Libby Lyons said even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Australian employers had become "complacent" about gender equality.

She said "fatigue" was kicking in at many organisations, which had been reporting data since 2013.

"They have now got to the point where they tick the box, but in order to drive changes you have to take action," Ms Lyons said.

The WGEA's data is based on 4943 reports from employers, covering more than four million employees, for the reporting period 1 April, 2019, to 31 March, 2020.

It indicates women's overall position in the workforce. It does not compare like-for-like roles.

And it excludes CEOs, with just 10 of Australia's top 200 listed companies having a female chief executive.

Workplace Gender Equality Agency director Libby Lyons says Australian employers have become complacent about achieving gender equality.(ABC News: Supplied)


Pandemic could see us go back a decade on gender equality

Ms Lyons said in the two years of the global financial crisis the gender pay gap increased by 2 percentage points and it took 10 years to fix that.

"We can't afford history to repeat itself, for the gender pay gap to go up and for it to take a decade off what we have gained," Ms Lyons said.

"As we move into the post-COVID recovery phase, we must make sure that women's workforce participation is not sidelined.

"Our economic recovery depends on women having equal access to secure full-time jobs."

Ms Lyons said she was still against introducing gender-based quotas in the way other countries had. Germany this week made it compulsory for most listed companies to have at least one woman on their board.

Ms Lyons said employers who did not take action to address pay gaps and increase women's representation would fall behind.

"It will be to the peril of their business, to their shareholders' dividends and to the employees that they wish to attract and retain [if employers don't take action]," Ms Lyons said.

"I can't think of any better stick or incentive than to ensure you drive increased productivity, increased performance and increased profitability."

The report notes gender pay gaps are influenced by a number of factors that can include discrimination and bias.

But the pay gap is also influenced by women and men working in different industries and jobs. Women dominate part-time jobs (75 per cent) and casual roles (56.3 per cent).

Women also still take up a disproportionate share of unpaid caring and domestic work, spend greater time out of the workforce and are under-represented in senior roles.

Women dominate part-time and casual jobs and are under-represented in senior roles.(AAP: Julian Smith)

Pay gaps by category and industry

A breakdown of the data shows every manager category and non-manager occupation had a gender pay gap for full-time employees that favours men.

The report said total remuneration gender pay gaps were influenced by a range of factors including non-salary benefits such as bonuses at senior levels, reliance on awards and collective agreements in some occupations, and the concentration of women and men in different industries.

The report recorded the largest decrease (1.8 percentage points) in the other executives/general managers category. But there was still a pay gap of $67,768 between men and women there.

And in the highest ranking 'key management personnel' category, the pay gap was $89,141.

There has, however, been a narrowing of the gap in five of the seven occupational categories. The only occupation with an increased gender pay gap this year was labourer, with a 0.9 percentage point rise — a gap of $15,099 a year.

'Financial and insurance services' remains the industry with the highest total remuneration gender pay gap at 27.5 per cent, or a difference of $45,497 annually.

But that industry's gender pay gap has dropped almost 2 percentage points this year and has decreased 8.6 percentage points since 2013-14.

Construction has replaced 'rental, hiring and real estate services' as the industry with the second-worst gender pay gap at 26.1 per cent or $36,361 annually.

The gender pay gap in the most heavily female-dominated industry — healthcare and social assistance — remained virtually unchanged (up from 14.7 per cent in 2015-16 to 15.7 per cent in 2019-20).

But even in this female-dominated industry, the pay gap is 15.7 per cent, or $16,700 a year.

The gender pay gap in the second most female-dominated industry — education and training — went up 0.4 percentage points to 9.2 per cent, or a $11,562 difference annually.

Almost half of all employers took no action to address pay gap

There was another increase in the number of employers analysing their payroll data for gender pay gaps (up 1.7 percentage points to 46.4 per cent), but fewer organisations were taking action to close their gender pay gaps

Among organisations that conducted a gender pap gap analysis, there was a significant drop in the number which reported taking action as a result (down 6.1 percentage points to 54.4 per cent).

More than 45 per cent of employers who undertook a pay gap analysis took no action to address it.

The proportion of organisations reporting pay equity metrics to the executive dropped 4.7 per to 26.6 per cent and those correcting like-for-like gaps fell 2.2 percentage points to 26.7 per cent.

The only increase reported was a 2.3 percentage point rise to 9.2 per cent in the number of employers setting targets to reduce organisation-wide pay gaps.

And 68.9 per cent of employers who undertook a pay gap analysis and took no action to address it reported their analysis identified "no unexplained or unjustifiable pay gaps".

However, the number of organisations implementing formal policies and strategies on remuneration with specific pay equity objectives is increasing.

According to the report, 63.8 per cent of organisations said they had a formal policy. Of those organisations, 43.1 per cent now have pay equity objectives in their remuneration policy and strategy.

There was also an increase in the number of employers with a formal policy or strategy to support employees experiencing family or domestic violence. It went up 6.2 percentage points to 66.4 per cent.

Paid parental leave still taken mostly by women

There has been improved access to paid parental leave. It reached a seven-year high.

For the first time since WGEA started collecting data, more than 50 per cent of employers said they provided staff access to paid parental leave, in addition to the government scheme.

But access to paid parental leave was highly dependent on the size and industry of the employer, with bigger ones generally offering more generous incentives.

Access to paid parental leave is highly dependent on the size and industry of the employer, with bigger ones generally offering more generous incentives.(Flickr: Kat Grigg)

Almost seven in 10 (69.4 per cent) of the employees had access to paid parental leave for primary carers (3,047,441 employees) and 46.4 per cent of employers offered paid parental leave for secondary carers.

Women accounted for the vast majority (93.5 per cent) of all primary carer's leave used, with men accounting for only 6.5 per cent.

Of those employers offering paid primary carer's leave, seven to 12 weeks was the most common length of leave.

Only 4.7 per cent of employers offered 18 or more weeks of primary carer's leave.

Ms Lyons said it was positive that more than 50 per cent of employers said they provided staff access to paid parental leave, but overall employers needed to do more to ensure gender equality was achieved.

She said while the number of female CEOs and board directors was rising, "we are still decades away from achieving gender balance at the top levels of leadership".

"Australian employers are on autopilot when it comes to improving gender equality," Ms Lyons said.

"The issue is clearly not receiving the necessary attention to drive further change."

Do you believe we will ever see parity between male and female wages? Should there be gender quotas on boards?

© 2020 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.ABC Content Disclaimer


Thu, 26 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Detox diets – should you do one?

From juice fasts to colon cleanses, detoxing is supposed to flush toxins out of your system and ‘reset’ your body. But are detoxes as healthy as you’re meant to believe and should you do one?

Detox diets are all the rage, touted as a beneficial way to kick start a healthy lifestyle and help weight loss. Cleansing the body of toxins is also said to reduce the risk of disease and promote the feeling of overall good health, radiant skin and boost energy. However, the practice of detoxification may actually cause more harm than good.

Your body accumulates natural and manmade toxins when you ingest food and water, and when you breathe. Toxins can exist as pollutants in the air and chemicals in processed foods. Even organic fruit and vegetables aren’t safe from toxins such as E. coli and salmonella, which can both lead to acute illness.

What kinds of detox diets exist?

There are many ways you can detox, including:

juice cleanses colon/liver cleanses raw food diets fasting diets


The risks of detoxing

Of all the detoxing methods, juice cleanses and fasting diets offer the least benefit to those with medical conditions. This is because they deprive you of vitamins and nutrients your organs need to function well and for you to feel good – both of which detoxing diets aim to do. Perhaps you’ll lose weight, your skin will clear and you’ll feel ‘lighter’ for a time, but once you return to a regular diet, all this is likely to change back.

If you have diabetes or issues with cholesterol, a detox diet can be harmful. There is little  research showing that detoxing helps improve blood pressure or cholesterol. Any diet that requires you to severely restrict what you eat can lead to very low blood pressure, which is especially dangerous if you’re on medication for diabetes.

So, is a detox diet the answer?

Not really. Your body is designed to expel toxins on its own. The main organ that performs this function is the liver. Everything you eat, drink and breathe that passes into the bloodstream also passes through the liver. This organ does the important work of regulating, synthesising, storing and secreting many proteins and nutrients, along with purifying, transforming and clearing out toxic substances. Drinking a juice or performing another internal cleanse isn’t going to flush your body of these toxins faster, according to some experts.

Some detoxification products are supposed to ‘cleanse’ the liver itself, but in healthy people the liver does not store toxins. Instead, it processes potentially harmful chemicals and makes them water-soluble so that they can be sweated or excreted from the body.

The conclusion

The research repeatedly suggests that the only detox diets worth undertaking are those that limit processed, high-fat and sugary foods, and focus on promoting whole foods, including fruit and vegetables. Basically, if you feed your body the right vitamins and nutrients, it should look after itself just fine. 

Read more at and

Have you ever done a detox diet? How was your experience?

Related articles: Detoxing: is it the only way? Why dieting and ageing don’t mix Mediterranean diet can help treat depression

Thu, 26 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Feel sexy after 60

It feels as though society today is obsessed with portraying beauty as youth. Advertising campaigns and runways are full of young models who will probably age out of the industry by the time they turn 23. But thankfully, there is no age limit on feeling sexy. Men and women of any age can ooze sex appeal, I find it usually goes hand in hand with confidence and approachability. But sexy also needs to evolve as you age; what makes you feel sexy at 30 is going to be different from what makes you feel sexy at 60. And that's fine, it's all about identifying it and running with it.

Luckily, actresses like Jane Seymour, Susan Sarandon and Jane Fonda are breaking media stereotypes by looking attractive and mature. They show that women can be as sexy as the classic older male stereotypes like George Clooney or Brad Pitt.

So here are a few ways you can feel sexy after 60.

SmileThe first is the easiest and cheapest. In fact, it's the cheapest facelift you'll ever get. So what if you have wrinkles or skin that's starting to droop a little, smiling can make all the difference. It makes people notice when you look like you are enjoying life and people want to approach those who look happy and welcoming.

It's easy to look cranky when you are out running errands or simply off in your own world but putting you head up and sticking a smile on your face can help you feel more engaged with the world around you. It's also nice to catch a stranger’s eye and share a smile.

Move with purposeThere's nothing better than when you're on your way somewhere and you really get into the swing of things. Draw your shoulders back, lift your chin a little, pick up your feet as you walk and look as though you want to get wherever you're going (even if it is to the dentist).

Aside from making you feel and look good, walking with purpose can be beneficial from a security perspective. Even if you're travelling, walking as though you know the area and know where you're going can keep you off the radar of potential muggers. It's also easier to take in your surroundings when you lift your gaze and look ahead.

Wear what makes you feel goodHave a look through your closet and think about what makes you feel the most like you when you slip it on. What do you love, what do you avoid, what hasn't fitted for the past 10 years?

The clothes that you choose should fit properly, be in the colours that make you feel great and match who you are as a person. If you don't feel comfortable in your clothes, if they're too tight or you don't feel confident in certain colours, that will show.

Make a list of your best features and keep them in mind when choosing new clothes. Show a glimpse of your great cleavage, wear dresses and skirts that show your long legs. Look for tops that accentuate an hourglass shape if you have a small waist. Everybody has great features and it's okay to show them off a little.

Buy some red underwearA 2017 study found that both women and men who wear red feel more physically attractive. Apparently, the bold colour gives us all a nice little confidence boost, at least compared to people wearing blue. If you don't feel confident enough to don a red shirt or dress, red underwear will give you that same boost but only you will know.

Make a morning playlistDownload some of your favourite, positive songs and pop them on when you're getting ready or when you're making your morning coffee. Sing along, dance a little and start the day by feeling good.

Try out a dance classBelly dancing or burlesque will definitely make you feel sexy, but any type of dance will allow you to experiment with movement and get those endorphins pumping. A supportive group environment is an opportunity to make some new friends and gain some new skills, and feel confident while you're doing it.

Laugh a lotJoy and laughter is the ultimate confidence builder. Joy is infectious and it naturally makes other people want to be around you. It makes you seem fun and like you don't take life too seriously. The benefits of laughter are numerous, from boosting the immune system to lowering blood pressure, plus a good belly laugh is a great core workout. This isn't to say you should be happy and joyful 100 per cent of the time, of course, we all have our down days, but try to find joy in the little things and you'll be surprised at what can come from it.

Stay relevantKeeping up with technology and the current trends can be hard but there's a lot to gain from them. From watching your favourite movie on a smart TV to digital doorbells keeping you and your packages safe, there are lots of small, easy ways to integrate technology into your life. Using Skype or Facetime to keep in touch with family and friends when you are far apart or catching up on the daily news can all help you stop feeling as though the world is moving on without you.

What do you do when you are feeling glum? How do you maintain and build your confidence? Do you have any other tips to add?

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Thu, 26 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Will you get the $250 support payment?

The first of the two $250 economic support payments announced in the Federal Budget this year, is due to be sent from 27 November, and should start arriving in eligible bank accounts from early next month.

If you have received the other economic support payments and your circumstances haven’t changed, you will automatically be eligible for this payment. But if your circumstances have changed, how do you know if you are eligible?

You will receive the payment if you are living in Australia and receiving an eligible Centrelink payment or holding an eligible concession card on 27 November,

The eligible payments and cards include:

Age Pension Carer Allowance Carer Payment Commonwealth Seniors Health Card Disability Support Pension Pensioner Concession Card.


The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) will also pay the economic support payments if you are receiving an eligible DVA benefit.

You do not need to claim the payment, it will automatically be paid into your bank account, although you won’t get the economic support payment if you are already receiving the coronavirus supplement.

If your eligibility for the economic support payment comes from holding a Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card it is important to make sure that Centrelink has your bank account details, so the payment can be made. You can update your bank details through your Centrelink Online Account.

The economic support payment is non-taxable and doesn’t count as income.

When will the money arrive? The exact date will be different for everyone and may not be the same date as your regular payment date, but it should arrive sometime in early December.

The $250 may appear in your online account up to 48 hours before it appears in your bank account.

What about next year’s payment? If you are not receiving an eligible payment or holding an eligible card on 27 November, but you expect that situation to change, you could still be eligible for a $250 payment in March 2021.

You need to be deemed eligible for the payment on 26 February 2021 to get the next $250 payment during March.

Are you eligible for the economic support payment? Are you planning on spending the extra money or saving it? Do you expect that the economic support payments will continue beyond March next year?

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Wed, 25 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Anxiety linked to fast Alzheimer’s onset

Anxiety has been linked to an increased rate of progression from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease, according a new US study.

Dementia, including Alzheimer’s, is the second leading cause of death for both men and women in Australia.

Around 460,000 Australians currently live with dementia in one form or another. That number is expected to increase to 1.1 million by 2058.

It has been labelled by Dementia Australia chief Maree McCabe as “the chronic disease of the 21st century”.

The number of Alzheimer’s deaths worldwide has doubled since 2000.

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia.

“In a 12-month period, over two million Australians experience anxiety.”

Feelings of worry, anxiety or fear strong enough to interfere with daily activities are common indicators of an anxiety disorder, which can lead to panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Symptoms include stress that’s out of proportion to the impact of the event, inability to set aside a worry and restlessness.

Anxiety is frequently observed in people with mild cognitive impairment. While its role in disease progression is not well understood, researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) have discovered that patients with mild cognitive impairment and anxiety developed Alzheimer’s disease at a much faster rate than those without anxiety.

“We know that volume loss in certain areas of the brain is a factor that predicts progression to Alzheimer’s disease,” said study senior author Professor Maria Vittoria Spampinato.

“In this study, we wanted to see if anxiety had an effect on brain structure, or if the effect of anxiety was independent from brain structure in favouring the progression of disease.”

The study involved 339 patients with an average age of 72 years and each with a baseline diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment.

Of this group, 72 progressed to Alzheimer’s disease and 267 remained stable.

Using brain MRIs, the researchers studied the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex – the two brain areas most important to forming memories.

They looked for the presence of the ApoE4 allele, the most prevalent genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Patients with Alzheimer’s disease had significantly lower volumes in the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex and greater frequency of the ApoE4 allele.

Anxiety levels established by clinical surveys were independently associated with cognitive decline.

“Mild cognitive impairment patients with anxiety symptoms developed Alzheimer’s disease faster than individuals without anxiety, independently of whether they had a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease or brain volume loss,” said study first author Jenny L. Ulber.

Learning more about how anxiety symptoms lead to a faster progression to Alzheimer’s disease can help specialists better manage patients with early mild cognitive impairment.

“We need to better understand the association between anxiety disorders and cognitive decline,” said Prof. Spampinato.

“We don’t know yet if the anxiety is a symptom – in other words, their memory is getting worse and they become anxious – or if anxiety contributes to cognitive decline. If we were able in the future to find that anxiety is actually causing progression, then we should more aggressively screen for anxiety disorders in the elderly.”

“The geriatric population is routinely screened for depression in many hospitals, but perhaps this vulnerable population should also be assessed for anxiety disorders,” added Ms Ulber.

“Middle-aged and elderly individuals with high level of anxiety may benefit from intervention, whether it be pharmacological or cognitive behavioural therapy, with the goal of slowing cognitive decline.”

The team hopes further study will help them better understand the connection between anxiety and brain structure.

“We’re now interested in looking at changes over time to see if anxiety has an effect one way or the other on how fast the brain damage progresses,” said Prof. Spampinato.

“We will also take a closer look at gender differences in the association between anxiety and cognitive decline.”

Do you suffer from anxiety? How do you manage it?

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Disclaimer: Australian readers seeking support and information about suicide and depression can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more information on treating depression and anxiety, please visit Beyond Blue.

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Wed, 25 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
The Queen’s best Christmas hats

It's officially one month until Christmas (30 days, 720 hours). So, we're kicking off the countdown with a look back at the Queen's best Christmas hats.

Given that we see Her Majesty in a hat more often than out of one, there are few better people to take inspiration from than the Queen.

Every year she attends church on Christmas Day and always wears a hat. So, we’ve taken a look back at some of her best festive headwear through the years and asked milliner Awon Golding to talk us through the Queen’s style evolution in hats.


In 1978, the royal hat of choice was a felt pillbox hat. “It’s a style she’ll come back to many times in her life,” says Ms Golding. “It was popularised in the 1960s by Jackie Kennedy.

“We’ll see throughout the Queen’s sartorial life that she consistently wears hats that are swept up and away from the face. When meeting with dignitaries it was important they could see her eyes, and that the official photographs were able to capture her whole face.”

The 1980s

The hat selected by the Queen in 1983 feels just as fitting for a winter wedding as it would have been for royalty to attend a Christmas Day church service – we’ll go for faux fur now, of course.

“This feathered pillbox is decorative, featuring a coque feather trim and delicate veiling. From the photo it looks like the hat itself is also covered in what could possibly be pheasant feathers,” says Ms Golding.

The 1990s

The Queen was rocking bold block colour way before it became mainstream fashionable and, in a sea of '90s beige, she radiates in purple in 1992.

“This exaggerated Breton is made in matching purple tweed to the Queen’s coat,” explains Ms Golding. “Once again, we see the sweeping uplift of the brim, exposing the face and framed by her     signature curled hair.”

The '90s really was a time when the Queen began to match her coat and hat colours. Ms Golding says her 1999 sculptural beret in blue wool would have a canvas base to it, which would be covered and lined with fabric.

The early 2000s

The Queen always needs to look her best on Christmas Day, as many people wait to see her outside the church at Sandringham, and hand over flowers. As the 2000s dawned, she went for a bright colour-match combination, with her trademark black leather handbag.

This 2001 hat is made from parasisal, a type of milliner’s straw, and sinamay, a popular hat-making foundation made from the stalks of the abaca tree, and would have been hand dyed to match the Queen’s outfit, “perfectly mirroring the turquoise and cobalt of the jacket and dress”, says Ms Golding.

The new millennium saw the Queen start to experiment with bolder hat choices, textures and accessories, and her 2002 choice stands out.

“This fuchsia tweed and black fox fur Cossack is both elegant and warm,” says Ms Golding. “More than likely this would have a felt body underneath with fabric and fur blocked and sewn on top.”

The mid-2000s

Matching was the theme again in 2005, this time in a muted peach outfit – but that doesn’t stop the Queen showing a stylish flourish with the bow detail on this hat.

“This peach bloom felt and silk hat is another classic shape for the Queen,” observes Ms Golding. “Her Majesty’s ubiquitous hat pin is clearly visible here, holding the hat in place.”

We’re enjoying the red and grey feather explosion of 2008. “This hat is made from a soft grey melusine fur felt, with crimson velvet trimming and button, and matching coque feathers,” notes Ms Golding. It is also, of course, perfectly coordinated to the Queen’s coat.

Recent years

Cloche hats were very fashionable in the 1920s and the Queen clearly knows how to work vintage – for her Christmas choice of 2011 is a lesson in retro revival.

“This ivory velour felt cloche with asymmetrical brim and exaggerated crown is trimmed with a matching waffle weave lavender tweed trim band and felt and fabric twist,” notes Ms Golding.

The burnt orange hat of 2017, made from a sinamay base covered with matching orange fabric, features an elegant handmade floral sinamay and wire trim.

“You can see the end of the hat pin here – almost all the Queen’s hats feature one or two hat pins to hold the hat in place in all circumstances,” says Ms Golding.

Which hat was your favourite? Are you a fan of the royal family? Do you have any festive headwear?

– With PA

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Wed, 25 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
The perfect Christmas pudding

If you're a lover of Christmas desserts, you must try this traditional Christmas pudding recipe.

The difference between Christmas cake and Christmas pudding While they are similar in that they both contain brandy, flour, sugar and dried fruit, they are not the same. Christmas cake is a rich fruit cake, baked in the oven and covered with marzipan and royal icing. It's best made about six weeks before it's ready to be eaten and is ‘fed’ with brandy once a week before it's decorated.

A Christmas pudding, however, is a steamed suet pudding, not baked, but cooked in a bowl above simmering water without much ‘crumb’ to it. You can make it up to a year in advance to allow it to mature and it tastes best after being flambéed.

So, try this recipe if you fancy giving a homemade Christmas pud a crack this year.

Makes one family sized pudding in an 18cm pudding basin


120g plain flour 60g fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs 120g shredded vegetable suet 120g brown sugar 120g grated apple 120g glace cherries, halved 120g currants 350g raisins 120g sultanas 120g chopped dried apricots 2tbsp chopped stem ginger in syrup 2tsp orange extract Zest of 1 fresh lemon 2 tablespoons black treacle 1 teaspoon mixed spice 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg 2 large eggs 175ml brandy


Method 1. Mix all ingredients together in one large bowl. Stir well and leave to mature overnight in the fridge.

2. The next day, fill your pudding basin with the mix, pressing down to level out the top. Cover with a piece of baking parchment and foil and tie securely and tightly over the top of the basin with string.

3. Place the pudding in a large pan and fill with boiling water, the water should come around three-quarters of the way up the pudding basin.

4. Simmer for eight hours, keeping an eye on the water and topping up the level at regular intervals.

5. Once cooked, cool and add fresh parchment and foil to the basin, tie and store until Christmas Day.

6. When ready to eat, heat by simmering for a minimum of two hours.

7. To serve, pour a generous glug of warmed brandy all over the pudding and set alight.

Food company Dr Oetker offers these tips to create a traditional Christmas pudding … 1. Each family member should take turns stirring the mix, making a Christmas wish as they do.

2. Put a silver coin in your pudding before you leave it to mature – its good luck for whoever finds it on Christmas Day! Just mind your teeth.

3. Don’t skip soaking your pudding – to achieve a fuller flavour, soaking your mix overnight makes all the difference

4. Replace the usual caster sugar with dark or brown sugars like muscovado to give your Christmas pudding a richer flavour of caramel.

5. Make sure the eggs you use are at room temperature rather than fresh out of the fridge, to avoid curdling.

6. After your pudding has been steamed store for four weeks.

7. If you want to be really traditional, store your maturing Christmas pud under the bed – the perfect cool, dry place.

8. Gently warm the brandy to serve so you don’t burn all of the alcohol away.

Tips and recipe courtesy of Dr Oetker and Juliet Sear.

Do you prefer Christmas pudding or Christmas cake? What do you serve with yours?

– With PA

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Wed, 25 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Advice could solve pension problems

The recently released Retirement Income Review revealed that as at June 2019, around 71 per cent of people aged 65 and over received the Age Pension or other pension payments and more than 60 per cent of these were on the maximum rate.

The review did not make any recommendations, but the 638-page document included many observations about retirees accessing the equity in their home to fund their retirement.

There could, however, be another way to increase the number of self-funded retirees and reduce the number of those relying on the pension, and the key could be as simple as providing more people with professional financial advice.

New CPA Australia research, conducted with independent research house CoreData, revealed that greater access to professional financial advice could increase personal incomes, deliver half a trillion dollars to the economy, and reduce reliance on the Age Pension.

A survey conducted by YourLifeChoices and Challenger in the middle of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in April 2020, found that those who had spoken to an adviser were more likely to be confident or very confident that they would be able to sustain their lifestyle for as long as they live. 

They were also much more likely to report being happy with the amount of money they had for retirement.

However, Dr Jane Rennie from the CPA said that over 60 per cent of the Australian population did not currently receive professional advice.

The research involved modelling the impact of making professional advice available to the entire population.

Professional advice included accounting, taxation, financial, superannuation, business, and mortgage broking advice.

The modelling found that if properly implemented professional advice was available to all Australians, spending on the Age Pension could be reduced by 21.6 per cent and the economy would be boosted by $630.3 billion per year.

“While the potential economic benefits are tremendous, realistically it’s unlikely we will ever have a fully advised population,” Dr Rennie said. “However, any increase in the uptake of professional advice from its current level could deliver an economic windfall.

“If an additional 10 per cent of the population received properly implemented professional advice, the potential contribution to Australia’s economy could be approximately $112.8 billion per year.”

The research also found that retirees could add an additional 35.7 per cent to their annual income by seeking out professional financial advice.

“Our survey revealed improvements in almost every aspect of people’s lives when they receive professional advice,” Dr Rennie said.

“Respondents reported benefits to their physical and mental health, family and social life, relationships and work satisfaction from receiving professional advice. The impact was even more pronounced for women.”

The survey of 1244 consumers also explored the reason why more Australians don’t seek professional advice and identified a range of barriers including a widely held belief in their own abilities, affordability and a lack of trust.

These figures are also reflected in YourLifeChoices’ Financial Literacy Survey, which found 86 per cent of members managed their own financial affairs and over 70 per cent said they had managed their finances well or very well in the past few years.

Have you ever sought professional financial advice? Did it help you better plan your finances? Would you have been worse off without it? If you haven’t sought financial advice, what is the main reason you haven’t?

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Wed, 25 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Are pet owners happier? Associate Professor Luke Smillie and Dr Ferdi Botha

Australians like their pets, and for most of us by far, the dog remains our best friend.

For the first time, the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey that covers 17,000 Australians annually, has asked participants about pets.

It shows that close to two-thirds of us have at least one pet.

Patterns of pet ownership can help researchers explore which individuals are more likely to own a pet and how pet ownership is associated with individual wellbeing, as measured by life satisfaction, mental health, and general health.

“The results show that pet ownership in Australia is quite high, with almost 62 per cent of people owning at least one pet.”

That’s according to HILDA researcher Dr Ferdi Botha, from the University of Melbourne, who co-authored the chapter with Professor Roger Wilkins.

Blurring the weekendWhile this figure is similar to pet ownership in the United States (65 per cent), it is much higher than in the United Kingdom (41 per cent) but lower than reported rates in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.

Among pet-owning individuals, dogs are by far the most popular. Almost 72 per cent of pet-owning people – which is 48 per cent of all Australians – have a dog.

Cats are the next most popular pet, with approximately 37 per cent of pet-owning people having a cat.

The next most popular pets are fish at 18 per cent, followed by birds at 16 per cent. Some 3.6 per cent pet owners have a horse, and 17 per cent have some other type of pet.

Almost 72 per cent of Australian pet owners have at least one dog and 37 per cent have a least one cat. Picture: Getty Images

It should be noted that these categories are not mutually exclusive, says Dr Botha, since a person may own more than one type of pet.

“But we do know that approximately 59 per cent of pet owners have only one type of pet, while 24 per cent have two types of pets and 17 per cent have three or more pet types,” he says.

The researchers also looked at how personal characteristics differ between pet owners and those who don’t own pets.

Are you OK Australia?They found that pet ownership was more prevalent among people aged under 65.

People aged under 25 or aged between 45 to 54 are particularly likely to be pet owners.

People aged 15 to 24 account for 9.8 per cent of people who don’t own pets, but 14.9 per cent of people who do. Similarly, people aged 45 to 54 account for 9.6 per cent of people who don’t own pets, but 15.2 per cent of pet owners.

In contrast, people aged 65 and over account for 22.5 per cent of non-pet owners but only 11.1 per cent of pet owners. The older age groups have a relatively high proportion of cat owners compared to dog owners.

“These results probably have a lot to do with life stage,” Dr Botha says. “Older people are possibly less likely to want to maintain an active dog as a pet.”

Among Australians with pets, dogs are the most popular, followed by cats, fish, birds, horses and 17 per cent have some other type of pet like reptiles and small mammals. Picture: Supplied

The survey also revealed some characteristics about pet owners in relation to their income and housing.

People with a dog (and no cat) have a mean equivalised income (household income adjusted for the household size and needs) of just under $60,000, whereas mean income is roughly $55,600 for those with a cat (and no dog).

Separated parents getting better at shared care?People with pets are slightly more likely to have children. Among people with pets, about 46 per cent have children, whereas 40 per cent of non-pet owning people have children.

As we might expect, 90 per cent of pet owners reside in detached houses, says Dr Botha.

“In contrast, 19 per cent of people with no pets live in flats, and as we might expect, the proportion of cats is larger for people in a flat who have less space than many types of dog would require.”

In terms of relationship status, the majority of pet owners are young couples and couples with dependent children. In households that have a dog, 46 per cent are couples with dependent children.

Pet ownership is also more common in our most populous states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

Researchers found no differences in life satisfaction or the likelihood of being in poor general health between pet owners and non-pet owners. picture: Getty Images

HILDA survey respondents were also asked to self-report their wellbeing and life satisfaction.

Participants were asked, “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life overall?”. Responses can range from 0 to 10 – the higher this score, the more satisfied a person is with his or her life as a whole.

“We found no differences in life satisfaction or the likelihood of being in poor general health between pet owners and non-pet owners, Dr Botha says.

Too many eggs in the property wealth basket“However, somewhat surprisingly, we did find that pet owners are 2.6 percentage points more likely to report being in poor mental health than people who don’t own a pet.”

That prompted the researchers to look closer at only those individuals who own pets to determine whether there are any differences in wellbeing outcomes across people owning different types of pets.

Compared to people with a dog (but no cat), those with cats (but no dog) are about 0.1 points (on the 0-10 scale) less satisfied with life.

Also, people who own a dog and a cat report about 0.9 points lower life satisfaction relative to those with a dog but no cat.

They are also 1.8 and 3.2 percentage points more likely to report poor general health and poor mental health, respectively, relative to people with only a dog (but no cat).

People who own a dog and a cat are between 1.8 and 3.2 percentage points more likely to report poor general health and poor mental health. Picture: Getty Images

Overall these associations suggest that cat owners – particularly those who also own a dog – may have somewhat lower wellbeing than other pet owners.

But Dr Botha emphasises that this doesn’t imply that cats cause lower wellbeing, it is simply an association.

“It may be that people in poorer health and with lower life satisfaction would be worse off if they did not own the cat,” he says.

Pandemic fallout exposes the young and vulnerableUniversity of Melbourne psychologist Dr Luke Smillie suggests that one possibility is that people who experience lower wellbeing seek out a feline housemate for companionship, but added that this wouldn’t explain why we don’t see the same for dogs, or other kinds of pets.

“Another possibility, owing to the strong overlap between personality and wellbeing, is that this finding reflects the personalities of cat owners,” Dr Smillie says.

Studies show that cat owners typically have lower levels of extraversion, meaning that cat owners tend to be quieter and more reserved compared dog owners.

Dr Smillie explains that extraversion is one of the strongest-known predictors of wellbeing measures like life satisfaction.

So, this finding may be more of a reflection on what the typical cat owner is like as a person, rather than any causes or effects of having a cat.

Studies show that cat owners typically have lower levels of extraversion, meaning that cat owners tend to be quieter and more reserved compared dog owners. Picture: iStock

“Importantly, being a few points lower than average on measures of wellbeing doesn’t mean that one is miserable,” he added.

“A broadly happy and satisfied life allows for a range of emotional intensities, from the most buzzing dog owner to the most chilled cat owner.”

Are you a pet owner? Do the findings about pet ownership and wellbeing resonate with you? Have you found a typical cat owner to be more reserved?

This article was first published on Pursuit. Read the original article.

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Wed, 25 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
How to get the pension you’re entitled to

Australians are living longer healthier lives. But many worry about the impact of share market downturns on their retirement savings – or even of running out of money. 

If you’re over 66, now’s the time to make sure you’re getting the Age Pension you deserve as recent changes to means testing for retirees could put more money in your pocket. 

These changes affect the assessment of the following lifetime income streams that began on or after 1 July 2019:

Lifetime superannuation pensions bought from a super fund, and Lifetime annuities you buy from a life company with your super or savings.

Lifetime income streams may help boost your Age Pension

Your rate of Age Pension is calculated using both an income test and an assets test. Not surprisingly, the test resulting in the lowest pension rate will apply.

Lifetime income streams are different to many other types of investments, such as bank accounts, account-based pensions and investment properties, where generally 100 per cent of the asset is assessable.

Certain lifetime annuities receive more favourable treatment from the assets test.

“Under the social security assets test, generally 60 per cent of the purchase price of certain lifetime annuities will count as an asset through to age 84, or for a minimum of five years. From then on, only 30 per cent of the purchase price counts as an asset,” explains Andrew Lowe, head of technical services at Challenger.

“Under the social security income test, 60 per cent of any payment you receive from this type of income stream is assessable as income for social security purposes.”

Don’t miss out on an Age Pension if you don’t have to

If you’re on a part Age Pension because of the assets test, investing in a lifetime income stream could raise your Age Pension payment. 

See if you’re entitled to more Age Pension

We’re all different, but Mr Lowe gives the example of a retiree who was able to boost her annual Age Pension entitlement from $14,500 to $19,000 by investing part of her savings in a lifetime annuity.

That $4500 made a big difference for her. You may be able to boost your Age Pension by thousands a year and make your savings last longer – simply by changing how you structure your assets.

Lifetime annuities as a source of income

“People use lifetime annuities to complement other sources of retirement income. It's rare to see 100 per cent coming from one source,” says Mr Lowe.

Put the means test to work for you

Your financial adviser can help you calculate your total spending requirements in retirement, covering both must-haves and nice-to-haves.

Mr Lowe says: “They’ll work out that number so you can compare it to the maximum Age Pension rate.”

If there’s a gap, then a lifetime annuity can help cover your basic living costs for life.

Guaranteed income peace of mind

Annuities deliver guaranteed income without many of the risks of share market-linked investments.

Find out if your retirement income will last for your lifetime

Challenger’s Retire with confidence tool is a simple and easy way to get your retirement income planning started online. Put your retirement income to the test and get results that show:

whether you may be eligible for the Age Pension or an increase in payments how long your retirement savings may last, and how much annual income you could guarantee for life by adding a lifetime income stream to your retirement income plan.

Challenger is a preferred partner of YourLifeChoices.

Disclaimer: Age Pension benefits described above will not apply to all individuals. Age Pension outcomes depend on an individual (or couple’s) personal circumstances and may change over time. While lifetime income streams may immediately benefit some Age Pension eligible retirees who are assessed under the assets test, in later years, if assessed under the income test, any ongoing Age Pension benefits may be reduced. Consult your financial adviser about potential impacts on your personal circumstances and whether a lifetime income stream is right for you. The information in this email is provided by Challenger Life Company Limited ABN 44 072 486 938, AFSL 234670 (Challenger Life), general only and has been prepared without taking into account any person’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Because of that, each person should, before acting on any such information, consider its appropriateness, having regard to their objectives, financial situation and needs. Each person should obtain and consider the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) before making a decision about whether to acquire or continue to hold the relevant product. A copy of the PDS can be obtained from your financial adviser, our Investor Services team on 13 35 66, or at All references to guaranteed payments from Challenger refer to the payments Challenger Life promises to pay under the relevant policy documents. Neither the Challenger group of companies nor any company within the Challenger group guarantees the performance of Challenger Life’s obligations or assumes any obligations in respect of products issued, or guarantees given, by Challenger Life.

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Wed, 25 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Exotic Pork Patties

With a few clever twists, Pamela’s Exotic Pork Patties are cheap and cheerful and add zest to a meal-time classic. Serves 2 Ingredients

100g spinach 1 small onion 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 10g fresh ginger Zest from half a small lemon 1 teaspoons chopped fresh sage or half tsp dried sage 1 slice bread 1 tablespoons strained Greek yoghurt 250g lean minced pork 4 whole sage leaves 4 tablespoons polenta Lemon wedges to serve

Method Place the spinach into a large pan of boiling, salted water and cook for 2 minutes until or until the spinach starts to wilt. Drain, cool and squeeze out all the water and then chop the spinach. Peel and chop your onion finely. Place the onion in a frying pan with 1 tablespoon of oil and soften while you grate or finely chop the ginger (peeled). Finely chop the lemon zest. Stir the ginger into the soft onion with the chopped sage and lemon zest and cook for one minute. Blitz the bread to make crumbs and stir the yoghurt into the crumbs in a mixing bowl. Crumble the pork into the mixing bow and scatter the onion and spinach in with it. Use your hands to mix and mulch, then divide the mixture into quarters. Form each quarter into 2 little patties, flattening between your hands, transferring to a plate as you go. Heat the remaining oil and quickly fry the sage leaves. Lift on to a kitchen paper to drain and crisp. Spread the polenta out on a plate. Press the patties into the polenta and shake away excess. Fry in batches for 2 minutes a side until nicely browned. Rest on kitchen paper to drain before serving with lemon edges and fried sage leaves.

Wed, 25 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Best time to take probiotics

Even if you don't take probiotics yourself, you've probably heard of them. There has been a rise in people proclaiming their benefits in the past few years and more and more studies are being done on how they can benefit gut health.

Probiotics have been found to encourage a healthy gut by preventing the growth of harmful organisms, reinforcing the gut barrier and restoring bacteria after disturbances from illness or medications. They may also promote a healthy immune system and support oral, skin and mental health but research in these areas is limited.

Taking probiotics at the right time can help maximise all these benefits, so when should you be taking them? You've probably heard that fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed better when taken with food, and magnesium should be taken at night to help with sleep, so where do probiotics fit in?

What are probiotics?Probiotics are live microorganisms (usually bacteria) that are similar to beneficial microorganisms that live in the human gut and provide a health benefit when taken in the right amount. They are typically used to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, and constipation that are not due to an acute illness.

The most common strains of bacteria used in probiotics are lactobacillus or bifidobacterium.

Lactobacillus colonises primarily in the small intestine, while bifidobacterium colonises primarily in the large intestine also known as the colon. They have both been found to promote a healthy gut.

The bacteria are typically freeze-dried before they are encapsulated; they remain alive but in an inactive state. When you take the supplement, the bacteria warm up in your digestive system and become fully active. 

Probiotic supplements typically come as capsules or tablets to swallow, or a powder to sprinkle on food.

When should you take probiotics?Research shows that the best time to take probiotics is just before a meal or as you begin your meal. This is when the levels of acidity in your stomach are lower, meaning more bacteria can survive and pass through to colonise the gut. After a large meal, your body produces a large quantity of stomach acid in order to digest the food you just ate, so avoid taking probiotics at this time as fewer bacteria will make it to the gut. The main goal is to get the probiotic into the small or large intestine before they are killed by stomach acid.

“Probiotics have to survive your gut acids in order to establish themselves in the GI tract,” says gastroenterologist and internist Dr Niket Sonpal. “If the capsule or encasement doesn’t offer proper protection from stomach acids, it may not be effective.”

If you purchase a probiotic that is enteric-coated or uses delayed-release capsules, the exact timing is less important as the cases are designed to help the bacteria survive the stomach acid.

If you’re on antibiotics, don’t make the mistake of taking your antibiotics and probiotics at the same time. You should wait at least two hours after taking your antibiotic to ingest the probiotic, otherwise, you risk having the 'good bacteria' killed off by the antibiotic treatment.

So, it doesn't really matter whether you take them in the morning, afternoon or evening, just plan your dose around your mealtimes to get the maximum benefits

Possible side-effectsMost people tolerate probiotics pretty well but they can cause temporary gas and bloating in some. Probiotics should be used cautiously in patients who are critically ill or severely immunocompromised or those with central venous catheters as systemic infections can occur.

The best food sources of probioticsSupplements aren't the only way to get a daily dose of probiotics. There are many foods loaded with good bacteria. Some good sources are:

yogurt, especially plain Greek yogurt kefir, a tangy dairy drink kimchi kombucha sauerkraut tempeh.

Trying to get the right number of probiotics from food alone can be difficult though, the specific dose is not often shown on the food packaging and can vary widely across brands. If you're not a fan of fermented foods or you want to get a more consistent dose, probiotic supplements may be beneficial.

Find a quality probioticResearch shows that 100 million to 1 billion probiotic microorganisms must reach your intestine for you to experience health benefits, so you want to find a quality product that gives the bacteria the best chance of surviving until they reach the intestine. Probiotic cells can die while they're sitting on the shelf, so look for products that guarantee at least one billion live cultures (often listed as colony-forming units or CFUs) on the label.

Check the label to see how to store your probiotics; some can be kept at room temperature while others must be refrigerated. Ensure you use them before the expiry date.

Keep in mind that there is a lot more research to be done to substantiate and strengthen the correlations of probiotics and all of their benefits. Fortunately, the excitement surrounding probiotics has fostered a rich environment for scientific discovery and increased the number of probiotic-related tests, trials and publications.

Do you take a probiotic supplement? If so, what time of day do you take it? Do you eat probiotic-rich food?

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Wed, 25 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Major financial overhaul slammed

Australia’s leading consumer advocacy organisations, charities, community groups, unions and financial counsellors penned an open letter to Australian senators on Tuesday calling for them to block the federal government’s proposed weakening of safe lending laws.

In late September, the government announced it was planning to scrap responsible lending laws, originally introduced to prevent predatory lending practices, that were exposed during the global financial crisis (GFC).

The changes in the law take away the obligation for banks to ensure that the consumer is capable of repaying a debt that they agree to and shift the onus back onto the consumer.

The open letter, signed by 122 organisations and 97 prominent Australians, calls on the senators to “block this harmful law”, which it claims will leave people worse off.

“The banking royal commission heard shocking stories of banks giving aged pensioners 30-year mortgages, relying on fraudulent loan documents provided by car dealers, and paying thousands in kickbacks to loan ‘introducers’,” the letter explained.

“We’ll see even more of this if banks and other lenders are not legally required to take care when lending.”

The banking royal commission made it clear that safe lending laws were important to stop banks from repeating previous mistakes.

Commissioner Kenneth Hayne’s very first recommendation from his final report was for the government to leave the National Consumer Credit Act alone.

The open letter is supported by new national polling that showed Australians supported responsible lending laws, with 79 per cent believing that banks should be required to check a customer’s ability to repay before being offered a mortgage.

Chief executive of the Consumer Action Law Centre Gerard Brody said the changes would mean that banks would face no repercussions for predatory lending practices.

“Under the government’s plans, borrowers would have existing rights to sue their lender for unsuitable lending removed,” Mr Brody said.

“Lenders would also have far fewer incentives to comply with good lending standards, because penalties for breaching laws are being removed and weakened. 

“Newly released November 2020 polling shows that 82 per cent of people believe there should be fair compensation for people when they are wronged by financial institutions. The government's plan puts this at risk.”  

Pensioners were regularly a target of banks before the lending laws were introduced, according to chief executive of the Financial Rights Legal Centre Karen Cox.

“Before safe laws were introduced, lenders regularly sold unaffordable loans to people, including pensioners, people on Centrelink payments and casual workers, who they knew would never be able to repay the loans,” Ms Cox said.

“Responsible lending laws were designed to stop the reckless lending we witnessed throughout the global financial crisis and the royal commission.

“It’s beyond belief that less than two years after the royal commission made this its first recommendation that the government wants to go directly against it.”

Pensioner Robert Regan, who was the first non-expert to give evidence at the banking royal commission, was also appalled at the decision to weaken responsible lending laws.

“If Australia can't have the support of the treasurer against misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services, then we, as a democratic nation, are in trouble,” he told the ABC earlier this month.

The changes are also opposed by the Finance Services Union who said that they were not in the public interest.

FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano said the union was concerned that proposed changes would lead to a return to the toxic work practices and oppressive work culture uncovered by the banking royal commission.

“We believe these changes will have a detrimental effect on the morale and health of front-line bank staff whose job it is to sell debt products,” Ms Angrisano said.

“We also reject the notion that there are significant barriers to obtaining credit, and this view has been confirmed by the chief executives of the CBA and ANZ banks.

“The FSU believes the impact of these proposed changes on workers will be catastrophic.  We will see a return to situations where workers are afraid to go to work, knowing they will be pressured all day to sell credit to people who cannot afford it.”

Will banks abuse their power again and put us at risk of another GFC if this legislation passes? Do you support the change? Why or why not?

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Tue, 24 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Fish oil or snake oil?

The effectiveness of fish oil supplements for people at risk of suffering heart ailments is being questioned.

Medications derived from fish oils are among the world’s most popular supplements, but a new study from the Cleveland Clinic found high doses of common fish oils did not lower people’s risk of experiencing heart issues.

“A medication derived from fish oil, containing the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, was evaluated in a large, international study of more than 13,000 people who had existing heart disease or who were at high risk of heart disease due to other medical conditions. The medication did not reduce the risk of cardiac events compared to a corn oil-based placebo in the STRENGTH trial,” reports Science Daily.

“Many people continue to take fish oil supplements to prevent heart disease. However, the fish oil medication we tested in the STRENGTH trial was not effective for that purpose,” said lead author A. Michael Lincoff, M.D., vice-chairman for research of the department of cardiovascular medicine and an interventional cardiologist at the Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.

“We believe the questions surrounding the benefit versus risk of fish oil will remain unanswered unless another trial using a neutral placebo such as corn oil is able to definitively show cardiovascular benefits for an omega-3 fatty acid medication,” he said.

Healthline says evidence linking fish oil and heart health has been mixed and it varies based on the types and quantities of fish oil evaluated and the type of placebo used.

“More research is needed to understand how different types of fish oil impact the body.”

“Combination DHA and EPA fish oil did not demonstrate any significant cardiovascular benefit, even at high dosages, and specifically in this trial – [the] STRENGTH trial,” said Dr Guy Mintz, director of cardiovascular health at Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in New York.

According to Dr Mintz, fish oil is believed to improve heart health because it has anti-inflammatory properties and blood-thinning effects.

A previous study, which concluded that omega-3 fatty acids had a significant benefit on heart health, has been criticised because the mineral oil placebo used might have affected cholesterol levels, leading to the “mistaken impression” that fish oil was beneficial.

No studies have convincingly shown that common over-the-counter fish oils lead to clinical benefit, says Dr Richard Wright, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

Dr Sanjiv Patel, an interventional cardiologist at Memorial Care Heart in California, says anyone considering taking fish oil should consult their physician.

“Given the slight increase in atrial fibrillation with use of fish oil, one conclusion is clear, patients should always discuss the use of this supplement as well as any other with their doctor,” Dr Patel said.

Dr Howard LeWine, from Harvard Health, says the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are crucial for brain function, normal growth and development and dealing with inflammation.

“Deficiencies have been linked to a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, some cancers, mood disorders, arthritis, and more. But that doesn’t mean taking high doses translates to better health and disease prevention.”

Fish oil supplements promising better heart health, mental health and a longer life have become a $1 billion a year industry.

“How food, and its component molecules, affect the body is largely a mystery. That makes the use of supplements for anything other than treating a deficiency questionable,” says Dr LeWine.

He suggests that eating fish and seafood – with their “entire orchestra” of fats, vitamins, minerals and supporting molecules – is a healthy strategy, rather than taking the “lone notes” of EPA and DHA.

“The same holds true of other foods. Taking even a handful of supplements is no substitute for wealth of nutrients you get from eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”

He suggests following food author Michael Pollan’s simple but now famous diet advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mainly plants.”

Have you ever taken fish oil? Have you followed the debate on where supplements are bogus or beneficial?

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Tue, 24 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
New research gauges costs of SMSFs

The federal government says self-managed superannuation funds (SMSFs) are too tricky for the layman. “There may be better options for your super savings,” the Australian Tax Office (ATO) says. "It's best to see a qualified, licensed professional to help you decide."

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission advises you to choose a financial adviser, despite the challenges being worked through in that industry.

And says: “While having control over your own super can be appealing, it's a lot of work and comes with risk.

“Only set up your own super fund if you're 100 per cent committed and understand what's involved.”

But if you have time on your hands, you’re not afraid to learn new things and it’s your hard-earned, you may want to control your destiny.

The latest Self-Managed Super magazine details the results of research the SMSF Association commissioned from actuarial firm Rice Warner.

It found that SMSFs with balances of more than $200,000 were as cost-effective as public offer funds and, in some circumstances, were the cheapest retirement savings vehicle available to Australians.

The Rice Warner report stated that SMSFs with balances of $500,000 and above were “generally the cheapest superannuation fund option in the market”.

SMSF Association chief executive John Maroney said the research should lay to rest any arguments that SMSFs were not competitive on cost compared with the APRA-regulated superannuation sector.

“This is welcome news for the SMSF sector as the cost of running SMSFs, especially those funds with balances below $500,000, has been used as a key factor as to whether an SMSF is viable or not,” he says. “This report should bring that false analysis to an end.”

However, the research did confirm that SMSFs with balances of below $100,000 could not compete on a cost basis with public offer funds. It found “SMSFs are the most expensive retirement savings vehicle if the fund’s asset pool is less than $50,000”.

With regard to performance, the study found that since 2005, SMSFs generated returns that were equivalent to their APRA-regulated counterparts.

Mr Maroney said: “These results may not support the proposition that SMSFs are better investment managers than APRA-regulated funds, but they do indicate that members of SMSFs, in aggregate, are not disadvantaged when compared with APRA funds.”

The Rice Warner research analysed information gathered from around 100,000 SMSFs and is an update on a similar study conducted for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) in 2013.

“In the seven years since the previous report, average costs of APRA-regulated super funds have risen, whereas SMSF costs have fallen,” said Rice Warner executive director Michael Rice.

“It is cost-effective to open and maintain an SMSF account at much lower levels than declared by the Productivity Commission and ASIC. Separation of the results into those funds holding or not holding properties gives a more accurate picture of the cost structures.”

Referring to the latest research, SuperConcepts chief investment officer Grant Christensen said the finding that SMSF costs were falling was significant.

“While the issues with small-value funds will always exist, it has been encouraging that they grow quickly. Other positive signs are the age at which SMSFs are being established is now in the 35 to 44-age bracket and a significant proportion of small business owners deciding to forge their retirement destiny,” he said.

However, you don’t need to look too far for reminders of the complexity of governing a super fund. says: “The rules relating to SMSFs are complex and it is vital to get tailored, professional advice regarding the acquisition of assets in the fund.”

Mr Maroney, writing for AFR, said COVID-19 had made investment markets even more volatile, demanding SMSF trustees must not only have a documented investment strategy, but review it regularly.

“Comprehensive reviews are not just necessary to gauge the investment performance of a fund and, if necessary, adjust the investment strategy. Other events can necessitate the need for a review, such as the death of a member or a relationship breakdown involving fund members.

“It’s also important for trustees to have an exit strategy, particularly if there is a dominant trustee or the fund has assets that may be difficult to sell.”

Mr Maroney also warned that despite the devastating financial impact of the global pandemic, trustees could not use their SMSF as “a source of short-term financial assistance”.

“With a few exceptions, trustees must understand they cannot access their superannuation early from their SMSF, even for a short period.”

Moneysmart offers the following advice on the responsibilities of an SMSF trustee:

you are personally liable for all the fund's decisions – even if you get help from a professional, or if another member made the decision your investments may not bring the returns you expect you are responsible for managing the fund even if your circumstances change – for example, if you lose your job there may be a negative impact on your SMSF if there is a relationship breakdown between members, or if a member dies or becomes ill if you lose money through theft or fraud, you won't have access to any special compensation schemes or to the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal you could lose insurance if you're moving from an industry or retail super fund to an SMSF.

Do you have an SMSF? Are you confident in your ability to manage your own superannuation?

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Tue, 24 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Test driving Donna Hay Christmas recipes

There’s something about Christmas that can leave you craving a spot of baking. Clouds of icing sugar and flour, star cutters and caramel, trays of mince pies – it’s practically inevitable.

So, feeling in the festive mood, we set three writers the yuletide challenge to recreate three recipes from Australian food writer Donna Hay’s Christmas cookbook, Christmas Feasts And Treats.

Here’s how they fared …

Claire Spreadbury tested the Vanilla Star Wreaths Attempting to make anything look as good as a Donna Hay recipe is always going to be a challenge. So, when I tried to create her Vanilla Star Wreath, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, especially when I decided to let the kids help. My daughters – Rosie, 10, and seven-year-old Poppy – were very excited about their wreath-making project.

I made the biscuit dough, which is wonderfully easy, and popped it in the fridge to firm up, ready for our after-school baking shenanigans. Then it was over to them to cut out stars, re-rolling the dough until we had seven for each wreath. It’s at this point you overlap them in a circle to create the wreath shape and then bake (at a low temperature) in the oven.

All things considered, the rounds of stars worked pretty well, but we found the wreath held its form better if you really push the overlapping corners into each other – light pressing probably won’t cut it, but that might be due to the dough being somewhat overworked by small fingers.

The other trick is to leave the wreath to cool completely before touching it. Poppy wanted to pick it up and sniff it the second she saw it. Alas … every star broke and we were left with a stack of biscuits (thank goodness the recipe makes four).

Once it’s cooled, it’s just a case of sprinkling with icing sugar and attaching a ribbon. The girls wanted to hang theirs on their bedroom doors, so we had to shake off a fair bit of the icing sugar to avoid dustings on the carpet every time they opened them, but they look super-cute. Strangely, Poppy’s seems to have lost all of the star corners. She tells me the resident Christmas elf must have nibbled them off, but I’m not so sure …

Ella Walker tested Chewy Caramels with Salted Peanuts I’m a cake baker – sugar work and whipping up confectionery is not really me, mainly because it sounds like a guaranteed route to third-degree burns and lost teeth. However, I do have a mild obsession with salted peanuts (I can eat bags of ’em), so combining them with caramel – and solving a few Christmas presents in the process – seemed more than worth a go.

Donna Hay’s one-pan Chewy Caramels recipe is a doddle to follow (you just chuck everything together and stick it on the hob), but as it all melts, you do end up with risotto-level repetitive strain injury during the required 20–25 minutes of stirring. Also, these caramels are absolutely not suitable for making with children – I kept accidentally splattering myself with the molten mixture of sugar, cream, syrup and butter. It tastes great, but is hot, hot, hot.

The sugary concoction bubbles from the yellow of road markings, to lemon curd, to a dusky bronze – and then comes the easiest bit of all, tipping the lot into a tray and sprinkling with peanuts to cool for a few hours. The whole kitchen smells gloriously of salted caramel popcorn; it clings to my hair.

Hours later (why must we wait so long Donna?!) the resulting caramels are still quite gooey and I can’t cut the slab into chunks, even after a stint in the fridge (did I not stir it long enough? Ms Hay doesn’t specify a consistency to look for), so I shift them to the freezer.

Still, despite their formlessness, they taste smooth and milky, and the peanuts provide crunch and saltiness. Individual bites isn’t all that possible – however, a spoonful of the mix works great on ice cream.

Prudence Wade tested Gingerbread Advent Calendar Stars As an Australian with a keen cook for a mother, I grew up on a steady diet of Donna Hay. I’ve made a fair few of her recipes in the past, but I tend to stick with simple slices and cakes; nothing you have to fuss over decoration-wise.

Unfortunately, this meant I was woefully unprepared when tackling the gingerbread recipe, not owning star-shaped cutters or a proper piping set. Luckily, I managed to borrow a star cutter from a colleague, but only in one size – unlike Ms Hay, who had lots of different sized stars.

Powering on, I first tackled the dough, which was simple to make. I then enlisted the help of my sisters and mulled wine to make an event of it, which was handy when it came to pressing out the stars – there really is a lot of dough.

So far, so good … until we got to the baking. Ms Hay says to cook ‘until golden and dry to the touch’. Unfortunately, my gingerbread didn’t change colour at all and still felt tacky to touch. I left them in the oven a little longer, and this turned out to be a fatal mistake – one batch (which was thicker) turned out dry and chewy, and the thinner biscuits were way too hard and crunchy. Even when I pulled them out they still didn’t look golden, and I wasn’t 100 per cent sure they were done. Unfortunately, they were way over-baked.

Decorating was a disaster, too. I improvised a sandwich bag with the corner cut off to do the icing, but this was messy and imprecise. Out of sheer frustration (or laziness), we eventually ended up threading five with ribbons and tying them on the tree, which was really quite fiddly to do.

Sorry, Donna, it’s far too much faff to do all 25 – especially when there’s mulled wine to be drunk.

Christmas Feasts And Treats by Donna Hay, photography by Chris Court, William Meppem and Hugh Stewart, is published by Fourth Estate. Available now.

Do you have any Donna Hay cookbooks? What is your favourite Christmas treat to bake?

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Tue, 24 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Getting enough vitamin D

Vitamin D is certainly having its moment right now. In the past few years, research has associated a vitamin D deficiency with higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mood disorders and dementia. The world seems to be listening as vitamin D supplements and screening tests have increased in popularity.

Vitamin D is nicknamed the sunshine vitamin as your body produces it when your skin is exposed to the sun. It helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body – nutrients needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.

While the evidence for vitamin D's role in bone health is strong, the prevention of other diseases and health conditions is not yet conclusive and need to be researched further.

There’s now also growing interest in whether it could help protect against COVID-19.

Scientists from Queen Mary University of London are launching a new trial to investigate whether vitamin D protects against the virus, as there’s already evidence that it might reduce the risk of respiratory infections, with some recent studies suggesting people with lower vitamin D levels may be more susceptible to coronavirus.

Researchers from Queen Mary, funded by @Barts_Charity, have launched a new clinical trial to investigate whether taking vitamin D could protect people from #COVID19

— Queen Mary University of London (@QMUL) October 14, 2020

“Vitamin D deficiency is more common in older people, in people who are overweight, and in black and Asian people – all of the groups who are at increased risk of becoming very ill with COVID-19,” says lead researcher Professor Adrian Martineau.

“Making sure you’re getting enough vitamin D is likely to really benefit your bone and muscle health in the long term,” explains nutrition scientist Bridget Benelam from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF). “Vitamin D is also involved in supporting our immune system, something we’re all really aware of in light of the coronavirus pandemic. No vitamin can prevent or cure COVID-19, but if you’re not getting enough vitamin D, increasing your intake, alongside a healthy diet, can help keep your immune system working as well as possible.”

And dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the Health & Food Supplements Information Service, notes: “Vitamin D is vital because it contributes to the uptake of calcium by bones and teeth and helps regulate blood levels of calcium and phosphorus.”

So, whatever the outcome of the COVID-19 trial, vitamin D is already known to be beneficial for optimal health. Here are four reasons why it’s important to make sure you get enough vitamin D.

1. Stronger bones Vitamin D helps regulate the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, so a lack of the vitamin can lead to poor calcification of the skeleton. The BNF explains that prolonged vitamin D deficiency in children leads to rickets, which can cause bone pain, poor growth and bone deformities including bowed legs, curvature of the spine, and thickening of the ankles, wrists and knees, and fractures.

While rickets was for a long time virtually wiped out in the Western world, due to fortification of foods and improved diets, in recent years cases are again being reported. In addition, while osteoporosis in adults isn’t directly caused by vitamin D deficiency, the vitamin can help manage the disease, says the BNF.

2. Stronger muscles In adults, vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteomalacia, which causes aching bones and muscles plus muscle weakness, which can make standing and walking difficult.

3. Better teeth Because of its role in regulating the absorption of calcium, vitamin D also helps keep teeth strong, says the BNF.

4. Improved immunity A 2019 University of Edinburgh study suggests low levels of vitamin D may lead to an increase in immune responses potentially linked to a raised risk of autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis.

“There are vitamin D receptors on many immune cells,” says Dr Ruxton, “suggesting that it has a widespread role in optimal immunity – an important point as we face a continuation of the COVID-19 crisis, just when the winter flu and cold season approaches.”

People at risk of vitamin D deficiency If you have little or no sunshine exposure you could be at risk of vitamin D deficiency as it's difficult to get the daily recommended amount from diet alone. Oily fish and shellfish provide some vitamin D, egg yolks have a small amount, and some dairy products are fortified with it. However, you need to consume 140g of salmon, 200g of halibut or almost a litre of milk to get 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D, which is the lower end of the daily recommended amount.

You may need to look into a daily supplement of vitamin D throughout the year if you:

are not often outdoors – for example, if you're frail or housebound are in an institution like a care home usually wear clothes that cover up most of your skin when outdoors.

Although vitamin D supplements are very safe, taking more than the recommended amount every day can be dangerous in the long run.

Should I take vitamin D2 or D3? You may have seen both vitamin D2 and D3 at the pharmacy. D2 usually comes from plant sources such as wild mushrooms, it's also used more in fortified food products as it's less expensive to produce.

Vitamin D3 mainly comes from animal sources such as oily fish, fatty fish, liver and egg yolks. Your skin also produces D3 when it is exposed to the sun.

But which is best? D2 has been the focus of supplements for more than 80 years and is the form used in prescription preparations but both D2 and D3 are available as over the counter supplements.

A 2008 trial tested a 1000 IU megadose of either D2 or D3, a mix of both, and a placebo on 68 healthy adults aged 18 to 84. Interestingly, 60 per cent of participants were deficient in vitamin D at the start of the trial. At the end of the 11 weeks, D2 and D3 were found to be equally effective at boosting blood levels of vitamin D. So, go for whichever one is available to you, or what your healthcare provider recommends.

How much should I take? Vitamin D intake is recommended at 400–800 IU per day or 10–20 micrograms.

Have you heard about the benefits of vitamin D before? How do you ensure you get enough? Do you take any supplements?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Tue, 24 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Vaccine results good news for seniors Zania Stamataki, University of Birmingham

Early results from COVID-19 vaccine trials are starting to emerge, and scientists have received the first reports from three independent studies with optimism because protection against the coronavirus is possible.

Although we can be relieved that some vaccines work, we still don’t have the details about the parts of the immune system that made the most difference in these trials. The Pfizer/BioNTech team just completed their trial with 95 per cent efficacy, and the Oxford vaccine team has just published the safety and immune response details on their study (it’s more good news for older people). Whether the Oxford vaccine can prevent COVID-19, however, remains to be determined.

So why is this news important? Vaccines are usually first tested in healthy young volunteers to confirm they are safe and to get the first data on efficacy (whether they show any benefit compared with a placebo). Subsequent clinical trials test the vaccine’s efficacy in different groups of people, such as the very young or the very old, and those with other conditions – diabetes or hypertension, say – that could affect their response to the vaccine.

Oxford vaccine results in young and oldOur immune system wanes as we get older, and it becomes more difficult to mount an effective immune response to common germs that younger people can easily expel. It is well-known that older adults are at a much higher risk of severe COVID-19, so it is critical to develop vaccines that can protect this sector of society. Fortunately, booster vaccinations can be used to bolster immunity in older people.

The Oxford vaccine team separated vaccinated people into groups of 18–55 years (160 participants), 56–69 years (160), and 70 years and older (240). Some received the candidate coronavirus vaccine and some a control meningitis vaccine at one or two doses each, to measure if booster vaccination would help. Their new study, published in The Lancet, investigated whether older adults can develop coronavirus-specific immune responses similar to younger adults.

Not only did the older adults develop similar immune responses to younger people, they also tolerated the vaccine better with fewer reports of side-effects, such as fatigue and muscle ache. Neutralising antibodies that block infection and virus-specific T cells are thought to be important for protective immunity, and older adults in the Oxford trial showed evidence of both. Those who received a booster vaccination had even better responses.

Other coronavirus vaccines in older peopleOther studies with vaccine preparations similar to the Oxford group, where the vaccine is delivered by a harmless adenovirus, have reported early results in older people. A single dose adenovirus-based vaccine (CanSino Biological/Beijing Institute of Biotechnology) raised a robust immune response – but less so in those older than 55 years. The two-dose Russian Sputnik V adenovirus vaccine – which also recently reported results in The Lancet – showed consistent responses in under 60s.

Two vaccines using inactivated coronavirus were also able to elicit antibody responses. The Wuhan Institute Biological Products/SinoPharm study showed that volunteers under 59-years-old generated neutralising antibodies, and the Beijing Institute Biological products/SinoPharm study measured robust antibodies but showed lower responses in the over 60s.

A different vaccine approach involves the use of mRNA, messenger molecules that enter our cells and kick off the production of coronavirus proteins to stimulate our immune system. Two mRNA-based vaccines with two-dose protocols were tested under-55s and over-65s with positive results. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first concluded trial with 95 per cent final efficacy, and they estimated the efficacy for over 65s at an impressive 94 per cent.

Moderna also has released exciting interim efficacy data and previously reported potent neutralising responses in both under 55s and those over 56.

Early results from ongoing trials show that we are able to design vaccines that elicit potent coronavirus responses in people over 60. Vaccine efficacy will vary with different vaccine preparations, and we need to choose carefully which formulations will work best in older people, which doses are most effective and when to administer booster vaccinations to achieve the best results.

It has been less than a year since the new coronavirus jumped to humans, and we are entering the privileged position of being able to choose between different vaccines.

Zania Stamataki, Senior Lecturer in Viral Immunology, University of Birmingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

How do you think the government should best distribute and administer a COVID-19 vaccination? How early would you be comfortable receiving a vaccine?

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Tue, 24 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
The Aussies who will refuse a vaccine

With at least two vaccines providing hope that life may be able to return to some semblance of normality early next year, a new study suggests there is a ‘high level’ of vaccine resistance in the Australian community.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are showing hope that they may soon be able to start rolling out in emergency markets such as the United States and United Kingdom. But many people are yet to be convinced about the need to get a vaccine when one is available, according to the Australian National University (ANU).

While 58.5 per cent of Australians said they would definitely get the vaccine when it is available, the ANU research showed that 6 per cent of the population definitely wouldn’t get it and a further 7 per cent said they probably wouldn’t get it.

Last week, in an article suggesting older people should be among the first group to receive vaccinations, YourLifeChoices members were divided on their willingness to receive vaccinations.

 “Of course, I will get vaccinated just as soon as I qualify. Vaccination gives us back our freedom and our family,” reader Rosret wrote.

“Yes, definitely get the older people vaccinated first as they are most at risk, and often have pre-existing medical conditions which lower their immune system. I'm in good health and don't plan on getting vaccinated but rather focus on staying healthy,” wrote Frankly.

“The vaccine should be given to those people who travel, work or socialise a lot because it is those people transmitting it around. Older people are not the culprit here, they probably got the virus off the above. I have a lot of older clients and they said they don't want the vaccine,” Jan explained.

Nomad1946 said frontline workers should be first in line for the vaccine and said, “vaccination should be compulsory no ‘outs’ unless medical advice is against”.

Easy Rider took the opposite view: “I don't care who gets it first as long as they volunteer to have it. It should NEVER be forced upon anyone. There is nothing more personal or intrusive than to have a concoction of foreign substances forcibly injected into an individual's body.”

The ANU research was based on a survey of 2000 respondents and examined the demographic, political and social attitudes to a COVID vaccine.

Study co-author Associate Professor Ben Edwards explained that there was a divide on vaccine opinions based on education and income.

“Overall, there are significant levels of vaccine hesitancy or resistance across Australian society,” Assoc. Prof. Edwards said.

“We found females, those living in disadvantaged areas, those who reported that risks of COVID-19 were overstated, and those who had more populist views and higher levels of religiosity were more likely to be hesitant or resistant to a vaccine.

“In contrast, those who had higher levels of household income, those who had higher levels of social distancing, who downloaded the COVID-Safe App, who had more confidence in their state or territory government or confidence in their hospitals, or were more supportive of migration were more likely to intend to get vaccinated.”

The ANU research also found that older Australians (those aged 55–64, 65–74 and those over 75) were more likely to get the vaccine compared to other younger age groups.

Those with an undergraduate or postgraduate university degree were more likely to show an intention to be vaccinated when one was available.

“To open up our society, economy and community fully again, we need to develop a vaccine and get it out to the population as quickly as possible,” study co-author Professor Nicholas Biddle said.

“Our findings show vaccine hesitancy, which accounts for a significant proportion of the population, may be addressed by public health messaging.

“But for a significant minority of the population with strongly held beliefs, alternative policy measures may well be needed to achieve sufficient vaccination coverage to end the pandemic.”  

How do you feel about receiving a vaccination? Will you happily join the queue to return to normal? Or are you hesitant about the process?

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Tue, 24 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT
Revealed: The food that makes us smarter

For those of us who wish we could eat as much chocolate as we crave, a new study from the University of Birmingham seems as good as it gets.

“A team in the university's school of sport, exercise and rehabilitation sciences found that people given a cocoa drink containing high levels of flavanols were able to complete certain cognitive tasks more efficiently than when drinking a non-flavanol enriched drink.”

The flavanol-rich drink also produced “a faster and greater increase in blood oxygenation levels”.

If drinking ‘enriched’ cocoa makes us smarter, we will willingly submit.

The study’s lead author, Dr Catarina Rendeiro, points out that flavanols are present in foods including grapes, apples, tea and berries. But they’re also in cocoa, which is extracted from the cacao bean, which is used to make chocolate.

Researchers found volunteers who had taken the flavanol-enriched drink performed cognitive tasks 11 per cent faster on average.

“Our results showed a clear benefit for the participants taking the flavanol-enriched drink – but only when the task became sufficiently complicated,” says Dr Rendeiro. “We can link this with our results on improved blood oxygenation – if you're being challenged more, your brain needs improved blood oxygen levels to manage that challenge. It also further suggests that flavanols might be particularly beneficial during cognitively demanding tasks.”

Science regularly goes to and fro on the benefits of cacao-rich dark chocolate. Harvard Health’s Dr Robert Shmerling is typical of the expert debunker, reminding us that “not all chocolate is the same”.

“Dark chocolate and cocoa have high flavanol levels, while milk chocolate and white chocolate have much lower levels. In addition, many types of chocolate are high in sugar, fats and calories.”

But in 2017, participants in an Italian study showed “enhancements in working memory performance and improved visual information processing after having had cocoa flavanols”.

That study concluded that the cognitive performance of elderly individuals was improved by a daily intake of cocoa flavanols. “Factors such as attention, processing speed, working memory and verbal fluency were greatly affected.”

Lead authors Valentina Socci and Michele Ferrara from the University of L'Aquila said cocoa flavanols had the potential to “protect cognition in vulnerable populations over time by improving cognitive performance”.

In 2018, researchers at Loma Linda University in Southern California found that “consuming dark chocolate with at least 70 per cent cacao had positive effects on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory and immunity”.

 “This is the first time that we have looked at the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time, and are encouraged by the findings,” said lead author Dr Lee S. Berk.

“These studies show us that the higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity and other beneficial effects.”

The study confirmed that cocoa’s flavanols are “extremely potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, with known mechanisms beneficial for brain and cardiovascular health”.

The Loma Linda study used electroencephalogram (EEG) tests to measure brain waves.

“The results suggest that chocolate could slow oxidative stress, a condition in which the body has too many ‘free radicals,’ the waste products generated by chemical reactions in the body,” reported

“Cacao has antioxidants that can repair the oxidative stress,” said Dr Berk.

A 2017 Danish study of 55,502 men and women aged 50 to 64 found that those who ate a 28 gram serving of chocolate (not necessarily dark) two to six times each week had a 20 per cent lower rate of atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat that can lead to conditions including blood clots, stroke, heart failure) compared with people who ate the same size serving less than once a month.

The problem with eating chocolate is not cocoa, but with the high calorie content and additives such as sugar and milk. And those might be the things chocolate-lovers crave. 

The trick is honing your palate to cacao-rich dark chocolate.

Bradley Biskup, a researcher and physician assistant at the University of Connecticut, is here to help.

“Your taste buds may have to adapt to the slightly less sweet taste of dark chocolate if you more commonly eat milk chocolate. It takes about 20 to 25 days to get fully used to it.”

We’re leaving the last word to the Italian researchers. “Dark chocolate is a rich source of flavanols. So, we always eat some dark chocolate. Every day.”

Do you like the taste of dark chocolate? Which treat do you wish you could indulge as much as you please?

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Tue, 24 Nov 2020 00:00:00 AEDT