Debunking 3 Running Dehydration Myths

dehydration and running performance

Myth One: If you don’t have clear wee you are dehydrated.

The fact of the matter is, if your wee is clear, you are likely over hydrating, or you may have kidney problems, diabetes, or other health issues.

Your body is very clever. It can defend itself against dehydration by changing the amount of water it retains. If it is retaining water, then your urine will be darker in colour. And if your urine is darker in colour because your body is retaining water, that can be a good thing. It means your body is working well to remain hydrated. Conversely, if you have more fluids than your body needs, it will rid itself of the extra water in your urine, making it less concentrated. The more we drink, over and above what our needs are, the more we wee, and the clearer our wee will be. Studies that have looked at blood markers of hydration have found the colour of your wee does not necessarily correlate with dehydration (that is, a blood sodium level of over 145 mmol/L.

As far as wee colour goes, something not clear, and not dark as tea, is where you want to be (as long as you have no medical conditions which will effect your hydration status). If you do have persistently dark wee, or persistently clear wee which can’t be explained by the amount you drink, you should see a doctor.

Myth Two: If you don’t drink water during a race, your performance will suffer

Used to be, people would say if you wait until you’re thirsty to drink, it’s too late-you’re already dehydrated and your performance has already been impaired. It seems that the body can cope much better with temporary dehydration than was previously thought. Taking water on board based on how you feel is more important than replacing every drop of fluid you use.

A couple of recent studies highlight this well.

One study had 23 female recreational runners do two 15km time trials, in mild, but humid conditions (68 degrees F/ 20 degrees C,  87% humidity). In one of the trials, they drank 12 oz of water during the run (about 350mls), and in the other they simply rinsed their mouths with water and spat it out, every 3kms.

The results were interesting. The time trial results of the two groups were pretty much the same – the drinking group averaged 79.8 mins and the mouth wash group averaged 79.7 minutes for the 15k. The drinking group sweated more, and the mouthwash group felt thirstier after the run. The study also looked at a group of responses called “affective responses”, which looked at things like pleasure, arousal, energy, calmness and tension. Again, the responses were fairly similar on most measures, but the mouth wash group did report more tension.

So, under these conditions the runners didn’t need to consume water to maintain performance. Note that the temperature was fairly mild. It’s not at all unusual in Australia to be running in much hotter temperatures. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t drink if you feel like you need to. I am suggesting that we don’t need to drink as much as we think we do, and if your gut feels like it can’t handle any more water, you could just try rinsing and spitting instead. You might actually be better off pouring the water over your head to cool you off!

A 2010 study (sponsored by gatorade) compared runners over a series of four trail runs. One group drank 200mls of water in the 22 hours prior to the runs, and no water during the runs, and the other group went into the runs well hydrated, and drank during each run. The results showed impaired performance for the non drinkers. Note that these runners with impaired performance started the run already dehydrated, as compared to the other studies which were done with runners who had normal hydration levels prior to the experiment.

Myth Three: Loss of body weight during a run means you are dehydrated and your performance suffers

Changes in body weight when you are exercising hard are not only caused by fluid loss. You burn fuel when you run, and when that fuel is used up, then you weigh less. As your race or training run progresses and you use up stored carbohydrate and fat your weight will drop. Not only that, as you burn calories during your run, you’ll also be liberating some water, which becomes available to you body. Another fact to consider is that as you lose body weight during a run due to fuel burning and fluid loss, your lighter weight will enable you to run faster – up to a certain point of course.  You don’t want to deliberately dehydrate yourself in a bid to lose body weight to help you run faster!  I’m just saying that all these little things add up to going some way to explaining why reduced body weight is not the best predictor of performance. The purpose of drinking during exercise is to keep your blood plasma levels stable, not to keep your body weight stable.

A 2016 study had well trained athletes run a 20k time trial in the heat. One group drank as much as they wanted to during the run, the other drank a set amount of fluids based on pre-determined individual needs, designed to replace as much of their sweat loss as possible.

The “drink when you want” group lost 2.6% of their body weight, whilst the well hydrated group lost only 1.3% of their body weight during the time trial. As you’d expect, the group who were drinking deliberately lost less body weight than the “drink when you want” group. Nothing to see there. But here’s what’s interesting. The performance of the groups was very similar. The hydrated runners averaged 1:44:39, and the “drink when you want” runners averaged 1:44:09. There was no difference in core temperature between the two groups at any point.

Haile Gebreselassie, one time marathon world record holder and all out running legend lost 9.8% of his body weight when he won the Dubai marathon in 2009. One study looked at the fluid intake of 9 major city marathon winners, and 1 second place getter.  It showed a body weight loss of between 6.6% and 11.7%, including including Gebreselassie’s 9.8% loss in 2009. Seems you can get some pretty good results, even if you lose quite a bit of weight during a race!

A Few Tips on Hydration

  1. Drink water when you are thirsty, all of the time, not just when you are running. That way you’ll go into a run well hydrated.
  2. For runs of 60 minutes or less, it seems you probably don’t need to drink much, if at all, unless the conditions are hot and humid. What feels “hot and humid” to you will depend on the weather conditions you are used to running in, your age, and your body size and composition.
  3. Experience will help you find the ideal hydration strategy for you. Around 500mls of water each hour once your runs are longer than 60 mins is a good starting point.
  4. Drink when you are thirsty during your run – water availability permitting. You might find you have to be a bit flexible on this if you are not carrying water with you.
  5. Choose a route where you know there will be water available to you, or do a loop course and stash a water bottle somewhere, or leave it in your car.
  6. If you plan to carry fluid with you in a race, it’s a good idea to train with what you are going to carry to get used to how it feels.

DISCLAIMER: Any information contained in this document is obtained from current and reliable sources and is solely for the purpose of interest and information.  Individuals receiving this information must exercise their independent judgment in determining its appropriateness for their particular needs. The information and training advice is general in nature and may not be suited to the recipient’s individual needs. Medical advice should always be sought when starting an exercise program. As the ordinary or otherwise use(s) of this information is outside the control of the author, no representation or warranty, expressed or implied, is made as to the effect(s) of such use(s), (including damage or injury), or the results obtained. The author expressly disclaims responsibility as to the interpretation of the views contained in this article, ordinary or otherwise. Furthermore, the author shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. The author shall not be responsible for any damages resulting from use of or reliance upon this information. Readers of this document are solely responsible for compliance with all laws and regulations applying to the use of the information, including intellectual property rights of third parties.

Anti-Inflammatories and Running

anti inflammatories and running

Why does inflammation get such a bad wrap?

Inflammation. At its worst, it can stop you in your tracks. But if your tendency is to reach for the Voltaren at the first slight twinge or sign of inflammation, you might like to consider what purpose inflammation actually serves…

And you also might like to consider that Volaren, Ibiprofen and other Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) can limit the benefits you gain from training!!

Sometimes it’s tempting for runners with a niggling injury to take anti-inflammatories to get them through their key long runs leading up to a race, but studies have shown that this can be counter-productive.

What Role Does Inflammation Play?

Inflammation is a protective mechanism your body uses to remove harmful stimuli and start the healing process. After a hard workout, specific cells are activated to increase blood flow to the muscles used in the workout. This increased blood flow also occurs in the initial stages of an acute injury. It produces swelling and stimulates the nerves that cause pain.

Inflammation is the beginning of the healing process, and it’s super important for recovering not only from injury, but from normal bouts of training as well. Without inflammation, your recovery from each bout of exercise (or from injury) would be much slower.

But what about R.I.C.E? Isn’t the idea to reduce inflammation?

Good point. The standard procedure for injuries which provoke the inflammatory response, such as a sprained ankle, is Rest, Ice Compression and Elevation. The R.I.C.E protocol is designed to REDUCE inflammation, so if inflammation isn’t bad, and it’s the body’s natural response to injury, why do we want to reduce it?

Firstly, we need to understand that the inflammatory response is non-specific. Incredible as our bodies are, we don’t seem to have evolved to be able to differentiate between the response needed to cope with a potentially deadly pathogen such as a bacteria or virus entering the body, and the response needed to help a sprained ankle to heal.  The overriding function of the body is to keep itself alive. This takes precedence over all else. If a massive inflammatory response is required to neutralise potentially deadly pathogens, from the point of view of survival, it’s of little consequence that your ankle might lose some functionality due to inflammatory overkill after injury. Better to have slight loss of function of the ankle, than be dead.

One of the things inflammation does is put up a barrier around the area of infection or injury– whether that is around a sprained ankle, or around an area where a pathogen has set up house inside the body. This slows the passage of pathogens or toxic products into the surrounding healthy tissue. In the case of a sprained ankle, too much inflammation can actually inhibit the repair of the tissue. Too much swelling in the injured area might make it difficult for blood to diffuse into the cells, resulting in a lack of oxygen and further damage, so reducing the inflammation makes sense. One of the other things ice will do is slow the metabolic rate of the cells in the area, which temporarily decreases the cell’s requirements for oxygen.

Why exercise produces inflammation

When you run (or perform any other form of exercise) you create small micro tears in your muscles. The higher the intensity of the workout, the more forcefully you are contracting your muscles, and therefore the more damage you cause.

The micro-tears cause your body to set up an inflammatory response. Substances such as blood, oxygen and nutrients are shunted to the damaged area for the healing process to begin. This micro damage is not enough for the body to over-do the inflammatory response, but it can be enough to cause pain and discomfort.

When you should NOT take anti-inflammatories, and why. 

If you’re interested in getting your body into the best shape possible, you shouldn’t take NSAIDs in the following circumstances:

  • To reduce the pain of a current injury to get you through a long run
  • During a race
  • Prophylactically – that is to prevent the anticipated pain of a sporting endeavour, or to prevent injury

NSAIDs can reduce the training effect

If you’ve got a niggling ITB, or a bout of bursitis for example, something that’s not too bad, but there all the same, it’s very tempting to pop a pill to get you through your scheduled long runs. You fear not getting in the mileage you’d intended will affect you poorly on race day. And it might…

But washing down a couple of anti-inflammatories with your pre-run hydration isnt’ the answer. A 2010 study by Japanese scientists showed that whilst anti-inflammatory drugs will indeed facilitate a longer distance run, the taking of the drug cancelled out the training effect that could be achieved from the longer distance. If you run with NSAIDs coursing through your veins, the training adaptation you could expect from that run will be diminished.

In other words, by taking the drug to enable you to run further, your body is not able to make use of the longer distance you run. You’re wasting your time. You’d be better off running within your pain threshold and gaining the training benefits from that. A longer run on NSAIDs will not see you get as fit as if you were running without NSAIDs, so you may as well run for less time and enjoy the training benefit.

Taking NSAIDS for long periods of time can have adverse effects on your gastrointestinal and cardiovascular system. These adverse effects become more pronounced with longer duration of use. Taking NSAIDS before physical activity can mask pain and cause an injury to get worse, or mask the pain of a developing injury. Anti-inflammatories may also impede the synthesis of collagen, that gives strength to tissue. Some of the chemical substances naturally occurring in the body which NSAIDS inhibit are important in the response and adaptation of muscles and other connective tissue to loads placed upon them. Taking NSAIDS can reduce the strength gains from training.

Taking NSAIDs may not reduce your perception of pain

Using NSAIDS prior to a race to prevent the pain of racing has been shown to be ineffective. This study on athletes competing in a 160k endurance run showed the ibuprofen use did not alter muscle damage or soreness. That’s right, taking anti-inflammatory drugs before the race made no difference to the athlete’s perception of pain. The perceived exertion of ibuprofen users and non-users was very similar. On the Borg scale, the control group rated their exertion slightly lower than the anti-inflammatory group (14.5 vs 14.6), and interestingly, and interestingly, Ibiprofen use was related to increased endotoxemia and inflammation.

When is it good to take anti-inflammatory drugs?

During the initial stages of an acute injury (like a muscle strain, sprained ankle, or sudden onset of an inflammatory conditions such as tendonitis or bursitis), NSAIDS are likely to facilitate healing. Taking NSAIDS for the first 2-3 days is appropriate, but after that, you may be better off letting the body’s own natural healing take over.

There are of course other circumstances when NSAIDs are necessary, but that’s best left up to your medical practitioner to decide

Running and Electrical Storms Don’t Mix

running and electrical storms don't mix

Lightning can contain 100 million to one billion volts. That should be enough to make you wary of running in an electrical storm  (or doing any other outdoor activity for that matter).

Here are some of the non lethal effects of being struck by lightning, just in case you need further convincing.

Short term Effects

  • Impaired eyesight or blindness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Ruptured ear drums
  • Hearing loss
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Burns to the skin
  • Burning to internal organs

Long term effects

  • Memory problems
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Balance problems affecting gait
  • Joint stiffness
  • Muscles spasms

The three second rule

Count the number of seconds between seeing a flash of lightning and hearing thunder. For every three seconds, the lightning is one kilometre away. And just because you don’t see lightning, don’t assume it’s not around. Apparently, you can’t have thunder without lightning (but you can have lightning without thunder)

What to do if you’re caught outside in a thunderstorm

You should always check the weather forecast and the weather radar before you head out for a run, even if it’s a bright sunny day. If you’re planning a long run, much can change in a couple of hours. If you do get caught out in a storm there are some precautions you can take.

  • Seek shelter, not under a tree or other tall pole-like structure. Lightning has a tendency to strike taller structures within reason, and if you’re next to a tree when lightning strikes you can either be injured by the falling tree, or be felled by the electricity conducted through the earth.  
  • Pop into a shop or a service station until the storm has well and truly passed. A bus stop, porch, verandah or other non-enclosed structure won’t cut it. It’s recommended you wait till half an hour after the last lightning flash before you venture out again. More than half of lightning deaths occur after the storm has passed.
  • If you’re close to your car, you can take shelter in it, but be careful to stay away from the sides of the car. Sit in the back seat, or on the floor in the back. Keep the windows and doors closed, and make sure you are not parked under a tree!
  • If you can’t get under shelter, crouch over into a ball with your chin tucked in. Have two feet on the ground, as close together as possible. This makes you a single point of contact. Don’t lie on the ground.
  • If you’re in a group, stay several metres from each other.
  • Keep out of puddles, as water conducts electricity
  • Don’t put up an umbrella. And if you have an umbrella with you when you’re running, you have other issues!

Some other points about electrical storms

  • Lightning does, and often strikes twice.
  • Someone who has been struck by lightning will not contain a residual charge from the lightning, and you can safely perform first aid on them
  • If you’re inside, stay away from concrete walls or floors which may have metal bars inside them
  • Do not have contact with anything that can conduct electricity (e.g., electrical equipment or cords, plumbing fixtures, corded phones)

Running in wet weather

If you’re sure there is no electrical activity about, there’s no reason you shouldn’t get out and run in the rain. Here are some tips for wet weather running. 


Runner Gives Birth To Neuron

Running gives birth to neurons (1)

Anyone who’s ever done regular physical exercise, whether that be running or something else, knows how good exercise can make you feel. But did you know that vigorous aerobic exercise actually triggers the birth of new neurons in the brain. And what’s more, to date, vigorous aerobic exercise is the only known trigger for the birth of new neurons!

Vigorous aerobic exercise such as running has been shown to have positive effects on the structure and function of the brain, namely generation of neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain important for learning and memory. By vigorous, I don’t mean flat out. You’re looking more at something that makes you puffed without feeling like you can’t continue.

Changes have also been seen in the frontal lobe of the brain of people who have been long term exercisers, with an increase in blood flow to this area. This is the part of the brain which is associated with clarity of thought – stuff like planning ahead, concentration, time management, goal setting and learning. This area is also linked to the regulation of emotion, hence, going for a run just seems to make you feel good.

Aerobic training more effective than HIIT and resistance training

A study by researchers at  the University of Jyväskylä looked at the effect of sustained running exercise, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and resistance training on the production of neurons in adult male rats. The study also looked at groups of rats that had either a genetically high response to aerobic training, or a genetically low response to aerobic training. Groups of rats were put on an exercise program for 6-8 weeks, and a control group sat on the couch in their regular cage.

The highest number of new neurons in the hippocampus was found in the rats on the long distance training program, and who also had a genetic predisposition to benefit from aerobic exercise. Compared to the couch potato rats, the runners had 2-3 times more new neurons at the end of the experiment period. The body building group of rats who were put on a resistance training program showed no improvement in neurogenesis, and the HIIT group showed only minor improvement.

Marked cognitive decline in old age is not inevitable

The decline in our ability to think clearly is commonly considered to be a characteristic of aging. But not everyone experiences cognitive decline to the same degree. There are vast individual differences in the ability of the brain to function in old age. Could aerobic exercise be what’s allowing some people to maintain good cognitive function, whilst the brain function of others fades, sometimes dramatically?

A study published in the Journal of Gerontology in Nov 2006 randomly assigned older adults to an aerobic exercise group or a non aerobic exercise control group for six months. The subjects who participated in the exercise program had an increase in both grey and white brain matter mostly located in the regions of the brain which show substantial age-related deterioration ( the prefrontal and temporal cortices)

Neurons  are found in the grey matter of specific brain regions, whilst white matter enables the communication between brain regions. They work together to enhance brain function, so the fact the aerobic exercise benefits both grey and white matter is the main reason it ranks so highly as a way to keep your brain young.

What’s going on inside your noggin to produce these changes?

Scientists at the Harvard Medical School isolated the specific molecule which improves cognitive function and protects against brain degeneration. The molecule, which has been named irisin, is produced in the brain during aerobic exercise through a chain reaction.

Firstly, a molecule called FNDC5 becomes elevated. Irisin is a byproduct of FNDC5. Increasing levels of irisin in the blood forces irsin to cross the blood brain barrier. That then increases the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).  Increasing levels of BDNF stimulates the growth of new neurons.

How much do you need to run to get the benefits?

Firstly, you probably don’t need to run. Any aerobic exercise of a moderate to intense nature will do it. One study conducted by Justin Rhodes at Oregon Health and Science University found that the BDNF concentration in mice increased by up to 171% after 7 nights of wheel running. Initially, the more running, the more BDNF, the greater the neurogenesis.

After a while, Rhodes found that his ultra-marathon mighty mice, who crazily ran all day and all night, eventually were unable to navigate a maze successfully. He found the best performing mice ran two to three miles a night. As they say, “everything in moderation”.

( I’m not sure what that equates to for humans, but in the course of trying to find out, I did discover that “mice miles” refers the amount of time one spends at a computer).

If you’re not already doing some at least moderate aerobic exercise, and you want to improve your thinking power, then start moving. Long easy runs, faster tempo runs, fartlek, interval training will all help to improve your brain power. (Note high intensity interval training -short bursts of all out effort, will do little to improve your cognitive function, but the the sub-maximal efforts more commonly part of a distance running program will)

How Fast Should My Heart Rate Be During a Race?

Quick and Effective Running Workouts

Or put another way, how long is a piece of string?

I was chatting with one of our runners the other day, who was concerned that her average heart rate was too high during a recent race. I’m not qualified to answer such a question as it relates to a particular individual and their heart health, but my general feeling was that an average heart rate of 172 beats per minute over a 5km race was not too high. However, if you have any concerns regarding your health, particularly the health of your heart, you should consult someone who is qualified to assess you. And I am not.

So, that’s the disclaimers out of the way. Let me also say, that our training programs are based on pace and intensity level, rather than heart rate. There are too many variables when it comes to heart rate, so it is not the most relevant factor when it comes to determining how hard you can or should race and train. There are many things which can effect your heart rate from day to day, such as sleep and stress levels, just to name a couple.

To race fast, you need a high average heart rate during the race

A relatively high average heart rate during an exercise bout shows a greater capacity of your heart for work. A greater work capacity of your heart is one of the things which will make you able to run faster, and in a race, that’s the goal.

When you increase your speed (and therefore your intensity), your muscles need more oxygen. If your heart has become stronger through training, it will be able to beat faster to get more oxygen and nutrient containing blood to your working muscles. You can’t run faster without your heart rate increasing.

Low Average Heart Rates and Fitness levels

There seems to be a misconception that high heart rates are bad, and being able to maintain a lower heart rate during racing or training means you’re fitter. Through training, you improve your movement economy, your running efficiency. That means at any given pace, your average heart rate will decrease as you become fitter. In other words, as you become fitter and your running economy improves, you don’t have to put as much effort in to run the same pace. Conversely, at any given heart rate, you’ll be able to run faster.

But, more often than not, the goal of a race is to either run as fast as you are capable of, or to beat everyone else in the race-or beat your friends at least. Your goal is not to run with a low average heart rate. A higher average heart rate means your heart is fit enough to have the capacity to work harder, and therefore run faster.

Cardiac Output

Your exercise performance is regulated by your cardiac output. Cardiac output is the amount of blood the heart pumps through the circulatory system in one minute. At rest, your total blood volume (which is generally between 4 and 6 litres, depending largely on your size), is pumped through your heart once. During exercise, the amount of blood pumped by your heart can more than double in a reasonably fit person. In elite athletes, the heart can pump around 6 times as much blood through the circulatory system each minute.

Cardiac output is influenced by two things: stroke volume and heart rate.

Stroke volume is the amount of blood ejected by the heart in one pump, and heart rate is the number of the number of times the heart beats per minute. Increase either or both of these, and you increase cardiac output.

The more active your muscles are, the more oxygen they require. When you start exercising, your muscles signal your hear to pump faster which increases the blood flow. Your working muscles increase stroke volume by contracting and sending larger volumes of blood back towards the lungs where it can be oxygenated and pumped out by the heart again to deliver oxygen back to the working muscles.

Adaptations to Training

As you undertake a training program and get fitter, your cardiac output increases. Your heart, which after all is just another muscles, gets stronger and is able to pump faster, and to pump more blood due to its improved strength, and the improved ability of the working muscles to help deliver deoxygenated blood back to the lungs to be re-oxygenated.

Does your maximum heart rate increase as you get fitter?

Your potential maximum heart rate is probably not very trainable, but your ability to reach your maximum heart rate may be.  The whole thing is very hard to measure. To exercise at your maximum heart rate is not a particularly comfortable experience. You basically need to push harder and harder until you’re a blithering mess and can’t tolerate any more. But what’s to say the put at which I might give up, the level of pain I can tolerate, or the level of motivation I have to keep going, is the same as the next persons, or will be the same for me on each occasion I were to undertake such a test?

It’s often reported that as people get fitter, their maximum heart rate decreases, rather than increases. This is most likely due to the improvements in stroke volume as they become fitter. The heart is able to pump more blood each beat, and therefore does not need to pump as fast to deliver blood to the working muscles. It may also have something to do with psychological factors involved in testing.

Maximum heart rate is not the determining factor when it comes to running faster

When it comes down to racing, it’s not the person with the highest maximum heart rate who’s going to run the fastest. It’s far more likely to be the person with the highest average heart rate, or close to it. The person who can maintain a high heart rate for the longest amount of time, will be the person who is able to deliver the most nutrients and oxygen to the working muscles, allowing the muscles to work harder, and allowing the runner to run faster.

7 Food Labelling Tricks

Are you being duped by food marketing?

Fat free and 100% natural: seven food labelling tricks exposed

Sandra Jones, University of Wollongong

If you’re confused by food labels, you’re not alone. But don’t hold your breath for an at-a-glance food labelling system that tells you how much salt, fat and sugar each product contains. Australia’s proposed “health star rating” labelling scheme was put on hold in February, following pressure from the food industry. And it’s unclear whether the scheme will go ahead.

Marketers use a variety of tricks to make foods seem healthier and more appealing than their competitors, particularly when it comes to products aimed at children. One of the most powerful advertising tools a food manufacturer has is the packaging, as it’s what we look at immediately before deciding which food to purchase.

Next time you’re shopping for food, look out for these seven common labelling tricks:

The colour of food packaging can influence our perceptions of how healthy a food is.

A recent study found consumers’ perceptions of two identical chocolate bars were influenced by the colour of the nutrition label; despite the identical calorie information, people perceived the one with the green label to be healthier.

Another tool of savvy food marketers is the use of “ticks” and “seals” that we subconsciously process as indicating that the product has met some form of certification criteria.

A recent study found that nutrition seals on unhealthy food products increased perceptions of healthiness among restrained eaters. And a study with parents of toddlers found 20% of parents identified the presence of a quality seal as one of the reasons for their purchase of toddler formula rather than cow’s milk.

Food packaging often contains words that imply the food contains certain ingredients, or has been prepared in a way, that makes it healthier (or at least better than similar foods).

But many of the words – such as “healthy” or “natural” – have no legal or formal meaning. While the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code regulates the use of specific health and nutrient content claims, it doesn’t regulate or define these loose terms.

“Weasel claims” describe modifiers that negate the claims that follow them. This allows manufacturers to avoid allegations of breaching advertising or labelling regulations, while being such a commonly used word that it is overlooked by the consumer.

For example, Activia “can” help to reduce digestive discomfort – but did you read the fine print? It “can” help if you eat it twice a day and “… as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle”.

Similarly, Berri Super Juice contains antioxidants which “help” fight free radicals (but so does whole fruit, which also contains more fibre).

Unfinished claims tell us the product is better than something – but not better than what. In food labelling, we really have to hunt for the “what”.

Fountain’s Smart Tomato Sauce still contains 114mg of salt per serving, while the brand’s regular tomato sauce contains 186mg (more than several other brands).

The Heart Foundation defines low-salt foods as those with less than 120mg per 100g; Fountain’s Smart tomato sauce has 410mg per 100ml. It does, however, have less sugar than many of its competitors.

So, if you are trying to reduce your sugar intake it may be a good choice, but if you are trying to reduce your sodium intake, look for one of the low-salt varieties and read the label very carefully (reduced is rarely synonymous with low).

Smiths’ Thinly Cut potato chips contain 75% less fat than “chips cooked in 100% Palmolein Oil”. But they don’t contain less fat than Original Thins, Kettle, or most other brands on the market.

It’s also worth taking a close look at the recommended serving size – in both cases the nutrition information is based on a 27g serving, but Smiths’ “single serve” pack is 45g (15.7g fat; one-fifth of an average adult’s recommended daily intake, or RDI).

A common strategy is to list a claim that is, in itself, completely true – but to list it in a way that suggests that this product is unique or unusual (when in reality it is no different to most foods in that category).

“All natural” and “no artificial colours and flavours” are appealing features for parents looking for snacks for their children. But most standard cheeses (including many packaged products such as cheese slices) also contain no artificial colours of flavours.

This is not to suggest that Bega Stringers are a bad product or that you shouldn’t buy them – just that you may want to think about the cost per serve compared to other cheeses that are equally healthy.

Like most lolly snakes, Starburst snakes are “99% fat free”. The old adage of “salt-sugar-fat” holds here; products that are low (or absent) in one are typically very high in another. In the case of lollies, it’s sugar.

As with the potato chips above, serving size is important. Those of us who can’t resist more than one snake might be surprised to realise that if we ate half the bag, we would have consumed two-thirds of our daily sugar intake (although we can’t blame the pack labelling for that!).

Sun-Rice Naturally Low GI White Rice illustrates this use of technically correct claims. Let’s start with “cholesterol free” – this is totally true, but all rice is cholesterol free.

The pack also states in very large, bright blue letters that it is “Low GI”. In much smaller letters that almost disappear against the colour of the package is the word “naturally”. This use of different colours to attract, or not attract, attention is a common marketing technique.

The product is indeed low GI, at 54 it is just below the cut-off of less than 55. But the “naturally” refers to the fact that what makes it low GI is the use of basmati rice rather than another variety, and other brands’ basmati rice would have a similar GI.

Berri Super Juice proudly, and truthfully, claims it “contains no added sugar”. You may conclude from this that the sugar content is low, but a closer look at the nutrition information label may surprise you – a 200ml serve of this super juice contains 25.8g of sugar (29% of your recommended daily allowance).

While contentious, some have even suggested that there is a link between fruit juice and both obesity and metabolic disease, particularly for children. A better (and cheaper) way of obtaining the fruit polyphenols is to eat fruit.

Healthy sounding words are not only used as “claims” but are often used as brand names. This first struck me when I was looking for a snack at my local gym and noticed the “Healthy Cookies” on display; they had more sugar, more fat and less fibre than all of the others on sale (Healthy Cookies was the brand name).

Brand names are often seen as a key descriptor of the nature of the product. Research has found that people rate food as healthy or unhealthy based on pre-existing perceptions of the healthiness of a product category or descriptor, particularly among those who are watching their diet, and may thus select the unhealthier option based on its name or product category.

If, for example, you’re watching your weight, you may be attracted to the Go Natural Gluten Free Fruit & Nut Delight bar, assuming that it will be a healthier choice than a candy bar. But you might be surprised to note that it contains 932 kJ (11.0% of your RDI) and a whopping 13.6g of fat (10% of your RDI).

A 53g Mars bar contains slightly more calories (1020kJ) but a lot less fat (9.1g), although the Go Natural bar could argue for “healthier” fat given the 40% nut content.

So, can we really distinguish between healthy and unhealthy foods by looking at the wrappers?

The healthiest wrappers are made by nature, from the simple ones that can be eaten after washing (like apples and carrots) to those that need some disposal (like a banana or a fresh corn cob).

If you are buying your food wrapped in plastic or paper, it’s a little more complex. We need to see past the colours, pictures and cleverly-crafted claims and take a careful look at the ingredients and nutrition panel.

The Conversation

Sandra Jones, Professor and Director of the Centre for Health Initiatives , University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Running, UV Index, Sun Damage, and Skin Cancer

Truck drivers face damaged by sun

Think the sun doesn’t really do too much to your skin?

Think again! This picture of a 60 year old truckie from the US tells the story of years of exposure to the sun. Note his left side (exposed to the sun through the side window of his truck – they drive on a funny side of the road over there) is far more wrinkled than the right? That’s what years of sun exposure is doing to your skin!

None of us would willingly sign up for the wrinkles on the left side of this guy’s face, yet many of us (myself included) are taking less than fantastic care of our skin.

Here in Australia, we are all familiar with the Slip, Slop, Slap sun protection message, and with global warming, it’s even more important to heed the message.

The Cancer Council is thinking about using this photo to bring home the sun protection message. Incredible to think that we might be more likely to slip slop slap if we think it’s going to preserve our youthful good looks for longer, than if we thought it might help to prevent us from developing a melanoma!

This image is taken from the BoM website. It’s the UV index forecast  for noon on Dec 8th in Sydney. An overcast day, of a fairly average temperature. The bits in purple indicate an extreme ultra violet index! So pretty much, if you’re anywhere in Australia, you need to be sure to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays!

UV index map

If you’re a runner, walker, or a lover of outdoor exercise, it’s hard to escape the sun! Here are a few tips from the Cancer Council. You can find more info here.


  • One of the best barriers between skin and sun
  • Long pants, long-sleeved collared shirts, covering as much of the body as possible.
  • It absorbs and reflects the radiation that strikes the fabric.
  • UPF ratings based on how much radiation passes through non-stretched, dry material
  • UPF (the Ultra Violet Protection Factor) represents the factor by which UV exposure is reduced – eg UPF of 20 allows one twentieth of the UV radiation to pass through.
  • UPF rating of 40 or higher offer good levels of protection – they block out at least 97.5% of UV radiation
  • Clothing does not need to have a UPF rating to protect from UV.
  • Ligthweight, closely woven, dark colours offer the best protection for non UPF-rated clothing

UPF ratings for clothing are based on how much radiation passed through

non-stretched, dry material


  • Go for SPF 30 or higher, broad spectrum, water resistant
  • Sunscreens work by filtering UV radiation which are either inorganic or physical, or organic or chemical
  • Inorganic filters are composed of minerals most commonly metal oxides titanium dioxide or zinc oxide – they screen both UVA and UVB
  • Organic or chemical filters are composed of various compounds such as cinnamates (UVB filter), oxybenzone (UVA) and terephtalylidenedicamphor sulfonic acid (a UVA and UVB filter).
  • Sunscreens based on inorganic or chemical filters don’t penetrate as deeply into the skin
  • Sunscreen should be stored below 30C and not used past expiry date.
  • Sunscreen should be used in conjunction with other sun protection such as staying in the shade, wearing covering clothing, a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

SPF is only a measure of protection under idealised laboratory conditions and against UVB radiation.  SPF does not take into account UVA 

How To Apply  Sunscreen

  • The SPF of a sunscreen is determined as the ratio of time taken for a perceptible reddening of the skin to be seen., when 2mg/cm2 sunscreen is applied, in comparison to the time it takes the skin to redden without sunscreen.
  • Properly applied, ie  2mg/cm2  of skin, SPF30 sunscreens filter out 96.7% of UVB, while SPF50 filters out 98%.

Most people apply far less sunscreen than is recommended by manufacturers.  As a result, sunscreen users achieve an SPF of between 50-80% less than that specified on the product label. 

  • You should apply 2mg sunscreen to each square centimetre of exposed skin – about 35 ml per application for an adult, to reach the specified SPF.
  • The Cancer Council recommends you apply a bit more than this (45mls) or the equivalent of a shot glass or golf ball. 9 teaspoons to the head face and neck, two teaspoons to the torso, on teaspoon to each arm/forearm and two teaspoons to each leg
  • Apply 20 mins before going into the sun, then every 2 hours.

There’s no way I use that much sunscreen on my face, but having seen the truckie’s photo, I fully intend to now!!

Vitamin D

Although in theory suncreens could block the sun-induced production of pre-Vitamin D3,
in practice this is unlikely to happen, due to the inadequate application of sunscreen,
and incidental exposure when outdoors for only short periods unprotected


  • Shade does not provide 100% protection. Some UV can be reflected off the surrounding surfaces
  • Rule of thumb is if you can see the sky, you’re not fully protected.
  • Combine with sunscreen, a broad brimmed hat and sunglasses

I clearly remember the whole family getting burnt last summer when we were high up in the stand at the cricket, and seemingly protected.


  • Use sunglasses year round
  •  The amount of UV reaching the eyes does not correlate well with UV levels, which measure UV reaching an unobstructed horizontal plane, and is instead highly dependent on unique geometry of the ocular region.
  • Overexposure to UV radiation can cause short-term eye damage in the form of mild irritation, sunburn of the cornea, inflammation and excessive blinking
  • Long term over exposure may lead to permanent damage such as squamous cell cancers on the conjunctiva, skin cancer around the eyes and eyelids, cataracts, macular degeneration, pterytium and cloudiness of the cornea. 
  • Wearing both a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses that meet Australian Standard can reduce UV radiation exposure to the eyes by up to 98%.
  • Were close fitting wrap around sunglasses, as 40% of UV gets to the eyes via peripheral light