Something new to chew on

Nutrition perspectives on ‘new’ foods from collagen to pea protein

by Catherine Saxelby, Award-winning author and Freelance writer


Catherine Saxelby is an Australian dietitian and nutritionist known for her no-nonsense approach to food, eating and diets. With a diverse background, she is prolific in the media, having written thousands of articles and contributed to many publications.



Kombucha (pronounced kom-boo-chah) is a slightly sweet, slightly acidic, fermented beverage made from a base of tea. It is made from water, tea and sugar (the substrate for the fermentation). So you start with sugar but it largely disappears during the making of kombucha.

The tea infusion mixed with a SCOBY (which stands for a ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’). The fermentation by this tea fungus or ‘mother’ is the process that ferments the sugar and yields acetic acid (which gives it that characteristic sharp taste), carbonic acid and carbon dioxide gas (which adds the bubbles).

Does kombucha really stack up as that ‘something special’? The short answer is ‘not really’. The long answer? Well, you MAY ingest some friendly bacteria to help your digestion, but no-one knows for sure. It’s been drunk to assist gut function for centuries in Japan, Russia and Germany but there’s not a huge amount of research into its health benefits.

To my way of thinking, its greatest advantage is its lower sugar content to that of regular soft drinks, combined with its refreshment value as a tart yet effervescent drink.


Hemp has been approved for consumption in Australia, although it has been used as food for centuries in other cultures. The hemp food products are derived from low-THC hemp seeds, which don’t contain the psychoactive substances associated with cannabis. Industrial hemp is a distinct variety of Cannabis sativa L, meaning it won’t make you high. Low-THC hemp products available in Australia include whole hemp seeds, hemp flakes, hemp oil, hemp protein (the part leftover after the oil is extracted) and hemp flour (ground hemp seeds).

Hemp seeds don’t need soaking, crushing or cooking. Typically around half their content is fat. Their contribution to plant omega-3s such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is outstanding. Hemp provides important vitamins including vitamin E and B group vitamins (such as folate and thiamin), along with minerals like phosphorous, potassium, magnesium and iron, and yes has less than 2 per cent carbohydrates.


Pea Protein

Pea protein powder or isolate is proving useful for vegans and for people with dairy intolerances or allergies, who can’t eat whey protein from milk.

Pea protein is a complete protein. This means that it has all nine of the essential amino acids which your body can’t make and which you have to get from your diet. But while pea protein has around 9 per cent leucine, which is good for building muscle, it is low in methionine, which you would need to get from other sources in your diet.

Due to the way it is made, pea protein isolate doesn’t contain the anti-nutrients that peas themselves contain and that prevent absorption of nutrients in the gut.



Collagen is found in the connective tissues – ligaments, cartilage, muscles, tendons and skin – as well as in the bones of all animals. It is a protein and thus a source of amino acids. Collagen supplements are usually collagen that has been hydrolyzed so that it has been broken down into its constituent peptides. This makes it easier to absorb and use. Collagen can be bought in the form of supplements sold as collagen hydrolysates or peptides but good quality bone broths are excellent home-made sources of collagen.

There are three types of Collagen. Type I is the most abundant in your body, followed by Type III and then Type II. Types I and III are most beneficial for skin health and elasticity, and reducing the signs of ageing. Type II collagen is found in the cartilage of your joints and is the type taken by people with degenerative joint problems such as osteoarthritis. If you take Type II collagen then it is recommended that you take it separately from the other types to aid with its absorption.

There are other claims made about collagen such as benefitting hair, nails and gut health, but the research is not clear. Better quality trials are needed.


Monk fruit (or Luo han guo)

Monk fruit extract is derived from the fruit of Siraitia grosvenorii, a perennial vine native to southern China where it is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Monk fruit is known for its characteristic intensely-sweet taste. The fruit derives its sweetness from its naturally occurring glucose and fructose, as well as its high-intensity triterpene compounds known as mogrosides.

Because of these sweet mogrosides, monk fruit extract is approximately 20 times sweeter than other fruit juices. It has a very clean flavour profile with no lingering bitterness. This makes the extract an obvious solution for replacing sugar in beverages.

Currently monk fruit can only be used as a food and drink flavouring. But you could soon see it on supermarket shelves as a table sweetener.

Excerpt from Nutrition for Life 2020 by Catherine Saxelby (Hardie Grant) available for $34.99.


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