The hunt for a uniquely Aotearoa New Zealand wellbeing diet

by | Jul 26, 2022 | News

Now we’re coming to understand the good that food can do in keeping people healthy and well, wouldn’t it be great to have a wellbeing diet that’s uniquely tailored to Aotearoa New Zealand. The great news is that there are scientists and industry experts at work on this very task. 

He Rourou Whai Painga is an ambitious, multi-centre dietary intervention study exploring the effects of eating a whole diet that includes high-quality New Zealand food and beverage products.

Plant and Food Research scientists are part of a team of researchers developing He Rourou Whai Painga, and they share the hope of the study partners that this will help to tackle diabetes, heart and other noncommunicable diseases. The goal is to develop a ‘New Zealand’ dietary pattern, consisting chiefly of locally produced foods that reflect our unique environment and can improve the health of our communities.

“We know we have great quality produce in New Zealand, and this is an exciting opportunity to show that, when combined in a whole diet, with a focus on on plant-based foods, such as vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains and cereals, nuts and seeds, olive oil and a moderate intake of seafood, our foods improve health and wellbeing of people at risk of diabetes and heart disease,” says endocrinologist Professor Jeremy Krebs at the University of Otago in Wellington.

Led by the University of Otago, the team includes scientists from Plant & Food Research, the universities of Otago and Auckland, as well as a number of other institutes and organisations, and in collaboration with food and beverage industry partners. Food and beverages partners range from large producers to SMEs.

The $4 million project is part of the High-Value Nutrition Science Challenge, which is based in the University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute.

“We have a unique opportunity to show that consumption of a healthy dietary pattern based on predominantly New Zealand-produced foods and beverages can improve health, providing strong scientific evidence that can be used to grow our local economy through growing the domestic and export consumption of our products,” says High-Value Nutrition Challenge director Joanne Todd.

The study will recruit 200 participants across four centres (Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Kokiri Marae in Lower Hutt).

“People don’t eat in isolation, so this study uses a whānau-based intervention approach to help individuals and their families to try new foods and recipes and move their diets to a more healthy pattern,” Krebs says.

The 200 participants will receive targeted nutrition support, including guidance on food preparation, recipe ideas and social media groups to connect with other study participants in their community.

He Rourou Whai Painga will provide approximately 75 percent of the family’s food for 12 weeks. Participants will be assessed 12 months after they first enrol, with whānau included in key measurements. The goal of the study is improved health, rather than weight loss, although that could be a benefit.

As part of the research, the team has developed a ‘metabolic index’ or metabolic syndrome Z score. This has been used overseas but is now validated in New Zealand. It includes waist circumference, blood sugars, cholesterol, blood pressure and triglycerides.

The 11 National Science Challenges were chosen by the government in consultation with the public. They aim to pull together scientists and industries to solve some of the country’s tough issues.

Interested in participating?

The study will recruit 200 participants to be involved. Watch this video to learn more about what being a participant involves.

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