Dr Elizabeth Neale
School of Medicine
Providing the evidence base for health claims on foods to inform consumer choice
The world of food and nutrition is awash with claims and counterclaims about the benefits of different nutrients and foods. Remaining pragmatic amid the health food hype can be a difficult task for the everyday consumer.
Some professionals though, such as Accredited Practising Dietitian Dr Elizabeth Neale, have dedicated their career to reviewing the evidence in order to help people live genuinely healthier lifestyles based on dietary decisions.
“The importance of evidence-based practice in nutrition is a huge source of motivation for me,” Dr Neale says.
“By its very nature, nutrition is a popular area where myths and fad diets are common. I’m passionate about ensuring we have the best available collection, synthesis, and translation of evidence to support nutritional advice.”
Since receiving her PhD in 2012, Dr Neale has conducted multiple systematic reviews for government and industry bodies to ensure information about foods and health effects is accurate.
Between 2013 and 2015, Dr Neale co-authored a systematic review for an Australian Government Department of Health revision of the 2006 Sodium Nutrient Reference Values. The revised values were released in 2017 to inform national nutrition guidelines, food labelling and nutrition practice.
In 2014 and 2015, she conducted a systematic review of claims relating to nuts and heart health for Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited, which funds a health education initiative (Nuts For Life) on behalf of Australia’s tree nut industry. The review examined more than 100 scientific papers and verified the general level health claim that nut consumption contributes to heart health. This claim is now being used by the food industry and is being displayed on food packaging nationwide.
Today, Dr Neale continues to investigate the health benefits of nuts, including exploring current nut intake levels in Australia. She is also collaborating with clinicians at Wollongong Hospital to examine the safety and efficacy of nut consumption in haemodialysis (kidney dialysis) patients, with funding from the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute.
Dr Neale, who is also the Systematic Review Editor of Nutrition and Dietetics (Journal of the Dietitians Association of Australia), says her mentors and colleagues have opened her eyes to how much can be achieved via nutrition.
She hopes to have a similar impact on her own students.
“Supporting students to develop their skills in thinking critically about nutrition, to allow them to become the evidence-based practitioners and researchers of the future, is also very important to me.”