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April 16, 2017

Boost your immune health this winter

As the cooler days roll in, so too do those bacteria and viruses that cause the common cold, the flu and other winter ailments. It’s almost impossible to avoid exposure to these bugs, which makes it really important to ensure your immune system is in top shape going into winter.

There are, of course, many things you can do to keep your immune system healthy and choosing fresh, whole foods is the foundation. I’ve listed below my top five food and lifestyle recommendations to embrace this winter.

1. Protein is needed for building cells including immune cells so make sure you are getting enough quality protein each day. Protein is not stored so while you are down with a bug make sure you include a small amount of easily digestible protein in each main meal. Homemade chicken soup or bone broth provides easily digestible protein and loads of minerals needed for recovery from ill health.

2. Immune supportive foods like ginger, citrus, garlic, shiitake mushrooms and turmeric boost your immunity as they provide nutrients and compounds with amazing medicinal properties. For example Shiitake mushrooms contain beta-glucans which are known for their immune enhancing properties while garlic has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties.

3. Gut health is critical in maintaining a strong immune system. Your gastrointestinal tract contains approximately 70% of your immune system, so ensuring your gut is populated with plenty of beneficial micro-organisms (‘good bugs’) is central to maintaining optimal immune function. You can boost your gut health by including fermented or cultured foods like natural yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, miso and kimchi (that contain friendly live bacteria or probiotics) in your diet each day.

4. Sleep and rest is so important for preventing illness and helping the body to heal when sick. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep and when the first signs of a cold or ailment appear give your body time to heal by resting.

5. Consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables that contain key nutrients like vitamin C and zinc will ensure you have the nutrients essential for a strong immune system.  Nutrients like vitamin C and zinc provide the  foundation to help reduce the incidence and severity of colds and infections. Vitamin C plays a key role in the mobilisation of your immune system defences and foods like citrus fruits, capsicum, broccoli, strawberries and kiwifruit are rich in vitamin C. Zinc helps infection-fighting white blood cells to be deployed at the first sign of a disease-causing invader, such as a virus or bacteria. Zinc containing foods include meat, eggs, seafood, nuts and seeds.

January 3, 2017

Make eating REAL FOOD your New Year’s Resolution this year!

For many people the New Year means a time to start afresh or make goals and plans for the year. Some people make resolutions to spend more time with family or help others out while others make plans for holidays or learning something new.

Getting healthy and fit or losing weight are often high up on the list but many struggle to stay on track. Making goals and action plans are important to stay on track but if you find that hard than I suggest you embrace one concept. If you embrace this concept your health will improve and you will find it much easier to manage your weight.

That concept is to EAT REAL FOOD as much as possible! Real food is food in its most natural state. It is unprocessed or with very little processing. Real food is whole food.

A real food way of eating is full of the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) your body needs to function and stay healthy. It has NO added fat, sugar, salt or additives.  You will also be more likely to consume the recommended 5 servings of vegetables each day.

Real food is found in your own garden, farmers markets, your local fruit and vegetable shop, your butcher or fish monger, and mostly around the edge of the supermarket.

Real food includes: vegetables; fruits; fresh herbs; whole grains with no or minimal processing like oats, brown rice and buckwheat; unprocessed meats; fish; nuts and seeds; eggs; minimally processed dairy; beans and legumes.

If health is a priority for you this year, I encourage you to eat Real Food! Keep an eye on my facebook page this year for lots of tips and recipes to stay on track with real food.

December 9, 2016

Are you getting enough Vitamin Sunshine?

It’s summer again in Australia and that means time at the beach, in the surf and in the pool for many. With such a great sunny climate and beautiful outdoor activities on the doorstep of most Australians, you would assume that Australians would have adequate levels of vitamin D and yet many people are deficient in this important vitamin. An estimated 73% of adults suffer from inadequate vitamin D levels, with almost 60% of women living in southern areas being completely deficient during the winter/spring months.

Why is this? There are many factors influencing our ability to produce vitamin D but the key one is that we spend less time outdoors due to the way we live and work, and when we do go outside we are covering up with clothes, hats and sunscreen to avoid the risks of skin cancer.

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that your body makes naturally from UVB waves from the sun. There is some vitamin D in foods (eg oily fish and egg yolks) but it is not enough. Vitamin D is well known for its role in maintaining the health of bones and improving calcium absorption but it also plays a critical role in our immune health helping to reduce the frequency of colds and flus, and managing more serious autoimmune conditions. Vitamin D also improves muscle strength and can reduce fractures in the elderly. Research shows that low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of certain cancers and other chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

In our climate being mindful of sun exposure is important as skin cancer is also a big risk. So what can we do to ensure we are getting adequate vitamin D?  During the colder months, you may need to spend more time outdoors to obtain vitamin D, compared to summertime when several minutes of sun exposure daily may be sufficient.

You don’t need to tan or to burn your skin in order to get the vitamin D you need and exposing your skin for a short time will make all the vitamin D your body can produce in one day. Exposing a large area of your skin, such as your back, rather than a small area such as your face or arms will help to produce the optimal amount. Factors like your age, the time of year and time of day, where you live in the world and the type of skin you have will all affect how much vitamin D your body produces when your skin is exposed to sunlight.

A few simple steps

Here are a few simple steps to help achieve and maintain optimal D levels. If getting sun exposure check out the UV Index for your location, find out what time the UV will be below 3 for safest exposure. Generally this will be before mid-morning or post mid-afternoon in the warmer months and you should aim for 6 to 7 minutes. In the cooler months, aim for 7 to 40 minutes at noon during winter with arms and shoulders visible, and without sunscreen. Be aware that UV levels are generally highest between 11am and 3pm so be cautious going out uncovered for longer than this. The SunSmart website has loads of great information about the UV Index, and when and how to protect yourself from the sun.

For some people with sensitive skin, family history of skin cancer or other reasons, getting the sun exposure required for optimal vitamin D synthesis may present risks to skin health. In this situation, supplementation with vitamin D may be a safer option and should be discussed with a qualified health practitioner. Being a fat soluble vitamin, vitamin D is prone to oxidisation and deterioration, so it is important to use a high quality vitamin D supplement with proven stability, and to take an amount suitable to your situation.

With vitamin D deficiency having such negative effects on health and increasing the risk of chronic disease, it may also be advisable to talk to your health practitioner about having your vitamin D levels checked.

October 11, 2016

Why do we have more children with chronic disease than ever before?

This has been a burning question for me ever since I started studying nutrition. I was aware of the growing numbers of children with chronic conditions but I’m now experiencing this in my clinic. Most have been unwell for 6 months or more and are struggling with conditions like weight gain, allergies, fatigue, anxiety, depression, ADHD, behavioural and learning difficulties, and digestive problems.  For some, their illness has prevented them from going to school, and they have mostly been offered band-aid solutions like pain killers, antidepressants, laxatives, appetite suppressing medications and other serious medications.

In May this year, I decided I needed to gain a deeper understanding to help me treat the health conditions affecting our children. I attended a 3-day Mindd Foundation and MAPS (Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs) training course with other qualified health practitioners including doctors, paediatricians, naturopaths, osteopaths, nurses and chiropractors . The training focused on immunology (or the immune system) and best practice biomedical approaches to treating these conditions affecting our children.

Many of these chronic health conditions our children are experiencing have their roots in immune dysfunction. Our immune system is designed to respond to the environment, protect us against pathogens we encounter daily, and react against foreign substances and even cancer cells.

Let’s take allergies and asthma as an example. One in three young Australians have allergies and one in four have asthma.  These conditions are driven by inflammation and inappropriate response by the immune system to the environment. Genetic factors influence susceptibility but do not explain the huge rise in these conditions. A cleaner environment, declining exposure to infectious diseases, unhealthy diet patterns and chemical exposure are being examined as likely contributors. According to paediatrician Professor Susan Prescott, these factors start to influence a child’s immune system while in the womb. She writes that the transfer of a mother’s microbiota begins during pregnancy. This provides the baby with the beginning of its own microbiota and paves the way for the immune system to develop. Research shows that microbiota is influenced negatively by high fat, low fibre diets, obesity and metabolic dysfunction. Smoking, environmental chemicals, stress, medications during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and method of delivery have all been shown to have an impact on the health of a mother’s microbiome and her child. This rich interaction between mother and child shows how important the mother’s health is to a child’s future health and can be a predictor of immune health.

Through my university training and now MAPS training and Mindd certification, I focus on uncovering the factors that have influenced a person’s health and determine any biochemical imbalances preventing healing and recovery. Blood, urine, stool and other tests are often used to identify individual deficiencies and abnormal pathology, and treatment recommendation such as dietary changes, lifestyle changes and therapeutic doses of minerals, vitamins, amino acids and essential fats may be prescribed.

If you are pregnant, planning pregnancy or have a child with allergies, asthma, behavioural or gut issues, and you would like to find out more about the importance of immune health and gut health I’d love to help you.

September 7, 2016

Healthy Hormones are Key to Women’s Health

This week is the Jean Hailes Women’s Health Week which is dedicated to helping woman across Australia focus on their health, and learn about their health and ways to take action. This is the fourth year this event has been held and it was started in 2013 when the Jean Hailes for Women’s Health foundation realised there was no event dedicated to women’s health in Australia.

If you don’t know about this not-for-profit foundation, it was formed in honour of a pioneering medical practitioner, Dr Jean Hailes, and the work they do reflects the enduring legacy that she made to women’s health. Jean’s vision was to improve the quality of women’s lives and give them practical information based on the best available evidence.

I encourage you to visit the web site – jeanhailes.org.au – as there is lots of useful information on the site. This week’s theme is “Am I normal” and the foundation is running a series of webcasts on this topic looking at weight, body image, mental health or sex.  These are all very important topics no matter what age you are.

Hormones, especially oestrogen, play a big role in how a woman feels and in her physical health. Without adequate levels of estrogen, women may experience mood changes, feelings of fatigue, weight gain and other “unwell” symptoms. Oestrogen is essential for a healthy reproductive cycle but also plays an important role in physiological functions such as libido, vaginal health, skin health, triglyceride regulation, and metabolism.

Eating the right foods can have a potent effect on a woman’s hormones.  Eating a fresh, whole foods diet (and avoiding processed and refined foods) is essential and this includes incorporating specific foods that can support hormonal balance. Some of the most potent hormone balancers are seeds – flax, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds! They contains natural plant compounds called phytoestrogens that are structurally similar to oestrogens, and have very mild oestrogen-like effects when consumed.  Including these foods as part of a healthy diet has the potential to decrease the severity & frequency of peri-menopausal symptoms and can also help to balance female hormones, reducing PMS symptoms such as bloating, mood swings and breast tenderness. Sunflower seeds and sesame seeds are also high in zinc and Vitamin E, and they are all great sources of protein and healthy fats. So include a couple of tablespoons of these seeds in your diet daily for extra hormone support! Or you can try this super seedy protein ball containing all these lovely hormone balancing seeds!

Super Seedy Protein Balls

Ingredients

8 pitted Medjool dates

¼ cup sesame seeds

¼ cup flax seeds

¼ cup pepita/pumpkin seeds

¼ cup sunflower seeds

1 cup almonds

1/4 cup raw cacao powder

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Preparation

Add sunflower, flax, pumpkin seeds and almonds into a processor and process for a minute or so until it resembles a coarse flour. Add dates into processor and process for a couple of minutes until dates break down. Add cocoa, cinnamon and salt. Process until thoroughly combined. Add coconut oil and maple syrup and process again for 30 seconds. The dough should be sticky when pressed between your fingers. If it’s not sticky enough to shape into balls, add a small amount of water (a teaspoon at a time) and process until it comes together. Shape dough into small balls (about 16). Roll in sesame seeds and refrigerate for a couple of hours until firm. Store in the fridge.

June 8, 2016

Roasted cauliflower, cumin and cashew soup

This week I’ve made a roasted cauliflower, cumin and cashew soup! I’m really excited about this one because it’s my own creation. I wanted to bring you a vegetarian/vegan soup packed with protein. I often make a delicious soup with just cauliflower, onions, garlic and stock but I wanted to boost the protein content and make it more nutritious. So I have added cashews!

Cashews are a nutrient dense food packed with healthy fats, protein, fibre, iron, copper, zinc and magnesium and antioxidant compounds as well. There is lots of research into the health benefits of raw nuts (not the roasted, salted processed kind) and studies show that moderate nut consumption is associated with lowering your risk of heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity.  This knowledge alone make cashews a great addition to your diet and in this case my soup!

Cauliflower belongs to the brassica or cruciferous family and these vegetables are one of the healthiest foods we can consume. Other brassicas include broccoli, cabbage, kale and brussel sprouts. These vegetables are an excellent source of essential vitamins, minerals and fibre, and antioxidant compounds with amazing health benefits. Recent research shows that the compounds in brassicas help to prevent chronic diseases including cardiovascular, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, and some cancers.

This is a pretty easy soup to make and you only really need five ingredients. Chop the cauliflower into florets, place in a roasting pan, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and roast for 45 mins (180 degree oven). While the cauliflower is roasting, soak cashews in water. When cauliflower is done, chop onion and saute in coconut oil or ghee for a few minutes, add spices and then cauliflower. Saute for a minute or so and then add water. Simmer for 15 minutes or until cauliflower is cooked (but not too soft). Drain the cashews and add to the soup. You can now use a stick blender to blend until smooth or use a blender. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and add a handful of chopped parsley. I hope you enjoy this one!

Shopping List

1 head cauliflower

1 large onion

2 generous teaspoons of cumin powder

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

1 cup cashews (soaked)

3  cups water

Salt and pepper

June 5, 2016

Soup of the week – lentil and ham hock

This week I’m sharing my recipe for a hearty lentil and ham hock soup. This soup is number three in my four week challenge to bring you a nourishing soup each week. This soup is a firm favourite in my house and the kids love taking the leftover soup for school lunch. It is best done in a slow cooker. You can literally throw the ingredients into the slow cooker at lunch time and it will be ready for dinner six hours later!

I add chopped onions, carrots and celery to the slow cooker with the puy lentils, a couple of bay leaves, teaspoon of fennel seeds, a smoked ham hock (with the skin removed) and water to cover all the ingredients. Turn the slow cooker on low and leave for 6 or 7 hours. I check on mine occasionally and give it a stir.

Just before we eat, I removed the ham hock and cut off the meat and return it back to the soup. I leave the seasoning for each individual as the ham hock is usually quite salty. Spoon soup into a bowl and add a big handful of chopped parsley. Sometimes I stir fry some leafy greens and add those as well to up the vegetable content of the meal.

Lentils are a great source of plant-based protein, and are packed with fibre and have good amounts of vitamins and minerals like folate, manganese, iron and phosphorus.

Shopping List

2 onions

3 medium carrots

2 sticks celery

2 cups puy lentils

2 bay leaves

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 smoked ham hock (free-range, organic if possible)

Water to cover

Fresh herbs and/or leafy greens to stir fry

May 26, 2016

My Minestrone Soup

If you read my last post, you’ll know I’ve been challenged to bring you a nourishing soup a week for four weeks. This one is the second soup! Soups are a wonderful way to boost your diet with lovely nourishing foods our body needs.

This week I’m bringing you my version of Minestrone Soup. This is a soup that traditionally changes with the seasons and often has pasta added to it. The key to a great Minestrone is the stock and using the freshest vegetables and herbs in season. I’ve always based my recipe on a Jamie Oliver version with red cabbage.

Red cabbage is one of the most nutritious vegetables to eat. It is packed with fibre, disease fighting compounds called polyphenols and is rich in vitamins A, C and K, as well as the minerals potassium and manganese.

This soup is so easy. You’ll need to have a home made chicken bone or ham hock broth on hand.

In my soup I saute chopped onion, celery and carrots (in olive oil or coconut oil) for about 5 minutes. I add some fresh rosemary leaves and saute for another minute before adding homemade stock (see previous post for making a stock). I bring the stock to a simmer and add one can of tinned organic crushed tomatoes and half a red cabbage (thinly sliced). You can add some small pasta or spaghetti pasta broken up at this stage if you desire. You could also boost the protein by adding borlotti beans. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with some fresh basil and grated Parmesan!

Shopping List

2 onions (red or brown)

3 medium carrots

2 sticks celery

½ medium red cabbage

Fresh rosemary (2 teaspoons chopped)

1 and ½ litres of homemade chicken bone or ham hock stock

1 can organic tinned tomatoes (crushed)

Fresh basil

Parmesan Cheese

Pasta (optional)

May 18, 2016

Soup of the week – Chicken and Shiitake Mushroom

Soups are a wonderful way to nourish our bodies especially in cooler weather and when we are recovering from illness. I love soups and they always feature on the menu in my home during autumn and winter. A friend challenged me to bring you a soup a week so for the next four weeks that’s what I’m going to do!

The soup I’m featuring this week is inspired by my Dutch mother-in-law who makes a delicious chicken and mushroom soup. My kids love Oma’s soup so I’ve taken her recipe and boosted it with extra immune boosting foods like shiitake mushrooms, ginger, onions and a homemade chicken bone broth.

It’s really one of the easiest soups to make. The chicken bone broth is not difficult but it takes time. For a chicken broth, you throw an organic chicken carcass or whole organic chicken in a slow cooker with a tbs apple cider vinegar, 2 litres of water or more, an onion or two, a carrot, celery, garlic and parsley. You let the broth simmer for 10 to 12 hours, cool and strain! If you’ve used a whole chicken, take the meat off and refrigerate or freeze for your soup or other meals.

Once you have your chicken bone broth, the next steps to making this soup are super easy.

Saute an onion for a minute or two then add a couple of teaspoons of fresh grated ginger, a teaspoon of miso and your bone broth (about 2 litres). Bring to a simmer and then add 250g swiss brown mushrooms and 250g shiitake mushrooms and simmer for 15 minutes. Next step is to add a big handful of bean sprouts and simmer for a further 2 minutes. You can also add some of the chicken meat if you want a heartier soup. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into a bowl and add chopped herbs and asian greens to each bowl. Enjoy!!

Shopping List

Broth

1 Organic Chicken

2 Onions

Apple cider vinegar

2 Carrots

Celery

Garlic

Parsley

Soup

250 g swiss brown mushrooms

250 g shiitake mushrooms (fresh or dried, follow packet instructions to rehydrate)

1 Onion

1 tsp Miso

100g bean sprouts

Herbs

Asian greens

May 8, 2016

Nutrition in early life is critical to reducing lifelong disease risk

Every year for the last four years I have attended the Science of Nutrition in Medicine and Healthcare Conference. It is a requirement for my registration as a university qualified nutritionist to complete professional development and education each year but I’d have to say this is far from a chore for me. I look forward to the conference each year and every year, the lineup of amazing Australian and international scientists, researchers and clinicians continues to inspire me and astound me in terms of the amazing research they are doing into the role of nutrition in health.

I spent two full days listening to presentations ranging from the detrimental impact of food additives on immune health and allergy; positive effects of nutritional therapy in autism and other behavioural conditions; the role of environmental toxins in immune dysregulation; the benefits of fish oil in rheumatoid arthritis; and the importance of early environment in the first 1000 days of life.

There were a number of speakers presenting on the topic of early life health and how the future risk of disease can be influenced by early environmental factors (nutrition being a key one) in both mother and child during conception, pregnancy and early life.  Natural or caesarian birth, breastfeeding and weight of mother are all critical factors as well. There are a number of multi-year or longitudinal studies which show that nutritional imbalance leads to epigenetic changes resulting in increased risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

The good news is that early interventions can also reduce the risk of these diseases. We are talking about true prevention here and this should be the goal of our entire healthcare system in Australia.

For children in the womb and in the first 2 years of their life, we have a critical window of opportunity to provide an environment that positively supports all aspects of development and future health. Our modern diet and lifestyle has a profound effect on the health of our gastrointestinal system, gut bacteria composition and immune health which are key determinants in our overall health. Factors such as fast food, processed food, food additives, chemical and pesticide exposure, stress and declining physical activity influence health but are within our ability to change. We can change what we eat, we can reduce our exposure to chemicals, we can find ways to help manage stress and we can always be more active!

As a nutritionist, I believe I have a critical role to play –  to educate and help people understand the role of diet and lifestyle habits in their own digestive, immune and general health and how diet and lifestyle changes can positively impact their own health journey and that of unborn children – and it is one I am very passionate about!

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