January 26, 2016

School lunch box tips

With school starting tomorrow, it’s time to get back into the swing of creating nutritious but yummy school lunch boxes for my two children.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I really enjoy the school holidays and the break from preparing school lunches! So it always takes me a little time to get back into it!

I know this can be a daunting task for many parents especially if you have children who are fussy eaters or simply change their mind about their favourite foods each day (mine sometimes do).

Discussing the healthy options on offer, planning and preparing food in advance are the three things that help me and my children stay on track with school lunches.

In my experience, discussing healthy options and getting your children involved in the decision about their lunch choices means they are more likely to eat the prepared food and enjoy it!

By planning, I mean write down a menu or daily options, based on your discussions with your children, before the school week starts. This makes it easier to do all the shopping at once and have the required ingredients in the pantry or fridge.

I always try to set aside a few hours on the weekend to prepare and cook some food in advance. I usually make savoury muffins, meatballs and other items that can be frozen and easily popped into the lunch box.

It is important to offer children a wide variety of fresh, seasonal whole foods (that means unprocessed and not from a packet) to develop their palate and ensure they are eating foods that provide the nutrients they need to grow and learn. Here is a quick guide on what elements should go into a healthy lunch box each day.

1. Plant foods like carrots, capsicum, celery, cucumber, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, salad vegetables, leafy greens, herbs such as parsley and basil, and fruit such as apples, strawberries, bananas, watermelon, oranges, kiwi fruit, rockmelon etc

2. Quality protein foods from either animal or plant sources such as meat, fish, nuts, seeds and legumes, and dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese. Examples of these foods include homemade meat balls, leftover roast beef, poached chicken, tinned fish, hummus, bean or lentil dips, and nut spread (if allowed in the school).

3. A complex carbohydrate like whole grain bread or wrap, whole grain pasta, quinoa, cracked wheat/bulgur wheat or brown rice.

4. A source of healthy fats, for example avocado, hummus, seeds, a seed spread, quality yoghurt (no added sugar) or olive oil (as a salad dressing).

5. Plenty of water – at least a 600ml bottle in their lunch box! There is no need for fruit juice or any other drinks.

January 22, 2016

Embracing Holistic and Integrative Health

Throughout my training and study to become a nutritionist, I had a dream of working alongside other health practitioners, putting the health of the patient first and treating them in an integrative and holistic way.

This year that dream becomes reality as I join Fresh Holistic Health at Forest Glen, a new integrative medical clinic, where a unique blend of health practitioners including GPs will work together to achieve wellness for clients.

I strongly believe that nutrition is the foundation of our health but it is not the only thing to consider when looking at a person’s health. We are more than just the ailment or disease we present to a health practitioner with. We are each a physical body with mental and emotional aspects as well as unique personal and social experiences and interactions with the environment. All of these things are important to consider when looking at a person’s health.

This holistic approach to health aims to bring all these aspects of a person back into balance to achieve health and wellness. This is in contrast with Western medicine today which is a largely reductionist approach – searching for a single cause to a disease state and often applying one therapy like medication to help improve health.

My approach is holistic and the way I practice is integrative (blending and working with conventional Western medicine and complementary practitioners like psychologists, physical therapists, yoga instructors and others). I will ask you about your physical and emotional well being, as well as diet and lifestyle habits. My recommendations will not only include dietary changes and supplements where necessary but practical lifestyle changes and a referral to another practitioner if needed. For example I may work together with a GP, physiotherapist and yoga instructor to help a person diagnosed with osteoporosis to ensure they are getting the nutrients in their diet needed for bone building and appropriate physical exercise and activity to build and maintain bone.

Fresh Holistic Health brings together a unique team of health professionals who share the same vision and I am so excited to be part of this unique and innovative clinic here on the Sunshine Coast. The clinic also incorporates a beautiful space for yoga, tai chi, pilates and other exercise classes as well as a purpose built kitchen for food workshops and information sessions.

If you are looking for a fresh approach to your health needs, I look forward to welcoming you at Fresh Holistic Health. The clinic is part of the Kunara precinct at 330 Mons Rd, Forest Glen. Phone 07 5445 2928 for an appointment.

December 1, 2015

Does food affect your mood?

The relationship between food and our mood is complex with culture, food types, age and life stage, emotional relationship with food and even timing of food intake all having a role to play.

Research over the past few decades has focused on how certain foods change the brain resulting in mood and performance changes. These studies suggest that foods directly influencing brain neurotransmitter systems have the greatest influence on mood. However, mood can also influence our food choices and we often hold certain expectations about the effects certain foods might have on us. I know this is true for me and there’s been many a time when I have reached for chocolate or wine when feeling a bit down or stressed!

Serotonin is one of the major mood neurotransmitters in our brains and one theory is that when serotonin levels are low, we experience lowered mood or depression and when levels are higher we feel happy. We produce serotonin from the amino acid tryptophan found in foods like turkey, milk, yoghurt, eggs, nuts, seeds, spinach, seaweed, beans, meat, fish and cheese. But like all things in our body, the making of serotonin requires other nutrients. We need a fine balance of carbohydrates to stimulate serotonin synthesis, and we need vitamins and minerals such as folate, iron, calcium, vitamin B3, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 and vitamin C for the synthesis to serotonin.

Recently a study in the The Lancet Psychiatry, highlighted the importance of nutrition for maintaining mental health and discussed research proving that the quality of diet and the deficiencies in certain essential nutrients are determining factors for physical and mental health. The authors wrote that the human brain needs an adequate intake of key nutrients, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids Omega-3, essential amino acids, B-group vitamins (especially B12 and folate), vitamin D and minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron. There is also lots of research showing that a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, fish, whole grains, legumes and olive oil protect against and reduce incidence of depression.

So while the role of food and mood is a complex one there is ample research to show that what we eat is one of the factors we need to pay attention to. Consuming a balanced and high-quality diet provides all of the nutrients our brains need for good mental health and where deficiencies are identified by a qualified practitioner, supplements can be added.

November 11, 2015

Healthy food habits and behaviours in kids

Nutrition, physical activity and lifestyle during childhood and adolescence have a huge impact on a child’s well being, growth and development, learning ability and risk of disease later in life.
Over the last few weeks I have spent time at my daughter’s school talking to each class about nutrition and healthy eating. My time in the classroom has reinforced how important education and the school food environment is to help develop healthy food habits and behaviours early on.
Individual school policies as well as national government guidelines show that the school environment has a significant influence on food habits and behaviour.
For example my daughter’s school has a strict policy around prohibiting junk food and packaged food, and this is reflected in the school lunch boxes as most children bring fresh, whole foods with minimum packaged foods. It also helps to minimize peer pressure to have packaged or junk foods.

National guidelines like those of France can also have a significant impact. School lunch programs are a very serious aspect of school in France and with the obesity rate for children half that of Australia’s it suggests that education and environment plays a role. According to Professor Karen Le Billon, author of “French Kids Eat Everything”, the French government has decided that teaching healthy eating routines to children is a priority, and they teach children about healthy food in the classroom AND the lunchroom. The French government guidelines reflect the country’s attitude to food (enjoyment of food and part of social fabric), and focus on variety and quality of food. Attention is placed on the dining environment, the time to eat (at least 45 minutes) and pleasure of eating as well as learning about food and taste. Foods served in the French school environment today seem to have remained true to the French ethos of quality food and enjoyment with vending machines banned in all schools.

France is not the only country to place emphasis on taking time to eat as well as eating together with family and friends, Brazil does as well, and there are many others. A recent study by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health supports this cultural practice when it found that children with less than 20 minutes to eat school lunch consume significantly less of their main food, milk and vegetables than those who aren’t rushed.

So while our guidelines and education in the classroom in Australia must focus on nutrition, healthy eating and healthy lifestyle practices I think we could learn from other cultures and government guidelines to think about the lunch environment at our schools, including the length of the lunch period, giving children enough time to eat but also to play and be active.

October 5, 2015

The Brazilian Sustainability Diet

A few weeks ago, I was asked to moderate the presentations from a great line-up of speakers in the Nourishing Ideas tent at the Sunshine Coast Real Food Festival. I was particularly interested in one presentation on the Brazilian Sustainability Diet as Brazil has a special place in my heart. I spent just over a month in Brazil in 2010 and in fact it was my experience there with Brazilian paediatric cardiologist Dr Rosa Celia that convinced me to study nutrition. Brazil, like Australia, has seen obesity rates along with chronic disease soar, so I was intrigued to hear about the new 2014 guidelines from the Brazilian government.

Sunshine Coast University’s Dr Jude Maher spoke about Brazil’s approach and emphasized that we could possibly learn from these holistic and practical guidelines.
Noticeably different from the Australian Dietary Guidelines, the Brazilian Dietary Guidelines focus on dietary patterns not nutrients and also highlight the importance of the social, cultural and emotional aspect of eating along with the socio-economic, biological and environmental impacts.
Hence it is referred to as the Brazilian Sustainability Diet as it recommends a pattern of eating that promotes health and well-being while recognising the impact of food and beverages on the environment and makes recommendations to provide food security for the present population while sustaining human and natural resources for future generations.

At first I was overwhelmed to find that the document was 150 pages but it was easy to read with great photographs of food and people shopping, preparing and eating together. In a nutshell, the guidelines emphasize the benefits of dietary patterns based on a variety of natural or minimally processed foods, mostly plants, and freshly prepared meals eaten in company, for health and well-being; dietary recommendations must be aligned to changes in food supply and population health patterns to ensure socially just distribution of food and environmental sustainability; reliable recommendations on diet come from a range of sources and that the guidelines should enlarge people’s choice of and right to adequate and healthy diets.

What I like most about the guidelines is that there are 10 easy to follow steps.

  • Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet
  • Use oils, fats, salt and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations.
  • Limit consumption of processed foods
  • Avoid consumption of ultra-processed foods
  • Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environment and, whenever possible, in company.
  • Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods.
  • Develop, exercise and share cooking skills
  • Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life
  • Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals
  • Be wary of food advertising and marketing

Guidelines that advise you to cook and enjoy fresh, whole foods, and serve them with friends and family while thinking critically about advertising and the impact on the environment gets a big thumbs up from me!

September 9, 2015

Does food influence acne?

Most of us have experienced a pimple or acne breakout in our lifetime with the most likely time being the teenage years. Acne can continue throughout life for some people and it can become a damaging psychological and emotional issue as well.

With more than 85% of teenagers in Western societies experiencing acne, researchers have begun to focus on modifiable factors such as the relationship between diet and acne. Several recent studies show a correlation between high glycaemic load foods and acne.

Glycaemic load (GL) refers to how quickly a carbohydrate food raises blood sugar after being consumed. Less processed foods such as fruit, vegetables and unrefined grains have a lower GL load than carbohydrate foods from refined flours, sugar and juice.

So what’s the relationship between food and acne? Foods with a high GL raise insulin levels which in turn cause multiple changes in hormone production and other metabolic processes in the body. One of these hormone changes is to increase androgen production. Androgens are the hormones that cause increased oil production during puberty. Acne is caused by a build-up of dead skin cells and excess oil production in the pores, creating the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive.

Professor Neil Mann, a Nutritional Biochemist and Head of Food Science at RMIT University, has been at the forefront of research focusing on the connection between modern diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease and the typical Western diet which is essentially a highly processed, high GL, carbohydrate rich diet. Professor Mann and his colleagues studied the role of these high GL carbohydrate rich diets and the incidence of teenage acne. In a randomised controlled trial over 12 weeks, teenage boys were given a diet with less carbs, higher protein and significantly lower GL. The experimental group on the low GL diet showed a significant improvement in acne, and hormonal aspects improved compared to a control group on a typical high GL diet.

So what does this mean in real terms –  increasing your intake of fresh, whole foods and reducing or even eliminating refined and processed foods (including fast food and softdrinks) will help keep your skin healthy and reduce the chances of acne.

Eat and enjoy daily

High-quality healthy fats: extra virgin olive oil, avocado, raw macadamia nuts, raw almonds, raw walnuts, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds, as well as rich sources of Omega 3 fatty acids like wild salmon, sardines, wild fish, flaxseed, walnuts and chia seeds.

Zinc and selenium rich foods: Zinc is found in in egg yolks, lamb, liver, oysters, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. Selenium is found in brazil nuts, molasses, eggs, garlic, apple cider vinegar, broccoli and brown rice (just 2 to 4 brazil nuts chewed until milky will provide daily requirement).

Vitamin A rich foods: eggs, carrots, green leafy vegetables and sweet potato.

Vitamin C rich foods: kiwi, sweet potato, red capsicum, brussel sprouts, pineapple, broccoli, strawberries, citrus fruits, parsley, papaya, rock melon

Vitamin E rich foods: nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado, eggs, green vegetables

Water: Your body and especially your skin needs hydration. Drink two litres of plain water daily but herbal teas without caffeine or sugar are good alternatives.

Leafy greens and salad vegetables: These are loaded with vitamins and minerals, and fibre. Aim for at least 2 to 3 cups a day.

Eat less or remove altogether

Remove or reduce high GL, carbohydrate rich foods which are generally refined, high sugar and packaged foods including: packet biscuits, white bread, pasta, chips, fast foods, pizza, lollies, ice cream and softdrinks.

August 21, 2015

Can eating gluten-free be harmful?

Eating gluten-free is a subject close to my heart. I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease 10 years ago so I have first hand experience living with this condition and the dietary restrictions that go with it. For those with Coeliac Disease, the only treatment is to adhere strictly to a gluten free diet.
Many people are also choosing to eat gluten-free to improve their health, lose weight or reduce the gastrointestinal issues like bloating and fatigue they experience.
While this might be the right choice for those individuals, restricting any food group has the potential to be harmful if you don’t make sure you replace the restricted foods with other foods providing the same nutrients. It wasn’t until I started studying nutritional medicine that I realised my gluten-free diet was not nutritionally adequate.
Research backs this up with internationally recognised Australian researcher and expert in coeliac disease, Dr Sue Shepherd, releasing a paper on this subject in 2012. Her research found that  people on a gluten free diet often have inadequate intake of fibre, folate, Vitamin B1, Vitamin A, magnesium, calcium, zinc and iron.
The choice of gluten free foods is important. If you replace a whole grain wheat bread with a gluten free bread based on refined corn/maize and white rice flours then the choice is not necessarily a healthier choice. You might reduce your gastrointestinal symptoms but you’ll be missing out on fibre,magnesium, iron and B vitamins. Choosing natural, whole foods rather than processed foods is always the best option.
The other important factor here is to seek help in establishing the cause of gastrointestinal symptoms experienced as they can be related to a number of factors including wheat allergy, lactose intolerance, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, stress, FODMAPs or Irritable Bowel Syndrome to name just a few.
If you’re experiencing gastrointestinal issues, don’t self diagnose and embark on restrictive eating! Seek help from a qualified health professional to determine the cause of your symptoms and find the right treatment.

August 5, 2015

Why do we eat?

There are hundreds of answers to this question and for each of us the answer will be different. I would probably answer that I eat because I love food! I love preparing it, cooking it and sharing it with my family and friends! I would also answer (now that I’m wise and passionate about nutritional medicine!) that we eat because food is the fuel our bodies need to grow, repair or heal, learn and be active. I don’t think many of us really think about or even understand the connection and therefore we also don’t think about the connection between disease or illness and what we eat.

It’s logical that if we don’t eat the right balance of nutrients from the different food groups then our bodies may not be able to function well. Natural foods (read: not processed!) provide the six classes of nutrients our bodies need including the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) micronutrients (vitamin and minerals) and water. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats provide the building materials and energy for the body. Vitamins, minerals and water are essential to many of the processes and activities of our cells and organs.

The science of nutrition studies the nutrients and other substances found in food and how the body utilizes them for optimum health. Research from clinical trials and epidemiological studies show the relationship between nutritional deficiencies or imbalances and dysfunction, illness or disease in the body.

If there is a deficiency or excess of nutrient over time, many of the body’s functions can be impacted and conditions like anaemia, underactive thyroid, cognitive decline or osteoporosis can arise. A deficiency or excess of energy results in undernutrition or overnutrition. Overnutrition may result in significant weight gain or obesity and this is associated with increased risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, depression and other mental health conditions.

Recently, an international study (1) published in The Lancet Psychiatry, highlighted the importance of nutrition for maintaining mental health and discusses research proving that the quality of diet and the deficiencies in certain essential nutrients are determining factors for physical and mental health. The human brain needs an adequate intake of key nutrients, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids Omega-3, essential amino acids, B-group vitamins (B12 and folate), vitamin D and minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron. A balanced and high-quality diet provides all of these nutrients and where deficiencies are identified supplements may be needed.

In my clinic, my degree in nutritional medicine underpins the way I work with you to identify underlying causes of ill-health and provide practical recommendations to change dietary and lifestyle habits in the pursuit of optimum health and wellbeing.

1. Jerome Sarris, Alan C Logan, Tasnime N Akbaraly, G Paul Amminger, Vicent Balanzá-Martínez, Marlene P Freeman, Joseph Hibbeln, Yutaka Matsuoka, David Mischoulon, Tetsuya Mizoue, Akiko Nanri, Daisuke Nishi, Drew Ramsey, Julia J Rucklidge, Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, Andrew Scholey, Kuan-Pin Su, Felice N Jacka.
Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry.
The Lancet Psychiatry, 2015; 2 (3): 271

So what is good nutrition?

With the advent of social media, nutrition has become a confusing topic. There are thousands if not millions of websites, blogs, Facebook and other social platforms giving advice about what to eat and what not to eat – often without qualifications and research to support their advice. This confusion has been confounded by advertising and let’s face it the commercialisation of food by big food manufacturers.


Through all of this we have lost our basic knowledge about good food (and thus good nutrition) and our connection with food and the critical role it plays as fuel for our body to help us grow, repair, learn and be active.


I’ve borrowed the words of the World Health Organisation to provide some clarity around this question because WHO does not have a vested interest in food – natural or manufactured. WHO defines nutrition as “the intake of food considered in relation to the body’s dietary needs.” WHO goes on to say that “good nutrition – an adequate, well balanced diet combined with regular physical activity – is a cornerstone of good health and poor nutrition can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity.”


So this is pretty simple but what is good nutrition I hear you say? This can be hard to determine because we are bombarded with so many messages through advertising, the media and now social media.


The western diet is made up of highly processed staple foods and it is these foods that are heralded as healthy and good for you. The advertising, media stories and social media messages about these foods as well as the latest super foods and fad diets make it all very confusing. The properties of these processed staples  – energy density, glycaemic index, macro nutrient balance, trace nutrient density, balance of essential fatty acids, sodium and fibre content – has changed dramatically over the years, and there is growing evidence demonstrating links to the rise in our modern day diseases like obesity, depression, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.


Good nutrition – based on scientific research, the principles of nutritional medicine and good common sense – is simply about eating a balance of natural, fresh foods from each food group ( fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein from lean meats or legumes and grains, and healthy fats). The foods we choose and eat should be as close to their natural state as possible without added sugars, additives and preservatives.


It’s also about listening to our bodies and responding by matching our eating habits with our individual needs.

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