October 11, 2021
On the weekend, my husband and I spent time communing with nature – walking and enjoying a beautiful forest and nature area. I have known for a long time now that my mental and physical health benefits from spending time in the great outdoors. Just a few hours helps me feel grounded, motivated and mentally refreshed for weeks.
And there’s science to back up these feelings and health benefits. Since the 1980s Japanese scientists have been studying the health benefits of forest bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku as it is called in Japan.
Forest bathing is simply the act of taking in the forest atmosphere during a leisurely walk. The practice itself is really about taking the opportunity to take time out, to slow down and connect with nature – to be mindfully present among the trees for the purpose of health and wellbeing.
Research studies on the health benefits of spending time in forest environments show that forest bathing positively creates calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system, reducing stress hormones and boosting the immune system.
Beneficial effects on human health include reductions in blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones; reduction in scores for anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion; and increases in scores for vigor, showing psychological effects as well. In fact after just 15 minutes of forest bathing blood pressure drops, stress levels are reduced and concentration improved. These findings suggest that forest environments can be helpful in preventing and reducing symptoms of lifestyle-related diseases.
Studies also suggest a preventive effect on cancers as forest bathing increases human natural killer (NK) activity, the number of NK cells, and the intracellular levels of anti-cancer proteins. (NK cells kill tumour cells and cells infected with viruses.)
For many people, modern life is sedentary, consistently stressful and devoid of time in nature. These lifestyle factors, among others, are significant contributors to each individual’s risk of developing chronic diseases, mental health issues, cancer and cardio-vascular disease.
And yet, the simple act of spending time among the trees regularly can help to reduce the risks and improve mental and physical health.
So what if you can’t get to a forest? Find a park, take your shoes off and feel the grass under your toes, feel the bark of a tree, breathe in deeply, gaze up into its leaves, appreciate, listen, and smell. Use all your senses!
September 21, 2020
I love cooking but I still need to spend time prepping for the week ahead. I always try to spend some time in the kitchen on the weekend so I can start the week organised. I usually do some baking for the kids so they healthier snacks to take with them. I also go to the market to get fresh, in season fruit and vegetables, and I make a meal plan for the week. This keeps the whole family on track for the week, and also helps to keep our food wastage to a minimum.
This weekend I baked a Lemon and almond loaf, inspired by a recipe from the amazing Yotam Ottolenghi but I’ve altered it to make it gluten free. It’s a favourite in my family and easy for the kids to pack in their lunch boxes.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g caster sugar
2 lemons: finely grate the zest to get 2 tsp, then juice to get 2 tbsp
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
90g brown rice flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder (GF)
⅛ tsp salt
110g ground almonds
Preheat the oven to 180C fan forced. Line a loaf tin 11cm x 21cm, and set aside.
Place the butter, sugar, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and vanilla in a bowl and beat on a high speed for 3-4 minutes, until mixture is lighter and creamier. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl. The mix may split a little, but it’ll come back together. Add the GF flour, baking powder, salt and almond meal one at a time. Pour into the prepared loaf tin.
Bake for 40 mins. Test by inserting a knife into the middle: it’s ready if it comes out clean. Remove from the oven and set aside, in its tin, to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
May 4, 2020
No matter what you do, it is just not possible to avoid or prevent stressful situations and events. The COVID-19 Pandemic is proof of this.
However, you can strengthen your capacity to deal with stressful or difficult situations and events.
This is called building resilience – the ability to cope with tough times in life, unexpected changes and challenges; the capacity to endure adversity such as physical illness and mental and emotional distress; and to “bounce back” and recover.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has certainly created a tough time, an unexpected change and challenge for all of us. It is an unexpected challenge that threatens physical and mental health, jobs, financial security, relationships, and the future.
Building resilience is about cultivating and maintaining a sense of control amongst the chaos by being educated and prepared with coping strategies and tools. Having these strategies and tools up your sleeve can help you to feel more confident and able to face each day, each challenge, as it arises.
There are thousands of great books, podcasts, videos etc about this very topic, and I encourage you to educate yourself as knowledge is a powerful tool. I always like to keep things simple, and from my experience, research and health sciences study, there are 5 simple things you can do to help build and maintain your own resilience.
- Eat healthy
- Breathe and be mindful
- Move and exercise
- Sleep well
- Stay connected
Eat healthy – food is the foundation of health, and by eating healthy foods you give your body the best chance to be physically and mentally strong. A diet rich in real food with quality proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables and essential fatty acids from oily fish, nuts and seeds will nourish your immune system and overall well being. Eating a variety of vegetables and fruits as well as a rainbow of colours also helps to make sure we are getting the nutrients we need. Broccoli is one of the most nutrient dense vegetables we can eat but eating broccoli every day and nothing else is not the way to go! Different coloured vegetables are rich in different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
Breathe and be mindful – while we don’t have control over what’s happening in the world right now, we do have control over our minds. Breathing exercises and meditation/mindfulness practices can make a huge difference to switch off overactive and anxious minds by creating space and calm in our minds. Practice breathing mindfully daily. Take a long deep breath in through your nose, mentally count for 4 seconds or more, pause and then exhale through your nose for the same amount of time as the inhale. Repeat as many rounds as you can.
Move and exercise –the benefits of exercise and being active are too long to list! Walking the dog, gardening, bushwalking and parking the car away from the shops are activities that can help a person move and be more active. While going to the gym, brisk walking, cycling, jogging, swimming etc are about increasing physical fitness. Aim for 30 to 40 minutes of physical exercise/movement most days and try to incorporate practices like yoga, tai chi, pilates and dancing into routines.
Sleep well – sleep is critical for the body to repair, for hormone balance, weight management and blood sugar control as well. Adults should aim for 7 to 8 hours of restorative sleep a night. Good ‘sleep hygiene’ techniques such as no TV or computer time for at least half an hour before bedtime and avoiding caffeine in the afternoons can help improve sleep quality.
Stay connected – social isolation can lead to loneliness and mental health issues. This makes maintaining social connection with friends, family and neighbours critical in this time of enforced isolation. Technology and social media apps really make it easy to stay in touch but don’t forget to check in on neighbours or loved ones maintaining physical distance guidelines. So many communities have found wonderful ways to connect, for instance in Italy people have started singing from their balconies, out their windows and across rooftops at appointed times, all coordinated via social media.
March 28, 2020
I don’t know about you but the uncertainty, fear and fast developing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has made me feel anxious, angry, overwhelmed and helpless in equal measures over the last few weeks. And I don’t like feeling like I am not in control.
It took me about 48 hours to realise that I needed to let go of “feeling like I wasn’t in control” and embrace what I could control – my own health and wellbeing habits and routine.
I’ve been making my health and wellbeing a priority for a long time now. I’ll admit there are days when it doesn’t go as planned but what I have learned over the years is that there are three things that really help me keep on track.
The first is having a daily routine that incorporates not just work, family and social commitments but also includes my personal health and wellbeing commitments like exercise, meditation, yoga or time out. I used to write this down daily on paper so I could stick to the plan. These days I mostly do the planning in my head but when I’m feeling out of control or overwhelmed I revert to writing it down again. This has really helped me stick to my plan and turn it into a habit.
The second thing is to be kind to myself and not beat myself up if I don’t get to do everything or even anything in my plan. There are days where this happens and it is really important to stay in the moment, stay positive and start the next day with the best intentions.
The third thing is do not feel guilty about prioritising health and wellbeing. I used to feel guilty when I’d go for my walk or take time out to go to a yoga class. This took time for me to overcome but eventually I did and what really helped was to have my routine or plan mapped out daily. This helped me to realise I was not reneging on any of my work or family commitments or letting anyone down, and that I was happier, healthier and more productive as a result.
It’s also important to pay attention to the foundations of health and wellbeing – things like good nutrition, sleep, sunshine and movement. Here are some tips for getting the foundations right.
Make vegetables and fruits the foundation of your eating, and you will be nourishing your body with the key nutrients it needs for a strong immune system. The key is to eat a wide variety everyday and choose as many different colours as you can. At this time, increase foods that contain key nutrients we know have a role or impact in a well functioning immune system. Foods like citrus fruits, capsicum, broccoli, strawberries and kiwifruit are rich in Vitamin C (plays an important role in the mobilisation of your immune system defence). Zinc is another important nutrient for a healthy immune system and foods like meat, eggs, seafood, nuts (especially cashews) and seeds (pumpkin and sesame) are rich in zinc. You can also add some special immune boosting foods like ginger, citrus, garlic, shiitake and reishi mushrooms and turmeric as they provide nutrients and compounds with amazing medicinal properties. For example Shiitake and Reishi mushrooms contain beta-glucans which are known for their immune enhancing properties while garlic has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties.
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.
Moving and being active daily is one of the best things you can do for your health. It helps to lower your risk for a number of chronic diseases, and also helps to manage stress, improve sleep, and boost mood. Try to find ways that you can exercise while maintaining social distancing—such as going for a brisk walk, bike ride or sign up to online yoga or exercise videos.
Get outside into nature if you can, and get some fresh air and vitamin D from the sun.
Staying connected is also really important to physical and mental health but not so easy now that we are being asked to practice social distancing. Social connection also provides an immune-boosting benefit. Fortunately most of us have access to telephones and internet so make sure you phone or video chat with family and friends daily during this time.
I hope these tips will give you comfort, inspiration and practical things you can embrace to take control of your health and wellbeing in this difficult time. Take care!
September 1, 2019
Sometimes I just need something (without caffeine) that gives me a little boost of energy and a Cold Shot of Raw Cacao always hits the spot for me.
It tastes amazing, gives you a non caffeine kick and is loaded with goodness. Raw cacao is high in loads of vitamins, minerals and other health promoting compounds called polyphenols. It’s a great source of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. The polyphenols have a variety of health benefits including reducing inflammation, enhancing blood flow, lowering blood pressure, and improving cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It’s a win win on flavour, health benefits and satisfaction!!
Here’s my recipe for a Cold Raw Cacao Shot. You just need a blender and a few ingredients.
Blend 1tbs raw cacao powder, 1tsp raw cacao nibs, 1 tbs raw cashews, 2 Medjool dates, 1 cup of cold water, 2 ice cubes, 1 tbs maple syrup, pinch cinnamon, 1 tsp coconut oil or coconut butter in a blender. Pour into two small glasses. (Depending on your blender, you may need to strain it. Don’t throw out the strained ingredients, scoop up with a teaspoon and eat!) This makes two shots. (If you only need one shot, store the remainder in a glass jar in the fridge for up to 3 days).
March 16, 2019
This week (13th to 20th March), Coeliac Australia has launched a national awareness campaign to highlight the importance of the gluten free diet as a medical necessity for people with coeliac disease and is encouraging food businesses to #treatglutenseriously.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease whereby the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats) and causes damage to the lining of the small bowel. This damage impacts nutrient absorption and causes various gastrointestinal and malabsorption symptoms. There is no cure for this disease. The only medical solution is to adhere to a strict gluten free diet. By removing gluten, the small bowel lining can heal and symptoms resolve.
This is something I know a lot about, not only from a nutrition perspective and helping many of my clients diagnosed with this life long condition but also as someone with the disease. I was diagnosed 14 years ago just after the birth of my daughter, and now both of my children have also been diagnosed.
When I was first diagnosed, eating out was a nightmare and in some ways things have improved but in many ways they have not. On the surface now, it seems like there is a lot more choice. In some food businesses, gluten free is very well understood by both serving and food preparation staff but in many this is still not the case. Contamination is a real issue and a lack of understanding of what gluten free actually means is also quite common. There have been countless times where I have checked with a cafe or restaurant before going to be told it was no problem and then on arrival told the complete opposite. There have been times when I have been told something was gluten free to later find out it was not as I headed for the toilet feeling very unwell.
The good news is that it is actually not difficult to prepare gluten free options that are genuinely gluten free and Coeliac Australia has fantastic resources on their website to help.
The website also has great tips to help with preparing food for a family member or friend. Cross contamination or using a ready-made product containing gluten is enough to cause damage. It only takes as little as 50mg of gluten (equivalent to 1/100th of a slice of standard wheat bread) to cause damage! Gluten can be found in processed food products you would never imagine – many condiments, chocolates and even tinned tuna – and even in medications.
Let’s all #treatglutenseriously and provide a safer environment for those who navigate this everyday.
November 14, 2018
This dish – Lentil, Vegetable and Mushroom Lasagne – ticks a lot of boxes for me – it’s delicious, loaded with hidden vegetables, has my favourite puy lentils to provide protein and fibre, and gets the thumbs up from the family.
You might be aware than many Australians are not eating enough vegetables and are not even getting close to the recommended 5 serves a day of vegetable and legumes. This dish, all on its own, provides your 5 serves, and if you add a salad and some other vegetable throughout the day your body will thank you!
There is a little preparation required but once the lentil, vegetable and mushroom sauce is simmering away, the rest is easy. The Cauliflower Bechamel is so easy to make and again provides more vegetables.
Lentil, Vegetable and Mushroom Lasagne
1 cup of Puy Lentils
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
1 carrot, washed and grated
1 zucchini, washed and grated
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried oregano (or fresh if you have it)
400 gram tin of diced tomatoes
250 grams of mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
400 ml vegetable stock or water
Sea salt and black pepper,
2 cups of fresh spinach or silverbeet and herbs (parsley, basil), washed and chopped
1 packet lasagne sheets
1 large head of cauliflower
50 grams grass fed butter
Splash of milk of choice
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Preheat your oven to 180℃ / 350℉. Soak the lentils overnight or for a few hours if you can. Chop and grated vegetables. Heat a large pan on low heat, add olive oil and then chopped onion. Saute onion for a few minutes until translucent. Add celery, carrot and zucchini and saute for another few minutes. Now add lentils, tomatoes, water/stock and oregano. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add mushrooms and keep simmering for another 10 minutes. The lentils should be holding their shape but soft enough to eat. Season with salt and pepper. Now add the fresh spinach/silverbeet and herbs and mix through for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
The cauliflower bechamel can be made while the lentil sauce is simmering away. Wash and cut up a head of cauliflower. Place in a saucepan with a about 10 centimetres of water. Put the lid on and cook cauliflower for about 10 mins until tender. Place cauliflower in a food processor with leftover cooking water, butter, salt and pepper. You can add a splash of milk here but be careful not to add too much. Blend until the cauliflower becomes a thick sauce like consistency.
Grab a big lasagne dish (mine is about 34 x 18 cm) and rub with olive oil. Place a layer of lasagne sheets on the bottom, then add the lentil mix, add another layer of lasagne sheets, then add the bechamel. Top with parmesan cheese if desired. Place in the over for 30 mins. Serve with a salad.
July 6, 2018
One of the bonuses of being married to a Dutchman is that we make a trip to Europe every couple of years to visit family (and have a holiday of course). Mostly my husband is very happy for the beautiful food and produce we eat at home in Australia but he still needs his Dutch dairy fix every couple of years!
Dairy plays an important role in the economy and cuisine of The Netherlands. For the Dutch, cheeses, milk, yoghurts and other dairy products are not only staple foods but national cultural symbols, and a key agricultural export. While you may be familiar with Dutch cheeses like Gouda and Edam, dairy products like kwark are just as delicious and commonly eaten.
Kwark (also known as Quark and common in most northern European countries as well as eastern Europe) is a fresh, soft cheese. It is made from warming soured milk until it curdles, then adding lactic acid bacteria and finally straining to produce a firm soft cheese. It is used widely in both savoury and sweet dishes.
Kwark is high in protein and it also contains good amounts of fat, calcium, phosphate and a small amount of natural sugar (lactose). It is also very low in salt (usually much lower than other cheeses).
In The Netherlands, Kwarktaart is a traditional recipe and often the choice for celebrations. It’s also strawberry season so I’ve combined fresh, in season strawberries with kwark to make a traditional tart. Kwark (quark) can be found in supermarkets and specialist stores in Australia. The brand I like the best is Barambah Organics. I hope you enjoy this Dutch specialty!
100 grams rolled oats (choose gluten free oats for intolerances)
100 grams almond meal
5 medjool dates
2 tablespoons coconut oil
600 grams kwark/quark
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup milk of choice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
zest of one lemon
5 sheets of gelatine
3 tablespoons of raw caster sugar (or preferred sweetener eg raw honey, maple syrup)
Preheat the oven to 170C.
Place a circle of parchment paper on the bottom of a springform pan. Place ingredients for base in a food processor and blend until broken down and sticking together. Press the base mixture into the base of pan and place in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Cool.
Soak the gelatine sheets in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Squeeze water out of gelatine sheets and add to saucepan with milk. Gently warm the milk and stir frequently to dissolve the gelatine. Stir 3 tablespoons of sugar (or other sweetener), vanilla, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and zest from one lemon into quark, and then add cooled gelatine mixture to kwark mixture. Pour this into springform pan. Cover and place in fridge for at least 6 to 8 hours.
Top with fresh strawberries, invite friends over and serve with your favourite tea or coffee!!
June 4, 2018
This week’s article is about stress because to be perfectly honest I’ve had my fair share in the last few weeks. I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of hours in a Restorative Yoga workshop on Saturday and it helped me to reflect on how I managed the recent stress in my life.
Each one of us deals with some kind of stress on a daily basis. It can be emotional, physical, environmental or even nutritional. It may be an acute stressful event such as an exam, an argument or a job interview, or it may be the ongoing challenge of raising kids, illness or financial pressures.
A little stress is healthy. Our bodies are designed to handle acute stress and survive stressful situations. Instinctively our bodies react to stress with a fight or flight reaction.
But when the stress is constant so too is the stress response. Our adrenal glands respond by producing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and these hormones affect all aspects of wellbeing including the capacity to digest food, immune system function right through to cognitive function like memory.
Stress can be an underlying factor behind many health conditions, and can present itself in many different ways. Symptoms of acute or current stress include: low energy, difficulty sleeping, poor memory and concentration, mood changes, and digestive disturbances. Long term stress may lead to hormonal and thyroid imbalances, obesity, chronic fatigue states and a weakened immune system.
I always ask my clients about the stress in their lives. I connect the dots and empower my clients with information so they can understand all the drivers (not just stress) and how to make some changes. We usually can’t make all the stress go away but there are lots of things we can do to help reduce the effects of stress and help manage life’s challenges.
It’s not always easy to pause and think about stress management in a stressful time but if you can create some regular “stress busting” habits then these will be supportive in your time of need.
These simple strategies helped me keep on top of my stress.
- Eat whole foods with loads of fresh vegetables and other plant foods
- Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugary foods
- Limit coffee and alcohol
- Enjoy a small amount of dark chocolate
- Enjoy exercise and physical activity most days
- Engage in activities that make you happy
- Try yoga, meditation/mindfulness and deep breathing
- Spend time in nature
May 25, 2018
On a recent trip to Sydney, I was reminded about how powerful food and lifestyle changes can be to health and wellbeing. I was in Sydney to attend the Mindd Practitioner Training for three days where I brushed up on my knowledge on everything to do with our microbiome (from the mouth all the way to the end!) as well as gut health, worms, how to treat common infections with herbs and nutrients, and reducing our exposure to environmental toxins. It was a fascinating and very informative three days with GPs, paediatricians, dentists, naturopaths and nutritionists, all leaders in their field, sharing the latest research and clinical application.
But the one thing that really stood out was a conversation I had with an older man of Malaysian and Indian heritage. He wasn’t attending the conference. He was an Uber driver and we had a great chat on my way home one evening.
He was excited to tell me his story of arthritis. A few years ago he started to have severe pain in some of his joints and went to see his doctor about it. His doctor (with Chinese heritage) explained that he could give him medication and it would give him relief for a little while but slowly the pain would return as the medication effects lessened. Instead, the doctor recommended the man do what many cultures have done for thousands of years and use food as medicine. He advised the man to drink a warm milk with turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and honey daily. He also talked to the man about doing regular movement and eating lots of fresh, whole foods. The man told me this resonated culturally and that within weeks of starting this daily drink, his pain started to ease. He no longer has any arthritic pain. He took on this advice wholeheartedly and continues to eat a plant based diet and does exercises every day.
This is the ultimate practice of using food as medicine, and this is what I do with my clients every day. I help my clients understand that food can nourish the body into health and repair damage. Lifestyle changes are just as important and sometimes extra nutrients are also needed to make improvements to health.
I often recommend to my clients the very same drink this man has daily. The herbs, spices and plants we have access to are very powerful and they have been used traditionally in most cultures for thousands of years. It is also so easy to incorporate them into our meals.
The key ingredient in this drink is turmeric, also known as a Curcuma longa, which is traditionally grown in India and other Southeast Asian countries. The dried root of the Curcuma longa plant is ground into the distinctive yellow turmeric powder. Thousands of scientific studies have been done with this plant and while there are many beneficial compounds in the plant, curcumin is the most well known and studied. It’s best known for its anti-inflammatory and pain reducing effects. It’s safe and not only does it provide nutrition when consumed regularly, it can also provide amazing health benefits.
Here is my recipe for those keen to add a warm, nourishing drink to their daily routine!
2 teaspoons ground turmeric (organic, best quality possible)
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
¼ teaspoon ginger powder or fresh ginger grated
Grind of black pepper
2 tsp coconut oil
2 cups coconut milk
Raw honey, to serve, optional
Place all the ingredients into a medium saucepan and bring the boil, allow it to boil for a few seconds before removing it from the heat, give it a good whisk to settle the bubbles, then return it to the heat again. Repeat this process three times, pour into mugs, sweeten if desired and enjoy!