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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!

April 10, 2016

The Diabetes Epidemic and Sugar

Last week’s release of a global report on diabetes by the World Health Organisation (WHO) created a much needed focus and public debate about what could be described as a modern day epidemic. There are now four times more diabetics in the world than there was 30 years ago.

Diabetes is a serious, chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (a hormone that regulates blood glucose), or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Raised blood glucose, a common effect of uncontrolled diabetes, may, over time, lead to serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves. (WHO 2016)

  • 442 million people worldwide have diabetes
  • 1.5 million people died from diabetes in 2012
  • 90% have Type 2 diabetes (associated with modifiable lifestyle risk factors)
  • 280 Australians develop diabetes every day
  • 1.7 millions Australians have diabetes

These are pretty alarming statistics. The WHO report recommends that governments around the world fully fund programs to reduce the rates of diabetes and went as far to suggest using legislation and fiscal policies like a sugar tax to discourage the consumption of unhealthy foods.

The debate over a sugar tax became a heated one in the media with many people very vocal about their like or dislike for such policies. There is no doubt that we need sound public policies, public health programs and quality primary and secondary health, and a sugar tax could be one of many effective approaches.

But the one thing I think we desperately need is education programs and integrated health programs focusing on nutrition and lifestyle for prevention. Public health advertising campaigns are not enough. We need to take education into the classroom to help people understand the impact of food on their bodies and their health. We need GPs to work in an integrative way with other qualified health professionals, like myself, to help people change their eating and lifestyle habits to prevent them from developing diabetes.

I have always believed that education is the key to sustainable change and since starting my nutrition practice I have made education a focus and continually look for ways to provide education whether it be through my blog, newspaper column, workshops or work in the classroom at various schools.

Recently I wrote about ‘How much sugar is too much’ in The Hinterland Times and with lifestyle habits, like excessive sugar consumption, linked to the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, it is important to understand some of the basics when it comes to sugar.

All sugar, whether it is natural or processed, is a type of simple carbohydrate our bodies use for energy. Fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains and dairy foods contain natural sugars. One of the most important distinctions to make when assessing sugar intake is whether we are talking about added or natural sugar. Natural sugars are a healthier source of sugar because as a whole food they contain fibre, vitamins and minerals which all help to regulate the absorption of the sugar by the body. Added sugar provides kilojoules or calories but no essential nutrients and is found in processed foods and drinks like breads, yoghurts, sports drinks, tinned food, breakfast cereals and even so called health foods. Low fat foods generally have sugar added as well!

Added sugar comes as regular table sugar (sucrose) but also includes the natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, agave, rice malt syrup, molasses and coconut sugar. While these natural sweeteners contain nutrients like iron, zinc, calcium and potassium, and are a healthier option to use in cooking, they are still sugar.

So if our bodies need sugar what’s the problem? It’s the excessive amount of added sugar that is linked to ill health. For optimum health, the WHO recommends that we should not consume more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day but Australians are, on average, consuming more than 27 teaspoons of sugars a day.

My advice is to avoid or minimise processed foods like soft drinks, fruit juices, commercial baked goods, low fat and fast foods, and use natural sweeteners sparingly in your home cooking.

March 25, 2016

Enjoy some Chocolate this Easter

If you’re like me, you possibly jumped for joy when you heard that chocolate is good for you! It’s true that the cacao bean (from which chocolate is made) is full of antioxidants and minerals like iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc and selenium.  However, not all chocolate is created equal!

To make chocolate, the cocoa bean is roasted and ground to make cocoa liquor or cocoa mass which has a fat content of about 50%. This is then further processed to squeeze out the fat and forms cocoa butter with the remainder becoming cocoa powder. Milk chocolate has milk and sugar added to a blend of cocoa powder and cocoa butter, but has less cocoa content than dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has 2 to 3 times more cocoa than milk chocolate and typically has less sugar added and less or no milk solids. The cocoa content of dark chocolate can range from 30% up to around 85%.

The processing of chocolate destroys a significant amount of the antioxidants and minerals but minimally processed chocolate with at least 70-85% cocoa will still contain good amounts. It is dark chocolate with high amounts of cocoa that has been shown to have health benefits such as lower blood pressure, improved blood flow, better cholesterol profile and improved insulin sensitivity.

So dark chocolate in small amounts can be healthy for you! Go for quality not quantity!

If you love that chocolate taste but want to maximise the nutritional and health benefits of the cacao bean, I encourage you to start using raw organic cacao in your home cooking.

Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans which has less impact on the nutrients and therefore raw cacao has significantly greater quantities of antioxidants and minerals than cocoa powder. You can add raw cacao to make a delicious hot chocolate, use it where you would otherwise use cocoa powder in recipes and make some delicious snacks like these Raw Cacao Bliss Balls.

Hope you like them and have a wonderful and safe Easter!

Raw Cacao Bliss Balls

Ingredients:

1  cup raw almonds

¼ cup raw walnuts or ¼ cup sunflower seeds

6 Medjool dates

2 tbsp raw organic cacao powder

1 tbsp raw organic cacao nibs

2 tsp maple syrup or coconut nectar

2 tbs coconut oil or tahini or peanut butter

¼ tsp sea salt
Preparation:

1 – Place nuts/seeds in food processor and blend until small and coarse flour like consistency.

2 – Add dates (be sure to remove the pits first) and process until the mixture sticks together and the dates are well processed.

3 – Add remainder of ingredients and process again until the mixture comes together in a thick paste like consistency.

4 – Use your hands to roll into bite-sized balls. You can coat in desiccated coconut or leave as is. Refrigerate for a couple of hours and then enjoy!

February 15, 2016

Why skipping meals is not a healthy habit

One of the most common things I discuss with patients is the importance of eating regularly and not skipping meals. Some people think missing a meal will help them lose weight while others may feel that they are too busy to eat or have a job on the road which can make it difficult.

Whatever the reason, the short story of skipping meals is that it is not a healthy habit. Our bodies have inbuilt mechanisms to maintain normal blood glucose (sugar) levels and when you skip a meal, your body doesn’t get the fuel it needs to function. Consequently, your blood glucose levels drop and the body experiences a shortage of energy which in turn impacts the normal functioning of the body including brain function.

When your body and brain experiences this shortage of fuel you can become tired, moody and irritable, and you might find it difficult to pay attention and concentrate. Other side effects include headaches, heart palpitations, dizziness, sweating, hunger, anxiety and confusion.

Other aspects of your life may also be impacted because you don’t have the energy to be active or do your planned exercise, or you might start craving unhealthy foods! Your hormone function is also compromised as insulin – the hormone that regulates how glucose is absorbed by our cells – may become dysfunctional from irregular food intake. Insulin resistance, where your body produces insulin but does not use it effectively, may develop resulting in glucose building up in the blood instead of being absorbed by the cells and this increases your risk of developing diabetes type 2 later in life. Skipping meals can also have negative effects on your metabolism and slow it down making it more difficult to lose weight.

Eating the right foods and providing the right nutrients for your body is the cornerstone of your health. I recommend you take a little time each week to make sure you have the foods you need in your fridge and pantry to prepare quick but nutritious meals and snacks. Here are my 3 top tips to help you with this planning.

  1. Boil 6 eggs and refrigerate them on Sunday. If you’re running late at breakfast time or no time to prepare your lunch, grab a boiled egg, a piece of fruit like a banana and small handful of natural nuts.
  2. When you do the shopping make sure you buy some small tins of tuna or salmon. These are super easy to throw into a lunch box. Add some cherry tomatoes and a carrot, an apple and a small handful of natural nuts.
  3. Hummus is made from chickpeas and is a great source of fibre and protein. It’s super easy to make or buy good quality supermarket one. Add some wholegrain crackers, a piece of seasonal fruit, and carrot and capsicum sticks.

These options provide a source of protein, carbohydrate and healthy fats to keep your blood glucose levels stable and give you enough energy to keep going.

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.

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