May 8, 2016
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
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
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
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
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.