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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