Nutrition in the News

In the early part of the year, it shouldn’t be surprising that nutrition and well-being is at the top of the list in the media. Many of us may have been lured into making those rash New Years Resolutions, which lasted for a couple of days at the most and yet, we are still looking for ways in which we can boost our health and well-being. Thats a good thing. I have been doing some writing and contributing for various publications over February and some of the nutrition in the news below might just contain the tip that can help prepare you to do amazing things. This year is the International Year of Pulses and we are not talking about whether your heart is beating, but those little nutritious treasures such as baked beans, lentils, chickpeas and their friends. You can see what I had to say about them as a Bowel Cancer Australia Ambassador here. You might also like to check out the resources of Pulse Australia and grab some recipes here too. The school year took off with a bang a couple of weeks ago in Western Australia and ‘Today Tonight’ ran a story on an innovative concept called BakeSw@p – initiated by a group of women and mum’s at a West Australian primary school.  Each parent registered with BakeSw@p brings a plate of their own healthy snacks for school, meets at the designated meet-up spot and swaps their own kids snacks with other parents. Each family then takes home a variety of healthy school snacks for the week.  The story than ran on Channel 7 a couple of weeks ago, generated huge interest – I always love hearing about people being engaged in improving the health of their children by home cooking and limiting the use of prepackaged foods.  You can check out the segment here and what BakeSw@p are all about here. Lastly, lets not forget the annual issue of getting back to work after taking a festive break – this one can most certainly be a tough gig. Getting traction and enthusiasm can be all too elusive at the beginning of the year but never fear, there are ways and means to enhance our focus and concentration while at work. My article over on WatchFit runs through some strategies to do just that – you can take a look here. Not all news is bad right?    

Five Breakfast Idea’s to start your engine

Five Idea's for Breakfast We often hear about breakfast being awarded holy grail status in the race of ‘who is the most important meal in the day’ competition.  Of course, all meals we eat are important but breakfast is right up there don’t you think? I know for a fact that bad things will happen to me and to others if I don’t tick that box in the morning. Not everyone feels the same way as me.  There will be some of you reading this while your stomach is currently doing flip-flops at the thought of eating first thing and there will be others who don’t experience even the tiniest twinge of appetite or hunger upon rolling out of bed. And then for some, the nice idea of breakfast gets trampled in the rush to get out of the door and into work or school. I do love a bit of scientific evidence and thankfully research shows that:

  • People who skip breakfast are significantly heavier than those who do eat it
  • Missing breakfast may diminish mental performance (that’s me right there) and eating breakfast can aid learning (important for kids and adults)
  • Those who set sail without breakfast are more likely to make poor food choices for the rest of the day and in the long-term too
  • We can lose two-thirds of our energy stores overnight while sleeping, which means we can wake up needing to get to the petrol station, stat.

If you are a work in progress in the breakfast department or even if you have it nailed, you might like one of my Five Breakfast Ideas to start your engine.

1. Overnight Oats When you are making dinner, surprise yourself with your efficiency and get breakfast organised at the same time.  In a bowl with a secure lid for easy transport if needed the next day, add 1/3 cup rolled or quick oats + 1/4 cup natural or greek yoghurt + 1/2 cup water + 1 teaspoon chia seeds + 1 tablespoon sultanas + a sprinkle of shredded coconut (optional) + 1/2 grated apple.  Mix the lot and store in the fridge overnight.  The next morning you can add a spoonful of your favourite yoghurt and this bowl of deliciousness can be eaten at home or taken anywhere you need to go. The perfect breakfast on the run. 2. High fibre cereal Some of my favourite and healthy cereals include Weet-Bix, oats made into porridge or natural muesli, Mini-wheats, Shredded wheat, Sultana Bran, All Bran Flakes and Special K Wholegrain Clusters with Protein.  All you need to do is add some reduced fat milk and some sliced fresh fruit or a handful of berries and you have a healthy dose of fibre, calcium and vitamin C to kick-start your day.  If time is short, pack your cereal and fruit and add milk when you get to the office. 3. Whole grain toast or sandwich with power protein 1-2 slices of your favourite whole grain bread, toasted (check the label for a fibre content greater than 8g per 100g serve), topped with 1/4 of an avocado, a handful of baby spinach leaves, 3-4 cherry tomatoes, 1-2 poached or sliced boiled eggs and a dusting of cracked pepper.  Other great protein sources include a small tin of baked beans, 50g smoked salmon or 1/2 cup fresh ricotta. If time says no to eating this combo at home, simply sandwich all ingredients between the bread, brown bag it and take to work to eat as is or pop it in the sandwich press. 4. Super Smoothie Blenders and bullets are one of the most popular appliances in the kitchen these days and for those crazy whirlwind mornings, they can be the answer to your one minute breakfast dilemma. For the basic mixture, throw together 250ml milk of choice + 1 tablespoon chia seeds + 2 tablespoons natural or Greek yogurt + 2 tablespoons skim milk powder or non dairy protein powder (for a protein boost). To this base you could add 1 banana + 2 teaspoons of honey + sprinkle of nutmeg OR 1/2 cup frozen raspberries + 1 tablespoon cacao powder or 1/2 cup frozen blueberries + 1/2 banana + a large handful baby spinach. These super smoothies can be taken with you or enjoyed at home. 5. Chocolate Chia Pudding I love the idea of chia puddings for breakfast but sometimes the flavour (or lack of) leaves me less than inspired.  Last week I shared my recipe for Chocolate Cake Batter Chia Pudding because it is super tasty.  It is also ideal for preparation the night before and the perfect on the go meal (or snack too). If you don’t have time to finish it off with coconut whip like I did, try topping with frozen thawed raspberries or blueberries and a little bit of grated dark chocolate.  D E L I C I O U S

Chocolate Cake Batter Chia Pudding Recipe

chia puddingIt might seem like I am a little obsessed with chia seeds lately as it’s not long ago that I was whipping up a batch of Blueberry Chia Jam. The thing is, I can’t help it.  These little seeds are just so good for our health with their bundle of healthy omega-3 fats, fibre and protein.  Chia seeds can be added to so many dishes, including puddings which are pretty hot right now.  I have tried a few of these, but none that I really loved.  In my search for recipe idea’s I came across a handful that promised the taste and texture of cake batter and given that I was a helicopter kid waiting for that hotly contested mixing spoon, I was quite keen on the idea.  The problem with some of these recipes though, is that although promoted as ‘healthy’ they sometimes contain way too much fat and sugar even if they do originate from a ‘natural’ source. So, I created my own version of the Chocolate Cake Batter Chia Pudding, which I made for breakfast this morning and then launched on the Morning Show on 6PR 882Am radio.  It is very delicious and I think that you might like to try it.

Chocolate Cake Batter Chia Pudding

Ingredients: (Serves 6) 6 tablespoons chia seeds 6 Medjool dates, seeded and chopped 1 x 400 ml can evaporated light milk with coconut 1/4 cup rolled oats 1 tablespoon of nut butter (whichever takes your fancy) 1 x 400 ml can light coconut milk Method: Mix all ingredients together except the coconut milk and place in the refrigerator for one hour.  Place mixture into a blender and add 2 x tablespoons of cacao powder, 1 x teaspoon vanilla extract and a splash of milk if more liquid is required.  Pour into six small bowls, jars or cups and leave overnight in the fridge. In the morning: Open the tin of coconut milk and carefully scoop out the solids at the top of the can, placing in a mixing bowl.  Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence and using electric beaters, beat until smooth and soft peaks form. Spoon a little onto the top of each pudding and finish these cute little bundles with a sprinkling of finely grated dark chocolate. Nutrition per serve = 230 calories, 8.5 g fat, 23.5 g carbohydrates, 11 g protein and 250 mg calcium


How to make an easy Ancient Grain Salad

ancient grain salad I do love the discovery of a good salad and this one is a beauty! Full of lovely colour, fibre, protein and Vitamin C and the perfect lunch or side for dinner. Ancient Grain Salad with Pomegranate You’ll need: 1 Cup freekah (green cracked wheat, pronounced freak-ah) ½ cup puy lentils/French green lentils – dry A small handful each of pumpkin seeds, slivered almonds and pine nuts, roasted in oven ½ cup (75gms) currants Large handful of fresh flat leaf parsley and coriander leaves– coarsely chopped ½ Spanish red onion – finely diced 40gm or 2 tablespoons baby capers (drained and rinsed) Juice of 1 large lemon Dash of good quality extra virgin olive oil Salt and cracked black pepper to taste Mix together the following for your dressing: 1 cup Greek style natural yogurt 1 teaspoon of ground cumin (feel free to freshly grind if you like) 1 tablespoon of honey 1 fresh pomegranate To make the salad: Put lentils and freekeh on the boil in two separate saucepans. Bring freekeh to a simmer and cook for about 30mins till tender but still a little of a bite to it. Lentils won’t need quite as long – bring to boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes until tender. Drain and cool both when cooked respectively. Chop up herbs coarsely, onion finely and mix through lentils and freekah when cooled. Squeeze lemon juice on top of salad and fold through gently. Fold through ¾ of the seeds, currants and capers just before serving, reserving the rest of the seeds to decorate. Season with pepper and salt. To serve, put half of the dressing on top of the salad, garnish with remaining seeds and fresh pomegranate seeds. Remaining dressing can go into a small bowl with a spoon to serve.

Choc + Milk = Good

choc-milk gang

As a kid I loved choc-milk, so its pretty exciting that it is now championed by science. Sports nutrition research has shown that choc-milk, other favoured milk and just plain milk supplies the nutrition your body needs after exercise.  Just to test its performance, along with my running gang, I have been religiously swilling down a 600ml choc-milk immediately following our long runs in preparation for the New York Marathon, a race we will tackle in just over a week. My recovery has been great and my body is holding up and I know the timing and content of my favourite flavoured milk has helped me hugely. The good news is that studies have shown women who drink 500ml skim milk after training gain more muscle and lose more fat compared to women who drink carbohydrate drinks. There is good news for the men too.  Men who drink the same amount of skim milk after a resistance workout  have been shown to gain 63% more muscle mass than those who drink carbohydrate-based beverages.

Milk and its flavoured counterparts provide you with:

  • Carbohydrates to help refuel muscles and energy stores
  • High quality protein to promote muscle recovery and growth
  • Fluid and electrolytes to help replenish what is lost in sweat

We know that a combination of protein and carbohydrate is best for recovery after exercise and with the exception of cheese, dairy products are a winning combination of both.

Dairy foods providing approximately 10g protein

300ml Milk

300ml Flavoured milk

125ml Evaporated milk

250g Flavoured yoghurt

100g Ricotta cheese

40g Cheddar cheese

250ml Vanilla custard

I very much hope that New York will have a finish line and some choc-milk waiting for me on the 3rd November.



Warning: Energy Speed Bump Ahead

making biscuits

In Italy, the snack or Il spuntino is reserved solely for children.  Adults simply do not snack here, unless one is enjoying an aperitif and a few morsels of potato chips fall into ones mouth. In stark opposition, the Australian snack movement is alive and kicking and research revealed this week by Roy Morgan Research shows that the potato chip is still the most popular snack in the land down under. In the year up to March 2013,  over a third of Australians 14+ years had purchased the product in an average four week period.  Sweet biscuits slid into second place and nuts rounded out the Top Three! From a nutritionists perspective this news is somewhat gloomy, although not surprising. However, this data is somewhat misleading as basic foods such as fruit, dairy products and bread are not considered to be in the snack food category for these types of surveys but are very often used as everyday snacks.

For some of us, snacking is an essential part of keeping energy levels high, while for others, it doesn’t even rate a mention. Snacking can be great for keeping hunger pangs at bay, controlling weight, satisfying small appetites and providing important nutrients. However, in our current climate of upsizing, snacks can contribute significantly more kilojoules (calories) to our diets than are required. Larger portions have more kilojoules and more kilojoules mean weight gain.

Your lifestyle and routine will probably dictate whether you are a three-meal-per-day person or a “grazer.” The term grazing is so called because cows like to do the same thing. You may not like to think of yourself out in the field chomping down on grass but grazing usually means snacking or having five to six smaller meals spread out over the day. It doesn’t matter if you have three large meals or three smaller meals and three snacks each day. Weight maintenance is achieved when your food intake matches your expenditure (exercise), regardless of when you consume them.

Snacking can be a great way of keeping your blood sugar and energy levels stable but keep a check on what and how much you are actually eating over the day. It can be easy to exceed your daily energy requirements through regular snacking, so make sure that you don’t fill up on biscuits, cakes, lollies, chocolate and chips or whatever is handy from the vending machine. These types of foods are high in sugar, fat and salt but low in fibre and are certainly not good for your health.

To be a healthy snacker, planning is important. Shopping regularly and having healthy snacks on hand makes it less likely that you will reach for fatty and sugary foods containing massive amounts of kilojoules. It will also save you money as items purchased from vending machines and convenience stores are often priced at a premium. Regardless of whether you are at work, school, university or at home, planning and packing your food intake the night before is a strategy employed by many healthy snackers. The routine of packing a lunch bag for school works just as well when heading off to work although your lunchbox may not be quite as colourful as it used to be!

A problem time for many people is the third quarter of the day, kicking off after lunch and finishing around 3 p.m. This is often when you feel least energetic – and you try to ward off the desire to lie down on the desk or carpet. A snack is often required to boost blood sugar levels but can be a nutrition trap. It is tempting to grab something quick and easy, but pre-packaged convenience snacks will not give you the long-lasting energy you need to get through the day.

When choosing snacks, the following guide may be useful. Look at their size and energy value to ensure snacks don’t totally eclipse your daily food intake:

For Weight Loss                      Choose 420 kJ/100 calories at each snack

For Weight Maintenance   Choose 840 kJ/200 calories at each snack

For Weight Gain                      Choose 1260 kJ/300 calories or more at each snack


Some quick and easy snacks include:

  •   1 slice of fruit or raisin toast with thinly spread jam
  •   Wholegrain toast or crumpet with a light spread of peanut butter or vegemite
  •   Small fruit smoothie
  •   Handful of wholegrain crackers with cheese
  •   1 punnet of strawberries
  •   1 piece of fruit such as an apple, banana or pear
  •   Low fat, regular-sized coffee (latte, cappuccino, flat white)
  •   200 g low fat yoghurt
  •   20 almonds, cashews or pistachios
  •   1 boiled egg
  •   100 g tin tuna in brine or spring water
  •   1 small tin of fruit in natural juice


On the Fifth Day….

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…. Five kan-ga-roos… four cuddling koalas, three little penguins, two pink galahs and a kookaburra up a gum tree. One of the first thoughts that comes to mind is lean red meat.  I know that might seem a bit mean to our international readers but in Australia we do multi-love kangaroo’s and by that I mean we admire their beauty and significance in our history but they are also a food source. Kangaroo (and some other game meat) is a very lean meat and is a great source of protein, iron and zinc.  Iron is important on any day but especially important during the Festive Marathon months of November, December and January.  You really do need plenty of energy whilst partying and socialising and iron assists by helping oxygen sail around your blood stream.  Everyone is after more oxygen aren’t they? Iron is known as Haem (animal sources)  and Non-Haem (vegetable derived) iron and the haem iron is absorbed quite a bit more efficiently.  Liver is top dog in the iron stakes with red meat a much lower second, followed by chicken and fish with much lower amounts again.  Breakfast cereal and legumes are decent sources of non-haem iron but need a friend in the form of  of Vitamin C to assist absorption with fruit and vegetables being just the ticket for the Vitamin C factor. Forget Popeye chugging down the spinach with bulging muscles to get his fill, the iron in spinach is very difficult to absorb due to other compounds in the vegetable (oxalates and phytates) which bind the iron and make it unavailable to you. We can always use the hopping skills of kangaroos to inspire some more exercise too.  There is nothing like a spot of hopscotch.

Escargot Escapades

In between work committments in Sydney and Melbourne I have been lucky enough to be spending a couple of days with my good friends Libby and Kevin in Narracan located in the Strzelecki Ranges, South Eastern Victoria. It is smack bang in the the heart of potato country and the humble snail. Until yesterday, I had never knowingly eaten a snail or should I say escargot. Although I do recall some extra crunch in the homegrown spinach growing up… I have discovered that Salt and Pepper escargot and Black Truffle escargot are particularly delicious courtesy of Vincenza Alexander owner and chef at Cafe Escargot, in Mirboo North.  I admit that I was expecting slime but instead found a delicacy crossed between seafood and chicken and there were so many tapas style escargot dishes to choose from that I know I will have to go back one day. Escargot contain virtually no fat, only 90 calories per 100g and are 16% protein.  100 grams of escargot is a decent sized serve and it is a healthy alternative to our more traditional proteins such as red meat, chicken and fish. Maybe I should stop standing on the ones that are trying to destroy my garden and start fattening them up with protein and calcium like they do here?


A few days ago  I was having dinner with my dear friends Jude and Dan and whilst solving the problems of the world we hit upon the subject of fancy-pants names.   Have you ever noticed that sometimes things that are out of date suddenly become new, sometimes just with the change to a fancy name? This happened to a suburb of Perth called Balga, that became like new when it was renamed Westminster a few years ago.  To me it conjures up images of the Queen and palaces and is infinitely more poshish.  So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that a a simple grain that I learn’t about in uni a few years back has had its moniker altered too.  I am referring to good old Quinoa, a crop that originates in South America and was held sacred by the Inca’s, in fact they called it ‘mother of all grains.’  Quinoa is actually a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal or grain and it is closely related to beets, spinach and tumbleweeds. Yum. Quinoa has a very high protein content and like oats, it contains a balanced set of essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) for humans making it an unusually complete protein source in the plant world.  Quinoa is gluten free, a good source of fibre and a source of iron (although the iron is not easy to absorb) and magnesium. My first taste experience with Quinoa was at a picnic on the shores of the the Swan River. It was part of a tabbouli like salad and it was no taste sensation. Thankfully Jude has come to the rescue via a cookbook written by Michelle Bridges of the Biggest Loser fame.  She claims to have found the answer to enjoying Quinoa in the form of Quinoa Porridge with Cranberries and Raisins which I will share with you right now. 3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained 500ml water 375ml low fat milk 1/3 cup dried cranberries and 2 tablespoons raisins 1/4 cup chopped walnuts Combine the quinoa and water in saucepan and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, covered for 10 minutes.  Stir in 1 cup of the milk and the dried fruit and nuts.  Cook, covered, for another for another 10 minutes and then stir in the remaining milk. I will embark upon the porridge this week, complete with a report and would love to know if anybody else gives it a try. So when, Jude and I proposed, did Quinoa become Keeen-Waaaa? Ok, so I am exaggerating a little.  The food is known as quinoa in English but the spelling and pronunciation differs depending on the region in South America.    In some parts it is known as ‘kinwa’ or ‘keen-wah’ or ‘kwi-NOH-a.’  I don’t care, I am sticking to Quinoa.  Its not fancy or trendy but hello, its just a pseudocereal.