Antioxidants – will we live longer if we eat them?

Antioxidants are compounds in food that research shows can play a role in preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease, eye disease and slowing down ageing. Little powerhouses indeed.

Supplement and skincare companies know that youthfulness and staying young is right at the top of our wish lists don’t they? There is every powder and potion known to man, designed to smooth our skin, get rid of wrinkles and stop the ageing process on retail shelves all over the world.

A 2012 meta-analyis of over 70 clinical trials found antioxidant supplements are ineffective or even detrimental to health. The high doses of antioxidants found in supplements can lead to severe health problems.

Just Imagine Being Able to Get Youthful Benefits From the Food You Eat, Instead of Spending Money and Time on False Promises

Firstly, lets look at the science behind these little beauties.  Antioxidants exert their protective effects by preventing damage to body cells and tissues caused by free radicals and singlet oxygen. They sound very impressive but the easier way of remembering what antioxidants do is to picture the 1980’s Pac-Man game where the aim was to get the Pac-Man to gobble as many ‘ghosts’ as possible.

Pac-Man is the antioxidant and the ‘ghosts’ are the free radicals. Thanks to the ‘Pixels’ movie starring Adam Sandler released a couple of years ago, everyone remembers the Pac-Man.

There you have the essential role of antioxidants.

Now About Those Free Radicals

They are produced in the presence of:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Environmental pollutants
  • Ultra-violet light
  • Radiation
  • Carcinogens
  • High PUFA diet
  • Exercise
  • Inflammation

We need those antioxidants to help mop up those free radicals and thankfully they are conveniently colour coded for easy identification.


Good source of lycopene, which helps reduce the risk of prostate cancer in males.  Found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, and ruby grapefruit.

Lycopene is among the most powerful antioxidants around. It is a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red colour and occurs naturally in many red foods, including watermelon and pink grapefruit. Tomatoes do provide a rich source but tomato paste is even better as cooking and processing tomatoes further stimulates and concentrates the lycopene content.  There is no current recommended dosage but suggestions range from 5-35mg per day, which equates to at least one to two servings of tomatoes or tomato products per day.

Orange and Yellow

Good source of beta-carotene, which can protect against a range of cancers.  Found in pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, mango, paw-paw, apricots and rockmelon.


Good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two compounds related to beta-carotene that can protect our eyes as we age.  Found in broccoli, spinach, silver beet, capsicum, chilli, parsley and dark lettuces.

Blue and Purples

Good source of anthocyanin’s for antioxidant and antibacterial properties.  Found in grapes, blueberries, cranberries, beetroot and radicchio lettuce.


Good source of catechin’s for blood vessel health and of course, our happiness!  Found in some of our favourites such as tea, coffee, chocolate and red wine.

How Many of These Antioxidants Do We Need?

There are no recommended intakes just yet. We do know that it is preferable to consume antioxidants through food rather than supplements, because there are other nutrients in food that enhance their absorption. The average worldwide intake of fruit and vegetables at present is too low and we need to work toward the recommended intake of fruit and vegetables, which are 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables daily.

To keep our bodies zinging on the inside and out during winter, go grab some. Like now.

How to make your salad sing


I love to cook but my motivation is at all time low right now.  I want the ingredients to get themselves together and just make something already. You know what I mean? Enter salad.

Salad vegetables (and all kinds too of course) are full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants, which all help our mind and bodies working day-to-day and reduce our risk of chronic disease.

That said, getting enough of those vegetables does become a little tricky if you leave your daily dose to one meal like dinner, so spreading the vegetable love across the day is key. Of course, you can tick off  a bunch at breakfast by adding mushrooms, tomato, spinach or baked beans to a poached egg and then gather speed by adding a crisp, crunchy salad to lunch.

We can most certainly make salad fancy but the question is, do we need to? 

Just like a coordinated wardrobe, there are some easy ways to mix and match colours and ingredients to put together a salad that everyone around you will be wishing they had too.

For an all seasons salad mix any of the following:

+1…Go Green – baby spinach leaves, crunchy Cos lettuce, beetroot leaves or tatsoi for a fibre, magnesium and folate boost
+2…Orange all over – roasted warm chunks of orange sweet potato, pumpkin or carrot, all excellent sources of the powerful antioxidant carotene.
+3…Go Fast Red – cherry tomatoes, sliced ripe Roma tomato

And don’t forget to add Exceptional Extra’s like – crunchy cucumber, baby roasted or canned beetroot, sliced mushrooms and crunchy combo sprouts.

Toss your choice of salad ingredients and add:

  • Protein Power – lean chicken, sliced cold leftover lamb or beef, lean ham, boiled egg, small tin of 4 bean mix/chickpeas or lentils.

Quick Salad Ideas

  • Lentil, Ricotta and Beetroot – combine 220g canned, drained lentils with 3 baby beets, a handful of baby spinach and 100g low fat crumbled ricotta
  • Orange, capsicum and avocado – toss a handful of mixed salad leaves with 1 orange peeled, segmented and sliced, ¼ of a sliced avocado and ¼ medium red capsicum topped with 40g crumbled low fat feta

Along with the rest of the world, the distinct green leaves of kale have been one of my favourites for a while. Kale going solo does lack appeal but in this recipe – kaboom!

Try my fave healthy Kale Caesar Salad recipe below and you will see what I mean.

Kale Caesar Salad (serves 6)

½ bunch curly or Tuscan Kale (washed, dried and leaves trimmed of stalks)
4 slices proscuitto (fat trimmed), grilled
4 slices sourdough bread

½ cup low fat natural yoghurt + 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard + 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil + 1 large garlic cloven + ¼ cup lemon juice + 2 tablespoons fresh grated parmesan cheese

Once trimmed, roll up kale leaves, slice finely and place in large salad bowl. Break the grilled proscuitto into small pieces and scatter over the kale leaves.

Tear the bread roughly into 1 cm pieces, place on a baking tray and spray with cooking spray. Bake in a moderate oven for approx. 10 minutes until crispy.

For the dressing, mix all ingredients together in a shaker or jug and pour over kale leaves. Using your hands, mix the dressing through the salad and serve.


Boosting Men’s Health

Just over a week ago it was Fathers Day in Australia and millions of Dad’s all over the country were inundated with socks, electrical appliances and of course, a multitude of vouchers. It is a time when we remind our Dad’s, husbands, granddads and the significant men in our lives that they are special and that we appreciate them. The thing is, these men of ours actually need a little bit more than knick-knacks and $50 to spend at Bunning’s. They need a few more quality years tacked onto their lives. It is true that men’s overall life expectancy in Australia and other western countries has improved substantially over the past 50 years, but their average life expectancy still remains significantly lower than that of women’s. I happened to snag a husband who is younger than me, so we just might be on par in the long run. Cougar jokes aside, the leading causes of death we are dealing with in Australia in men are heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, adult onset hearing loss and lymph, blood, lung, prostate and colorectal cancer. Fathers Day is a short 24-hour celebration but there are some constructive actions that men can take (with their women and kids supporting them) to clock up many more. If you are a male reading this, I’m talking to YOU about men’s health and if you are female, please feel free to apply to any male you care about.

1. Use your measuring tape – it’s easy to jump on the scales to assess your weight situation but the weight you see on the scales includes fat, muscle, blood, bone and every other little bit of you. Measuring your waist circumference is a better way to tell if you have too much body fat and where it is situated on your body. For most adults a waist measurement of greater than 94cm for men and 80cm for women is an indicator of too much internal fat, which can cover the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas and increase the risk of chronic disease. Make sure you measure at the point between your hipbone and the bottom of your ribs and use the same place every time. Aim to be under these measurements for a healthier amount of body fat. 2. Choose your drop – The reality is that for most of us, alcohol is part of our social lives. For men, this can be a big part of their work lives too. It is interesting when we consider the comparison of beer, wine and spirits. 100ml wine 295kJ 100ml beer 149kJ 30ml vodka, whisky, bourbon 260kJ 250ml soft drink mixer 420kJ On paper, things are looking good for beer. However, can you imagine drinking 100ml beer from a stubbie and then stopping or passing it onto your mate for their 100ml serve? I think it is fair to say that no one drinks only 100ml beer. An average restaurant size serving of wine is 180ml or 1.8 standard drinks and the average serving size of a full strength beer is 375ml or 1 middy/can/stubby, which is equal to 1.5 standard drinks. Beer, wine and other drinks can weaken resolve and many people reach for high fat snacks after a few drinks. Combining fatty foods with alcohol is the worst combination of all for weight gain, so it is a good idea to eat before drinking alcohol to lessen the temptation to reach for the chips and peanuts. Some lower kilojoule choices include spirits plus a no sugar mixer or soda water and lime. You could add ice to a glass of wine. More than two drinks per day increase brain shrinkage and there is a lot of research that shows even smaller amounts can lead to shrinkage. The clients that I work with will often accept an alcoholic drink at a function and simply drink it in slow motion or not at all. This way nobody will harass you to have a drink and no one notices that you aren’t actually drinking any. 3. Make a date – We all know that date nights are crucial to relationships right? Well, it’s not just our other halves that are important because research shows that men who maintain their own social groups are healthier and recover from illness more quickly. Spending time with friends is also considered a key part of combating depression. In Australia, the statistics are grim. Suicide is the leading cause of death in men aged between 15 and 44 years with men less likely to get the help they need. ABS data shows that only 27 per cent of men seek professional help compared to 40 per cent of women. Women are often the social coordinators in relationships and perhaps we need to be encouraging male bonding time a little bit more. 4. Check it up – when was the last time your man had a check-up with his GP? Males are not known for being proactive in this department and may need a not so gentle push to get there. Choose a month in the year and make it an annual gala event – the types of markers that should be checked include fasting blood glucose, full blood lipids, liver and kidney function, cortisol, thyroid, full iron study and possibly hormones. Don’t forget that knowledge is power. 5. Fruit and vegetables – Australians are still behind the eight ball when it comes to fruit and vegetable intake and men lag behind women. Most people tell me that getting enough fruit is the easy part of the equation but the vegetable bit can be trickier. We need two serves of fruit each day with one serve being equivalent to 1 medium sized piece of fruit such as an apple or pear and five serves of vegetables with one serve being ½ cup of cooked vegetables or salad. It can be fairly difficult to face all of your vegetables on your dinner plate at the end of the day, so why not take some to work to include in lunch and snacks? A punnet of cherry tomatoes, a Lebanese cucumber, a handful of crisp snow peas, or strips of red capsicum are easily transportable, can all be eaten at your desk and are super low calorie. For some delicious salad ideas check some out here.


Meat Free Week – Are you joining me?

Meat Free Week It’s time to get prepped and ready for a challenge. Next Monday 23rd March through to 29th March, marks Meat Free Week and kick-off is fast approaching. Before you start panicking about not having meat on your plate for an entire week, lets take a look at why this week exists. Meat Free Week is an international event that encourages us to start thinking about how much meat we eat and the impact eating too much has on our health, animal welfare and the environment. It’s also about raising awareness of some worthwhile charities – including Meat Free Week health partner Bowel Cancer Australia. I have to say straight up that I have a close affinity with bowel cancer. On April 17th 2007, my world as I knew it, was turned upside down when my Dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Within two weeks he had 30cm removed from his large bowel and had started a gruelling regime of chemotherapy, reducing him into a shell of his former self. Thankfully, eight years down the track, my Dad has made a complete recovery. However, that moment of diagnosis meant that I and the rest of my family had an increased risk of bowel cancer and it most certainly made me have a good think about what I could do to reduce my risk in the future.

So what can we do to reduce our risk of bowel cancer?

There is convincing evidence that eating too much red meat and processed meat are linked to bowel cancer. Processed meats such as bacon, sausage and hot dogs, ham, salami and other luncheon meats pose the greater risk but eating more than 100g fresh red meat every day can also be a problem. Meat Free Week is not about pushing people into vegetarianism. The fact is, red meat provides valuable key nutrients such as iron, zinc and protein. We just need to be careful about how much and how often we eat it and the way we cook it.

Some Healthy Tips

  • Consume less than 500g of red meat per week, with very little if any to be processed

  • Cook meat carefully. Charred or blackened meats can damage the cells lining the bowel

  • Partly cook meat inside to reduce cooking times on open flames, grills or BBQ’s

  • Keep cooking temperatures low and use marinades to protect meat from burning

What about the alternatives?

As a poverty stricken uni student, I enjoyed vegetarianism for several years due to financial constraints and it very easily became a way of life (although it had to really). Over the following years, I reintroduced meat a few times each week to counteract low iron levels as a result of running. Now, with three young children, we do eat red meat but certainly less than 500g per week each and I am very careful about the amount of processed meat that is eaten in our household. This can be especially challenging as we love all things Italian and their penchant for prosciutto, salami, ham and every processed meat other imaginable. Preparing meals without meat certainly requires a bit more thought and design simply because it not a simple matter of removing the meat and leaving the salad or vegetables to fend for themselves. It is important to include quality protein in your meal and this can be challenging if you have become accustomed to having red meat as a staple item. The wealth of recipes that we have available to us both in the traditional format of the cookbook and online is fortunately unlimited. Some sites that you might like to take a peek at include: Meat Free Mondays  Jamie Oliver Sanitarium So the big question is – are you joining me next week?

Hail Kale Caesar

kaleThis leafy green vegetable now seems to be a stalwart at the growers market that I frequent each weekend but until recently, I wondered what I would actually do with this cruciferous vegetable. A trip to New York this year solved this dilemma when within two days I had experienced Kale Caesar Salad twice. Kale is available as the curly voluminous form or the Tuscan Kale (cavalo nero) which has a flatter, darker leaf. Both are known for their bitter taste but this can be minimised by cutting out the tough middle stems and shredding the leaves finely. This cousin of other brassica vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts is a very rich source of antioxidants such as carotenoids, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, magnesium and fibre. However, it also contains oxalates which can interfere with the absorption of any iron and calcium found in the vegetable. Kale is a new addition to my diet and I am still experimenting but I claimed my first bunch of the curly variety last weekend and I am on the trail to perfect the delicious Caesar Salad I found in NYC. Around the world, people have been eating bunches of this green goodness since the middle ages and the most common method of cooking is braising with lemon or herbs and as an addition to potatoes. Kale chips are also doing the rounds at the moment but in all honesty, it’s not really kale that you are tasting but the deep-fried flavours added to them, and the nutritional benefits have certainly taken a back seat. Kale doesn’t need to be eaten with other foods to enhance its health value but take care when preparing it to enhance its flavour, that way it may just become a regular feature. Chef Ryan Angulo of Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens, New York started substituting romaine for Kale back in 2008 and by all accounts can be credited for the Kale Caesar Salad. However, the recipe below is the tasty, low fat Julie Meek version. Enjoy!

Kale Caesar Salad

½ bunch curly or Tuscan Kale (washed, dried and leaves trimmed off stalks) 4 slices proscuitto (fat trimmed), grilled 4 slices sourdough bread Dressing ½ cup low fat natural yoghurt 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil 1 large garlic clove ¼ cup lemon juice 2 tablespoons fresh parmesan cheese, grated Once trimmed, roll up kale leaves, slice finely and place in large salad bowl. Break the grilled proscuitto into small pieces and scatter over the kale leaves. Tear the bread roughly into 1 cm pieces, place on a baking tray and spray with cooking spray.  Bake in a moderate oven for approx. 10 minutes until crispy. For the dressing, mix all ingredients together in a shaker or jug and pour over kale leaves. Using your hands, mix the dressing through the salad and serve.

Croatian Capers

I crossed the border. Several times in fact. After three weeks in Italia we decided to see if what everyone else tells us is true, that the Croatian coastline is simply beautiful. The rumours are true but the funny thing is, to get to Dubrovnik from Venice one must go through Slovenia followed by a brief interlude into Croatia, a quick sojourn through Bosnia and then back to our original destination of Croatia. The quickest way to see to see four countries in 12 hours of driving surely.

Some interesting culinary experiences presented themselves on the drive which alternated between the austere never ending autostrada, winding rural countryside and the azure of the glittering Adriatic Sea. My lasting memory of Slovenia is of little wooden huts dotted along the roadside, smoke puffing out of their chimneys with a whole little piggy roasting inside. Not sure whether the whole pig gets presented to the customer or pieces get sliced off as needed as we went past too early for lunch.  The parts of Bosnia that flashed past the window were very rural and it seemed that strawberries, cherries and oranges were the main crops, with many of the farmers selling their wares on the roadside. One of these stalls provided some unexpected relief from the hecklers in the backseat, who after being in the car for most of the day spent their time alternating between fighting each other, generally driving their parents mad and chanting ‘are we there yet?’  The farmer manning the stall was very happy to see us and offloaded some cherries, strawberries and what I thought was orange juice. Thankfully he offered us a taste of the ‘juice’ before we bought as it lit a fire on the way down my throat. A sensation that children should probably not experience with their breakfast cereal. The look on my face must have been encouraging as the farmer then produced another bottle, this time from under his table, called Prosec. I know what you are thinking, I went there too. If you have ever tried the liquer known as Marsala, Prosec was just like it without any prescription required, but the fact that we would have to make our way through one litre in a matter of weeks made it a no sale.

The move from Italy to Croatia meant a transition from a carbohydrate based diet to one that was centered around meat, meat, meat. The mixed meat platter is on every menu, generally always huge and consists of kebabs, sausages of several kinds, liver and pork or chicken steak. The other thing that I noticed after a few days is that EVERYTHING is salty. Salt does add flavor to food but frequent use can have a negative impact on blood pressure, especially for those with existing hypertension. Plus taste buds get used to it and then food without salt seems to have no flavor. Have you noticed that celebrity chefs are very liberal with adding salt to their dishes? So many everyday foods that we eat already have salt added, with cereal, bread and cheese being perfect examples and eliminating the need to sprinkle it ourselves.

Grilled vegetables are divine here and mostly consist of eggplant, zucchini, capsicum and onion, although my new favourite food is Swiss Chard mixed with boiled potato with this dark green vegetable being very similar to silver beet both in flavour and colour and is very delicious.

My withdrawal from salt begins now. The rolling countryside of the Umbrian hills will surely provide some inspiration.          

The not so happy pig