The Perfect Pair – Food Nutrient Combo’s that Really Work for Your Body

It seems that there are so many nutrients that our body needs to function at its best. Think vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, carotenoids, trace elements……you get the picture right? The list is long and sometimes it feels like a mammoth task to get the whole bunch of them in our diets regularly.

The good news is, the nutrients in some foods love to pair up with nutrients in other foods, because together they are a perfect nutrition match. A single nutrient (Hans Solo) will work by itself but two and sometimes three nutrients (a bunch of battle troopers) can work even better.

The magic word is ‘bioavailability’ and when we talk about this in relation to food, it means that the nutrients are ready for the body to absorb and use effectively. This is why teaming up particular foods means a win for our bodies. On the flip side, sometimes we make decisions about food combo’s that actually interfere with the body’s ability to maximise the good nutrients, so for your best health and well-being it is good to know which foods are the team players.

My top food combo’s include:

Iron + Vitamin C

Iron deficiency is a condition in which the number of red blood cells or their capacity to carry oxygen is limited. The end result of this is tiredness and fatigue, breathlessness, repeat infections and failure to grow in kids. The thing is, dietary iron can be difficult to obtain and is found in two different forms – ‘haem’ iron which is found in animal foods and ‘non-haem’ which is found in plant-based non-animal food.
‘Haem’ foods usually contain more iron, which is well absorbed compared to non-haem iron, which is not.
Help is at hand though, as Vitamin C boosts the absorption of non-haem iron, if eaten in the same meal. The best sources of Vitamin C are fruit and vegetables, preferably in their whole form.

Top Food Combo’s = wholegrain breakfast cereal and sliced banana, baked beans on toast with fresh tomato or chickpea curry with fresh lime

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is essential for strong bones and effective working muscles but without Vitamin D, its absorption within our body is greatly reduced.
Calcium can be found in the largest amounts in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt and although it is found in other foods, they often contain much less calcium which is also inefficiently absorbed.

Vitamin D is also crucial to our well-being and is synthesised under the skin in the presence of sunlight. Of course, this can be hard to come by in some countries on a regular basis!

Regardless, it is very difficult to get enough Vitamin D through diet alone and most dietary Vitamin D comes from table margarine, canned fish and eggs.

Top Food Combo’s = Berry smoothie + a short stint in the sunlight each day

Antioxidants and Healthy Fats

The scientific explanation of how antioxidants exert their protective effect is that they prevent damage to body cells and tissues caused by free radicals and singlet oxygen.

The less technical and easier way of remembering what antioxidants do is to picture the 1980’s Pac-Man game where the aim is to get the Pac-Man to gobble as many ‘ghosts’ as possible. Pac-Man is the antioxidant and the ‘ghosts’ are the free radicals. For those too young to have played this 80’s game, go check out the 2015 movie ‘Pixels’ starring Adam Sandler and you will be all over it!

One of the most powerful antioxidants in food available to us is lycopene, found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, and ruby grapefruit.

Lycopene is a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red colour and its best friends include the healthy fats found in oils, avocado and nuts.

Top Food Combo’s = Fresh tomato and bocconcini salad with sliced avocado or tomato pasta sauce cooked with a drizzle of olive oil.

Carbohydrates + Lemon Juice or Vinegar

Carbohydrate foods are classified according to how quickly they are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream as glucose and this is known as the Glycemic Index (GI). Low GI foods are digested and absorbed more slowly and high GI foods more quickly. If we choose mostly lower to medium glycemic index carbohydrates, our energy levels are more stable, meaning we have greater endurance and less spikes and dips in our day which is always a good thing.

Many aspects of a meal can affect the overall GI including fat, fibre, protein, cooking methods and processing of the food.

But, there is something you can add to a meal containing carbohydrate that lowers the glycemic index and is just so simple – lemon juice or vinegar! The acidity of either of these combined with carbohydrate means longer lasting energy for you.

Top Food Combo’s = Baked sweet potato and a side of spinach and strawberry salad dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil or Linguine topped with lemon juice, capers and salmon.

What are your top food combo’s for the perfect partnership? Share away – I would love to hear about them.

Healthy Bones – Are you taking action?

Healthy bones This week, the 3rd – 9th August brings with it Healthy Bones Action Week, which calls on Australians of all ages to take three simple actions to build and maintain healthy bones:

  1. Increase daily serves of calcium through milk, cheese or yoghurt
  2. Go for a walk or commit to some regular exercise that you love
  3. Spend time outdoors to get more Vitamin D (which is essential for strong bones)

Don’t worry, everyone has a job to do. The biggest opportunity to build bones is when you are a kid, so if you have some under your wing, look at what they can do to make that happen. Teenagers are in the spotlight too, as the teen years are a major growth period and this is when they build one-quarter of their adult bone mass. Peak bone mass is reached when you are in your late twenties but it is super important that you continue to tick all your KPI’s, including getting enough calcium, exercise and Vitamin D to maintain the bone you have built when younger. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose calcium and other minerals, making them more likely to fracture.  In Australia, osteoporosis affects 1.2 million people, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men. The arrival of this week is always a good reminder to stop and do a quick audit of where your calcium intake is at. Aside from food, there are hereditary and lifestyle factors to consider too. I love dairy products, but still need to do a daily check just to make sure I’m ticking all the boxes. Depending on your age group you will need somewhere between 1000-1300mg per day. There are plenty of good sources (see box below) but it becomes obvious that it is not easy to get what you need from non-dairy sources. Broccoli is one of my favourite vegetables but I can’t eat almost 400 grams to get one serve of calcium! What Healthy Bones Action are YOU taking this week? Calcium sources

Mood food

When someone in my house is in the grip of a bad mood moment, we nominate them as the ‘Grumpy Fish, so-called after a much-loved children’s book, Hooray for Fish by Lucy Cousins. It’s almost impossible to keep up a bad mood with that tag following you.

Jokes aside, good mood vs. bad mood is a real thing and many people are really interested in the potential link between good mood and food. Over the last week I have been interviewed on TV and radio on the subject and it seems that most people can identify at least one positive mood food and another that sends them down into the dungeons.

I’ve picked out a few mood foods that may actually perk you up (and your health as a bonus side effect).

Eggs – For many years the humble egg has been given a bad rap on the cholesterol front. The fact is, the egg yolk is home to a healthy mix of poly and monounsaturated fats with only a smidgen of saturated fat and should be an essential part of a healthy diet, even if you have high cholesterol and raised blood lipids. Eggs are also a great source of protein and energy but their secret weapon is the nutrient choline. Choline is vital for the functioning of cells and neurotransmitters thought to be related to mood and energy. Plus having your brain work properly is always a mood enhancer!

Dark chocolate – Many chocolate lovers will agree that there is something about chocolate that quite simply makes you happy! Before we get too carried away in a moment of joy and happiness at this thought, its important to know that the darker varieties are preferred as they contain higher amounts of cocoa and therefore, antioxidants in the form of flavonoids. Chocolate does contain both fat and sugar but a small amount in an otherwise healthy diet, a small amount can be enjoyed, happily.

Coffee – The morning coffee fix is one that you can see played out in cafe’s all over the world and many people feel that it provides them with an energy boost and alertness they simply can’t do without. Yes, we do need to be aware of how much caffeine we consume each day but if your morning ritual improves your mood and your outlook, that can only be a positive. In addition, coffee is rich in antioxidants and has been linked to a decreased risk of dementia.

Milk – My Nan often advised a warm milk before bed for a restful sleep and although this might seem like a bedtime story, it’s actually based on fact. Protein is made up of many different amino acids (a bit like Lego pieces) and one of these, tryptophan, helps in the production of the sleep inducing chemicals, serotonin and melatonin. Milk and other dairy products are rich in tryptophan, hence the milk before bed. I think we all know that more sleep (or even simply enough) is possibly the best mood enhancer ever!

Vitamin D – This vitamin or the lack of it has been linked to being a risk factor for many lifestyle diseases including cancer and heart disease. Vitamin D is not an easy vitamin to get through food and the vast majority for us humans, comes from sunlight. Light deprivation is one reason people feel tired (and grumpy) and just five minutes of sunlight ups the production of serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals that improve mood. Not only is stepping into the sunlight for a brief moment mood enhancing but it also boosts your Vitamin D stores. Win-win.

 

 

Mushrooms caught sun baking

mushroon dog

Vitamin D deficiency is thought to be the most common nutritional and medical condition in the world today affecting more than 50% of the global population. This issue has sparked much interest in Australia considering that we have such abundant sunshine and Vitamin D is synthesised under the skin in the presence of sunlight. Our Slip, Slop, Slap campaign has fortunately made us very aware of the dangers of too much exposure to the sun but it has limited our ability to produce adequate Vitamin D. It is very difficult to get enough Vitamin D through diet alone and most dietary Vitamin D comes from table margarine, canned fish and eggs.

Enter the tricky little mushroom. Check out my friend and colleague Glenn Cardwell and Fast Ed of Better Homes and Gardens talking about the unique ability of mushrooms to sunbake and make their own Vitamin D here. They’re clever aren’t they?

Image courtesy of Bree Smith

Are you being kept in the dark?

I truly believe that every day provides an opportunity for a new learning experience, sometimes when you least expect it. I experienced one of those last week as a guest of the Australian Mushroom Growers Association when I attended a professional development afternoon on the power of mushrooms. Mushrooms have long been touted as the ‘vegetarians meat’ but they are so much more than that.  Mushrooms have formed their own faction and are neither fruit nor vegetable and they evolved at a different time to plants.  Their savoury flavour is called ‘umami’, a Japanese term meaning flavoursome and most of this flavour comes from natural glutamates in the mushroom, meaning that you don’t need to add salt or flavour enhancers. Continue reading “Are you being kept in the dark?”