Sunday, 27 March 2016

Wishing you a Healthy and Happy Easter

Hello lovely readers! Sincere apologies for my long, long, long hiatus from this blog! I don't have any great excuses for having not written on here for such a long time; I've simply been really busy with work and life!

Anyhow, last week I had returned to the keyboard and begun a new post with my top tips for a healthy Easter. Despite my good intentions, a number of other commitments popped up, and what do you, I never completed that post in time. However I thought I would still share my thoughts with you all today, because it may help to get things back on track after the long weekend. Plus, I believe my recommendations here are applicable to any weekend, holiday or special occasion, so I do hope you can still find them of use.  

Easter (and Christmas, long weekends, holidays, special occasions) can be a challenging time of year for many, especially if you are watching your weight or you have diabetes, heart disease or an eating disorder. It can be a very tempting and triggering time of year with many delicious treats, such as hot cross buns and Easter eggs in abundance, not to mention the break in routine and more social eating. However, this is absolutely OK!! It is all part of life, and can bring much enjoyment, rest and restoration. 

My tips for enjoying a happy, healthy Easter (or any holiday or special occasion) are as follows: 

1. Reflect on what Easter (or whatever the holiday or special occasion) means to you. 
In this modern day and age, we are becoming increasingly separated from the religious significance of holidays such as Easter and Christmas, with these days becoming more and more commercialised. However, I still think it is valuable to pause and reflect on what Easter means to you? Is it a religious and spiritual time for you, or is it a chance for rest, activity, adventure in the great outdoors? Maybe it is all about feasting for you, or maybe you appreciate time and connection with your family and friends. 

If you are able to identify why Easter is special for you, this can help you to appreciate what is most important to you and prioritise where you place your focus. For example, this may just mean spending time with others, or it might mean seeking out a new outdoor adventure.

2. Go for Quality over Quantity 
My mother always used to tell me that sometimes "less is more." Of course, as a child, I never did understand this concept and I actually thought Mum was a little bit crazy for believing this........ however I now understand what she meant! This saying rings particularly true at Easter time. Sure, you can go to the discount variety store and buy a whole heap of no-name milk chocolate Easter eggs for a steal..... however you are really only buying a truckload of fat and sugar and encouraging yourself and/or your family and friends to overeat! Chances are, the cheap choccies that you do buy probably won't even taste that good, so are they really worth that sick feeling after devouring the lot?

Instead, put your money towards some good quality chocolate. You may not get quite as much for your money, however this can encourage you to savour what you do have and appreciate the more intense flavours of a higher quality chocolate.

3. Eat your chocolate Mindfully 
How do you usually eat your Easter eggs? Do you unwrap a couple of mini eggs and shove them in your mouth whilst doing something else, such as walking through the house/sorting the washing/watching TV/reading/browsing the web, etc etc?? 

If this sounds like you, chances are that you are not fully appreciating your chocolate! Many us eat whilst we are distracted by something else. As a result, we can't be fully aware of the way our food tastes, or how much we have eaten! That is why it can be so easy to demolish a giant chocolate bunny whilst curled up in front of the TV....... 

To mindfully enjoy your chocolate, simply slow down and pay a little attention to it! After all, you've waited a whole year for this occasion, so you may as well get the maximal amount of enjoyment from it!! So, unwrap your chocolate and look at it. Notice the details on the chocolate, be it the lines around the egg or the facial features on the bunny. Next, smell your chocolate. This is something we rarely do, but it is something that can slow our eating and bring more enjoyment to the overall experience of eating the chocolate. Smell is a big part of our overall taste experience. Next, eat your chocolate one bite at a time, and notice the way the chocolate reacts in your mouth. Does it feel rough? Does it melt? Does the flavour change as you chew it more? Again, these are things we cannot notice if we are putting a lot of food in our mouths and swallowing quickly after beginning to eat. Paying attention to all the features of your food in this way can help you to savour and appreciate the food and notice when you have had enough.

4. Squeeze in Some Activity 
For most, Easter signals a rare 4 day weekend. This is a great opportunity to get active, enjoy the great outdoors, get some vitamin D, some fresh air, and have some fun! Now, this does not mean you have to go and run a marathon or spend all weekend slaving away in the gym. Simply do something that feels good to your body and that you enjoy. This may be going for a bike ride, exploring some markets on foot, going swimming, or playing a game of backyard cricket or frisbee with family and friends. Anything that is enjoyable for you and gets you off the couch! Exercise is important for overall and health and wellbeing, but the key is making it enjoyable, so you are more likely to do it!

5. Try some Home Cooking 
As I mentioned, most of us will be gifted a 4 day long weekend this weekend, which is a great opportunity to trial some new recipes at home in your kitchen. With a little more time on your hands, a little more preparation time and some time to ponder over recipe books and websites, it is a perfect time to trial something new and sharpen those skills in the kitchen. This can be invaluable to keeping your health on track from here on in, as many studies show that people who cook at home have much better health markers than those who dine out or eat take away more often. This may mean getting together with some friends or family and having a social cooking session, or buying a new cookbook or just trying out a new ingredient.

6. Enjoy Everything in Moderation
I may be a dietitian, but that does NOT mean that I am part of the "Food Police." I believe strongly in the importance of listening to your body. I don't believe that ongoing restriction and deprivation is healthy. In fact, it is these behaviours that can set one up for binge eating and/or over eating. This is not healthy. If you want it, have it, but eat it mindfully (as per point 3) and stop when you have had enough. There is no need to feel guilty. Easter comes around once per year, so it is a special time to savour and enjoy. 

7. Get Fishy 
Although Easter seems to have less and less of a religious significance these days, it is still a great opportunity to honour Good Friday and serve up some fish. Many people do not eat enough fish, despite it's benefits for heart, brain and eye health. It does not have to be fresh fish, even tinned fish or smoked fish are delicious ways to enjoy some nutritious omega-3 nutrients. Some delicious fishy recipes which I enjoy are baked salmon fillets, smoked salmon pasta, tuna patties or a simple tune or salmon salad. 

Obviously, because I was slack, as mentioned, this post is getting to you too late to be of benefit for Easter 2016, however I do hope it can be of benefit to you for the remainder of the year in some way, shape or form. I'd love to hear how you spent your Easter this year, and please do let me know if you have any tips for a healthy Easter.

Whatever you do decide to do this Easter, I hope you all enjoy yourself, and stay very safe and happy. Enjoy the break. 

Em x    

Saturday, 11 July 2015

National Diabetes Awareness Week: July 12 to 18, 2015.

Did you know that about 280 Australians are diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes every day? According to Diabetes Australia, approximately 1.7 million Australians are living with diabetes. Diabetes is increasing at a faster rate than any other chronic disease (such as heart disease or cancer), so chances are that someone close to you is affected by the disease. This week, July 12-18, marks National Diabetes Week; a week dedicated to highlighting the prevalence, risk factors and appropriate management of the disease. 

Diabetes is a chronic (long-term) disease, and thus being diagnosed with diabetes should not be taken lightly. There are 2 main types of diabetes; Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is an auto-immune condition and is most commonly diagnosed early in life, such as in childhood or early adolescence. Type 2 diabetes, the more common form of diabetes, is considered a lifestyle disease, and typically affects people in their middle ages and beyond. You may also hear the term "pre-diabetes," which simply means are on your way to developing diabetes and should adjust your lifestyle to reduce your risk. Pregnant women may develop "gestational diabetes," which is simply diabetes during pregnancy. This usually resolves once the baby has been born, though the mother is then at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Please note: the remainder of this post will focus on the risk factors, symptoms, complications and management of Type 2 diabetes, given it is the most common form of diabetes. 
So what is Type 2 Diabetes? 
Type 2 diabetes occurs when your pancreas is not able to make enough insulin to control your body's blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. I like to think of insulin as the key to the door of cells in the body. When insulin opens the door to the cells, sugar enters the cells and gives the muscles energy to move and get you through daily life. If there is not enough insulin (not enough keys for all the doors), the sugar can't get through the doors to your cells, so it is left to build up in the blood stream. This means your blood sugar levels will be too high, and you may experience symptoms of diabetes. If left untreated, this could cause complications. This is why regular visits to your doctor are important.

Who is at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes? 
There is no single cause of Type 2 Diabetes, though some major risk factors include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Being physically inactive
- Having unhealthy eating habits
- Smoking
- Having a family history of diabetes
- Having heart disease
- Being aged over 55
- Having had gestational diabetes
- Having Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome  (PCOS)
- Being of Aboriginal, Torres Strait, Pacific Islander, Asian, Maori, Middle Eastern, North African or Southern European descent 

What are the symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes?
 Some people will experience no symptoms, whereas other people will:
- Feel more thirsty
- Feel tired
- Feel more hungry
- Need to urinate more often (especially at night)
- Have more frequent infections
- Notice cuts or wounds heal more slowly
- Have blurred vision
- Have headaches

These symptoms occur as the body tries to cope with the high amounts of sugar in the bloodstream and tries to remove the sugar from the body.

What are the complications of Type 2 Diabetes? 
As mentioned earlier, Type 2 Diabetes is a serious, lifelong condition and should be taken seriously, to reduce the risk of developing serious complications. Such complications include:
- Eye disease (retinopathy)
- Kidney disease (nephropathy)
- Loss of feeling in feet and fingers (neuropathy and Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD))
- Heart and blood vessel disease (cardiovascular disease)
- Gum disease (peridontal disease)

Your risk of developing such complications depends on how well you manage your blood sugar levels, how long you have had diabetes, whether you smoke, drink alcohol or have high blood pressure, cholesterol or triglycerides. The power is in your hands!

How is Type 2 Diabetes managed? 
The management of Type 2 diabetes depends on how high your blood sugar levels are, and how well you body is able to regulate blood sugar on it's own. Some people may need to take medications, some may require insulin injections (especially if they have had diabetes for some time or medications are not effective), whilst others can manage simply by changing their diet and exercise habits.

1. Nutrition
Nutrition plays a big role in the management of diabetes, regardless of whether you are on medications or insulin injections or not. There is no "special diet" for diabetes, though there are some important considerations to make to manage your condition.

It is important to eat regularly, to lessen the likelihood of overeating and keep blood sugar stable. This means eating 3 main meals at a minimum. Some people may also require 2-3 snacks, though this is entirely dependent on your individual needs and is not essential for everyone.

Another important consideration is to eat according to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. This means:
- Eating 2 serves of fruit
- Eating 5 serves of vegetables
- Choosing wholegrain breads, cereals, pasta, rice or using ancient grains
- Eating moderate amounts of lean meat/alternatives and aiming to include fish regularly
- Including 3-4 serves of dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt, cheese or alternatives

If you have diabetes, there are no foods that you cannot eat, though high fat, high sugar and energy dense foods should be eaten only in moderation. Foods to limit include:
- those high in saturated fat, such as biscuits, cakes, pastries, processed meats, fried foods and takeaway
- those containing added salt
- those containing added sugar such as confectionary, biscuits, cakes, ice cream and sugar sweetened drinks
 - alcohol; this should be limited to 1 standard drink per day for women or 2 standard drinks per day for males. It is also advisable to include 2 alcohol-free days per week.

2. Be physically active 
Being physically active also helps to lower your blood sugar levels. It is also important for general health and wellbeing, mental state, and can help to keep your weight in check. Current recommendations encourage 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day, however something is always better than nothing! If you are someone who is typically not active, then simply making small changes and moving more will be of benefit to you. Park the car further away, take the stairs instead of the lift or wash your car by hand rather than using the automatic car wash - it all adds up! Furthermore, the daily '30 minute' target does not need to be completed in one burst; you could do 3 x 10 minute walks instead, if that better fits your schedule. As mentioned, something is better than nothing.

3. Manage your weight
Being overweight is a major risk factor for developing Type 2 Diabetes and can also make it more difficult to control your blood sugar levels if you do already have diabetes. It is said that losing even a small amount of weight can greatly improve blood sugar control and reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases. Generally speaking, eating well and being active each day will assist weight management, though portion control (ie. controlling the size of your meals) is also critical for weight management. That being said, weight is not the "be all and end all" of diabetes management, so do not focus solely on the number on the scale! As previously mentioned, your overall well-being, what you eat, how much you eat and how much you move are much more important factors.

Where can I go for more information?
If you think you may be at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes or have been diagnosed with diabetes, consult you doctor for more information and support. It is also advisable to visit an Accredited Practising Dietitian for dietary advice tailored specifically to you. I would also recommend having an appointment with a Credentialled Diabetes Educator for advice and support regarding diabetes prevention and management. Also, be sure to visit the Diabetes Australia website for a wealth of diabetes-related information at your fingertips.

Use this National Diabetes Week to kick-start some healthy habits to reduce your risk of developing diabetes, or to improve your management of the disease. Look out for special events occurring in your area or join in and raise awareness by using the #280aday hashtag on social media.

Have a happy and healthy National Diabetes Week!

- Em x

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Go Red for Women's Heart Health

There is much research, fundraising and publicity dedicated to breast cancer in Australia, yet Women's Heart Health seems to be an unspoken topic. Did you know the heart disease is actually the biggest killer of Australian women? According to the Australian Heart Foundation, heart disease kills more women each year than breast cancer. Heart disease kills one Aussie woman every hour, every day. Scary, huh? So why aren't we talking about it? Well now is the time - Thursday 11th June 2015 is Go Red for Women Day, the Heart Foundation's biggest fundraiser for women's heart disease.

The term 'Heart Disease' (or 'cardiovascular disease or CVD) includes having either a heart attack or a stroke. Heart disease affects women of all ages, with the major risk factors being high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight or obese. Many people do not even know if they have these conditions, and thus it is important to visit your GP regularly for check ups and a risk assessment. The good news is that heart disease is preventable, and, even if you have already been diagnosed with heart disease, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

What you eat and how much you move your body are key factors for your heart health. Here are some steps you can take NOW to improve your heart health: 

1. Be Active - Be active for at least 30 minutes each day. You may cringe at the thought of "exercise," so look for options that appeal to you. Instead of hitting the gym or pounding the pavement, look for activities which you enjoy. It may be a yoga class, a game of tennis,  swimming, dancing in your lounge room or playing frisbee or kick-to-kick with your kids. Look for every opportunity to move; even little things like parking your car in the furthest carpark, getting off the bus one stop early, or taking the stairs instead of the escalator, all add up to benefit your heart. 

2. Limit unhealthy fats - the type and amount of fat you eat has an impact on your heart health. Limit foods high in trans fats and saturated fat, such as take away, deep fried foods, pastries, short-breads and processed snacks such as chips and chocolates. Also make an effort to choose lean meats - that is, avoid highly marbled meat and remove the outer white fat from meat and the skin from chicken.

3. Opt for heart healthy fats -  include foods containing poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats in your diet. These foods include olive oil, canola oil, avocado, fish, nuts and seeds. Aim to have fish 2-3 times per week for optimal heart health. Include a 30g handful of nuts regularly also. You can read more about nuts and heart health here

4. Fibre up - fibre is critical for the management of blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and thus overall heart health. Aim to eat around 30g of fibre each day. This can be achieved by eating 2 pieces of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables each day (1 serve = 75g vegetables) as well as wholegrains and legumes. Choose wholegrain carbohydrates such as oats, quinoa, brown rice and multigrain bread  rather than refined white versions. Legumes are a fantastic, versatile, nutritious and cheap way to boost your fibre intake, so try throwing some kidney beans in your stews or some chickpeas or bean mix in salads. Check out the Australian Grains and Legumes Council website for more tasty ways to increase the fibre in your diet.  

 5. Cut the salt - salt is a key culprit for raising blood pressure. Australians eat a great amount of salt each day through processed foods such as take away, convenience meals, bread, breakfast cereals, tinned foods and ready-to-eat sauces, spreads and marinades. Avoid adding salt to your cooking and remove the salt shaker from the dinner table. Flavour your meals with other options such as fresh or dried herbs, spices, pepper or lemon juice. Your food will taste different initially, but persevere, as your taste buds will adapt with time! 

6. Limit added sugars - eating a very high sugar diet can affect your weight and in turn, your heart health. Foods which are high in added sugars tend to be the highly processed foods which are low in fibre and nutrients, and therefore not nutritious anyway! Keep high sugar foods such as cakes, biscuits, lollies, chocolate and soft drink for special occassions only. Moderation is the key.

7. Choose water - water is the best way to keep yourself hydrated. Drinks such as soft drink, cordial, energy drinks and fruit juice are high in sugar and not necessary. Alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation, though do limit to no more than 2 standard drinks per night, and include 3 alcohol free nights weekly. It is true that red wine contains heart-healthy nutrients - but only if you limit to one glass! This is a prime example where just because some is good, does not mean more is better!!

8. Butt out - smoking is actually the biggest risk factor for heart disease; according to the Australian Heart Foundation, people who smoke are twice as likely to have a heart attack and three times more likely to have a stroke than those who do not! The Quitline is a great place for information and support to help you quit smoking.

Now that you are aware of the prevalence of heart disease in Australia, I hope you will join me by wearing red for women's heart health on Thursday June 11th. Get involved in fundraising events in your local area by checking out the Heart Foundation's Go Red For Women page,  and most importantly, make a lifestyle change today to reduce your risk of heart disease. 

- Emily.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

10 Insights from the Mediterranean

This week, I returned home from a 2 week cruise of the Mediterranean. A fabulous 2 weeks of adventure, sightseeing, sunshine, good company and of course, delicious food. It is well documented that the Mediterranean diet promotes well-being and longevity, and can in fact reduce one's risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, amongst many benefits. The Mediterranean diet is no fad diet, it has been a traditional pattern of eating for hundreds of years. As such, the Mediterranean diet is a suitable pattern of eating for the entire family, is suited to entertaining, and best of all is not based on obscure and expensive foods. All in all, the Mediterranean diet is a delicious, inexpensive, simple and nutritious style of eating.

There were a number of things that struck me about the eating (and drinking) patterns in the Mediterranean, including the following 10 observations:

 1. Snacking was uncommon 
I rarely observed anyone eating outside of main meal times. The main meals were generally substantial and nutritionally balanced, thereby supplying sufficient energy to sustain one until the next meal. I did not see anyone eating bags of chips, biscuits or muesli bars between meals; such foods were not displayed obviously at every turn of the head, as they are in Australia. The only foods I saw available between meals were fresh fruit, roasted nuts and roasted corn cobs. Highly nutritious options if you did happen to need an afternoon top-up.

Fruit stall in Barcelona, Spain

 The cutest strawberry punnets in France 

 Nuts on sale in France 

 A street cart selling roast chestnuts and corn in Istanbul, Turkey

2. Coffee was consumed in small cups, sitting 
Locals drank their coffee, unadulterated and appreciatively, in cafes, seemingly often in company. They were not sipping Grande Vanilla Moccha Lattes, or other syrupy concoctions, from half litre cardboard cups whilst they shopped or waited for public transport. In this way, they avoided mindlessly consuming empty calories, as occurs commonly in Australia.

3. Fish was favoured, red meat less common
I was away for 2.5 weeks and never once ate red meat. Most days my diet was based solely on fish; tuna salad at lunch and baked fish for dinner. For this reason, the Mediterranean diet is rich in poly-unsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for a healthy heart, brain and eyes. Fish is also low in fat, thereby assisting weight regulation. If I did eat something other than fish, it was generally chicken, turkey or pork. All lean, there again promoting weight regulation, heart health and diabetes risk reduction.   
4. Olive oil was revered
The infinite olive groves and commonplace decorative olive trees proved how important olives and olive oil are to the Mediterranean. Every meal was cooked in olive oil, or dressed with a drizzle of oil. No coconut oil, no butter, no lard. Just locally produced extra virgin olive oil. Yes, the olive oil is high in fat, the health-promoting poly-unsaturated type, renowned for supporting heart health. Bottles of extra-virgin olive oil adorned every dining table, signifying just how essential it is to the Mediterranean diet.

French countryside. Olive-growing paradise. 
Variety of fresh olives 

5. Fresh Produce and Simplicity is key 
As a walk through numerous food markets proved; fresh produce is preferred in the Mediterranean. The markets occur daily so food can be purchased and cooked fresh, direct from the fisherman/butcher/farmer/baker/delicatessen. Generally the meals prepared with said produce were simple, honouring the natural flavours of the food. Grilled vegetables for entree, fish and salad or meat and salad for mains. Pizza with minimal toppings such as tomato, cheese and basil, or simple pasta with tomato, meat and cheese. No 'Meatlover' or 'The Lot' pizzas, no heavy sauces or dressings masking the true flavour of food, no heavily processed foods. Just fresh local produce, enjoyed close to it's natural state.

 Beautiful fresh sun-drenched tomatoes, looking more like pumpkins! 

6. Portion size was controlled  
Most of the meals I experienced were served in numerous courses, yet small portions. I think back to one lunch in Rome. We were served a small plate of pasta, which was received with raised eyebrows from fellow travellers, who commented "That's not much! Is that all we're getting?" True, the plate of pasta was a meagre portion compared to the over-flowing bowls much of Western culture has become accustomed to. What we did not realise, was the pasta was merely the first course, soon followed by an appropriate portion of roast pork and salad. Again, not the typical 350g steak you may expect to find on a restaurant menu in Australia, but a sufficient amount to leave you satiated without over eating.

 An entree of fresh and grilled vegetables in Istanbul, Turkey 

7. Vegetables, always 
Did you know that according the 2011-2012 Australian Health Survey, only 8.4% of Australians ate the recommended daily 5 serves of vegetables?  On my tour of the Mediterranean however, I was pleased to see vegetables featured in most meals. For example, a grilled vegetable antipasti plate to start a meal, a soup as a starter, a salad as a side dish, or vegetables included with meals. The regular consumption of vegetables ensures essential fibre consumption, to assist with weight regulation, heart health and diabetes risk reduction. It also proves that eating vegetables is not a chore, and can and should be an enjoyable, central feature of a meal.

 Delicious Greek Salad in Athens 

8. Red wine was the drink of choice 
As a non-drinker, I cannot comment on the flavour of the wine overseas, though I did notice fellow travellers savouring a glass or two! The Italians were quick to inform us that a glass of red wine has been proven to be health-promoting, thanks to it's high antioxidant, specifically polyphenol, content. I was most pleased, however, to hear them crucially advise that the health benefits occur with the consumption of only one glass..... not multiple. The lesson? Rather than guzzling pints of beer, 'doing shots' or drinking to excess just for the sake of it, savour a good glass of red instead. Quality over quantity, yet again.

9. Fast food outlets were few and far between 
I rarely saw fast food venues during my Mediterranean travels. Sure, I saw the golden arches in a few major cities, and a Burger King and a Subway along the way (right next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, oddly enough...), however for the most part, these outlets were not on every street corner or at every turn of the head, as they seem to be here at home. Instead, local eateries and quality local produce seemed preferred. I even noticed less advertising for fast food venues, compared to the omnipresent billboards and such which I notice at home. Out of sight, out of mind; a great way to reduce consumption of energy dense, low nutrient fast foods. 

10. There were no food phobias or fads
Well, none that were obvious to me, anyhow. I mean to say, I did not notice any food outlets advertising "Clean Eating" friendly menus, or "Paleo" friendly meals. I did not notice any advertisements for "low fat," "sugar free," "low carb" or "high protein" products. I'm sure they exist somewhere in in the culture, though they did not infiltrate the communities. All foods appeared to be eaten without hesitation, including carbohydrate-rich pasta and high fat olive oil and cheese, for example. The food was simply prepared and enjoyed, without judgement or guilt, but with appreciation.

 Carb-phobia? No thanks. Fresh bread for days in France.

These are simply some of my own personal observations from my 2 week period abroad. I acknowledge that of course there would be exceptions to these themes and that every individual eats in a different manner. I did however, like what I saw and I do believe there are value lessons to be learned from my observations. I have decided that more olive oil, more fish and more Mediterranean vegetables are required in my own diet! One thing is certain; I thoroughly enjoyed my whirlwind adventure through the Mediterranean and would recommend the region, and the Mediterranean pattern of eating, to anyone.

- Em x

Sunday, 10 May 2015

International No Diet Day

It has been quite a while since I have written a blog. Quite a while, indeed. However this past Wednesday (6th May) was a very special, blog-worthy day, acknowledging a topic close to my heart. On Wednesday, it was "International No Diet Day."

 Yep, International NO Diet Day. You probably think that I got that title wrong, that I have gone insane. You may think it crazy that I'd be suggesting you stop dietiting; I mean, don't we need to follow strict diets and do a truckload of exercise in order to be "healthy?" Well, my friends, this is actually NOT the case. Now, I am not suggesting you eat take-away to your heart's content and sit on the couch all day, as that certainly would not be great for your health. Rather, ensure your food choices are varied and flexible, and take opportunities to move your body in ways that are enjoyable for you.

Why am I suggesting a more relaxed eating regime, rather than 'diets?' Because diets are crap. No, really, they are. Diets do not take into account your individual needs and circumstances. They do not include a variety of foods - think The Cabbage Soup Diet or The Grapefruit Diet, both of which suggest eating only the one food. Clearly there is no variety there. Diets are not flexible either. You feel like a sandwich for lunch today? Too bad, the diet says you have to have salad. Does that seem enjoyable to you? I thought not.

All diets are built on similar fundamentals - they severely restrict the types of food that you can eat and/or severely restrict the amounts of food (and thus calories/kilojoules) that you can eat. As a result, you will feel constantly hungry. Irritable. Moody. Restless. Unable to concentrate. Tired. Cold. All the time. That is, of course, until you give up on the diet and return to your usual eating habits and regain all the weight. Seems like a lot of effort and discomfort, all to get right back to where you started! Diets can also be expensive, especially if you are buying shakes, buying memberships to programs such as Tony Ferguson, Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers, or if you are required to buy expensive ingredients or appliances such as juicers or blenders.

Aside from the obvious inconveniences of diets already mentioned, there is also damage done to your body and your metabolism. Our bodies are oh so smart; we really don't give them enough credit! We think we have the determination to stick to strict diets, but our bodies are so much smarter! You may choose to eat only 1200 calories per day, but you're body will scream "hey, there's not enough food around, we better switch into 'starvation mode.'" Cue the tiredness, inability to concentrate, low energy levels, irritability, hunger and feeling cold, which I mentioned earlier. Additionally, there will be serious abnormalities going on inside your body, as it tries to survive. Your hormone levels will become unbalanced, meaning that your body will shut down non-essential functions (including re-production, which is why ladies may be waving goodbye to their periods when dieting) and it will cling on to it's fat stores in attempt to survive the [self imposed] "famine." As a result, you may not actually lose any weight at all! What a waste of time and effort!!! Additionally, your body will build up it's resilience to dieting every time you try a new diet. This is why constantly trying the latest diet is not likely to bring you success; you are simply putting your metabolism under more pressure and making weight management even harder!

I know these are hard truths to swallow. It goes against everything we typically hear. However the key to finding a healthy weight, appreciation of your body, and a good relationship to food and exercise, is balance. Ditch the strict diets and eat a variety of foods according to your appetite. Move your body in a way that you enjoy and that feels good for you. If you have been dieting for a long time, this change will not come easily, but it is an important concept to embrace, and it certainly tastes much better!!!

I hope you all had a happy International No Diet Day! Emily. x

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Raw Zucchini Noodles with Homemade Basil and Walnut Pesto

The highlight of last week for me was receiving some postie love, in the form of the vegetable spiralizer I had ordered online a few weeks back. Yep, it was a pretty dull week otherwise! But, back to the spiralizer. This nifty little hand-held gadget slices your veggies into strings similar to noodles or spaghetti. There are 2 blades; one for thin noodles and one for slightly thicker noodles. 

Le Spiralizer 

 The blades inside the spiralizer 

So far I have only used my new toy with carrot and zucchini, both of which work really well, as they are long, thin vegetables which are easy to hold and turn through the spiralizer. The carrot worked well in salads, but I got straight to work on a new recipe to use with the beautiful seasonal zucchini which is available in abundance at present. Hence, I bring to you:
Raw Zucchini Noodles with Homemade Basil and Walnut Pesto 
Serves 4-6 as a side salad, or could be eaten as a main also. 
Preparation time - about 15 minutes 

2 medium sized zucchini (I used about 300g)

1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves 
1 cup raw walnut halves 
1 clove garlic 
2 teaspoons fetta cheese (I used goat's fetta)
Cracked black pepper, to taste

1. Turn the zucchini through the spiralizer to form noodles. I used the thicker blade, as I found the thin zucchini noodles too moist and clumpy. The spiralizer produced very very long noodles, which I then cut into about 20cm lengths, or that similar to regular spaghetti.
2. Toast the walnuts under a griller or in a fry pan over medium heat. Toast until golden brown. 
3. Combine the garlic, basil, nuts and cheese in a blender and blend until all ingredients are combined into a fine paste. I left my pesto a little chunky, though you could blend into a smoother paste if desired. 
4. Stir the pesto through the raw zucchini noodles and serve. You may like to add some extra fetta for a creamier pasta. 
Raw Zucchini Noodles with Pesto, topped with homegrown cherry tomatoes 

 Close up view 

- We had this dish served as per above as a side salad. I also had the leftovers for lunch the next day with added roast pumpkin, grilled red capsicum, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and baby spinach leaves which was absolutely divine. Too yummy to photograph, I'm afraid!
- I did not use all the pesto made, so I've kept the excess in a screw-top jar in the fridge. It has been really nice to have it handy to add to salads, chicken, stuffed into mushrooms and barbequed, and even stirred through scrambled eggs. I presume it would also be a nice addition to pizzas or focaccias. 
- You could use any nuts, not only walnuts. Traditional pesto is made using pine nuts, but I choose walnuts for 1) something different, 2) because I love them, 3) because we have lots of them at home.   
Leftover Pesto
I hope you enjoy this recipe! I would highly recommend getting a veggie spiralizer, as they are a great way to increase your veggie, and thus nutrient intake. 

- Em xx

Monday, 16 February 2015

Australia's Healthy Weight Week

Today marks the beginning of Australia's Healthy Weight Week (AHWW), which runs from February 16-22, 2015. This initiative of the Dietitian's Association of Australia (DAA) seeks to encourage individuals to make small lifestyle modifications to benefit overall health and achieve or maintain a healthy weight.

The aim of AHWW will differ for everyone, and the focus should be on simple, achievable modifications. Think eating more vegetables, having fruit every day, eating breakfast, or packing your own lunch rather than buying take away. AHWW encourages Australians to make a pledge to commit to such a health-promoting goal. You can make your pledge by visiting the AHWW website and go into the draw to win a fantastic prize pack too!. Make your goal well known to yourself and others (such as family) as this can help keep you motivated and on track. 

AHWW also seeks to encourage the Australian public to prepare and consume more meals at home, rather than relying on take away foods, restaurant meals and convenience meals. Food prepared outside of the home is typically higher in energy (kilojoules or calories), fat, sugar and salt. Such meals are typically lower in vegetables, fruit and wholegrains, and thus offer less nutrients. By cooking more meals at home, you are more likely to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Visit the AHWW website and download the AHWW cookbook for some delicious recipe inspiration - it's certainly got my mouth watering! 

Once you have made your pledge and started your journey towards a healthier lifestyle, enlist the support of an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) for evidence-based nutrition advice and to keep you focussed on your goal . You can search for an APD in your area here. Also keep an eye out for AHWW events in your area; these are a great opportunity to access nutrition information and network with other health-focussed individuals.

I myself will be hosting some AHWW events this week through my work, Latrobe Community Health Service (LCHS) in Morwell, Moe and Traralgon. We will be holding food swap-meets to encourage local green-thumbs to grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs and nuts and share their surplus produce with other like-minded community members. If you live in the Latrobe Valley, I'd love to see you at one of the swap-meets, which will occur as follows:

  • Tuesday 17th February, 11am-12pm, LCHS MORWELL, 81-87 Buckley Street. 
  • Wednesday 18th February, 11am-12pm, LCHS TRARALGON, corner Princes Highway and Seymour Street
  • Wednesday 18th February, 11am-12pm, LCHS MOE, 42-44 Fowler Street. 
We do ask for fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts and seeds only, no baked goods, preserves or eggs can be exchanged. No money necessary, just bring your produce along to exchange.

I hope everyone enjoys a healthy and tasty AHWW, make your pledge now and start your journey towards a healthier lifestyle.

- Em xx