Friday, 7 December 2012

Dubai day one: husband loses wife

Hola amigos!! I'm writing this post as I lay by the pool in buenos aires - yes, life is tough. I should also note that I'm blogging from my iPhone, so apologies in advance for grammatical errors caused by fat-thumb and laziness syndrome.

Where to start....well it has been one week since I left sydney, so lets start at the beginning:

First stop was Dubai to meet up with Az. The plane trip was painful but at least I didn't have to eat crappy plane food as I pre-packed my meals for the 14 hr trip. I know, it sounds like I'm being a little neurotic but I can highly recommend it if you want to feel half-decent on the other end. The envious stares you receive from other passengers and hosties just add to the fun. What did I have?

1. Chicken curry with roast veg - ha to make sure not to add too much liquid due to restrictions!
2. Marvellous mince with roast veg
3. A raw chocolate and coconut ball.
4. Sachets of artisana coconut oil and butter just in case.

Take that emirates!!!

So - Dubai day one (the day after I arrived):

Az and I decided to go on a hop on hop off tour of the city. Dubai is quite an amazing place but not somewhere I could spend a lot of time. It is quite materialistic and over the top - beyond the designer shops and extravagant buildings, there is not much more to see and do. On our way back through we will go dune bashing.

At the end of the day we visited the souks (markets) - gold, old and spice. I loved the spice market - the shop owners were keen to teach me about (and sell me) all they had on offer. I could have stayed longer but Az was getting frustrated (he hates markets!) and it was starting to rain. Heading to the fish and produce markets, the death stares that were flying my way from my dear husband were increasingly scary, so we decided to head home....

Unfortunately we missed the last bus back to where we needed to be. Instead, the bus dropped us off at the Deira centre mall to catch the metro back. Easy enough, right? Wrong! Az had been in Dubai for 2 weeks so I trusted that he knew where he was going - especially considering you can only go in 2 directions! We bought our tix and raced down to the platform (why we were racing, I do not know). As luck would have it, Az made it onto the train and I was left on the platform as he waved at me from behind closed doors with a smirk on his face. Admittedly it was kind of funny. But a little unnerving. Being a blonde woman in Dubai by yourself is not so fun. All good - I would just get on the next train and meet him at our station which I thankfully knew the name of! However....upon getting on the train I realised I was heading in the wrong direction! Amusement turned to anger. 2 directions to choose from and he got it wrong! Okay deep breaths. I would hop off at the next stop and head back the other way. Trains come every 5mins. But at what point would Az realise he was on the wrong train? (It turns out it took him one more station- hee hee)

Finally - in the right direction. I arrived at our station and then realised how big it was - was I to meet him on the platform, where the tix are bought, or outside??? Anger turned to panic. I decided to wait where the tix are bought.

No sign of Az. After 30mins panic turned to desperation. I was freaking out, to say the least. I had no phone and didn't want to try and get home in case Az eventually turned up and I had left. Not to mention there was a very dodgy looking guy staring at me. This was turning into a disaster. I was on the verge of tears, busting to use the bathroom and about to venture out when I heard my name being called - there he was! He was on the platform right below me the whole time! Words cannot express how relieved we were! All anger forgotten. Moral to the story - don't rush when you are on holiday!

Now you are probably thinking this isn't very nutrition-oriented. Well, you are correct. For the next couple of months this blog will also be serving as a travel blog through South America. However, I plan to eat my way through the continent, experiencing the local fare and sharing it all here. I may even con Az into doing a few posts on exercising abroad.

Just quickly to finish off this post - my first delicious food experience was in Dubai. Now, there are a lot of sweet shops in Dubai - candy, cakes and chocolates. It's probably not just a coincidence that they also have a large market for special "diabetic foods". Apparently diabetes is a huge problem in the UAE. Hmmm.

Anywho my amazing food experience was at a restaurant called Tribes in the mall of the Emirates. This is an African-inspired restaurant with great atmosphere, superb service and insane food. I enjoyed the oxtail stew which came with extra broth. As I sat there chewing on the bones I was as happy as a pig in s... ! If you go to Dubai, don't miss this place!

Well my thumbs are sore and I'm getting burnt so I'll end things here. Hopefully I can post some pics at the end of this. Right now I'm going to go for a stroll around Palermo, Buenos Aires in the hope of finding some organic produce....

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

How to poach an egg and other egg-cellent ideas (yes, that just happened)

I know….it has been a long while since my last blog. To be completely honest, since uni finished for the year, I have had a massive case of the blahs which has seen me thinking a lot, but doing very little. Do you ever have periods like that? Anyway, I seem to be coming out the other side of it, especially with a 2 month South America trip on the horizon (i.e. this Thursday! Whoop whoop). So for my first post back, I thought I would try something practical and talk about the humble egg – nature’s multi-vitamin!

At least once a week I am asked a question regarding eggs, such as “how many eggs can I have?” or “won’t they increase my cholesterol and increase my chance of heart disease?”. To that I say “as many as you want as long as they are organic, free-range and pasture-raised” and “no and no”. While I could talk all day about cholesterol and why eggs are not a cause for concern, this information is not vital to your egg-poaching-ability. What I have recently realised is that many people do not know how to poach an egg, or at least without it turning into a big watery-eggy mess or sticking to the pan. This is nothing to be ashamed of - I know that I never used to poach eggs as the whole experience was just painful, so I tended to stick to the trusty omelette, boiled or scrambled eggs.

Firstly, why should you bother poaching an egg? Helpful dot point time:
  • Because they are delicious and less stick-to-panny than fried and scrambled eggs
  • Because they are just a little bit fancy – who needs to go to a café when you can whip up some poachies at home?
  • Because eggs are nutritional powerhouses! This really should be number one on the list, but unless you are a nutrition geek like me, you probably care more about taste than nutrition. That’s all good peeps! Seriously, eggs are nature’s multi-vitamin/superfood.  One egg yolk provides 13 essential nutrients! Wowsers! Let’s do a list within this list (getting tricky now, aren’t we?) of the amazing accomplishments of the humble egg:
  1. Rich source of protein – one egg contains around 7g of protein. These little babies can be an especially good source of protein for those of you who choose not to eat meat. Note – without the yolk, the protein in eggs is not as well absorbed. Eating just the egg white and tossing the yolk is, in my opinion, blasphemy (from a nutrition and a sustainability standpoint). Don’t do it!
  2. They are a fantastic source of vitamin B12 – just 2 a day would just about give you your recommended intake! B12 is essential for central nervous system health, DNA, bone cell activity and metabolism. Some symptoms of B12 deficiency include fatigue, nerve degeneration and constipation. Other great sources of B12 are animal foods including meat, fish and poultry, however if you from the vegetarian camp, eggs may be a great choice for you. Fun fact: vitamin B12 is easily destroyed by microwaving – just another reason to cook your food old-school.
  3. Folate – 2 eggs will give you one quarter of your recommended daily intake! Pair that with some leafy greens and mushrooms sautéed with coconut oil, shallots and Italian herbs (and some pate if you really want to up the ante) and you have got one delicious and nutritious meal! Folate is also used in new cell synthesis and is therefore especially important in the prevention of neural tube defects, so if you are preggers – definitely have at least 2 of these babies each day (much better than a dodgy synthetic supplement – tastier too!
  4. Pasture-raised egg yolks (not whites) are especially rich in fat soluble vitamins A, E, D and K. Vitamin A promotes vision, skin health, and reproduction and can act as an anti-oxidant. Vitamin D is a super-vitamin with more and more functions being realised each day, some of which include bone health, immune function and hormone function. Vitamin E chiefly functions as an anti-oxidant, and vitamin K plays a role in bone health and blood clotting.
  5. One of the best sources of choline. Haven’t heard of it? Choline is important for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, cell membranes, lipid (AKA fat) transport and can aid in detoxification. This is another one that is essential during pregnancy as it supports the structure and function of the brain and spinal cord during foetal development.
  6. Eggs are also rich in iodine (important for thyroid health and foetal development), selenium (an important anti-oxidant and thyroid-health nutrient), and omega 3 fatty acids (especially those that are pasture-raised – not the crappy supermarket kind…even if it does say organic or free-range. My favourites are “Egganic” and “Ox Hill”). 
So which nutrient is not found in eggs? Vitamin C! So again, pair your eggs with some dark leafy greens to get your dose of C, which will also help you to absorb the iron in the greens and the eggs. Isn’t it amazing what we can accomplish just by eating real, fresh food? Who would have thought! Ha!

Poached eggs and greens (and reds)

OK so here we are again at the end of a long rant and I still have not achieved what I set out to do. How do we get a perfectly poached egg? Well, firstly you need a few materials:
  • Eggs (duh) – poaching 2 at a time works best but I have done up to 4.
  • A saucepan with about 2-3 inches of boiling water
  • A splash or 2 of white vinegar
  • A slotted spoon and dinner spoon
And this is what you do:
  1. After your water has boiled (vinegar should be in there already – this stops the egg from sticking), turn the heat down to low
  2. When the water stops bubbling, take your dinner spoon and create a “whirlpool” with the water by stirring quickly but smoothly around the perimeter of the saucepan.
  3. When your whirlpool is to your liking, quickly crack your eggs into the centre (what is that called – the “eye”?? of the whirlpool? I completely just made that up but hopefully you get the gist). The purpose of the whirlpool is to force the white to stay compactly around the yolk in order to get that café-egg result.
  4. After around 3-5mins, take your slotted spoon and gently scoop out your egg/s. If the yolk is still too wobbly for your liking or if the white is still clear, gently place the egg/s back into the saucepan and cook a little while longer. If done to your liking, serve onto a plate and enjoy!
Some of my favourite things to enjoy with poached eggs include bacon (that’s a given), sautéed greens (as mentioned above), or served on top of some left-over marvellous mince. What about if you don’t like eggs? Well, I doubt you would have made it this far into the post!

Poached eggs, marvellous mince and home-made sauerkraut 
So hopefully I have:

a) convinced you that eggs will not kill you – in fact they may even help you to love longer (I have no scientific research on hand to back this up right now – but lack of evidence is not necessarily evidence against!)! At the very least it will at some serious nutrition (and flavour) into your diet

b) taught you how to poach an egg old-school (i.e. without those unnecessarily expensive plastic egg poaching thingies which are probably leaching toxins into your little morsels of goodness anyway)

c) allowed you to procrastinate from what other activity you were about to do.

Do you have any other egg-cellent (sorry) ideas? Do share!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

'Tis the season for fermenting

I love the spring time – it’s not too hot and winter is all but over. When it comes to health, spring is often a time when people embark on “detoxes”, which I think is just an easy, acceptable way of saying:


Yes…. “detoxing” is a somewhat easier way of putting it.

In essence, this “detoxing” biz is all about resetting your body, right? (In reality I know it all comes down to looking better ‘cause we are vain little suckers. Am I right or am I right? But just humour me this one time).

OK, so we want to look and feel our best so we “detox” our body of all the junk in order to reach optimal health and peak performance (and to have hot buns. Ha!). Well not only do we need to ensure that we get the ‘tox out of our system, but we need to, in a sense, “re-inoculate” our bodies with the good stuff. I’m talking bacteria baby! I mentioned in a previous post that maintaining good gut flora (AKA probiotics) is essential for optimal health and wellness. For the purpose of adhering to my strict blog word limit, I will point you in the direction of said post with a handy little hyperlink here. Ahh where would we be without the inter-webs?

So, probiotics – where do we get them? From a bouncy little blue pill asking you if you have had yours today? Well, yes you can get probiotics from supplements however as with everything else, it is always better to focus on food first! Now please don’t be turned off by the idea of “fermenting” foods. It’s totally natural and really good for you (and delicious once you wrap your head around it). Alrighty then, because I love lists and dot points, let’s start with some common probiotic-rich fermented foods that you can make at home:
  • Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
  • Kim-chi (spicy fermented veg)
  • Kombucha (fermented tea)
  • Kefir (fermented whole milk – kind of like a runny yoghurt drink)
  • Yoghurt (if I need to tell you what this is we have other problems)
Successful sauerkraut!

In terms of making these at home, they vary in difficulty. I have only made sauerkraut and kefir and the former took a little practice and attending an excellent workshop held by my friend Soulla. Seriously, if you live in Sydney and want to learn how to make your own fermented foods (or bone broth, or casseroles, or pate, or chocolate…..) and learn about nutrition at the same time, I strongly suggest you attend one of her workshops – totally invaluable and you get to taste-test too (and who doesn’t love a taste-tester?!).

The absolute easiest one to make is kefir, and now that the weather is warming up, it is the ideal time to make it as these little babies (the bacteria – don’t freak out!) need warmth in order to work their magic. I did make kefir once this winter, but it involved putting the jar of milk in front of a fan heater for a day. It worked, but really not ideal. On a hot day, you could leave your goods out on the bench for 12-24hrs and it would be done!

But how???

OK, to make kefir you will need:
  • 1 litre of whole, unprocessed milk (raw goat milk is legal in Australia, however the cow’s milk is not – make of that what you will)
  • 1 sachet of Nature’s Goodness Kefir Turkish Yoghurt Probiotic ($8.95 for 5 sachets – you do the math! Buy it here.
  • 1 mason jar (or vessel of your choosing)
  • Some muslin cloth/cheesecloth to cover the mouth of the jar
  • One rubber band

What you need to do:
  • Open sachet and pour contents into jar
  • Open milk and pour contents into jar
  • Stir
  • Cover jar with cloth and rubber band
  • Sit on bench for 12-24hrs in warm weather (longer in cold – unless you put it in front of a fan heater or next to your slow-cooker) . It will be ready when the top starts to get a little thicker and you may see a separation of liquids. It will not be as thick as yoghurt. When you taste it, it will be tart like good quality, natural yoghurt. The longer you leave it, the more tart it will become.
  • Remove cloth and close lid of jar. Store in fridge. This stuff will probably keep for around 2mths, maybe longer. Have around ¼ cup per day to get a good dose of probiotics. I like to mix it in with my brekkie, for which you can find the recipe here.
Kefir - note the separation - this was almost done!
Also note that you will not get this result from crappy processed milk!

I know some of you may be weirded out a little by now. I was at first too. I was all like “you want me to eat what now?” But I have come around and I am so glad I have! As a result, I have seen improvements in my digestion, mood and my skin! Hurrah! I have also had clients report back on benefits that they have seen since starting on the kefir (including weight loss to all of you “detoxers” out there).

So give it a try – just think of it as a yoghurt-drink! And it is SO much cheaper than probiotic supplements. For a good supplement, you are looking at around $80.00 (I like Bioceuticals or Metagenics if you really want to go that route), whereas home-made kefir costs around $15-20 to make 1L, and it is giving you so much more than just good bacteria (think calcium, good fats, potassium etc).

So tell me – is this something you might try? If not, why not? Have you tried it already?

P.S. Failed on word count – 941 (double my limit. Sorry)

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Bugs in Your Belly

This Saturday just passed I attended an extremely worthwhile workshop by Nourish Co on Mindful Marketing – basically marketing for health-related businesses, with a specific focus on using social media (e.g. blogs). I walked away from this course with a full brain – a little overwhelmed but also very inspired. Anyways, the reason I mention it here is one of Rebecca's tips was to limit blog posts to 450 words. Mine tend to be around the 1500 mark, and considering I have already used up around 100 words explaining my need to cull, you can see how much I suck at this! So beginning now, I will aim to keep my posts shorter and more regular….

This one starts here (above-mentioned words not counted)

“Acidophilus freaks me out!” 
(actual quote from my hilarious uni friend, Liv)

Did you know that there are 10 times more bacteria in your gut than there are cells in your ENTIRE body? Do you have any idea how huge a role these little babies play in your overall health, happiness and well-being (hint – REALLY huge role!!). While we may think we have control over them, in reality they have much more control over us, with the potential to make or break us depending on how kind we are to them (don’t think about this too hard or you may wig out a little). 

(Completely unrelated side note - this is what comes up when you put "wig out" into YouTube)

Apologies - I was struggling for picture/video ideas for this post. Hope it brightened your day! 

The alternative was an image of gut bacteria:
How incredibly BORING!!

More and more research is emerging in the field of gut microbiota (fancy scientific term for “bugs in your belly”) showing the vast roles they play in your health. Just last week I attended a fascinating webinar by the Nutrition Society of Australia on gut health, and I’d like to share some of the take-aways in easy to absorb bullet points:

  • Gut health is determined by the balance of bacteria located within (i.e. you want more of the good, like acidophilus, and less of the bad, such as E.Coli). Considering your gut is the largest endocrine (hormone-producing) organ of the body, you kind of want to get this balance right
  • Imbalances in gut bacteria have been linked to many conditions, ranging from digestive disorders such as Chrohn’s and coeliac disease, to mental and behavioural conditions such as ADHD, autism and depression, and metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes!
  • The bugs in your belly can determine how much nutrition you obtain from your food and can assist in the production of vitamins K, B12, folate and biotin, as well as bile acids which aid in fat digestion
  • There are hundreds and hundreds of different types of bacteria in our tummies. Most pro-biotic supplements represent just a few percent of our gut bacteria…perhaps increasing your pro-biotics from foods would be a wiser, more beneficial option?
  • Alcohol can cause bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine (out of bounds for the bugs – their hood is lower down in the large intestine), which can lead to a leaky gut whereby bacteria and other uninvited guests can get into our bloodstream and cause widespread damage in our body
  • Aspartame, often found in diet soft drinks, can modify populations of bacteria and can get converted to methanol and formaldehyde! Very bad. Very very bad! Avoid!
  • Stress can throw out the balance by increasing pathogenic (“bad”) bacteria and decreasing beneficial bacteria. More reason to take a chill pill!

I’ve done it (just)! There is so much more to say, but I'll leave you hanging a little. You're busting with anticipation already, aren't you? Next post we’ll look at how to nourish your gut flora with food….
(437 words, not including intro and extra tid bits I put in at the last minute)

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The most delicious vegetable on the planet?

I have a food obsession. It’s not chocolate (although I am partial to the odd square of dark goodness). It’s not lollies (haven’t had those bad boys in a long time). And it’s not ice-cream (rash-inducing and best avoided). It is….drumroll please….SWEET POTATO!!
It should come as no surprise to you, me being the nerd that I am, that my favourite food du jour is a vegetable, but before you scoff at me and roll your eyes in a “ that’s-so-typical-you’re-so-boring-can’t-you-ever-just indulge-in-something-naughty- like-the-rest-of-us” kind of way (don’t pretend you’re not doing it – I’ve seen it many times – believe it or not, eye rolling is quite obvious to the eye-rollee), hear me out. And to those of you who are in the “oh my god she’s eating carbs” camp….whatevs! No, just kidding – I will explain my rationale behind my carb-fest (if you could even call it that).

So what’s with the carbs?
Often a paleo/primal lifestyle conjures up images such as this:

….where “cavemen” dine on meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, making it an inherently low carb, high protein diet. However, our ancestors originated from a range of different geographical and cultural environments. For example, the Inuit (eskimos) survived on a high-fat diet of meat and blubber, the Maasai in Africa preferred milk, blood and meat, whereas the Kitavans of Papua New Guinea apparently dined predominantly on tubers (e.g. sweet potato), fruit, coconut and fish. What ALL of these cultures had in common though were the following:

  • They were free of many diseases we suffer from today (obesity, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions)
  • They ate FRESH food or they fermented fresh food which improved in nutritional value over time. Believe it or not they didn’t have  Twinkies back then
  • The food they ate was of HIGH QUALITY – no chemicals, no added hormones, no factory farming

What should we take from this little reflection on the past? Aside from the fact that quality is of utmost importance when it comes to food, we should recognise that THERE IS NO ONE SIZE FITS ALL DIET! We are all different and so have different needs, and these needs may also change throughout your life. What works for you now may not work for you in 10 or even 5 years time. If you want optimal health, you need to learn to listen to your body – if something isn’t working for you, then change it!

So why the paleo diet?
Well, I like the way Chris Kresser puts it – the paleo diet should be viewed as more of a “paleo template” – a starting point to build upon. When you start with the basics of meat, non-starchy veg, a little fruit, eggs and some good sources of fat you are essentially starting with a clean slate – resetting your body or, if you would like a more PR-ish term, you could possibly call it a “detox” by eliminating potentially toxic foods such as grains, legumes and dairy, which some people may tolerate however you won’t know if you do or don’t until you remove them from your diet for a period of time (30days at least). 

Umm – you haven’t addressed this whole “carbs” thing yet…..
Queen of waffling I am! Apologies! So when it comes to starchy vegies, the paleo community are somewhat divided – some say avoid them – sugar is sugar is sugar, while others say they may play a beneficial role in the diet. Lately, I have found the latter to be true for me. 
Previously I have not avoided starchy vegies, but I have simply consumed them as a post-workout snack. Why? Because exercise increases your muscles sensitivity to insulin and also allows non-insulin mediated glucose transport (i.e. when glucose doesn’t require insulin to get into the muscle cells to be stored as glycogen).  However, recently there has been talk of perhaps increasing the overall amount of carbohydrate in the diet by way of starchy vegies (as opposed to things like bread and pasta which are relatively devoid of nutrients and can cause digestive problems) with meals. 

But why???
Well, the reason why we do not need to consume copious amounts of carbs in the diet is because the body can actually make it’s own glucose from amino acids (proteins) by way of gluconeogenesis. Ergo we could survive on a diet of fat and protein. However, this process requires the production of the hormone cortisol, which is our stress hormone. Now this is all good and well if you keep your stress levels in check in other aspects of your life, but if, like me, you are a bit of a stress-head with already raised cortisol levels, you may want to avoid increasing them further. Why? Well for one, if you are over-producing your stress hormones, there is a chance you are doing so at the expense of your sex hormones(read - low sex drive and impaired reproductive function) – a process termed “the pregnenalone steal”(more on this another time). A little starchness here and there could potentially help provide a small amount of glucose, thereby minimising gluconeogenesis and cortisol increases. 

So, being the little experimenter I am, I thought I would give this a shot. I started including some form of starch (mainly at lunch and dinner) to see what would happen. What happened???? Drumroll please (loving the drums today)…….nothing drastic, although I do find my energy levels have improved slightly, along with slightly better digestion and my co-experimenter (Az) reports improved mood. On the flip side, no negative effects have been noted by either subject. 
Now please note that our experiment of n=2 (that means 2 people participated) proves sweet F.A. 

How do you know if you should start including some starchy veg in your diet? Try it and see! Take them out for a while (around 30 days), see how you feel then re-introduce them and again, note how you feel. If you feel better with them, then there’s your answer!

However (a lot of caveats with this one!) I probably would recommend keeping starchy veg to a minimum if you have any issues with blood sugar regulation. How to know? If any of the following apply to you, maybe take them out for a while:

  • You are starving less than 4-5hrs after a meal
  • When you get to this starving state you:

- Are irritable and angry ("Hangry")
- Are tired and can’t concentrate
- Are dizzy/light-headed/shaky
- Feel like you could chew someone’s arm off

If these do not apply to you, then might I suggest trying the humble, yet insanely delicious, sweet potato with some of your meals. 

Back to the sweet potato goodness

This amazing morsel of goodness doesn’t just provide carbs in a tasty package, the sweet potato is also high in fibre (equivalent to that in a serving of oats – take THAT Uncle Toby’s!), which we all seem to be soooo obsessed with. This little baby is also a rich source of beta-carotene which can be converted to vitamin A in the body (although animal sources of this invaluable nutrient are superior), which is essential for reproduction, vision and immune function.  It’s also going to give you a hit of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron and vitamin E. Woo hoo!

OK, so how to cook it? Here are 3 stupidly simple and delicious ways to eat the sweet potato:
1. Baked in coconut oil
The best kind for this kind of cooking is the purple skinned, white flesh variety which literally tastes like a dessert. Heat the oven to 120 degrees celcius and melt about 1tbspn of coconut oil in a baking dish. Wash the sweet potato and cut it into rounds, then coat it in the melted coconut oil in the pan, sprinkle with salt and bake for around 30-40mins turning once until soft and gooey in the middle. 

2. Sweet potato mash
Sooo much better than your average white potato mash. I like the orange flesh variety for this style of cooking. Peel, chop, steam and mash with any combination of coconut oil, butter, coconut milk and salt. 

3. Sweet potato soldiers
One of my uni friends actually suggested this one. Cut the sweet potato up like chips – bake or fry them in some coconut oil and a little salt. Once cooked, use them in place of bread as soldiers to dip into soft boiled eggs. Yumm! Or I guess you could just eat them as chips. The world is your oyster!

So what are you waiting for? Go and experiment with the delicious and nutritious sweet potato! If you have any other suggestions of how to eat the sweet potato, please throw them my way! Or if you would like some more sweet potato porn, check out "Sweet Potato Power" by Ashley Tudor

Monday, 13 August 2012

Is exercise making you fat and sick?

Hey friends! You probably guessed that uni has resumed given my utter neglect for this blog. Apologies!! I will endeavour to get a couple out over the next few weeks. But in the meantime, my fantastic other half has once again come through with the goods for you. Woo hoo! Nothing like a good guest post to mix things up a little. 

Note: images, videos, emphasis and (probably useless) comments in purple added by Kate! 

OK so you’ve been eating well, training hard and yet you’re just not losing any weight. In fact that layer of belly fat seems to be getting bigger! What’s worse is you can’t shake this!

In desperation you decide to up the training…

Sound familiar?

As hot as this chick is, this is NOT the right attitude to have with training! She's a model people! That bar probably doesn't even have any weight on it! (Image courtesy of Jan Hutnan who keeps tagging me in photos such as this on FB. Thanks??? Jan). 

The "Calories In vs Calories" Out Fallacy
Many of our training beliefs have been built around this concept of calories in vs calories out i.e. "If I eat a chocolate that is 200 calories I need to do X amount of time on the rower, bike etc to burn it off". Unfortunately the numbers just aren’t that clean and can be heavily influenced my many biological and environmental factors, such as:

Gut flora health
Genetic tolerance 
Foods' individual influence on endocrine (hormone) system
Sleep quality and quantity of the individual
How balanced your endocrine system is
How much environmental toxins you’ve been exposed to
How much fat you’re currently carrying

All of these factors (and probably more) have a significant influence over how your body will deal with that 200 calories you just ate. 

Why Do We Exercise?
Well, if we’re not worried about how many calories we’re burning per session, what are we trying to do with exercise? Easy:

Feel, Look and Perform Better

As you know the benefits of exercise are many:

Increase immune system function
Maintain body composition
Slow aging process
Stress management
Decrease risk of diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis
Decrease risk of depression and anxiety
Increase feel good hormone serotonin
Slow aging process down in the brain (i.e. dementia)

As fantastic as this magic bullet is we need to remember just because some is good doesn’t mean more is necessarily better.

The reality is that at the end of every workout, you’re in worse shape than when you started. (Oh great!) But with adequate rest, hydration and of course fresh, whole foods your body will adapt to cope with these specific stresses which you place on it.

Back To The Belly Fat
The body is such a fantastically put together machine. If you’re aware and prepared to listen and look it will give you clues on how it is feeling, functioning and how efficiently it is performing.
It’s a very common pattern to see someone with a very lean upper and lower body but with a soft midsection.

This soft midsection is often an indicator that there is too much cortisol in the blood. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Again - some is good and in fact vital for survival, but too much can affect where you store your fat. A rise in cortisol can be driven by many factors.

Food intolerances
Environmental toxins
Sleep quality and quantity
Excessive training
Emotional stress
Being chased by a lion

Today we’re going to consider how we can manipulate our exercise routine to minimise the stress on the system when needed, which will in turn accelerate your results.

Great! Less work for better results. Sounds good to me!

“But I Use Exercise To Control My Stress”
I agree exercise can be one of the best tools you can have for dealing with this modern world and all the stress it throws at you from all angles. The key is realising that if some is good, more is not always better. 

At the end of the day training is just another stress on your system. The key to getting the most out of your training is to understand where you are on the stress continuum. What days do you turn up the heat? What days to you chill out?

How hard should I train today?
A big step towards optimising your training and health is to perform a quick daily assessment.
Ask yourself these quick questions to get a better understanding of where you are on the stress continuum:

How did I sleep? How long for and how was the quality?
When did I last train? (e.g. if you trained this morning, you probably don't need to train again this afternoon - get outside and enjoy life!)
How is my motivation to train today?
How are my energy levels?
When did I last eat? (this is very individual - some people train better in a fasted state, others need a little somethin' somethin' in their belly...yes, I meant to write it twice)
What sort of day/week have I got ahead?
Am I feeling tight or injured at the moment? (pushing through injury will quite literally floor you! I'm working through this at the moment....although I have managed to get off the floor)

This is by no means a complete list and please feel free to add specific questions that are relevant to your lifestyle. Give yourself a score out of 10 (clearly there are not 10 questions - it's more of an overall rating). If you get a 9 or 10/10 then you’re good to go. Game on…it’s hammer time.....

(Surely you saw that one coming!!)

If you’re only a 5/10 then you do your planned session but reduce the volume (i.e. less sets and/or less reps).

If your score comes out at a 2/10 then maybe it’s time for a rest day or a light walk outside to help your body regenerate, then you can hit it hard again when your energy levels come up.

Callaghan, You’re Getting Soft In Your Old Age! (clearly referring to A.Callaghan, not K.Callaghan)
So this all sounds good in theory but isn’t just another example of taking the soft option.
A great example of what can be achieved when these concepts are utilised is to take a look at the athletes competing in the Olympics. Many of these athletes have worked for four years+ to arrive at the Olympics in peak physical condition. This is achieved by constantly listening to their body, tweaking the volume and intensity, and maintaining the belief that each part of the puzzle is taking them a step closer to their goal or dream.

Enjoy the Journey
The advantage an athlete has is that they have a very defined goal and time line i.e. compete at the Olympics 2012. We need to remember that for peak performance and optimal health one workout has very little impact. But consistent positive habits over a period of time have the potential to create massive change on how you look, feel and perform now and over the last 30-40 years of your life. If in doubt you’re better to under-train and then come back another day to take on the battle.

Every session doesn’t have to be a fight to the death.

There is nothing tougher than watching someone work incredibly hard and not get the results they deserve. The truth of the matter is your training should be as individualised as your eating.
The idea behind this article was to give you a deeper understanding of the positive and negative effects exercise can have on your body and how you can tweak your program to get maximum results.No need to worry about how many calories you’re burning but instead be aware of where you are on the stress continuum.

The next instalment will be on how to train to spike your anabolic hormones and slow the aging process.  

Aaron Callaghan
Director, Primal Fitness

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Recipe for a perfect Sunday lunch

  • ·         A small handful of friends (and a gorgeous puppy for good measure)
  • ·         Some good quality red wine (and a couple of cheeky glasses of Bolly)
  • ·         Delicious whole food cooked to perfection

Combine all ingredients together around a dining table and enjoy!

This was our day yesterday. It was perfection in every way, shape and form – the company, the food and the wine.  And the best part? It was all “primal”. That’s right! No grains, legumes or sugar (bar the Bolly)! Rach and Robbo, the hosts with the most set to task early in the week to create a menu that was both delicious and nutritious (and suitable for us special snowflakes) and the result was above and beyond our expectations!

So what did we have?

  • Platters of prosciutto and smoked salmon

  • Slow-cooked lamb shoulder, along with the juices (I may post the recipe for this one if I can coax it out of Robbo)
  • Sweet potato puree
  • Roasted carrots, parsnips and eschallots
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Fresh peas with fetta and mint
  • Cabbage slaw with olive oil and parmesan

  • Grain-free, sugar-free cherry tart

Now Robbo is quite the cook. This lunch was fancy-pants gourmet. And seriously – all “primal”-friendly!

Robbo carving up his delicious "experimental" Cherry tart in my dream kitchen

Close-up of said Cherry Tart
OK, so the purpose of this post was not to gloat about how fabulous my Sunday was. The purpose was to show you that eating paleo or primal does not have to equal lack of flavour or pizazz (haven’t used that word in a while!). In fact, when you take out the flours, the sugars and all of the other processed junk, you are able to really experience all the flavours that the food has to offer. You see, flour is simply a dodgy filler with no nutritional value (quite the opposite – it has anti-nutrient properties….dodgy!) – take it out of baked goods and you are left with something more nutritious and more dense (i.e. richer in flavour).

What about for gravy? Use arrowroot powder to thicken or none at all. We simply drizzled some juices over the meat. Alternatively you could serve the juices as a consommé beforehand – it tastes fantastic and is incredibly nutritious, containing minerals, collagen and glycosaminoglycans (great for joint health) that have seeped out of the bones during the cooking process (an acidic medium, such as wine or vinegar, helps to draw the minerals out of bones when slow-cooking).

And sugar? Well the sugar that we add to foods is there to “enhance” flavours, but in reality, what it is doing is dulling our taste-buds to the point where we will need more and more over time to continue to enjoy the foods. Take sugar out of your diet for 30 days and I can guarantee your sense of taste will increase, enabling you to appreciate a greater spectrum of flavours and textures.

Despite the deliciousness (that’s actually a word! Microsoft didn’t try to correct me!), the best part for me was the joy that Robbo got out of taking on the “primal challenge” and creating something new and different that turned out to be a huge success with all attendees, even 13 year old Darcy, who is apparently quite the food critic!

Now, it's no secret that I don’t like the word “diet”. To me, it suggests deprivation. Using symbols:

Diet = Deprivation ≠ Long-term success/happiness

Unfortunately, my future job title is going to contain this very word. And I don’t really want to be known as a “deprivationist” (dietitian/nutritionist). Healthy eating should be something that can be maintained and enjoyed for all people throughout their entire life. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing clients’ body composition change after adopting the paleo/primal lifestyle, but nothing pleases me more than being able to add to, rather than take away, elements of people’s life and then hear these types of statements:

“It’s actually quite easy!”

“I am loving the food!”

“… and I don’t even feel hungry!”

"Are you sure it's OK for me? It tastes SO good!"

To me, THAT is success!

And finally what I would like you to take out of this post is to RELAX! Take time to enjoy the company of good friends over a long lunch and maybe a couple of glasses of good quality wine. All too often we are so busy with being busy that we forget to live. So this weekend (or sometime in the near future), stop being so busy, get a group of friends together and ENJOY LIFE!! Just like Tommy:

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Paleo-ish No-bake Mixed Berry "Cheese"cake

Just the other night I discovered that my husband’s favourite dessert is (or was) cheesecake! It has only taken me 6 years to discover this (bad wife, I know)! The finding came about after he was speaking with a client who was expressing her difficulty in following the “paleo” diet. He decided to ask her what the worst thing she has recently eaten was. The answer? Cheesecake!! 

So naturally, there was only one thing for me to do…..make a paleo-style cheesecake that was in line with our nutritional philosophy (free of grains, dairy and processed junk; made with whole foods and a touch of love) and at the same time incredibly delicious. After searching, tweaking and creating I can happily say I created a dessert that ticked all the boxes. This little baby was approved not only by my husband (who was not too happy about having to share it), but also my fellow personal trainers and all of our clients that we trained the following morning at Primal Fitness! Not only that, but it was up against some pretty tough competition as Lachy, our Primal Fitness Masterchef, had also whipped up an insanely delicious pecan pie (also Primal-approved). Yes, it was (and has been for the past few weeks) a Primal Fitness bake-off. 

Another layer of challenge was added on with the 3rd member of the bake-off team, Tracey-Anne, following a FODMAPs diet at the moment to help with some digestive issues she has experienced throughout her life. If you currently suffer from digestive problems (i.e. irritable bowel syndrome), and a general paleo-ish diet hasn’t helped, perhaps FODMAPs would be worth a shot!

Anywho – this whole FODMAPs business limited what could be added to the baked goods. 
While not 100% FODMAPs, the cheesecake is mostly there and could be tweaked to get it over the line if necessary. 

I also decided to make quite an occasion of it and made my husband’s favourite dinner – Slow Cooked Beef Ribs (amazing recipe from Civilised Caveman), serving the broth as an entrée (kind of like a consommé – fancy, right?) and dishing up some mashed sweet potato and roasted cauliflower to accompany the main. Yes, I was definitely in the good-books that night!

OK, enough blabbering on. Here it is:

Paleo-ish No-bake Mixed Berry “Cheese”cake

Grain-free crust:

  • 1 ½ cups raw macadamias
  • ½ cup medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup shredded dried coconut

Dairy-free filling:

  • 3 cups cashews, soaked for 1-2hrs
  • ¾ cup fresh lemon juice (around 3 juicy lemons – buy extra just in case)
  • ¾ cup organic maple syrup (the real stuff, not the imitation kind – yes, the real stuff is expensive)
  • ¾ cup extra virgin coconut oil, melted
  • ½ - 1tsp vanilla bean powder (add a small amount and taste test before adding more; can use 1tbp pure vanilla extract instead if desired)

Fruit topping:

  • 1 cup each frozen blueberries and raspberries, allow to thaw slightly
  • ½ cup medjool dates, pitted and chopped roughly


  • Blend nuts and dates in a food processor until well-processed. 
  • Sprinkle coconut on base of cheesecake pan (or whatever you are going to “cook” it in) – this will prevent the mix from sticking to the base and will also add texture and flavour
  • Press the nut/date mixture down into the pan to form a crust


  • Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Spoon mixture evenly over the crust. Place in freezer for around 1hr


  • Blend all ingredients in food processor until smooth. Take cake out of freezer and spoon berry mixture evenly over the top. Return to freezer.
  • This can be kept in the freezer until around an hour before you would like to eat it. It’s also nice frozen – whatever floats your boat! 

Now remember, while this is a much healthier version of a traditional cheesecake, and also a great option for us special snowflakes who can’t handle (or just choose to avoid) dairy and/or gluten, it is still a dessert and should be treated as such, enjoyed on special occasions only. It is not a breakfast alternative, although to be completely honest it is probably more nutritious than 99% of the breakfast cereals available, so if you are currently eating some form of packaged, sugar-coated cardboard for breakfast and want to improve your diet, then sure – go ahead and have this cheesecake for brekkie! But for all of you who have your diet pretty dialled in, here are just a few reasons to keep this as a special treat:

  • It is jam-packed full of nuts which, while nutritious in small doses, in large quantities they can cause problems with digestion due to a high amount of phytic acid/phytates. For more on nuts and phytates, check out my post here
  • Maple syrup, while also beneficial in small doses (only if it is the real deal), is still essentially glucose, which causes spikes in insulin (though not as much as sugar, agave or high-fructose corn syrup) and can disturb overall health and wellness.
  • It jam-packed full of nuts and organic maple syrup… it is one VERY expensive (yet insanely delicious) cheesecake!!

Why have I called it “paleo-ish” and not simply “paleo”?? Well the paleo lifestyle is based on how our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived and ate and I just haven’t come across any evidence that shows paleo-man whipping up a storm in his high speed food processor. Go figure! I’m also pretty sure that they would never have bothered to shell 1.5 cups of macadamias just to blend them up, given that they come like this in nature and would be hard as hell to crack open:

But, here we are in the modern world, with pre-shelled nuts and very handy kitchen tools, so let’s just enjoy the goods in moderation….and preferably in good company!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Growing Healthy Babies....Naturally pt.2

OK, so part 2 of the “Growing Healthy Babies” workshop with Soulla was extremely eye-opening for me. While part 1 was reinforcing a lot of the information I already know, this session sufficiently filled my brain with new concepts. It was also a longer session, so there is no way I will be able to fill you in on everything, but I will give you a little food for thought and some places to look for further info.

I also want to say right off the bat that some of you may not agree with the concepts discussed. That is fine – everyone is entitled to their own views and opinions. The important thing, I believe, is in understanding why you feel a certain way. If it is simply because the alternative “just isn’t normal”, then perhaps you might consider opening up to new ideas and possibilities….just sayin’.

First off, something non-controversial (hopefully)…..BREASTFEEDING!!

Image source:
That’s right – if you breastfeed, you too can look as hot as Miranda! 

Not sold? Fine. Let’s go through some other reasons why breastfeeding is the bees’ knees.
Soulla describes breast milk as “nature’s perfect food”, and I couldn’t agree more. What’s in it that makes it so special (1)? This calls for a list:
  • Protein to provide essential amino acids for growth, protective factors (immune health), vitamin carriers (folate, vit.D, vit.B12), hormones (thyroid and stress hormones), enzymes such as amylase and lipase (to break down carbohydrates and fats also found in the milk).
  • NOTE: maternal nutrition affects the protein composition of breast milk. Read: what you eat is what your baby eats – get it right! If you are vegan/vegetarian, chances are you are not getting adequate protein in your diet. I know what you’re thinking “that’s why I have soy!”. To that I say, for the love of God, please put the tofu down!! While it may provide protein, it has other components which can disrupt the hormonal balance of both mum and bub. Please don’t.
  • Fat! Majority of breast milk is fat (around 50%), mostly triglycerides (holy moly my baby is going to get heart disease!!). This is a perfect example of how important fat is. Fat is essential for growth and energy, but most importantly for retinal (eye) and neuronal (brain) development.
  • Carbohydrates, mostly lactose, but also oligosaccharides and bifidus factors which help to build the good bacteria in baby’s gut.
  • Vitamins and minerals. Again “when maternal vitamin status is low, human-milk contents are correspondingly low”. I’m not going to go over which vitamins and minerals, because they are all in there….all of them, but only if mum is getting adequate nutrition (which should look like this).
  • Natural anti-biotic – apparently breast milk is good for ‘sticky eye’! Who knew?
A baby is born with a completely sterile gut. This highlights the importance of probiotics, which are obtained through breast milk, but also via passage through the vaginal canal. These two factors are so important for life-long immunity and gut health. Studies have shown that babies born via caesarean or who are not breastfed are more susceptible to allergies, asthma and other gut-related conditions (i.e. EVERYTHING!). If you cannot do either of these things, I suggest looking into a good baby probiotic supplement.

So what about formula?

Unfortunately all of the formulas available are pretty dodgy and don’t even come close to the real deal. In fact, they can potentially be quite damaging to the digestive system and can wreak havoc on the hormones. If you can’t breast feed, buy Chris Kresser’s Healthy Baby Code (also see banner at side of page) or Sally Fallon’s “NourishingTraditions”, both of which provide nutrient-dense home-made formulas without the added nasties you would get from a store-bought formula.

Interesting fact:  “It is estimated that an infant exclusively fed soy formula receives the estrogenic equivalent of at least five birth control pills per day” (

Now that’s just wrong! If you must buy formula from the store, please check the labels and avoid soy at all costs!

There are also benefits of breastfeeding to the mum, including bonding, losing baby weight faster, hormonal activity and also protection from osteoporosis and cancer!

Milk production works in a “supply and demand” fashion. Frequent feeding will ensure milk supply is adequate. Also note that it may be quite uncomfortable at first, but try to stick with it – it’s worth it!

How long? 6mths exclusive (i.e. nothing else to supplement) and continue to 2+ years. The world average for breast feeding is 4.7yrs!! I know many of you are turning your noses up in disgust now, but why? Is it due to our perception of what is “normal”? As Soulla points out, this doesn’t mean you are going to pop the boob out for your child to have a drink in the middle of a restaurant. At a later age, feeding may be as infrequent as 1-2 times per day, and this can be done in the privacy and comfort of your own home – no-one needs to know!

Next up – introduction of solids

Again, I cannot recommend highly enough Chris Kresser’s Healthy Baby Code – it covers EVERYTHING you need to know, pre  and post birth and is not just nutrition, providing a very holistic approach to baby-making. It’s a little exxie, but then again if it helps, it’s worth it, right?

Cue cute baby shot:

Yes, she is chewing on a T-bone and no, this photo was not set up! This is Chloe, the gorgeous and robust daughter of Billy and Paula of Plus Fitness in Thornleigh. Chloe is a "primal baby" and is absolutely thriving - living breathing proof that this stuff matters!

Contrary to popular belief, rice cereal is NOT a good first food: 1)it is nutrient poor and 2)it may contain “anti-nutrients” which affect the baby’s nutritional status. Same goes for other grains, especially wheat, which are hard to digest and lacking in nutrients.  Also avoid fruit juices and dried fruits, which are high in sugar and many have preservatives and/or damaging vegetable oils (I’m looking at you Sunbeam Sultanas!).

First foods should be nutrient-dense, yet easy for the baby to digest due to having an immature digestive system. Great foods to start off on at 6mths are egg yolks (cooked, but still soft; NOT egg whites), liver, and cod liver oil (Green Pastures), and banana (if you really want to do the whole mashed fruit thing). Later on, when you start to add vegies, make sure you add some coconut oil or butter to provide some fat, which is needed to absorb all of the vitamins. If you want a full solids schedule, I suggest you get Chris's Baby Code, or pop me an email.

Remember that it can take up to 15 tries to get your child to like a certain food. If he or she doesn’t like carrot this week, it doesn’t mean they never will. Leave it and come back to it next week. Be persistent! 

What about later on? I can’t deprive them of cake and chocolate and [insert other crap here]….

I’m sorry, but this gives me the shits. I know, I’m not a mother so I don’t know what it is like, but as I mentioned before, Soulla is a mother and holds the same views. Think of it this way, while you may be depriving them of cakes, sweets and lollies and all that "fun stuff", you are also “depriving” them of long term health and behavioural complications, such as diabetes, ADHD, obesity, auto-immune conditions. The eating habits you instil in them at a young age are carried through with them for the rest of their lives. So again – get it right. And remember, you are their parent first, not their friend. 

Easier said than done? Yes, there will be times when your kids go to parties or play dates and they are exposed to less-than-optimal foods and beverages. So what do you do? Well you could go with them, be a helicopter parent and smack the fairy bread out of their hands as soon as they touch it and scream “POISON”, then hose them down, bundle them up and take them home right away yelling “WITCH” at the host as you pass her.

OR… could make healthy alternatives (yes, these can still be tasty – go to or for ideas) and present them as a gift to the host. When Soulla first mentioned this to me a while back, I asked her if the parents hosting the party/play date were offended. On the contrary, she said most were very grateful and she is constantly asked for recipes by other mums! Give it a try! If you feel like you are being judged, just tell other mums that your kids have allergies – can’t argue with that!

In terms of what they eat at other times – that is entirely on you, the parent. Especially when they are young – it’s not like they are going to go down to the shops and buy themselves a pack of Allen’s lollies. If you don’t have it in the house, if you don’t give it to them, they won’t eat it. Soulla also recommends explaining to your kids why they should and should not eat certain foods – have a conversation with them, rather than just telling them they can’t have something.

Some great blogs to check out for tips and recipes on raising healthy kids are:
Other excellent resources for topics we have covered today:
OK, I think I am going to have to make this a 3-part series. I feel that this is enough info this week (and my hands are too cold to type any more!). As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and questions!