Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Support vs. Sabotage - Who's got your back?

Are there people in your life who you need to justify your healthy eating habits to? When you go to the bathroom, do they lay a cookie on your desk and say “C’mon – live a little!!”? When you say you have quit sugar, do they say “You’re no fun anymore!”? Or do they just downright crack it when you say you are giving up bread?

                                                              Image source:

What I have learnt over the years is that people are very defensive when it comes to food. They don’t like to change and they don’t like those around them to change either. I know this because I used to be one of these people.

It may be hard to believe, but my husband is just as much of a nutrition nerd, if not more so, than me. While I have always been interested in healthy living, he deserves the credit for opening my mind to life without bread and pasta and instead focussing on more nutrient dense foods. He therefore also deserves the credit for making me a happier, more energetic, and generally more pleasant person. However I didn’t take too nicely to his suggestions at first. You see, this is what my daily menu used to look like:

  • Breakfast: All Bran with banana, nuts, seeds and honey with rice milk OR porridge 
  • Lunch: Salad with some sort of protein OR a wrap/sandwich
  • Dinner: Some sort of meat and vegies OR risotto OR pasta

Now, let it be known, he didn’t actually tell me that I should be eating differently. He was just gradually transitioning to a paleo-style diet himself, and I didn’t like it. Why, I don’t know. But I got angry…all the time….until he got angry back. That I was abusing him for trying to obtain optimal health pissed him off. And rightly so. Who was I to stop him from being healthy? How presumptuous of me to think that my way was the right way. So did I change my diet straight away? No, no I didn’t. I’m a little stubborn in that I need to find things out for myself. So that’s what I did – I started reading information on nutrition other than the mainstream regurgitation I was being fed at uni. And what I found was some solid scientific evidence to back up his nutritional decisions. I had to admit he was right all along (I still haven’t done that. I told you – stubborn!). 

The real power was not in knowing this information, but what I did with it – I started to make changes to my diet. Just small changes at first – it probably took me around a year to completely take grains out of my diet, but I have never looked back since. Friends ask me if I miss bread and pasta – I miss them like I miss the constant itching from my chronic eczema. I miss them like I miss the extreme mood and energy swings I would experience throughout the day. I miss them like I miss the daily diarrhoea. So no….I don’t miss bread and pasta.

But I diverge – this was a post about support!!! My point was change is hard at the best of times. We are creatures of habit and routine. In order to make change we first need to have a really good reason to do so (e.g. to have more energy, to be a good role model for your kids, to not die from a heart attack before the age of 50). I could waffle on all day about what to eat for optimal health, but unless you embrace the concepts yourself and also understand why you are changing, you are setting yourself up for failure. Finally, and most importantly, we need support. We need it from everyone around us – friends, colleagues, partners, family.

To start with, you may find yourself defending your eating habits. The best advice I can offer to tackle this resistance is to calmly explain why you are making the choices you are making. Someone who has your best interests at heart will be happy for you and offer their support. The next step is to pass on your knowledge – get them onto the books, articles, blogs and websites that helped you make changes. And finally….cook for them! Show them that healthy, nutrient-dense meals can be just as tasty as any other meal!

Hopefully, one by one, we can spread the knowledge, grow the support network and be on our way to healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Who's got your back?

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Losing toxins, gaining health

The key factors that contribute to health problems and weight gain are :

  • Stress/lack of sleep
  • Malnutrition (poor diet and/or gut dysfunction)
  • Toxin overload

Early this week there was an article mentioned in the news which estimates around 5000 cancers per year are caused by carcinogens in the workplace. So I decided to track down said article and see what all the hoo-ha was about. It turns out Lin Fritschi and friends discovered that indeed people are being exposed to “chemical, physical and microbiological agents” at work which could be causing cancer, with the key culprits including silica, asbestos, solar radiation, diesel exhaust and tobacco. Which means in order to protect ourselves we need to stay indoors, away from cars, construction sites and smokers; and then we need to not use our computers or mobile phones to avoid radiation exposure which will also give us cancer. And god forbid we drink a little alcohol on the weekends! Perhaps we should just do as Pauly Shore did and live in a Biodome:

Wow, what a bad movie that was. The reality is that unless you live in a bubble, you will be exposed to some form of toxin each and every day, if not multiple times per day, just by going about your daily activities. So unless you can afford to go and live in the wilderness with the lemurs in Madagascar (see image below) my suggestion would be to try and minimise your overall exposure as much as possible. 

Get to the point, you say? OK – I’m talking about the easiest way to reduce your toxin load:

Control what you put in your mouth! It is the one thing that YOU are in control of – not your employer, not the government, not me – YOU need to take responsibility for your own health.

Here are some fun facts on some pesticides with fancy names that you may be chomping on with your fruit and veg:

  • Chlorothalonil – long term exposure has been shown to cause kidney damage and tumours; listed as a “probable human carcinogen” (probable??? How is that OK??); highly toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates (great, so if it doesn’t kill us, we’ll just be left with no marine life. Awesome)
  • Buprofezin – listed as a “possible human carcinogen”; not known as to whether or not it is a developmental or reproductive toxin, or endocrine (hormone) disruptor. (Pretty sure we should have a definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’ before spraying these babies willy-nilly).

But fruit and vegetable are healthy, right? Yes, yes they are. When grown properly and not lathered with pesticides and fungicides, they should contribute a large proportion of your diet. Just think – do you really want to eat something that not even rats and bugs will eat??

Now, while I would love to tell you to eat all organic food, this is just not realistic. First of all, it is expensive (although the money you spend now might save you in healthcare costs later in life), and if you live in a rural or remote area and do not grow your own, it may be difficult to access. I know the organic section at Coles and Woolies tends to be very limited. Therefore, I give you……..


Fruit and especially vegetables are extremely important to a healthy diet, providing (among other things) an abundance of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and fibre. Staple this to your head when you go to the supermarket to substantially lower your pesticide intake by avoiding the most contaminated produce:

Dirty Dozen (Buy these organic, if you can)
  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines
  7. Grapes
  8. Capsicum
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale/Collard Greens

Clean Fifteen (Lowest in pesticide – not as essential to choose organic)
  1. Onions
  2. Sweet Corn (although this is often genetically modified)
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Asparagus
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Mangoes
  8. Eggplant
  9. Rockmelon
  10. Kiwi fruit
  11. Cabbage
  12. Watermelon
  13. Sweet Potatoes
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms

You can find a more extensive list here.

Note: apparently the residue testing was carried out on these foods after they were washed with high-power water systems, so don’t be fooled into thinking that washing them makes them safe. Also remember that “natural” is not the same as “organic”. When buying organic produce, always look for these symbols:

Do you have any suggestions on minimising your toxin exposure? Are you concerned at all about toxins? Will you use this list?


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Meat vs. Meat: What to choose and why. Plus a recipe.

All types of meat have their health benefits and should find their way into our diets on a regular basis (except for the soysage. Step away from the soysage!). But did you know that the health benefits of meat are extremely dependent on the environment the animal was raised in and also what is was fed? When I ask people if they are eating grass-fed or grain-fed meat, they look at me like I have two heads. And I don’t blame them. About a year ago, I would have done the same thing! So what’s the difference and which is better? Let’s compare two scenarios via some well-sourced images from Google:
The left image is a typical feedlot where the animals are fed grain, otherwise referred to as a CAFO (Confinement Animal Feeding Operation – sounds fun, right?), while the cows on the right are free to roam the pastures and graze on grass all day long, as cows are supposed to do. While this pictorial comparison is probably enough to sway some people, it doesn’t tell the whole story. I apologise, this is quite a long post – feel free to skip to the recipe at the bottom!

Omega 3:6 ratio

Omega 3 and 6 are known as essential fatty acids. They are essential as our bodies cannot manufacture them therefore we need to obtain them from our diet. Both are important for normal growth and development, brain function, skin and eye health, and even mood! Fun fact - word on the street is that baby brain is due to a lack of DHA (from omega 3) in the diet! Both are also involved in the immune response, however omega 6 tend to be pro-inflammatory while omega 3 are anti-inflammatory. So herein lays the necessity to get the ratio right. Ideally, there should be a balance between the two, or slightly more omega 6 than omega 3.

So what’s this got to do with meat? Aren’t these essential fatty acids found in fish oil? Yes indeedy, but they are also found in meat, among many other foods. The difference between grass-fed and grain-fed meat is in the ratio of these fatty acids. The ratio in grass fed meat is around 3:1 omega 6 to omega 3, whereas in grain fed this goes up to around 24:1, producing a highly inflammatory food product. Why should you care about inflammation? Because it is linked to many serious health conditions such as insulin resistance (diabetes), heart disease, obesity, auto-immune conditions, arthritis and even depression! For me, if I eat inflammatory foods, my eczema tends to flare up and I become quite irritable (some would say nasty, to put it nicely).

Speaking of fats, a recent study has suggested that grass-fed beef is richer in conjugated linoleic acid, which has been shown to reduce carcinogenesis (cancer), atherosclerosis and even help with fat loss! Whoop whoop! Not only that, but these happy cows provide an excellent source of vitamins A and E. What more could you ask for?

How about this: Evidence also suggests that populations of E.Coli (think nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, weakness, disability and death – all those fun things) are higher in grain-fed cattle than grass-fed cattle.

“But it’s so expensive”

It’s true that cut for cut, grass fed meat is more expensive. However, the most nutritious cuts are actually the cheapest. I’m talking meat on the bone, baby! Case in point – 1kg of organic grass-fed beef shanks at my butcher (GRUB) is $16.90. On the other hand, 1kg of conventional (read – chemical laden) grain-fed scotch fillet at Coles is $28.00! Almost twice the price and not even half as good!

Meat on the bone is good for so many reasons, but I’ll give you a short listicle to help support my argument:

  •  It tastes better – the bone, fat and connective tissue add flavour, complexity and an abundance of nutrition
  •  It provides a great source of glycosaminoglycans. These are usually found in joint supplements (“glucosamine” ring a bell?), however they are much more bioavailable (available for use by your body) when obtained from meat on the bone and the accompanying bone broth. What does this mean? Meat on the bone is excellent for any joint problems!
  • The glycosaminoglycans found in the broth can help stimulate the growth of new collagen for healthy bones, skin and hair. This extra collagen can also help prevent cellulite! Woo hoo!
  • When slow- cooked, the bone, cartilage and meat release a wealth of minerals, including calcium, potassium, iron, sulphate and phosphate
  • Great source of fat (so long as it is organic and grass-fed) for energy, cell function and structure and to help us absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K

There are many other benefits, and if you are interested, a great book to read is “Deep Nutrition” by Catherine and Luke Shanahan.

Should I really be eating red meat?

You bet your butt you should be! Why? I think another list is in order:

  • Complete, highly digestible protein
  • Excellent source of B vitamins, especially B12, which is involved in the functioning of every cell in your body and is only available from animal sources.
  • Rich source of iron (the highly absorbable kind – yes, there are two kinds!) and zinc
  • Contains several antioxidants, including glutathione – your body’s number one antioxidant!
  • Will not raise “bad cholesterol” levels. A recent study has suggested that the saturated fat in grass-fed meat does not increase cholesterol levels in the same way that grain-fed meat does. 

  • And if you don’t believe me, just ask Sam Neil. That man can dance!

And finally, a recipe to get you going…..

This lamb shank (you could also use beef) recipe is one of my favourites – it’s easy, tasty and highly nutritious. I have enjoyed this a couple of times over the summer, but I’m sure I will appreciate it more come winter time as it is quite a hearty, warming meal. P.S. You need a slow cooker. Seriously. If you don’t have one, go and get one. NOW!!

  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3-6 garlic cloves, crushed (more garlic = more flavour)
  • 2 cups chicken stock (go for organic, without sugar or preservatives)
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 lamb shanks (to serve 4)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbs. coconut oil
  • 1 cup red wine

Put the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf in a slow cooker and stir to combine.

Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the coconut oil. Add the shanks and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to the slow cooker.

Remove the pan from the heat, pour in the wine and return to medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the pan bottom. Add the wine to the slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Transfer the lamb shanks to a large serving dish and cover.

Remove the bay leaf and rosemary sprigs from the cooking liquid. Using a blender or stick blender, puree the liquids and solids until smooth. Pour some of the sauce over the shanks and keep the rest to add to other dishes throughout the week. We like to stir it in with some tuna – it’s like a “Tuna temptations” but healthy! It’s also great as a sauce for steak or chicken.

Serves 4

Check out these beef ribs I threw in the slow-cooker yesterday. So good!

Do you have any great meat-on-the-bone recipes to share?

  • Callaway, T.R; Carr, M.A; Edrington, T.S; Anderson, R.C; Nisbet, D.J; “Diet, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Cattle: A Review After 10 Years”, Current issues in molecular biology, 2009, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp. 67 - 79
  • Daley, C.A; Abbott, A; Doyle, P.S; Nader, G.A; Larson, S; “A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef”, Nutrition journal, 2010, Volume 9, Issue 1, p. 10
  • Shanahan, C & Shanahan, L; Deep Nutrition – Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, 2009, Big Box Publishers, Lawai HI

Monday, 6 February 2012

Shedding a little light....

I am a Sydney-based personal trainer currently studying a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics at university. For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in optimal nutrition not just for fitness, but for general wellness and longevity. Some would say I’m a nutrition nerd.

And I like to pose with lamps....

So why did I start this blog? Because, when it comes to nutrition and knowing what is best, it is an absolute minefield out there! Not only are we required to decipher a nutrition label and understand what “E102” stands for on an ingredients label (in case you were wondering, it’s a synthetic dye found in confectionary, soft drinks and canned fruit, derived from coal tar….mmm yummy), but when we do decide to get some “professional” help, they will no doubt tell us to increase our servings of “healthy whole-grains” and “limit your fat intake”. Unfortunately, as I have recently discovered, this advice is not only misleading, but is in fact detrimental to health and wellbeing.

Since around mid-2010, I have been following a paleo/primal lifestyle where I focus on eating fresh, organic, whole foods based on traditional wisdom. Not only do I feel and look better than I ever have before, my fitness performance has improved, my eczema (which I have suffered from since infancy) has completely cleared up and my grades at university are consistently high (so apparently we don’t need bread for that constant supply of glucose to the brain…?).

Seeing such impressive results in not only my own health, but also my husband’s, has prompted me to encourage my family, friends and clients to make changes to their own diet to reap the benefits and fix those problems that “nothing can fix”. And this is where this blog comes in….to provide a resource for people to use in order to implement realistic changes in their lifestyle and to understand why they should make these changes, because that is where the real power lies.

I would like this blog to be an open forum – if you have questions, please feel free to comment on any posts and I will do my best to respond with information that is easy to understand and, most importantly, based on valid scientific research. 

Let's start with a recipe!

The fact that I do not eat some form of breakfast cereal and/or yoghurt seems to puzzle so many people. “But WHAT do you eat for breakfast?” they ask. To this I have many responses – bacon and eggs, leftover dinner re-jigged in one way or another, zucchini frittata….but this does not seem to whet the appetite. They like the texture of the grains, the sweetness of the sugar, or the creaminess of the yoghurt. At this point I bust out the big guns with my Berries & Coconut Extraordinaire (gratuitous food shot below). 

Why would I choose this over your traditional breakfast cereal? Well, I have a short answer and a long answer. Today I’ll just stick with the short answer (not so short, really). Feel free to skip the explanation and scroll down to the recipe.

Short answer: sugar. All of your traditional breakfast cereals will contain sugar, even the ones that taste like cardboard -

Exhibit A - Kellogg’s All Bran ingredients: Wheat bran (85%), sugar, barley malt extract, salt, vitamins. When reading ingredients lists it is important to remember that they are listed in order of decreasing quantities, so sugar is the second major ingredient in this cereal (who’d have known, given the taste!). In gram amounts, there are 6.1g of sugar per serve, however most servings tend to be double the recommendation, which gives 12.2g or almost 3 teaspoons of sugar, just on your crappy tasting cereal, without the necessary honey, fruit and milk which add further insult to injury.

So what?! Sugar isn’t so bad, is it? Yes. Yes it is. And word is getting out about just how bad it is. Robert Lustig and friends made headlines last week with the publication of their latest research, titled “The toxic truth about sugar”, in the reputable Nature journal. I will summarise the effects of sugar (specifically fructose, which constitutes 50% of table sugar and yes, it is found in fruit) with some easy-to-read dot points:
  •  Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  •  High triglycerides (fat in the blood)
  • Insulin resistance (leads to diabetes, among many other complications)
  •  Accelerated aging process (due to damage to proteins, lipids (fats) and DNA) – that’s right – wrinkles!!
  • Toxic effects on the liver similar to alcohol
  • Cancer
  • Cognitive decline
  • Addiction

Thanks Rob and team!

And if you are concerned about your weight, you make want to kick the sweet stuff. Nerd-speak coming up (feel free to skip).The problem with sugar (all types) is that it releases insulin, a hormone which switches off the body’s ability to burn fat and switches on the body’s fat storing mechanisms (seriously, it does both at the same time! Damn you, insulin!).  This is why I generally recommend a lowish-carbohydrate diet if you want to be a lean mean fat-burning machine. Without excess sugar sticking around (pun intended), the body will quite happily revert to fat as its main source of fuel. In fact, most tissues, especially your heart, prefer to burn fat (ahh the irony of the heart foundation tick). Sarah Wilson has written a great e-book called “I Quit Sugar”. You can check it out via the link on the side.

Luckily, there are many tasty, and healthy, options around to keep you looking and feeling great. So (finally) here is the recipe for my brekkie special:

**RECIPE: Kate Callaghan’s berries and coconut extraordinaire!

  • 1 handful each of blueberries and raspberries (we get frozen and thaw what we need overnight)
  • 1-2 handfuls mixed nuts, chopped
  • Small handful pepitas and/or sunflower seeds
  • Small handful organic coconut flakes or dessicated coconut
  • ½-1tsp cinnamon (very good at controlling blood sugar levels and preventing insulin spikes)
  • Organic coconut milk to mix – add as much as you like. You may want to start with a bit of water with the coconut milk if you find it too rich. Stir and enjoy!!
Why this recipe is good for you:
  • Berries – high in fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and low in fructose
  • Nuts and seeds – high in protein, good fats, fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals
  • Cinnamon – controls blood sugar levels, cleanses the blood and improves circulation, possible anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties
  • Coconut products – The benefits really require a full dedicated blog post but, to name a few - boosted energy levels, improved digestion and absorption of other nutrients, improved calcium and magnesium absorption, reduced inflammation, supports thyroid function.

·         Lustig, R.H; Schmidt, L.A. & Brindis, C.D; 2012, “The toxic truth about sugar”, in Nature, Vol. 482, Iss. 7383, p. 27
·         Kellogg’s All Bran nutritional information: