Can food really be medicine?

Most people are aware of the quote by Hippocrates — ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.

Wouldn’t it be great if just eating good food would prevent or cure all our illnesses!

There’s been a lot in the press here in Australia talking about the claims of “food as medicine”. If you are interested in healthy eating, I’ve included a link to some really informative articles with lots of great information.

Don’t judge an orange by it’s skin. This one’s skin was green but inside was delicious!

There is no doubt a bad diet can make us sick – weight gain, diabetes, coronary artery disease, increased risk of some cancers and the list goes on. A good diet doesn’t mean that you will never get sick however, it will reduce the risk of these lifestyle related diseases.

A healthy and varied diet is a cornerstone of sustaining well-being. Deficiencies in some essential nutrients can lead to some diseases including e.g. vitamin A (retinol) plays a role in our visual health and vitamin C helps to maintain connective tissue and immune health, deficiencies in these vitamins can lead to night-blindness ( vitamin A) and scurvy (vitamin C).

My father suffers from macular degeneration and has been advised by his doctors to include certain foods to help maintain his eye-health. See below for a link to the website and a healthy eye-health diet.

There are many other diseases that may benefit from the inclusion/exclusion of certain types of foods and these will be covered in future blog posts.

In addition to food there are, of course, a bunch of other factors that influence the state of our well-being and our overall physical and mental health.

In addition to a healthy well-balanced diet, these include:

  • Sleep – how well we sleep and how many hours per night. Sleep is restorative and its important to aim for 7-9 hours sleep every night. Good sleep helps to improve our mental and physical health. I find that if I take some magnesium citrate an hour or so before bed, it helps me relax and sleep better.
  • Exercise – helps us feel better and reduces our stress levels. Studies have shown that moderate exercise can reduce blood pressure.
  • Social connections – our connections with others, do we have a support network? Can we ask others for help? Blogging is a great way to connect with others across the world.
  • Stress – work, environmental, illness and life in general can affect our well-being. It’s important to look at stress reduction techniques like meditation, exercise and sleep. Avoid drinking too much alcohol and reduce cigarette smoking. Stress increases our blood pressure, anxiety and affects immune system function.
  • Our health and family history – what sort of diseases have we suffered from from childhood to now? Do we have genetic predisposition to certain types of disease? Our family history of certain diseases can affect our risk of similar diseases.
  • Environment – do we spend time in nature? Exposure to the real world helps to reduce stress levels and makes us feel happy. A regular walk in the park or garden, along the local beach – appreciate nature and it’s beauty. Access to clean air and quiet places from time-to-time is really beneficial to our well-being.

The difficulty some people face is that eating a good diet does take some planning. Not everyone has access to the full range of wholesome foods to get all the nutrients they need. Nutritional knowledge empowers us all to make the right choices when choosing our food.

A walk along the beach – breathe in the salty air, feel the sand under your feet.
These gorgeous birds are regular visitors to our back window-sill. Rainbow lorikeets – they love sunflower seeds. Our little touch of nature.

Can we lose weight without dieting?

Most think that the best way to lose weight is to go on a formal calorie counting diet. That was not my experience however it is always the case that what you put in your mouth does matter.

I have never dieted in my life – never counted calories, never bought diet foods and never joined weight loss programs. Let me tell you my story.

This is me taken in 2016 – Portugal.

Lets start at about 2012.

My weight gain was a gradual process, a couple of extra grams here or there over a number of years. I didn’t eat junk food and I thought that our diet was pretty healthy overall. Trouble is, I was eating too much of the wrong types of food.

I was diagnosed with coeliac disease in around 2005. Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disease that damages the small intestine and its capacity to absorb nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fats and can lead to severe abdominal discomfort amongst other effects.

As a consequence of this intestinal damage, in 2005 I weighed around 46kg (I’m 5ft 1 1/2 inches) due to my body being starved of nutrients.

By 2012, after being on a gluten-free(GF) diet for 7 years my weight had increased to close to 60kg. I was overweight and feeling pretty bloated.

I was very strict with my diet and only ate GF foods like lots of rice, gluten-free pastas and breads. My protein, fruit and vegetable intake was OK and within recommended guidelines. We had risotto and pasta every week and I snacked on GF biscuits. Over time my weight gradually increased.

Something had to change.

Around 2012, our family went to Fiji for 10 days holiday. To read on the plane and at the resort, I picked up a couple of books that I heard about on the radio – Michael Pollan’s, “In Defence of Food” and Loren Cordain’s, “The Paleo Diet”. These books were a revelation and changed my life. I read both over the 10 days and the information gained allowed me to take control of my weight.

As a family, our diet changed. Our kids still ate mostly the same types of food however my diet (and my husbands) changed. Over the next 6 months I lost 8kg and my husband lost 15kg.

We didn’t diet, we just changed what we ate for a period of time.

How did I do this? My tips are:

  • I cleaned out my pantry and fridge. All biscuits and pasta went in the bin. All snack foods went in the bin.
  • No risotto or white rice. No more GF pasta or any pasta.
  • No GF bread or any bread for my husband.
  • No potato or sweet potato.
  • Cut down on our dairy intake – we still had milk, yoghurt and cheese but just not as much cheese.
  • Our vegetable, fruit, fish and meat intake remained the same. All other vegetables were fine except for potato and sweet potato. No restrictions on the amount we ate.
  • We still had eggs, beans and pulses (lentils etc).
  • Breakfasts were usually some fruit and a boiled egg/s, snacks included nuts or fruit, lunch usually salads or soup and fruit and dinner a protein source and lots of vegetables. Chocolate was ok – mostly dark around 70% with less sugar.

Our exercise remained the same as did alcohol intake. The only thing that changed was the types of food we ate. We found that we weren’t hungry and felt pretty healthy – less bloated. I had no idea how many calories I ate every day and still don’t.

Over the past few years since our weight-loss, we have gradually reintroduced some foods – GF pastas made from alternative grains (lentils, buckwheat etc), brown or wild rice, GF seeded breads, sweet potato and from time to time GF crackers with dips or cheese. My husband (is not coeliac) can eat normal breads and muesli and has them every day.

My husband and I – photo taken in 2018 – Dordogne France

My weight has remained stable as has my husband’s since our weight loss in 2012. No increase or decrease. Pretty happy about that!

My take home message is that it’s equally important what you don’t eat as what you do eat.

BBQ fish and zucchini and snow pea sprouts. Healthy and yummy too.


*** Note – This program worked for us however it may not work the same way for everyone.

*** It’s important to check with your doctor first if you suffer from diabetes or are on a medically supervised or prescribed diet before introducing these changes to your diet.

Eat your greens!

Salad with kale slaw, some added sprouts, nuts and seeds. A small can of tuna and dressed with lime juice and olive oil

Dietary guidelines world-wide recommend that we should include at least 5 servings of vegetables and 2 of fruit in our daily diets. As a nutritionist, even I find this difficult sometimes. A serving is generally regarded as:

  • 1 serving of vegetables is 1 cup of loose leaf uncooked or 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables. Include different types of coloured vegetables to cover the colour spectrum and ensure that we get lots of different vitamins, minerals and phytochemical.
  • 1 serving of fruit is 1 piece of fruit, small fruit like apricots count for 1/2 serving. 1/2 cup of cooked fruit is 1 serving.

There are many organisations world-wide that provide fact sheets that aim to help us eat well and stay healthy. I’ve included two links from Nutrition Australia website. This website has some really helpful resources and I have included two links to their facts sheets you may find useful:

A link to fact sheets for fruit and vegetables suggestions:

Another link to their general fact sheets, some really great healthy eating tips:

Lettuce, sliced radish, carrot, tomato, cucumber, spinach, grated beetroot, feta cheese, sprouts and topped with black sesame seeds

I have included some tips that make it a little easier to cover the intake of vitamins and minerals and help you achieve the daily vegetable/fruit targets:

  • spread your intake throughout the day, try to include vegetables at every meal e.g. Breakfast 1/2 avocado on toast with a handful of spinach leaves on top and 1/2 cup of chopped strawberries with some yoghurt. Lunch 1 1/2 cups of salad vegetables with a protein (e.g. fish, chicken, beans, pulses) topped with some seeds. Dinner steamed broccoli 1/2 cup, sweet potato 1/2 cup and sugar snap peas 1/2 cup and protein of choice. Afternoon snack can be some carrot and celery sticks with hummus or dip of choice.
  • Legumes and beans count within your vegetable intake – try to include 1/2 cup of these(1 serving) 2-3 times per week, this will add to your fibre intake and provide a good protein source.
  • It’s ok to buy packaged salads from supermarkets, I do. I’m addicted to packaged kale slaw at the moment. Its a very convenient way to get a variety of vegetables already prepared to eat. 1 1/2 cups of chopped salad (like kale slaw) with dressing (I don’t use the dressings they provide in the pack and instead use lime juice and a splash of olive oil). Top with a sprinkle of nuts and seeds and a protein source, I use a small can of tuna but you can use corn, pulses (lentils or beans) and canned is ok too.
  • Use lots of different types of herbs in your cooking – they are great in salads e.g. mint, basil, tarragon, dill. Herbs are really good for you and will make your salad taste like a professional one from a restaurant.
  • Don’t feel too guilty if you don’t reach your daily targets for fruit and vegetables remember our nutritional intake isn’t just what we eat on a day, its how we eat over a period of days and we can balance out our vitamins and minerals over time. This doesn’t mean that you can eat NO vegetables or fruit for 2 days then try and catch up on the 3rd – your tummy won’t like this and I for one, couldn’t eat this much food.
Lots of chopped tomatoes and a variety of lettuce leaves topped with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
A gorgeous salad with variety of leaves including spinach, rocket and lettuce. Herbs including dill, tarragon and basil. Add some sliced green apple, avocado, a few chopped dried figs and a simple French dressing.

A Lake without water…… Lake Mungo.

The Walls of China, Lake Mungo

Our holidays lately have been overseas, usually to Italy or France, however it’s nice to visit your own backyard.

Amazing straight roads that drops off the horizon.

Our road-trip would take us to Lake Mungo, an ancient dried lake bed in the south-west of New South Wales, Australia. The area is within the Lake Mungo National Park and is part of a series of dried lake beds within the national park, Mungo being the largest with a circumference of around 33 kilometres.

The lake dried up during the last ice age, however going back 120,000 years there was water in the lake. The sediment of the lake shows many different layers and some of the most recent ones contain the bones of extinct megafauna (including giant kangaroos and wombats) and some of the oldest human remains on earth estimated to be around 40,000 years.

Me on the top of the lake wall dunes.

Dunes of the lake shores have been held together by sparse vegetation, unfortunately due to grazing by the early settlers a large proportion of this has been destroyed leading to the collapse and erosion of the walls.

Structures remain of an old sheep station within the lake, the walls of the lake are in the distance.

There was a bush fire burning near the lake made a very beautiful sight at sunset. Otherwise, the landscape during the day is stark and clear, sky was so blue.

The walls of the lake are eroding as most of the vegetation has disappeared.

As this area is quite remote, internet and phone coverage is minimal (mostly not existent), its therefore a time to reflect, observe and marvel at the beauty of nature. Life goes on even in the desert and the area still supports some amazing creatures.

Shingle back lizards are everywhere. You have to watch while driving as they are often on the roads. We stopped for this one as was crossing. Great blue tongues – no teeth.

There’s a couple of places to stay while in Lake Mungo. National parks and wildlife have campsites and provide some huts near the ranger’s station. Check out their website for more information.

We stayed at Mungo Lodge, in a small shearers hut with shared ammenities and kitchen facilities, wasn’t too bad as we were the only ones staying there. One of the staff at the Lodge told us about a visitor who turned up with a surf ski on his car looking for the lake, I think he might have been disappointed to have driven all that way!

The funny thing is on our SATNAV the lake area showed as blue, so I guess if you don’t do your research you might think there is water in the area.

Basic hut, but is was very private and a great place to watch the sunrise and the local wildlife.

The roads into Mungo are mostly dirt – we found them not too bad – we don’t have a 4W4, however they are not passable when it rains so check the weather conditions if you are planning to head out that way. Also, over the hottest parts of summer the lodge is largely closed – its just too hot for most people.

Sunrise looking out from our cabin

Lets eat the rainbow! Starting with Purple.

I bought some gorgeous purple carrots at the fruit market today and got to thinking about all the different types of purple fruits and vegetables that are available.

We are told to include all different coloured fruit and vegetables in our diet, all colours are equal however I love the colour purple and try to include purple fruits and vegetables in my daily diet.

So what’s in purple fruits and vegetables? Why are they good for us? All fruits and vegetables contain different vitamins and minerals, including the purple ones.

The colour purple indicates that a particular fruit or vegetable is high in antioxidants, including anthocyanins which gives them their purple colour (includes red and blue as well). 

Anthocyanins are a powerful antioxidant that support our well-being and help the body eliminate toxins.

Strawberries have anthocyanins. This rather large specimen next to my sunglasses was in Puglia, Italy. It was very tasty.

Purple carrots taste a little different to the orange ones you may be used to. I used them in a soup once and not only did the soup turn purple but the final product was not that great.

I bake them in the oven, first give them a good scrub or lightly peel (top and tail them as well) depending on their size and if larger cut in half from top to bottom. Season with some salt and pepper and a little olive oil and bake in moderate (350 F or 190 C) oven for around 20 minutes or until cooked (test with a fork). Serve the purple carrots with some roasted capsicum, steamed broccolini and some orange sweet potato and you have yourself a lovely rainbow for dinner.

Strawberries with a splash of balsamic vinegar and some almond biscotti, very delicious.

How did I start doing my chin-ups?

When I added doing a chin-up to my fitness goals in 2018, I had no idea whether or not I would be able to do one. It did take me a while but I got there in the end. So where did I start?

Here’s what helped me:

  • I bought some strength bands, they are long, strong, thick elastic bands (usually coloured according to resistance) that you can buy from gym shops or online. Not expensive, I think mine were around $20 Australian. I bought two, one thick (gives more resistance) and one thinner (less resistance).
  • My trainer at the gym, used similar bands which allowed me used to using the band. Stretching the band down, I placed 1 foot in the band and grabbed the bar with both hands. Both palms were facing toward me ( facing away is called a pull-up), carefully stepped off the bench. At first my chin-ups were fully supervised to make sure I didn’t injure myself.
  • When not at the gym, I found some playground equipment bars that were high enough off the ground so I can just reach the bar and wrapped my band and back through itself.
  • Pulling myself up to the bar as far as I could, keeping legs as straight as possible and slowly lowering down, over time this built strength and familiarity with the motion.
  • I also did some other exercises at the gym that strengthened my arm muscles ( biceps, triceps and lats) that were important for doing chin-ups.
  • Every time I go near a park now I look for a bar that would suit a chin-up. I got a little obsessed about it, and I guess that’s important because over time I will lose strength if I don’t practice.
  • If you would like to try to do a chin-up, I strongly recommend a couple of sessions at a gym with qualified trainer to start you out and make sure you don’t get injured. And of course if you already have an injury check with your doctor first before attempting. Safety first!

My monster passionfruit

I’ve been growing some red Panama passionfruit and this one is amongst the first of my crop for 2019. The Panama passionfruit mature a little later than the black ones and ready for picking from March to September in Australia.

I love passionfruit, they are full of fibre, vitamin C and many other vitamins and minerals. They are so good for you and as an added bonus they taste delicious.

I planted 3 vines in 2018 along my side and front fence, they provide a great privacy screen with the added bonus of gorgeous flowers and loads of yummy fruit.

They don’t like frosts so will grow in areas that are a bit more temperate. Check out your local plant shop or nursery, or order one on-line from a local grower.

Flowers are lovely

Chin-ups in the public park and gym

Lots of parks have installed exercise equipment. I used to be reluctant to use equipment if anyone was watching, now it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s free and lots of fun. Some of them even have instructions on the side regarding how to use the apparatus and what muscles are worked. If you have similar at your local park, maybe try it out?