Sunday, 29 December 2013

Portion Caution

With the silly season nearing an end we will soon be bombarded with endless advertisements for 'detox diets' and other 'quick fixes'. These DO NOT WORK! Sure you'll use a bit of weight to begin with (because you're essentially starving yourself) but you won't be able to maintain it and that's where the problem lies: the weight re-gain which then makes you even more upset and there more weight to lose than when you started (but that's a story for another blog). 

Save yourself the hassle and make small, easily achievable goals that you can stick to! Because we all know success drives more success (to read more on weight loss goals click here). One of the first places I would suggest a client look at when wanting to lose weight is portion sizes.

As a nation, we are getting fatter. In 2011-12, nearly 2 in 3 Australian adults and 1 in 4 Australian children were overweight or obese (based on the Australian Health Survey; see ABS 2012). And these statistics are expected to rise. 

Portion distortion

An interesting fact is the corresponding increase in both plate and total portion size. Plate sizes have increased by 40% since the 1960's. And this is a problem why? A study by Wansink and Coert of Cornell University in 2006 explained that plate size is an optical illusion, with the larger the plate the smaller the serving of food appears to be. Participants at a health and fitness camp served themselves and consumed 16% more cereal than fellow participants given smaller bowls. The scary part was, despite eating more, these participants estimated consuming 7% less than those who ate from the smaller bowls.

Plate sizes have increased along with obesity rates,
serving to increase our overall portions.

Super sizing and cheap meal deal upgrades have caused us
lose sight of what a healthy portion size is.

But it's not just at home that we have to be cautious of our portions, fast food outlets, restaurants and products on our supermarket shelves are also larger than they were 50 years ago. In an age of super sizing and cheap meal deal upgrades, it's easy to see how people have lost sight of what a healthy portion size is and gained weight in the process.

So, what is a healthy portion size anyway?

To overcome the effects of portion distortion, take note of what a serving size is meant to look like for each of the five food groups (and how many serves you're supposed to be having). I've listed the serve sizes based on the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, but for more information on how serve sizes and how many YOU should be having, check out eat for health.

A serve of fruit is equal to...

A serve of grain (cereal) foods is equal to...

A serve of meat or alternatives is equal to...

A serve of dairy or alternatives is equal to...

A serve of veg is equal to...

A a guide, use your hands. You should be having roughly a palm-sized piece of meat, a fist-sized serve of rice or pasta and just a thumb-sized amount of oil or margarine.

Quick tips to reduce your portions
  • Use smaller plates, bowls, cups and cutlery. If you don't want to have to go out and buy a whole new crockery and cutlery set, try using a side plate instead of a main plate, a tea cup instead of a mug and a teaspoon instead of a large spoon.
  • Whenever you serve yourself up your usual sized meal or snack, remove a quarter of the meat, carb and sauce parts (not the veggies, we're generally not eating enough of those!) and reserve as leftovers.
  • Use the above pictures as a reference for the amount of each food you should be eating!
  • Pre-portion your snacks rather than just eating straight out of the box or packet.
  • Avoid the temptation of upsizing if you have to eat at a fast food restaurant- those extra couple of dollars will bring you more kilojoules (calories) than you bargained for.
  • Choose the smallest size cup or container on offer when buying out.

For more ideas, check out the reducing portion size section of my previous blog 'small changes that can add up to a big difference to your weight'.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Rum Balls

'Tis the season... so here it is, my Christmas rum ball recipe! While you couldn't class these rum balls as 'healthy', they're certainly better than their traditional counter-parts (and a good deal tastier I think!). If you're like me and don't like rum, this recipe works just as well without it- then they just become hazelnut truffles, mmm...

Rum Balls

2 and 3/4 C LSA
1/4 C cocoa powder
1 x 400g tin skim sweetened condensed milk
1/2 C chopped roasted hazelnuts
4 Tbsp dark rum (or amount to your liking)
To coat:
Cocoa powder
Chopped hazelnuts
Desiccated coconut
Chia seeds

  1. Combine all ingredients and mix well. 
  2. Refrigerate for at least 30mins so the mixture firms up and is easier to roll into balls.
  3. Pour all coating ingredients into separate bowls and keep another bowl of water handy (for when your hands get too sticky!).
  4. Roll heaped teaspoons of mixture into balls then coat in cocoa powder. Roll the second spoonful in chopped hazelnuts, the third in coconut, the fourth in chia seeds and so on.
  5. Keep refrigerated.
Makes  a lot (~60) balls. You can halve the recipe if that's too much. But they're great as a Christmas gift!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Smart cooking swaps

I love cooking and playing around with recipes to make them healthier and so I thought I'd share a list of some of the swaps I've come across that you can use when cooking to adapt your recipes and change them for the better!

In savoury dishes for: mashed avocado, olive oil
In sweet dishes for: macadamia oil


In savoury dishes for: Carnation Light and Creamy evaporated milk 
thickened with a little cornflour, Greek no fat plain yoghurt
In sweet dishes for: no fat plain yoghurt, reduced fat milk thickened with 
a little cornflour



In sweet dishes for: half the amount of honey, natural sweetener
(e.g. stevia)
In sweet dishes in place of both fat and sugar: apple puree
(homemade or bought), mashed banana



White flour

In any dish for: wholemeal flour, high fibre white flour, LSA, almond meal
crumbled Weet-Bix, crumbled All-Bran, quinoa flour
Or add: chia seeds, bran

Puff, choex or shortcrust pastry

In any dish for: filo pastry, brushed with reduced fat milk between
layers and a little spray of olive oil on the outermost layer to make it golden ad crispy

Grated cheese

In any dish for: a smaller amount of grated parmesan cheese (it's
stronger so you don't need as much), reduced fat cheese

Coconut cream/milk

In any dish for: Carnation Light and Creamy coconut flavoured
evaporated milk, or reduced fat milk with a few drops of coconut essence

Sour cream

In any dish for: no fat Greek yoghurt with a squeeze of lemon juice

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Makeover: Thai Cashew Nut Beef Stir-fry at home

In keeping with the theme from my last blog, that you CAN create cheap, easy and healthy meals at home (read more here), I wanted to makeover a common Thai restaurant dish: cashew nut beef stir-fry. While definitely better for you than much of the fried fast food on offer, Thai dishes still aren't as healthy as you think they are. Often laden with oil and plenty of salt from Asian sauces such as soy sauce, and served in huge portions with plenty of white rice, you could make it better at home! (And save yourself some cash in the process).

To make this a healthier version of one of my favourite Thai dishes, I used lean beef, heaps of veg, long grain (low G.I.) brown rice, a small amount of salt reduced soy sauce and plenty of other flavours such as chilli, ginger and garlic. Using spray oil in a non-stick fry-pan will reduce the amount of oil used. I used jars of minced garlic, ginger and chilli to save costs and it will last you in the fridge for months. But, if you're able, the fresh versions always tend to have a better kick of flavour.

Thai Cashew Nut Beef Stir-fry

400g lean beef fillet, cut into thin strips
Tip: Using 2 dinner plates to measure out your
vegetables when slicing and dicing will ensure
you get your 1/2 plate worth of veg
per person!
1/2 red onion, cut into thin wedges
2 tsp minced garlic 
2 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced chilli
2 Tbsp chilli jam
4 Tbsp reduced-salt soy sauce
1/4 C dry sherry (or Chinese rice wine)
1/4 C unsalted raw cashew nuts 
1 C long grain (low G.I.) brown rice
2 dinner plates full of vegetables such as:
bok choy

     1.    Start cooking rice (note brown rice take longer to cook than white rice, around 1/2 an hour). 
     2.  Stir-fry beef in a large frypan over high heat until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate and cover with    
          foil to keep warm. 
     3.  Saute onion, garlic, ginger and chilli until onion is softened. Add vegetables and cook until just 
          tender. Return beef to pan, along with chilli jam, soy sauce and dry sherry. Add cashew nuts. 
     4.  Serve stir-fry topped on rice. 

 Serves 4.

Monday, 2 December 2013

The real cost of junk food

While some consider it cheap, easy and delicious, I think junk food is just that- junk! I'm talking fast food in all it's fatty glory- burgers, chips, pizzas, pastries, fried takeaway and soft drink. These foods are empty kilojoules with plenty of saturated fat, salt and sugar, but lacking in key vitamins and minerals and most definitely not a balanced meal... And they're making us fat!

While most people can recognise that these foods are doing them damage, or at least aren't the healthiest choice, many are blinded by the misconception that unhealthy (or junk) food is cheaper and more convenient than creating healthy meals.

But I'm going to tell you that just ain't true! 
I worked as one of the lead researchers on a healthy food basket project in regional NSW earlier this year to develop a nutritionally complete 7-day menu, complete with recipes and a shopping list that when priced at a local large-chain supermarket could feed a family of four for $8 per person per day. 
I'm talking 3 meals, 3 snacks and common healthy versions of foods that we all eat and enjoy. That's right- I'll let that sink in for a minute.

While my theory- that healthy food can be just as cheap, if not cheaper than unhealthy food- is yet to be scientifically proven (the next project, to cost an 'unhealthy' food basket, is already in the pipeline), I thought I'd do some preliminary research just to show you what I mean.

Below is a comparison of two diets- on the left one day from the project's healthy homemade menu for the 'mother'- a hypothetical 35 year old female, and on the right a fictional (possibly over exaggerated for some of you, but people really do eat like this) unhealthy diet. I compared these diets qualitatively (i.e. how many serves of fruit, veg and dairy) and quantitatively (i.e. how many macro- and micro-nutrients they contained) but also, and most importantly, in terms of cost! But why should I blabber on when you can see it for yourself...

Design by Thomas Guest

So, while you're considering that, why don't you also consider my top tips for eating healthily on a budget and without hours spent in the kitchen:

  • Allocate your food budget according to the healthy food plate: spend most on wholegrain breads and cereals, fruit, veg, lean meat and low fat dairy, and least on oil, margarine and 'treat' foods (like those in the unhealthy diet above!).
  • Buy non-perishable staples such as rice, pasta, flour, tinned legumes and tomatoes in bulk and when on special- and remember that when it comes to these items, the home brand is often just as good if not better!
  • Use the price of products per 100g to compare, especially when buying in bulk (see here for more advice on label reading).
  • Stock your freezer with lean meats (already sliced and in meal-sized portions), wholegrain bread (it lasts so much longer!), frozen berries and other over-ripe fruit (like bananas) and veg (try pre-slicing in portions too).
  • Plan your meals for the week, write a shopping list and stick to it!
  • Buy fruit and veg in season as they are usually cheaper- frozen and (in natural juice or reduced salt) tinned fruit or veg is just as good as the fresh stuff if you're short on cash.
  • Pack your lunch for work or school the night before- leftovers make great lunches (just like in our 'healthy' diet above)!
  • Try buying items with the least packaging as these will be cheaper e.g. block cheese over sliced or grated, large tub of yoghurt over individual tubs, large bags of nuts and dried fruit over portion packs (just make sure you still stick to the serving size on the packet!)
  • Add lentils, chickpeas or kidney beans to dishes like soups or casseroles to make the meat go further and reduce the amount of saturated fat and add more fibre!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Banana Date Loaf

This recipe originally came from my good friend Hannah (thanks Hannah!) and I've adapted it slightly. This is what I call an impossible cake, because it doesn't contain any of the usual cake ingredients- no butter, sugar or eggs! It's egg and dairy free and substituting the wholemeal flour for a gluten free mix would also make this cake wheat and gluten free. And if you're not into dates, don't worry, they disappear into the cake and really just provide some great sweetness.

It's simple and a great alternative to banana bread, a perfect mid-morning snack and could also be baked as muffins! Full of fibre from the fruit, nuts and wholemeal flour, omega-3 fats from the walnuts and linseed in the LSA, and none of the refined sugar and saturated fat that usually accompanies a banana bread.

Banana Date Loaf
1C ripe mashed banana (you'll need around 2 bananas)
1C water
3/4C pitted dates, chopped
2C self-raising wholemeal flour
¼ C walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp almond meal
2 Tbsp LSA (ground linseeds, sunflower seeds and almond meal)
2 Tbsp walnuts, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp honey 

1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C and line a loaf tin with baking paper.
2. Place water and dates in a saucepan over medium heat for ~5-8mins or until the dates soften and start to break down.
3. Take off the heat, allow to cool slightly, then stir in flour, banana, vanilla, cinnamon and nuts (you may need some extra water to get it to a thick cake batter consistency).
4. Place into the loaf tin. Sprinkle with almond meal, LSA and crumbed walnuts, then drizzle with honey.
5. Bake for 45-60mins, or until set (it may take longer than this, depending on your oven).
6. Serve fresh or toasted, on it's own or with a dollop of vanilla yoghurt.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

4 pantry staples, 17 meal ideas!

So many people adapt recipes to suit what they already have in the house. So a well stocked pantry can make planning dinner a whole lot easier (if you have a few good ideas on hand!)...

I've developed a (by no means extensive!) list of some pantry staples and ideas of meals you can use them in for the next time you're stuck staring at the pantry trying to decide what to cook for dinner:

Canned diced tomatoes- Go for no-added-salt versions

Use use diced tomatoes mixed with onion, garlic and herbs as a substitute for pre-made pasta sauces.
  • Spaghetti Bolognaise (Just add lean beef mince, onion, garlic, oregano, grated carrot and zucchini, tomato paste and a splash of red wine. The longer you simmer, the better the flavour. Serve with pasta and a green salad)
  • Tomato, capsicum and red kidney bean chilli (Saute onion, garlic and mexican chilli powder, add red capsicum, diced tomato and red kidney beans. Serve with brown rice or pearl cous cous, or pour into individual ramekins, crack an egg in the centre and cook in the oven like a baked egg!)
  • Minestrone soup (Simmer with beef stock, cannellini beans, ham, small pasta and assorted veg and serve with crusty bread)
  • Chicken enchiladas (Cook a 'tomato sauce' with the diced tomatoes, onion and garlic. Combine half of this mixture with shredded chicken, red kidney beans, grated carrot and zucchini. Fill into wholegrain tortillas and bake topped with extra 'tomato sauce' and reduced fat grated cheese. Before serving, slice avocado onto the top of the enchiladas)
  • Beef and spinach lasagne (Add diced tomatoes to lean beef mince, onion, garlic and herbs. Once cooked and thickened, layer with lasagne sheets, baby spinach and a white sauce made of ricotta, basil pesto and milk. Top with parmesan, bake, and serve with a green salad) 

Canned beans- Go for no-added salt versions

Try red kidney beans, chickpeas, cannellini (white) beans, or four-bean mix. The small 125g cans are perfect for meals for one!
  • Tacos (Simmer red kidney beans with lean beef mince, onion, tomato paste, mexican chilli powder and fresh chilli. Fill tacos with beef mixture, avocado, reduced fat grated cheese, tomato and lettuce)
  • Stuffed capsicums (click here for the recipe)
  • Bean based vegie patties (Mash chickpeas or four-bean mix with pumpkin or sweet potato, garlic, chilli, spring onion, breadcrumbs and lemon juice. Shape into patties, coat lightly in more breadcrumbs and refrigerate before baking in the oven. Serve on wholegrain rolls with tzatziki and salad)
  • Grilled fish and white bean mash (Mash beans with a little olive oil, garlic and pepper as an alternative to mashed potato. Serve with grilled fish, roast veg and lemon)
  • Roast veg & chickpea salad (Combine roasted veg- think pumpkin, capsicum, red onion- with chickpeas, baby spinach, fetta and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar)

Rice- Go for brown rice or low GI white rice such as doongarra or basmati

Rice is great both as a side dish or as the base of a main meal. It can suit so many different cuisines- think Asian, Indian, Spanish or Mexican!
  • Cashew nut beef stir fry (stir fry beef, onion, veg and cashew nuts with garlic, soy sauce and chilli jam. Serve with steamed rice)
  • Mexican rice (Saute onion, garlic, chilli, paprika and cumin. Add rice, chicken stock and tomato paste. When rice is nearly cooked add red kidney beans and parsley. Serve with chicken and capsicum skewers and salad)
  • Chicken curry (Use Thai red or green curry paste and Carnation Light and Creamy Evaporated Milk as a base for a chicken curry. Make sure the curry has plenty of veg in it and serve with steamed rice)
  • Healthy fried rice (Cook finely diced capsicum, mushrooms, zucchini and carrot with onion, garlic and ginger. Toss with ham, cooked rice and soy sauce. Top with a chopped plain egg omelette and spring onion)

Stock- Go for reduced salt versions

Chicken, beef or vegetable stock can add an extra dimension of flavour to many dishes.
  • Hoisin chicken with vegetables and egg noodles (Cook thinly sliced veg with dried egg noodles in chicken stock. Meanwhile grill chicken marinated in half a mixture of hoisin sauce, soy sauce, dry sherry and ginger. Drain some of the excess stock and stir through remaining sauce mixture. Serve in a bowl topped with grilled chicken)
  • Slow cooked lamb ragu (Saute onion, garlic, carrot, celery and zucchini. Add browed diced lamb, tomato paste, diced tomatoes and beef stock. Bring to the boil then simmer for 1-2 hours (alternatively, cook in a slow cooker). Serve with green beans and pasta or pearl cous cous)
  • Chicken, mushroom and spinach risotto (Saute onion, mushrooms and diced carrot. Add aborio rice and white wine and stir to coat. Add one ladel of chicken stock at a time, stirring until nearly absorbed. Once rice is cooked, add baby spinach and parmesan and stir though pan-fried chicken pieces)

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Berry Yoghurt & Coconut Balls

These yoghurty balls of goodness are a yummy surprise. Based on yoghurt, crushed All Bran, dried cranberries and coconut, these are light and a great snack (but their sweet and creamy taste will fool you!). The best part is you can vary these using different flavoured yoghurts and dried fruit. Chia seeds are currently enjoying their time in the spot light, no longer confined to health nuts like me! But they can still be expensive, so this recipe works just as well by coating the balls in plain coconut.

I used Yoplait Forme Greek yoghurt...
no fat and no added sugar, but still thick and creamy!

2 x 150g tubs Yoplait Forme Greek berry flavoured yoghurt (or other low fat berry flavoured yoghurt)
¾ C All Bran (crushed) OR ½ C oatbran
½ C desiccated coconut
½ C almond meal
2 Tbsp dried cranberries, chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract

To coat:
3 Tbsp desiccated coconut
2 Tbsp chia seeds

1.     Place All Bran in a large snap lock bag, seal and crush with a rolling pin until fine.

Avoid the mess and crush the cereal in a snap lock bag

2.     Combine All Bran with coconut, almond meal, yoghurt, cranberries and vanilla. Refrigerate for at least 30 mins.

3.     Combine remaining coconut with chia seeds. Roll tablespoonfuls of mixture into balls and drop into 
         chia seed and coconut mix.

4.     Refrigerate for at least 30 mins before serving.

Note: Makes ~45 balls. Keep refrigerated.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Small changes that can add up to a big difference to your weight!

Trying to lose weight isn't easy. There's no quick fix. It will be hard and it will take time.

Trying to tackle the issue of weight loss is hard enough without having to make lots of big changes all at once to your diet and lifestyle. No wonder so many people fall off the band wagon! You are much more likely to stick to your goals if they are:

               SMART (specific, measurable, acheivable, realistic and time-based)

Start with small changes and you will find them a lot easier to stick to and rewarding when you can actually acheive them!

I've put together a list of mini goals to help you get started on some of the weight loss basics. These are small changes that can add up to a big difference to your weight...

Reduce your portion sizes
  • Use a smaller plate or try not to make the meal spill out onto the rim of the plate
  • At dinner-time, fill half your plate with vegetables or salad first, before adding the rest of the meal  - this will automatically reduce your meat and carbohydrate portions while still satisfying you with the same volume of food
  • Serve out meals in the kitchen and pack leftovers away in a container in the fridge before you eat, to make it more difficult to go back for seconds
  • Opt to downsize rather than upsize when ordering out: go for a small cappuccino or juice instead of a regular; skip the meal deals and you'll avoid the extra kilojoules in the softdrink and fries
  • When eating out, ask the waiter to 'doggy-bag' what you don't eat (this way you won't feel like you have to finish it in the restaurant) 

Don't miss out on all you enjoy: everything in moderation
  • When eating out, share an entree or dessert
  • Don't be afraid to ask for sauces or dressings on the side
  • Practice mindful eating: when you have a craving for something unhealthy, such as chips or chocolate or softdrink, wait 10 minutes and if you still want it, take a small portion (such as 2 squares of chocolate) and make a point of eating if very slowly, and actually savour and enjoy it. You'll find you are satisfied even after that small amount
Reduce the amount of takeaway and fast food you eat
  • Bake double batches of meals like Bolognaise, soup and casseroles and freeze the remainder in individual or family-sized portions for those night's you're too busy to cook (then you'll have no excuse for grabbing takeaway on the way home from a busy day)
  • Utilise leftovers- they make great lunches
  • Keep a supply of lunch ingredients at work (such as tinned tuna, wholegrain crackers or wraps, four bean mixes, salad dressing and a few salad items)
  • Make home cooking fun and keep it interesting by searching for new recipe ideas and let each family member choose a new (healthy) recipe to make (or help make) one night a week
  • Always carry a healthy snack with you (such as a muesli bar, piece of fruit or snap lock bag of trial mix) to prevent those bad hunger decisions
  • Take turns with friends to have dinner at each others houses to catch up instead of eating out (bring back the good ol' fashioned dinner parties I say!)

Reduce the amount of high kilojoule/calorie foods that you eat
  • Swap full cream milk to reduced fat milk (and the same for all other dairy foods)
  • Swap regular mince to lean or heart smart mince and trim fat off meat before cooking
  • Swap juice for fruit
  • Swap softdrink for sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon
  • Base your meals and snacks on vegetables and fruit, lean meat, low fat dairy and wholegrain breads and cereals
Become more aware of what you eat
  • Keep a food diary and write down everything you eat (including amounts). You'll be amazed at how much this can change you're eating habits because you don't want to write it down and become accountable for it!
  • Eat regular meals and where possible have set meal times (for example, breakfast at 7am, morning tea at 10am, lunch at 1pm, afternoon tea at 4pm and dinner at 7pm). This way you don't get famished if a meal is late and eat twice as much
  • Plan your meals for the week, write a shopping list, and stick to it!
  • Be aware of your body's hunger and fullness signals- eat when you are hungry and stop eating when you are around 80% full

Increase the amount of exercise you do
  • Meet friends for a walk instead of a coffee
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift
  • Walk to a colleagues office instead of sending an email
  • Stand up or walk around while speaking on the phone (even standing burns more kilojoules than sitting and has been shown to reduce our disease risk)
  • Park a bit further away and walk the rest (it will also solve your issues of finding a park!)

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Product Review: Chic Nuts

I recently discovered this product when it was recommended to me by another dietetics student. I love the taste and think they're a healthy snack and a great way to get extra legumes into our day (one food group many of us miss out on altogether). Chickpeas themselves are full of nutritional benefits but I thought I would analyse these roasted chickpeas and do the hard work for you!

What are chickpeas?

Chickpeas are a legume. Also called 'pulses', legumes include all forms of beans and peas from the Fabaceae botanical family. Other legumes include: butter beans, cannellini beans, red kidney beans, soy beans, lentils, mung beans and split peas. Think baked beans, hommus, Mexican dishes and dahl!

Why are legumes good for us and how much of them should we be having?

Legumes are rich in protein, fibre, B vitamins and phytonutrients. They are low G.I., low in fat (in particular saturated fat), and gluten free.

They are the only food that are included in two of the five food groups:
- 'Vegetables and legumes/beans'
- 'Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans'

They are classed in the vegetable group because of their high source of fibre, vitamins and minerals, and as part of the lean meat and alternatives group because they are a good source of protein. This makes them great for vegetarians too!

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend we have:
- 5-6 serves from the 'vegetables and legumes/beans' group each day (where 1/2 C of legumes counts as a serve), and
- 2-3 serves from the 'lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans' group each day (where 1 C of legumes counts as a serve)

So when you eat legumes it counts towards your serves from both food groups!

So how do Chic Nuts stack up?

Chick Nuts are just chick peas that have been slow roasted and seasoned with salt and/or herbs and garlic. A serve is 25g (or around a 1/4 of a cup). This means it's equal to half a serve of veg!

I've used the nutrition information panel to compare Chick Nuts to the recommendations for each nutrient (see Nutrition Information Panels: Decoded) to see if Chick Nuts really are a healthy snack:

  • Energy:             399kJ/serve    (Recommendation is <600kJ/serve for a snack)
  • Total fat:           9.3g/100g        (Recommendation is <10g/100g)
  • Saturated fat:    2.1g/100g        (Recommendation is <3g/100g)
  • Sugars:             2.6g/100g        (Recommendation is <15g/100g)
  • Dietary fibre:    4.1g/serve       (Recommendation is >3g/serve)
  • Sodium (salt):   300mg/100g    (Recommendation is <400mg/100g)

The final word...

Chick nuts are a crunchy, salty snack that is a healthy alternative to things like chips, while giving you an extra serves of legumes (with plenty of fibre and protein). They meet all of the nutrition panel recommendations and get the tick of approval from me!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

My Healthy Homemade Muesli Bars

This recipe has taken much tweaking to get them perfect, but it is my go-to recipe. I make a double batch then re-make these muesli bars as soon as the last lot has run out! 

Full of wholegrain oats, nuts and seeds, the variations possible for these bars is endless, but I've included two of my favourites: cranberry and mixed nut and; dark choc chip and hazelnut.

Cranberry & Mixed Nut Muesli Bars

1 1/2 C rolled oats
3/4 C mixed nuts, roughly chopped (I use almonds, walnuts & hazelnuts)
1/2 C dried cranberries
1/3 C mixed seeds (I use linseed, pepitas and sunflower seeds)
1/4 C desiccated coconut
1/4 C wholemeal plain flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp skim milk
25g (~2 Tbsp) margarine or reduced fat table spread
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla essence or extract
2 tsp cinnamon

1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C and line a 20cm square tin with baking paper.
2. Melt margarine, honey and vanilla in the microwave on low.
3. Combine all ingredients (including melted margarine mixture) into a medium sized bowl.
4. Press mixture into the lined tin and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
5. Allow to cool slightly in the tin for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Slice into 8 bars and store in an airtight container.

Dark Choc Chip & Hazelnut Muesli Bars

1 1/2 C rolled oats
3/4 C hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1/4 C dark chop chips
1/3 C mixed seeds (I use linseed, pepitas and sunflower seeds)
1/4 C desiccated coconut
1/4 C wholemeal plain flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp skim milk
25g (~2 Tbsp) margarine or reduced fat table spread
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla essence or extract
1 tsp cinnamon

1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C and line a 20cm square tin with baking paper.
2. Melt margarine, honey and vanilla in the microwave on low.
3. Combine all ingredients, except dark choc chips, into a medium sized bowl.
4. Press mixture into the lined tin and sprinkle choc chips evenly over the surface. Press the choc chips into the surface and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
5. Allow to cool slightly in the tin for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Slice into 8 bars and store in an airtight container.

Note: These bars store well for at least 2 weeks, but in really hot weather they are better stored in the fridge to keep them fresh.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Nutrition Information Panels: Decoded

You're in the dairy aisle staring at several shelves of yoghurts. Many claim to be 'low fat' and 'natural' and have been advertised on TV as 'healthy'. You want to choose the best yoghurt but have no idea where to start.

This is the dilemma many people find themselves in and unfortunately is also when all good intentions can get lost if you don't know how to interpret the product's packaging.

The nutritional information panel (NIP) on the back of the pack is the best place to start because it contains the actual 'facts'. NIPs have lots of numbers and without a guide it can be difficult to know where to start, so I've created an easy toolkit to help you to decode food labels and choose the better yoghurt! (or whatever product it may be)...

1. Per Serve and Per 100g columns:
    - Use the per serve column to check the amount of energy a food contains- aim for  less than 600kJ per serve for a snack. You can also use this column to see the fibre content of a product and compare to similar products.
    - Use the per 100g column to compare the fat, sugar and sodium content of similar products.

2. Serving Size
This is the size the manufacturer has decided is a serve (in this case 2 biscuits). Check whether this is the amount you will actually be eating (often it isn't!)- a product may look low in kJ but this changes pretty quickly when you're eating double or more of the recommended serving size.

3. Fat
- Total fat: Generally go for less than 10g per 100g but for dairy (such as milk and yoghurt) aim for less than 2g per 100g and for cheese less than 15g per 100g (as these foods are naturally higher or lower in fat). Remember that total fat includes both good and bad fats!
- Saturated fat: This bad fat can increase cholesterol levels so choose products with less than 3g per 100g (or less than 1.5g if you are at risk of cardiovascular disease).

4. Sugars
Aim for less than 15g per 100g of sugars or less 25g per 100g if it is a product with a high fruit content. Remember that it is the 'added' sugar that is most important to limit- check that sugar isn't too high on the ingredients list.

5. Dietary Fibre
When looking at products in the grain (breads and cereals) food group, wholegrain is best. When comparing similar products, choose the product with the highest fibre content- as a rough guide look for greater than 3g per serve.

6. Sodium (salt)
Sodium is the chemical component in salt which can increase our blood pressure. Foods with less than 400mg per 100g are good but less than 120mg per 100g is better. Try opting for 'low salt' or 'no added salt' products.

Ingredient List
Ingredients are listed from largest to smallest by weight. As a rule of thumb, if sugar, salt or high saturated fat items are listed as one of the 1st three ingredients, put it back!

So next time you find yourself staring at yoghurts in the supermarket (or any other packaged food for that matter!) try turning them over and comparing their NIPs.

Note: The guidelines provided in this article are based on the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and the National Heart Foundation recommendations.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Stuffed Capsicums

These stuffed capsicums are so easy and nutritious and they taste good too! Filled with lean beef mince, kidney beans, brown rice and grated veg, they're packed full of fibre, protein, vitamins A and C and one stuffed capsicum has around three serves of veg!

They're also versatile. Serve as individual capsicums or half capsicums with a green side salad. The 'stuffing' is also just as good on its own and is great as lunch leftovers with some baby spinach tossed through it. 

The recipe serves around 4-6.

Stuffed capsicums

250g lean beef mince
½ medium brown onion, finely diced
1 tsp garlic
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 ½ medium tomatoes, diced
125g can red kidney beans (or four bean mix)
1 C grated carrot
1 C grated zucchini
2 tsp mixed herbs
4-6 red capsicums (1 per person), hollowed out
½ C brown rice

  1.      Cook rice (takes ~30mins. Alternatively, use microwavable brown rice)
  2.      Cook hollowed capsicums at 200°C for ~20mins or until soft and starting to blister
  3.      Meanwhile sauté onion and garlic, add mince and herbs and cook well.
  4.      Add tomato paste, tomato, beans and grated vegetables. Cook on low until vegetables are            cooked.
  5.      Drain excess water from capsicums and stuff. Bake for a further 5-10mins.
      Note: You can cook the capsicums whole or as halves, depending on how you wish to serve them. Try grating a little parmesan or reduced fat tasty cheese on top before baking for the last 5-10 minutes.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

13 healthy snack ideas

Snacks are an important part of a healthy diet. They provide us with energy and nutrients between meals to fuel active brains and power working muscles. They can also help to stave off cravings that can derail even the best off intentions! But with so many options to choose from, where do you start?

Well I've done the hard work for you and compiled a list of healthy snacks that you can make at home or grab on the go...

1. 1 piece medium fruit, 1 cup fruit salad or 1 small tub diced fruit in natural juice
2. 1 tub reduced fat yoghurt (try Chobani, Yoplait Forme, Nestle Soleil Diet or Tamar Valley No Added Sugar)

3. 30g (1 small handful) raw or roasted unsalted nuts or trail mix (made with nuts, dried fruit & seeds)
4. 1 slice raisin toast (try Burgen fruit & muesli bread) thinly spread with reduced fat table spread
5. 1-2 cups natural air-popped popcorn (not the kind you get at the movies!)
6. 1 oat and fruit based muesli bar (try Be Natural or Carmen's)

7. 1 wholegrain crumpet topped with 2 tablespoons reduced fat ricotta, sliced banana and a small drizzle of honey
8. 1 glass reduced fat or skim milk with 2 teaspoons Milo or Vitarium sugar-free flavoured milk mix
9. 2 wholegrain Ryvitas or Vita-Weats each spread with 1 teaspoon peanut butter or 1/2 slice reduced fat tasty cheese and tomato
10. Fruit smoothie (made with 1/2 small banana, 1/4 cup frozen berries, 2 heaped tablespoons reduced fat plain yoghurt and 3/4 cup reduced fat or skim milk)

11. 1 cup vegie sticks (carrot, celery, capsicum, cucumber) with 4 tablespoons reduced fat tzatziki, hommus, guacamole or cream cheese
12. 1/2 cup reduced fat plain or greek yoghurt topped with the fruit of 1 passionfruit and 2 tablespoons Kellogg's Fibre Toppers
13. 2 Arnotts Snack Right or Spicy Fruit Roll biscuits