Sunday, 30 March 2014

Why you CAN have your Easter bunny (& eat it too!)

It’s nearly upon us (actually, according to the supermarkets it’s been upon us for months already)… Easter! That’s right, Easter has become a whole chocolate season, where people eat more chocolate than (the already large) usual, sometimes accompanied by sugar comas, stomach aches and empty wallets.

Every year Australians eat approximately 5.5kg of chocolate each. If you’re curious, that’s equivalent to 27.5 x 200g blocks! And because the major constituents of chocolate are sugar and fat (55% and 30%, respectively) that also means we’re guzzling down 3kg of sugar and 1.7kg of fat along with it!

The purpose of me telling you this isn’t to scare you off chocolate for life, but rather to make you more aware of just how energy-dense chocolate is. I love chocolate just as much as the next person, and I wouldn’t expect any chocolate-lover to have to go cold turkey on this sweet treat. Just keep in mind it is a treat, and will affect our waists if we eat too much of it.

Fun fact: the oldest chocolate bar in Australia
(& the one often voted favourite) is the Cherry
Ripe, which was created in 1924.

Now, before you get too upset, chocolate does have some benefits. Nutritionally, dark chocolate is a source of antioxidants, which help to fight off free radicals in our bodies (reactive molecules that can cause diseases). Studies have also found links to a reduced heart disease risk and we all know the emotional pick-me-up effect chocolate can have due to boosting our brains release of ‘happy’ hormones.

BUT, considering how high in fat chocolate is, there are better ways (and much healthier foods) to get these benefits from. For even bigger doses of antioxidants try colourful fruit and veg, for heart healthy nutrients include oily fish, oats and nuts in your diet and for an emotional pick-me-up try chatting to a friend or going for walk.

There's nothing wrong with enjoying a bit of chocolate,
just don't eat the whole block in one sitting!

Tips to enjoy your chocolate this Easter

  • Wait until just before Easter to buy your chocolate gifts so they don’t tempt you in the cupboard
  • Buy individually wrapped chocolates rather than large blocks or bunnies
  • Store in an opaque (rather than clear) container in the back of the pantry so you’re not caught staring at them every time you go to the kitchen for a snack
  • Enjoy small portions & savour by eating slowly and mindfully
  • Sharing is caring- don’t hog all the chocolate, share it with family and friends!
  • Make sure Easter doesn’t extend into a month-long celebration!

As a guide, try to choose chocolate treats that are less than ~500kJ or less. I’ve included a list below of some of the better chocolate options!

  • 1 dark Lindt Lindor ball
  •  3 squares Cadbury Old Gold 70% Cocoa Block
  •  1 fun-sized Nestle Kit-Kat
  • 3 small Cadbury Dairy Milk Easter Eggs
  •  2 pieces Lindt Excellence Roasted Almond Block
  • 3 pieces Nestle Club Peppermint Cream Dark Chocolate Block
  • 2 mini Lindt Milk Chocolate Bunny
  • 1 fun-sized Cadbury Freddo Frog

To put it into perspective, here are some healthy snacks with roughly the same amount of kilojoules:

  • 1 large banana
  • 2C natural air-popped popcorn
  • 1 glass reduced fat milk with Milo
And the worst? Cadbury Creme Egg. One
egg has 718kJ! And who stops at one?

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Now, first things first, I'm not going to pretend that these are 'healthy' cookies. But I have altered the original recipe to make them 'healthier'. How?

- Replacing butter with margarine for good fats and reducing the amount
- Reducing the amount of sugar
- Choosing dark choc chips for a richer flavour and using slightly less
- Opting for wholemeal flour over white (believe me you can't even tell) to add a bit of fibre
- Adding walnuts for more good fats and some extra texture

Coming up to Easter I knew you would all appreciate a chocolately treat (don't miss a blog coming soon on how to survive Easter!), and there is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying a few treats (as long as you don't consume the whole batch in one go of course!). Everybody I've made these choc chip cookies for loved them, and they are frequently requested in my house. They are definitely cookies (as opposed to biscuits- that's right there is a difference!) as they are deliciously soft rather than crunchy and work well to satisfy a chocolate craving. Go on, you know you want to!


Chocolate Chip Cookies

100g margarine or table spread
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/3 C brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 ½ C wholemeal flour 
½ tsp bicarb soda
1/3 C chopped walnuts
3/4 C dark choc bits

  1. Beat margarine, essence, sugar and egg in a bowl with an electric mixer until smooth.
  2. Stir in dry ingredients and mix well.
  3. Drop level tablespoons of mixture ~5cm apart onto trays lined with baking paper and press down lightly.
  4. Bake at 180°C for ~12 minutes or until just golden.
  5. Allow to cool slightly on trays first before moving to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
  Makes ~ 24 cookies.


Sunday, 16 March 2014

Why carbs are my best friend (and should be yours too!)

I feel sorry for the poor little carbohydrates. All they want to do is fuel our bodies by forming part of yummy meals, yet they keep getting crucified on all angles by anti-carb groups. Carbs make you fat, they say; carbs are just sugar and sugar is bad, they say; carbs didn’t exist in caveman times so we shouldn’t eat them, they say. But I’m here to tell you that carbs have countless benefits (if you choose the right ones) and it’s about time we started showing them the respect they deserve!

The importance of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates get broken down in the body to glucose, which is the fuel of choice of the brain, as opposed to fat or protein (think about trying to get your car to run on diesel when it actually needs unleaded petrol- not so efficient hey?). This glucose provides us with the energy needed to go to run a race, lift weights in the gym, scream our lungs out at a concert or just make it through a seemingly never-ending work day. It gives us the concentration to get through a whole day at school or uni and actually remember anything we were taught.

More than that, carbs come with fibre and a whole host of vitamins and minerals depending on exactly what they are. Which brings me too…

Bread is not the enemy!

What are carbohydrates?

It always surprises me the amount of people who don’t really know what carbohydrates are. They’re bread, pasta and potatoes right? Well actually they’re a lot more than that. Foods are a complex mix of macronutrients (like carbohydrates, protein and fat) and micronutrients (like vitamins and minerals for example calcium and iron). Carbohydrates are a macronutrient found in most foods, but in the largest quantities in breads, cereals, rice, pasta, flour, starchy vegetables like potato and corn, beans, legumes and lentils, dairy foods such as milk and yoghurt, and all fruits (fresh and dried).

I like to refer to the two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are things like white bread and rice, cereals like rice puffs and corn based flakes, cakes, pastries, lollies and table sugar. Complex carbohydrates are things like grainy breads, brown rice and pasta, barley, quinoa and other grains, chickpeas and lentils. And of course our dairy foods and fruits have a whole host of benefits too.

Yes, everything in this bowl is a carbohydrate: the
cereal, the milk and the fruit!

Benefits for weight loss

Studies show that people who eat 2-3 serves of wholegrain a day (see below for what this equates to in food) are more likely to:
  • Be a healthy weight
  • Be in a healthy waist circumference range
  • Have less body fat
Now why is this? Well wholegrains are the complex carbs I was talking about earlier and these foods tend to have a lower glycaemic index (or GI) meaning that they release glucose into your bloodstream more slowly keeping your blood sugar levels stable (which is important for diabetics) and helping you stay fuller for longer. One theory is that if you are feeling fuller for longer from wholegrains, then you’re less likely to overeat and to crave junk foods because you're already feeling satisfied.

Another theory, and one that relates to why low-carbohydrate diets are sustainable, is that as a society we are surrounded by carbs as many of our commonly consumed dishes contain them. Think spag bol, roast chook with potatoes, breakfast cereal or toast and the humble sandwich. When we tell ourselves we can’t have carbs, we have to turn down a lot of foods which can make us feel like we’re missing out, which certainly doesn’t help to form a healthy, long-term eating plan.

"Carbohydrates, in particular wholegrains, are associated with lower weights, longer lives and reduced risks of several diseases."

More benefits of carbs

Wholegrains also reduce the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. Numerous studies have shown wholegrains to reduce cognitive decline, in particular the onset of disease such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Large long-term studies have also found that just 1-2 serves of wholegrains can reduce mortality rates by 20-25% (i.e. help you live longer!). They also promote a healthy gut by providing the full range of fibres (soluble, insoluble and beta-glucan).

So how much should you eat to reap the benefits?

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend adults eat 4-6 serves of grain foods. One serve is equivalent to:

This table was taken from the Australian Dietary Guidelines website: 

This may sound like a lot, but considering most people eat more than a ¼ C of muesli or ½ C of pasta in one sitting (measure it next time you serve yours up and you will be surprised!), you really only need to eat grains 2-3 times a day and you’re sorted! A bowl of cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, and some rice or pasta with dinner and you’ve met your target!

But remember, always choose wholegrain versions!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Vietnamese Chicken Pho (chicken noodle soup)

I travelled to Vietnam around this time last year with a couple of girlfriends and absolutely loved it. Beautiful landscapes, lovely people, rich history and deliciously simple food. In truth, it's the food I missed most, and more specifically the traditional dish Pho (pronounced half-way between 'fuh' and 'fur'). This rice noodle and vegetable broth is commonly a breakfast food, but eaten at any time throughout the day. Made with beef, chicken or tofu, it is delicious any way and you definitely cannot serve it without bean sprouts! Don't be put off by the large number of ingredients, this is a very simple dish, warming (which is great coming into the cooler months) and filling too!


400g sliced chicken breast
1L reduced salt chicken stock
2 ½ C water
3 tsp reduced salt soy sauce
1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp lime juice (equivalent to ½ a lime)
3 tsp minced ginger
2 tsp minced garlic
1 carrot, sliced thinly
½ C green beans, cut into 3cm long pieces
½ C mushrooms, sliced
½ bunch broccolini, sliced into 3cm long pieces (or broccoli)
2 C baby spinach
200g packet flat stick rice noodles

To serve:
1 C bean sprouts
1 spring onion, chopped
¼ C mint leaves
Hoisin sauce (roughly 1 tsp per person)
Fresh or minced chilli (amount as per liking)
Lime wedges

1.     Add stock, water, soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, ginger and garlic to a large saucepan and bring to the boil.
2.     Add chicken and cook, covered, for 10 minutes or until cooked. Remove chicken and keep hot.
3.     Place carrot, beans, mushrooms, broccolini and rice noodles into the boiling stock mixture. Cook for 5 minutes or until just cooked. Reduce heat, add baby spinach and return chicken to saucepan, stirring until spinach is wilted and chicken is heated through again.
4.     Divide amongst 4-5 bowls and top each with bean sprouts, spring onion and mint.
5.     Allow everyone to add their own hoisin sauce, chilli and lime juice to their liking.

Serves 4-5

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Lifting the Lid on Protein Powder

Protein powders are all the rage at the moment, considered ‘vital’ amongst the gym crowd and anyone who’s trying to bulk up. I will admit that I’ve always been skeptical of any product whose major selling point is that it contains large quantities of a macronutrient that already exists in large quantities in many nutritious and delicious foods. So I thought I’d help bust some myths and provide some quality evidence-based advice on bulking up.

What can I eat to help me gain muscle?
“Protein muscle!”
While food and nutrients can ASSIST in promoting muscle gain, the main thing that contributes to muscle growth is resistance training. Protein muscle! It’s not quite that simple.  For muscle growth you will need:
  • A good resistance workout plan
  • Adequate energy to put your body into ‘positive energy balance’ so the extra energy consumed can be used to help rebuild and repair muscle that was ‘damaged’ while training (the process of breaking down muscle then repairing it so it’s bigger than before is how you get muscle growth)
  •  Adequate carbohydrates. Carbohydrate is the body’s preferred fuel source (which is very important for athletes to ensure peak performance, and for anyone to be able to get through training). It also stimulates the production of the hormone insulin, which promotes the body’s uptake of amino acids from protein (i.e. lets protein do its job and re-build muscle after training). So all that protein you’re consuming will be doing little good if you’re not eating enough carbohydrates.
  • Adequate quality protein, such as from meat, dairy and eggs, before training to prevent your body having to dig into its muscle stores for energy and after training to allow your body to start re-building the muscle
  • Timing is crucial. As you have read, both carbohydrates and protein are important before and after training. Make sure you eat something both carb- and protein-rich 30 minutes to 1 hour before training and 20-30 minutes after training.
  • And of course a wholesome healthy diet full of variety and plenty of fruit and vegetables to provide you with the recommended vitamins and minerals to keep your body running at it’s peak.

“Carbohydrates stimulate the production of the hormone insulin, which promotes the body’s uptake of amino acids from protein.”
Oh, my, no. This is not OK. It does not work like that!

How much protein do I need for optimal muscle growth?

The exact quantity depends on the extent on your exercise and your weight goals. It can range from 50-100% more than the average population (from 0.8-1.8g/kg body weight/day). However, it’s important to note that most Australians (with the exception of some elderly people and some people with diets that are of limited variety) are already consuming this much protein and certainly meet the recommended dietary intakes with no problem whatsoever.

To gain muscle mass you need to ensure you are consuming enough total energy as energy needs increase with an increase in the amount of exercise you do (where energy is used up by the body), and for most people, increasing their total consumption of foods often involves an increase in protein purely because it is one of the major macronutrients present in common foods.

Studies have shown that any more than 2g/kg/day of protein will have no additional benefits and excess protein can in fact be harmful, especially if you have pre-existing kidney problems (as it can accelerate kidney disease) and risk factors for heart problems (as too much dietary protein often comes with extra saturated fat, and excess protein will just be stored as body fat). Be careful too that you are drinking plenty of water as too much protein can act as a diuretic (dehydrate you). And, of course, it’s expensive!

Aim for good quality protein which is rich in the amino acid leucine (such as meat, dairy, eggs and whey) as this has been found to be the best at stimulating muscle growth after training.

Note: This is also the position of the Australian Institute of Sport and I think they know what they’re talking about!

And just a side note boys- girls don't find this attractive!

Ok, so I know what I have to eat around workout times, but what about the rest of the day?

Muscle growth continues for a period of up to 24-48 hours post-workout so make sure all meals & snacks after working out (as well as before) contain quality protein and carbohydrates to see the best results.

Limit fat (particularly saturated fat) around training times as it can make you lethargic and decrease performance.

How do I gain muscle and lose fat at the same time?

It’s often difficult to increase muscle while decreasing fat as increases in muscle require a positive energy balance (ie consuming more energy than your body is using so it can get used in muscle growth) whereas fat loss requires a negative energy balance (ie consuming less energy than your body is using so it can dig into it’s fat stores and burn them off). While you may think your body can just use its fat stores to help you gain muscle, fat is quite ineffective when it comes to delivering a rapidly available fuel source to the muscle (as it is slow to metabolise) meaning it can delay muscle growth rather than promote it.

So the short answer is it’s best to focus on one goal at a time, but this doesn’t mean you can’t start to eat more healthily while trying to gain muscle.

 Ok, ok but what about the protein powder??

Alright, it’s important to note that protein powder is NOT NECESSARY to achieve muscle growth, as adequate protein can be gained from food sources for the majority of the population (including athletes). HOWEVER, there are some benefits to consuming protein in powder form. So I have written up a list of the pros and cons:

- Convenient- portable and doesn’t need to be refrigerated
- Liquid form (when made up) may be helpful for those who find they have little appetite immediately after a workout
- Can be a good way to consume additional protein and energy in a person with high energy requirements without having to eat large volumes of food

- Can displace other nutrient rich foods, especially carbohydrates
- Often contain little carbohydrates, which are necessary in combination with protein to enhance muscle growth
- Can be expensive
- Makes it easier to consume more protein than your body requires which has no additional benefits and can be harmful for some people

“600mL of reduced fat milk provides the perfect combination of protein and carbohydrates and studies have shown it to be just as effective in aiding muscle growth after exercise and it is a much cheaper option!”

But if you do choose to buy protein powders, here are some tips:
  • Whey protein derived protein powders offer more benefits
  • Buy a powder which also contains a moderate amount of carbohydrate or combine a protein shake with a carbohydrate rich snack 

  • For more advice on the types of protein- and carbohydrate-rich foods you should be consuming throughout the day, and the ideal amounts for you, see an Accredited Practising Dietitian! You can contact me through my Facebook page: