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Is it OK to fake it?

Over the past 30 or so years, there has been a number of debates as to the safety of consuming artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (Equal and Nutrasweet), sucralose (Splenda) and saccharine (Sugarine).

Many people have concerns about the potential (albeit largely unproven) adverse effects of artificial sweeteners, and I have to admit… I am one of them!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that before artificial sweeteners can be sold in our supermarkets, the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) test them to make sure they are safe to eat. My concerns, however, are not so much grounded whether the sweeteners are ‘safe’ but rather, from a perspective of health and wellness. Are they the best thing for your body?

I am often asked for my opinion on artificial sweeteners, and so I thought I would share with everyone. Here are my thoughts:

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, used by our body as energy for working muscles, providing fuel for the central nervous system, enabling fat metabolism, and preventing protein from being used as energy. Sugar is a nessasary part of a healthy diet. However, there is NO NEED to get our sugar from processed foods and adding table sugar to our cereal, tea, coffee or milk. There is plenty of naturally occurring sugar in whole foods like fruit (fructose) and dairy (lactose). Foods containing natural sugars are usually rich in nutrients including vitamins and minerals and in many cases, dietary fibre.

So, what if you want to sweeten your porridge? Or add something sweet to your baking?

First, let me say that for a special occasion, like birthday cakes, Christmas cakes etc, I will absolutely follow a recipe and use sugar in my baking (you don’t want to mess with a Donna Hay flourless chocolate cake, believe me!). There is something wonderful and special about picking out a cake recipe for someone you love and making their birthday cake (I did this yesterday for my husband, and yes, I used a cup of brown sugar, as per the recipe). But, remember, this is only a few times a year… for everyday baking – muffins, loaves, bread etc, I like to use one of the natural alternatives.

My Favorite natural sweeteners:

1. Honey

Raw honey is a natural sweetener that is easily available. It is my ‘go to’ when I need to sweeten something as it has some really lovely quality’s and fabulous taste. Honey has a low glycemic index, making it ideal for those who want to control their weight and blood sugar.

High-quality honey contains natural antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

Unfortunately, most of the honey eaten today has been heavily processed, and many of the healthful benefits have been reduced or eliminated, so it is important to try and find a good quality natural honey. There are some great options at farmers markets usually and you can often buy in bulk.

2. Dates

I have always loved dates! Not only are they chewy and tastey, they are very rich in fibre. Dates also provide potassium, calcium, manganese, copper and magnesium.

Calcium is an important mineral that is an essential constituent of bone and teeth, and required by the body for muscle contraction, blood clotting, and nerve impulse conduction. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Copper is required for the production of red blood cells. Magnesium is essential for bone growth.

3. Maple Syrup

Most people think about using maple syrup only when they are baking bread or on pancakes; however, it can be used as a substitute for sugar in other. It can be used for making biscuits, cakes and I have used it when poaching fruit for dessert. Maple syrup has a distinct flavor that really lends itself to dessert type foods.

The important thing to make sure is that you are buying ‘pure maple syrup’ and not ‘maple flavoured syrup’, and, like honey, good quality is the way to go!

But, what about Stevia?

Many people choose stevia over natural sweeteners like fruit and honey, but this is not my choice. Nature is very clever, and fruit and raw honey, in particular, are excellently balanced sources of glucose and fructose, which provides the liver with building blocks to create glycogen (glucose stores). Stevia, however, does not support glycogen formation.

Why is glycogen important? The body cannot convert inactive thyroid hormone T4 into active thyroid hormone T3 without adequate glycogen. This can result in a slowed metabolism and lead to hypothyroidism, and lack of energy. Without adequate dietary sugars, the body cannot create and store glycogen.

Additionally, when blood sugar is low, glycogen is broken down and released as glucose in the bloodstream. When the diet lacks sufficient glucose, there will be inadequate glycogen stored. If sugar is not immediately ingested to raise blood sugar levels, the body releases extra adrenaline and cortisol to convert muscle protein and fat into glucose. If this pattern is repeated, the frequent release of these stress hormones takes its toll on the body… and one of the symptoms of excess cortisol is abdominal weight gain.

So what is my opinion? Try to use natural, low GI foods like good quality honey or dates to sweeten baking, add fruit like banana, grated apple or grated pear to cereal or porridge to sweeten your breakfast meal and enjoy the extra benefit of added fibre. Oh and for special occasion baking, follow the recipe and just use sugar!

Believe me – the less sugar (or artificial sugar) you have in your diet, the less you will want, and your food will taste fresh and wholesome when you use real ingredients!

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What’s the big deal about Fibre?

I’m sure you have heard from your doctor, your mother, or read it in a magazine – ‘make sure you get enough fibre!’

But… fibre is only for old people, right?

WRONG!

Fibre is one of the most underrated nutrients in the diet. As a society we seem to be always talking about the protein and fat in our diets, but poor old humble fibre often gets over looked, when it might just be the key to good health and weight control!

Fibre is largely classified as carbohydrate. Put simply, there are three types of carbohydrates – simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates and fibre. The reason dietary fibre is not like other carbohydrates, is because the bonds that hold its sugar units together cannot be broken by human digestive enzymes and therefore, fibre cannot be digested.

Even though it may not be able to be digested, fibre can regulate the speed of digestion, modulate metabolism, help lower cholesterol levels, slow the release of sugars into the blood and feed the healthy gut bacteria. The bacteria living naturally in your intestines convert very small amounts of dietary fibre to fatty acids, however not an amount significant to consider fibre a source of energy.

One of fibres biggest attributes, and the reason it really is a friend of anyone frying to manage their weight, is its ability to make you feel fuller for longer… making it one key nutrient to include enough of everyday!

The fact is that most Australians do not consume enough fibre. The Heart Foundation recommends that adults should aim to consume approximately 25–30 g daily and on average, most Australians consume 18–25 g of fibre daily. Part of the reason for this is that over time, we have lost the concept of whole foods. We eat concentrated or reconstituted foods and miss some of the important dietary components when we remove the whole food from the nutrients contained within it. An example of this is the juicing craze… juicing a fruit will not help you digest the nutrients an better, will not ‘cleanse’ you and will certainly not increase your metabolism, in actual fact, by juicing fruit, you miss out on all the roughage… the fibre!

Types of fibre:

There are two types of fibre found in foods

Soluble fibre hides the flesh of fruit and the grain of rice inside the hull, and it’s what gives cooked veggies their soft, mushy quality. In your stomach, soluble fiber binds with liquids to form a gummy gel that makes you feel full as it slows digestion, letting your body absorb more nutrients from the rest of your food.

Insoluble fibre bulks up as it absorbs liquid in the stomach and the bulk pushes waste down and out of your system. Insoluble fibre is usually found in the skins and outer parts of foods, and it’s what gives many their tough, chewy texture. Insoluble fibre works to speed up the passage of material through your digestive tract and sweep out toxins on its way.

Most foods have a combination of soluble and insoluble fibre and anything with 3 grams of fibre is considered a good source of fibre, and an excellent source is anything with 5 grams or more. The best fibre rich foods are generally:

  • Wholegrain breads such as mixed grain, rye, sour dough.
  • Wholemeal cereals like oats, bulgur wheat, pearl barley and brown rice.
  • Fruit and vegetables.
  • Legumes and pulses such as kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas.
  • Nuts (1/4 of a cup of nuts has 4 grams of fibre)
  • Chia seeds.

Now… Just to confuse matters, it is also important that we point out that if you eat too much fibre, it could potentially reduce the ability to absorb key nutrients including calcium, iron and zinc.

So, to help control your weight, help lower your cholesterol, reduce your risk of bowel cancer and keep yourself regular, you should aim to include a high fibre breakfast cereal, 2 slices of wholegrain bread, two pieces of fruit and a couple of cups of vegetables everyday. Easy!

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Delicious Red Capsicum and Rosemary Spread!

Continuing my current theme of homemade, whole foods sauces (without all the added salt, sugar and preservatives), on the weekend I made my very own ‘spread’.

This is so lovely, fresh and nutritious… and all whole foods (apart from a pinch of sea salt to bring out the flavour).

Try this as a dip, on steak, salmon or spread on toast and topped with feta or goats cheese. I think it is a real winner!

Makes approx. 250g (1 cup)

  • 3 large red capsicums, halved and seeded
  • 2/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • a pinch of cayenne
  • sea salt
  • juice of ½ a large lemon (or more to taste)
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked.

Method:

Prepare the capsicum, place on a baking tray and roast at 200 degrees C for approx. 40 mins, or until slightly charred.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool

Briefly toast sunflower seeds, cayenne and pinch of sea salt in the fry pan on a low heat.

When the capsicum is cooled, peel back the skin, chop the flesh and add place in a food processor or blender, add the sunflower seeds, lemon juice and rosemary and blend until smooth.

Will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

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Home-Style Pad Thai with Chicken

Take away foods are ALWAYS laden with salt and sugar… and often contain other additives. A few years ago I started making ‘homemade takeaway’, and my family are used to it now! We have homemade fish and chips, homemade pad thai, homemade rice paper rolls, homemade sushi, homemade burritos and homemade Korma – all using whole foods and no added salt or sugar, and they are just as tasty!

Here is my Pad Thai recipe. You can substitute the chicken for lean beef or prawns, to your taste OR you can make the base and add different meats ‘to order’ for different family members… just like real takeaway!

Ingredients

  • Peanut or sesame oil
  • 300g flat rice noodles
  • 2 Chicken breasts (approx. 500 g)
  • 4-5 spring onions (to taste)
  • 2-3 small red chillies finely chopped (to taste)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1 handful bean sprouts
  • 2 cups of roughly chopped cabbage
  • 45 g of roasted unsalted peanuts, crushed / chopped
  • 1 Handful of coriander (to taste)
  • Lime wedges to serve

Sauce

  • Juice of one lime
  • Juice of two lemons
  • 2 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup of warm water

Method

  • Cover noodles with boiling water and stand until tender. Drain and set aside.
  • Mix lemon juice, fish sauce, honey, lime juice and 1 Tsp water in a bowl and wisk well.
  • Cut the chicken breasts in half. Place the wok over a high heat and add a tablespoon of peanut or sesame oil. Place the chicken in the wok and cook through until nice and brown on the outside. Take out of the wok and drain on kitchen paper.
  • Slice the chicken thinly and set aside.
  • Heat ½ tablespoon of oil in wok and add the chilli, garlic and spring onions.
  • Add the lightly wisked egg and mix until egg is cooked.
  • Add the chicken, cabbage, bean sprouts, sauce, half the coriander and noodles.
  • Once all cooked through and cabbage has softened, serve up into 4 bowls, add crushed peanuts and rest of the coriander to garnish. Lime wedges to serve
  • Enjoy!

 

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Wholefoods Banana, Blueberry and Coconut Pancakes

I haven’t made these for so long, I can’t even remember the last time! I used to make them a lot, before I started working on weekends… but Fathers Day last Sunday called for something a bit special. So I trolled through my recipe folder (which is quite big these days) and found this recipe, all stained and much loved. We made them together – and they were just DELICIOUS!!

High in protein, and with the added goodness of fruit, these pancakes are naturally sweet, so there is no need for added sugar, and very filling!

Enjoy my wholefoods take on traditional ‘pancakes’.

(makes 10 small pancakes)

Ingredients

  • 3 large ripe (or slightly over ripe) bananas
  • 4 eggs plus 2 egg whites (lightly beaten)
  • ½ cup desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup of blueberries (fresh or frozen and thawed)
  • 1 tablespoon of coconut oil OR 1 tablespoon olive oil for cooking (depends on your preference and taste!)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • For serving – either lashings of pure maple syrup OR natural yogurt OR, my favourite – both!

Method

1. Mash the bananas with a fork and place in a medium sized bowl.

2. Add eggs and coconut and wisk all together

3. Add blueberries and stir through.

4. Heat the oil in the pan to a medium heat (not too hot!) and use about 3 tablespoons of batter for each pancake.

5. Serve with natural yogurt, maple syrup and some extra coconut.

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Whole foods TOMATO SAUCE!

It is a favourite in our house, thats for sure… good old Aussie tomato sauce.
Unfortunately, many of the sauces we buy commercially contain large amounts of salt and sugar as well as preservatives, colour and flavour enhances.

I also get a bit concerned about the fact that a lot of our sauces are imported, or use imported ingredients.

In a bid to reduce the amount of sugar, salt and preservatives in my food, I have been experimenting with sauce recipes – everything from tomato sauce to salad dressing.
I am going to bring you my home made sauce recipes over the next few weeks… Starting with my favourite!

Whole foods TOMATO SAUCE

This tomato sauce recipe can be used as a pizza base, a base for pasta sauce, or pureed until it is smooth and used in place of tomamo sauce on pies and sausages!
Makes 12 serves tomato sauce, 4 serves pasta sauce.

Prep time 15 mins, cook time 30 mins.

INGREDIENTS

1 red onion
4 cloves of garlic
6 large tomatoes (overripe is best, I use Roma or Gourmet tomatoes from our local market)
¼ red capsicum
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp thyme (fresh or dried)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

METHOD

  • Preheat oven to 190C.
  • Roughly chop the onion, garlic, tomatoes and capsicum, removing all unwanted skins, seeds and piths.
  • Place them onto a large, lined baking tray and mix together with the spices, seasoning and oil.
  • Roast in the 190C oven for 20-25mins.
  • Remove from oven and place into a large pot.
  • Simmer with the lid on for 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
  • Taste to see if there is enough seasoning. Take off the heat when you are happy with its taste and consistency.

If you are making tomato sauce – puree in a blender until smooth.
If you are using as pizza or pasta sauce – leave it chunky.

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Nourishing Apple Crumble

I have two ALL TIME favourite desserts – Sticky date pudding and apple crumble. Just wonderful childhood memories of both. Here is my latest recipe for apple crumble, a little bit different to how my mum used to make it, but just as tasty!

Ingredients:
6 large apples in season – cored and sliced thinly (It is up to you if you choose to peel the apples, personally I like them unpeeled and cut quite chunky, but if I am baking this for guests, I peel the apples first)
1 vanilla bean, halved and seeded
3 tbsp water
zest of ½ lemon
6 cinnamon quills or 2tsp ground cinnamon

crumble:
¾ cup spelt flour
¾ cup rolled oats
¾ cup shredded coconut
¼ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup almond oil (or another nut based oil like macadamia oil)
½ chopped raw macadamias, almonds, cashews and walnuts (or any combination that you like!)

crockpot-apple-crisp

METHOD:

  • Preheat oven to 180C
  • Put the apples in a saucepan with scraped vanilla bean seeds AND the pod, zest from the lemon + 3tbsp water, cover with lid + place over med heat to cook for approx 10 minutes or until apples are just tender.
  • In a separate bowl mix the crumble together.
  • Place half the apples in a baking dish (with vanilla bean), arrange cinnamon quills on top, then place the remaining apple on top, followed by evenly spread crumble to finish.
  • Bake for 45 min or until crumble is slightly brown + crispy.
  • Serve with a dollop of good quality natural or vanilla yogurt.
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Mediterranean Burgers

I have your burger night covered this weekend with a healthy twist on the traditional burger!

Burgers are a great meal to have on a Friday or Saturday night. Easy to prepare, tasty, filling and unlikely to get complaints form even the fussiest family member. These burgers are high in protein, high in fibre and low in saturated fat.

Ingredients:
500g of lean Pork or Chicken mince.
½ cup of wholegrain breadcrumbs
¼ cup semi – dried tomatoes, chopped (you can make these yourself with mini roma tomatos cut in half, drizzed with olive oil, fresh basil, and placed into a very low oven for 30 mins).
4 spring onions, chopped.
¼ cup pitted Kalamata Olives, chopped.
1 egg
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
4 Wholegrain bread rolls
4 tablespoons hummus (If you don’t want to make your own there are some fabulous brands of hummus with no added sugar or salt – check your local health food shop or delicatessen)
Rocket, sliced cucumber and sliced tomato.

METHOD:

• Mix together mince, wholegrain breadcrumbs, sundried tomatoes, spring onion, olives, egg and parsley into a large bowl. Make the mixture into 4 patties.
• Spray a large fry pan with oil and cook patties for 4 – 5 minutes on each side.
• To serve, spread rolls with 1 tablespoon hummus and add patty, slice of tomato, slice of cucumber and rocket.
• Enjoy!

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My top tips on how to avoid processed food.

1. Read the ingredients label before buying anything. Many people pick up packaged foods and look at food labels, I was reviewing items such as fat grams, calorie count and sugar content. While this may be important to some (particularly if you are diabetic), the best indicator of how highly processed a food is can actually be found in the list of ingredients.
If what you are buying contains more than 5 ingredients and includes a lot of unfamiliar, unpronounceable names, or numbers, then you may want to reconsider before buying.

2. Increase your consumption of vegetables and fruits. I am sure you’ve heard similar advice a thousand times, and I hate to tell you that it couldn’t be more true. This will help to displace the processed foods in your diet, and will actually make your food selections in general very simple. No more counting calories, fat grams, or carbs when your only concern is selecting whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry.

3. Invest in a bread maker, or buy your bread from a local bakery. If there is one food I would recommend you keep yourself and your family away from it is commercial, mass produced, white bread. If you make your bread, or buy from the baker, you will find there are fewer ingredients and certainty less preservatives. Our local bakery uses the following for its whole meal loaf – whole wheat flour, water, yeast, oil and salt. If you have a bread maker, the advantage is that you can control the type of flour, the amount of salt, and you can also get inventive – add cheese and chives, or dried fruit, or olives!

4. In addition to your bread choice, when selecting foods like pastas, cereals, rice, and crackers always go for the whole-grain option. Make sure you read the ingredients to make sure the product is truly made with only 100% whole grains – not a combination of whole grains and refined grains which is unfortunately how a lot of “whole grain” products are made.

5. Cook at home! Bake, pan fry, bbq and sauté… just make sure you are using real, whole food and you can control what is going in the food. I bake all my own cakes, biscuits, bread and cereal. It takes a bit of extra time on a Sunday, or late one night during the week, but if health is your priority, it can be done. By baking at home, you limit the salt, flavours, MSG and other preservatives found in processed foods.

6. Visit your local farmers’ market the next time you need to restock your fridge. You will find a wonderful selection of fruit and vegetables in season and local meats. Last time I went to a local market, I bought the most divine fresh olives! It is not only better for our health and our community, but also better for our environment to purchase locally grown products as opposed to the supermarket produce.

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Eating ‘Clean’… Kathryn style!

I often have clients and friends ask me about the phenomenon known as clean eating. ‘So… do you eat clean?’, they all want to know.
The answer is – I’m not sure! I am not really certain where the term clean eating came from. I did some of my own social ‘research’, I have realized that, clean eating definitions differ from one ‘health expert’ to another.

What appears to be a common theme however, is the lack of processed foods these diets prescribe to… which makes me think that clean eating is most simply following a whole foods way of eating.
Personally I generally subscribe to a whole foods way of eating, as I know that the more food is in its natural form, the better it is for our bodies. No one can dispute that!
Eating Whole foods is not about restricting what you eat, or applying ‘rules’ to your food. It is also not about eating low fat or low carb. What it IS about, is eating mindfully, eating intuitively and choosing to eat REAL foods.

How to recognise whole foods and include them every day:

• Whole foods that are more a product of nature, and less a product of industry.
• Fresh fruits and vegetables are whole foods
• Dairy products including unsweetened yogurt, milk (skim, low fat and whole milk) eggs, and cheese. In contrary to some beliefs, in Australia, full cream milk is not less processed than low fat or skim milk
• When choosing grain based foods, look for whole-wheat or whole-grains. You can usually see the grains, and the more the better!
• Seafood – fresh, local and caught using sustainable practices is preferable. Try to shop locally for seafood if you can rather than in big chain stores where it is often imported and frozen.
• Locally raised meats such as pork, beef, and chicken (and in moderation! 120 grams of red meat is sufficient in a main meal)
• Beverages limited to water, milk, freshly squeezed an unsweetened juices (in moderation), unsweetened coffee & tea, and, to help the adults keep their sanity, wine and beer!
• Snacks like dried fruit, seeds, nuts.
• All natural sweeteners including honey and fruit juice concentrates are acceptable in moderation, and appropriate to cook with.

What is NOT considered a whole food, and what to avoid:

• Refined grains such as white flour or white rice (items containing wheat must say WHOLE wheat)
• Any foods with artificial colours, flavors, or preservatives added.
• Refined sweeteners such as sugar, any form of corn syrup, cane juice and all the artificial sugars.
• Shakes, powders, diet bars or drinks… no matter how many promises they make!
• A general rule could be: Eat nothing out of a box, can, bag, bottle or package that has more than 5 ingredients listed on the label.
• Deep fried foods or takeaway foods.

SO, as you can see, it is not about eating ‘clean’ (or dirty?) for me, its about avoiding the high salt, sugar, saturated fat, preservatives and colours that are associated with packaged foods.
Now, I am a realist, and I know that there are times when it is appropriate to have processed foods (birthday cakes are an obvious one, and we have a had quite a few of them lately!). I enjoy chocolate every now and then, or even a prepackaged biscuit with my yea. I also know that if you get yourself organized, and prioritise your own health and that of your family, you will quickly find that it is not that hard to enjoy a whole foods way of life. Your body will thank you, I promise!

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