Good health – it’s all in the family

Parents’ dietary habits influence the health of their children even before birth, especially in matters of weight management and its associated health factors.

Parents’ dietary habits influence the health of their children even before birth, especially in matters of weight management and its associated health factors. By Stephanie Oley.

According to recent research, the dietary habits of parents don’t just influence the health of their babies. They influence the health of these youngsters right through to adulthood.

“Scientists have recently compared the offspring of healthy-weight and overweight mothers and found that offspring of the latter were more likely themselves to be overweight in adult life,” explains Darwin-based nutritionist, Clare Evangelista. This is due to poor in-utero development of the offspring’s energy-balance regulation system, which predisposes them to insulin resistance and other metabolic problems.

But rather than supplementing in any one nutrient, it’s important to aim for a naturally balanced, healthy diet following Australian national health guidelines.

A generous variety of plant-based foods, such as fruit, vegetables, grains (and derivative products such as bread and pasta) and legumes, should form the bulk of your family’s meals. They contain essential minerals, vitamins and fibre.

Protein foods such as dairy, meat, fish, eggs, poultry and nuts should comprise the second-greatest volume of food intake. Foods containing mostly fats and sugars – such as sweets, cakes and chips – have minimal vitamins and minerals, and should be eaten rarely.

Nature and nurture

Eat well during pregnancy and your child will likely favour these healthy foods in later years. “The foods eaten by a breastfeeding mother alter the flavour of breast milk slightly which can have a lasting effect on a child’s food preferences,” explains Evangelista.

Early on in a child’s life, good eating and exercise habits may have health outcomes in the short term and long term.

Overweight children tend to remain overweight in their adult years, so it’s important to establish good eating habits early. “Family mealtime has a strong positive effect on child and adolescent eating behaviours, and these behaviours can be carried on to adult life. Adolescents who participate in family meal times are more likely to eat healthy foods, and less likely to have nutritional deficiencies,” says Evangelista

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Foods that help and hinder digestion

What you eat can have a big impact on your digestive function. Naturopath Kathryn Terrill offers a few tips on what to reach for and what to avoid.

When it comes to digestion, there’s no doubt that our body prefers certain foods over others. We all know the feeling when we eat something that ‘doesn’t agree with us,’ and there is a good reason for that. Different foods impact our digestion in different ways. Here are some examples.

The ‘help’ tribe

Bitter greens are, as the name suggests, bitter tasting green vegetables. Examples are radicchio, chicory, dandelion leaves, rocket and silverbeet. These foods are commonly used in parts of Europe to aid digestion. When our tongue tastes the bitter taste, it causes our digestive juices to increase and this improves our body’s ability to break down food material. Grapefruit also has a bitter taste, so it works in the same way.

Warming spices such as ginger, cardamom, cumin and coriander help to improve sluggish digestion. These spices can be bewed in ordinary black tea to assist with digestion.

Pineapple contains an ingredient called bromelain, which helps to break down proteins and has an anti-inflammatory effect. Kiwi Fruit also has a similar effect.

Yoghurt, if it is good quality and natural, contains good bacteria, or probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that survive in the digestive tract. They aid digestion, stimulate immunity and help to keep potentially harmful bugs at bay. Foods other than yoghurt that can support probiotic activity include miso, tempeh, bananas, garlic and onions.

High fibre foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains soften and add bulk to our stools. As well as being nutrient rich, these foods help to prevent constipation.

The ‘hinder’ clan

High fat foods are well known for contributing to weight gain, but they can also put a big strain on digestion. The liver is responsible for the production of bile which mechanically breaks down fats for absorption. If your liver is feeling a bit under the weather, or inundated with substances to detoxify, it can really strain to keep up.  Why not give your liver a well deserved holiday and lay off the fats for a while?

Processed foods are usually a far cry from what you would find in nature, and may contain ingredients that the body does not find easy to digest. Always remember ‘fresh is best’ and choose foods as close to their natural state as possible.

Low fibre foods can slow down the time it takes for your food to travel through your body, meaning waste products are hanging around for longer than they need to.

Alcohol can cause inflammation of the stomach lining and liver damage. The body recognises alcohol as a toxin so it tries to get rid of it via the liver. If the liver is tied up detoxifying last night’s wine, it is less likely to digest your food efficiently.

Try this digestion-boosting breakfast to kick start your day:

  • ½ cup of rolled oats
  • ½ cup natural yoghurt
  • ¼ cup milk/ soy milk
  • 1 kiwi fruit sliced

Combine in a bowl and enjoy!

Did you know?

Due to its protein-digesting effect, kiwi fruit can be added into calamari marinade to help tenderise it before cooking.

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4 foods for healthier skin

Find out the foods to eat for a healthier glow from within.

What you eat may have a profound effect on your skin health. Creams, lotions, facials and peels can only go so far without proper nutrition and hydration.

Scientists argue that your skin reflects your general inner health as well as ageing. So there’s no use buying expensive skin products if you’re eating an unhealthy diet.

Researchers have also studied the link between nutrition and acne for years, and several studies have suggested that a non-Western diet is associated with the absence of acne.

What all this means is simple, really: choosing foods that are known to contain skin-enhancing properties will help keep your skin healthy and youthful, and complement your existing beauty regime.

Try including more of these core skin-health foods in your daily diet if you’re keen to eat your way to healthy skin.

1. Leafy green vegetables

Leafy greens are nutrient-rich vegetables that are known for being exceptionally good for your health. Many contain lutein and zeaxanthin – ingredients that may help to increase skin hydration and elasticity.

Choose kale, collard greens, swiss chard, spinach and broccoli. The darker the leaf, the better.

2. Fish and seafood

Certain types of fish and seafood are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to reduce inflammation. Fish and seafood also contain protein – a key ingredient in collagen, which may help to keep your skin supple and smooth.

Opt for sardines and mackerel, which contain high levels of omega-3 and vitamin B3 (nicotinamide), another key ingredient known to help support skin health.

3. Citrus fruits

Many citrus fruits, like oranges, lemons, grapefruits and mandarin, are high in vitamin C which helps to maintain your skin’s integrity. Vitamin C plays an important role in collagen synthesis and may also help to prevent against free radical damage to your skin.

Kiwi fruit, capsicum, strawberries, broccoli and cauliflower are also great sources of vitamin C.

4. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds contain several important skin health ingredients, including vitamin E and essential fatty acids, which help to support a healthier complexion.

Choose natural almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds and sunflower seeds.

Other ways to look after your skin

  • As well as eating more healthy foods, aim to reduce the amount of unhealthy foods (processed, sugar, saturated fat) in your daily diet
  • Wear sunscreen and a hat whenever you go out in the sun
  • Keep hydrated and drink plenty of water
  • Get adequate rest and 8 hours of sleep each night
  • Take proactive steps to reduce your stress levels

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Five foods for healthy eyes

By including five eye-friendly foods as part of a balanced diet, you can help to maintain optimal eye health, writes Naturopath Kate Ferguson.

1. Spinach

Spinach is a rich source of both lutein and zeaxanthin, which are compounds that add yellow pigment to plants. They are also found in the lens and retina of our eye, where they function as antioxidants.

“Lutein and zeaxanthin are essential pigments for the eyes,” explains naturopath Carl Gagnon. “They not only act as internal sunglasses, filtering out harmful UV light, but they also help to protect the eyes as an antioxidant. Visual acuity and light sensitivity is often improved if a deficiency is corrected.”

Gagnon says that while spinach is the best source of lutein and zeaxantin, any rich greens or yellow foods such as kale, silverbeet, broccoli, corn and egg yolk are also good sources.

2. Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts are the seeds of the South American tree Bertholletia excelsa and may be beneficial for maintaining eye health as they contain selenium. Selenium is a trace mineral that is a component of glutathione peroxidase, an antioxidant enzyme found in the lens of the eye which plays a role in preserving eye health.

3. Salmon

Salmon is a rich source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for maintaining overall eye health. Salmon also contains folic acid, vitamin D, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and vitamin A.

Research has indicated that people who consume more foods containing omega-3 fatty acids may have a reduced risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. A deficiency of omega-3s may contribute to visual problems.

4. Oysters

Oysters are well-known for their aphrodisiac qualities, but they may also benefit eye health due to their rich zinc content.

Zinc is an essential mineral involved in many functions throughout the body. Adequate zinc levels are essential for the maintenance of healthy vision. There are two important enzymes in the retina that are needed for vision require that require zinc. A deficiency in this vital nutrient may also contribute to night blindness.

5. Blueberries

Blueberries are great for the eyes as they contain anthocyanidins, which are a type of flavonoid antioxidant which may support eye health. Anthocyanidins may also help to increase vitamin C levels in the cells and support the circulation to eye by decreasing capillary fragility.

Macular Degeneration Facts

Macular Degeneration (MD) is the leading cause of blindness in Australia. 1 in 7 Australians over the age of 50 will experience MD and the incidence increases with age.

Smokers are 3 times at risk of developing MD and may also develop the condition about 10 years earlier than non-smokers. Smoking may be responsible for around 20% of all new cases of blindness in people over the age of 50.

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Exercise and Immunity

Many of us incorporate work outs into our daily lives in the quest for optimal health. Naturopath Jodi Van Dyk takes a look at the effect all this exercise has on the immune system.

Many of us incorporate work outs into our daily lives in the quest for optimal health. Naturopath Jodi Van Dyk takes a look at the effect all this exercise has on the immune system.

Regular exercise is one of the hallmarks of good living. Ensuring you get adequate cardiovascular exercise along with resistance training may help to improve many health parameters.

Some of the benefits of regular exercise include:

  • Increased cardiovascular fitness and lowered risk of chronic heart disease via decreased LDL-cholesterol, increased HDL-cholesterol and lowered blood pressure
  • Increased basal metabolism
  • Decreased body fat and specifically abdominal fat
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved fitness levels

As exercise provides all these benefits, it’s something that we should all try to include in our weekly regimes.

Exercise also has an impact on our immune system. The role that exercise plays in immunity is complex and could be considered a paradox, as it can both boost and suppress the immune system.

Research has shown that exercise can be beneficial for the immune system. Three randomised exercise training studies have demonstrated that near daily exercise for 12-15 weeks by women who were previously inactive was associated with a significant reduction in upper respiratory tract infections. The exercise involved brisk walking for 40-45 minutes, 5 days per week.

However, longer, more intense exercise may decrease immunity – in professional athletes, for example. A study on elite rowers indicated that prolonged intense rowing training lowers the concentration of a key salivary protein of innate mucosal immunity, which might leave individuals at greater risk of contracting illness. In other words, if you’re someone who exercises frequently and at high level every time, you could be more susceptible to illness.

Here are some tips to ensure that your risk of infection is not increased:

  • Take adequate rest time between workouts and be wary of over-training.
  • Don’t feel guilty for having an exercise-free day. Your body will thank you for it!
  • Maintain a healthy whole food diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Try to get eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Supplement with a good quality multivitamin if you aren’t getting enough key nutrients in your diet

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Ease headaches the natural way

Naturopath Elizabeth D’Avigdor casts light on the causes and cures for headaches.

Q: What are some of the most common triggers of headaches you see?

A: Nine times out of ten, the trigger is over-tight muscles from either prolonged stress and/or poor posture. The most common presentations I see would be chronic recurring headaches. In women, these will worsen towards the end of the menstrual cycle. Most often, headaches can be put down to sheer muscle tension over an extended period. Related to this is the ‘weekend’ headache which comes up when a person starts to relax after a hectic week. More serious causes of headaches include high blood pressure.

Q: How can headaches be treated naturally (ie. without aspirin)?

A: It may be far less complicated to treat headaches than many people think. I often say to my patients, ‘We may not be able to remove the source of stress but we can help protect the body from some of the physiological effects of it.’ The simplest, and often the most effective remedy in the short term, is magnesium. It is the ace muscle relaxant mineral, helping to relieve everything from muscle spasm, to period pain, to the occasional twitching of an eye. I will also often recommend regular massages and a visit to the osteopath or chiropractor to check out the neck and correct any postural problems which would contribute to excessive muscle tightness.

Q: What are some long-term solutions for people who suffer from headaches regularly?

A: It depends largely on the individual, but I do always recommend some lifestyle assessment, checking out the various ways people can incorporate stress relieving activities into their every day. Yoga, for example, can be brilliant for keeping a supple body that will release tension more easily. Taking magnesium, and perhaps calcium, will help address excessive muscle tension and the symptoms of stress. Very often, there may also be a digestive component to the headache. A poorly functioning digestive system prevents the proper absorption of nutrients into the body. This would be another important area to address, as a sluggish digestion will mean poor elimination of waste and added stress on the body. If I were to prioritise, I would suggest that a person look at lifestyle factors and try to work out new ways to manage stress; visit an osteopath or chiropractor and follow up with regular massage; and take magnesium supplements.

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Boost your exam performance – naturally!

Overdoing it on coffee and candy at exam time? Try a diet of fish, fresh vegetables and herb tea instead. Stephanie Oley explains.

Overdoing it on coffee and candy at exam time? Try a diet of fish, fresh vegetables and herb tea instead. Stephanie Oley explains

Who hasn’t experienced caffeine jitters during exam time? The exhaustion that comes from studying too hard is one thing. But the bloated, unnatural feeling of having downed too many coffees and sweets is quite another.

That’s why students could do well to heed the growing evidence that natural, nutrient-rich foods such as fresh fish, fruit and vegetables are more likely to drive their concentration skills further.

Proof in the pudding

In a recent study of 500 high school students by the UK’s School Food Trust, 79 per cent were more likely to reach for unhealthy snacks, such as chocolate and fizzy drinks, than to eat healthy meals. Many skipped meals to make time for their studies. Yet most students knew that eating badly could affect their academic performance.

Boost your concentration the natural way

Quick and nutritious eating is easy, provided your household is organised and shops ahead of time.

Start your healthy habits well before exam time, says advisory naturopath Carl Gagnon. “Don’t wait until the last minute, as most nutrients and herbal medicines take time to provide benefit.”

Breakfast – Eating breakfast has been proven in studies all over the world to improve concentration powers in class.

Tip: Pushed for time? Whip up some instant oats with banana or baked beans on wholegrain toast, and eat while going over your notes or that day’s news headlines.

Water – “When we get dehydrated it affects our concentration. Then we think we’re hungry, so we end up snacking instead,” says Brisbane-based dietician, Julie Gilbert.

Tip: “Keep a bottle of water at your desk, and drink water with each meal,” Gilbe advises. Add flavour (and night-time comfort!) by hydrating with herbal teas – ginseng and ginger tea are invigorating yet calming.

Whole grains – “Whole grains contain lots of omega-6 essential fatty acids and B-group vitamins. When you’re stressed, your body depletes B vitamins quite quickly.”

Tip: Prepare a healthy lunch at night, when you’re too tired to study anymore but too wired to sleep. That way you can just grab and go in the morning.

Fresh fruit and vegetables – “These will provide the vitamins and minerals necessary to release energy from food, and the fibre needed to help stabilise blood sugar levels and keep you energised,” says Gilbert.

Tip: “Don’t snack at your desk, even if you’re eating healthy fruit or nuts. Leave your study room and focus on the break instead,” Gilbert advises.

Lean protein – “Foods high in protein tend to contain lots of other important minerals and nutrients, such as iron, zinc and omega-3 essential fatty acids,” says Lord. Protein helps our bodies to balance blood sugar levels, and maintain concentration evenly in doing so.

Tip: “Make sure to serve yourself individualised portions, or you’ll end up overeating,” suggests Gilbert.

Fish – Try to eat three serves per week of oily fish, like mackerel, salmon or tuna, to ensure you’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids. “Omega-3s line the myelin sheaths of the brain, which enables faster transmission of information,” says Lord.

Tip: Consider taking a multivitamin that contains omega-3s and other ‘brain food’.

Food as fuel, not comfort

“Try not to turn to food for comfort – you could risk setting up a bad habit for the rest of your life,” says Gilbert. If exam pressure is getting you down, play some soft music or go for a walk around the block instead, she advises.

Did you know?

  • Eating breakfast has been proven in studies the world over to boost academic performance in comparable schools?
  • You can feel hungry simply by being dehydrated? Make sure to keep sipping that water!
  • Nutrients such as protein and fibre keep your blood sugar levels stable, so they’re great for building long-term concentration powers.

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