Harvest Health

Harvest Health

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Staying healthy this Holiday Season

'Tis the season to be jolly....fa..la..la..la..la'.  And the season to be stressed, tired, indulgent, and for some, miserable.  No matter whether you love or loathe this time of year, there is a good chance you will feel more stressed.  Everyone seems to be really busy, trying to do, buy and see too much.  The season of joy can all too often become the stressful season.  Tense neck and shoulders, sleeping problems, upset digestion, anger or irritability are all signs and symptoms of a body that is experiencing stress.  However, there are several things you can do to help your body and ensure you look forward to a fresh start in the New Year, feeling recharged, fit and healthy.:

·        Learn to say ‘No’.  It may not be good for your health to have a full social diary.  Even during this busy time of year. or perhaps, especially at this time of year, schedule time in for down-time.

·        Ensure you have at least  2 early nights to bed each week.  This means in bed by 10:30pm

·        Balance the festive food by making yourself a couple of dinners each week that are simple, and full of vegetables and salad.

·        During periods of over-indulgence, and busy stressful times our bodies require more nutrients.  At the very least consider taking a good B vitamin.  Magnesium is useful to aid the relaxation of tense muscles and help with fatigue and insomnia.  Vitamin C may also be beneficial as our bodies use up a lot of this vitamin when stressed.

·    The world of herbs gives us many remedies to support our nervous system and adrenal glands.  These include common herbs such as Chamomile, Lemon balm, St John's Wort and lavender, and lesser well known ones such as Withania, Skullcap and Rhodiola.

·     Be kind to your liver.  The liver works very hard not only when we drink alcohol, but also when we eat a lot of sugary and processed foods.  Having AFDs (alcohol free days) are very important for your liver's health.  There are other things you can do to encourage the health of this vital organ - lemon juice in warm water is a lovely wake up for the liver each morning, including bitter greens with an oil and lemon juice dressing most days is also very beneficial to the liver. If you are going to indulge, the herb St Mary's thistle is a naturopathic secret - it helps the liver process and detoxify alcohol!  It may be worth getting hold of some St Mary's in a capsule form if you are going to a few boozy christmas parties.
Often this time of year can be when we take stock, and prioritise - hence the popularity of making New Years resolutions.  Consider how important your health is in your life, and what you do on a daily basis to preserve and encouage it. 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Tea or coffee?

If you drink tea or coffee on a daily basis, do you know how much caffeine you consume?  The information below may help you work it out.

A 250ml cup of instant coffee contains 80mg of caffeine.  An espresso contains 107mg.  A 250ml cup of tea contains 27mg of caffeine.  You may be surprised to learn that green and black tea are produced from the same plant - black tea is made from oxidised leaves, whereas green tea leaves are not oxidised at all.  The amount of caffeine in green tea is generally lower than in black tea.  The overall amount of caffeine in a cup of tea will depend, however, on how long you leave the tea to brew.

If you are not pregnant or breastfeeding, the general guidelines on caffeine consumption are quite high - up to 500 - 600mg a day.  I would argue that this is too high, and many people would experience symptoms of anxiety well below this limit.  A safer guideline is to stick to no more than 1 cup of coffee a day, or 2 - 3 cups of tea.  It is also important to have regular caffeine free days so that you are not creating a dependency.

It's important to remember that caffeine can have many unwanted side effects such as insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, digestive upset, fast heartbeat and muscle tremors.  Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others.  If you're susceptible to the effects of caffeine, just small amounts - one cup of coffee or tea - may prompt unwanted effects, such as irritability and sleep problems.

If you feel that you need to reduce your coffee or tea intake, there are many wonderful herbal teas to try.  Choose a good quality organic loose leaf tea, make a pot, and enjoy the ritual and pause in the day that making a cup of health giving tea can bring.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Ginger Tea

Lately I've been feeling a little bit unwell.  Not extremely unwell with a fever, but just like I'm coming down with a cold and a sore throat.  When I feel like this there is only one thing I crave, and that's ginger.

Whenever you feel the first signs of a scratchy throat, or a sniffly nose, ginger is your best friend.  Ginger tea is very simple to make.  Simply slice about 2cm of fresh ginger root into thin slices, and place in a teapot with boiling water.  Let it steep for 5 - 10 minutes.  Pour into a cup with 1/2 teaspoon of honey and the juice of about 1/2 lemon. 

Or, if you like a stronger brew, you can simmer the ginger in a small saucepan for 5 - 10 minutes.  When drinking ginger tea you should feel a pleasant tingle in the throat which is quite soothing.

Ginger is typical of the wonderful world of herbs - it has many actions and can therefore be used for many different conditions.  This is in complete contrast to pharmaceutical medicines which are typically used for one condition only.

Ginger is actually the rhizome (type of root) of a perennial plant Zingiber officinalis which grows to a height of about 60 centimetres.  As well as fighting colds and strep throat, ginger's host of other actions include:
  • anti-nausea - used for motion sickness, morning sickness, nausea and vomiting.
  • Carminative (useful for gastrointestinal discomfort and bloating)
  • Anti-inflammatory - useful for arthritis
Ginger is inexpensive, effective and easily available.  What more can you ask from a remedy!

Ginger used in dietary amounts shouldn't cause any interactions with medications.  However, if taking high dose ginger supplements there is a possibility of an increased bleeding risk with drugs used to prevent blood clots such as Warfarin and aspirin, due to ginger's  antiplatelet effects.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


Not only is parsley an easy to grow plant that thrives with little attention, it packs a powerful punch nutritionally.

Parsley is the richest herb/vegetable source of potassium.  Amongst its many functions, potassium helps balance the acid/alkaline status of the body to a more alkaline state.  Parsley also contains good amounts of calcium and magnesium, making parsley a super source of minerals, and of benefit to helping muscles and nerves relax.  Other nutrients it contains are iron and vitamin C.  Parsley is powerful!

Parsley Pesto
I have resisted making parsley pesto for a long time because I love basil pesto so much.  Pesto means basil, basil is traditional, and doesn't deserve tinkering with.  However, there has been no basil in the garden since last Summer, but plenty of parsley, so the other day, without much expectation, I tried it.

It was wonderful!  Other members of the house still prefer basil, but I didn't miss the basil much at all.  I'm thinking it may be good to combine the two, since parsley is much more prolific.

There are many recipes for pesto around, and you can easily just swap the basil for parsley.  I like to give my pestos a bit of a nutritional lift by replacing the pine nuts with either sunflower seeds, raw cashew nuts or brazil nuts.  Sunflower seeds seem to work the best.

Just place the parsley, seeds (or nuts), parmesan cheese, and half a garlic clove in a food processor and give it a whizz until it's the consistency you like - either fine or chunky.  Add a pinch of salt and some olive oil and whizz again.

Parsley pesto can be used in many different ways - with wholemeal pasta, a spoonful added to a bowl of soup, spread over grilled chicken or fish, to name a few.

Parsley - it's powerful, and in pesto it's delicious!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Grow your own greens

I'm not much of a gardener, but I do love to grow a few herbs and vegies in the backyard.  Without much effort at all the patch is flourishing at the moment.

I have been delighted with how easy it has been to grow leafy green vegies.  They don't require much attention, and silverbeet and parsley in particular, just keep giving and giving. 

Eating more green leafy veg is one of the most basic and simple things you can do for your health.  It makes it so much easier to achieve this when you can pick handfuls from your own backyard.  Adding a chopped  handful of green leaves to any dish, or sprinkling on handfuls of chopped parsley, will give a nutritional boost to any meal.  There is something comforting in knowing that even if the fridge is bare of vegetables, a healthy meal can still be had from a trip to the backyard.

Harvesting from the garden is a great way to increase your harvest of health.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Not so fantastic plastics

As discussed in the previous post, chemicals from plastic containers and wrappers may not be as safe as industry and regulators would like us to believe.  Polycarbonate can release BPA, and compounds such as phthalates are added to PVC to make it softer and less rigid.  The main concern surrounding these compounds is the way they have been shown to be endocrine disruptors.  That is, they mimic and disturb our body's hormones. 

Some plastic containers are more dangerous than others.  If you are concerned, and would like to minimise your exposure, use the table below to see which ones are best avoided.

The table is taken from a fantastic article on Choice online, and can be found here.

You can often identify the type of plastic from its identification code – unfortunately, this code is voluntary and you won’t find it on all plastic packaging. Look for the codes 1 (PET), 2 (HDPE), 4 (LDPE), 5 (PP) and 6 (PS). Whenever possible avoid foods or beverages that have been in contact with plastics with the symbol 3 (PVC) or 7 (a catch-all category that includes polycarbonate).

Many packaged foods are in plastic containers that seem to be harmless.  Soft drinks and bottled water are usually in PET bottles, for example, while yoghurt and margarine containers are usually made from polypropylene. There’s clearly no real need for food manufacturers to use packaging or wrapping made from polycarbonate or PVC, but there are still far too many products in the supermarkets where the food is in contact with these potentially harmful plastics.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Plastics - Harmful to our health?

It may surprise you to learn that the most prevalent exposure to environmental pollutants is in the house (providing the workplace is not a problem).   One of our biggest exposures is to plastic, and there is growing evidence that our food and drink can be contaminated by harmful chemicals from some types of plastic.  It is the daily cumulative exposure that is the problem.

Photo by Kangshutters

Many plastics contain plasticisers which are used to make hard plastics soft.  Phthalates, such as the well known BPA (Bisphenol A) have a small molecular structure and can be readily absorbed  - meaning they can be transmitted into food and digested, or absorbed through the skin.  All plastics have phthalates in them, BPA is just deemed more dangerous.

Plastics are a problem in our bodies because they are endocrine disruptors, meaning they can mimic our natural hormones, our reproductive hormones in particular.  The young are the most vulnerable to exposure because of their lower body weight and because their growth and development are strongly influenced by hormones.  
While these compounds are undoubtedly hazardous at high levels of exposure, scientific opinion is divided over the risk from the much lower levels that we’re exposed to every day in our food. There is, however, growing scientific evidence that even at these lower levels of exposure, phthalates and BPA may be causing problems such as infertility, obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Photo by Stoonn

It is scary stuff, but there are things you can do to minimise your exposure to these chemicals:
  • Don't heat food in plastic containers
  • Don't store oil based or acidic food (such as tomatoes) in plastic
  • Avoid fresh meat, fruit or vegetables wrapped in cling wrap, as many supermarkets and greengrocers are still using cling wrap containing PVC.
  • Don't repeatedly wash plastic containers in the dishwasher
Remember, it is the cumulative exposure that is the problem.  If we can decrease our exposure wherever possible, the occasional contact with plastic is less likely to be a problem.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Crunchy Granola

Commercially made toasted mueslis or granolas are not exactly healthy foods.  They often have large amounts of unhealthy oils added and are then toasted at a high heat which oxidises the oils.  Large amounts of sugar are also added.  The good news is that you can make a much healthier version at home

The muesli from the last post can be transformed into a delicious crunchy granola with the addition of a small amount of oil, maple syrup and a slow, gentle roast in the oven.  That's it really.  I've never worked from a recipe for muesli or granola, because it is so simple.

Mix together a batch of your own muesli.  It is a good idea to add some raw nuts and coconut as they are lovely when roasted.  Drizzle roughly 3 - 4 tablespoons of a good quality oil onto the muesli, and stir in thoroughly.  I like to use extra virgin olive oil, or rice bran oil.  Organic sunflower oil works well too.  Just add enough so that the oats are not wet, but you can see that they have been slightly coated.  Then add an equivalent amount of maple syrup.  The idea is to just give a slight sweetness, not make it really sweet.

Spread the mix out onto a couple of baking trays and place them into an oven that has been heated to 150C.  The granola is done when the mix turns a slight golden colour.  Every 5 - 10 minutes give the trays a bit of a stir to move the mix around so there are no burnt bits.

Your house will fill with delicious baking smells.  Yummm......

Granola is delicious on top of plain yoghurt with some fruit, and it makes a great change from porridge or muesli. The roasted flavour and crunch is very satisfying.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Muesli Recipe (well, sort of...)

It can be expensive to buy a good quality muesli.  It is, however, very easy to make and a satisfying task to make your own.  This is 'sort of' a recipe because I don't use specific quantities of the ingredients.  I simply  go by what looks right, and make enough to fit in the jar I store it in.

  • Oats (organic or biodynamic)
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Nuts of your choice (raw) - I love hazelnuts.  Almonds and cashews work well
  • Cinnamon
  • Coconut (optional)

Put the oven on about 150 - 160 C.  Spread about 3 good handfuls of chopped nuts out over a baking tray and place in the oven for about 20 mins, or until lightly roasted.  The roasted nuts give the muesli a delicious flavour.  Grab a big bowl and pour in about 4 - 5 cups of oats.  Add about 3 good handfuls each of pumpkin and sunflower seeds.  Add less of the sesame seeds.  Add about 3/4 cup of coconut if using, and then sprinkle some cinnamon through the muesli - about 1 teaspoon.   Stir everything together with a big spoon, and there you have it - your very own muesli!  Store in an air-tight glass jar or container.

The cinnamon gives a lovely flavour, and it is very good for helping to keep blood sugar levels stable.  I don't like to use any dried fruit as I think it is too much sugar for breakfast.  It's not a good idea to start the day off on a sugar (even the dried fruit kind) rollercoaster!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Healthy Breakfast ideas - Part 2

Yesterday we looked at making some healthier choices around some of our breakfast staples - cereal and bread.  But, of course, there are so many more foods that we could consider at breakfast time.

Porridge can be made from many other grains apart from oats.  Have you tried millet or quinoa porridge?  You can make them pretty much the same as oat porridge, just cook until the grain is soft.  Brow.n rice can also be used.  Leftover rice can be eaten with yoghurt and stewed apple, for example, or cooked further in milk of your choice, until it is more of a congee consistency.

More breakfast ideas that also happen to be gluten free:

  • Eggs, eggs and more eggs! Scrambled, poached, boiled or in an omelet.  If you add a side of avocado, and/or mushrooms, you don't miss not having toast.
  • Organic or biodynamic plain yoghurt with fresh fruit and chopped walnuts
  • Sliced mushrooms cooked with butter or oil, with a side of chopped tomato and/or avocado
  • 'Salsa' made with chopped boiled eggs, tomato, avocado, parsley (or coriander), spinach, with a squeeze of lemon juice
  • Fruit smoothie made with organic cow's milk or oat milk, and yoghurt
Of course the options are endless when you consider borrowing from other cultures; you may consider miso soup, lentil dahl, or even steak and vegies!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Healthy Breakfast ideas - Part 1

There is so much to write about breakfast that I think it will take a couple of posts.  Here is part 1.

It is important to 'break the fast' and start the day with some nutritious food.  In Western countries such as Australia, the breakfast food of choice is often boxed cereal.  Although this choice is definitely an easy option, it deserves careful consideration.

Photo by Michelle Meiklejohns
Most (if not all) commercial breadfast cereals are a very processed food.  The majority are based on a grain, or combination of grains, however the finished product looks nothing like the plant food it contains!  Many cereals also have vitamins added back into the food, suggesting that it has been very refined.  Brands that are labeled 'high energy' will often only be high in sugar.

A much better choice for a grain based breadfast is where you can actually recognise the food, such as oats used in porridge or muesli.  Many people don't realise, however, that most grains, including oats, require cooking or soaking to make them more digestible.  Bircher muesli is soaked overnight in milk, water or juice.  If you don't soak muesli over night, then in the morning pour a small amount of boiling water over the muesli in a bowl and let it soak for about 15 minutes.  Add fresh fruit and yoghurt.

Toast is the other breakfast staple.  However, spongy white bread is not a good food to start the day as it is very refined.  Ideally choose bread made from sourdough, with wholegrain flour.  The more dense and grainy bread is, it is generally higher in fibre, and a better product.  Avoid bleached flour, bread improvers, and other additives in your loaf.

Some great toppings for toast include: avocado, poached egg with rocket or spinach, sardines, organic baked beans.

Of course, there is a whole world of ideas out there for breakfast that do not include cereal or toast.  Come back tomorrow, and we'll explore some of them.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Simple Healthy Habits

The world of health and nutrition can be confusing, bewildering, and time consuming!  As with most things in life, simplicity is the key.

                                                          Photo by Luigi Diamanti

Here are some simple tips to get you started on healthier eating:

  • Eat what's in season for maximum flavour and value
  • Eat organic food wherever possible to minimise ingestion of chemical fertilisers and pesticides
  • Include vegetables at lunchtime
  • Honor meal times - don't eat standing up or on the run.  Don't eat in front of the TV.
  • Drink plent of water.  However, don't drink with meals as it can dilute stomach acid and reduce your body's ability to digest.
  • 80/20 is OK.  Eating well 80% of the time means your body will be able to handle the occasional treat and indulgence.

Remember, the little things that you do will add up.  Your body will thank you for any positive change you can make!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Here I Am

My very first blog post.

Here I am, about to add to the billions of blogs that now exist worldwide.  I am a Naturopath and I live in Melbourne, Australia.  I have a degree in Naturopathy, and have been practicing in a clinic for the last few years.  The longer I practice, the more I realise how much more there is to know about health.  This blog is an attempt to share some simple health tips, and practices, and to explore the often confusing world of health information.  There is so much information out there, but the trick is to make it very simple.  Really.

Good health is feeling as well as we can in the body we have.  The last bit in that sentence is important.  Each body will have different experiences of health. Every body will have different requirements to be healthy.  There is not one way to harvest health, there are many.  The challenge is find the way that suits you.