Catering for Intolerants

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas and with that comes events and parties, which always provides a few interesting challenges for those managing food intolerances. How do you manage these challenges so that everyone has a good time and that the only sore heads are from too much Christmas cheer ?

Part of being a good host is making sure you look after your guests so its a good idea to check on any food intolerances before the event. It’s also much easier to prepare appropriate options with a little planning.

90% of food intolerances are due to five main foods , milk, eggs, nuts, soy and wheat. Whilst I am not suggesting that you make your catering completely allergen free, avoiding some of the major allergens so that the intolerant have a few options is a useful strategy. Here are five easy swaps to have options for those with intolerances.

  • Swap the bread base for sliced cucumber (lebanese cucumbers work well)
  • Use cocktail potatoes cut in half to hold a filling – this can be a very upmarket canape with a little melted butter and roe.
  • Rice paper rolls are fresher and healthier than spring rolls.
  • Platters which are clearly marked with lots of crunchy vegetables and dips which are allergen free , like salsa, guacamole and humuus.
  • Replace crumbed foods with protein options such as a fresh bowl of peeled prawns with lemon and guacamole dip or chicken drumettes in a gluten free honey soy marinade.

For those of you who are busy organising and planning parties and events here is a collection of six easy one pan meals designed to ensure you have healthy and quick options (and they are all gluten free as a bonus).

Flavour your food with Therapeutic Herbs

Traditionally many herbs were used to flavour foods or to assist with digestion of those foods. In some instances the flavours are used to enhance the meal and in other cases they were added to alcohol and provided as an aperitif.

There are a significant number of herbs which flavour foods and are commonly used in cooking. Ideally use fresh herbs to really maximise the the nutritional content.

Ginger is a rhizome which can be used sliced, grated or dried. It is useful for stimulating digestion in terms of improving peristalsis, which is the regular muscular movement of the bowels. It is also beneficial for people who suffer from nausea and is often suggested as a tea in the early stages of pregnancy. Ginger can be used as a base for a simple stir fry of vegetables or added as part of a spice mix in Asian dishes.

Garlic is a bulb and is high in both sulphur and allicin, a potent anti-microbial. Garlic is reknown for its impact on the immune system and regular consumption can really support immune function. Many years ago on a camping trip around Thailand we were consuming the equivilant of 5-6 cloves daily. One member of our group had a bad cold but nobody else seemed to acquire it given the substantial consumption of garlic.

Garlic also has value in assisting in the reduction of cholesterol and it is useful for liver function sparing glutathione.

Both ginger and garlic can be used therapeutically in teas with more information in this recent blog Herbal teas for hydration .

Peppermint is usually considered a digestive herb due to the therapeutic properties of its essential oils. Most peppermint leaves consist of up to 2.5% essential oils. Those oils have specific uses in Irritable Bowel symptoms as they are antispasmodic and carminative. That is they relieve symptoms of cramping as well as being useful to alleviate bloating and gas. Mint goes well in salads, particularly flavours such as watermelon and strawberry.

Cinnamon is a bark which has a range of digestive actions. It was often used due to its antifungal actions to preserve baked goods but also has value in its ability to assist in the management of blood glucose and improve insulin sensitivity. Cinnamon is also a carminative which assists in reducing muscle contractions and relieves flatulence, thereby improving the appetite. The smell of cinnamon in cooking is particularly evocative. Cinnamon pairs well with many digestive herbs and spices. An easy way to introduce it in food is to sprinkle ground cinnamon on pumpkin whilst baking.

Rosemary like any digestive herb has a high essential oil content and it is considered useful for colic and period pain due to its antispasmodic actions. The flavour of any meat is usually improved by adding a combination of lemon juice, rosemary, garlic and rock salt. It pairs particularly well with chicken and lamb and is a good source of iron, calcium and B6. Rosemary is one of the few herbs that we manage to grow successfully and so I find a wide number of uses for it in cooking but also in adding as a dried herb to bath salts.

Have you managed to successfully grow herbs and use them in your cooking ? Please post in the comments if you have any tips as in the past I have managed to kill peppermint in the garden!

Spring Reset Meal Plan

Do you enjoy doing a quiz to see how you are going with your health? As part of the Spring Reset program earlier this year we reviewed the need for a detox as well as providing a healthy meal plan to really get people started. The meal plan is included as a download at the end of this blog and I would love some feedback on how the recipes worked for you.

The end of lockdowns is an ideal time to look at a “reset” for your health and you will find the questionnaire really assists you in determining what areas really need attention. Typically if you are considering a detox then it’s the digestive issues like reflux, bloating and flatulence, that will drive the decision. However it is often the case that allergy symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing and sinus will also see improvement as a result and it is also useful when you are suffering from inflammation.

To really start your Reset it is recommended that you pick one change from this list and stick to it for a week and just notice the difference for you.

  1. Three cups of vegetables a day with at least one cup of leafy greens.
  2. Adequate hydration of at least 1.5-2.0 L of water or herbal tea daily.
  3. Protein at every meal, palm size and thickness.
  4. One handful of nuts and seeds a day.
  5. Reduce starchy carbohydrates (bread, pasta and rice) to 1-2 serves daily.
  6. Reduce coffee and tea to one cup daily

Many of these changes work well together, for example if you cut down on the starchy carbs at lunch, then ideally you replace it with more vegetables. Cutting down on the tea and coffee could see you drinking more water. Regardless of which one you pick check in and redo the detox questionnaire after a week and see what’s changed. For many people simple dietary changes with adequate hydration are enough to see a real improvement. The changes may start early but for sustainable improvement it may require 6-8 weeks.

For those of you who are curious about whether a detox may be right for you please find a detox questionnaire for your interest.

If you wondered what a meal plan looked like doing a Reset this program below gives you an outline of what it could look like. To make it easy we often include recipes for dinner with the ability to use leftovers for lunch. In this way you are not preparing food multiple times a day.

If you would like more information on detoxification, or simply to understand if it can assist you and would like to make an appointment you can book in on (02) 8084 0081 or online.

For more blogs on detoxification you might like to read the following;

  1. Getting ready to detox
  2. Detoxing is it for me?
  3. What are the best vegetables for feeding your gut?

Herbal teas for hydration

Most people know they need to be drinking adequate amounts of water however it can get difficult to keep levels up particularly in Winter when it is cold. Herbal teas can be a good way to keep up hydration and enjoy a warm drink at the same time.

First up did you know that white, oolong, green tea and black teas are all in the green tea family, the difference is in the degree of fermentation. Black tea is fermented and has a higher amount of caffeine as a result, but all of this family have a high level of polyphenols. Fermentation increases the caffeine content so black tea has about 48mg per cup whereas green tea has around 28mg. Given the caffeine content these teas are a better option for the morning when you need a quick energy boost. Green tea blends well with other flavours and some good options can be green tea with lime. If you do have trouble sleeping its usually best to avoid green or black tea later in the day.

Green tea is high in polyphenols and specifically epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which has shown to be beneficial for assisting with inflammation and chronic diseases. Wherever possible try and use an organic green tea if you are drinking it for its health benefits.

A number of teas can provide digestive benefits and this includes options such as peppermint and ginger. Ginger is particularly known for anti-nausea effects whereas peppermint is a useful digestive as the menthol helps relax the stomach and may assist if you are prone to bloating. Peppermint doesn’t contain caffeine so its a good choice later in the day and can be made at home by crushing and steeping peppermint leaves in hot water.

Ginger tea can be made by simply slicing up fresh ginger and steeping it for five to ten minutes or by using dried ginger root. Ginger has been clinically researched for post chemotherapy nausea and reduced symptoms by about 40% which is considered clinically significant. (1) It is also known for its assistance with morning sickness.

Ginger is also useful as a mild circulatory stimulant, boosting blood flow and can be a useful addition to a tea blend to help improve absorption of the other ingredients.

For those who have trouble sleeping two useful options are passionflower and chamomile. Passionflower is believed to increase GABA, a neurotransmitter which is calming and may reduce anxiety. (2)Chamomile is a gentle nervine in that it is calming and it may also have a beneficial impact on blood sugar levels as it lowers blood glucose levels. (3) Many people find that they get to sleep easier and have better quality sleep with chamomile tea later in the evening.

It can be fun to try different herbal teas and even make up your own combinations. One of my current favourites is white tea with rose petals. It has a softer flavour than green tea and the rose petals give it a lovely colour and a dose of Vitamin C. For those who would like to try some new tea options some of my favourite online sources for herbal teas are Austral Herbs for the individual components or Mrs Oldbucks in Berrima for a range of pre made teas and individual components.

Regardless of which teas you try make sure its leaf tea as much as possible. There are concerns about micro plastics being used in many tea bags which really isn’t something you want to include in your diet. The major reason to use leaf tea however is it simply gives a better flavour.

Christine Pope is a Naturopath and Nutritionist who works at Elemental Health St Ives and is available online and in person for appointments if you want to improve your health. Her preference is for black tea in the morning, prana chai at lunch and green tea or chamomile later in the day.

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4818021/

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2941540/

(3) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25176245/

Reduce your breast cancer risk

Attending an Integrative Oncology conference online in June 2021 was an interesting experience. The organiser provided an extensive program looking at treatment options and naturopathic support. One in three people will develop cancer at some point and improvements in testing and treatment have resulted in significant improvements in survival rates with those for breast cancer increasing from 75% to 91% over the past twenty years.

In addition to medical treatment there is also useful research on changes that can improve your survival risks and indeed may be useful preventative strategies, particularly if there is a history of breast cancer in the family. These strategies include diet, exercise , therapeutic foods and reducing alcohol consumption.

First up diet! During treatment doctors may advise that diet really doesn’t matter. Largely this is due to the concern that the nausea and lack of appetite resulting from chemotherapy or radiation treatment will result in significant loss of weight and you are less able to sustain treatment. At this stage maintaining kilojoules and weight is key. Post treatment however diet becomes critical.

What is the best diet for reducing your breast cancer risk ? Ideally a plant based whole food diet which still includes adequate amounts of protein from either animal or plant sources. Let’s consider the key components of this type of diet and how it may help.

Eat your vegetables

A wide range of vegetables is ideal and at least three cups of vegetables a day. There are four major reasons why vegetables are critical to good health;

  1. Vegetables provide a wide range of nutrients including key minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium.
  2. Vegetables are a good source of fibre for gut flora. The benefits of adequate fibre are significant as it feeds beneficial strains of bacteria in our gut.
  3. The fibre in vegetables which assist the body in processing our hormones down a less proliferative pathway.
  4. The fibre in vegetables results in a slow release of energy, which assists in maintaining blood sugar and a healthy weight range. Being significantly overweight or obese increases your risks.

In addition to vegetables a couple of serves of whole grains daily in the form of good quality sourdough or brown rice is also useful in terms of ensuring adequate fibre.

One to two serves of fruit

The polyphenols in fruit, like grapes, apples, pears , cherries and berries has been shown to be protective against many chronic diseases. Polyphenols are a component of plants that serve to protect them from ultraviolet radiation or infections. They are considered natural antioxidants and assist in both the treatment and prevention of cancer (1).

Adequate protein

A small amount of protein at each meal is essential for repair post surgery and treatment but also provides stable blood sugar. Ideally a palm size , palm width portion is sufficient. Wherever possible consider including plant based sources of protein , such as chickpeas, lentils and tempeh, nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds make an ideal snack to include daily as they are a powerhouse of nutrition with the benefit of incorporating healthy fats as well as essential minerals like zinc.

Add Therapeutic Foods

There are many foods which really have therapeutic effects outside of superfoods from the Amazonian rain forest. These include options such as green tea , cruciferous vegetables, flaxseed and turmeric. Through a range of pathways they are beneficial as they can assist in modulating genes which affect cell expression, growth and proliferation. Therapeutic foods may be helpful in that they can assist in reducing inflammation and support the development of tumour suppressor genes

  1. Green tea which contains useful polyphenols that can act as anti-oxidants in the body. From a preventative aspect the dosage of the active ingredient would result in you consuming up to four cups of green tea a day, preferably organic.
  2. Cruciferous vegetables which contains natural sulforaphane shown to slow down tumour growth and block the genetic mutations that lead to cancer in the first place. At least one cup a day of raw cruciferous vegetables which includes broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage.
  3. Flaxseed, which contains beneficial omega 3 fatty acids and contains compounds that
    may reduce the body’s production of oestrogen. 1-2 Tablespoons a day is
  4. Turmeric, the most potent natural anti-inflammatory food on the planet; it is also many times
    more antioxidative than vitamin E.

Exercise regularly

One intervention that has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence by up to 55% is brisk walking of up to 2.5 hours a week. Exercise has the advantage of reducing inflammation but also assisting in the management of stress levels. Walking 30 minutes a day five days a week is enough to see a significant benefit it just needs to be at a pace where you can talk but not sing ! (2)

Reduce alcohol

The recommendation for alcohol consumption for women are 1-2 drinks a day however even at these levels it has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer by 30-50%. (3) The equivalent of one standard drink a day increases risk by about 5%. Alcohol reduces the ability of the body to detoxify hormones and so it is particularly concerning with hormone receptive cancers.

So which intervention is more useful for you and your particular circumstances ? Not sure if it is my bias as a nutritionist but sorting out diet tends to make a significant impact and usually improves your energy so that you can increase your physical activity as well.

If you need assistance implementing changes or just want to check in on your current diet and supplements Christine is available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Elemental Health at St Ives and you can make appointments on 02 8084 0081. You can also book an online consultation on Zoom.

(1) Quideau S., Deffieux D., Douat-Casassus C., Pouységu L. Plant polyphenols: Chemical properties, biological activities, and synthesis. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2011;50:586–621. doi: 10.1002/anie.201000044.

(2) https://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/exercise-improves-survival-and-reduces-risk#:~:text=The%20researchers%20found%20that%20women,t%20meet%20the%20minimum%20guidelines

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3832299/

Natural medicine for sore throats

My kids have always been a little worried when they were first getting sick, except when they had a sore throat as they would be excited as they could have honey! Good quality Manuka honey that is usually combined with a lemon and garlic tea.

The first symptom that many people notice with a cold or flu is often a sore throat. A niggling or slight scratchiness initially and then within a few hours it has developed into a sore throat. Depending on the symptoms its usually a good idea to provide gentle immune system support and some appropriate homeopathic remedies. Three options are useful for supporting the immune system manuka honey, elderberry and lemon and garlic tea.

Sore throats are often a precursor to a cold or flu so supporting the immune system with Elderberry is ideal. A good over the counter option for Elderberry is the product Sambucol which comes in capsules or lozenges. The advantage of a lozenge is that it provides a way of topically treating the sore throat. This option also tastes a lot better than most which helps if you are treating children.

For sore throats where there is also congestion or a cough its usually helpful to add a good quality tea combined with manuka honey. To make lemon and garlic tea boil up 5 cloves of garlic with a quartered organic lemon in about 1L of water. Bring to the boil an then reduce to simmering on the stove for 20 minutes. Keep the lid on as this ensures that the limonene essentials oils are retained in the tea. One to two cups a day with a teaspoon of good quality Manuka honey will help with symptoms and recovery.

Homeopathic medicine is a useful way to support recovery from a sore throat. Its usual to match the symptoms of the sore throat to the homeopathic remedy. First up look at the location of the sore throat, is it on the left or right side. Then look at the type of pain associated with the sore throat, is it dry, sore, stabbing or burning ? Check to see if anything makes it better or worse (this is what we call the modalities), this could be that its better for cold or warm drinks for example. It could be a little different in that they are better for covering the throat. Then look at any other symptoms that are occurring at the same time and see if they have a similar patter.

Two remedies that focus on the side on which the sore throat starts are Lachesis and Lycopodium, Lachesis tends to start on the left side and usually is associated with burning pain in the throat. Lachesis is also known for people who may have a sore throat but can still talk incessantly. People who need Lachesis often find drinking doesn’t help but eating my provide relief. Lycopodium tends to start on the right side or is worse on the right side and the pain is usually better for warm drinks.

Hepar Sulph is often useful where the pain extends to the ears and the sore throat comes on after a cold or after getting chilled.

Where the throat is more infected and glands are swollen you should consider Mercurius Solubulus (Merc Sol). When this remedy is indicated there may be excessive saliva such that the pillow is drenched in the morning as well as bad breath. The sensation in the throat could be dry or burning pain. This remedy can be of significant benefit in the acute phases of glandular fever.

For more information on managing the symptoms of acute illnesses see the recent blogs Treating colds and flus naturally , Stomach Aches and Pains and Natural Medicine First Aid .

Christine is a practicing Naturopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health, St Ives and can be contacted on 02 8084 0081.

Supporting Vaccinations holistically

Are you planning to get the vaccine shortly ? Are you on a priority list? As Australia moves to the 1B list approximately 6 million Australians will now be offered either the AstraZeneca or the Pfizer vaccine . Both of these will require two shots over a period of up to 12 weeks.

If you are in a position where you can take up the vaccine then it may be useful for you to consider how you can support yourself to ensure that you minimise side effects and that you produce antibodies. To a certain extent these are new vaccines and information is being slowly developed on the optimal way to support clients through the process so this blog is based on the most recent information released.

First up protocols may change slightly between the two different vaccines due to the different composition of the components. The Pfizer vaccine is based on using messenger RNA whereas the AstraZeneca vaccine uses a virus vector based on an adenovirus. Both have clinical trials that show an efficacy rate that is much higher than the annual flu vaccine, Pfizer is estimated to be above 90% and the Astra Zeneca has had a recent trial showing an efficacy rate of 79%, interestingly it appears that a longer gap between doses appears to improve efficacy.

The common ground is the need to support the immune system to have a reasonable but not excessive response, regardless of which vaccine is given. It is recommended is that you ensure that Vitamin D levels are adequate and that you take both prebiotics and probiotics to support immunity for up to two weeks before and two weeks after each round of vaccination.

What sort of dosing is appropriate? Generally around 1-2000 IU of Vitamin D3 as well as a reasonable dose of prebiotics and at least one capsule a day of a reasonable quality probiotic, with a good variety of strains.

Vitamin D levels will be lower for you if yo are just coming out of Winter and a higher daily dose like 2000IU would be helpful.

First up what are prebiotics and how much should you be taking? Prebiotics are fibres which assist in the proliferation of beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics are available in supplement form , such as partially hydrolysed guar gum (PHGG) and larch. Prebiotics contain insoluble fibres which feed bacteria in the colon. Prebiotics are also sourced from fruit and vegetables, so a useful way to increase prebiotics in the diet is to make sure you are having three cups of vegetables a day from a variety of sources. Ideally have one cup each of brightly coloured vegetables, one cup of brassica and one cup of leafy greens. More information is in this blog about What are the best vegetables to feed your gut bacteria .

Adding probiotics which support the immune system can also be really useful and ideally you need to select strains which will compensate for any underlying gut dysbiosis. In a relatively healthy individual a broad strain probiotic with at least 5-10 billion colony forming units (CFU’s) for two weeks pre and post vaccine should provide good support. Strains which can be helpful include Lactobacillus Rhamnosus and Lactobacillus Paracasei as these can modulate the immune response to an appropriate level.

Fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut and pickles also contain useful probiotics however it can take a long time to build up levels so it is probably preferable to add a suitable probiotic in at this point.

It may also be helpful to just ensure that you are in the best condition possible before you are vaccinated. Ideally make sure you are getting 7-8 hours of good quality sleep, exercising regularly and eating an anti-inflammatory diet. If you are taking a number of medications, particularly those that affect your digestion, it might be a good idea to see a practitioner and work on your overall health before you vaccinate to assist in an appropriate immune response.

A reasonable percentage of people will experience some side effects as a result of the vaccinations. These could just be soreness at the vaccine site, which is fairly common or 24 -48 hours of flu like symptoms. At the moment based on the few vaccinations I have been able to support I have found the homeopathic Gelsemium in a 30c or 200C potency given every two hours for three doses and then as needed to be helpful in managing side effects. The advantage of using homeopathics in this instance is that it will not interfere with the vaccine process.

Christine Pope is an experienced Naturopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. She is available for appointments on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and can be contacted on (02) 8084 0081.

Healthy Lunch boxes and snacks

School holidays can be a welcome relief from prepping the dreaded lunch boxes. It can be difficult to be inspired about providing healthy lunches and snacks five days a week. In this blog we will be reviewing some ideas on prepping lunch boxes as well as providing you with a list of snack ideas and recipes. Scroll down for a link to a recipe book with five snack ideas for lunchboxes.

Ideally lunch boxes include a range of healthy foods your child enjoys which can keep them motivated for a full day at school. There are six key features to consider when organising a lunch box.

  1. Think about the macro content , that is try and include protein and carbohydrates at every meal to maintain energy levels over the day. Carbohydrates are typically quick at releasing energy but if the meal is solely based on carbohydrates (bread, rice or pasta) then energy levels lag after an hour or two. Protein is ideal for slow release of energy and also to maintain balanced blood sugar through the day. Protein sources can include meat, fish , chicken, eggs as well as vegetarian proteins like legumes such as chickpeas, lentils or tofu and tempeh.
  2. Use vegetables with dips instead of crackers or corn chips. Most people struggle to get children to eat enough vegetables so including carrots, capsicum or cucumber with humuus or a dip just helps increase the nutrient quality of their diet and normalise eating vegetables. Harris Farm also carries little snack packs of mini cucumbers and carrots which can be an ideal size for lunchboxes as well as maintaining their structure through the day.
  3. Salads are a good alternative to sandwhiches but need to be robust enough to keep in a school bag in the heat. Ideally pack in a thermos to keep them cool or include a small drink bottle with frozen water to keep it fresh. Good options can include a ham and rice salad, tuna nicoise or shredded chicken with coleslaw. Cabbage salads tend to be more robust and keep better. A family favourite is this wombok salad which works well with chicken drumsticks for lunch.
  4. Stock the freezer with useful options, many muffins freeze easily and make an ideal snack. Mixing it up with options like banana muffins, chocolate pumpkin muffins and zucchini and goat cheese muffins (recipe in the snack book below).
  5. Prep home made treats and make enough for a few days and keep in air tight containers. Home made popcorn can be an ideal treat to add to lunchboxes and adds a good dose of fibre as well. Other home made options can be trail mix with dried fruit and seeds (avoid nuts for school lunchboxes) or crispy chickpeas.
  6. A couple of pieces of fruit can be an ideal inclusion. From a packing perspective apples or mandarins are easy to pack however its always a good idea to have variety and include small tubs of berries, kiwi fruit or melon or a couple of small apricots or plums.

For some more recipes for snacks download the recipes from the link below for a range of ideas for lunchbox snacks.

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental health St Ives. You can make appointments to discuss from meal planning on 02 8084 0081 or book online.