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.

Five minerals you need to know about !

In my clinic last year there was a lot of focus on Calcium and osteoporosis but realistically everyone knows they need Calcium for bone health. There are however 20 essential minerals for health and in this blog you are going to find out about five that could be having a big impact on your current health and wellbeing. In case you do want more information on Bone Health read my latest blog on Building Healthy Bones.

Iodine is basically found in things that come out of the ocean, like fish and seaweed, but also in organic eggs and celtic sea salt. Iodine is an essential nutrient for glandular health and in particular the thyroid gland. Thyroid hormones require iodine to form T4 or thyroxine which then has an iodine ion removed to become the active hormone T3, or tri-iodothyonine.

The thyroid is responsible for growth and repair, so effectively controls your metabolism but also your ability to heal effectively. When your thyroid health is impaired you tend to have one of two reactions, first up if your production of thyroid hormones is too low you tend to become fatigued, foggy, constipated and suffer from dry skin and hair loss. If you are overproducing thyroid hormones you tend to be agitated, lose weight easily and have loose bowels. You do need to be careful supplementing with iodine particularly if you suffer from auto-immune conditions and its preferable to build supplements up slowly as well as having iodine from food sources.

Selenium is also a key nutrient for thyroid health and is important for the production of anti-oxidants such as glutathione. Australian soils tend to be low in selenium and to get an adequate dose four brazil nuts a day is recommended, but ideally they actually come from Brazil where the soils are still replete in selenium.

Glutathione is an anti-oxidant which can prevent damage to cells, it also regulates DNA production. It can be taken as a supplement however supporting your own body to produce adequate glutathione is probably recommended as a longer term strategy.

It is usually fairly easy to determine whether Chromium is a deficiency for someone as they will crave sweet foods and may be prone to dizziness or fatigue if they haven’t eaten in a few hours. Chromium is a key component of glucose tolerance factor. If you eat a meal high in carbohydrates and then feel tired a couple of hours later it is possible that you cannot manage the surge in glucose in your blood from the food. Glucose tolerance factor binds to insulin and enhances its reaction often by a factor of three, so low levels of chromium will reduce your ability to manage foods high in glucose.

People who are deficient in both Chromium and Iodine will have a lot of difficulty in losing weight as they are two key minerals for your metabolism.

Potassium is another key nutrient as it is an important electrolyte in the body and it is a useful marker of adrenal health. Ideally potassium and sodium need to be in a reasonable balance as an indicator of good adrenal health. Potassium is the major electrolyte in the intercellular fluid and sodium is the major electrolyte in the extracellular fluid. Low potassium levels can result in cells being dehydrated and operating less effectively.

Potassium is frequently low in people who have been under chronic long term stress or those who do not eat sufficient fruit and vegetables, which are usually the best sources.

Most people cite bananas as a good source of potassium at about 400mg. There are a range of good quality sources including half an avocado (487mg) or a medium sized sweet potato (541mg) or 1 cup of navy, lima or canellini beans (840mg) which all contain a higher level of potassium than bananas.

Copper is a mineral that often gets ignored as the focus for the immune system in particular is often on zinc, however inadequate copper levels make it difficult for you to respond to bacterial infections. It is found in all  tissues and plays a role in making red blood cells and maintaining nerve cells and the immune system. The best sources include seafood, organ meats, whole grains and legumes. A popular source of copper is Chocolate, however it is the raw cacao that is high in copper.

Copper is usually more problematic when is it in excess and this can be associated with increased anxiety, headaches and allergies.

Interested in finding out more about your mineral levels and what you may need to include in your diet. Christine Pope is available for appointments on Tuesday and Wednesday at her clinic at St Ives, Elemental Health, You can make appointments on 02 8084 0081 or book online.

Building Healthy Bones

Surprisingly large numbers of women (and men) in Australia are being diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis. This is despite a very high rate of dairy consumption in the country. So what is happening and can you build healthy bones as you get older?

There are three major areas that need to be addressed for good bone health, namely exercise, nutrition and lifestyle factors. Most people think about calcium and perhaps Vitamin D but don’t necessarily address the other key areas.

Bones are constantly being broken down and remodeled and this process results in up to 10% of the bone mass of an adult being replaced every year. This means that changes will take time to have an impact but that you can maintain or even improve your existing bone density.

One indication that you have a problem with your bone density can be having a bone fracture easily or having a fracture take a long time to heal. Usually the bone will remodel and repair over 6-8 weeks however if this process takes considerably longer its essential to get your bone density assessed.

Lifestyle factors are an important consideration and conditions which affect absorption such as celiac disease will increase your risk factors. There are also certain medications , such as corticosteroids, which reduce bone density. Other key lifestyle factors are heavy smoking and drinking. Heavy drinking usually results in a range of key nutrient deficiencies and Calcium and Vitamin D are just two that can be impacted.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Exercise is critical for bone health and even two hours of regular walking a week can make a difference. Walking causes micro fractures which encourages the process of bone remodeling. Walking needs to be brisk, at a pace where you can speak but not sing! Ideally incorporate some hills and keep stretching yourself.

Weight bearing exercise is also helpful as it can prevent further bone loss and strengthens existing bone. Impact exercise such as aerobics, dancing , tennis and basketball have the benefit of being weight bearing as well as building bone. These are classified as the ideal exercises to build bone however its important to start exercising at an appropriate level and build up slowly.

Nutrition is an area that often gets overlooked or there is a strong focus on calcium containing foods at the expense of synergistic nutrients which assist in bone formation. So how much and what type of nutrients should you be reviewing in your diet?

First up make sure you are absorbing nutrients well. Generally good digestive health is key and this would usually mean that you don’t suffer from reflux, excessive flatulence or belching and that you don’t require medications to manage these conditions. Other indications of poor digestive health can be constipation or diarrhea as in both cases you may be less able to absorb nutrients.

Secondly look at the key minerals required for good bone building. This includes Calcium, Magnesium, Boron, Silicon and Vitamins D and K. In my initial consultations we usually assess these minerals either based on signs and symptoms or further testing as required. How would you know you had a deficiency ? Magnesium for example is a common deficiency and usually results in symptoms like headaches and cramping or an inability to manage stress such that you feel constantly tired but wired! Silicon is a surprisingly common deficiency in Australia and usually results in dull flat looking hair and weak nails.

A good way to introduce more minerals to your diet is to add bone broth ideally made from organic bones. This provides soluble minerals in an easy to digest form. The collagen and gelatine in bone broth is also a gentle treatment for the digestion and may assist in improving the quality of the lining.

Another key nutrient for bone building is protein with about half of the bone comprised of proteins. Very low protein intake can decrease calcium absorption and may affect the rate of bone formation. Very high protein diets can leach calcium from the bone to reduce the acidity in the blood. Up to about 100g of protein from food a day balanced with a good range of vegetables appears to be the right level. Just remember that its 100g of protein and not 100g of protein containing food. For example chicken is about 25% protein so a 200g chicken breast fillet is about 50g of actual protein.(1).

For more information about building healthy bone make an appointment with Christine at Elemental Health on 02 8084 0081.

(1) Beasley JM, LaCroix AZ, Larson JC, Huang Y, Neuhouser ML, Tinker LF, Jackson R, Snetselaar L, Johnson KC, Eaton CB, Prentice RL. Biomarker-calibrated protein intake and bone health in the Women’s Health Initiative clinical trials and observational study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Apr;99(4):934-40. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.076786. Epub 2014 Feb 19. PMID: 24552750; PMCID: PMC3953886.

How to support detox pathways with food

Detox is a naturopathic protocol that can be really helpful to restore effective function. Its basic aim is to assist your liver and kidneys so that they can remove toxins that you are exposed to in your diet and through your environment. Typically detox is recommended to support clients when they struggle with hormonal imbalance, find it difficult to lose weight or are suffering from allergies or poor digestive health.

The liver is responsible for processing food and a range of substances that we are exposed to through our diet and lifestyle. There are three phases and six pathways that support our ability to remove toxins from the body and in this blog you will find out how to support them with food. These processes convert toxins which are usually fat soluble into water soluble substances which can then be excreted through sweat, urine or stool.

First up what are the three phases and what do they do? The first phase uses enzymes called Cytochrome P450 to modify substances which produces free radicals. The second phase detoxifies these substances so they can be removed from the body. This relies on the six pathways known as Methylation, Glucoronidation, Sulfation, Acetylation, Glutathione Conjugation and Glycination. These are the pathways we can support with either food or supplements.

The third phase reduces our toxic load within the Small Intestine and supports the elimination of xenobiotics (hormone like substances).

Supporting these six pathways for detoxification requires a range of nutrients so lets focus on what foods are most helpful for you.

  1. Methylation

This process involves adding a methyl group made up of Carbon with three Hydrogen atoms. This makes the substance water soluble. The process requires B vitamins but in particular folic acid or folate. Good sources of folate include dark green vegetables such as leafy greens and asparagus.

2. Glucoronidation

This pathway is particularly important as it metabolises about 35% of the drugs prescribed and it requires the body to produce glucuronic acid. Fish oils and limonene which is found in citrus peel may activate this pathway. Ideally oily fish are a good source but the preference would be to use small oily fish like sardines. Green tea is also a good promoter of this pathway ideally try and use organic options as much as possible.

3. Sulfation

This pathway is critical for detoxifying steroid hormones, bile acids and neurotransmitters. Sulfation requires sulfur containing amino acids which are usually found in protein containing foods. In addition an adequate level of molybdenum is required. The best sources of molybdenum are found in legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and beans. For some people who don’t tolerate legumes, nuts and liver are other good quality sources.

4. Acetylation

Vitamin B1, B5 and Vitamin C are essential for this phase. Good quality sources of Vitamin C include citrus fruits and in particular oranges. Brightly coloured vegetables, such as capsicum, and berrries such as strawberries are also good Vitamin C sources.

5. Glutathione Conjugation

Glutathione is an important antioxidant for the liver as well as supporting conjugation through the liver. Glutathione is made up of three peptides glutamine, cysteine and glycine. It is also activated by sulphorophane which is found in brassica vegetables, like cabbage and broccoli sprouts. Cabbage is also high in glutamine.

6. Glycination

This process involves the addition of amino acids to aid in the process of conjugation. Diets low in protein often result in a reduction in our ability to eliminate toxins. Good quality protein sources are important to assist in this pathway and this does include both meat based protein as well as vegetarian options such as legumes, tofu and eggs.

Ultimately supporting effective detoxification requires good quality protein sources, green leafy, multi coloured and brassica vegetables as well as legumes and fruit like berries.

If you would like more information on detoxification, or simply to understand if it can assist you, join me online for my detoxification webinar series. The next program opens on the 28th October and you can book in on this link . Alternatively if you would like to discuss how whether detox is appropriate for you you can make an appointment 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?

A tea lovers guide to the Blue Mountains

Whilst the options for holidays restricted to NSW at the moment it seemed timely to put together an update on tea friendly venues in the Blue Mountains (that also provide gluten free options). It is very disappointing to go to a cafe or restaurant that offers expresso coffee from freshly ground beans and then be offered hot water with a tea bag rather than leaf tea, so here are the best options for the tea lovers!!

One of my favourite spots is the Megalong Valley Tearooms. It’s fairly easy to access from Blackheath and it’s a lovely drive down into the valley. Better still you can do sections of the Six Foot Track to build an appetite or walk off an excess of scones!!

Megalong Valley Tearooms have a wide range of traditional and herbal leaf teas as well as good gluten free options and a veggie hash which is usually served with an egg but without it makes a good vegan meal too. They had expanded the farmers platter to include their homemade soups and the Cauliflower leek and fennel was excellent. The accompanying vintage cheddar pickles and corned beef made for a hearty lunch. My top tea pick is the Billy Tea which includes eucalyptus leaf.

Medlow Bath has two options now. The high tea at the Hydro Majestic is well worth a trip particularly if you order the white tea with rolled pearls which unfold in the glass teapot. Bookings can be made online and they can accommodate gluten and dairy free requests.

Another option is a cafe called Tournament which has a range of options for gluten free and vegetarians. The menu includes an Ethiopian spiced bean stew as well as daily specials like the lentil pie with polenta pictured above. Impressively they also made their own gluten free bread with spiced loaf. My daughter was still in the mood for breakfast and had the poached eggs with sides of roasted potatoes and bacon. Teas included a lovely refreshing berry mix as well as the usual options.

On the other side of the mountains we also found a little gem called The Lithgow Tin Shed . At the top of Lithgow near the train station it offered a full range of teas including chamomile, lemongrass and ginger as well as green and peppermint teas. The menu incorporated a lot of fresh local produce which is also sold in the cafe. The three salads on offer were noodle, root vegetables with goat curd and rocket and pear. The options included adding poached chicken, confit duck or local cured salmon. Both the salads we tried were delicious and the noodle salad with chicken was very filling.

One note for anyone travelling at the moment is that if you really want to eat somewhere make sure you book in advance. Currently with COVID-19 restrictions many cafe’s are limited to the number of people they can accommodate, often at half their pre COVID capacity.

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health St Ives and is looking forward to finding good tea options around NSW in the coming months. Appointments can be made on 02 8084 0081 or online.

What are the best vegetables for feeding your gut ?

Eating six serves of vegetables a day is a good way to feed your microbiome but are there better choices ? Actually it depends on what is going on with your gut so lets look at six different types of prebiotic fibres from vegetables. They all have different roles so the activity should give you an idea of what may be helpful for you and then you can determine if you may need to increase your consumption of one of these groups.

Six types of prebiotic fibres are inulin, pectin, galactooligosaccharides (usually referred to as GOS) , arabinoxylan, resistant starch and proanthocyanidins.

Inulin is found in artichokes, asparagus, garlic, onions and leeks, bananas, grapefruit and peaches. Inulin as a prebiotic fibre decreases the desire for sweet and fatty food and increases the feeling of fullness after a meal. A small study reported by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed a 3.8 fold increase in the beneficial Bifidobacterium from consuming inulin for 3 weeks. (Vol 109, Iss 6, June 2019, pp1683-1695).

Pectin is found is peas, beans, carrots, potato, beetroot, tomato, eggplant, lentils and pumpkin as well as fruits such as banana, apples, berries, pears, apricots, lemons and kiwifruit. Increasing foods containing pectin is associated with an increase in the range of bacterial species in the gut as well as a specific increase in beneficial strains such as F praausnitzii which is anti-inflammatory. It is also considered a marker for good gut health.

Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) are found in most legumes such as green peas, lentils chickpeas and beans as well as nuts like hazelnuts, cashews and pistachio. GOS has a role in reducing IBS symptoms in particular bloating and flatulence and it also increases the level of beneficial bacteria. (2).

Arabinoxylan is found in almonds, bamboo shoots, brown and white rice, flaxseeds and sorghum. It is anti-inflammatory, reduces cholesterol and improves insulin sensitivity as well as increasing the beneficial levels of Bibfidobacterium Longum.

Resistant starch is found in most legumes as well as potato, sweet potatoes, taro, plantains, greenish bananas, sorghum and brown rice. The levels of resistant starch are also higher if root vegetables such as potato are allowed to cool and then served as a potato salad. Resistant starch is so called because it doesn’t get broken down in the small intestine but is partially broken down further in the bowels and serves as a useful food for bacteria in the large intestine. Its primary role seems to be to feed bacteria so they can produce butyrate. Butyrate is a useful fuel for the cells so it helps them stay healthy and resistant starch may also assist in the maintenance of healthy cholesterol.

Proanthocyanidins are found in almonds, pecans, hazelnuts peanuts, pistachios, pecans, cinnamon, sorghum, berries, cranberries and plums as well as dark chocolate. Proanthocyanidins have a number of health benefits due to their anti-oxidant status however the impact on the microbiome may also explain some of this benefit. These nutrients have an anti-microbial impact which may reduce problematic species such as helicobacter pylori (known for its role in causing gastric ulcers) and also through their prebiotic effect they increase beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium (3)

Generally speaking ensuring you are eating a range of vegetables as well as a small serve of nuts and some berries may be the optimal approach for maintaining a healthy gut.

Christine Pope is a Naturopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. You can make appointments with her on (02) 8084 0081 or online at her website www.elementalhealth.net.au .

1. Prebiotics , Definitions, Types, Sources , Mechanisms and Clinical

applications. Accessed. at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6463098/

2. The effects of a trans-galactooligosaccharide on faecal microbiota and symptoms in IBS. Accessed at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19053980/https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19053980/

3. The Gastrointenstinal Tract as a key organ for the Health Promoting effects of Proanthocyanidins accessed at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2016.00057/full#h1

Therapeutic Juicing

Juicing is a useful way to increase nutrients in the diet and can also be used therapeutically. There are many foods which you can use with health benefits and a regular juice can be a good addition to your diet. It can also be a good way to get your three cups of vegetables daily. Here are three of my favourite combinations that you may find helpful.

Celery juice is known for its benefits in reducing fluid retention however what do you use if you can’t stand celery? My first juice is a delicious blend and can easily be adjusted for specific preferences. Key is the pineapple and cucumber. Papaya is also helpful for fluid retention (and improving digestion) but you can increase other ingredients to compensate if you don’t have papaya handy.

Fluid Retention

  • 1 cup chopped Pineapple
  • 1/2 Cucumber
  • 1 Apple (green or red)
  • 1/2 cup papaya
  • 1 cup green spinach

Pineapple is a good source of bromelain which is useful to reduce inflammation and fluid retention. If you don’t have papaya add a little more pineapple. If using organic food then you do not need to peel the cucumber or apple.

Place in the blender or juicer and blend until smooth. You may need to dilute a little with water.

This next juice is a good way to get an energy boost in the afternoon as well as generally increasing vegetable intake in the diet generally. I do like to add a little ginger but that may not appeal to everyone.

Energy Boost

  • 2 Carrots
  • 1 small beetroot
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 Apples

Peel the carrots and beetroot and then juice with the celery and apples. A delicious addition is a small knob of ginger.

One of my favourite social media sites for new recipes is Simple Green Smoothies and they also provide great information on how to blend to make a good green smoothie. The basic recipe is as follows;

  • 1 cup leafy greens (spinach or kale)
  • 1 cup of liquid such as coconut water, nut milk or dairy
  • 1 cup of fruit (having it frozen makes it easier to store)

Blend the greens initially and then add liquid and mix through. Follow up with fruit and blend until smooth and creamy.

Do you have a favourite juice recipe please feel free to share in the comments below.

Christine Pope is a Naturopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health St Ives. You can make appointments on 8084 0081 or online at www.elementalhealth.net.au .

Winter warmers – soups

Salads can be a good way to increase the amount of vegetables in your diet but its not always an attractive option during the winter months. A better alternative can be soups. It is also a good way to incorporate bone broths for a little extra support for gut healing.

If you are using bone broth in your soups its a good idea to ensure that its the best quality possible. If you are making it yourself then try and use bones from free range or organic sources. The flavour profiles are usually better when animals are raised ethically. With a move to lean protein sources these items are often discarded or available at a lower cost. It is also preferable to spend a few extra dollars on an organic chicken and then reuse the bones to make broth. Frankly my best ever effort is usually from the free range turkey we have at Christmas, it usually produces 3-4 Litres of really good quality broth.

Another good tip if you are interested in making your own stock or broths is to keep and freeze the tops of carrots, onions and celery, when you are using them in recipes. You quickly have a small bag that can be added to your pot for another batch of bone broth.

Even though these are five of my workhorse soup recipes listed below I do recommend experimenting by googling any ingredients and soup recipe as it often results in some new favourites.

  1. Cauliflower Soup
  2. French Onion Soup
  3. Pumpkin and Ginger Soup
  4. Chicken and Corn Soup
  5. Asian Style Chicken Noodle

Cauliflower Soup

Many years ago my favourite version of this soup included 250ml of cream and a cup of grated cheese. This version is a lot lighter and still flavourful. You can easily substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock if you prefer a vegetarian version.

  • 1 small cauliflower cut into florets
  • 1 leek
  • 1L of chicken stock
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • Olive Oil

Steam the cauliflower for 8-10 minutes until soft, strain and remove from heat. Meanwhile saute diced leek in olive oil on low heat for five minutes in a larg pot. Add steamed cauliflower, stock and salt to the pan and bring to the boil, then reduce to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Puree soup in a blender when cooled.

French Onion Soup

Many of us only remember the dried french onion soup that we used in a dip recipe however this version of french onion soup is a tasty option and really quite simple. For those of you who can eat dairy and gluten consider adding some slices of breadstick with melted cheese as a delicious extra.

  • 500g white onions sliced
  • 500ml dry white wine
  • 1 Tblespoon unsalted butter
  • 1.5 Litres of chicken stock

Simmer wine, onion and butter (use olive oil for a dairy free version) in a heavy bottomed pan uncovered for forty minutes. Its important to slowly simmer it to effectively caramelise the onions and really develop the flavours. Add chicken stock and heat for 5-10 minutes and then serve.

A couple of my favourite cafes usually offer soup during the winter months but I am always disappointed if they just put a boring pumpkin soup on the menu. Much prefer a hearty vegetable soup or something a little more complex. Asian soups such as Tom Yum, Laska or Pho are also a great option for something with a range of flavours that make a delicious Winter warmer.

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. She is available for consultations on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and can also offer online consultations via Zoom.