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.

Can you build up sleep pressure?

Good quality sleep means that we can build up enough pressure to induce sleep. It is part of the equation with your circadian rhythm. If you are finding it difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep it may be that you haven’t build up enough sleep pressure.

What stops you building pressure to sleep? The major areas that you can influence are chronic pain, blue light, and stress. Age and genetics also play a part but these factors are less influenceable.

Chronic Pain affects your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep. Lack of sleep can also increase the risk that you develop a chronic pain condition. There are a number of natural medicine options in pain management however it will depend on what medications you are taking. Generally these conditions will be helped by regular gentle movement. Supplements which can be helpful include high strength fish oils, curcumin and PEA.

It can also be helpful to manage chronic pain with regular bodywork such as osteopathy or massage. If you are very sensitive it can be worthwhile to look at gentle treatments such as craniosacral therapy or lymphatic massage.

Most people seem to know that they shouldn’t use devices in bed but don’t necessarily realise that using the devices for up to 3 hours before bed may affect their sleep. How does it do that? At night the body increases its production of melatonin, this helps activate and maintain sleep. The blue light emitted by your device signals the brain that it is still daytime and can delay production of melatonin for 1-3 hours. Ideally stop using your phone or other device at least 1-2 hours before bed. Watching TV from a distance of up to 2 metres and looking away every 20 minutes can be a good way to reduce the impact.

Some non- pharmaceutical options for blue light exposure include wearing anber reading lenses two hours before bed which improved sleep quality after just a week. Getting morning sunlight has also been shown to be helpful in resetting the circadian rhythm. the nutrient lutein and Zeaxanthin assist in filtering blue light. These nutrients are found in green leafy vegetables and egg yolks.

Stress is of course another big area for interrupting sleep. Chronic long term stress elevates cortisol and can result in the pattern of early morning waking (4-5) and difficulty getting back to sleep. Stressors are different for different people but two of the most common concerns at the moment are unrewarding jobs and anxiety about health. Generally being in a job where your efforts are not rewarded can be a source of ongoing stress.

There are a number of stressors which result in a job being perceived as unrewarding and surprisingly its not about dollars for many people. A British study by Micheal Marmot found that cardiovascular risk as a marker for stress was not highest amongst those at the top but actually lower. It actually correlated with the amount of control that people had over their work and working environment. It is essential to build in processes that allow people flexibility in their work and increase their control as well as avoiding micro management. If you are in an environment where your work is subject to rigid control and micro management it can be worthwhile looking at whether changes can be made.

The second area of anxiety for many people is anxiety about health and this can be particularly acute when a “pandemic” is declared. Worse still with the media constantly triggering you with daily corona counting it can be difficult to stay calm. If this is affecting you generally staying off social media and looking at some routines to calm your brain such as meditation can be helpful. There are a couple of useful apps in this regards including Calm and my current favourite Gaia, which has a range of meditations as well as yoga classes. Still its ideal to do this a couple of hours before bed and avoid screen time before bed as recommended.

The other way to reduce your anxiety about health is to ensure all your regular health checks are up to date and there is no physical reason for the anxiety. For some people who may be prediabetic or insulin resistant difficulties with blood sugar can result in problems with sleep. It can be a good idea to not only get a fasting blood glucose test done annually but also consider whether a more comprehensive test like a 2 hour glucose tolerance test may provide more insight. Frequently in clinic the problems are early stage and occurring at the one to two hour mark.

Reducing caffeine intake and incorporating some carminative herbs can also be useful and you could substitute some calming chamomile tea or peppermint tea as an alternative. These teas before bed could assist in improving sleep pressure.

For more information about sleep have a look at 6 Sleep Myths Debunked .

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health St Ives. If you would like more help with identifying the causes of your poor quality sleep and modifying them you can book in for appointments on 02 8084 0081.

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 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?

How to look after frequently washed hands

Frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitiser does seem to be doing an excellent job of reducing infection rates but it also come at a cost for many people’s skin.

So what are your options? Well conventional wisdom would suggest that moisturising is the solution however most creams really only provide a barrier. Its also not really practical to moisturise every time you wash your hands and it may remove some of the benefits.

Focussing on skin quality needs to be addressed from two perspectives topical and internal. Topical options can include lotions, creams, ointments or oils. There are advantages and disadvantages to each however first up make sure that the ingredients include water, glycerol and natural oils amongst the first five ingredients. Glycerol or glycerin is important to keep the moisture in the skin.

The major difference between each of these different types of cream is the water content. Lotions have a high percentage of water with a base that helps it emulisfy. Creams are a lower percentage of water, ointments much less and oils usually just contain an oil in an appropriate base. People with oilier skins benefit from lighter lotions or creams, however in the case of cracked dry skin ideally you need to start with a more dense cream or an ointment or oil.

For healing dry and cracked skin you want to choose a product that has a reasonable oil content as well as having therapeutic ingredients. Weleda make a range of creams based on Calendula and the research shows that at abou 0.9% content it can reduce redness and cracking. It will also assist in wound healing and can be invaluable in replacing the natural protective barriers in the skin. The only caution with Calendula topically would be if you are sensitive to the Asteracae plant family. To minimise the risk I would always recommend patch testing a small spot before widespread use.

Very dry skin might really benefit from the therapeutic use of plant oils such as Carrot or Sesame which are naturally high in Carotenoids and Vitamin E. The oil will assist in holding moisture in the skin and it would be ideal to use it at the end of the day to maximise the benefit.

The other critical aspect is the support of the skin membrane. Ideally you need to ensure that to repair good quality skin your diet is rich in essential fatty acids and you maintain water intake. Each cell is composed of a bi-layer of essential fatty acids and without adequate intake of fats its not possible to repair already damaged skin. Look at your diet including good quality fish, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado and nuts and seeds. If your skin is very dry chances are you are not consuming enough or you are not breaking it down effectively. People with low bile acids often have difficulty with absorbing fats and there are several ways to support digestion to address this.

Christine Pope is a Naturopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. Currently available in person at the clinic or by audiovisual means if you are self-isolating. You can make appointments on (02) 8084 0081 or online at the clinic website at www.elementalhealth.net.au .