GOOD CARB – BAD CARB – Debunking those carbohydrate myths!

Over the past few decades, there has been a constant love-hate relationship with carbohydrate foods – one minute they’re good for us the next you should avoid them like the plague! What should you believe? Let’s settle the score and debunk a few myths about this fascinating food group.

Myth #1: All carbs are bad.

To simplify, Carbohydrates are stored energy; made by plants from water and carbon dioxide. They provide a large proportion of daily energy requirements and are the most readily converted energy source. When they are broken down in the body they impact blood sugar levels. The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. High GI carbohydrate foods are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low GI carbohydrate foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health. Low GI diets have been shown to improve both glucose and lipid levels in people with diabetes (type 1 and type 2). They have benefits for weight control because they help control appetite and delay hunger. Low GI diets also reduce insulin levels and insulin resistance. Opting for low GI carbs over high GI options is a simple dietary change that benefits your health in the long term.

Myth #2: Brown bread is better for you than white bread.

The colour of bread used to be a quick, reliable indicator of whether or not it was good for you, now days this isn’t the case! Over the past few years, the nutritional profile of white bread has also been boosted with the addition of things like wheat fibre, making it an option for parents with fussy eaters. As a guide, always check the ingredients listed on pack to find out if the bread is in fact a healthier choice. Look for ingredients like whole-grain, whole wheat or whole meal flour as the first ingredients declared. You can also check the Nutrition Information Panel to check the difference in fibre levels.

Myth #3: A sugar-free product is the same as a low-carb product

Unfortunately, the terms ‘sugar-free’ and ‘low-carb’ are terms that cannot be used interchangeably as they do not mean the same thing. A product can have no added sugar but still contain carbohydrates. Think of it like this – all sugars are carbohydrates but not all carbohydrates are sugars. On the nutrition information panel, ‘Carbohydrate’ is the sum total of sugars + fibre + starch + (sometimes) sugar alcohol. A ‘low-carb’ food is one which has less total carbohydrate than a reference food. However, foods labeled ‘sugar-free’ are not necessarily low carb as sugar is only one of the components adding to the carbohydrate total.

The bottom line is –
Do not eliminate carbohydrate foods from your diet, vital organs like your brain and spleen can only use carbohydrates as their energy source to function. If you cut them out you leave these vital organs with nothing to run on! Opt for low GI over high GI carbs. This would mean opting for brown rice instead of white, wholegrain crisp bread over rice cakes and wholegrain or ‘grainy’ bread over white bread.


Fight that fatigue

Fight that fatigue

Fight fatigue! Boost your iron!

Are you utterly exhausted? You could be suffering from an iron deficiency.

What does iron do in the body?
Iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency around the world. Iron deficiency can cause a whole range of impairments to body functions. During childhood, low iron has adverse effects on learning, behaviour and cognitive function and also results in abnormalities in weight gain, appetite and immune response to infections.
Our bodies need iron from food because it is a component of haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is the protein in our red blood cells which transports oxygen to all parts of our body and about 60% of total body iron is found in haemoglobin. A low haemoglobin or low iron store will very likely make you feel tired throughout the day and make you feel like you have little to no energy. Iron is also a component in many enzymes throughout the body, including those involved in energy production and also plays an important role in immune health.

How much iron should I be eating?
The recommended dietary intake (RDI) for adult women is 18 mg a day, but this increases to 27mg during pregnancy. For adult men the RDI for iron is around 8 mg a day. Teenage girls need 11-15 mg per day. Women’s iron requirements are high because of the monthly blood loss through menstruation. Teenage girls also require high iron as they are experiencing growth spurts as well as their onset of menstruation. Vegetarians usually have lower iron stores as their food sources of iron may not be well absorbed. This is why it is important to know which foods are good sources of iron, and understand how your body absorbs iron from foods.

Where can I get iron from in my diet?
If you do have low iron stores, the food you eat is the best way to get your iron intake up. Iron supplements present on the market do help boost iron stores, but only choose them as a second option after you have increased your consumption of iron rich foods.

1.Haem iron (animal sources) is the iron found in foods such as red meat and poultry. Haem iron is well absorbed by the body.

2.Non-haem iron (plant sources) is from plant sources and is found in legumes, wholemeal breads and wholegrain cereals, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and eggs.

Non-haem iron is not as well absorbed by the body as haem iron but iron absorption can be enhanced by eating these foods in combination with other nutrients.

The amount of non-haem iron that is absorbed from a food is influenced by other dietary factors that may be present in a meal. These factors may either enhance or inhibit the absorption of non-haem iron:

Enhancers: Are nutrients that help boost the absorption of non-haem iron in the body.

Vitamin C: The addition of vitamin C at the same meal as foods containing iron can increase the absorption of non-haem iron by 2 to 3 times. The more vitamin C you consume from foods together with your iron rich meal, the higher the chances of the iron being absorbed by the body. Vitamin C is found in a wide range of fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, berries, capsicum, broccoli and cabbage. As a general rule, there is more vitamin C in fresh fruits and vegetables than in those which have been cooked.

Vitamin A and beta-carotene: There is some promising research which suggests that vitamin A may enhance the absorption of non-haem iron from rice, wheat and corn. Including this vitamin at each meal is probably a good idea. Good sources are most yellow, orange and green fruits and vegetables.

Inhibitors: Are compounds that reduce the absorption of non-haem iron in the body.

Polyphenols: These compounds are found in significant amounts in tea (called tannin), coffee and some grains (eg barley and millet), vegetables and herbs (eg onions and parsley).

Calcium: Calcium reduces both haem and non-haem iron absorption from a meal. However, the inhibitory effect of calcium is complex and researchers are still working to determine whether there are any benefits in consuming foods rich in iron at different times during the day to foods rich in calcium.

Phytates: These compounds are naturally present in foods such as wholemeal cereals, bran and legumes. Vitamin C and, to a lesser extent meat, can counteract the inhibiting effects of phytates.

If you think you have signs of low iron, a proper blood test can help determine this. Talk to your doctor to arrange a blood test.

Can too much iron be harmful?
Iron is stored very efficiently by our body; too much iron can be toxic. Haemochromatosis is a condition when there are excessive iron stores. There is evidence to suggest that haemochromatosis increases the risk of heart disease and some cancers, such as colorectal cancer. For individuals with this condition it is important to limit the amount of iron in the diet.

Families who eat together, are happier together!

Families who eat together, are happier together!

How many nights a week does your family eat at a table? – If your response to this question is ‘Never’ the vast amount of research currently supporting the importance of family meal time, might just have you reconsidering.

Dietary habits acquired during childhood very often continue through to adulthood. The growing problem of childhood obesity in conjunction with rising sale in take away foods, have prompted warning bells from health experts.

Busy modern lifestyles can often prevent family meals together, but sharing a meal, even if only once or twice a week increases a child’s daily fruit and vegetable intake to near the recommended 5+ a day. Children are also more likely to eat foods that are available and easily accessible, and they tend to eat greater quantities when larger portions are provided.

Research has also found that eating family meals together during your child’s teenager years was associated with lasting positive effects in the quality of their diet during their young adult life. The study highlighted that adolescents who had grown up in households with regular family meal times were shown to consume more fruit, dark green vegetables and other key nutrients and drank less soft drinks than those who did not.

Parents play a primary role in influencing children’s eating patterns through their own eating behaviours and attitudes about foods. A learning environment is created when a child sits down to a shared meal and watches their siblings or parents eating and enjoy different foods, this in turn, influences and develops their own food habits and preferences.

Some ideas on getting some family time:

Get them involved: Cooking with your children can be a great way to get them interested in food and healthy eating habits. Children feel confident with plenty of praise, plus they are more likely to eat foods they have helped make.

Encourage family time: meal time can not only boost your family’s health it can also drive family conversation, incentives to plan the next meal together, and is the perfect platform for parents to model good manners and behaviours.

Chop it up: Cutting up fruit and vegetables into snack sized portions boosts children’s intake of these foods.

Be their role model: Children do by seeing – parents should act as role models and demonstrate good eating behaviours. If parents consume fresh fruit and vegetables, children establish their own health dietary habits.

Fishy business: The long and the short of it!

Fishy business: The long and the short of it!


What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say omega 3?

Fish oil capsules…you are (half) right…

Omega- 3 fatty acids are a class of polyunsaturated fatty acids and its consumption has numerous health benefits. A key health benefit is in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

There are 2 types of omega-3 fatty acids:

Long chain marine type – DHA and EPA, obtained from foods such as seafood, fish and eggs.
Short chain plant type- ALA, from sources like canola oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, dark leafy vegetables like spinach and chia seeds.

Your body needs both types of omega-3 when it comes to protection against cardiovascular disease. It is recommended that you consume 2g of plant based ALA per day for heart health benefits. A handful (~30g) of walnuts provides 3g of ALA! Research has shown that it is the long chain omega 3 fatty acids that have potent anti-inflammatory effects in the body. A diet high in oily fish not only provides omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) but is a healthy source of protein and other nutrients.

The New Zealand Heart Foundation recommends consuming mostly oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna twice a week which is equivalent to consuming approximately 500mg EPA+DHA per day. Since the body converts only a small amount of plant based ALA into EPA and DHA, individuals who don’t eat fish or seafood, are recommended to increase their intake of plant based omega-3 to benefit from this heart friendly nutrient.