Tag Archives: diet

Quick, tasty, lovely lunches

Making fast, nutritious and delicious lunches and lunch choices can be a challenge whether you’re working, studying or running around with the family. The health and wellbeing team at rt health fund share some of their tips to selecting healthy eats – where delicious meets nutritious!

You already know the basics – fresh is best and the less processed, the better. For example, canned tuna or fresh fish trumps fish nuggets and an apple is a better choice than a sugary apple bar from the supermarket. But time and hunger can challenge the best of intentions. So, if you’re watching your weight or trying to boost the nutrient content of your diet, here are some super quick tips:

1. Fill up half of your lunchbox or plate with veggies – red, orange, blue and yellow. The more colours, the better. Go for masses of green veggies such as broccoli, kale, rocket and asparagus – these are ultra-low in calories and very high in nutrition.

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2. Make a quarter of your meal starchy carbohydrates – the wholegrain kinds of bread, rice and pasta are best because they have their fibre, vitamins and minerals intact. In the same way, potatoes with their skins on are better than without and sweet potatoes are a great choice. Try to avoid white flour foods, for example white bread and pastry because they have had the fibre and nutrients removed from them in processing. Without the fibre, these foods are digested quickly so you feel hungry again after a short time. So, for a steadier life, go wholegrain.

3. Make a quarter of your lunch protein foods. Fish is a great choice as it provides omega-3 essential fats (oily fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines are especially high), lean meat provides a big hit of iron and pulses (peas, beans and legumes) are a rich source of protein with added fibre, vitamins, minerals and essential omega-3 fats.

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4. Add a source of calcium – either dairy or a vegetarian alternative such as soy or almond milk. Many women don’t get enough bone and teeth-building calcium, which can lead to issues such as osteoporosis later in life.

5. Some fresh fruit – which provides vitamins, minerals, fibre and a whole host of protective plant pigments. Plus, when you have a meal that satisfies your savoury taste buds, you may want something sweet to finish. Fruit could do the trick and could reduce the temptation for sugary/fatty snacks.

Here are some quick lunch ideas to get you started (most can be made at home using supermarket ingredients but some can be bought from takeaway shops):

  • Canned tuna with a little low-fat mayonnaise and lots of salad on a wholemeal roll
  • Roast beef with lettuce and lots of sliced tomato on rye bread
  • Supermarket salad leaves (lettuce, baby spinach, rocket) with tomatoes, feta and a can of drained red kidney beans
  • Hummus, pita bread and a double serving of tabbouleh

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  • Sushi and boiled green soybeans (edamame)
  • Quinoa with a rainbow of veggies
  • Poached eggs on wholegrain toast with spinach and avocado
  • Store-bought soup with added frozen baby peas
  • Vietnamese rice paper rolls with a large side salad
  • Falafel/chicken/lean meat roll with extra salad
  • Pasta with tomato sauce and lots of steamed veggies
  • Indian dhal with basmati rice and a big salad
  • Hot smoked salmon with mashed potatoes, green beans and grilled tomatoes
  • Mushroom and veggie omelette with wholegrain bread
  • Thai salad with fish, meat or tofu
  • Tofu and veggie stir fry
  • Homemade chilli con carne with meat or veggie mince and extra beans with tomato salad.

And for something sweet …

  • Fresh fruit
  • Sugar-free dairy or coconut yoghurt
  • A few dried peaches/apricots/prunes with unsalted nuts
  • Sugar-free jelly
  • Canned peaches or apricots (drained)
  • A couple of squares of dark chocolate.
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So what is stress really doing to your body?

It’s a buzzword – one that you hear all the time. But what exactly is stress? Why do you feel it? And what is it doing to your mind and body?

Stress is a whole range of reactions to danger – it’s one of the ways your body protects itself. In the face of ­threat, a range of stress hormones are released. One result of this is the release of glucose, to provide energy for the large muscles that you need to use to fight or take flight. Your heart beats faster and your blood pressure rises to ensure that oxygen and nutrients in your blood can reach every cell in your body. And, the systems that aren’t needed to fight or take flight are turned down a notch or two – such as your digestive system. This is one reason why stress and depression are sometimes linked with digestive problems.

Although your stress hormones play a vital role in keeping you ready to protect yourself – or others – too much of them circulating for too long can trigger physical and emotional problems over time.

And, it doesn’t have to be a major danger that triggers your stress response. It can be anything from a niggling neighbour to a frustrating experience online. If you don’t address your stress, the result can be problems with …

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Memory and concentration
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches, aches and joint pains
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems and more.

Hello belly fat!

When stress hormones such as cortisol hang around in your body for long periods and aren’t burned off, changes in your weight can result – particularly weight gain around your middle. Cortisol orders your body to release glucose from cells raising the amount in the blood. And, when there is too much glucose in your blood, your body tries hard to normalise it and return it to within safe levels. One of the ways it does this is via the action of your liver, which converts the excess glucose into fat. Fat that’s processed in the liver tends to be laid down near the liver i.e. around your middle – hello belly fat!

Belly fat is different to the fat on other parts of your body. It is linked with many chronic (long-term) conditions such as heart disease and cancers[i]. Belly fat has four times as many cortisol receptors as other types of fat[ii] which moves fat from areas such as your bottom and thighs (fat in these areas is relatively inactive) and transports it to the belly. Belly fat is much more metabolically active and triggers inflammation. And, since belly fat has more cortisol receptors, your cortisol levels rise and rise and rise.

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Also on the rise …

Your blood pressure jumps every time you feel stressed. And, over time, high blood pressure damages your heart and is a major risk factor for heart disease. You can’t tell whether you have high blood pressure – this is why regular medical check-ups are important. Your GP can check your blood pressure quickly and easily and guide you about what’s needed.

How’s your emotional health?

As well as the effects on your body, high levels of cortisol are potent risk factors for anxiety and depression[iii]. Both can contribute to physical symptoms such as altered sensitivity to pain, tiredness, headaches, poor sleep or excessive sleep. Emotional problems can also trigger digestive problems and vice versa, as there are nerve cells all along your intestines which send signals to your brain in a two-way communication[iv].

So what can you do?

Find out what presses your buttons. Make a stress diary and keep it for two weeks or so. Make a note of what triggers your stress – times, places, people and situations. Then write down how you felt and how you reacted to the stress. Looking back at your stress diary can reveal some interesting insights into your personal stressors.

Then think about how you can reduce your stress. If it’s lack of time, there is no option but to start earlier. If it’s people, think about how you can see less of negative people and more of people who lift you up. And if you can’t do this, try to counter negative comments with positive or neutral ones. Decide what kind of pain you’re willing to bear. For the vast majority of us, it isn’t possible to have it all – at least not at the same time. So consider what you’re willing to give up or reduce. This isn’t a forever decision – review your views periodically to make sure you’re making the right decisions for you at the right time.

Follow Elsa’s lead. Although everyone feels guilt, too much can drag you down. The next time you feel guilty, try to pinpoint exactly why you’re feeling it. Do you need to alter your behaviour? Do you need to apologise? Or, are you making too much of it? Do what you need to do and then try to let it go. Even Disney heroines such as Elsa from Frozen now recognise that they can’t do it all and get it right all of the time – and about the need to let it go. So learn from what happened, try not to do it again and move on. And if you can’t move on, talk to someone who can help you such as a trained psychologist or counsellor. Otherwise, your guilt could fester and interfere with relationships.

Nourish yourself. What you eat, when you eat and how you eat can relieve your stress – and can contribute to it, too. For example, too much alcohol, too much sugar and too much caffeine can all stress your body triggering the release of stress hormones. Try to avoid foods made from white flour – the process of making white flour not only removes the minerals and vitamins, but also the fibre. Fibre is important as it holds onto carbohydrates in foods, releasing energy slowly and in a way the body can control, which won’t stress it. With the fibre removed, glucose is released rapidly into the blood in a way that is difficult for the body to control and adjust to.

For a calmer life, be picky about what you eat and drink. Make meals rich in veggies (five or more servings per day) and try to eat two fruits per day – they’re rich in vitamins, minerals and plant pigments. Plus, the fibre they contain helps to ensure that the energy inside is released slowly. Choose lean meats such as skinless chicken and turkey, opt for fish a few times a week and use pulses (peas, beans and lentils) in your cooking. Pulses are rich in fibre and protein but low in fat and calories. Add them to casseroles, stews, soups and salads. Be careful about how much alcohol you drink, too. This can stress both body and mind and rob you of restful sleep, too. If you’re drinking too much alcohol, do what you need to do to cut down or cut it out altogether. Talk to your GP for help.

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Remember stress isn’t just about your mind – it can have a whole host of physical consequences and in the long-term, trigger serious chronic conditions. So do what you can to beat your stresses today. Your mind and your body will thank you for it. And your friends and family probably will too!

Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] Harvard Health Publications. Abdominal fat and what to do about it. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it

[ii] University of New Mexico. Stress Cortisol Connection. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/stresscortisol.html

[iii] Mayo Clinic. Chronic stress puts your health at risk. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

[iv] Harvard Health Publications. The gut-brain connection. http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-gut-brain-connection

 

Ten facts about bowel cancer

In Australia, the government estimates that there will be over 17,500 cases of bowel cancer[i] this year.  And although it was the third most diagnosed cancer in 2012, it is set to be the second most diagnosed cancer of 2016[ii]. So what is bowel cancer? Why does it occur and what can you do to prevent it?

Here are 10 need-to-know facts about bowel cancer …

1. The bowel is the large intestine so bowel cancer is cancer of the large intestine – it is also known as colorectal cancer.

2. The bowel is the last part of the very long and specialised tube called the gastro intestinal tract (GIT). Food is broken down in the early part of the GIT and is then digested and absorbed. Nutrients from food enter your bloodstream and then go to body cells where they provide nourishment. In the large intestine, water is reabsorbed and the result is waste materials.

3. The condition is most common in people over 50. That’s why from 50 years of age, you’ll be encouraged to use a bowel testing kit which can pick up early signs of the condition. Even so, the rates of bowel cancer in younger people have increased which researchers say is a worrying trend[iii]. Early detection is key as up to 90% of cases can be successfully treated[iv].

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4. Many cancers have a genetic link so if a close family member has had bowel cancer, you should be monitored closely by your GP.

5. Diet and lifestyle play a major role in the development of many cancers including bowel cancer. The Cancer Council estimates that in 2010, more than 2,600 new bowel cancer cases in Australia were associated with consuming too much red meat and processed meat[v]. Now, the World Health Organization has classified processed meats (ham, salami, sausages and hot dogs) as class one carcinogens. This means that there is strong evidence that these meats cause cancers; this could be due to the chemicals used in meat processing. Red meat (e.g. pork, beef and lamb) are classified as probable causes of cancer[vi]. High temperature cooking (e.g. cooking on a barbeque), can also create chemicals that are carcinogenic (potentially cancer-causing). So what can you do? Downsize your portion sizes of meat and enjoy vegetables more often. When you’re cooking, add plenty of beans in your chilli con carne and casseroles and add lots of veggies in your pies and pasta dishes.

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6. A diet that’s rich in plant foods – veggies and fruits – reduces bowel cancer risk. These foods are rich in plant antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which are protective to your health. Plus, veggies and fruits contain fibre which is the body’s natural cleanser. Fibre mixes with water in the gut and this helps to speed waste products out of it, reducing the time that wastes are in contact with the gut.

7. Getting plenty of fibre is also important because if you eat high-fibre foods and eat less fatty foods, the type of gut bacteria changes inside you and the bacteria produce more of a substance called butyrate. This by-product of fibre metabolism has important anticancer effects[vii].

8. Watch your weight. The majority of Australians – over 60 per cent[viii] – are now overweight or obese. Being overweight raises your risk of bowel cancer because excess body fat produces hormones and growth factors that affect the way cells work. Bowel cancer is one of many cancers that are linked to being overweight or obese[ix].

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9. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption raise the risk of bowel cancer. Both introduce potential carcinogens into the body. If you smoke or drink to excess, get help by talking to your GP.

10. What to look out for? Blood in your stool, abdominal bloating/cramping, a persistent change in your bowel habits and unexplained changes in weight.

The Australian Government, through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, offers free screening for bowel cancer. If you are eligible you will be sent a kit with information about what to do. If you have any of the symptoms listed above no matter your age, make sure you see your GP.

This health information is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health fund.

[i] Australian Government. Bowel Cancer Statistics. https://bowel-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/statistics

[ii] Australian Government. Bowel Cancer Statistics. https://bowel-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/statistics 

[iii] Bowel Cancer Australia. Bowel Cancer Australia. https://www.bowelcanceraustralia.org/youre-never-too-young

[iv] Australian Government. Cancer Screening – Bowel Screening Campaign Home. http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/content/bowel-campaign-home

[v] Cancer Council Australia. New WHO meat study another reason to eat more fruit and veggies, says Cancer Council. http://www.cancer.org.au/news/media-releases/new-who-meat-study-another-reason-to-eat-more-fruit-and-veggies-says-cancer-council.html

[vi] American Cancer Society. World Health Organization Says Processed Meat Causes Cancer. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/world-health-organization-says-processed-meat-causes-cancer

[vii] Imperial College London. Diet swap has dramatic effects on colon cancer risk for Americans and Africans. http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_28-4-2015-12-6-31

[viii] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Overweight and obesity. http://www.aihw.gov.au/overweight-and-obesity/

[ix] Cancer Research UK. How being overweight causes cancer. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/bodyweight-and-cancer/how-being-overweight-causes-cancer

Seven better health habits to learn from your kids

As a mum, I know that with age comes education and experience. But on the downside, I think we may also unlearn a thing or two – and it turns out that your kids can be the ones to teach you. For example, it’s natural for children to put their health first without even realising it. So, maybe it’s time for the grown-ups to do the same. Here are seven valuable lessons you may be able to learn from your kids …

  1. Better breathing

Have you ever seen a baby breathe? Noticed the way the diaphragm (the large muscle below the lungs) rises and falls? This is called diaphragmatic breathing, and it’s the natural way to take in a deep breath and oxygenate your body. This kind of breathing expands your lungs and presses down the diaphragm, causing the abdomen to expand as the lungs are filled with air. When stressed or anxious, adults are prone to shallow breathing from the chest, which means that the bottom parts of the lungs don’t fill up, denying the body of vital oxygen.

Whether you’re sitting, standing or lying down, place one hand on your chest and another on your stomach and breathe out, exhaling completely. As you inhale, count slowly to five and the hand on your stomach will rise up. Then exhale, counting down slowly from five until that hand goes down. Though it’s not as easy as it sounds and you may need to practice it, regular abdominal breathing is a great way to keep your stress levels down, as well as slow down your heartbeat and reduce or stabilise your blood pressure[i].

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  1. Ask why?

Take a look at your phone. It’s always undergoing improvements, updates and revisions, and isn’t that a bit like life? It can get pretty hectic and scary for us adults, but for children, new and unfamiliar obstacles are just tasks that need to be learned and mastered. Be curious about the world and ask questions, as not only does this provide a mentally stimulating workout that may help keep conditions such as dementia at bay, but people may also consider you to be a good listener and conversationalist.

Whether you’re eight or 80, you can always learn, so enjoy the journey to discover, develop and grow. When you can, be flexible, open and embrace uncertainty, rather than letting your doubts take over. Take your time to look around, appreciate what you have and talk with others about the weird and wonderful world that’s out there. 

  1. Eat like a kid

No, this doesn’t mean order the chicken nuggets off the kids’ menu! But, do try to keep your portion sizes smaller. That way you can go back for seconds if you’re still hungry. Healthy children usually eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full because they follow their natural body and brain cues and are in tune with their hunger and fullness.

If you grew up being told to eat everything on your plate, even if you were full, don’t let that habit stick – make a conscious effort to stop when you’ve had enough. Making a child eat when they aren’t hungry overrides their natural appetite cues and has links to weight problems later in life. Has this happened to you? Eat smaller, more regular meals packed with veggies to avoid getting over hungry and binging on something you shouldn’t.

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  1. Don’t sit still

Children are always on the move and this is not only a great way to learn, but it also strengthens bones and muscles and burns kilojoules. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible for adults, especially if your job means you have to sit for long periods behind the wheel or in front of a computer terminal. If that’s the case, make sure you get up frequently and stretch.

Getting fit for kids isn’t about slogging it out on a treadmill for an hour, it’s about finding something that they love doing and doing it over and over. After all, exercise shouldn’t be a chore and doesn’t need to be. Love to walk? Visit your nearest national park and enjoy a bush walk. Love to dance? Try out that Zumba class you’ve been meaning to try. You get the picture …

  1. Know when it’s time for some R&R

When was the last time your kids said ‘I want to go home’? Generally speaking, kids know when they are tired and will let you know when they need to rest. So just like them, respect your cues and listen to your body when it tells you it’s tired. Ignoring those natural signals to rest can trigger stress and illness in both your body and mind. Lack of sleep in adults has also been linked with obesity since it triggers the release of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, as well as having links with type 2 diabetes, poor memory and loss of focus.

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  1. Ask for help

When kids need help, they ask for it, whether it’s with their homework or getting something off the top shelf. As we grow up, asking for help becomes a little harder – perhaps because we fear the way we will be perceived by others. Asking for help when you need it may put you out of your comfort zone, but it helps you learn, grow in confidence and get better (whether this is better at a skill or better health wise).

Us adults feel like we need to do everything for ourselves, but there is nothing weak or embarrassing about asking for help. Whether it’s your family, friends, GP or a support hotline, someone is always ready to help you – and you and your family deserve to get that help.

  1. Look on the bright side

Not only are kids naturally inquisitive, but they’re optimistic as well (usually!). Looking on the bright side is linked with less stress and better wellbeing. One study in the American Journal of Cardiology found that people who were more optimistic had higher levels of healthy cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol) and lower levels of triglycerides[ii], which are a type of fat. No wonder they say that laughter is the best medicine!

What are the children in your life teaching you about looking after your health?

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Simone Tregeagle, Chief Operating Officer at rt health fund, with her daughter

 

[i] Harvard Health Publications. Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
[ii] The American Journal of Cardiology. Relation Between Optimism and Lipids in Midlife. http://www.ajconline.org/article/S0002-9149(13)00388-3/abstract

How fatigue affects both body and mind

Feeling a little less energetic than you’d like? Diet, exercise, emotional health, sleep and work, all contribute …

Fact: Staying awake for 17-19 hours affects your concentration in a similar way to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. Staying awake for longer periods is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.1% – you’d definitely be off the road for both![i]

Stress makes you tired and it affects all of your body …

  • Brain – headaches and migraines
  • Lungs – coughs and asthma
  • Mood – anxiety, difficulty concentrating
  • Muscles – tension, pain and nervous ticks
  • Stomach – ulcers, heartburn and indigestion
  • Skin – dryness and rashes
  • General – tiredness and fatigue.

Watch the caffeine

Lots of us use caffeine to kick-start our day, but did you know that it increases alertness for only a short time? If you consume caffeine regularly, it may not boost your alertness as much. And, five or six cups of coffee per day can make you jittery and anxious. Caffeine can also interfere with restful sleep. Try cutting down slowly over a month or so and see if your fatigue reduces.

Nap vs. sleep

A short nap could be just what you need to boost alertness. If you can, get your head down for around 15-20 minutes – but set the alarm because longer periods can increase grogginess and leave you feeling worse.

Diet counts

  • Drink enough water – even mild dehydration can trigger tiredness.[ii]
  • Watch sugary foods and drinks – they cause a rapid rise in blood glucose (sugar) but this is followed by a rapid dip as your body releases insulin to normalise levels. The result is tiredness, irritability and hunger.
  • Opt for wholegrains instead of refined, white flour foods for longer lasting energy.
  • Eat regularly – skipping meals causes blood glucose to dip triggering fatigue.

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Could you be short on iron?

This mineral is a major component of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to every blood cell. One of the major signs of iron deficiency anaemia is fatigue. Oily fish, pulses, wholegrains and lean meat contain iron. Eating vitamin C rich veggies (tomatoes, capsicum) or fruit (Kiwifruit) increases the amount of iron your body absorbs each time you eat.

Exercise

Being more active actually helps you sleep more restfully, feel better about yourself and along with a healthy diet may help you lose extra kilos. All of these can boost your mood and fight fatigue.

Relax

Meditation, yoga, reading or spending time with friends and family will help boost your energy levels.

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Did you know? Psychological factors are responsible for a massive 50-80% of cases of fatigue[iii]. Professional counselling can help you to work out the issues adding to your anguish. In some cases, fatigue is also the symptom of an underlying medical problem. So, if you feel excessively tired and you’re getting enough rest, speak with your GP.

Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

[i] National Center for Biotechnology Information. Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1739867/

[ii] Psychology Today. Fighting Fatigue with Diet. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200310/fighting-fatigue-diet

[iii] Better Health Channel. Fatigue fighting tips. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fatigue-fighting-tips

Healthy eats for stronger teeth

A lifetime of healthy smiles starts in childhood. So, as well as brushing twice daily, flossing and visiting the dentist, what you give your kids to eat can dramatically affect their tooth health – and their confidence, too.

A healthy diet isn’t just about limiting the amount of sugar you give them (although cutting down on sugar is better for everyone and has much wider health benefits).

Little tummies need regular feeding and healthy snacks can help to boost your child’s energy. So what are the best snacks to help your child smile?

Cheese and crackers/breadsticks

Hard cheese like Cheddar and soft cheese such as mozzarella are great for teeth because:

  1. They are rich in calcium, which is what teeth are made from. Immediately eating a small cube of cheese after a meal or a snack plugs the tiny holes in the enamel helping protect and build stronger teeth.
  2. The protein in cheese helps neutralise the acids from food and drinks, providing both protective and strengthening effects.
  3. The chewing action encourages the flow of saliva, which is the mouth’s natural cleanser.

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Fruits – apples, pears, melon and more

Yes, they contain sugar and acids, but fruits are good for the teeth because they contain vitamin C, which helps to strengthen blood vessels that nourish cells with oxygen and food. Vitamin C is also vital for strengthening the connective tissue, which keeps the teeth in place. It also helps to protect gums and other tissues from cell damage and even bacterial infection. This vitamin also has an anti-inflammatory action.

Encourage fruit as part of a meal because the chewing action helps to stimulate saliva, the body’s way to wash food debris away. And offer a glass of water after they eat fruit to help wash away any acids.

Raisins

Dried fruit isn’t usually a tooth friendly snack because the drying process removes water, which concentrates the sugars. Plus the sticky texture means it can cling to the teeth for longer, providing plaque-producing bacteria plenty of time to feast on the sugar and produce acidic waste, which can damage delicate enamel.

We used to think that raisins were much like other dried fruit but recent research shows that raisins are a tooth healthy option.

Like other fruits, raisins contain protective phytochemicals, which are effective antioxidants. One of these found in raisins is called oleanolic (pronounced o-lee-an-o-lic) acid. This seems to reduce the growth of two species of oral bacteria, one that causes cavities (Streptococcus mutans) and one that causes gum disease (Porphyromonas gingivalis)[i].

raisins

Legumes

Peas, beans and lentils also contain antioxidants that help boost the immune system that in turn helps the body fight bacteria and inflammation. Try hummus with strips of pita bread/breadsticks or veggie sticks.

Crisp veggies

Crunchy carrots and celery help to clean teeth, massage gums and freshen breath. They contain a lot of water, which dilutes the effects of the sugars they contain. And, because they need a lot of chewing, crisp veggies stimulate saliva flow (which helps protect against decay by washing away food particles and buffering against acids). Plus, the folate they contain helps to build healthy blood, which delivers vital oxygen and nutrients to every cell.

carrots and celery

Sandwiches

Made with fish, lean meat, hummus, egg or cheese, small sandwiches for tiny tummies are a great choice. Although small children often don’t like the strong taste of fish, canned fish like salmon is a great sandwich filling because it is rich in tooth building calcium. Opt for wholegrain bread because it contains fibre, which requires chewing. Remember children under five don’t need as much fibre as adults so stick with white bread sandwiches for them.

Milk – cow’s milk and soy milk

Cow’s milk is naturally rich in calcium as is soy milk, if it is processed with calcium. Although it’s a tooth friendly drink, always make the last drink of the day water, as milk contains the milk sugar, lactose. If allowed to stay in contact with the teeth for long periods, it provides food for plaque-producing bacteria, increasing the risk of tooth damage.

Pumpkin and sunflower seeds

Both are rich in minerals including zinc and magnesium. Zinc plays a key role in wound healing – including little wounds in the mouth. Plus, they contain magnesium, another mineral which works with calcium to build strong, protective enamel that can resist decay. Lack of magnesium could mean that teeth become softer and more susceptible to cavities.

pumpkin seeds

With all snacks, encourage your kids to wash them down with some water afterwards. Water helps to wash away food debris, stimulate saliva production and most water supplies in Australia have added fluoride to help harden the enamel and protect teeth, too.

Remember, children’s milk teeth are much more delicate than adult teeth – as well as being smaller, the layer of enamel is thinner so small children are especially at risk of decay and damage. And, if baby teeth are removed because of decay, there’s more risk that the adult teeth will grow into abnormal positions.

So help them snack smarter and enjoy a lifetime of healthy smiles!

Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] WebMD. Raisins May Help Fight Cavities. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/20050608/raisins-may-help-fight-cavities

 

Healthy countdown to Christmas

The lead up to Christmas is always busy. With all the extra parties to attend (and food to eat!) and a seemingly endless list of things to get done before the end of year, our health can really take a backseat.

To help make sure this silly season is your healthiest yet, we’ll be posting one health tip a day in the lead up to Christmas. So keep your eyes peeled and join us in our healthy countdown to Christmas!

  1. Breathe to de-stress: Deep breathing oxygenates your blood, which can relax you almost straight away. To breathe deeply, place your left hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly. Gently breathe in and out through your nose and concentrate on expanding your abdomen, not your chest.
  2. Laugh your way to good health: Laughter really is the best medicine! It makes you feel good by lifting your mood but also comes with other great health benefits – regular laughter strengthens your heart, lowers blood pressure, boosts circulation and stimulates your immune system, too!
  3. Learn to say ‘no’: Knowing when and how to say ‘no’ can be hard to master but it’s an important skill to learn. As well as helping to reduce your stress levels, you’ll free up time for you to do things that are more in line with your own priorities and needs.
  4. Get into portion-perfect habits: Ensure you’re getting the right mix of carbs, protein, veggies and healthy fats by following this simple rule: Fill ½ your plate with fresh veggies, ¼ of your plate with lean protein (fish, chicken, turkey, pulses or beans) and a ¼ of your plate with complex carbohydrates (wholegrains) from wholemeal pasta, potato with the skin on, brown rice or noodles.
  5. Get your kids’ eyes checked: Kids rely on their eyesight for reading, writing, computer work and for playing sport. Yet kids of all ages have trouble recognising when they have vision issues and, as a result, children can often be misdiagnosed with having ADHD, dyslexia or other learning difficulties[i].
  6. Up your water intake: Drinking more water comes with lots of health benefits. It keeps your body and skin hydrated, helps you avoid eating (or drinking) unnecessary kilojoules/calories, flushes out your kidneys (which may reduce your risk of kidney stones and other kidney problems) and supports healthy gut function.
  7. For healthier teeth, watch your diet: Oral bacteria live in your mouth, feeding on sugars from your food and drinks and producing waste that is acidic. So opt for a healthy diet without too many sugary or acidic foods to keep your teeth strong and healthy. Plus, drink plenty of water to produce saliva, your mouth’s natural way to cleanse itself.
  8. Be aware of sensitive teeth and gums: Sensitive teeth and gums could be a sign of gingivitis or gum disease, which can ultimately wear away your gums and damage your bones and jaw. It can also lead to tooth loss since teeth are lodged inside your gums. See your dentist to treat gum disease early.
  9. Watch out for ‘low-fat’ labels: Often, products labelled as ‘low-fat’ are packed full of sugar, which means they may contain ‘empty calories’ (a whole lot of kilojoules/calories with no nutritional value). High sugar intake also comes with a host of other harmful effects. Sugar may cause cravings, it’s bad for your teeth and it can contribute to a host of diseases including obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and liver disease.
  10. Keep the music down: A great tune is the perfect kick-start to the day or to a workout. But research shows that frequent exposure to noises above 100 decibels can permanently damage your hearing. Turn down your music to less than 60% of the maximum volume to protect your hearing.
  11. Exercise for your eyes: Exercise is great for your overall health and there’s evidence that aerobic exercise can reduce pressure on the eyes and prevent other risk factors for glaucoma, such as diabetes and hypertension, too.
  12. Pick the right time to weigh yourself: Step on the scale first thing in the morning before eating, exercising or drinking fluids. If you aren’t able to weigh yourself in the morning, be consistent by always weighing yourself at the same time on the same scale.
  13. Don’t skip breakfast: Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. It kick-starts your metabolism, gives you the energy to do more physical activities and can reduce your hunger throughout the day. Stick to a healthy breakfast made up of protein, wholegrains and some healthy fats like egg and avo on whole grain toast or fruit and whole grain cereal with yoghurt, milk or almond/soy milk.
  14. Find a fitness friend: A workout buddy can keep you motivated and make your workouts more fun! Plus, research has shown that having close friends who are active and who eat well reduces your risk for becoming obese since we tend to mimic those around us. In other words, healthy buddies are best!
  15. Brush your teeth at least two times a day: But if you’ve been eating or drinking acidic items (vinegary salad dressings, citrus, wine and/or juices or carbonated drinks) be sure to wait at least half an hour after eating/drinking. Otherwise you could literally brush away acid-softened enamel.
  16. Eat for your eyes: Eye health starts with what you eat – choose a diet rich in omega-3s (found in oily fish such as salmon), zinc (cashew nuts) and vitamins E (sunflower seeds) and C (citrus fruits).
  17. Get more sleep: Sleep deprivation has been linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and mental illness. If you’re a healthy adult, you should aim for around 7-9 hours each night. Kids should get a little more, between 9-10 hours, depending on their age.
  18. Take your lunch break: Despite what you may think, taking lunch has actually been shown to increase productivity and reduce stress. And, if you don’t let yourself get over hungry, you may be more in control of what you’re eating and make healthier choices. So what are you waiting for? Take your lunch break and enjoy it!
  19. Follow the 20-20-20 rule: These days, we’re often glued to our screens, which can cause eyestrain, dry eyes and headaches. So follow the 20-20-20 rule: give your eyes a rest every 20 minutes by staring at least 20 feet (around six metres) in front of you for 20 seconds or more.
  20. Get to know your protein portions: For red meat have a portion about the size of your palm, for poultry consume a portion about the size of half of your hand and for fish you can eat about as much as the size of your entire hand. Don’t forget tofu, peas, beans and lentils are protein packed too – and don’t come with added fat or raise your cholesterol.
  21. Watch for dry mouth: Saliva is important – it’s antibacterial, neutralises acids and helps strengthen your enamel. And, if you don’t make enough, you may suffer from smelly breath and other problems. Speak to your GP if you notice persistent dry mouth or lips.
  22. Get a health check: Regular health checks are important to tackle any health issues early, before they become a problem. Speak to your GP about the appropriate health checks for your age and stage.
  23. Beat bad breath: Bad breath – or halitosis – affects everyone at some stage. To combat bad breath, brush for at least two minutes twice a day, clean your tongue, floss and drink plenty of water. Avoid smelly foods, cigarettes, alcohol and low carb diets, which can make whiffs worse.
  24. Book in for that eye exam: Are you seeing the world as clearly as you should? Some of the signs that you may be struggling with your vision are easy to spot, but others aren’t so obvious. Plus, everyone has trouble recognising when they have vision issues. So see things clearly – get your eyes examined!
  25. Smile: Smile at your co-workers, at strangers and at your in-laws … even if you feel like throttling them. Smiling can actually help lower your heart rate if you’re feeling stressed. So relax, smile and enjoy Christmas day!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our healthy countdown to Christmas. Stay healthy everyone and happy holidays!

[i] Midwestern University. Uncorrected Vision Issues Misdiagnosed as Learning Disabilities in Children. https://www.midwestern. edu/news-and-events/university-news/uncorrected-vision-issues-misdiagnosed-as-learning-disabilities-in-children.html

 

Jenna Kazokas - Marketing Coordinator at rt health fund
Jenna Kazokas – Marketing Coordinator at rt health fund

Don’t do battle at the buffet – fill up without filling out!

According to Nutrition Australia, the average Aussie packs on around 0.8-1.5kg over the Christmas period[i]. The trouble is that most of us don’t lose the extra kilos over the year. The result? We’re getting heavier and heavier. Today, a staggering two thirds of Australians are overweight or obese[ii].

Being too heavy is seriously bad for your health – it increases your risk of chronic (long-term) conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancers and even Alzheimer’s disease.

This Christmas season follow these easy tips to pick smarter and healthier options at your gatherings, to help you fill up on flavour – without filling out!

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Before the party

Don’t let yourself get too hungry before an event – it’s easier to succumb to fatty/sugary treats. So have a small sandwich or some veggie sticks and hummus or tomato salsa. Make sure you’re hydrated, too. It’s easy to mistake hunger for thirst.

Circle before you choose and chew

Studies show that when faced with a wide selection of foods, people tend to want to try everything. So make a conscious decision to stop, take a look at what you fancy going around the table a few times before making your choice. Then make sure you chew, chew, chew! According to food psychologist, Dr Brian Wansink, people who chew their foods more tend to be lighter than people who don’t[iii].

Pick up a small one

Psychologically speaking, eating from a smaller plate is more satisfying than loading up a large plate – the plate looks fuller so your mind is tricked into thinking you’ve had loads to eat. Plus, Brian Wansink found that people tend to finish everything on their plate[iv]! Our portion sizes have grown over the last 20 years along with our waistlines – did you know that the plates used by our grandparents were the size of our current salad plates? That’s one great reason to downsize your plate.

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Slow down

Put your knife and fork down between bites. Put your glass down before you have another sip. Why? It helps you to become more focused on what you’re consuming. It also takes around 10 minutes after you are full that the signals reach your brain to tell you that you’ve had enough. Slowing it down helps you get back in tune with your body and puts you back in control.

Veggies first

They are low in kilojoules and rich in nutrition, water and fibre. They also require a lot of chewing which helps to slow things down as you take the edge off your appetite. The fibre in veggies and legumes (peas, beans and pulses) absorbs water (another reason to ensure you’re well hydrated), which forms a jelly like mass that helps you to feel physically fuller.

Sushi’s special

If sushi is on the menu, it’s a great option. The combo of high protein fish and filling fibre in the sticky rice is a healthy choice. Add wasabi to tempt and tantalise your taste buds.

Don’t drown in fat

Creamy, cheesy, dressings, dips and sauces make the kilojoules soar and drown fresh tastes, too. Instead, drizzle a little olive oil and lemon or lime juice on your salads and veggies.

Try smaller treats

If you love certain treats, you don’t have to cut them out completely. If you can, try to opt for small amounts and eat slowly – enjoy every mouthful.

Move away from the buffet

Research shows that being near food – seeing it and easily being able to grab it – makes it more likely that you’ll eat more[v]. So try and sit as far away from the meal mountain as you can.

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Drink from a long one

Again, Dr Wansink’s pioneering work has shown that people tend to feel that they have drunk more if they drink from long glasses compared with short, stubby ones[vi]. Using tall thin glasses instead of large wide ones means that you’ll end up pouring less and drinking less, too.

Don’t drink your kilojoules

Your body was meant to be hydrated with kilojoule free water. This may be one reason why your body finds it so hard to detect the kilojoules in juices, waters and smoothies. Alcohol provides a double whammy – it has a lot of KJs and it also puts the brakes on fat breakdown. So try to dilute your drinks, alternate between alcoholic drinks and water and opt to be the designated driver if you can.

Balance things out

Don’t make the celebrations start early and stay late into January – it’s a sure fire way to start the New Year a little heavier. Balancing your extra intake with extra exercise is vital if you don’t want to start the New Year heavier than you were last year. Just half an hour a day can make a big difference to your health – your body health and your self-confidence and emotional wellness, too.

Click here to download our infographic on what to eat this holiday season.

Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] Nutrition Australia. Tips to beat the Christmas bulge. http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/tips-beat-christmas-bulge

[ii] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Overweight and obesity. http://www.aihw.gov.au/overweight-and-obesity/

[iii] Reader’s Digest. How to Chew Your Food More. http://www.rd.com/health/diet-weight-loss/chew-more-eat-less/

[iv] Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. Most of the World Belongs to the Clean Plate Club – Except Children. http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/op/Clean_Plate_Club

[v] Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. How Visibility and Convenience Influence Candy Consumption. http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/content/how-visibility-and-convenience-influence-candy-consumption

[vi] Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. Short, Wide Glasses Induce Us to Over-Pour Despite Serving Experience. http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/op/glassshape

Nine ways to naturally reduce your blood pressure

Think high blood pressure only affects older people? Think again because research suggests that it can affect people in their 20s. And it’s a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke – still the major causes of death in Australia.

Even younger people who have blood pressure readings in the upper range of normal (between 120/80 and 140/90) can be affected by a heart issue later on in middle age, according to researchers writing in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology[i].

And, because it is often a silent condition, you may not know you have hypertension unless you have your blood pressure checked.

1. Lose a few

Your blood pressure rises as your weight does because being too heavy makes your heart work harder – the strain can lead to hypertension. Losing just a few kg can make a big difference if you’re overweight. Speak with your GP for more advice.

2. Get moving

Your heart is a muscle and exercise strengthens it – it can help your heart pump more blood with less effort. If you have slight high blood pressure, exercise can help you avoid full-blown hypertension. And if you have already been diagnosed, regular exercise can help you reduce your blood pressure to safer levels. Aim for half an hour or more on most days of the week and try to be consistent otherwise you’ll lose the benefits.

3. Slash salt

Salt draws in fluid, raising the volume and pressure of blood in your arteries. Most salt in the average person’s diet comes from processed foods so cooking more from scratch will have a dramatic salt lowering effect, especially if you eat out a lot or you’re a fast food fan. Add flavour with fresh herbs, citrus, chilli, garlic and balsamic vinegar.

4. Eat more veggies

These pack a protective nutrient punch – they’re high in fibre and low in kilojoules. Veggies and fruits also contain potassium, which can reduce the blood pressure raising effects of sodium (salt). Pulses, fish, shellfish, nuts and seeds are also rich in potassium.

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5. Stub out the habit

The nicotine in tobacco constricts blood vessels and triggers the production of adrenaline, making your heart beat faster and your heart work harder. See your GP for more information on quitting smoking.

6. Limit alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications. Stick to the recommended daily maximum of two standard alcoholic drinks.

7. Ask if you snore

Constant snoring can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea (where you stop breathing while you’re asleep). It’s associated with hypertension because your body could be suddenly jolted awake due to lack of oxygen. The sudden burst of adrenaline causes a surge in blood pressure. Not smoking, losing weight and decreasing or stopping your alcohol intake may help you stop snoring. Talk to your GP for individual advice.

8. Watch the caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant and consuming too much may increase blood pressure, tightening blood vessels and intensifying the effects of stress. Stick to a daily maximum of 400mg or less (around four cups of coffee).

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9. Find some downtime

Working is a must for most of us but working very long hours may mean you don’t have the time or energy to exercise, relax and eat well. Try to find time – balancing work and life are essential for a healthier future.

Click here to download our infographic on heart health.

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Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

[i] Reuters. Elevated blood pressure in early adult years tied to heart issues later. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/26/us-blood-pressure-heart-failure-idUSKBN0P62D520150626#K53630RyQ8YxTkHK.97

Depression – it’s all about you!

This month we’re shining the health spotlight on men’s emotional health. Do you know a man who thinks he’s too macho to talk about depression? If you do, he’s not alone …

Although both women and men are affected by anxiety and depression, men are much less likely to seek the help they need[1] (only 28 per cent of men seek professional help). Around one in eight men are likely to be affected at some time in their life[2] so it’s pretty common.

The kind of symptoms you might experience include:

  • Stress – which can be a symptom of depression but can also be part of the cause (stress can trigger changes in both the body and the brain).
  • Anxiety – although it’s more likely to affect women than men, men are more likely to report anxiety rather than say that they are feeling depressed.
  • Fatigue and sleep problems – which can make day-to-day challenges more challenging.
  • Moodiness
  • Changes in eating behaviours
  • Negative thoughts – including negative thoughts about self worth
  • Irritability, anger and/or hostility towards others
  • Difficulty in concentrating – and in making decisions
  • Substance abuse – men are twice as likely to turn to destructive behaviours such as drug and alcohol use, if affected by depression[3].
  • Sexual problems – men may not want to openly talk about this with others
  • Loss of interest in the pleasures of life – where once enjoyed activities are no longer enjoyed.

What can you do?

Everyone is different and every person is affected differently. But there are a range of treatments that can really help; including talk therapy and medication. Speak with your GP about the best treatment options for you. There are also some lifestyle changes you can try.

Exercise

Not just important for your body; exercise is also good for your mood. Regular exercise can help lift you, provide a distraction
from worries, help you feel better about your body and your mental strength, boost energy levels, help you feel like part of a team (if you play team sports) and even help you sleep. Exercise seems to alter the levels of chemicals in the brain – such as mood-lifting chemicals, serotonin and endorphins, while reducing stress hormones.

Relaxation training

Stress involves the release of hormones like adrenaline, which causes tension in your muscles and amplifies stimulation of the nervous system. Anxiety and stress can lead to depression, too, so if you’re feeling either of these, it’s important to try and tackle them early.

Relaxation training (like yoga) connects your breath with each movement helping to relax and stretch the muscles. It may also help reduce anxious thoughts and behaviours and make you feel as if you have more control over feelings of anxiety and/or stress.

Diet

You already know that fast foods can make you pile on the kilos and can contribute to chronic conditions such as heart disease. But new research suggests that too much processed food may also contribute to depression,[4] according to Spanish researchers who studied the eating habits of close to 9,000 people.

Manufactured foods that contain trans fats (artificially hardened fats) and saturated fats (from animal foods) can raise the risk of depression by up to 51 per cent, the researchers found. This could be due to the increased inflammation seen in the body when these unhealthy fats feature in your diet.iStock_000041367902_Double_FINAL

On the other hand, diets rich in green veggies, fruit, oily fish, nuts, seeds and pulses (peas, beans and lentils) – which, combined, provide high levels of antioxidants, B vitamins, folate and Omega-3 fats – have been shown to reduce rates of depression.

Worried about a loved one?

Have you noticed that a friend, colleague or loved one is behaving differently? You may see a difference before the affected person recognises a change themselves. Someone who is undergoing emotional challenges may be reluctant to admit or even recognise if they’re having difficulties.

How can you help?

  • Start a conversation. Talk about what’s going on – but make sure the conversation is private and let them guide what is spoken about. Reserve your judgement about whatever the person you’re speaking with may share with you. Check in a few days later to see how they are feeling and to remind them that help is available.
  • Urge the person you’re speaking with to take action by scheduling an appointment with their GP – but don’t force the issue.
  • See if the person that’s affected might be interested in some resources, such as the ones below.

If you speak with someone and they talk about suicidal thoughts, gently encourage them to seek help immediately from a mental health professional.

When you’re trying to help a depressed friend, be aware that you may also experience a range of emotions such as frustration, sadness and helplessness. So if you choose to reach out, don’t neglect your own mental wellness.

Seek support

Being around people who have had or are going through similar experiences to you can be a great opportunity to connect and discover ways to deal with challenges. Search online for local support groups or contact your GP to find out whether they know of any in your area. The mental health charity, beyondblue, also has a supportive online community that can really help someone who is feeling alone to feel supported.

For more information:

This health information is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health fund.

[1] Black Dog Institute. Facts and figures about mental health and mood disorders. http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/Factsandfiguresaboutmentalhealthandmooddisorders.pdf

[2] Beyondblue. Depression in men. https://www.beyondblue.org.au/resources/for-me/men/depression-in-men

[3] Better Health Channel. Men’s health. http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Men%27s_health

[4] ScienceDaily. Link between fast food and depression confirmed. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120330081352.htm