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Olwen Anderson's Blog

How much salt is too much

Saturday, February 22, 2014
Prepare to be surprised: You may be eating much more salt than you thought you were, and if you have high blood pressure, this hidden salt intake could be making it even harder to bring your blood pressure down. 

We do need some salt in our diets, but in modern times our actual intake vastly outstrips our needs in day-to-day life. When scientists compared the likely diet of humans in the stone-age with western developed cultures, they found that we’re eating lots more salt, and often aren’t aware of how much because it’s hidden – in processed food. Manufacturers use salt to enhance the flavour of their product, and our palates have adjusted to continually seek out salty foods in preference.

Consider that the recommended intake of salt (as sodium) per day is 2,400mg or less. Research indicates our actual intake in the western world is 3,000mg or even more, depending on the level of your intake of manufactured foods.  Here’s a brief comparison:
  • One anchovy, that piquant salty fish, will contain about 243mg of sodium. 
  • One 50g packet of potato crisps about 239mg, 
  • a famous name burger 958mg, 
  • and one piece of a certain branded fried chicken breast contains a smidgen over 1,000mg.

If you eat food out of a packet, indulge in take-away regularly, or routinely reach for the salt shaker at the dinner table, you can see how your salt intake could be well above the recommended limit.

One of the main reasons we’re encouraged to reduce our salt intake is because of the effect it has on blood pressure. Your kidneys work hard to maintain the correct salt balance in your blood. As your salt intake increases, your kidneys compensate by increasing the fluid volume to dilute the salt. The resulting extra volume of blood increases the pressure on your artery walls. Higher blood pressure increases your susceptibility to cardiovascular events like stroke; so it’s well worth taking a moment to review how much salt you’re consuming.

When you want to reduce the amount of salt in your diet, even a gradual, moderate reduction will make a positive difference in your blood pressure; and the easiest way to do this is two-fold. First, focus on increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. It always feels easier when you’re changing your diet to focus on what you can add in rather than what you have to cut out. Secondly, start reading the salt content of packaged foods, and deliberately choose the ‘salt-reduced’ option. For example, if you choose the salt-reduced variety of chicken stock rather than the ‘standard’ variety, you can halve your salt content of your home-made soup instantly. Naturally, steering away from the drive-through take-away outlets will help too. Your kidneys and your arteries will thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy this article about salty breakfast cereal, here 

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Natural treatments for PCOS

Saturday, February 15, 2014
If there’s one hormonal disorder that can really turn the life of a woman upside down, it’s polycystic ovarian syndrome (also known as PCOS). The causes of this nasty hormone imbalance are still revealing themselves, but the effects can be distressing at least and at worst, devastating. PCOS can make itself evident with symptoms including disrupted periods mood swings, acne, facial hair, undeserved weight gain, depression, anxiety, and even impaired fertility. But it’s challenging to recognise the condition because PCOS presents itself in different ways for each woman. And because it’s a difficult condition to identify, many women are unaware that they have PCOS until they have trouble conceiving a baby. 

Often, just losing weight can relieve the symptoms of PCOS; but the disruption to your metabolism  and excess oestrogen that PCOS generates can make it really difficult to achieve weight loss. It creates a challenging catch-22 situation with dilemmas like these: You may want to eat less sugar, but the cravings can be overwhelming, and create some really disagreeable moods that threaten to destroy your relationships. Because you’re not feeling happy it’s extra challenging to get out there and exercise, but you aren’t likely to achieve the results you deserve from the effort you’re putting in to your training, because your metabolism is disrupted and your hormones are in disarray. Life can become a vicious cycle of food cravings, weight gain, and unhappy feelings. Not to mention the distress caused by acne or facial hair that seems resistant to whatever you try.

Despite the difficulties, diet and lifestyle changes can have a really positive impact on treatment of PCOS when combined with the right treatment to balance your hormones. Firstly, it’s become evident that ovaries are particularly sensitive to sugar, so if you have PCOS eating less sugar than you do now can help. Also, toning down the over-production of oestrogen and testosterone can help relieve the desire for sugar. Herbs are often used by natural therapists for just this purpose.

Regular exercise helps ease PCOS too, because it lifts your mood, making it easier to resist sugary foods, and relieves stress. How you feel is important because stress disrupts your reproductive hormones very effectively; learning new ways to manage your mood is an essential part of your PCOS treatment program. 

The take-home message for you is that PCOS is treatable. Diet and lifestyle changes can help relieve PCOS symptoms. Herbal and homoeopathic remedies can help balance your hormones, producing a happier mood which makes changing your diet and lifestyle easier. 

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Ways To Enjoy Finger Limes

Saturday, February 08, 2014

We have a fabulous farmers market in Murwillumbah. Some local farmers have been growing finger limes, a native fruit which is also known as 'lime caviar' because the fruit pulp consists of little caviar-like spheres that give you a real lime 'blast' when they burst in your mouth. 

I haven't been able to source a reliable nutritional analysis for you yet (but if you come across one please let me know). But they're fresh and they're native to this area, so I bet they're packed with lots of goodies. 

There are different varieties. The photographs here are of the Alstonville variety (I think), there are also other varieties, including one with delightful ruby-shaded pulp which you can view on The Australian Finger Lime's web site. (I think they take better photos than me too!) to use them. Here's how I've been using them, 

- Instead of lime juice in the dressing for tuna and rice salad

- To top banana not-really-ice-cream. Just scoop out the pulp with a teaspoon.

- I think they'd taste pretty good spooned over raw oysters

....and.....what else? Please add your suggestions in the comments below:

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Choosing the right health practitioner for you

Saturday, February 08, 2014
The relationship between you and your health practitioner as a skilled helper is a special one. In a friendship, sharing of confidences leads to a deeper relationship; but the relationship with your practitioner is all about you, and there’s a distinct imbalance of power. You meet with the practitioner in their space; they advise you what to do, and most of the time you know little or nothing about them. There’s a lot of trust on your part and the relationship can seem unequal.

You believe your practitioner is qualified to provide advice on your problem, and you trust that they’re going to do the best they can for you. But if you don’t trust them, you’re not likely to reveal much about yourself, and your practitioner won’t be able to help you as effectively.

Would you agree, then, that being in a therapeutic relationship can be less effective if you don’t choose your practitioner wisely?  To get the most out of your treatment -whether it’s naturopathy, massage, osteopathy, counselling, podiatry, or any of the myriad of caring professions out there, it’s a good idea to take a moment to decide what you want from your practitioner, and what expertise and standards you expect them to have. Surprisingly, many people assume that their practitioner is qualified and accredited without checking.

Alas, many of the helping professions in Australia outside the public health system are almost totally unregulated. So if it’s important to you that your practitioner is properly qualified, check that they’re accredited with a professional body. Accrediting organisations oversee the standards expected for their profession; ensure their members are adequately qualified, and that they continually upgrade their skills. Usually accredited practitioners will include details of the association they’re registered with on their advertisement, business card or web site. Actually, the practitioner’s web site can impart details of the practitioner’s treatment philosophy and approach very effectively – it’s well worth a visit before you book.

Next, give your proposed practitioner a call. Do you feel at ease talking with them? Are they happy to explain to you how they work? Your ‘gut feeling’ about your level of comfort with that practitioner is an important litmus test of how well you’re likely to be able to work together. If you feel so uncomfortable with your practitioner that you’re withholding information, your treatment progress might be hampered.

Finally, see how you feel after your first consultation. Locating the right practitioner can be a little like dating. You might have to see several practitioners for your concerns before you find the right one for you.  But when the relationship between you and your practitioner is trusting, and you feel well cared for, your treatment is likely to progress better too.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'PCOS: After the Diagnosis'

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Dairy free crumble topping

Saturday, February 01, 2014

If you enjoy stewed fruit you know how good it tastes with a crumble topping. So here's a dairy-free alternative if you prefer (or have to) exclude dairy from your diet. Keep in mind that it won't have precisely the same texture as regular crumble as it doesn't include the saturated fat (butter). But it's still good!

Ingredients - enough for 1-2 people

One tablespoon almond meal

Two tablespoons rolled oats

One tablespoon raisins or dates

One tablespoon potato flour

One tablespoon macadamia oil

One teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmet

pinch salt

one teaspoon molasses

...and, of course, stewed fruit of your choice!


Mix the dry ingredients first, then the oil, then the molasses. Mix well to ensure the molasses hasn't remained in one big blob. The entire mixture will now look lumpy and, well, crumbly!

Bake in a 180 degree centigrade oven for 15 minutes, or a higher temperature for a shorter period if you prefer a more browned crumble (I have a 'slow' oven)

Want more? This recipe tastes great topped with banana not-quite-ice-cream.

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How taking a real break for lunch can boost your health

Saturday, February 01, 2014
Want better digestion, less stress, a happier mood and better weight control? All you have to do is take a break from work to eat your lunch, and to eat it away from your desk. Sound too good to be true? Let me explain how the way you eat, and the way you take breaks affects your physical and mental health.

Many people work right through their busy day without stopping. Their jobs are often very intense, include tension, vigilant attention to detail, attending to other people’s needs, and often deadlines. This kind of alertness creates increased cortisol secretion in your body. Cortisol is an important stress hormone that helps keep us awake and alert; but in excessive amounts it will transform your body biochemistry into ‘flight or fight’ mode.

When you’re tense, your enhanced cortisol secretion boosts the supply of oxygen to your muscles and increases your blood glucose level, so you have the ability to escape from danger quickly. But when the danger is a looming deadline, or a less than co-operative colleague, there’s no physical escape and your blood glucose level can remain elevated. That can promote weight gain, especially on your tummy if you’re not active. It gets worse: When you’re stressed your digestion switches off, so if you eat while you’re working your digestion won’t be as effective. That’s if you choose to eat.

If you don’t eat, all day, then by the time you get home you’re likely to be ravenous and eat more than you should: Maybe nibble on some snacks while your dinner is cooking, serve up some large portions for dinner, and perhaps indulge in dessert as well. You’ll feel full as you climb into bed but that energy will have nowhere to go, again. 

Enough of the bad news. Let’s look at what happens when you choose to step away from your desk for lunch: First, your stress levels will decline as you’re away from your workplace. The increased circulation to your brain from being active will boost your thinking power and enhance happy mood neurotransmitters. You might even find it easier to cope with your uncooperative work colleague!

By eating (a healthy) lunch you’ll boost your blood glucose level enough to feed your brain, making your afternoon work more effective. You won’t be so ravenously hungry when you get home, so you are less likely to overeat and find it easier to resist dessert.  That’s better for your waistline.

Feel like a change for the better? Why not try taking a healthy lunch break, combining it with a brisk walk, and enjoy the energy and mood-boosting results. 

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'The Deceptive lure of instant liquid breakfasts' 

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Lamb and lentil salad

Monday, January 27, 2014

Many people take leftovers to work with them for lunch: Here's an easy way to transform those leftovers into a healthy salad; even better for you!

This salad emerged from last night's roast lamb with baked vegetables.


Cos lettuce (for greens)

Cooked lentils (for carbohydrates)

Leftover roast lamb (for protein)

Red capsicum (for crunch and colour)

Leftover baked sweet potato (for carbohydrates and for a creamy texture)

Fresh parsley (for colour and greens)

Balsamic vinegar as the dressing.

You can choose the proportions and quantity that's right for you. Just mix together, drizzle over the dressing, and serve. Yum!

If you enjoyed this recipe, you might also like this recipe for Autumn Salad which includes baked vegetables

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Weight loss is helped by how you eat as much as what you eat

Saturday, January 25, 2014
If you’re currently on a quest for weight loss, do you know that how you eat can make as much difference as what you eat? You can actually harness the power of your mind to help you feel more satisfied with the (probably smaller) portions and more regular eating pattern that comes with a carefully designed weight loss program.  The big difference that will help you succeed is in mindful eating compared to unconscious eating.

Weight tends to creep on gradually; a couple of kilos of fat seems to magnetically attach every few months but when you look back, you can’t recall eating too much more than usual. The reason it’s hard to discover how this weight appeared is because you really don’t know what you’ve eaten; it was consumed unconsciously.

‘Unconscious eating’ doesn’t mean that you’ve eaten while you were asleep; it means that while you were eating, your focus was on something else, not your food. That habit plays tricks on your body. Your stomach wants to let your brain know when it’s full, so your brain can pass on the message that it’s time to stop eating. Problem is, if you’re distracted by the TV, the internet, working at your desk, or driving, your brain is busy elsewhere and won’t get these messages from your stomach until they get really insistent.

By this point in the meal your stomach could be so over-stretched it’s uncomfortable; particularly if you sat down to watch a movie with an authentically-sized ‘bucket’ of popcorn. Or, you might have put the packet of Tim Tams on the coffee table intending to have just one or two while you watch your favourite show, only to discover, to your horror, that you have eaten the lot.

The antidote for unconscious eating is to start a new habit: When you’re eating, just be eating. That means that you sit down at a table to enjoy your meal, with the TV off; not reading, not surfing the internet, but actually savouring your food. This technique works especially well with healthy fibre-rich food, like salads, because chewing takes time, giving your stomach a chance to send those vital “I’m full!” messages to your brain in plenty of time.

If you have drifted into the practice of eating at your work desk, it can be challenging to step away to eat, maybe even leave the office to enjoy eating in the park. If you’re accustomed to unconscious eating this new practice is going to feel pretty weird. But persist and you can come to enjoy your food more, eat less, and still feel satisfied. That means a healthier diet, a healthier you, and a slimmer figure.

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Easy stuffed squid tube

Saturday, January 18, 2014

This is one of those really flexible recipes that you can adapt to whatever you have on hand – although the squid tube is an essential ingredient!

First, gather your filling ingredients. For about 3-4 squid tubes you will need

250g free range pork mince

About the same volume as the mince in vegetables:




                Carrot, finely diced

                Mushroom, finely diced

                Cabbage, finely shredded

                Celery, finely diced

                Capsicum, finely diced

This is the very flexible part of the recipe, you can really use whatever vegetables you have on hand. For the squid tube in the photo I used onion, carrot, celery and mushroom.

Add some special ingredients:

                Raw cashew pieces (I used two tablespoons for 200g mince)

                A handful of fresh basil leaves, or baby spinach, or fresh parsley. Maybe even coriander leaves if you like them (I don’t, but hey, it’s your dinner).


  1. Oil a frypan, cook the mince and vegetables, slosh in a little tamari and sweet chilli sauce and continue cooking for about 10 minutes. Add the fresh herbs and cashews, stir through and remove from the pan to cool a little.
  2. ‘Seal’ the narrow end of a squid tube with a toothpick. Fill the tube enough but not so much that you can’t seal the other end of the tube with another toothpick. It will look like a pillow. Repeat for each extra squid tube.
  3. Wipe and re-oil the frypan, then add the squid tube and fry for about three minutes each side.
  4. While the squid is cooking, create a sauce of one teaspoon tamari, one teaspoon sweet chilli sauce and one teaspoon lime juice per tube.
  5. When the squid is cooked remove from the pan and cut into slices, but not right through, so that the whole unit holds together a little. That will enable you to carefully transfer the squid to a serving plate with a fish slice.
  6. Pour the sauce into the pan to pick up the flavours and then pour over the plated squid tube.
  7. Serve with plenty of steamed greens. 
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Olive oil a true super food

Saturday, January 18, 2014
Want to live a longer, healthier life with clear arteries, low blood pressure, sound bones, resilient immunity, a powerful brain?  One of the super foods that can provide these benefits has been used for centuries by a population studied relentlessly for its rude good health. And even better, this food tastes good. It’s olive oil, used liberally in the Mediterranean diet.

Scientists have laboured long and hard to discover what it is about olive oil that makes it so darn healthy compared to other oils. The evidence indicates it isn’t the contents of the oil, but how it’s processed too. Olive oil in its natural setting (i.e in the olive fruit) contains polyphenols, natural plant chemicals with potent positive health effects. When extra virgin olive oil is extracted from the fruit no heat or solvents are applied – just squeeze the fruit and oil comes out (each olive is about 15% oil). Strain, bottle, and there’s your oil. This simple processing differs markedly from the processing of some other vegetable and seed oils, where heat and/or solvents are needed to extract the oil, but this process may also destroy the health giving aspects of the plant.

The amount of olive oil normally consumed in a Mediterranean household may surprise you: Studies indicate 25-50mls of oil per day per person (that’s just a smidgen under ¼ cup). That quantity means that Mediterranean diets contain a higher proportion of fats; but as it turns out, good fats.

You can buy olive oil as ‘extra virgin’ which is as close as you can get to squeezing it yourself. If you want to test out the health power of your preferred olive oil, pour out a tablespoon and sample. It should have a real peppery after-taste, signifying a high proportion of health-giving plant chemicals. The ‘light’ varieties of olive oil may taste milder but may also have been processed in a way that diminishes the quantity of polyphenols that make olive oil healthier. Your sample definitely shouldn’t taste unpleasant, which could flag that it’s rancid or adulterated with cheaper oils. Fortunately it’s easy to obtain very good quality extra virgin Australian olive oil at a supermarket; buy a small bottle of high quality oil first to start your olive oil taste adventures.

There are a multitude of ways to use olive oil, as any internet search for Mediterranean recipes will demonstrate. It’s good for cooking, excellent as a salad dressing, and dipping toasted sourdough bread into olive oil is a real treat. 

So there you have it: Olive oil – truly a super food.

P.S. You might enjoy this Mediterranean-inspired recipe for whole fish baked with tomatoes and olives 

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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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