Author Archives: Michela DiTocco

DASH: The Diet To Lower Your Blood Pressure

What is the DASH diet? Well it literally stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This diet is a low salt/sodium diet designed for those people who have high blood pressure, as a natural way to lower it. It has since been proven as an effective way to lower blood pressure as well as cholesterol, heart disease, stroke incidence, diabetes, kidney disease and to assist in weight loss. The main reason people are raving about this eating plan is that it provides you with an easy-to-follow-plan that relies on mainly fruits, vegetables and proteins, all fresh and wholesome foods. It is ideal for the entire family (adjusting the portions appropriately for those individuals who are wanting to lose weight).  So as well as being low in sodium, which is a huge factor to lowering blood pressure, this diet is high in fibre, low in fat and rich in important minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium. 

The main point of this diet is the sodium or salt content. Almost 30% of Australian adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and changing their dietary habits can help to lower their blood pressure. Although many Australians have stopped adding excess salt to their meals, they are still over-consuming processed foods, packaged foods and restaurant foods, all containing a high salt content. The current recommendation for daily sodium consumption for a healthy individual with no health concerns is 2300mg/day. Those with hypertension or other heart-related health problems should be aiming for a figure of 1500mg/day. The only way to achieve these values in your everyday eating is to consume fresh, wholesome foods in your diet. The less processed the better and this is what the DASH diet is based on. 

The DASH diet action plan is a comprehensive book you can purchase which contains all the info and recipes for a 28 day meal plan, with varying calorie levels to cater for different people. It also provides you with information about how to eat out, how to read food labels, making good food choices and staying on track with your goals. The key feature of the book is being able to provide for you a high fibre, low calorie, well balanced meal of appropriate portions to help you achieve successful weight loss and lowering blood pressure levels. On a 2000 calorie diet you should be aiming to consume 7-8 serves of grains, 4-5 serves of fruits, 4-5 serves of vegetables, 2-3 serves of low-fat dairy, 2 serves of lean meat/poultry/fish, 4-5 serves weekly of nuts/seeds/legumes and very minimal fats or sweets. 

Alongside with these amazing results this diet has achieved for high blood pressure patients, it has also shown to assist in weight loss. If you have any weight concerns or have high blood pressure please talk to your Doctor and look at adopting an easy and healthy approach to your eating. 

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This Soup Is Too Salty!

Salt is a major part of our everyday diet and is mostly in everything we eat. It can also be referred to Sodium Chloride (NaCl), its chemical name, and is essential in controlling the water balance in our bodies, the pH levels of our blood and blood volume, in transmitting nerve signals, and in muscle contractions.

Unlike other minerals found in foods, sodium is overconsumed in our daily diets, about 50% above the RDI (recommended daily intake) of 1600mg for both men and women. Salt is found naturally in most foods we eat, in varying amounts, and in all processed foods, to either enhance the flavour or act as a preserving agent. Some extreme side effects to consuming a diet high in salt may include swelling of the limbs, high blood pressure, difficulty in breathing and heart failure. A deficiency in salt is rare due to the overconsumption in Australian diets. However, in some instances it may occur during prolonged illness, severe vomiting or diarrhoea, or via dehydration through excessive sweating. The symptoms associated with this may include headaches, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, fainting or fatigue.

While salt does not cause you to gain body weight, as it contains no calories, excessive consumption through our diets will result in a temporary weight gain through the retention of water. This is why some “crash diets” which claim quick weight loss, rely on you eating foods that are low in salt and therefore causing your body to lose water (not necessarily fat), rapidly and when you begin to consume large amounts of salt in your diet again, the weight/water comes back on. This is why you need to be careful of such rapid dietary changes. Reducing salt in your diet can easily be achieved and is not just through table salt, but also through products such as bread, cheese, canned vegetables, and processed meats. All of these have hidden salts in their manufacturing. This is why it is important to check foods labels for packaged foods and always choose low salt options. Consuming more FRESH fruits and vegetables, which are high in potassium, will also help to balance out high levels of sodium in your body.

The other major concern of too much salt in your diet is its effects on your cardiovascular system, most importantly your blood pressure. It is not known exactly why, but it is believed that excess salt in your body causes an increase in water retention, which therefore causes an increase in blood volume and places an extra load on your heart. This is why it is extremely important to ensure you consume the RDI of salt and do not exceed this level too often. Although salt is vital for our body to function efficiently, too much in this instance is never good long term.

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Gettin’ Raw

What is the RAW food diet, you ask? Well, as the name suggests, it is primarily eating approx. 75% of your diet through uncooked (raw) foods. The reason behind this is that when foods are cooked, their essential enzymes are destroyed, thereby reducing their nutritional value and ability to be absorbed fully into the body.  The main foods allowed include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, dried fruits, freshly made juices and purified water (not tap water). Since there are no meats/fish or dairy products eaten (contrary to what our little Lady Gaga picture might have you believe), it is considered a detox type diet.

Foods that are consumed raw have a greater amount of vitamins and minerals, which are essential in a balanced diet. Uncooked foods are easier for your body to digest and absorb these vital nutrients. The diet contains fewer trans fats and saturated fats (the bad ones) than the typical Western diet and is also low in sodium and sugar and high in the essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This alone will help you feel the main benefits that have been associated with the Raw food diet, including weight loss, clearer skin, increased energy levels, improved digestive system and a reduced risk of diseases. 

It is believed that when we overeat cooked foods, our bodies are forced to produce more enzymes for their digestion and over time this can lead to digestive problems, nutrient deficiency and weight gain. This is why raw foods can be beneficial for us. The majority of people who choose to follow this way of eating are vegans/vegetarians. However, many people choose to adopt these eating principles when attempting to cleanse or detox their body for a short period of time.

If choosing to try this way of eating, ease into it by choosing to consume 50% of raw foods initially, and increasing to 70-100% over time. Make sure you have variety in your eating, as this is essential to ensure you are consuming all your vitamins and minerals. Also, preparation is the key; not planning ahead or being organised can stop you from succeeding and achieving your goals for completing the RAW food diet. There can be some downfalls to this way of eating (primarily preparation and variety), however, over time your body will get used to this and the benefits definitely outweigh the negatives.  Always consult with your doctor or nutritionist before attempting such a dietary change, to ensure this is right for you and your goals. 

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Feeling Fruity

Fruits are considered to be a vital part of our daily diet. It is now widely documented that you must include fruits in order to maintain a healthy diet. As a minimum, from two serves of fruit a day, up to five serves, is acceptable. 

These are some of the great benefits that fruit have to offer: they are a great source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre; they are low in calories, contain natural sugars, and in their raw state they offer more nutrients and can help to prevent many diseases or even cancers.  There are many ways to include fruit into your daily eating via breakfast, snacks, desserts, juices, smoothies and salads. When fruit is eaten in its natural state (raw), it provides more nutrients to your body, and the essential enzymes and vitamins are not destroyed by heat through the cooking process. So try an apple instead of an apple pie. 

As fruits are sweet and contain fructose (natural fruit sugars) they can help you to satisfy a sugar craving without the unwanted empty calories that other sweet products contain. Fruits also have a high fibre content which is essential in your daily diet for maintaining a healthy and efficient digestive system. Most of the fibre in fruits can be found in the skin, so where possible don’t always peel off or throw away the skin. It is also better to consume the fruit as a whole instead of juices. Although they may seem healthy and delicious, there are usually a lot of calories in juices and if they are packaged from the supermarket they may not be all natural. You want to make sure that the juice is 100% fruit juice, and not to over-consume them as they can lead to weight gain, tooth decay and digestive problems. 

Dried fruit can be eaten as part of your daily fruit serves, but here are a few things to be mindful of. Because they are dehydrated, the nutrients are concentrated in the fruits; therefore, they may be packed full of nutrients, but also have more calories. So you should only need a small serve to obtain the equivalent nutritional value compared to whole fruit. 

Different fruits offer different nutritional benefits; here are a few examples. 

Pineapple is high in the enzyme bromelain as well as the minerals potassium and calcium, which aid digestion, reduce inflammation & arthritis, help in skin conditions, are great for bone and teeth health, and can help in heart disease and assist in weight control.

Blueberries are high in antioxidants and are considered a super fruit. They can help prevent urinary tract infections, are low GI (great for diabetics), great for heart health due to high levels of antioxidants, and are high in silicon, which is great for your hair and nail growth and can assist in weight loss.

Figs are an unusual fruit and not overly popular, however they have many health benefits you may not be aware of, such as relieving constipation, lowering cholesterol and assisting in weight loss due to its high fibre content, preventing heart disease and diabetes and even some forms of cancer, and maintaining your digestive system.

As you can see, fruits are rich in different vitamins and minerals, which is why it is important to eat a variety of fresh fruits daily, not just apples and oranges, to obtain the maximum benefits for your diet. 

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I’ll Have Mine With Out The Chemicals Please!

Organic foods are becoming more common in our supermarkets and fruit stores. It is a growing industry in Australia with the consumer demand increasing by 20-30% each year. Organic foods refer to the way fruit, vegetables, animals, eggs, honey, grains and dairy foods are grown, processed and prepared. This means organic crops must be grown in a nutrient rich soil, with no synthetic fertilisers or pesticides or GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Organic livestock (animals) must be allowed to roam free outdoors, be fed organic food, not given any antibiotics or growth hormones and treated humanely.

People are starting to consume these foods, but let’s look at the reasons why you should buy organic foods. Some of the main reasons to eat organic fruits, vegetables and meats, are that they have a higher level of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, they are grown with no harmful pesticides or fertilisers, they are free of artificial additives, they support the local farmers, have a lower impact on the environment , are healthier and taste better, of course.

One of the downfalls you may notice about organic foods is the cost. They can be expensive mainly due to being labour-intensive to produce, and not using any pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals and the yield is often smaller. Aside from this there are more positive reasons to consume foods which are more natural and better for the environment with farmers conserving soil and water.

For a food product to be termed and sold as ‘organic’ farmers need to follow strict principles for 3 years before they are awarded certification. In Australia however the industry is not regulated, so to ensure you are buying a truly organic product, make sure your foods are from a certified organic grower.

Overall, there is no conclusive research into the benefits of consuming organic foods but anything that is grown as naturally as possible without chemicals can’t be doing you any harm.

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The Hippy Hippy Steak

Soy beans are part of the legume family and are not just for vegetarians. They have an array of health benefits for all, including preventing heart disease, osteoporosis, some cancers, menopausal health, and weight issues.

Soy beans are high in plant-based proteins which contain all the same essential amino acids as those found in animal meat products. They are also high in fibre, protein, phytoestrogens and omega-3 fatty acids, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and lactose-free. They are also high in many vitamins (B6 & 12) and minerals (folate, magnesium, calcium, and potassium) – a complete food with many health benefits.

There have been many studies done in reference to soy products and their benefits on heart disease. It is believed that consumption of these products can lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, and improve artery walls and elasticity. Soy products also have an effect on helping to reduce the severity of menopausal symptoms. They can assist in bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis by increasing bone density, and more importantly can slow down and prevent the progression of some breast and ovarian cancers.

The best sources of soy products, firstly, are soy beans, tofu, soy beverages (milk), tempeh, soy yoghurt, soy sauce, and soy bread. Many of these foods are commonly found in supermarkets now days and can be substituted for dairy and meat products in your everyday diet.

It is important to maintain a well-balanced diet, which can include some soy products (in place of animal protein products), which can help maintain a healthy body. Try something new next time you’re out, and start to incorporate some soy into your diet.

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