7 Tips to get kids to eat more veggies

7 Tips to get kids to eat more veggies

I often hear from parents that they struggle to get their kids to eat more veggies. It’s a common struggle but there are ways that could help increase their veggie intake.

Sneak them in
One way to get them to eat more veg is to sneak it into the food they like. You can blend all kinds of veggies into pasta sauce.
Another way of sneaking them in is by adding them to smoothies. For smoothies I’d keep to veggies like leafy greens, beetroot, carrot and zucchini.

One big drawback to this approach is having the child potentially finding out and feeling tricked, so it’s best to do with much smaller children (1). Another drawback is that the vegetable amount will be relatively small, so while great to get some added veggies in, it shouldn’t be relied on as the primary means of vegetable intake.

Get them involved
This tip isn’t always practical, but on the days that you have a little bit of time when it comes to making your meal get the little one to lend a hand. Research shows that by getting children involved in food preparation is a great way to encourage them to eat more vegetables (2, 3). You can even get them to choose between a handful of recipes, this way you can make sure it’s quick and easy to make.

By getting them involved and interested in preparing the vegetables, they feel a sense of ownership. It also creates a positive association with eating vegetables and make them want to eat more veggies.

Add more veggies to their plate
It might seem a bit counterproductive by adding even more veggies to their plate if they’re already not eating it all, but a new study has found that by increasing the amount of vegetables on their plate, kids actually eat more (4). They’re still thinking they’re leaving some of the veggies on the plate, but by adding more to the plate they actually eat more of it.

Plant some veggies
If you have space outside in a garden or even in some pots inside, research shows that getting kids involved in growing their own veggies increases their intake (5). Once again children feel like they have some ownership over their meals as they’ve chosen and grown their own vegetables. The same research also shows that children are more likely to advocate eating veggies at home when involved in growing their own.

Make sure you eat vegetables
Children mimic their parents’ behaviour, including what they eat at mealtime. Studies show that having parents regularly eat vegetables can have a positive influence on their children and increase their vegetable intake (6, 7). So by making the same vegetables for yourself and your children at mealtimes you can help increase the chance of them eating them (8).

Food play
I know, the age old saying of don’t play with your food is coming to mind, but it turns out food play can actually help kids eat more fruit and veg. For really young kids, introducing vegetables can be just as tricky, so a great way to do so is to allow them to play with their food (10). Food play encourages children to taste the different vegetables on their own terms and explore the different textures, both through touch as well as taste.

Repeated exposure
You might be tempted to leave a certain vegetable off the plate if your child hated it the first time, but research shows that repeated exposure to vegetables actually increases the likelihood that your child will eventually eat it (11, 12, 13). It’s important for children to learn the different flavours and sometimes that takes time, especially when it comes to the more bitter vegetable varieties. This strategy has shown to be quite effective with toddlers.

Conclusion
Hopefully these tips provide you with a few options to try at your next mealtime. The important thing is to try and create a positive experience around eating vegetables. Too many of us have bad memories of being told we can’t leave the table until we’ve finished all the food on our plate. Allowing children to explore, getting them involved and allowing them to have a sense of ownership are all good options to get them to hopefully eat more veg. Also making sure that you practice what you preach and making sure your plate has vegetables on them is also important. It’s worth noting that sometimes your child might just not like the taste of a particular vegetable and that’s ok too. If they’re eating plenty of other veggies, it doesn’t really matter.

The Breakfast Myth

The Breakfast Myth

Who else grew up being told breakfast is the most important meal of the day? For years and years I kept hearing this over and over again, mainly because I wasn’t a big breakfast person. A cup of tea first thing was all I really needed until later in the morning.

For decades we’ve been told that if you’re going to eat one meal, make sure it’s breakfast. We were told it’s how we kick start our metabolism for the day. We were told skipping breakfast will lead to overeating later in the day and weight gain. Turns out, none of this is true. Our belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day is all thanks to bad research done back in the day along with a big push from breakfast cereal companies.

So what does this mean?
It means that once again we’re reminded we need an individualised approach when it comes to nutrition. What works for one person might not work for another.

Research shows that there is no real significant difference in metabolic rates in people who eat breakfast and those who don’t. Studies show there’s absolutely no difference in the amount of calories that are burnt in 24 hours in people who eat breakfast and those who don’t. This means instead of focusing on the importance of what we eat at a specific meal time, we should rather focus on our daily food intake instead. What we eat throughout the day is more important than what we eat at say breakfast, lunch or dinner.

While some studies have shown those who eat breakfast tend to be healthier, it couldn’t determine the exact reason why. It could be that the majority of breakfast eaters fuel up before or after a workout or have an overall healthier diet. This doesn’t mean though that eating breakfast means you’re healthy.

On the flip side, other studies have found those who skip breakfast generally eat less calories throughout the day. Skipping breakfast is a way to practice intermittent fasting which has some benefits for some people. However, once again we’re reminded that nutrition requires an individual approach as intermittent fasting isn’t suitable for everyone and can lead to headaches, low blood sugar and lack of concentration.

To breakfast or not to breakfast?
As you can see, there’s no easy answer. Nutrition isn’t a one size fits all. If you have always eaten breakfast and you find it has a positive effect for you, then by all means continue eating breakfast. If however you’ve always struggled to eat breakfast and you find you really struggle to get food in first thing in the morning, then you no longer need to feel guilty skipping it. Some people find that eating later in the morning or only at lunch time to work much better for them. So do what works best for you and your body.

Protein myths & facts

Protein myths & facts

Everywhere you look today you see products with added protein advertised to us as some kind of new super food. There are a lot of myths surrounding protein and how much we actually need each day, so I thought I’d address some of the myths and add some facts so there’s no more confusion.

What are the symptoms of protein deficiency?
Protein deficiency in countries like Australia and New Zealand are quite rare, but they do occur in individuals who have trouble with digesting food such as the elderly as well as those having restrictive diets or certain medical conditions. Protein deficiency can effect brain development in children, can compromise the immune system as well as affect the gut mucosal function (digestion and absorption of nutrients and defending against bacteria).

Symptoms of protein deficiency include:
– Stunted growth in children (a common sign in malnutrition)
– Loss of muscle mass, especially in the elderly
– Fatty liver
– Increased risk of fractures
– Skin, nail and hair problems, especially brittle nails, flaky skin and hair loss. These symptoms can also be caused by other medical issues so it’s important to see a Dr to find the reason behind it. These symptoms only occur in extreme protein deficiency.
– Oedema which is a classic symptom seen in kwashiorkor (puffy, swollen skin)
– Increased risk of infection and increased severity of infections (decreased immunity)

Do I need a protein supplement?
Chances are the answer to that question is no. We consume protein throughout the day, we just don’t always realise the food we eat contains protein. The oats, banana and milk of our breakfast, the peanut butter on our sandwich at lunch, the almonds of our afternoon snack and the broccoli, sweet potatoes, spinach and chickpeas we had at dinner all contain protein, just different amounts. This all adds up during the day, so if you eat a varied, healthy diet the risk of you being protein deficient, even if you eat a plant based diet is incredibly small.

So what does this mean for all our added protein foods on the supermarket shelves? You don’t need them. Even protein shakes, the average person doesn’t need to drink them. Most of us are already getting more than the recommended daily intake for protein, and in fact a diet high in protein can come with some risks.

Risks of a high protein diet:
While it’s important we all have protein in our diet, there are also risks of having a high protein diet. These risks include:
– Constipation (protein is low in fibre and in diets that also restrict carbohydrates constipation can become a serious problem)
– Diarrhoea (due to the lack of fibre and if a lot of your meals are heavily processed)
– Weight gain
– Kidney damage (for people with pre-existing kidney problems, a high protein diet can lead to kidney damage)
– Increased risk of heart disease
– Calcium loss

How much protein do I need to eat?
Most people tend to think we need to eat a lot more protein than in generally recommended. It’s important to note however that our protein needs change over time and increases slightly as we get older. For the average adult female the daily recommended intake is 46g, while for men its 64g. Once we get to about 70 years and older, that intake increases slightly to 57g for women and 81g for men.

For children the intake is much less and which is why we don’t recommend added proteins in their diet like protein smoothies. Children aged 1 to 3 years only need 14g of protein a day and those aged 4 to 8 only need 20g a day. As they get older, they protein intakes increase slightly, with girls aged 9 to 13 years requiring 35g and boys of the same age requiring 40g. The recommended protein intake again increases slightly in the 14 to 18 years age group with girls recommended 45g a day and boys 65g a day. After that the intake for men decreases slightly to the recommended 64g a day. Protein requirements also change depending on whether you’re breastfeeding. For more information on the different recommended daily protein intakes for different age groups, pregnancy and breastfeeding, head over to the Nutrient Reference Values website for Australia and New Zealand.

Good sources of protein?
There are plenty of good unprocessed sources for protein we can include in our diet including plant based options. Good protein sources include:
– Grass-fed lean meats like beef or poultry
– Dairy products like cottage cheese and Greek yogurt
– Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and other beans
– Soy products like tofu
– Nuts and seeds like sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, cashews, macadamias, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and sesame seeds
– Eggs
– Wild caught fish (it is becoming more difficult to find sustainable, wild caught fish, so make sure your fish is from a sustainable source if you choose to consume fish)

Remember, you are eating different food throughout the day, so you shouldn’t be eating your daily recommended protein intake in one meal. Spacing out your intakes also helps better with digestion and absorption.

If you’re worried about your protein intake you can always contact a University qualified nutritionist (like myself) to have a look at your daily food intake to calculate if you’re getting the right amount of protein in your diet.

Food to help support your mental health

Food to help support your mental health

DISCLAIMER: I just thought I’d post this little disclaimer in case it wasn’t obvious. This isn’t an alternative option to seeking help, stopping your medication or treatment plan. Instead, adding these foods to your diet should be seen as a complimentary practice. Always check with your medical practitioner before you’re going to change your diet as certain foods can influence the metabolism of some medication.

There’s been quite a bit of research over the last few years on whether or not diet can assist in improving mental health, especially depression. Research has shown that the Mediterranean Diet can have potentially have a positive impact on mental health. You’re incorporating healthier food options into your diet while eating less or eliminating the more unhealthy ones. So what food should you include in your diet to help assist your mental health?

Colourful fruits and veg
As they say, ‘eat the rainbow’. Increasing your vegetable and fruit intake and making sure they come in a variety of colours will not only make sure you’re getting in plenty of gut loving fibre, but also anti-oxidants and a wide range of nutrients and minerals. Fruit and vegetables also consist of complex carbohydrates, which one of the most important energy sources for your brain. It also stabilises your body’s blood sugar reducing the risk of the 3pm sugar craving.

Wholegrains and fibre rich food
Dietary fibre plays an important role in the human body. Not only does it feed our healthy gut bugs and promote a healthy digestive system, soluble fibre has also been proven to help reduce cholesterol. Wholegrains also release a type of amino acid which triggers your body to produce serotonin which can help with sleep and mood improvement. So what foods should you include? Think leafy green veg like kale, legumes, brown rice and quinoa.

Maintaining healthy gut bacteria
Recent studies have shown a link between gut health and mental health. This is why it’s so important to make sure the food we eat will help our guts maintain healthy gut bacteria. Too many sugary processed foods starve the healthy gut bacteria and instead feed the unhealthy ones which can lead to an imbalance. Symptoms can include bloating, stomach cramps and feeling sluggish, but it can also affect our mental health. Eating colourful fruit and veg, wholegrains and fibre rich foods are a great way to encourage healthy gut bacteria. Probiotics is a great way to promote a healthy gut. You can include fermented foods rich in probiotics such as kimchi, sauerkraut and yogurt. If you opt for yogurt, make sure it is the correct type, as lots of yogurts these days

Things to eat less of:
Alcohol can have a negative effect on our sleep. You might think it’s making you sleepy and it’ll help you fall asleep, but not only does it affect our mental health (it’s a central nervous system depressant), it also interferes with our biological clocks (circadian rhythm) which can lead to sleep disorders such as insomnia.

Eating too many sugary treats aren’t only bad for our healthy gut bacteria, it can also trigger a chemical imbalance in the brain which can cause depression. Keep the added sugar to the odd treat.

Saturated fats, while delicious, can be bad for brain function. Studies have also shown people who have diets high in saturated fats (think processed foods and take aways) are more likely to suffer from depression. While the odd take away won’t be the end of the world, limiting saturated fats in our diets can be beneficial for our physical as well as our mental health.

Diet can be an important tool to assist us in improving our mental health.

5 Tips for staying healthy over the Festive Season

5 Tips for staying healthy over the Festive Season

Aaah, the holidays. A time of indulgence, where justifying having just one more plate comes easy. There are however some very easy ways to try and celebrate in a more healthy way without sacrificing fun.

Stay hydrated:
It sounds obvious, but how many times do we start off with good intentions only to wake up the next day feeling worse for wear? Make sure you have some water on you during the day and take regular sips, even on the days you don’t have anything planned. This will make sure your body stays hydrated. If you’re having any alcoholic drinks, make sure you have a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you have. Not only will your body thank you for it, if you’re out having drinks, your wallet will thank you too.

Choose healthy options:
If you’re making a big feast, make sure you include some healthy options. Not everything on the table has to indulgent. Include plenty of veggies and make sure you have plenty of greens as well to have along with your roast. Same goes for any festive parties if you’re somewhere where this can be done safely. If you know you’ve got a work function or catch up with friends but you’re unsure if there will be any healthy food options, make sure you eat before you arrive. That way you can have a few bites, but you won’t be so hungry that you end up eating too many unhealthy treats.

Don’t give up:
Just because you had one (ok, maybe more than one) days of unhealthy eating and little movement doesn’t mean you now have to give up trying to be a little healthier. Just accept that sometimes we might want to enjoy a special occasion with friends and family and can’t always make sure there are healthy options available. The next day get back to your usual healthy food choices and make sure to get some exercise in. Life’s all about balance.

Move your body:
Many of us tend to exercise less over the festive period due to an increase of parties. This year however we might be spending less time socialising and more time at home due to current Covid-19 restrictions. It’s tempting to limit our movements from the chair where we’re working from home to the couch where we’re watching Love Actually for the 4th time this week, but getting some movement each day will help you feel energised and during your day and a lot less guilty when you have your advent calendar chocolate each night. You don’t need a gym membership or even need to head outside to be active. Put on your favourite playlist and have a solo dance party at home, or hop onto YouTube and choose one of the many free workout or yoga classes available there. There’s also plenty local yoga teachers and fitness instructors who are offering online options for their classes.

You can’t eat it if you haven’t bought it:
How many of us buy treats with the idea that we’ll spread it out over the next few weeks and then find ourselves 20 minutes later with it all in our bellies? We’ve all been there and the current uncertainty around lockdowns and restrictions isn’t helping. The best advice someone once gave me was that if you don’t buy it, you can’t eat it. I make sure to make some healthier sweet treat options (recipe for my raw chocolate brownies here), but they’re usually quite filling and rich in fiber which means you can’t eat too many. There are no lollies or chips or cookies in my cupboards, mainly because I know if it’s there, I’d be snacking on unhealthy treats all day. Instead, if that 3pm sweet treat craving hits, I’ll first have a glass of water as often I’m actually thirsty, not hungry. If that doesn’t do the trick, I’ll have some fruit or one of my healthier sweet treats to tie me over.

While these tips are relatively easy to incorporate, the most important thing to remember is that if you do happen to overindulge, accept it and move on. There’s no point in obsessing over it or remaining negative about it. We’re all human. Instead focus on moving forward and getting back to incorporating a healthy diet and movement into your day.

Vitamin D Breakdown

Vitamin D Breakdown

Vitamin D deficiency is becoming more and more common. We probably know of at least one friend who has been diagnosed as deficient by their doctor but why does it occur so frequently and is it something we need to worry about?

What is Vitamin D?
Our bodies naturally produce Vitamin D when we’re in the sun as our skin responds to sunlight. It’s a vital vitamin that helps our bodies regulate calcium and phosphorus uptake as well as facilitating normal immune function. This helps us maintain strong bones, muscle and overall health.

How much Vitamin D do I need?
Adults require 5 micrograms of Vitamin D until about aged 50, after which we need about 10 micrograms which then increases to 15 micrograms at 70 years and older. Children need 5 micrograms until aged 18.

What happens if I don’t have enough Vitamin D?
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to Rickets (soft bones) in children and Osteoporosis in adults as Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb Calcium. Studies have also linked other illnesses to Vitamin D deficiency including an increased risk of Cardio Vascular Disease, increased risk of cognitive impairment while children can experience severe asthma.

Vitamin D has also shown to have a potentially protective role. Some studies show that Vitamin D could play a role in preventing and or treating type 1 and 2 Diabetes, multiple sclerosis and hypertension.

Where do I find Vitamin D?
While some foods have Vitamin D, they usually don’t have nearly enough for our daily recommended amount. Foods such as fish, eggs and margarine (with added Vitamin D) are good sources, but still don’t contain enough for us to get our daily required amount. The best way to make sure your body has enough Vitamin D is to head outside.

Of course this needs to be done being sun smart, as the same UV rays that provide our bodies with Vitamin D can also cause skin cancer. Here in Australia you only need about 5 to 10 minutes of sun exposure in summer. Avoid times when the UV is at it’s highest, so early morning is best. While banned in Australia, I know some countries still allow sun beds or tanning beds. Never use these period as they increase your risk to develop skin cancer. Rather spend a few minutes outside first thing in the morning watering the plants or enjoying a cup of tea. Don’t spend extended periods in the sun as this will increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Chat to your Dr to see what they recommend first.

Supplements?
If going in the sun for a few minutes isn’t an option for you, your Dr can recommend some supplements for you to take. First consult your Dr before you start taking Vitamin D supplements as taking too much can lead to some unpleasant side effects. Most people don’t require supplementation though, so chat to your Dr to see if they think you require supplementation first.

Who’s at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?
There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing Vitamin D deficiency.
These include:
– Being indoors most days
– Having more melanin in your skin
– People who wear clothing that cover their whole or most of their body
– People who take medication that can affect Vitamin D metabolism
– Being obese
– People with a disease or disability that affect Vitamin D metabolism such as renal disease, end stage liver disease and fat malabsorption syndromes such as coeliac disease, cystic fibrosis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Summary:
– Vitamin D can be found in some foods such as fish, eggs and margarine and milk products to which Vitamin D has been added, but isn’t enough to meet our daily requirements.
– Sunshine is a great source of Vitamin D, but be sun smart.
– Supplementation can be a great option for people who can’t go out in the sun and expose their skin to UV. Talk to your Dr about supplementation if you fall into that category.
– Several factors can put you at risk for developing Vitamin D deficiency.
– Vitamin D is essential for strong, healthy bones, muscles and an immune system.
– If you think you’re at risk of a Vitamin D deficiency, book an appointment with your Dr so he can schedule the correct tests for you.

A Safe, Healthy Halloween

A Safe, Healthy Halloween

This year’s Halloween celebrations might be looking a little different than usual. With Covid-19 it’s important to keep everyone safe, which means going trick or treating might not be an option where you live. Parents are also worried each year about the amount of lollies (or candy if you’re not from Australia) kids consume during the night.

This year I thought I’d share some fun Halloween activities and sugary alternatives for you to try. Who knows, maybe you’ll start a new family tradition?

Activities:
Kids (and those young at heart) love to go trick or treating, but unfortunately this year going door to door might not be the best option. That doesn’t mean the kids need to miss out on the fun. Let the kids still dress up in their costumes and decorate a designated area (either inside or outside) where they can enjoy some fun activities. If you have some close friends or family in your bubble invite them around to join in the fun if rules allow, alternatively set up an online Halloween party.

One of the tradition activities for Halloween is bobbing for apples. Get a big enough plastic container for each child and fill it with water and some apples. You can even add some for the adults too.

Create a little scavenger hunt through your home or your garden and hide some treats. A good mix of healthier home made options with some of their favourite sweets is a good idea. They get to go on a little adventure, have fun in the process and get their delicious treats.

Set up a Halloween movie night. After finishing finding their treats, why not watch some of their favourite Halloween inspired movies. Popcorn is also a much healthier alternative to the bags full of lollies they’d normally bring home.

Organise socially distancing trick or treating with your neighbours or friends. Set up a little treat station with small paper bags filled with delish treats for the kids. When they pop round, you can still see and chat to each other from a safe distance and each child can take one little bag with their treats inside which is a much more hygienic option. Arrange a time so slot for each neighbour or friend so all the kids get the opportunity to go trick or treating.

Treats:
Why not make a Halloween themed dinner? There are so many creative and amazing recipes out there, but you don’t need to make it complicated. Some home made pizza with healthy toppings to make a spooky picture work just as well. I’ve made some stuffed carved capsicums before (wish I could say it was for kids, but it was for me. Grownups can love Halloween too) and I’ve also seen some a great idea for healthy, batty nachos. You can use the linked recipes as inspiration and make your own healthy creations.

Another great option is to make bliss balls and then use thin liquorice or pretzels as the legs. The Internet is filled with some amazing, creative and easy recipes on how to create both sweet and savoury Halloween meals and treats that will appeal to everyone. Prevention has a list of awesome recipes here.

Naturally the kids will be disappointed if they don’t get any sweet treats. There’s really no need to worry about a little indulgence one night of the year. Provided they eat a healthy, balanced diet most of the time, having the odd night where they get to enjoy some of their favourite treats won’t be the end of the world.

The Switch Witch:
This is a recent addition to Halloween and one I think is absolutely brilliant. Parents get their kids to swap a portion of their treats for a surprise gift. The gift is usually a book they’ve been wanting or a small stuffed animal or maybe a game. Nothing too expensive. If they don’t want to swap, then no present. Get them to leave the treats they’ve decided to swap somewhere that you can access easily and just swap it for their present before they wake up the next morning.

I hope this gives you a few ideas to start with for Halloween this year and inspires you to create a fun, safe and memorable day.

Delicious and easy to make Rajma

Delicious and easy to make Rajma

It’s cold. It’s rainy. It’s the perfect time for comfort food that warms you up. Enter my super easy and super quick Rajma.

This recipe serves 6.

Ingredients:
Cooked brown basmati rice (or which ever rice you prefer)
1 Brown onion
2 Cloves of garlic minced
1 Can of diced tomatoes
2 Cans of red kidney beans, washed and drained
1 to 2 Heaped teaspoons of tomato paste (to your taste)
1 And a half teaspoon of Rajma spice mix (you can make your own or buy premixed spices at your local Indian grocery shop)
Handful of coriander leaves if you like the taste
Dash of olive oil

For additional heat:
4 Green chillies chopped
1 Tablespoon red chili powder

Cooking:
Cook your preferred rice to your method.
In a medium pot, add your olive oil, garlic, onion and chillies (if you opted for them) and cook until the onions are light brown.
Add in your Rajma spice, red chili powder if you opted for it, tinned tomatoes and cook for a few minutes stirring regularly to ensure it doesn’t burn.
Add your tomato paste and mix it in thoroughly.
Now add your red kidney beans and stir it into the mix. If the mix is a little dry you can add some water. It all depends on how much juice is in your tinned tomatoes. Add water to make sure the beans are just covered by the mix.
Cook on medium to low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add a little bit more water if the mix starts to get too dry.
Remove from heat and let it sit for another 15 to 20 minutes.
Add your coriander leaves to your pot and then serve with your rice.

The great thing about recipes is that you can adjust and experiment to suit your own tastes. I was inspired by a recipe I saw in my Bollywood Cookbook a friend gave me for my birthday one year (yes, I love Bollywood and delicious curries, so this is the best of both worlds!) The original is from Bollywood actress Preity Zinta but would normally take me awhile to make. I wanted something quick, easy and adjustable based on whether I had guests who didn’t like their food too hot. This is what I came up with. Let me know how you like it and how you tweak it to make it your own.

Support Your Immune System

Support Your Immune System

We’re right in the start of winter and you would have noticed a few co-workers already succumbing to winter bugs. You would also have seen a sudden increase in “immune booster” products being advertised to us, but do they even work?

I thought I’d share a few scientifically proven ways you can help keep your immune system healthy and balanced this winter while addressing a few myths at the same time.

Boosting your immune system
We’ve all heard about boosting our immune system, but is that even possible? Our immune system is quite complex consisting of hundreds of different cells doing a variety of different jobs. It consists out of the innate response (which identifies unfriendly bugs often leading us to have a fever or feeling under the weather) and the acquired response (which swoops in and battles against the unfriendly bugs). So the question is, what exactly are these products claiming to boost? Is it antibodies, or white cells or nothing really? Scientifically speaking, you can’t really “boost” your immune system. You can however try to keep things in balance and make some lifestyle and dietary changes that will help you have a healthy immune system.

Supplements
Supplements only work when you have a poor diet and find yourself deficient. Studies have shown that taking supplements if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet won’t improve your immune system. Taking high dosages of vitamins can actually have an adverse effect and can lead to toxicity, especially in vitamin D and A.

What about herbal supplements like Echinacea? Unfortunately there just haven’t been enough studies to support the claims that herbs have a boosting effect on the immune system. Some of the studies have also been criticised for being too small or for being badly designed, which means they don’t supply us with enough supporting evidence.

Probiotics fall in the same category as herbal supplements. Scientists have started to look at the role our gut bacteria plays on our overall health, but it’s still early days and currently we can’t conclusively state that taking probiotics as a supplement will help boost the immune system. At the moment eating a healthy, balanced diet rich in fibre is a scientifically proven way to keep the gut healthy and as a result, help keep your immune system healthy. As more research is done in this area over the next few years we might be able to understand better what effect taking a probiotic supplement might have on our immune system.

Exercise
Staying active especially as the days become darker and colder can be a challenge. But it’s one of the ways you can help your immune system. Exercise helps to keep blood pressure and body weight under control. Working out also helps protect the body against some diseases. So instead of hitting the snooze button and sleeping in, get up and get moving.

Sleep
Sleep in general won’t help improve your immune system, but getting enough restorative sleep will help keep your immune system healthy. Most adults these days get less than 7 hours sleep a night, which doesn’t leave much time for restorative sleep. A few tips include making sure you switch all blue light appliances off at least 30 minutes before bed (this includes your mobile phone), winding down in bed with a good book, meditation or a relaxing bath and make sure you don’t drink too much alcohol as it can impact your sleep quality.

Diet
Raw food diets, juice cleanses and detox diets are fad diets. Despite what they claim, they won’t help keep your immune system healthy. You need to make sure you’re giving your body all the nutrients it needs and the best way to do it is by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Focus on incorporating a wide range of fruit, vegetables and fibre rich grains and pulses. This will make sure you get all the micronutrients your body needs to remain healthy. Make sure you limit your intake of processed foods and red meat.

Conclusion

If you do have a compromised immune system, make sure you chat to your GP about steps to take to help protect you against bugs this winter. There’s so much misinformation dressed up as science floating around on the internet and it can be tricky trying to sort fact from fiction. Often times, having a healthy body is usually the answer and it doesn’t require fancy, expensive lattes (although they are pretty), gruelling diets or pricy pills. While it’s not very sexy, a balanced wholefood mainly plant-based diet combined with exercise is one of the best ways to take care of your body and make sure your immune system remains healthy.

Decadent Chocolate Brownie Bites

I am a total chocoholic, but I’m also a bit of a chocolate snob. It needs to be delicious and rich. Often though, the chocolates we buy in the supermarket is filled with ingredients not so good for us. Enter my Decadent Chocolate Brownie Bites.

I was trying to find something that was healthier than your average chocolate bar, but consisted out of whole foods and would hit the spot when I crave chocolate.

The great thing about these bites are that I find I only need to eat one tiny square and my craving is gone. Because they’re made out of whole foods, they’re also very filling.

Ingredients:
1 Cup Cashew
1 Cup Almonds
1 Cup Cocoa Powder (this is what makes it so chocolaty)
1 Cup Dates
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Essence
Water to be added to your preferred consistency.

I blitz up my almonds, cashews and dates in my food processor.
Next I add the cup of cocoa powder and vanilla essence and blitz it all together. It should be a loose, semi powdery consistency.
Now I slowly add a little bit of filtered water at a time while it’s blitzing until it all starts to stick together. You don’t want to make the “batter” too runny, it needs to be sticky.

Line a dish or rectangular pan with baking paper and spread out the mixture. I like to spread it to about 1.5cm thickness.
Cover and place in the fridge for an hour or so.
It should have hardened a bit and will be easy to take out of the container.

Remove the baking paper and cut into small, square bites (I like mine to be about 3cm). You can make them bigger if you like, but remember they’re meant to be a treat.

Store them in an air-tight container in the fridge and they should keep for about 2 weeks (they never last that long though, we eat them way before then).

If you make these, let me know how they turned out for you. If you tweak them let me know what you added. I sometimes add some chopped up pecans or walnuts and stir them in just before I spread the mixture out into the pan. Enjoy!