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A sweet summer without the guilt

This time of the year is all about celebration which often involves numerous sweet treats. Some of us tend to overindulge while some may feel overly conscious or guilty about eating certain foods. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Fortunately, there are plenty of fine-looking fruits in season this time of the year and you can use these to fuel your body with energy and nutrients, help cool you down and stay hydrated. Here are some ways to incorporate summer stone fruits:

  1. Mangoes are a great source of fibre, vitamins A and C and contain potassium, folate, B6, iron and vitamin E. Despite containing lots of vitamins, minerals, fibre, phytochemicals and antioxidants, this fruit often gets a bad name for being ‘too sweet’. Many will avoid it for this reason or think that they are cheating on their diet if they eat one. Yes, mangoes are higher in sugar compared to most fruits but this is natural sugar. There is no need to be scared of mangoes because the sugar naturally occurring in fruits are perfectly okay. As the sugars are present with other nutrients (such as fibre for mangoes), it changes the way our body digests and absorbs the natural sugars. In this case, the sugar (fructose) in mangoes are encased in fibre which helps slow down the absorption and affects the way it metabolises in our bodies. This means that it doesn’t get fast, direct access to the liver like it does when it the sugar is ‘free’ (i.e. added sugar).

Some healthy ways to eat mangoes include using them in moderation in your milkshakes or smoothies and smoothie bowls. You could also make them part of a main course by tossing them into a green salad, adding them in veggie skewers, grilling on the barbeque or adding into your curries. Click here to read about other sweet and savoury ways to get more mango in your life. Some Christmas recipe ideas include a mango tiramisu AKA mangomisu, Christmas trifle using mangos and mango chia pudding. 

  1. Apricots are packed with vitamin A and rich in fibre. They are a good source of vitamin C, copper, and potassium. You could chop apricots and add them to your morning cereal or yoghurt, add them to your batter when making pancakes and in your salads. Apricot goes well with green leaves, feta, and almonds.

Apricot also has a great potential to shine at the Xmas table by including them in cakes, tarts or pies. You could also use them to make a gluten-free stuffing or in a chutney that can be served with bread.

  1. Some other stone fruits in summer include peaches, plums and nectarines. These are rich in vitamins A, C and E, as well as dietary fibre, potassium and antioxidants. One cup of sliced plums or apricots can provide you with a quarter of your daily vitamin C needs. Two small peaches have the same amount of potassium as a medium banana. Plums are good sources of vitamin K; two of these purple fruits can give you around 10% of your daily vitamin K needs.

You could add these in your salads or desserts or include them as a Christmas fruit platter. Click here to find some more inspo using stone fruits.

Christmas party ideas

The holiday season is upon us, so I thought I’d share some of my holiday favourites. All of these photos were taken last year during Xmas season, except for the custard.

Veggie platter- for those that know me well would know how much I love colours and eating the rainbow. I am still a newbie at putting together platters but I have so much fun every time I do one. It’s such a great starter to serve as your guests are coming in. It’s relatively easy to put together and keeps your guests busy!

Garlic, butter and chilli prawns – I’m a big lover of all things seafood. Chilli and garlic are two of my favourite ingredients in cooking. And cherry tomatoes marry well with just about everything. I’m not a big user of butter in savoury dishes but you need to be a little on special occasions like these!

Roast chicken and veggies- although I’m a big fan of plant-based diet, some occasions are celebrated better with meat. And I truly feel that Xmas is one of these. I have a small family but feel free to upgrade to a turkey if that’s what you prefer. I also added baby chat potatoes and pumpkin here. It’s super easy because it gets cooked in the same bag.

Quinoa pilaf with veggies – this is a great dish for any vegetarians you might have to cater for and wholegrains are something we should be eating more of. Quinoa is one of these. It is technically a pseudograin but has the properties to classify as a wholegrain. I love the touch of seafood flavours in this dish. Quinoa is very versatile, so free to add any other seafood if you like.

Stir-fry veggies- I have used fresh cauliflower, broccolini, mushrooms and zucchini here but you can go with frozen veggies for convenience. I have added a small amount of chicken but you can leave this out if you prefer a vegetarian dish.

Fruit custard- this one is probably one of the easiest desserts to whip up. The best thing is that you can prepare this ahead of time. All you literally need is milk, custard powder, sugar and fresh fruits. I chose to use a sugar substitute which were sent to me from Nuvia. It is a natural sweetner made from the Stevia plant.

Yoghurt barks-this is another relatively easy dessert to make and you get to pick what toppings you like. The original recipe I had looked up had used rose petals and pomegranates but I did not have these at home. So, I chose to use some stone fruit (apricot and nectarine), pistachio and white chocolate chips.

5 Ways to Gain a Healthier Gut

Our gut holds over 500 million neurons which connects to the brain and 95% of the serotonin (also known as the key hormone of happiness) is found in our gut.

The gut seems to be a hot nutrition topic these days. There is a lot of new research happening which is showing that gut is related to our mood, mental focus, immune system and even conditions like depression.

Given the importance of a healthier gut, it may be worthwhile to incorporate a few changes in our diet. Here are some simple ways to gain yourself a healthier gut:

  1. Go high on wholefoods

If there is one message you are taking away from reading this article, it should be this. Eat wholefoods when you can and give refined carbohydrates or processed foods a break. Eating wholefoods will reward your body with the goodness of fibre and other essential nutrients our body needs for regulation of gut health.

  1. Go slow on the sugar

While we have known for some time that too much sugar is not good for our body, recent research is revealing that it may also be changing our gut flora. Having lots of sugar in your diet will promote the growth of sugar-loving bacteria in our gut and can result in cravings for more sugar. Depriving them of sugar often produces bacterial toxins which can leave you feeling poorly.

  1. Swap to better fats

A diet which is high in saturated and trans fat (also known as bad fats) has been linked to many chronic diseases, including gastrointestinal disorders. Polyunsaturated fats (which includes omega 3 and 6) help promote the growth of a healthy gut microbiota.

  1. Drink water

Water is our lifeline as it flushes out toxins and maintains fluid balance in our body. As a rule of thumb, an average adult needs about 8 glasses of water per day. If you are struggling to get enough in your day, you could try squeezing in more by adding citrus flavours such as lemons.

  1. Don’t expect changes overnight

Recognise that this will be a long term process. Think of it as planting seeds in your garden today and expecting fruits in a couple of years. Much like a garden, your gut needs to be nurtured and looked after before you see the fruit.

5 tips for a healthier winter

Getting through winter is no easy task because the shorter, darker days often leave us with gloom and makes us want to hibernate.

We all know that feeling when your wake up on a cold winter morning and something doesn’t feel quite right. It starts off with a sore throat and you just know you’re coming down with something. You start wondering who you caught it from and whether you could have taken any precautions! Here are 5 tips to keep your wellness game strong this winter:

  1. Keep colours on your plate

Fruit and vegetables are a source of antioxidant and nutrients that protect us against cell damage and infection. Try baking some seasonal vegetables such as pumpkin, sweet potato, broccoli, beetroot etc. You could also include them in casseroles or soups, perfect for some winter warmth!

  1. Keep up with your fluid intake

Water is needed in lymph fluid which is part of your immune system and can help fight off illness. However, most of us struggle to drink enough water due to the cold. This is where hot drinks like tea can come in handy. Green tea is packed with antioxidants and can also provide comfort and warmth in the cold. You can also try drinking warm water with a slice of lemon or citrus fruit for added flavour.

  1. Boost up your immune system

Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) have a key role in keeping our immune system going strong. Vitamin A is found in orange and yellow vegetables like sweet potatoes pumpkin while vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries. Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin can also help support the immune system. Sources of vitamin D include sun exposure, oily fish such as mackerels, salmon and sardines, as well as fortified margarines. Zinc is a mineral that can help with healing and is found in lean meat, poultry and seafood and smaller amounts in pepitas, sesame seeds and baked beans.

  1. Keep exercising

Statistics suggests that 45% of Australians are expected to put on 1-2kg this winter. Winter weight gain commonly occurs from exercising less, eating more snack and takeaway foods. While exercising in the cold can be challenging, it can also boost your mood and reduce your stress levels. Stress can have a negative impact on our body as it sets up chronic inflammation in our body. Producing excess amounts of cortisol (due to stress) can weaken the immune system.

  1. Keep your hygiene game strong

This may sound simple but washing hands frequently is the number one way to stop the spread of germs. Experts recommend washing hands every few hours, especially after using the toilet and before eating. It’s also a good idea to wash them after touching someone else’s phone or keyboard at work.

Hope you enjoyed reading! Feel free to share other tips with me 🙂

How to start the year on the right foot?

Happy February!

Have you made your New Year Resolutions yet for 2018? Perhaps, you are still contemplating on them; or maybe you’ve come up with a few and realised that it isn’t going to work for you.

New Year Resolutions are great; but let’s be honest, we always tend to come up with goals that are overly ambitious or vague (i.e. I’m going to start eating healthier). Most of the time these goals don’t stick with us because we make them too hard for us and we don’t define it clearly in our mind. For example, eating healthy will mean different things to different people.

Here are some ways you could be more specific about your goals to lead a healthier lifestyle-

1) Losing weight

The most common goal people may have might be to lose weight. If this is you, don’t just say “I am going to lose weight this year.” Ask yourself, “how much is it that I want to lose?” If you have a very large number in mind, remember that you can realistically only lose 0.5-1 kg per week. If you are losing any more than this, it’s not likely to be sustainable. Australian statistics suggest that the most conscious group are 25-34 years, with the most common weight loss goal being 10kg.

2) Saying yes to brekkie

Most people already know that breakfast is a very important meal as it fuels us with energy for the day. However, many struggle with having a proper breakfast due to reasons such as time constraints. But it is possible to step up your breakfast game by prepping it the night before (i.e. portable-breakfast options) or keeping breakfast at your workplace.

3) Eating vegetables

Ask yourself, “When are the times I want to eat more veggies?” Adults need around 5-6 serves of vegetables, and it is not practical to be consuming it all in the one meal. It is best to spread it out during main meals and snacks.

4) Snacking healthier

Many of us don’t plan our snacks and often end up reaching for a bar of chocolate or something from the corner store when they get ‘hangry’. If this is you, it may be helpful to invest in snacks so you can keep it in your bag or at work. Examples of healthier snacks can include a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts, carrot sticks with hummus.

5) Being more active: a lot of people tend to set exercise goals as it closely aligns with losing weight. Statistics show that a higher number of gym memberships are purchased in January, compared to other months. However, gym membership sales drop by March as autumn hits. Before rushing to join a gym you may never use, ask yourself what kind of exercise you’d like to do and how long you’d like to commit each day.

Remember to start slow and be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that it takes time to build good habits!

Jerky July

July has been a very rough month for me; anyone that has watched me closely would have noticed a difference. Coming back from Canada, I set myself a million goals this month.
Perhaps, I had set myself way too many?
Perhaps, I wasn’t productive enough?
Perhaps, I could’ve done better?
These are thoughts that haunted my brain almost every single day last month. What I failed to recognise at the time was that I was having a ‘mid-PhD crisis’. July was the official half-way mark for me; I honestly cannot believe it has been 18 months! I knew that feeling the mid-PhD blues was a thing because I had read about it here a long time ago; but I just didn’t realise I was having the symptoms, until recently.

I also ran into a major statistics problem which has taken me a long time to figure out. It wasn’t that I didn’t try. I was trying to recover from the situation I was in, but I was feeling quite unmotivated. On top of that, I was under the weather for a couple of days which added to my misery. I felt cold, sleepy and lacked energy more often than usual. I started wondering if it was due to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) AKA the ‘winter blues’. I could see that my drop in productivity levels was starting to take a toll on my health. I knew I needed to push through and just keep swimming, so that’s what I tried doing. Happy to say, I have somehow recovered from my ‘mid-PhD crisis’ and was able to change my mindset! But I don’t want to talk about this just yet as I feel it is still early days. I am certainly not where I want to be, but I am in a much happier space, will reveal more on my next post 🙂

In other news, I’m still cooking lots of soup due to the cold. But I’ve tried a few different things this month to help me uplift my spirits! Here are my July eats:

Apple and cinnamon porridge, topped with walnuts and almonds

Morning toast with homemade ricotta, banana and chia seeds

Green, yellow split lentil cauliflower and carrot soup, with leftover lamb

Homemade ricotta, walnut and pear toast

Avo on toast with pepper, chilli, lemon

Linguini with avocado, pesto, pea and parmesan

Banana, walnut and chia seed porridge

Big batch of mixed lentil, celery and carrot soup

Veggie and prawn stir-fry using pretty much everything I had at home (cauliflower, broccoli, beans, carrots and pea)

Roasted Brussel sprouts with EVOO, pepper and chilli

Strawberry, chia seed and peanut butter porridge

Italian soup mix with green beans, carrots and celery

Hoki green curry with green beans

Lentil soup with carrots and beans, topped with leftover roast chicken

Active April

Gosh, I honestly don’t know where the month has gone! Yes, I know you’re going to say that I say that literally every month. But I suppose time does fly quicker as you are getting older. Speaking of which, I turned 24 this month. My dad insisted on celebrating, but I think I am just getting to the age where I prefer to keep my birthday a quiet business and hide away. I got spoilt with some great presents and cake, of course! I had a lot of cake this month. I have had a few moments of hibernation this month, it does help with my internal struggle sometimes which is still ongoing, but I’m trying to deal with it in a different way (some of you would probably know about this from my previous monthly blogs).In terms of work, I have been juggling endless things this month. The student projects have been quite time-consuming, particularly because I needed to obtain ethics approval for one of them which needed a lot of work. The good news is that we were recently approved and currently recruiting for our focus groups! I’m also trying to work on my statistics paper, but it has been difficult to switch back and forth with this. I feel like statistics needs a mind of its own and I am still finding it really difficult to juggle it with other things. Unfortunately, I have not made substantial progress with this, really hope things change over the next couple of days.

In other news, I attended FameLab NSW as a semi-finalist (this was the news I mentioned last month). It was very exciting to be chosen for this. We received training for this on the day which made us feel even more underprepared! However, it was such a wonderful evening because I got to meet so many like-minded researchers from many disciplines and we talked about all things science. The presentation itself was very nerve-racking as it was given to a large unknown audience, but it was such a great learning experience. As a result of this, I also had the opportunity to attend two radio interviews with Dr Karl. Meeting this science legend was a very memorable and special experience; he was very supportive and so down-to-Earth. I’m honestly so grateful for the opportunities that I am getting from my PhD journey.

Click here to read about a media piece from this month on ‘The French secret to beating obesity’.

Finally, here are all my April eats 🙂

Curried sweet potato and cashew nut soup (recipe here)
Snapper Saddletail curry with tomato and parsley
Pearl barley and vegetable soup (recipe adapted from here)
Roasted aubergines with yoghurt and mint (recipe adapted from here)
Hearty lentil soup with tomato, carrot and capsicum
Pearl barley, apple and almond bake (recipe adapted from here)

Jittery January

Hope everyone is having a good year so far?
I cannot believe the first month is over already!Unfortunately I don’t have any food pictures to share this month because I haven’t cooked much at all. Even when I did, it was something that I had no time to take a photo of.My mind is preoccupied with something else, and it has been really difficult to get things done. To be honest, this month has been a hell of a month for me. It was stressful, exciting, crazy, painful  depressing…(the list goes on).
There were times when I was very close to giving up. I don’t think I have felt the range of emotions I experienced this month in any other time in my life. I can’t really explain how overwhelming it was, without bringing in the context (will reveal soon).