The word health spelled with blue and white pills on a yellow background

Science Snapshot: Vitamin D Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease

A new study has found that Vitamin D supplementation might not provide as much cardiovascular protection as we thought.

Previous observational and prospective studies (that is, studies that look at what happens without trying to influence the outcome) have seen a link between low vitamin D levels and higher risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular disease (heart disease) that may lead to death.

This recently published meta-analysis (a study that combines and analyses the results of several previous studies, providing stronger evidence) has found that vitamin D supplementation did not actually have any effect on cardiovascular disease risk.

It’s important to note that while this study did not show a link, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are 100% certain one doesn’t exist. However, it may be that there is a different link between vitamin D levels and risk of heart disease. For example, much of our vitamin D is actually created in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. If you are regularly active, you’re likely to get outdoors more – even if it’s just walking from the car into the gym. Since small “doses” of sunlight (in most of Australia, 10-20 minutes per day is plenty) is enough to keep vitamin D levels normal, it might be that your activity or exercise levels are keeping your vitamin D high and your heart healthy (sunscreen blocks the body from creating vitamin D, so take that into consideration too). This is always the challenge with healthcare and health research – it’s difficult to completely control all possibilities!

What does this mean for you?

Unless you are taking vitamin D specifically for cardiovascular protection or heart health, without being told to by your doctor, this news probably won’t have much of an impact on you.

Of course, if you are taking vitamin D pills, tablets, or other supplements because your doctor or dietitian told you to, keep doing so! Vitamin D plays many roles in the body, including supporting immune function and musculoskeletal health. If you’re not sure whether you need to increase your vitamin D intake, speaking to your GP or a registered dietitian is your best bet. Of course, we all feel better and are more healthy with a bit of extra activity, so you can always take yourself outside!

 

For more information: 

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Feature Article: Vitamin D  https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4364.0.55.006Chapter2002011-12

National Institutes for Health, Fact Sheet for Health Professionals: Vitamin D https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/

Barbarawi, M., Kheiri, B., Zayed, Y., Barbarawi, O., Dhillon, H., & Swaid, B. et al. (2019). Vitamin D Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease Risks in More Than 83 000 Individuals in 21 Randomized Clinical TrialsJAMA Cardiology. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2019.1870


Warm breakfast bowl of roasted vegetables and fried egg

Warm Winter Breakfast Bowl

It was 12 degrees this morning as I headed in to see my first client. Twelve degrees on the scooter! That’s fresh, baby! (That’s also just over 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sun was shining. I am definitely spoiled.) 

I made sure I had a warm breakfast to get me through the morning though. I love this as a winter breakfast option, especially since it’s an easy, make-ahead-and-assemble-as-needed breakfast AND full of vegetables, my favorite thing. By pre-roasting your veggies, you can just scoop what you want into a bowl, throw it into the microwave, cook up an egg or two, and you’re good to go!

 

Warm Winter Breakfast Bowl

This will make several breakfasts’ worth, perfect for a fast weekday breakfast with loads of veggies. And you can’t go wrong with the goodness of a runny egg yolk.

  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 2-3 red capsicum (bell pepper)
  • 1-2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4-6 cups loosely packed fresh spinach
  • 1 block (appx 400g) Danish feta cheese
  • Eggs (as many as you like)
  • Fresh black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F / 200°C. Chop butternut squash and capsicum/pepper into two cm/one inch pieces, and halve the cherry tomatoes. Combine these in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, and garlic. Mix well. Add vegetable mixture to roasting pan, and roast 25-30 minutes, until vegetables are soft and have delicious brown spots. While vegetables are roasting, heat spinach in a frying pan with a sprinkle of water until just wilted.

Mix the roasted vegetables and spinach together gently. If you’re making ahead, all veggies can be stored in the refrigerator for several days (if they last that long!).

When you’re ready to eat, scoop 1-2 cups of the veggie mix into a bowl and reheat if needed. Fry an egg or two (or whatever your protein needs require). Flake off approximately ¼ cup of feta onto the veggies, and slide eggs on top. Finish with a grind or two of black pepper, and enjoy! 

 

This is the sort of recipe that ticks all the boxes: Healthy, Easy, and Delicious. This is what HealthFit Coaching’s Healthy Eating Support is all about! Check it out at this link.

Tried this?? Share your review in the comments!


Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Green Beans

All of a sudden it’s cold!! COLD.

Ok, for anyone who’s lived anywhere colder than the subtropics, it’s not really that bad. Brisbane mornings aren’t below freezing even before the sun comes up, and darn if we don’t have the most beautiful winter days anyone could ask for. It’s why I live here. Brisbane houses though, aren’t often built for the cold… What a great excuse to crank up the oven!

Enter this quick and easy side dish, helping you eat more veggies and perfect to have along side a Sunday roast or BBQ. If you want a quick and easy weeknight dinner, pre-roast a whole pan of these beauties, keep in the fridge, and reheat with 1-2 cups of white beans, drizzle with some olive oil, and done!

 

Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Green Beans 

  • 4 cups fresh green beans, ends trimmed and chopped into bite-sized lengths (appx 500g)
  • 2½ cups cherry tomatoes, whole, plus 1½ cups cherry tomatoes, halved (appx 600g total)
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ packed cup fresh basil, chopped
  • Zest of one medium lemon
  • 5-6 grinds fresh black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F / 200°C. In a large bowl, combine greens beans, 2½ cups of the cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt, and garlic. Mix well. Add green beans and tomato mixture to roasting pan, and roast 20-25 minutes, until vegetables are shriveled and have brown spots.

Transfer to heat-proof serving bowl and stir through remaining cherry tomatoes, basil, and lemon zest, and pepper. Enjoy!

 

This is the sort of recipe that ticks all the boxes: Healthy, Easy, and Delicious. This is what HealthFit Coaching’s Healthy Eating Support is all about! Check it out at this link.

Tried this?? Share your review in the comments!


Sliced juicy oranges and grapefruit

The Three Day Weight Loss Fallacy

I just got a pop-up ad for weight loss. Specifically, “Join The Weight Loss Challenge”. What was the challenge? “How Much Weight Can YOU Lose In Three Days?”

This is a terrible idea. Here’s why:

First and foremost, how do you lose “as much as you can”? For most people, this usually means very little food, a whole lot of exercise, or some combination of the two. The approach you choose can have a significant impact on your three day (or long term) weight loss outcome. Regardless of your chosen food-intake-and-exercise combination, the science says short-term diets aren’t the way to achieve sustainable weight loss. Consider the following:

You’re not losing what you think you’re losing.

Your body is always burning fat (on a daily basis, more than half the energy your body uses comes from your fat stores). Changing your food intake or exercise volume over the course of a few days will not drastically alter fat burning.

You may still see a drop on the scales though: Lots of water weight can be lost in this time. Normal urine outputs can be anywhere between 800-2000ml per day (equating to 0.8-2kg, or 1.75-4.4 pounds), and additional water weight is lost through other body functions like sweat, bowel movements, and breathing. If your food or fluid intake is low, you’ll have less fluid to lose, but your total body volume will still decrease to a degree. (There’s a lot more to the processes of losing or retaining water weight, including different hormone levels, exercise levels, external factors like heat and humidity, and others.)

And, though three days is a short timeframe, you might also see some (very small) weight loss due to muscle breakdown and the use of stored carbohydrate, though this depends on what you’re eating and drinking, and what kind of exercise you’re doing over these three days. It’s very unlikely that you’ll lose enough muscle mass to have a noticeable impact on scale weight, but I bring this up because it can impact the next point…

You’ll likely gain it back.

By the end of three days you’re going to be hungry – especially if you’re eating little/exercising lots. Physical and mental aspects contribute to how we react to feeling hungry; the end result is that usually we eat – perhaps more than we need to in the long run. Our bodies have an inbuilt “survival drive” to rebuild the energy stores – the amount of fat, stored carbohydrate, and muscle mass – your body used for fuel during those three days. Hunger may lead to eating beyond what you need to rebuild those stores. We can eat a lot of calories very quickly, and the body takes some time to process food, replenish stores, and register that things are back to normal.

This sounds like three days of… unpleasantness.

You might be able to go for a day or three eating little and/or exercising a lot and feel ok physically and/mentally. Different people respond to dieting differently, though, and deprivation can have a negative impact on feelings of well-being, energy and fatigue levels, mental health states like anxiety or depression. And being hungry is not fun.

True weight loss or gain takes time. You can definitely lose weight in three days, but it’s not going to be the fat loss that you want, and it’s very unlikely to stay off. I’m a big fan of the “do it once, do it right” approach, and making the process enjoyable. It can be done!

 

For More Information:
Johnstone, A. (2007). Fasting ? the ultimate diet?. Obesity Reviews8(3), 211-222. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789x.2006.00266.x
Melzer, K. (2011). Carbohydrate and fat utilization during rest and physical activity. E-SPEN, The European E-Journal Of Clinical Nutrition And Metabolism6(2), e45-e52. doi: 10.1016/j.eclnm.2011.01.005

 

 

 


Diet Detective: Fad Diet or Fabulous?

It seems like there’s always a diet going around that promotes itself as the best way to lose weight, or to detox for health and more energy, or… something.

Actually, at any given time, there are always several diets claiming to be THE right way to eat. Diet plans like keto, paleo, the alkaline diet, or Whole30 are way more varied than the old school grapefruit-type diets. They are usually based around a single simple guideline, with expected results including anything from fat loss and revved metabolism to decreased inflammation, improved gut health, and overall better health.

Many of these diets can provide health benefits or support weight loss, and providing a single guideline to follow often makes it easier to stick with the plan. But the simplicity can also create complications. Dietary limitations can inadvertently decrease the intake of some essential nutrients, or allow excessive intake of others. Depending on your body’s specific needs, these diets can actually backfire – even if you see short term results.

Keto diet meal of salmon and green onions

Taking a smart approach to a new diet includes figuring out whether it’s a fad or there are established, science-based benefits. If the diet falls into the second category, you also need to figure out whether the diet will be good for you.

Is It A Fad Diet or a Fact?

There are fad diets, and fad diets – some are worse for your health than others. You can generally tell if a new diet is going to be an unhealthy fad if:

It promises dramatic, fast, extraordinary results.

My momma always told me: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The truth is, if there an easy, healthy, surefire way of eating that was sustainable over the long term, no one would need a diet for weight loss or any other health reasons. While it’s tempting to think of quickly reaching your goal weight with either little effort or lots,

It centers on, or cuts out, a single type of food.

Whether suggesting you always eat it or never eat it, any diet that is wholly focused on a single type of food can lead to health problems. This single focus may mean missing out on essential nutrients, or especially if maintained over time:

Low carb diets (Atkins, Keto) focus on higher protein and fat intakes. High levels of some dietary fats are associated with higher levels of heart disease, and high protein diets can be harmful to people with kidney disease, diabetes, and other health conditions (though it’s important to note that for most health people, a high protein diet isn’t harmful).

Cutting out entire food groups can lead to the same problems: missing out on key nutrients. For example, many vegetarians become anemic because they do not eat red meat, one of the highest sources of dietary iron.

It lacks high-quality scientific evidence. Ok, most people aren’t going to go and read the original research – and that’s assuming there is some! Many diets have little or no scientific backing. It’s also not uncommon to find that the existing studies present only weak proof, or have been funded by the companies whose products are being researched. Human nature makes it hard to be impartial in these cases!

Most people will not have access to the majority of research, or may not want to wade through the scientific jargon and statistics. You’re best bet to get simple, straight answers about whether a diet has scientifically been proven effective will be to speak to a registered dietitian.

Boring plate of only vegetables for a diet meal

Dieting For Your Body

The other benefit of discussing a new diet with a registered dietitian is that they can help determine if a given diet will meet your specific needs. This is especially important in certain circumstances:

If you have an ongoing or chronic health condition. Some foods or food types may worsen health conditions. It can also be a good idea to check with your doctor if you are at high risk for a health condition or have a family history.

If you have specific physical needs. The most common example: People who exercise a lot or at high intensities have different dietary needs than those who exercise moderately or not at all. Additionally, some medical conditions require closely controlled diets in order to maintain normal physical function.

If you want to make a significant change to your eating habits. People aren’t always aware of nutrient deficiencies or potential risks caused by a high nutrient intake. Jumping into big dietary changes may inadvertently increase health risks, even if you’re trying to do the right thing by your body. So do the right thing by your body and chat to your doctor before making big changes.

Healthy balanced meal of salmon and vegetables

The Real Winner

In the end, the best diet comes down to the diet that works for you.

That means one that helps you feel and look the way you really want to, and that your body thrives on. Many of the most popular diets may not be harmful over a short period of time, but the existing research has generally shown that they aren’t much more effective than a general plan of healthy eating and most people end up regaining the weight they lost once back into their regular eating patterns.

Given all this, it seems like the real winner might be making fresh choices. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Eat lean proteins (poultry, fish, lean red meat, eggs, and dairy). Eat your healthy fats in small doses (nuts and seeds, avocado, olive and flax oils, just to name a few). Eat less than you think you might need. And enjoy it!


A fast healthy lunch of Asian soba noodle salad or soup with chicken and vegetables

Veggie and Soba Noodle Salad

This never lasts more than a day at my house.

It’s so good, and as a two-for-one recipe for lunch, dinner, or even breakfast, it’s really versatile. You can make this into a cold salad (perfect summer recipe) or a hot soup (perfect winter recipe). It’s also easy and fast. I go overboard on veggies, which means more prep time, and I can still have it ready in about 10 minutes.

Soba noodles definitely do not fit into a wholly low-carb diet, but carbs are not the enemy. If you prefer to keep your diet low-carb, substitute zucchini noodles (or “zoodles”) for the original soba noodles. To make gluten-free, also substitute tamari for the soy sauce.

 

Soba Noodle Salad/Soup – Per serving

90g/3 oz soba noodles

1/3 – 1/2 cup each of at least four of the following:

  • Thinly sliced red or yellow capsicum or bell pepper
  • Thinly sliced cucumber
  • Snow peas, sliced diagonally
  • Grated carrot
  • Grated zucchini
  • Thinly sliced red or green cabbage
  • Bean sprouts
  • Spring onions

One small chicken breast, thinly sliced

Dressing – Makes enough for four servings

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

Juice of 1/2 a small orange

Zest and juice of one lime

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 coin-sized round of ginger

1 tablespoon sesame oil

For soup:

2-3 cups chicken stock

 

Make dressing by combining all ingredients and mixing well.

Tip: To easily mix salad dressings really well, keep an old glass jam jar with a tight fitting lid. Place all dressing ingredients in the jar, tightly close the lid, and shake well. 

Chop desired vegetables and chicken, and then cook noodles according to package directions. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl with 1/4 of the dressing, and combine well. For soup, add desired amount of warm chicken stock.

Watch it disappear!

For low-carb, substitute zucchini noodles.

For gluten free, substitute rice or zucchini noodles and tamari.

 

Tried it? Share your review in the comments!


One skillet cauliflower hash with red peppers ready for a healthy breakfast

Cauliflower Hash

Hash is traditionally a dish of meat and chopped potatoes. This spin on it is vegetarian and low-carb, but no less tasty! Cauliflower is substituted for the potatoes and the umami flavor that the meat traditionally provides comes from a dose of parmesan cheese. If you like a bit of spice, a sprinkle of chili powder or chili flakes add a pleasant heat, though if spicy is not your thing, you won’t miss them either!

This is great for an easy, healthy dinner, but works equally well as a healthy breakfast, giving you an alternative to the more usual breakfast foods that are basically dessert in disguise. Up the protein by topping with an egg or two – the runny yolk makes a delicious sauce and you get a delicious, filling dinner that won’t leave you feeling anything but great.

 

Cauliflower Hash

  • 1 small-medium carrot
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 med-large brown/yellow or sweet onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 large head of cauliflower
  • 1 large red bell pepper or capsicum
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground pepper
  • 2 tsp each dried thyme and oregano
  • Grated parmesan cheese, to serve
  • Optional to serve: Chili powder or flakes

Grate or finely dice the carrot, and chop the celery and onion. Spray a large pan with oil (if not using non-stick) and cook carrot, celery, onion, and garlic over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning.

While the other vegetables are cooking, break cauliflower into smaller heads and then chop into smallish pieces. Add to pan when vegetable mix is starting to soften, and continue to stir frequently. Deglaze the pan with water as needed (see note).

Chop the bell pepper/capsicum and add to pan when vegetable mix is starting to turn golden brown, and cook for another 3-5 minutes.

Sprinkle over salt, pepper, thyme and oregano, and mix through. Serve sprinkled with grated parmesan and chili, if desired, and an egg or two.

 

NoteDeglazing is a wonderful way of adding more flavor to a dish without adding any extra ingredients, and also helps keep your food from scorching. Learn how to deglaze a pan here (and you’ll also learn more about why and how it maximizes taste).


Increasing The Evidence For Food As Medicine

We all know that eating nutritious food helps keep you healthy. Now a research study in California is aiming to demonstrate just how much your diet can actually impact you.

Over the next three years, researchers from the University of California San Francisco and Stanford will evaluate how a healthy, nutritious diet and nutrition education will impact the treatment, prognosis (or likely course or outcome of a condition), and overall cost of medical care for people with chronic disease. This study will build on the results of earlier smaller and less rigorous studies that have had positive results, including substantial decreases in the cost of medical care.

The food-as-medicine concept is being increasingly accepted and promoted by doctors and other facets of the western medical system. This approach has long been advocated by natural and allied healthcare providers, but in the past there has been little research and scientific evidence to back up recommendations for diet as an adjunct or supportive element of medical care.

The evidence is growing now though, and quickly – at least relatively quickly, as high quality research takes a long time. I’m excited that there is more of this research occurring, and that more attention is being paid to it. The New York Times piece tells the story much better than I do, so head over and read for yourself: Cod and ‘Immune Broth’: California Tests Food as Medicine.


Middle age woman raising her eyebrows in surprise

The Secret Life Of A Health Coach

Want to know the biggest secret about my life as a health coach/exercise physiologist/personal trainer?

I’m just a normal person.

I like all types of fried potatoes, working out is sometimes more effort than it seems like it’s worth, and I definitely do not have a six-pack. I’ve been through periods of being super active and fit, and periods of being super lazy, and while I much prefer feeling and being super fit and healthy, I frequently struggle to make the time for it.

It’s called real life – as least, it is for most of us. There are great trainers out there who are able to juggle big workouts, prepping and eating routine meals, making their body their whole focus – Awesome for them. I’ll even admit that I’ve more than a little jealous. I had that for a few years and it was great, but it was also when I was in college with the luxury of plenty of time to spend on it.

In the years since, I’ve stopped beating myself up over NOT doing all those things. I’ve found my balance between eating healthy and really enjoying my meals, between being fit and being out of shape (though I often sit slightly below my ideal fitness level). These days, my ultimate goal is to strike that balance between making my entire life about my body, fitness and health, and being able to enjoy what life has to offer.

So, my big secrets?

My fitness levels fluctuate A LOT and I have to really work for what I have. My biggest challenge is balancing my time between every life demand in a way that I’m happy with (or at least can live with). Sometimes workouts lose out.

I love eating. LOVE IT. I love movie popcorn and giant salads and everything in between. Portion control is my nemesis.

I struggle to make myself a priority. I spend all day every day talking to people about taking care of themselves. I’m the worst at taking my own advice!

Stress-eating: Ugh, yes, that’s me.

I would much rather watch Netflix than go to the gym. (Though as with most people, I get a lot more satisfaction from going to the gym, once it’s all said and done.)

I may or may not read on my phone every night in bed, even though I know all the science says it’s bad for your sleep. Oops.

The point is, this is real life. We can have all the education and experience in the world – I’m not short on either and definitely know better – and making the best choices is still challenging. I live those choices day in and day out, just like everyone else. But these days I’m ok with those challenges. They are a lot easier now that I’ve learned to make life about habits and choices I enjoy, rather than choices that feel like chores that I should or have to do. I’ve found my balance between the effort I’m happy to make, and the results I’m happy to have. I’m launching this new section, The Secret Life Of A Health Coach: Food and Fitness in Real Life, to share what those choices look like for me, and to give you some ideas and support in finding your own balance.


Recommended Reading: What We Know (and Don’t Know) About How to Lose Weight

This excellent, quick read from the New York Times and Dr.  Aaron E. Carroll provides a great starting point if you’re thinking about jumping on the low-carb or low-fat diet bandwagon. 

In brief, this article covers the results of a very rigorous study – rigorous meaning that the results are more likely to hold true across a wide variety of people. The crux of the results to the Low Cabs vs Low Fat question: It most likely doesn’t actually matter. The best diet is most likely to be the one that you can stick with – or, as we’re always saying to, it’s about finding what works for you.

Read the NY Times article here: What We Know (and Don’t Know) About How to Lose Weight