Vitamin D!

It seems like everyday there is more research coming out about the importance of Vitamin D. With it’s influence on our immune system, now is an important time to make sure you have sufficient Vitamin D levels.

How do we make vitamin D?

Sunshine is how we make vitamin D. When you are exposed to UVB rays, our bodies make cholecalciferol (D3) from cholesterol in our skin.  It is then converted to 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the liver.  This is what is measured in a vitamin D blood test.  From here it gets converted to its active form, calcitriol, either in the kidneys or by the immune system and then released into circulation for the body to use.

Sunscreen blocks UV light, so if you are conscientious about applying it, you may not be making enough vitamin D in your body.  In the winter months, even in Australia, the days are shorter and the sun is lower in the sky resulting in less UV rays getting to us.  So even in Australia many people are vitamin D deficient.

What happens if we don’t get enough vitamin D?

We need vitamin D to absorb calcium from our diet.  So if we don’t get enough the body takes calcium out of the bones to use for muscle and nerve functioning as well as blood clotting.  This can result in softening of the bones called rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.  

We have known that vitamin D was important for bone health for many years, but only recently have we realised that it affects other parts of the body as well.  We need it for a proper functioning immune system so that we can effectively fight off infections.  Vitamin D also decreases inflammation and low levels have a particular effect on the symptoms of asthma and arthritis.  Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

How do we get enough vitamin D?

Ideally we get it from the sun as this is the most effective way.  But we still want to be careful of getting burned. Depending on your location and the time of year, it is generally recommended to get outside before 10am or after 4pm for about 20mins with as much skin showing as possible.  Although winters in Australia are far from cold and snowy in most parts, we still don’t get much sunshine with shorter days and the sun being low in the sky.  My family doesn’t wear any sunscreen in the winter.

Some people may need to take a supplement.  If you have darker skin you won’t make vitamin D as efficiently.  Also menopausal women may need to supplement due to hormonal changes.  Anyone who diligently wears sunscreen or covers most of his or her skin with clothing should also consider a supplement.  The American paediatric association also recommends supplementing infants.  Breastfed infants are most likely deficient because their mothers are deficient and they are rarely left out in the sun.  

So try to get outside everyday if possible.  This is especially important with winter coming along as our days get shorter.  And if you think you may be deficient, talk to your naturopath about getting it tested.

Healthy (and Easy!) Protein Bars

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups quick or rolled oats (120g)

1 cup puffed rice

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup sunflower butter (can use almond or peanut butter if not taking to school)

1/2 cup raw agave or honey

2/3 cup protein powder – have fun with different flavours (70g). I use plain pea protein

1/4 dark chocolate chips, sultanas or dried cranberries (optional)

Instructions

Stir all ingredients together until well-mixed.

Transfer the mixture to a 9×14 pan lined with parchment or wax paper. (For thicker bars, you can use an 8×8 pan.)

Place another sheet of parchment or wax over the top and continue to smush down and spread until it fills the bottom of the pan.

Freeze until hard, then cut into bars.

For optimum freshness, store leftover bars in the freezer for up to a month.

And then Enjoy!

Adapted from: https://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2014/08/11/protein-granola-bars/

Beat Those Viruses this Winter! (and all year long!)

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While it is almost summer for all of you in the northern hemisphere, it is coming into winter down under which means cold and flu season has come around again. Although for those of us with kids in daycare and school it seems that cold and flu season lasts all year-round! Here are some helpful hints for keeping the whole family healthy in winter and all year long.

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Sleep is the most important activity your body needs. When sleeping, your body restores, heals, and creates important hormones. Get to bed early and stay there for at least 7-8 hours each night.  Avoid caffeine to ensure you get a good quantity and quality of sleep.  Read my blog article about caffeine for more information on the effects it has on your body.

Psychological stress is associated with a greater risk of depression, heart disease and infectious diseases.[1]  Take time out – exercise, garden, meditate, whatever it is that helps you to relax.

What would one of my articles be if I didn’t mention exercise?  Exercise is important for everyone. To keep your immune system at its best you want at least a brisk 30-minute walk each day.  If you are an avid athlete you also need to take care, as very high intensity exercise can put a strain on your immune system.[2]bacteria on hands

Always wash your hands before eating.  There was a 75% reduction in flu-like symptoms when a test group wore masks and washed their hands.[3]  This is especially important for kids who are more apt to putting their hands in their mouths.  It can really be just that easy!

Our bodies are composed of 70% water. Proper hydration is important for the optimum functioning of all your body systems. Increase your water intake slowly getting up to 2L per day.  Check our my article about water for more information.

Hot-Cold showers are an excellent way of improving your immune system, increasing circula­tion and elevating energy levels. After finishing your regular shower routine, do 20 seconds of cold and 1 minute of hot. Alternate 2-3 times, ending with cold.  The increase in circulation will also help decrease sensitivity to the cold.

There are several supplements you can take to help boost your immune system. Daily zinc supplementation has been shown to shorten the duration and severity of the common cold, reduce the incidence of acute lower respiratory tract infections in preschool children by 45% and reduce the incidence of pneumonia by 41%.[4]

There are lots of herbs that can help boost your immune system. You can drink my Change of Season tea daily to stay healthy while the weather is changing.  You can also check out my Cough and Cold Soother tea for a delicious mix that can help fight off germs if you get sick.

Vitamin C is found in high concentrations in immune cells and is quickly consumed during an infection.  It is a natural antihistamine and has been found to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold and upper respiratory tract infections.

More than 80% of the body’s immune system is in the digestive tract.[5]  A lack of good bacteria in the digestive tract can cause a reduction in the immune system allowing increased infections.  Take a good quality probiotic to prevent bad bacteria from taking hold.

Vitamin D has a direct effect on the immune system. Vitamin D stimulates the production of natural antibiotic proteins thus killing more bacteria.  Insufficient levels are related to a deficiency in our immune system to protect us against infections.

If you have any questions, you can join one of my Boost Your Immune System talks.  Or if you are inspired to make lifestyle changes, but you aren’t sure where to start, you can join one of my 5 week step-by-step group Get Healthy programs.

These are just a few suggestions.  For personalized advice, contact your local naturopath. Let’s stay healthy this winter!
References

1  Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Doyle WJ, Miller GE, Frank E, Rabin BS, Turner RB. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. PNAS, 2012 April 17; 109(16): 5995-5999.

2  Society for General Microbiology. Couch potato or elite athlete? A happy medium keeps colds at bay(Internet). ScienceDaily. 2012 January 5 (Retrieved 13 May 2012). Available from: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120105112158.htm

3  Aiello AE, Perez V, Coulborn RM, Davis BM, Uddin M, Monto AS. Face masks, Hand Hygiene, and Influenza among Young Adults: A Randomized Intervention Trial. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (1): e29744.

4  Hunter P. Health Benefits of Zinc. Bioceuticals Advanced Clinical Insights, 2004; 5.

5  Plummer N. Dysbiosis and Disease: Ground breaking new research into probiotics and their role in preventing treating disease (presentation notes). FIT-BioCeuticals, Ltd. Online. 2010.

Shepherd’s Casserole (Pie) with a Twist

Finished Shepherd's Casserole Filling

My daughter says that pie is only pie if it has crust. When I first added Shepherd’s Pie to my recipe repertoire she was unimpressed. We have since started calling it Shepherd’s Casserole and she is much happier.

Ingredients

This recipe is healthier, and tastier, than the regular Shepherd’s Pie as it has pumpkin in the topping instead of just white potatoes. I never liked pumpkin growing up but in the last few years I have been really enjoying it and find it very versatile. I tend to buy a half or whole pumpkin and roast it. Then I stick it in the freezer ready to add to whatever I am making that day.

Cooking Veggies

This recipe is also loaded with veggies (look at all that healthy colour!), but it all mixes together in a super yummy mix that the kids love. If you are in a hurry, you can use only frozen veggies and save the time cutting up extra. Frozen vegetables are snap frozen and retain their nutrition, making them great for when you are in a hurry but want a delicious and nutritious dinner.

Pumpkin Topping

We make our version dairy-free as we have an intolerance in the family, but you can add cheese to the topping if you so wish.

Ingredients

 Filling

  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil or butter
  • 1 large clove of garlic diced
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 medium zucchini cut to bit sized pieces
  • ½ large red pepper (capsicum) cut to bit sized pieces
  • ½ head of broccoli. I usually cut it up quite fine so that it is easy to eat by accident
  • 500g ground (minced) lamb or beef
  • 600 g frozen peas, carrots, corn
  • 2 Tbsp Worchester sauce
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp plain flour
  • 1½ cups stock – I like to use Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon Powder

Topping

  • 500g roasted pumpkin
  • 500g steamed or boiled potato with skins on
  • 2 Tbsp butter or vegan butter substitute
  • Salt to taste
  • Optional tasty or pecorino cheese

Directions

  1. Roast the pumpkin. Cut it into even slices and baste with some olive oil. Put in the oven for about 45 mins at 200C. You want the pumpkin starting to brown but not getting crispy.
  2. Cut up the potato. Steam or boil until tender.
  3. While those are cooking, put the coconut oil, garlic, onion, and fresh veggies in a large pan and fry until the onion is translucent.
  4. Add the ground meat to the pan and break up as it is cooking.
  5. Add the frozen veggies once the meat has cooked.
  6. Add the Worchester sauce and tomato paste and stir in.
  7. Add the flour. Mix this through and allow the flour to cook for 1-2 minutes.
  8. Add the stock and stir while the sauce thickens.
  9. In a separate bowl, mix the cooked pumpkin, potatoes, vegan butter and salt with a hand mixer until it is mixed through.
  10. Put the filling in a large casserole tray.
  11. Spread the filling on top evenly.
  12. Add the optional grated cheese on top. Pop the whole thing in the oven for about 5 minutes just to melt the cheese.

 

Pumpkin topping

Enjoy!

This recipe makes quite a lot, so you can freeze the extra or use it for lunches the next day.

 

Shepherd's Casserole

Delicious Dairy-Free Chocolate Icing

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As I’ve mentioned before, the littlest person in our family has a problem with dairy. For previous birthdays, I have just let him have cake with dairy icing and we would deal with any potential side effects. Since it was only once in awhile he was usually fine. But it was his birthday and I wanted him to be able to eat cake without any worries (well he was never worried, he’s only 2!).

Don’t get me wrong, this is not one of my healthy recipes. Other than being dairy-free, there is certainly nothing healthy about it. But for those of you who can’t handle dairy, I wanted to share this super delicious, and super easy, alternative.

Ingredients

For my first attempt I tried the recipe with just soy cream cheese but it wouldn’t aerate and thicken up so it did slide off the cake a bit (was still delicious though). It needed the added fat from the vegan butter. This final recipe though will satisfy even the most ardent of dairy lovers.

We had just eaten cake a couple days before, so I put this icing batch on some of my Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins and it was delicious!

Little Hand

Ingredients

  • 255g of your favourite soy cream cheese (I’ve tried both Creamy Sheese and Tofutti Better Then Cream Cheese)
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter (I recently found the one pictured by Funky Fields. It tastes terrific, but it does have nuts in it so isn’t school friendly unfortunately)
  • 3 cups sifted icing sugar (I try to buy an organic one from the bulk shop but when I run out I have to get the commercial one pictured from the grocery store)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cacao powder (Quality matters here. Cheap ones just don’t taste right)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt

In Bowl

Method

  1. Add all the ingredients into your mixer.
  2. Mix on medium for about 3 minutes until the icing becomes light and fluffy.
  3. Eat, um, I mean spread onto cupcakes or cake.

Makes enough icing to easily ice a double layer cake or 24 cupcakes.

Muffin Cakes

Enjoy!

This recipe is adapted from the delicious one at Natasha’s Kitchen.

Warming Socks and how they are Awesome!

 

Alex feetNeed an easy, effective, low-cost treatment for what ails you? Read on.

When I was 34 weeks pregnant with number 3, I had a cough. I wasn’t sick and it wasn’t a really bad cough. If I hadn’t been pregnant it probably wouldn’t have bothered me that much. But I was pregnant. So it did bother me. As anyone who has been pregnant, especially multiple times, can attest, things are hard to hold when you have a cough.

So I tried everything. Well I tried lots of stuff, but most things, both medical and natural, are off limits while you are pregnant so my options were limited. Then I remembered warming socks (I was pregnant with my third child so my brain was a bit slow).

Warming socks are effective in treating head, chest and sinus congestion as well as coughs and bronchitis. They are a great treatment for sleep issues including insomnia, snoring, and night sweats. They can also be used for earaches, sore throats, and to help break a fever in a child. Warming socks can also help to treat and prevent headaches and migraines. For acute concerns, symptoms usually clear in 2 to 3 nights. For more chronic conditions, it can take a few weeks to help resolve symptoms.

Sick child

Warming socks work by boosting your immune system and increasing circulation as your body has to rally itself to warm your feet. This gives your body the push it needs to fight off whatever is bothering you. Check our my blog article on Colds and Flus for more treatment options.

Warming socks are a safe treatment for the whole family and can be used as often as needed. They cost nothing and have no side effects.

So what does this treatment involve you ask? This is going to sound a bit uncomfortable, but trust me it works.

What you will need:

  • 1 pair of thin cotton socks
  • 1 pair of thick wool or polypropylene socks

Wool and cotton socks

Instructions:

  1. Place your feet either in a bucket of warm water or under the shower for 5-10 minutes. The water should be as warm as you can make it without burning yourself.
  2. Get the cotton socks wet with cold water. If you don’t have cold tap water, fill a bowl with some ice water and dip the socks in there.
  3. Ring out the socks as best you can.
  4. Put the cotton socks on your feet.
  5. Put the wool socks on over the cotton socks.
  6. Go to bed.

When you wake up the socks will be dry. Do this for at least 3 nights in a row for acute conditions such as coughs, congestion or fever and for 5 weeks for more chronic conditions such as insomnia or poor circulation.  For most children, you don’t need to warm their feet before putting the socks on as they still have great circulation. I put the socks on my little people after they have fallen asleep so I don’t have to listen to any whining and everyone sleeps better.

Warming socks may sound a bit uncomfortable, but just trust me and give them a try.  You will thank me in the morning. If you have any questions about warming socks and how versatile they are, talk to your local naturopath.

Plastic Free Period. It can be done.

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Men, stop reading. Women, this one is just for you.   I’ve talked about the damage plastic is doing to our environment and our health as well as how we can all reduce our plastic use in two of my previous articles.  Now I want to talk about how we can reduce our plastic use during that time of the month.  Disposable menstrual products are one of the top contributers to landfill never mind the plastic they are wrapped in.  Menstrual pads take between 500-800 years to biodegrade.  But never fear, there are better solutions!

When we have our periods, all we want is to feel more comfortable.  These reusable solutions are actually more comfortable while being better for you and the environment.

Period underwear is all the rage these days.  And honestly, I can’t speak more highly of it.  No one wants to wear a pad but sometimes there are leaks that need to be caught.  Period underwear is super comfortable, and now comes in lots of colours (they only had black when I bought mine).  You can get different thicknesses for light or heavy flow.  I find the light one handy for everyday use especially if you have had a few children and you know you will be jumping or sneezing that day. The heavier one is advertised as holding 20ml or 2 tampons worth of liquid.  And you will no longer have to buy pads that are made of and packed in plastic. I chose to purchase Modibodi underwear because they are an Australian company, but there are several other companies.  Thinx is popular but it is an American company.

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If you still want the bulk of a pad for overnight purposes, I highly recommend getting cotton reusable ones.  I have had mine for years, so I can’t even guess how much money I have saved.  I use them overnight with my period underwear just in case.  They come in all sorts of patterns and colours.  In the morning just pop it in the washing machine and job done.  They are more absorbent than disposables, more affordable, do not contain toxic chemicals, last for years, are super comfortable, and are stylish! No more wasting money on pads and throwing plastic in the bin.  There are many companies that sell reusable pads.  Hannahpads come in lots of different colours and are 100% organic cotton. Ecopads are an Australian company that also support womens’ and girls’ education, empowerment and environmental projects.  For every pad bought they send one to a women or girl in need.  I spoke to Freda and she will have more in stock on 30 June. Or you can even make your own.

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Many women still rely on tampons during their period.  Unfortunately there are no rules that companies have to state the ingredients of tampons on the packages so you don’t know what chemicals may be in the product.  Cotton growing uses large amounts of pesticides so chances are there are lots of them in your tampon.  Each tampon is individually wrapped in plastic as well as coming in a box that all ends up in landfill. There is also the chance of toxic shock syndrome with tampon use. This is a life-threatening bacterial infection that is associated with tampon use.  Menstrual cups are the healthier, more environmentally friendly alternative.  Before you get squeamish, these are so much better than tampons.  You insert it in the morning and just pour out the blood and reinsert it through the day.  You don’t have to carry anything around with you.  They are easy to use, easy to wash and will save you lots of money as you only need to purchase one and they last for years.  I use the Diva Cup, but there are many others on the market.  I found the Menstrual Cups Australia Online website that compares and sells all the major brands of cups.

Now you have some solutions to making your period more comfortable, healthier and better for the environment. Win for you and the world!