How Much Salt do we Need?


Salt or sodium is a naturally occurring substance that our bodies need to function.  We need it to:

  • Maintain the right balance of fluids in our bodies
  • Transmit nerve impulses
  • Contract and relax our muscles

Our kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in our bodies for optimal health. When your body sodium is low, your kidneys hold on to the sodium. When your body sodium is high, your kidneys excrete the excess in your urine.  But when there is too much sodium the kidneys increase blood pressure to try to excrete more of it. This increase in blood pressure over time can lead to stroke, coronary heart disease and heart failure.

The average Australian intake of salt is about 10g or 4000mg sodium per day. The suggested intake for optimal health is 4g of salt or 1600mg of sodium.  So Australians are consuming a lot more salt than they should be which is setting them up for future (or current) health problems.  The good news is that you lose sodium when you sweat, so when you exercise you may need to consume a bit more than this.  Otherwise, it needs to stay down!

Once your blood pressure has increased due to a high salt intake, it may not go down with reduced intake so it is important to decrease your salt intake before you have high blood pressure to prevent any damage to your body.

You may be surprised at how much sodium is in many commonly consumed foods.  Here are a few examples:

Masterfoods BBq sauce = 15ml serve (1 tablespoon) = 164mg sodium

Masterfoods tomato sauce = 15ml serve (1 tablespoon) = 127mg sodium

100g of beef sausage (about 1 sausage)= 652mg sodium

6 inch meatball sub from Subway = 695mg sodium

1 cup of Nutrigrain cereal = 144mg sodium

Masterfoods beef stroganoff sauce = 529mg sodium per serve

Lean Cuisine Chicken Chickpea Curry w Brown Rice and Quinoa = 763mg sodium

Gatorade 591ml bottle = 250mg sodium


So, if you have 1 cup of Nutrigrain cereal (but most people probably have a larger serving), a sausage with sauce at Bunnings or your friend’s BBQ and then a Lean Cuisine for dinner, you are at your limit and you can’t have the hot chips, chips and dip, cheese or salted nuts for a snack.  Most of these processed foods are also high in sugar.  Read about what sugar is doing to your body and other reasons why you should watch these foods in my blog article about sugar.

Pre-packaged and processed foods as well as restaurant foods are where most people are getting their salt from in their diet.  Some of them may even look healthy with ‘heart ticks’ or stars on them, but make sure you read the label for yourself before assuming anything in a package is nutritious, because it usually isn’t.


Even though you may not have high blood pressure now, it is important to implement healthy lifestyle habits before major health issues creep up.  Try to cut down on your intake of processed foods, especially meats, and decrease your take-away and restaurant food.  And for those in Australia, you don’t have to stop at every sausage sizzle you see!  I know they are everywhere, but that doesn’t make them good for you.

Enjoy your salt as a light sprinkle you add yourself and your kidneys will thank you.


Having Trouble Sleeping?


As we are sleeping our bodies have many important jobs to do.  This is the optimum time for growth and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems.  This is when muscle growth, tissue repair and protein synthesis occur.  Our bodies are healing, as this is the best time for white blood cell and antioxidant functioning.  We also secrete hormones such as growth hormone and melatonin and clear the build up of substances like adenosine.  Sleeping is also the key time for brain development and memory processing.

Although we still don’t know everything our bodies do while we are sleeping, we do know what happens when we don’t get enough sleep.  Lack of sleep can more than double the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.  It can also be a risk factor for weight gain, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.  Sleep difficulties are associated with depression, alcoholism and bipolar disorder.  Sleep deprivation affects judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information and increases the risk of accidents and injury.  When sleep deprived our white blood cell count decreases.  In a study, animals deprived entirely of sleep lost all immune function and died within weeks.  Sleep problems have even been associated to digestive problems such as inflammatory bowel and Crohn’s disease.

So what is enough sleep? One study found that people who sleep six to seven hours each night live the longest.  But this is only if people wake naturally instead of with an alarm clock.  It is generally accepted that you have had enough sleep if you have no periods of tiredness through the day.


If you suffer from sleep problems the first thing to start with is to look at your sleep hygiene.

  • Keep the TV, computer, tablet, phone, anything with a bright screen out of the bedroom.  Artificial light can shift your circadian rhythm.
  • Sleep in complete darkness.  Even a little light can stop the creation of sleep hormones such as melatonin.
  • Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea or energy drinks after noon.  Some people can take as long as 18 hours to clear caffeine from their system so should not drink it at all.  Check out my blog article on caffeine for more information about its effects.
  • Try using an alarm clock with sleep stage monitoring.  This monitors what stage of sleep you are in so you are woken during a lighter sleep rather then a deep sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol.  Although this will initially aid going to sleep it gives a worse quality sleep and you can wake in the night.
  • Most sources say a routine is very important.  Counter to this is the theory that you should only go to bed when you are tired.  Try both and see what works best for you.
  • And last but certainly not least, exercise and diet. Regular exercise and a healthy diet will improve your sleep along with most other ailments.  Check out my blog article about exercise to learn more about how much we need.

If you are still having problems with your sleep some supplements may be helpful in the short term, but talk to your naturopath before trying anything.  Happy sleeping!



Ferrie JE, Shipley MJ, Cappuccio FP, Brunner E, et al. A prospective study of change in sleep duration: associations with mortality in the Whitehall II cohort. Sleep 30 (12): 1659–66.

Harvard Medical School: Healthy Sleep‐of‐sleep/why‐do‐ we‐sleep

Thase M. Depression and sleep: pathophysiology and treatment. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience 8 (2): 217–226.

Rowland R. “Experts challenge study linking sleep, life span”. CNN.

What’s the deal with fibre?


Fibre is a carbohydrate that is neither digested nor absorbed in the small intestine. High fibre diets are associated with lower cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer as well as improved cholesterol, irritable bowel disease, uptake of calcium, Mg and iron, and lower body weight. Fibre also helps us to feel full and improves our immune function. It reduces the prevalence and duration of infectious diarrhea and antibiotic use in children. Adequate fibre intake is also needed to prevent constipation.

I often write about the importance of our gut bacteria, or microbiome, and how dysbiosis of these bacteria is associated with many different health problems including weight gain, inflammation and depression. Fibre is what these bacteria need to grow. But different bacteria like to eat different types of fibre so to have a diverse microbiome it is important to eat a variety of high fibre foods. If these good bacteria don’t have enough food in the form of fibre, they may turn to eating the mucous lining of the gut causing chronic inflammation.

Increasing your fibre intake will have an effect on your gut bacteria within a few weeks, but fibre needs to be eaten every day. Bacteria don’t like being starved for even a day. And if you stop eating enough fibre, the gut bacteria will decrease again.

Studies show that gut bacteria decrease over generations of low fibre diets. So if you, your children, and your grandchildren all don’t eat enough fibre, you can actually wipe out entire species of bacteria. This leads to an increased risk for all the diseases associated with gut dysbiosis that I have previously discussed. And even if your great-grandchildren eat a super healthy diet with lots of fibre, they cannot increase the number of bacteria of a species that isn’t there to start with.


Some fibre foods that are great for specific health promoting bacteria are leeks, asparagus, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, wheat, oats, and soybeans. Other foods that are high in fibre include whole grains, legumes, fresh fruit, vegetables, and dried fruits.

Most people consume about 15g of fibre per day, but this is not enough to promote health. Fibre intake should be at least 25g/day.  This really isn’t hard to do. If you have muesli with almonds, sunflower seeds, sultanas and dried apple for breakfast, an apple for morning tea, a sandwich with 2 slices of wholegrain bread for lunch, a pear for a snack, and include brown rice and some carrots for dinner you will have consumed 26g of fibre.  Too easy!

When looking to increase the fibre in your diet, try to avoid white foods. Have sweet potato instead of white potato, brown rice instead of white (it tastes better anyway) and wholegrain bread instead of white bread. Increase your fibre intake slowly until you are getting at least 25g per day.

Start increasing your fibre intake today! Your gut bacteria will thank you (and so will future generations).

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about fibre here:

10% Human

Sailor kid looking ahead

I just can’t stop talking about the importance of healthy gut bacteria.  I borrowed the title for this article from a book I have been reading by Alanna Collen.  In it she discusses the importance of gut bacteria, also known as your microbiome.  The title refers to the percentage of our bodies that are actually human cells.  Of all the cells we walk around with each day, only 10% by number are actually our skin, blood, organs, tissues, etc.  The rest are mostly bacteria with some fungi and viruses. Slowly science is realizing just how important all these bugs in and on our bodies really are.  In order for us to evolve, we have had to hire out some of our essential functions.  These bacteria help break down plant fibers, fight off bad bacteria, create vitamin B12 and K and shape the intestinal wall just to name a few.  And in return we give them a nice place to live with lots of food.  But what happens when this symbiotic relationship gets disrupted?

Most people think their gut is only for digesting food, but in fact the digestive tract is the central area for the nervous, hormonal and immune systems.   This means that an imbalance in this area can have far reaching, and seemingly unrelated, effects throughout the body.

Improper or lacking gut bacteria (dysbiosis) are associated with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and food intolerances.  Any of these problems can cause debilitating symptoms.  Several autoimmune diseases are also associated with dysbiosis.  These include rheumatoid arthritis, MS, Type I diabetes and lupus.  Dollarphotoclub_64564172.jpg

Our digestive tract and our little bacterial friends play a role in regulating our mood.  One of the functions of gut bacteria is to make neurotransmitters such as GABA.  GABA is the calming chemical in the brain that decreases anxiety and helps relieve anxious depression.  Therefore a lack of gut bacteria can lead to anxiety and depression.  Gut bacteria are also involved in other mental health disorders.  A recent study found that supplementing a baby with probiotics (supplement form of good gut bacteria) decreased the incidence of ADHD when these children became teenagers.

Dysbiosis is also associated with autism, allergies, eczema, asthma, some cancers and obesity. And these are just the health problems we know of so far.  Research is only just beginning to understand the importance of the bugs that live in our digestive tract.  Scientists keep looking for a genetic cause for diseases because we have the technology to change some genes, at least for the coming generation.  But most of these disorders didn’t exist 100 years ago.  Human genetics have not changed that fast.  So that means something must have changed in our environment and lifestyles.



How to Keep Your Microbiome Happy

There are some things that disrupt our microbiome that we don’t have much control over. Caesarean sections save baby’s lives but this means that they don’t get exposed to mother’s bacteria in the vaginal canal at birth. Formula has also saved lives but formula does not expose the baby to mom’s healthy bacteria. When antibiotics are used correctly they save many lives but these can wipe out a lifetime of healthy gut bacteria leaving a very upset micro biome.  But there are many things you can do yourself to keep your little bacteria friends happy.

Eat fibre. Avoid sugar. Eat lots of fruit and veggies (with the skin on), legumes and whole grains such as brown rice and wholemeal bread. This provides great food for your microbiome as well as making sure everything keeps moving. Gut bacteria thrive on a variety of fibre so try not to eat the same things every day.  Bacteria don’t like it when stool sticks around too long so make sure you eat fibre every day. Sugar only helps to feed the bad bacteria so try to limit your intake.  Read here for more information on the effects of sugar on your body.

Don’t eat preservatives. Preservatives are designed to kill and stop the growth of bacteria, and that is just what they keep on doing inside your body. These pesky chemicals have only been in our diet for less than a century and they are wreaking havoc on our gut bacteria. Avoid products with preservatives listed. ‘Flavouring’ and ‘colouring’ are full of preservatives, which might not be listed separately on the label so avoid any products with these.   Product labels only have to show ingredients that are higher than 10 parts per million, but many preservatives are very effective at even this low level. Keep in mind that food manufacturers are out to make money so they may lie on their labels (even if it is illegal). So if there is a product that doesn’t go off within a few days, don’t eat it!


Buy organic from the dirty list. Pesticides are also designed to kill. Organophosphates have been banned in Europe and restricted in the US but are still widely used in Australia. These pesticides are linked to reduced IQ, weight gain, Type II diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Children under 7 years old do not have the enzyme required to excrete these chemicals from their little bodies so it just builds. The ‘dirty’ foods with the highest pesticide residues in Australia are, in order, apples, wheat, strawberries, pears, grapes, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, and tomatoes. To save money, buy these foods organic and buy foods from the ‘clean’ list conventional. The ‘clean’ foods are onions, sweet corn, pineapple, asparagus, sweet peas, mango, eggplant, kiwi and cabbage.  Here is a  link to the full American list for 2016.  This list is updated every year.

If you are worried about the state of your gut bacteria or already have symptoms of an imbalance, taking a probiotic supplement may help, but you should seek advice from your local naturopath to make sure you get a good quality one.

The bacteria in your gut are very important to your health and longevity. Be nice to them and they will be nice to you.

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about the importance of gut bacteria:

Stay Healthy This Winter (and all year long)


While it is summer for all of you in the northern hemisphere, it is 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.


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]

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.

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

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:

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.

Sugar. Is it really that bad?

Various kinds of sugar, brown, white and refined sugar

In short … Yes it is!

We hear a lot about sugar in the news lately.  Some say it is bad for us while others say it is ok … in moderation. I’ll get back to that moderation thing a bit later, but let’s first talk about sugar and what happens when we eat it.

When you eat sugar, your glucose, or blood sugar, levels rise. In response to this the pancreas excretes insulin in order to take the sugar out of the blood and use it for energy or to store it. We then feel hungry and want to eat again. This is a normal and necessary process in our bodies. The problems start to arise when we eat foods high in sugar but with little or no other nutrients.

Our bodies like to have a blood sugar level within a very narrow range.   When we eat an apple, the natural sugars in it are accompanied by fibre and other nutrients resulting in a slow release of the sugars inside. But when we eat cookies, lollies, soft drinks and fruit juices, the sugar is released into our bodies very quickly and we get a spike in our blood sugar and insulin levels. These levels then drop dramatically causing us to crave more sugar. These spikes can lead to diabetes, heart disease, anxiety and depression, stress, decreased ability to learn, fatigue, and headaches. And when we have more sugar than we need for energy, we store it as fat leading to weight gain.

Eating Sugar

Although exercise can help to burn off some of the calories in sugar, it still doesn’t stop the spikes from happening when we eat sugar. The sugar wreaks havoc on our bodies and also on our mental state and immune function.   And because sugar is digested so quickly, we feel hungry again very quickly so we are more likely to eat more calories.

There has been a trend to replace processed sugar with artificial sweeteners. These are actually worse for us. People who drink diet drinks are at a higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease than people who drink regular soft drinks. Diet drinks also cause the hormone leptin to drop, which triggers you to feel hungry so people end up eating more than they would have. And all soft drinks and many other sugary products contain preservatives and other chemicals, which cause another list of health problems.

Back to the topic of moderation. We often hear that you can consume certain unhealthy foods ‘in moderation’ as part of a healthy lifestyle. But what is moderation? Once a day? Month? Year? There is no definition of this term giving everyone an excuse to overindulge. And there are many sugar products that I think people should just never consume.


Next time you are at the supermarket, check out the labels on your favourite products. You may be shocked to find how much sugar is hiding there. Nutrigrain cereal is one product I have a particular problem with because it advertises itself as being healthy and for athletes, but I doubt any athlete eats 27% sugar for breakfast!  Other products to look out for are sauces.  Tomato sauce (ketchup) is 30% sugar.  Juices can be between 10 and 18% sugar – more than soft drink!!

If you have any questions about sugar, talk to your local naturopath. Try cutting down on your sugar intake and see how you (and your waistline!) feel.

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about sugar here:

Healthy No-Sweetener Banana Muffins


This is a great recipe for all those muffin lovers who don’t want the sugar. Banana bread really doesn’t need any sweeteners at all as long as you use super sweet overripe bananas. And the kids will love them!  Great for lunch boxes.

Makes about 36 muffins.


  • 2/3 cup melted coconut oil
  • 4 eggs, preferably at room temperature
  • 2 cups packed mashed ripe bananas (about 6 bananas)
  • ½ cup milk of choice (I used cow milk but you could make this dairy free by using almond milk)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp cloves
  • 3½ cups whole meal spelt flour
  • 2/3 cup whole oats


  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius fan forced (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Grease muffin tray with butter or coconut oil if necessary. I use a silicone tray that does not require it.
  2. Melt the coconut oil in a large bowl if it is solid. Beat in the eggs. Mix in the mashed bananas and milk, followed by the baking soda, vanilla extract, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
  3. Add the flour and oats to the bowl and mix with a large spoon, just until combined. If you’d like to add any additional mix-ins, like nuts, chocolate chips or dried fruit, fold them in now.
  4. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake muffins for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.

Place the muffin tin on a cooling rack to cool. You might need to run a butter knife along the outer edge of the muffins to loosen them from the pan. Enjoy muffins as is or with a spread of nut butter or regular butter.



This recipe was modified from one on Cookie + Kate: