Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Forget winter... EASTER IS COMING!

I bet you can imagine it now... The jittery excitement as you wait for the grill to finish its job. Then that hot, buttery bun with a hint of spice on your tongue. 

Or maybe you're a chocolate fiend, buying them by the dozen and finding they never... last... long... enough. 

Yes it's Easter and it's time for everyone to eat hot cross buns like they're going out of fashion! But have you ever wondered if these are good for you or not?

It's fair to say that a chocolate hot cross bun isn't the healthiest treat on the menu but, as a small part of a balanced diet, they won't hurt. To be on the healthier side, treat them as you would any discretionary delight and aim for moderation, one choccie bun every few days while they're available should be just fine for most people. (*Note they are higher in saturated fat than the other varieties available so if this is an issue for you medically, speak to your doctor or dietitian about appropriate consumption.)

Now, as for the traditional varieties, it really comes down to a matter of taste. Some love the fruits and some prefer them without. They both have their advantages; the added fruits give a burst of fibre, vitamins and minerals, but the fruitless is generally slightly lower in kilojoules. 

Nutritionally speaking, eating one hot cross bun is similar to two slices of buttered toast. So to stop you from 'blowing out,' try to keep your intake down to one bun per day over the Easter period. 

My friend Sandra over at Desire Nutrition is raising money for Beyond Blue this holiday period. So if you are looking for a worthy cause to support, send your 'dough' her way. 

Saturday, 5 March 2016

The 2015 Deakin Food and Nutrition International Study Tour – Asia Bound

When you’re a nutrition graduate, the job opportunities are highly competitive, as too are the post-grad options. Anything you do outside of your regular studies sets you apart from the crowd so when I was selected for this study tour I jumped at the chance to go!
It turned out to be a delicious and informative (and really, really, really hot) trek through Singapore and Malaysia… For foodies like me, it was a dream come true to be selected to eat my way through two countries! But it wasn’t just amazing food, we had multiple site visits each day with some of both countries’ most forward thinkers in the food industry, public health, government regulation, food service and innovation/sustainability sectors.
The purpose of the 2015 Deakin study tour was to teach key differences between nutrition/health-related sectors in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia  We learned about group behaviour, how to function in a professional manner in a different culture, problem solving, critical thinking and how to reflect on our assumptions/prior learning.

Differing Healthcare Standards

The healthcare systems in all three countries have their positives and negatives. Whilst they all claim universal healthcare, coverage for the population differs depending on location. Treatment options also depend on whether you have enough money to afford private health insurance. In all countries citizens with a higher socio-economic status (SES) tend to have better health outcomes. Rural areas in Malaysia and Australia have tend to have a lower SES, fewer healthcare options and people may need to travel for specialist care. For poorer members of society, this travel could be a barrier to treatment. Unfortunately, there are some concerns about the inequality growing between private and public healthcare.
Singapore and Australia have excellent policy and try out-of-the-box solutions to promote health. Their public health initiatives are plentiful and multi-tier to reach all members of society. Both
The extensive menu at Prince Court (Photo Credit: Kelly Ekenberg)
The extensive menu at Prince Court (Photo Credit: Kelly Ekenberg)
Australia and Singapore have public health websites that are easy to navigate with clear language, easy to understand for the layperson. Malaysia has good public health policy but an outdated website. Malaysia struggles to inspire the public with their health programs, as evidenced by their obesity epidemic.
Our Malaysian hospital visit was with the Prince Court hospital that caters to medical tourism. Their standard of care was very high and the walk-through of their kitchen facilities was very enlightening! Patients can order from a variety of dishes designed for different cultural backgrounds, their menus change seasonally and their kitchen facilities are top-notch!


The first thing that struck me about Singapore was how orderly everything was. It seemed to be a well-planned, educated country with a place for everything and everything in its place. It is clear a lot of forethought and planning went into the development of the small country of Singapore. Even with this in mind, there was a clear, visual divide in the areas of rich and poor, highlighted by the difference between the food on offer at the hawker centres and the luxury food ($75 for a bunch of grapes!) sold in department stores.
Healthier Choice Options (Photo Credit: Kelly Ekenberg)
Healthier choice options (Photo Credit: Kelly Ekenberg)
From a personal perspective, visiting Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HPB) and Healthy Living Festival was a highlight of the trip. Their aims are to have the population get active, eat smart, have health screening tests by a doctor, think positive and quit smoking. These five tenets are a good step towards a healthy life. Their work is supported by the government and are given free reign to try a range of health promotion initiatives to keep the population healthy. The HPB work with food companies, suppliers, supermarkets, the MRT, school and community workshops, and writing physical activity guidelines. It is a job that I don’t think you could ever get bored in because the scope is so large and the possibilities are endless.
One of the most interesting things the HPB have achieved is providing rebates to cooking oil suppliers to promote healthier oils. Instead of appealing to the public, who often don’t cook themselves, this means that the suppliers do all the health promotion work to receive their rebates.


Malaysia’s government supports the majority Muslim population by investing in the Halal Research Centre at University Putra Malaysia. The centre aims to work with food producers to provide halal food to consumers. I honestly didn’t think this would interest me too much, but it turned out to be one of the most fascinating visits! The research centre helps to find alternatives to the haram (forbidden) foods many Muslims are not allowed to eat and works with industry to tweak products with haram ingredients so they become halal. This includes not only food products, but pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and even tableware!
Healthier choice made aasy (Photo Credit: Kelly Ekenberg)
Healthier choice made aasy (Photo Credit: Kelly Ekenberg)
Another highlight was the visit to Kechara Soup Kitchen in Malaysia. It is a great example of a grassroots organisation working with the most marginalised members of society. Kechara provides hundreds of vegetarian food packets at their home-base and around the city each day. They also has a roving ambulance to treat minor injuries or transport sick people to the hospital. Their outreach work enables them to build trust with homeless people, connecting them to services or to help them find a room or a job.
Now, as I get ready for Trimester 1 to begin, I want to express how glad I am that I took this summer unit and I urge anyone reading to take an overseas study opportunity whenever possible. You’ll make life-long friends and learn practical information that will help you grow as a nutrition professional.
Big thanks to Deakin lecturers Susan Torres, Gie Liem and Megan Thornton for all their hard work in making this study tour possible.

This piece was originally published on Deakin Nutrition.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Be Well Week

Bowel Cancer is an issue I really care about, because it is so preventable!

This coming week is Be Well Week, a new initiative from Bowel Cancer Australia, in which we encourage ourselves and our friends to move more and be healthier. 

As I've previously referenced in this blog, bowel cancer is the fourth most common death from cancer. Many incidences of bowel cancer are highly preventable, just from living a healthy lifestyle!

And so I don't look like a hypocrite, I even signed up to 'Promise or Pay'  and will be tracking my steps with my Fitbit app. More steps than the previous week or I pay!

Will you sign up as well? There are lots of different options available at the Be Well Website and you can follow my posts on A Rational Fare and The Nutrition Press.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Monash's BND Careers Night- Part Two

Haven't read part one? Check it out here.

"One of the things that seems like a huge opportunity to me, as an outsider and particularly someone interesting in branding/marketing/communications ... is for you guys to start taking the narrative back from the self-appointed experts that are currently dominating the landscape."- Josh Sparks

Josh doesn't have a nutrition degree, but he has got a lot to offer in regards to business and marketing and I would love if he spent some more time talking to us, because you can tell there's a wealth of knowledge in there.

His top tip for marketing yourself or your business is to find your niche, find what differentiates you from Joe Blow down the street and clearly be able to articulate the features and benefits of your business, or yourself. To cut through the noise, you need to be able to know who you are.

As nutrition students, our courses do not go into internet use or marketing and many of us don't have any electives left after we do the extra dietetics units. The problem we have there is we go out into the world with all this amazing knowledge about food and the human body but no real clue about where to share it and how to get our information across in a way that the consumer will understand.
"The good news is everything that has already been discovered, all the smart guys and girls that have ever done anything great have written a book at some point"
The book Josh recommends is The Hero and the Outlaw (buy it in hardcopy or kindle here) but he says to also look at books written by people who run brands that YOU care about. The good thing about that is if you like their ethics and marketing you can emulate it in a way that truly reflects who you are as a health professional.
"The thing I love about working in paediatrics ... people don't tend to put their kids on fad diets" -Miriam Raleigh
Responding to diet trends can be difficult and you need to be diplomatic about it. You won't build rapport or trust by tearing someone else down. If someone comes to see you to ask how to make their fad diet better, you need to support them on their journey to a healthier body and keep it practical.

Trying to understand what the diets are about and the motivation behind the people touting them (and those falling for it!) is important because you can't fight what you don't understand. Seeing the positives is important.

Miriam sees a lot of good in the paleo diet, she just doesn't believe that it needs to be so extreme. She believes less processing, more home-cooked meals and fresh foods are fantastic, but how far people take it to the extreme end of the scale makes her mind boggle!

When these things get really heated in the media (refer to the recent blow-up between Pete Evans and dietitians) Miriam recommends that we keep to the facts. Keep to the science and keep your 'professional face' on. The last thing you want is to have your profession called out in front of 1 million people.

Karen recommends reading women's magazines and Sunday papers, because that's where the latest diet trends will crop up. What's trending is really important to keep abreast of, and this can also be done over Twitter. Hip new cafes are also a good place to research as you will learn all about the new popular foods

Karen likens diet fads to fashion, it all comes around again but with a slight twist. She also talks about how diet fads she thought were 'bunkum' 30 years ago turned out to actually have some science behind them. She says we should embrace the bloggers and the chefs. They are challenging us and it will make us stronger because it forces us to reflect and make sure we are on top of the latest science.

People want a quick solution to their problems, and that's why I feel these diet trends will keep perpetuating. Josh doesn't think we should give him a simple answer (to what is clearly very complex) but empathise with their need. Tell a story with your science simplified, engage them and get them excited to listen to you. 

Karen wants us to concentrate on the things that are going to cause harm, not the ones that won't hurt them.
"Never attack a person for their beliefs. Respect them ... You might challenge what they're saying, but don't challenge them on a personal level. There's more than one way to have a healthy diet" -Karen Inge
So keep an open mind and don't discount the trends as soon as they come out. As scientists, we need to be open-minded. More development and understanding more about food means that things WILL change.

When applying for jobs, the general advice is take whatever you can at first. The industry is quite competitive at the moment and any experience is good experience. Karen recommends volunteering, as they will 'feel bad' after a while and try to find some money to pay you. Or if a job comes up they will already know a lot about you and how well you work. Miriam agrees. She says once you become 'part of the furniture' they will want you to stay.

All experience is good experience. Head out to the country, try something you don't know much about, check public health and community health opportunities.

If you are thinking about private practice, Miriam's advice is to meet your referrers. Go and talk to them, put a face to the name and watch your referrals jump. Same as if you get a job in a gym, you can't just expect everyone will want to come and see you. Get yourself out there, talk to the staff and members. Selling yourself, in person or online using search engine optimisation, is a big part of private practice.

Karen's advice on writing a book for the average person: 
"We train in a very scientific way... The best thing I did is I bought a dictaphone and just talked into it. And then I got my secretary to type it up! That would be my first draft. So I would do the planning, and then I would speak. It was quite simple and it was the best way."
When writing her first book, Karen asked her sports dietetics colleagues to contribute to the book. They were acknowledged as contributors and they all recommended the book. That's the way, if you don't want to write every chapter yourself, get the people you know and admire to also contribute.

Karen finds it weird that dietitians aren't the ones running businesses like Jenny Craig or Boost Juice, and she postulates that it could be because, as health professionals, we are bogged down with HECS debts or not clear on how to run a business.

Josh says no one has the money to start a business, but Australia has an 'epic' amount of money just waiting to be invested. Private investors within your own network, aka angel investors, who believe in you, who know you have a cool idea, are where you should be looking before venture capitalists. there's tons of capital out there looking for a brain to back.  Many investors struggle to find smart, passionate people to put money behind. If you can show yourself as both of those, you could start your business.

I would like to say a public thank you to the panel for coming to speak to us, and to the BND Society of Monash Uni for inviting other students to the night. As students, we may have our 'dream job' but oftentimes it is best to be realistic about what is available and what we can really expect. I think these guys did a fantastic job of speaking honestly and clearly about our potential futures.

Professional organisations you might like to join:

Dietitian's Association of Australia
Sports Dietitians Australia
Sports Medicine Australia
Nutrition Australia
Nutrition Society of Australia
Coeliac Australia

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Monash's BND Careers Night- Part One

Tonight I made the trek down to Monash Uni in the pouring rain, confused myself trying to find a park in their strange colour-coded carparks with minimal signage and then wandered around lost until I stumbled upon lecture theatre H2. Luckily I wasn't late because I would have missed one of the most informative talks I've been to! I'm going to try and condense the full two hours into an easy-to-read summary.

Dietitians Karen Inge, Miriam Raleigh and Sarah Leung were there to tell us about their dietetic experience, and businessman Josh Sparks enlightened us with stories involving his decision to drop out of the fashion business and open up a series of healthy takeaway food bars called Thr1ve.

Poster courtesy of Monash Uni's BND Society

Josh's insights on the nutrition industry (from an outsider's perspective) were really eye-opening and his comments from a marketing point of view were really on point, as you will see below. Former lawyer and fashion guru, he brings an objective point of view and explains how he believes dietitians can take back control of the nutrition conversation from the celebrity bloggers.

Sarah is the new kid on the block when it comes to dietetics. Graduating only 5 years ago from Monash Uni, she now runs her own private practice. Sarah talks about the hard life of a 'travelling dietitian,' working out of multiple offices and feeling like her job was very mundane until a trip to the US showed her what the job could be. She started thinking about having a unique selling point to differentiate her from other private practice dietitians, and used her love of cooking/baking. After a false start (almost turning a GP's office into a Chinese take-away!), she assembled her own crack team of allied health professionals to work with. Her practice combines dietetics, cooking classes, massage, yoga, meditation and TCM (traditional Chinese medicine).

Miriam is a paediatric dietitian and Monash graduate. She knew she wanted to work with kids and although she got sidetracked with other jobs, she is now following her dream in her own practice. From the sounds of it, Miriam is very persistent and I loved her story about applying at a UK hospital until they got tired of her asking and gave her a job! She seemed slightly embarrassed by it, but jobs don't often just fall into your lap. So asking and chasing down your preferred employer is the smart way of doing it! Ten years later and she has her own private practice specialising in paediatric dietetics, and has even employed a staff member! She loves it because it is flexible and with two young kids of her own, is important for her.

Both Miriam and Sarah really stressed the importance of learning about business and marketing. They were both unsure at first but quickly learnt running a business was more than renting a room and getting an EFTpos machine!

Karen, as always, blew everyone away with her stories. Her long career coupled with her excellent public speaking, makes for an entertaining time and if you haven't heard her speak yet, make the time to see her when you can. She's sharp, funny and has a wealth of knowledge she wants to share with us! I'm not ashamed to say I adore her, and only slightly jealous of the students she chooses to mentor. I imagine this blog post will be a bit heavy on Karen, but she's great so you can't really blame me.

Karen explains about how she's continually has to reinvent herself and keep the career interesting. She's 38 years in and still loves what she does. If that isn't a glowing recommendation for being a dietitian then I don't know what is! She talks about the days when there were more jobs than dietitians and that multiple hospitals were all begging for her to come work for them. If only it were like that now! Her career has taken her from Melbourne hospitals, to bossing around footballers, to overseas study tours with top dietitians and olympic athletes, to high-profile media spots, her own books, consultancies with large food companies and almost everything in between! Now she spent a lot of time giving back to the community and helping young dietitians.

Karen talks about her career with sports nutrition and says that you don't have to be a athlete to teach athletes how to eat well. It reminds me of the saying, 'Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.'

Nathan (one of the students) asked a great question about how to get athletes to listen to you, when you aren't 'one of them.' Karen explained how she went for the star players and got them on board by teaching them how to cook, and teaching them about good nutrition. They would then rally the other guys in the team to listen to her. It makes a lot of sense to go this way, because then you only have to engage one or two people instead of the whole team.

Josh tells us about how excited he was to see an under served nutrition market. As an entrepreneur, seeing something that people could become emotionally engaged with really appealed to him. He looked to break down confusion on the customer's behalf and engage them with healthy food that is simple to understand and visually appealing.

Josh talked about his successes and failures. He says he learned a lot from his failures and it has helped him to build a better business today. Leaving work that may have paid more and striking out on his own to pursue his passion left him feeling more fulfilled as a person. Karen agrees, talking about her rejections and how they affected her personally. But that these knockbacks ended up making her more resilient. "Think of it as a Cha-Cha, a dance" rather than a step back.

The team listed qualities that they believed would make a successful dietitian:

  • Persistance
  • Good communication skills
  • Ability to build good working relationships
  • Public speaking skills
  • Blogging/use of social media
  • Being innovative
  • Ability to clearly articulate your 'story' or message.

Mentors can go a long way to helping you learn how to communicate. They also get to know  you as a person and coupled with their 'been there, done that' experience, they can guide you into experiences you may not have thought of, but will give you good advice based on your strengths. Karen says a good mentor should be honest with you and help you to be a good dietitian. 

Miriam says she has had a few mentors, some she has sought out for an informal relationship. She stresses that your mentors don't necessarily have to be dietitians, it could be a business coach etc.

Josh, from a more cut-throat industry, admired the way mentors can be in this field and offers this: "If you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice." 

He then explained that when you ask for advice, build a mentor relationship... later down the track they are more likely to offer you investment money. On the flip side, someone who doesn't want to invest in you will often give you advice instead.

I also want to add in another piece of advice he was given: "You tear their eyes out or they''ll tear your eyes out." It really shows the difference between the commercial and the allied health worlds.

Click through to part two...

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Just bragging but also a little advice...

I got a job working in the Head Office of a large food manufacturing company and it's fantastic! The job itself is not very exciting (it's literally just data entry and only a temp position) but I am learning so much about the kinds of things I'll need to focus on in my studies, and the potential I have to now jump to another position after this one end is priceless. 

Everyone says, "You need a job to get experience but how are you meant to get experience without a job?" 

My advice? Figure out where you want to work and hound them until you get a job! Think outside the box. Don't wait for jobs to be advertised and fight 50 other applicants with the same degree and experience. Get in before that, offer to volunteer your time or just come in one day a week. Use your current skills and try for a job in a different area of the company. Once you're in, it's easier to switch departments.

It won't be easy but it will pay off!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Dietary Fibre

Dietary fibre is an important part of the human diet. It is a major determinant of gut health and plays a large role in protecting against bowel cancer. Although it provides virtually no nutrients or energy, it is crucial for fermentation in the large intestine, leading to microbial growth. This is known to form larger stools and shorten the amount of time it takes for the waste to pass through the intestines. Most dietary fibres are polysaccharides, strings of monosaccharides linked together. Lignins, cutins and tannins are some of the non-polysaccharides that are classed as dietary fibre.

The main health benefit of fibre is faecal bulk. Soluble fibre ferments in the gut, creating short-chain fatty acids along with bulky stools able to easily clear out potential carcinogens. As soluble fibre meets water and forms into a gel, the muscles along the digestive tract find it easier to push the food along until it is passed out as waste. Lack of fibre in the diet contributes to constipation and it can affect up to 30% of the population, especially pregnant women and older people.

Currently, Australian adults are not meeting the recommended amount of fibre in their diets, with an estimated intake of only 20-25 grams. Though the gap has been closing in recent years, the high incidence of bowel cancer in Australia means we should not rest on our laurels.

So what exactly IS this magical thing you call fibre?

Soluble fibre is so named because the fibres will dissolve in water. Soluble fibre is glutinous; it is fermentable in the large intestine (e.g. pectins, some hemicellulose and psyllium). Soluble fire is essential for diabetics as it slows down glucose absorption in the blood, preventing a flood of insulin release.

Insoluble fibre is, conversely, fibre that will not dissolve in water. It is opposite to soluble fibre in that it doesn’t form into a gel in water and is not fermentable. The insoluble fibre is what makes up the bulk of the faecal matter and promotes regular bowel movements. It is the major property of fruit and vegetable skins, whole grains, brown rice and legumes.

Starches are long chains of glucose molecules that are broken down by the body into glucose. They boost the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which in turn enhances the benefits of soluble fibre and improves large bowel function.

Phytic Acid is technically not classed as a dietary fibre but because is it often found in the same foods as both soluble and insoluble fibre. Phytic acid may be responsible for binding with minerals to prevent their absorption.

Further important health benefits of dietary fibre include:
  • Low blood cholesterol
  • Weight control
  • Slower glucose absorption
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer prevention- particularly colorectal (bowel) cancer.

Lower your cancer risk

Colorectal cancer makes up approximately 9% of all cancer diagnoses worldwide and is the fourth most common cause of cancer death. It is the second most common cancer to be developed by women and the third most common for men. A large percentage (almost 60%!) of cases are in developed countries, with Australia and New Zealand having some of the highest rates of incidence in the world.

The Aune et al. meta-analysis of 19 quality studies found that higher intakes of fibre and wholegrains are directly associated with a decrease in bowel cancer risk. They found that for every extra 10g/day of fibre consumed, the risk of bowel cancer reduced by 10%!

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends that high-fibre grain foods make up 1/3 of Australians’ diet. Adults are recommended to consume between 25-30 grams of dietary fibre per day, whilst very young children should consume at least 14 grams.

There is a mountain of evidence supporting the addition of extra fibre in the diet, but be aware that lifting the level of fibre too quickly may lead to a bit of bloating and flatulence! Foods have different levels of soluble and insoluble fibre, and the levels change according to how they are prepared. 

To increase your fibre and resistant starch intake:
  • Snack on nuts
  • Substitute white bread with wholemeal or multi-grain bread
  • Use brown rice instead of white
  • Eat whole-wheat pasta, and serve ‘al dente’ 
  • Include oats or bran in your breakfast routine
  • Leave the skin on your fruits and vegetables
  • Add lentils or beans to meat dishes
  • Try to eat at least five serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruits each day
  • Cooked and cooled potato is very high in resistant starch
Fibre intakes over 40 grams a day can be linked with malabsorption of some minerals. The key is to eat a varied diet each day, don't stress about junk foods in moderation and enjoy life!

If you have any concerns about your bowel health, see your G.P.