Why I love oats and why they love you back (if you’re not gluten-free)

The reasons I love oats, are not based on any intellectual reason to do with their nutrient composition or versatility. But because every time I have a bowl of porridge or smell ANZAC biscuits cooking, I am transformed back to childhood and so many comforting memories, from parties with friends, the smell of mum baking in the kitchen, or even watching She-ra and other cartoons while eating breakfast before going to school 🙂

So when I began my Spring Pantry Challenge this week, and I set myself the challenge to clean out my pantry one shelf at a time and I started with the top shelf (where all the baking items are) I decided it was as good an opportunity as ever to make some ANZAC biscuits and in the process, share some of the other cool attributes of oats.


Oats are considered a colonic food (it’s a little different to a prebiotic in that pre-biotics only “feed” the good bacteria, whereas colonic foods feed the good bacteria, but may also be metabolised by the more “on the fence” bacteria. For people following FODMAPs diets though, oats are great because they are one of the options still on the menu to support the colon. In naturopathy (and Chinese medicine) oats are considered “supportive of the nervous system” and eaten as porridge they’re a good remedy for people who are weak and deficient. Interestingly one of my reference books says that oat water or porridge can “help ward off contagions” which sounds a little vauge, but might be explained by some research which shows the soluble oat fibre beta glucan may stimulate the immune system . In addition, beta glucan is also helpful for lowering total and LDL cholesterol levels. Unfortunately if you have coeliac disease or a gluten-sensitivity, oats are off the menu for you but don’t worry, we’ll talk about great gut foods for you when I get to that shelf of the Pantry Spring Clean:-)


  • Lecture notes from The Gastro Intestinal Masterclass (via Health Masters Live) by Jason Hawrelak PhD. 2013.
  • Murphy et al., (2008) Benefits of oat beta-glucan on respiratory infection following exercise stress: role of lung macrophages. Am JPhsiology. Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology 294(5):R1593-9.
  • Othman et al., (2011) Cholesterol lowering effects of oat-bran beta glucan. Nutr. Rev. 69(6):299-309
  • Pritchford, P. (2002) Healing with whole foods: Asian traditions and modern nutrition (3rd Edn). North Atlantic Books, California, USA.
  • Rogers, J. (2005) What food is that? & how healthy is it? New Holland Publishers, Australia.
  • Shepherd and Gibson (2011) Food intolerance management plan: Based on the low-FODMAP diet. Viking (Penguin Publishing Group), Australia.

4 examples of why it’s NEVER a simple question

On the internet, you see advice thrown around all the time, and as a clinican, usually when what I do comes up in the conversation, it’s not uncommon for people to ask me “simple” questions about their health, and what things they can try to help with their “simple” problem.

My response of “hmm…” and “I really can’t give an answer without a consult” is not really the answer they’re hoping for. After all, there’s advice being flung about all over the internet and (offline) so why am I hedging? Am I just trying to weasel out a consult?

The short answer is no. If you want the longer answer… then here it is.

The real reason why I (and other naturopaths) really can’t give answers to “simple questions” asked in social situations or via text, comment, or message (private or public) is because of something called Duty of Care which means that legally, I have to make sure that the information I give to people doesn’t harm them. In order to find out that my “simple” advice to your “simple” problem is actually the right kind of advice, I have to ask so many more questions.

“But my question really is just a simple question…” you might be thinking. Well here are some examples of when it wasn’t just a simple question.

“What is good for cramps?”

How many people right now want to jump in and give advice? Anyone? Rather than giving this person the sort of advice you might hear be bandied about, I recommended this particular person go to the doctor, or to the hospital before I could talk with them.

If you’re wondering why that is, it’s because I received this message at a very unusual hour. Which made me think that the person asking it was in serious discomfort to contact me at such an hour. And even if I hadn’t had that tiny little red flag to go on, these are just some of the things I want to know before I’d give any advice to a “simple” question like this:

  • What kind of bloating is it? Is it associated with the menstrual cycle? If so- is it mid-cycle or during menstruation? Is there spotting associated? Or if not, is it associated with digestion? And bowel movements?
  • How painful are we talking?
  • Is it located to one side?
  • Has the person had a temperature?
  • How long have they had the pain for?
  • What medications have they taken for the pain? (what medications are they taking generally? & over the counter products?)

This is only the tip of the ice-berg of the questions I’d want to ask.

Without being able to ask more information and seeing the person, you can’t give this person any advice. It could be anything from appendicitis to ovarian cysts and many many other conditions and as it turns out it was something serious, and it was good that I’d recommended what I did.

As a naturopath I’m not a diagnostician (like House from the popular TV show, or even your local GP), but I am trained to see red flags which tell me when a situation is more than a “simple question” and when they need to see a doctor ASAP.

A lot of the people willing to give health advice on such little information as we had above are either completely untrained in pathophysiology (and there are courses out there in the health sphere that do release graduates who don’t have an understanding of these issues) or they are well meaning people with no formal education in health unaware of the potential serious conditions these innocent questions can indicate or… worst case scenario they could be genuinely trying to help but see an opportunity to make a dollar (eg. multi-level-marketing consultants often give nutritional advice and promote sales of their products without having any formal training in nutriton at all).

So as it turned out…fortunately for this person, I recommended a visit to the hospital and they found out there was a serious medical reason for the pain.  But how many other people would have jumped in with the usual kinds of online recommendations you get nowadays? eg. green smoothie? probiotics? ….coconut oil? turmeric?

How about another one: “What’s good for anxiety and stress?”

Hmm…. ok…. I’ve been asked this one so many times that if I had a birthday for everytime it was aked I’d be ancient. Rather than rushing in with some of the more common suggestions you’ll see, some of the many questions I’d want to ask are:

  • Are you drinking coffee? if so how much?
  • How much sleep are you getting?
  • What is your diet like? Are there any food intolerances?
  • Are you on medications?
  • How old are you? What gender?
  • What medications are you taking?

This is just the tip of the ice berg on this one.

But you know the advice I see given most often? Go gluten free or increase the protein.

While this advice may or may not be valid, there are soooooo many other things which could be contributing to the problem and you can’t assess that without a far more detailed conversation.

How about another… “Oh you work in fertility? Got any tips to help us conceive? We’ve been trying for a while.”

  • How long is awhile?
  • When during your cycle are you trying?
  • What is your cycle like?
  • How old are you both?
  • What is your diet like?
  • what medications are you taking?
  • Are there any health conditions or issues in your health history which could impact on your fertility?

I don’t expect the person to know which conditions can have an impact on their fertility, its why I take 90 minutes in my initial consult because I have a whole list of things I ask in this situation and generally him and her when it comes to fertility.

And if you want one more… “My child has stomach aches and cries a lot. What should I do?”

You can guess what my advice is when I see this one in a forum…Thats right – see the doctor!  Babies and toddlers cry for many reasons.

  • How old is the child?
  • Do they have blood in their poo?
  • How often is “a lot”?
  • Are they sick?
  • Are they eating/ drinking?(and if so what / how much…)

and so so so many more questions I’d want to ask (and if its a child my first question is usually “Have they seen the doctor?” and if the answer is no then my only advice is to go to the doctor first. It’s because there are literally SO MANY THINGS that can be going on with kids some that I have some great options for and some that I dont and I’m not going to take that chance with someone’s child.

The sad thing is my rational response  is usually the only comment on the page that gets no “likes” or “thank yous”. I wont tell you some of the ridiculous things which get recommended and do get the likes and thank yous, because I’d hate for someone to scroll through this post because they’re too busy to read it and just see that and mistakenly think that was something I was suggesting! Which really leads to another problem I see out there… but that’s an issue for another post.

So I hope you can begin to understand why “simple questions” aren’t really simple. Were you ever given the “hmmm” response to what you thought was a simple question? Or do you see a lot of “simple questions” being asked where you hang out? What do you think about that now?

Is almond milk really a source of protein?

almond milk red pill

The truth can seem a difficult pill to swallow… but as my friend Dr. Jane Philpott from Cooking for health  says aim to “eat plants not pills”.

If you’ve been online and looking at natural health related information for a while now, you’ve no doubt seen all sorts of health claims about foods regarding their nutritional properties or benefits of consuming certain foods like for example:

  • Almond milk is a high in protein.
  • Almond milk is high in calcium.
  • Almond milk has half the calories of regular milk and
  • Coconut milk is so good for you (or coconut anything is soooo good for you).

Well, rather than just tell you whether or not these statements are true, I believe its far more useful to help you develop some skills and show you how you can use some simple tools that are already available to you to begin to deconstruct these messages for yourself.

and I mean tools like:

  • the nutrition information panel on the food packaging and where to find this if your food doesn’t have packaging
  • a calculator – like the one that is on your phone
  • a simple set of kitchen scales
  • willingness to find out that the answer might be different than you want it to be

In fact developing these skills is absolutely essential.


Because without them, you’re bound to fall prey to every promising headline, advertisement and article that you come across.

And this actually matters, you get some of this stuff wrong and at best you’re feeling fatigued but at worst, you’re setting yourself up for increased risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, anemia, neurological damage, menstural irregularities and many other health problems.

I’m all for eating healthy but I often see people going out of their way to eat particular foods because they believe them to be healthy, or eat in a particular diet style because they believe it to be healthy possibly because some kind of gorgeous celebrity recommended it, or someone they perceive to be a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner recommended it, or a publication they percieve to be reputable published it. Without developing some of these basic but essential skills, then it’ll be harder for you to decide whether or not you should ‘go nuts’ about a particular food or ‘take it with a pinch of salt…’

So if you’re ready click on the video below.

(Btw. I actually like almond milk and I make it at home sometimes).

What other health claims have you heard that you’d like to better investigate? Write them in the comments below, or head on over to facebook and let me know:-)

Sweet-things, seasonings, snacks and spreads: Part 5 (the final) part of the fridge & pantry review!

Woo hoo! It’s time for Part 5. The last of the videos in my Fridge & Pantry Review (of 35 products).

Today I cover the more “fun” part of the pantry and fridge like:

  • snacks – what I have on hand to serve when I have guests coming over.
  • sauces (for salads = salad dressings:-)
  • sweet things (like desserts and sugar alternatives like rice malt syrup and coconut syrup (and how you can use it!)
  • spreads (the difference between hulled and unhulled tahini and other nut spread options and how to use them)
  • hot drinks – with my clinic approach to cutting out (or down) the caffeine.
  • with recipe ideas and time saving short cuts!

coffee and cup

Generally I find that when people change their diet, it’s not the 95% that’s still largely the same (eg. all those veggies and whole grains or legumes that are still suitable despite their food intolerance) that they miss.  Rather it’s the 5%, the little treats and things that have been associated with fond memories and comfort that people miss the most. Missing these foods can often be the cause of “undoing” when people don’t have more immediate reasons for changing their diets (unlike with a severe allergy, with food intolerances, so many people choose to put up with unpleasant side effects rather than maintain a diet change in the long term).  So this part of the review is realising that for long term sustainable changes (so we can maintain our health after we’ve gained it), we really need to have on hand some great options that still give the comfort, but suit our new dietary guidelines and you’ll really be surprised, we are so luncky right now because there are more options out there than ever before…

So without further ado… if you’re as excited about Part 5 as I am, click on the link below to check it out:-)

I’ve designed these resources so that you may come back to them again and again and from now on you’ll be able to find all the links right here in the free resources page.

So did you learn about some new options here you didn’t know about previously? Let me know by leaving a comment below:-)

Part 4 Time-saving lunch & dinner options – from the Fridge & Pantry Review

In this part of the review, I go through some time-saving lunch and dinner options.

If  you recall in video 1 I talk about the naturopathic food hierarchy, where we’d love it if everyone could always eat organic fresh whole foods, grind out own flour etc, but the reality is that most people don’t have the time, the space or the money to eat 100% organic all the time.

Also, when you’re first changing your diet over, there are so many new things to take on board which takes up a lot of time but also emotional and mental energy. (Like learning to)read labels, trying new recipes (which always take a lot longer the first time you cook them!) and just generally changing your shopping habits, especially if your local supermarket doesn’t stock everything you need anymore).

So having some time-saving options like some healthier or what I refer to as “quick from scratch” or “home fast food” (which are basically meals which although made from packaged ingredients are the best options among those like this one in the picture below.

After you watch the 10 minute video, you’ll be able to put this together in <15 minutes too.
This is one of my all time time-saving favourites.
The ingredients are in the video but this picutre and the method isn’t.

Basically, heat up some well rinsed canned chickpeas (I give you some guidelines on what to look for when it comes to canned), add your favourite pre-made sauce (or use your own that you can make in bulk and have on hand). Heat it all up then serve it over baby spinach. I’ve used the organic spinach thats in the video as I am a shocking gardener and the only thing thriving in my backyard is the italain parsley my dad planted and the aloe vera I bought after a herbal medicine retreat years ago sadly its the only survivor from the many herbs I bought;-) Anyway, I digress, do  what works for you to get the fresh greens in your life:-)

STP83956All this is from “packaged” ingredients, but it’s as close to whole foods as you can get for this sort of convenience and even better you don’t require any fancy cooking equipment!

So if check out video 4.  where I cover:

packaged whole foods

  • Some quick filling lunch options
  • Crackers that are crunchy (not cardboardy)
  • A dairy and soy-free cheese alternative that actually tastes like cheese
  • salad veggies
  • As well as some packaged dinner options
  • Premade sauces
  • Canned legumes (and what to look for when buying canned foods)
  • Grain options like rice and quinoa
  • Gluten-free pastas
  • And of course…. recipe ideas

So click here to view Part 4 of the review

Did you find this video helpful? Let me know by leaving a comment.

Next up is Part 5. The final part in this review. In part 5  I cover

  • sauces
  • condiments
  • hot drinks
  • desserts
  • sugar alternatives
  • dips
  • and more!

If you can’t wait until next week, and want to watch the whole 57 minute review in 1 go, then click here.

Did you watch Part 1 and Part 2 & 3? You can catch up on the videos here.

Pantry & Fridge Review: 35 foods to have on hand Part 1

I remember the first time I saw a naturopath, and then again after I’d began studying naturopathy how it felt to go shopping and scour the shelves looking for the item that had been recommended. I felt a bit like this.

overhwelmed shopping(what on earth is kwin-oh-ah?)

There’s so much information out there, and applying it with a real-world context can seem so foreign when so much of the information is nutrient focused rather than food focussed. eg:

  • Ok… sure I know I need to eat more fibre… but what does that look like when I go shopping?
  • Or..Ok so I need reduce the animal products in my diet. Right. But what do I eat and cook now?
  • Or Is there enough calcium in plant-based milks? (how do I know?)

So I’ve put together a review of 35 foods I have in my fridge and pantry to help people starting out on a healthier diet or people with a food intolerance (eg. to dairy or gluten) or people transitioning to a more plant based diet to have some ideas of the sorts of foods they can have on hand with some additional time saving tips for preparing and ways to serve some of these foods.

I believe nutrition is one of the biggest needle-movers when it comes to your health. There’s more than enough research out there to show that eating well can help prevent your chances of getting a chronic illness, and reverse  some of them when they occur (eg. Dr. Dean Ornish’s study on reversing heart disease with a plant-based diet that is pretty cool science).

Other reasons I LOVE nutrition as a clinical tool are that:

  • it doesn’t need to be expensive (especially when eating plant-based)
  • it doesn’t require people to remember to do more things (like take a supplement or herbal blend before food or after food etc.)
  • you can see results surprisingly fast

So the things I’m going to cover in this introductory video (which is Part 1 of 5).                           Are:

  • A summary of the other videos in this review and the area’s I’m covering in this review, like milk alternatives and breakfast foods, lunches and dinners and desserts and snacks (and many more).
  • A bit about me and my education and why I put this review together.
  • Who this review is suitable for
  • What factors influence which foods end up in our shopping trolley (and consequently fridge and pantry)(you might be surprised)
  • A mini explanation of the naturopathic food “hierarchy” (and how to make choices that fit in with your lifestyle, financial situation and available time or tools to prepare foods).

So click on the image or link below to watch Part 1. Of my review.

Click here to view Part 1.

Then make sure you jump straight in to video 2.

Because in there we begin looking in the fridge and pantry and we cover a mini label reading lesson.

Did you find this video helpful? I’d love your feedback. Please leave a comment below.


Pantry and fridge review: 35 products Part 2 & 3 Milk alternatives, breakfast options and reading labels

reading labels

Labels can be confusing and figuring out where to begin with them can be tricky (not just from a teaching standpoint either!).

This video is the longest of the 4 in the review because it includes Part 2 and 3 in the same clip, Part 2 is where I talk about milk alternatives & begin looking at labels. & Part 3 I cover breakfast foods.

If you lived in Adelaide and had a consult with me, we could go through the label reading 1:1 in the shops, but since many of you reading this don’t live locally, I thought I’d walk through a mini lesson with a video and give you some skills you can practice yourself right after watching this video.

When it comes to making decisions about what you buy, like I said in Part 1, there are a lot of factors influencing it. Including:

  • The information gained from your own research
  • The information provided by your healthcare practitioner
  • The information gleaned from your social networks
  • The information gleaned from advertising on the packaging itself
  • Your available resources (money, time)
  • Your nutritional hierarchy (which is also a combination of the above).

So if you see some things in my fridge or pantry that surprise you as we go through these videos,  we’ll go through all of this in much more detail as we continue our time together on this blog, so that you can make nutritional decisions for yourself and your family that aren’t influenced by hype and popular opinion (often made to look like fact).

So the things covered in Part 2 & 3 of this Fridge & Pantry Review are:

  • Dairy-free and plant-based milk alternatives (I go through 2 main ones) as well as things to look for if you have special dietary needs.
  • I provide a mini label reading lesson and cover 3 things to look for on labels and show you where to look, as well as explaining why some nutrient enrichments may be appropriate for certain people (we look at protein, calcium, B12 and vitamin D).
  • I also cover 3 breakfast options (muesli, smoothie and puffed amaranth) including 4 ways to enhance your breakfast for a bigger nutritional punch (specifically we look at, nuts and seeds, LSA, Chia and frozen blueberries).
  • With some excellent recipe ideas for how to prepare these to save some time (eg. how to make your porridge cool down quicker, how to transform your puffed amaranth into a breakfast the kids will love and how to increase the nutritional punch of your muesli).

Click here or on the picture below to watch the video.

Did you find this useful? I’d love your feedback.

In Part 4 I talk about time-saving lunch and dinner options (including a dairy free cheese alternative that actually tastes like cheese – the dairy-free reading this will really appreciate this!;-)

If you just can’t wait for Part 4 to be released and want to watch it now,  enter your email address in the hot pink box below and you’ll receive the full link along with the free e-book Everyday foods for everyday people.



Leaving a bad taste in your mouth


Earlier in the year I was in a creative cooking mode…. Preparing to launch my free ebook for the website, part of a much bigger project I’ve been working on for the last 5 years when something weird happened that prompted me to do some searching and that was when I learned something new.

Something which left a bad taste in my mouth.

And might in yours too.



You see, there are a series of odd things that can occur to present a challenge when you’re putting recipes together like, colds (can’t smell a thing…. Makes recipe testing a little challenging), gastro…(don’t want to eat a thing) but pine mouth… well that was one I’d not heard of before, but I could imagine it messing up a contestants chances on a show like MasterChef!

Well, today I present the Freaky Food Files, or, as I’ll refer to them, the F files (yes, I was a fan of the x-files back in the day, so it seems only fitting). I think the motto here will be “the food is out there”;-) So here goes…

What is pine mouth?

It’s not an allergy or a food intolerance – but it is an odd reaction to consuming a food.

Odd like some people cant taste quinine or some people have an unusual scent in their urine after they eat asparagus. And Odd because there’s no real way of telling who is going to react to it.

pesto1This is my pesto recipe from the free ebook…I make it without pine nuts now!

It’s also known as pine nut syndrome.

Basically after consuming 3 pine nuts or more, some people develop an odd, persistent bitter/metallic taste in their mouth which is worsened by food and drink.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell when you’re eating the nuts that this reaction will occur, there is no obvious sign… they just look and taste like any other innocent nut…. Or any other delicious recipe containing them…but 1-3 days later the persistent bitterness develops.

And it makes everything taste horrible.

As far as authorities can tell it isn’t due to pesticide residues or fungal residues and there appears to be no long term health consequences from it, but it can last anywhere from a few days, to two weeks with some cases reporting up to 9 weeks. There has been some research done which has looked into what could be causing the symptoms. So far they’ve looked into:

  • If it is species or product specific (they have identified at least one species of pine nut which can cause it, but it is hard to identify specific products as pine nuts in certain products may come from a range of places)
  • Fatty acid metabolites to see if the taste is due to the rancidity of the oils within the nut (but the take home here is that it doesn’t explain why the taste would persist for so long.
  • Reflux of fatty acids through liver re-absorption from digestion, their conclusion of these studies are that this could explain the delay in onset, but not the length of symptoms.

As an ex-scientist and naturopath, this would usually fascinate me, but after developing a persistent and horrible odd bitter taste after making my first attempt at what I thought was a really yummy dairy and gluten free pesto I wasn’t so much fascinated as just desperate for whatever this was to pass. Everything I ate or drank from water to chai, cereal to legumes, salad to my pear and cherry crumble, all had this underlying bitter -resiny note. I’d describe it like the taste of a bitter zucchini, or a bitter herb (only I wasn’t taking herbs) and so I thought I’d research potential causes and reasons (and book in to see the doctor if necessary).

palakpaneer chad1(This was my all-time favourite pinenut recipe by Chef Chad Sarno featured in Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet. It’s a palak paneer and it is absolutely delicious).

It was somewhat difficult to put the finishing touches on recipes when everything tasted bad, and practically impossible to create new ones. I was grateful that neither of my kids seemed afflicted though.

The actual incidence of pine mouth syndrome in Australia is reasonably uncommon, mostly because the Chinese are making some effort to make sure the pine nut species it has been linked to, aren’t shipped internationally. Also there are a range of other health conditions which can cause persistent odd tastes, bitter or metallic, ranging from GORD (gastro oesophageal reflux disease), neurological issues, dental issues to pregnancy just to name a few so if you’re having taste changes, don’t automatically assume it’s pine mouth, go and get things checked out with your doctor first)(as it happens, I’ve had tests for all of these recently with various medical specialists).

So whether or not I actually had pine mouth, we will never know, I can only imagine how tricky this would be if you were a parent of an already fussy child (or even one who wasn’t because what I experienced was enough to put me off of my favourite bliss balls and broccoli). It could be worse still for people who are recovering from various medical conditions and who really need to be bringing up their strength and nutrition.

Pinemouth 3

Anyway, that’s all for this freaky food file.

I hope you found it interestingJ

Please share if you know anyone who would be interested in this.



Calcium: 35 non-dairy, soy or enriched plant-based sources

Last newsletter I promised a list of 25 calcium containing foods that were free of all of the things that usually appear on calcium lists… dairy, enriched soy and salmon, well once I started I couldn’t stop at 25 so I’ve given you 35. I wish I had this list years ago!!

35 Plant based dairy soy and non enriched sources of calcium



















There are some interesting things on the list above… Do you see them?

  • The amounts for raw, frozen and cooked vary
  • Like with the previous discussion, we need to consider the serving size
  • I put daikon radish, turnip, mustard and dandelion greens on the list just for a curiosity factor. They’re all a little “exotic” for my local supermarket (and yes, I realise dandelion is a weed, but unless you’re a very competent gardener or you know the difference between your herbs without a doubt, I wouldn’t recommend picking and eating what you think is dandelion)

How much do you need?
Before we discuss these points, let’s put the above list into some context first. How much calcium do we need? Over the last few weeks I’ve referred to RDIs and upper limits. If you haven’t heard this term before, this is what RDI means:
RDI stands for Recommended dietary intake and it represents the average daily dietary intake that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements for 97-98% of individuals in a certain life stage and gender group (http://www.nrv.gov.au/introduction.htm).  In the USA you might see this written as RDA.
The RDI is based on the EAR which stands for Estimated Average Requirement and it represents the average nutrient amount that is sufficient to meet the nutrient needs for half of the individuals in a certain life-stage and gender group (http://www.nrv.gov.au/introduction.htm).
So basically, the RDI’s are sufficient for most people some people actually need less than this to remain healthy, but a 2-3% might need a bit more. Check out the table below for the calcium RDI’s.

Calcium RDI







Putting the list of 35 foods into context: Servings and consequences.
In the above table I listed all the foods from the resources I looked at which provided 100mg of calcium per 1 cup serving (and I added in a couple more that came just under, but were probably still present in the average diet and easy to get from most local supermarkets like frozen broccoli or chickpeas).

So lets look at a serving size…
1 cup of dried mung beans are looking like a pretty good source of calcium… the only problem is it is dry . Generally when cooking legumes you’ll soak them and by the time you’ve cooked them, they’re about double the amount you started with. Legumes are a great source of fibre… eg. They’re pretty filling, some people, eg. Children would find it hard to eat that many legumes in a day let alone in a serve. So for the practical amount of calcium in mung beans, consider how much you are actually likely to eat.

What come’s with the nutrient you are interested in?

Another thing to consider when looking at the servings is what comes along with that amount of a particular food, eg, olives are also high in sodium (especially when considering some of the brine they are prepared in), or tahini is also quite high in fat, the amount of calories in a cup of tahini is huge. Lastly, with spirulina, in order to get that much calcium, you’re likely over-doing a number of other nutrients (I wouldn’t recommend a cup a day!). So when it comes to the above list, be mindful of what else you’re getting in a serving of that size. Think about total calories, fat, sodium and other minerals or vitamins which might be over-consumed.

The last observation I’d like to begin to discuss is the discrepancy between the “fresh and cooked” or “cooked from frozen” veggies. I collated the information in the above table from data published in various texts (referenced under the table and in the reference list below). There were some discrepancies between those texts for the same food which most likely arose from where those references originally obtained their data. Some different sources of nutrient data include nutrient databases eg. America uses the USDA nutrient data base (as the books below are written by American dieticians they’ve referred to that), In Australia we have a couple too one is NUTTAB for example. Other sources of nutrient data include various scientific papers (based on experiments which determined the nutrient levels within foods in the experiment published). Generally another  reason for differences seen between the levels of a nutrient in the same food might be due to the soils they were grown in, the time of year they were picked, and the way they were prepared or measured.

State matters

In terms of the above table, eg. the differences between the cooked and raw vegetables, some other things to consider for example are that you can fit a lot more cooked spinach in a cup than you can raw spinach which may account for the difference in calcium amounts per cup also.

Whats coming next?

Next I want to start looking at bio-availability… which you’ve heard about if you’ve ever heard anyone say any of the following…

  • “Well cow’s milk contains calcium but your body can’t actually use it as well as it can out of …broccoli”  or
  • “Spinach might be high in calcium but it’s got so much oxalate your body can’t use it” and
  • “If cow’s milk was such a great source of calcium why do we have so much osteoporosis in the Western world?” etc.

Until then….I’m going to go and take the above list and the list from last week with our fortified foods, to estimate how much calcium we are getting on average and to see how it compares with the RDI and whether we need to look at taking advantage of a few of the fortified foods, or making a conscious effort to eat more of the foods in the table above.


* Davis,B., Melina, V. and Berry, R. (2010)Becoming Raw. The essential guide to raw vegan diets. Book Publishing Company, USA.
*Mangels, R., Messina, V. and Messina, M. (2011) The Dietician’s Guide to Vegetarian Diets: Issues and applications (4th Ed). Jones & Bartlett Learning USA.
*NHMRC Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand (2006)
*NRV Definitions http://www.nrv.gov.au/introduction.htm

Is our healthy diet making us iron deficient?

I promised to talk about things that “healthy diets” might be doing that are contributing to your child’s low iron levels. (So my disclaimer here is that you have actually had a blood test done with your doctor to determine that the iron levels are low and that other causes have been ruled out and the doctor believes it is a nutritional deficiency. Please don’t assume that your child (or you) are low in iron based on this post, if you are at all concerned, it is very important to get it checked out with your doctor first).

Ok… So Why am I interested children with low iron? Well last year after a pretty horrible year health wise, and trying all types of things including antibiotics, steroid creams, herbal creams, a low salicylate diet and changing products we used, all to find out what was causing the persistent and worsening nappy rash on my daughters backside and other health issues, I asked our integrative GP to check my daughters iron levels (she agreed it was worth looking into). Well, it turns out my daughter had low iron (and this was before we went plant-based).
How did this happen? And how could we be moving toward a plant-based diet if we were iron deficient? Furthermore why was I seeing posts from other mums on healthy forums asking the same questions? It made me wonder, is our healthy diet contributing to low iron levels? And if so, is there something we can do ?
Well it turns out that there are a few simple things you can consider which might be affecting your child’s iron levels.

  • Do your children eat any fortified foods? If so what nutrients are they fortified in?
  • Do your children drink a lot of milk (cows, soy, rice) in general?
  • Do your children drink a lot of milk that is fortified with calcium?
  • Do your children like any of the high iron content foods?
  • Do your children eat any of the vitamin C foods (ideally at the same meal)?
  • Does your child have food sensitivities?
  • Does your child consume any other foods that are high in inhibitors of iron?

Food sensitivities?

As food sensitivities can make it difficult for the intestines to absorb nutrients, sometimes undiagnosed food sensitivities can lead to low iron (like coeliac disease) so if you are at all concerned, make sure you get that checked out.

How much iron-containing foods and enhancers of absorption do they really eat?

In addition, it might seem really obvious, but even if your children do like the iron-containing foods are they actually eating enough of them to make a difference (and in addition enough of the vitamin C containing foods to help maximise that absorption)? Eg. My daughter loves spinach, but she only eats a few leaves at a time which doesn’t equate to her daily intake.

What is filling up those little tummies?

This next point might also seem ridiculously obvious,  but here I go…. kids only have little tummies. Here the big question is: what is filling up those little tummies?
One thing to consider is whether or not you’ve recently changed from commercial enriched products to organic or gluten-free products (which might not be enriched) (we did this by going from the iron-enriched baby porridge to regular organic instant oats and in our situation that 5mg per serve made a difference). So if you have changed products recently, make sure you check the labels (and compare with the previous product) because the new products might not be enriched and so your child is effectively still getting the same caloric intake (full tummy), but may be missing out on the extra nutrients the previous food was enriched with.  (By the way breads and cereals are the major source of iron in the diet – even for non -vegetarians in Australia with meat accounting for only 20% according to Saunders et al., 2012).

Milk and calcium

Lastly, lets talk about milk and calcium. In the last post we discussed the inhibitors of iron absorption… Calcium and milk were both listed as independent inhibitors of iron absorption. So what this means is, even if your child is dairy free (like mine) but they are having a milk substitute which is enriched with calcium – (my daughter now has soy milk enriched with calcium) this can also contribute to low iron levels  in 2 ways:

  1. The volume of the milk (dairy or calcium enriched non-dairy)– like with the bread and cereal example above can be physically taking up space in the stomach that iron-containing food could be (eg. The children don’t feel as hungry because they are full on milk).
  2. The calcium itself is competing with the iron for absorption (think of it like a narrow doorway, 2 people can’t walk through it at the same time).

Calcium calcium calcium
So this brings us to the topic of calcium… is there any nutrient out there with a more loaded discussion than calcium? Do you need it or don’t you need it?

Well like with the iron intake for vegetarians (that whole 180% of the RDI issue)… the issue with calcium is also not so clear cut and this is going to be another huge discussion. When it comes to calcium, I’ll summarise the sorts of contentious issues you’re going to come across: some will say you don’t need to supplement others will say you do, some will say you do need dairy, others will say you don’t. Some will say the protein in the diet doesn’t matter, others will say it does…it’s going to be a big discussion. What a few of the sources agree on though is that there are some things that you can do to reduce your calcium losses, and so we will look at those things too.

Lastly, of all the aspects of the calcium discussion, the thing I find frustrating is that most of the lists of calcium containing foods are generally dominated by either dairy or soy fortified foods or salmon (not very useful if you don’t eat these things)! It is really quite difficult for the average consumer to find information on non-fortified non-dairy sources of calcium (and I don’t mean infographics on social media sites). Well, lucky for you, I’m not an average consumer…so when I come back next fortnight, I’ll give you a table with the top 25 non-dairy and non-fortified foods which contain calcium (that you are likely to find in an average supermarket) eg.daikon radish rates well, but I’ve never seen it in my local supermarket;-).

Before we look at that list, lets start looking and taking note of what sorts of fortified foods you have in your house at the moment.

Below is a table of commonly fortified foods with the nutrients they are commonly fortified with (some might differ depending on where you are in the world), so make sure you actually check the packaging of the product you are using also different companies might do different things, so always check the label.

Some common enriched foods2








While you’re doing that, I’ll go and prepare the list….the story continues next time…until then have a great fortnight!



Saunders, AV., Craig, WV., Baines, SK. and Posen, JS. (2012) Iron and vegetarian diets. MJA 1 Supp 2:11-16.