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Do you ever feel as though your brain isn’t as fast and sharp as it once was?  This issue we bring you a special feature on brain foods, putting the spotlight on simple ways to keep your mind in top shape.  We also tell you why you should eat more carrots, and introduce you to a clever and delicious cookshop to help you prepare freezer-friendly, low-GI meals that help save you time in the kitchen this winter.  Looking to buy a blender? Find out why our dietitian Marike loves stick hand blenders and more.

Fight the Brain Drain

Have you ever had one of those moments where your neighbour’s name is right on the tip of your tongue but you just can’t seem to recall it? Perhaps you’ve walked into the kitchen with purpose only to wonder why you’re there a minute later. Or you’ve found yourself wondering whether your brain is filled with fairy floss, while reading the paper or calculating your weekly budget.

Cognitive problems have become of serious concern in Australia.  Dementia has become the single greatest cause of disability in older Australians (aged 65 years or older).  Every week there are 1700 new cases of dementia diagnosed in Australia.  This works out to be one person every 6 minutes.  And the number of cognitively challenged individuals is expected to grow to 7400 new cases each week by 2050.  

The good news is that you can make small and consistent changes to your diet and lifestyle NOW to start protecting your brain from early memory loss and the future prospects of dementia. Here’s how:

Good nutrition.  Food is powerful!  Good nutrition goes beyond losing weight and decreasing your risk of chronic disease.  It can also improve your brain speed, agility and retention of information.  And getting the best food for thought is not all that difficult.  In a nutshell, it includes enjoying a variety of vegetables (particularly the green leafy ones), wholegrains, legumes, fish, nuts/seeds and fruit – regularly!  Especially the deeply coloured foods like blueberries, strawberries and acai berries as well as herbs and spices, like oregano and turmeric.  A daily diet rich in these foods – think ‘Mediterr-Asian’ diet – provides maximum brain benefits compared to eating just one such food in large amounts.  Living on a junk food diet high in trans fats, on the other hand, may lead to a certain type of brain shrinkage associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, according to one study of older people published in the journal Neurology.

Looking at the micronutrient level, important brain vitamins that have been identified as being key memory helpers include vitamins E and B.  They protect your memory and brain function by lowering homocysteine levels in your body.  Homocysteine is an amino acid (protein) which at high levels is linked with heart attacks and stroke.  It’s unclear at this stage just how homocysteine damages your brain cells, but research suggests the lower its concentration in your bloodstream, the better it is for your brain.

Another important brain ingredient is omega-3 fatty acids.  Adequate and regular intake of omega-3s appears to protect against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.  However, its sister, omega-6, can undo the good effects of omega-3 if omega-6 is consumed in large amounts (a more common scenario in Western countries).  This is partly because omega-6 competes with omega-3 in your body to use the same enzyme, so the more omega-6 you eat the less of a go omega-3 gets with this enzyme. Also, high levels of omega-6 tend to promote inflammation in the body, including the brain.

When it comes to optimising your vitamin E, vitamin B and omega-3 levels, food is the best place to start and finish, as it’s guaranteed to work:

  • Vitamin E. To boost your dose, consume 30 g (1/4 cup) of seeds and/or nuts daily, including almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and linseeds (or flaxseeds).  Contrary to popular belief, nuts won’t make you fat.  Vitamin E is also found in broccoli, sweet potatoes, mangoes and avocados.
  • B Vitamins (folate, B6, B12).  You can easily obtain folate from ‘foliage’ foods.  The main sources include all green leafy vegetables, beans (legumes), peas, citrus fruits and fortified grain products like Weet-bix.  Vitamin B6is found in leafy greens and beans, but you can also get it from bananas, nuts, sweet potato and wholegrains.  Vitamin B12is found in fortified foods like some brands of soy milk and in most multivitamins and B12 supplements.  You will also get B12 from most animal products, but research shows that the absorption from fortified foods and supplements is much better, especially if you are 50 or older.

Are you Over 50?  
As everyone’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 from animal products decreases with age, the US government recommends people over the age of 50 consume a B12 supplement or include B12 fortified foods in their diet.

Omega-3.  The best sources of the long chain omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. DHA) are oily fish, including salmon, mackerel, kingfish, herring and sardines. Good sources of plant omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. ALA) are walnuts, linseeds (flaxseeds), linseed oil and chia seeds.  And including loads of dietary antioxidants from plant foods each day, as mentioned above, will make your omega-3 fats work better to reduce inflammation in the brain.  It’s also a good idea to try and limit omega-6 rich refined foods, cooking oils and margarines, if you want to optimise your conversion of ALA to DHA. Omega-6 is found abundantly in some vegetable oils like safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil and grapeseed oil and can be a hidden ingredient in many processed packet foods.  Olive oil on the otherhand is a good fat for your brain and body as it contains predominantly omega-9 fatty acids, which don’t interfere with the processing of omega-3 in your body.  Researchers have linked its regular use to better brain function in older subjects.

Good exercise.  Did you know that physical activity is also vital for your brain?  Research shows that exercise may stop, slow or reverse brain shrinkage that comes with ageing.  A five-year study conducted in New York showed that those who followed a regular exercise routine cut their risk of Alzheimer’s disease (a form of dementia) by as much as 60%!

Exercise can be as simple as going for a daily 30-minute walk with a friend or spouse.  It doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated.  Put exercise into your weekly schedule and treat it like you would any other important appointment.  Consistency is key – don’t go without exercise for more than two days in a row!

Good sleep.  Most people have felt the frustration of not being able to remember the simplest of facts when they’re tired and exhausted.  That’s because sleep deprivation kills our memory.  Brain researches say that sleep helps the brain to ‘shelve’ or consolidate all the facts, names, events, numbers and information you’ve gathered throughout the day.  So it serves like a librarian, neatly filing away all the stuff you’ve gathered during your day into relevant categories for easier retrieval.

If you’re watching your waistline, research also shows that going to bed earlier could help you become slimmer and keep to a healthier weight.

Sleep is your brain’s best friend.  If you have trouble sleeping, keep away from the computer, TV or any ‘electronic screen’ for at least an hour or two before retiring, as the blue light emitted tends to prevent your brain waves from slowing down.  It’s also important to watch and limit your caffeine and alcohol intake.  Regular exercise and a simple bedtime routine can further improve your sleep quality and comfort.


“Alcohol is a good preservative for everything but brains.” – Mary Pettibone Poole

What’s Cooking – Hearty Low-GI Meals You Can Freeze!

Are you grappling with the low-GI concept?  Do you want help to improve your food choices and prevent weight gain this winter?  Would you prefer to cook up healthy meals in bulk and freeze them for those days when cooking is the last thing on your mind?

Then join us at this amazing cookshop (a special cooking class and nutrition workshop combo) conducted by foodie dietitians.  See how you can easily create satisfying low-GI dishes that will warm you up and tame your blood sugars at the same time.  Ideal if you need to reduce your blood sugar levels or have insulin resistance!

Learn to speed-cook a delicious low-GI meal in just 10 minutes (yes, really!) using a pressure cooker.  Discover fascinating ingredients like Persian lime, which can lift a simple stew to new heights.  Taste and see why bitter melon, a much loved vegetable in Asia, has unique blood sugar lowering properties.  Impress your guests with our multigrain waffles topped with warm strawberry and rhubarb sauce that you can make ahead and simply freeze!

When: Tuesday 4th June 2013

Time: 6.30 pm – 8:30 pm

Call TODAY on (02) 9899 5208 to book your seat and bring your partner – make it a dinner date with us!  You will enjoy a delicious four-course tasting meal, recipes and handouts.

Learn more about this cookshop. 

Call us NOW on (02) 9899 5208.  Don’t wait as this cookshop will book out fast.

New Book: Bump to Baby Diet

Know someone who’s looking to fall pregnant or is already on their journey to motherhood?  The new Bump to Baby Diet book puts everything eating-wise into perspective using evidence-based, low-GI advice.  It has a unique focus on the importance of your weight at the start of pregnancy, weight gain over the next nine months and your baby’s birth weight, and the profound effect these have on the future health of you and your baby.   It also gives lots of practical information.  Read more in our book review.

If you would like personalised information or one-on-one nutrition monitoring during your pregnancy to ensure you avoid excessive weight gain, book in to see one of our expert dietitians.

What’s Fresh? – Carrots

What’s crunchy, orange and reminds you of Bugs Bunny? It’s the humble carrot.

Carrots are root vegetables and once came in nearly every colour under the sun (red, yellow, purple, black and white) except orange!  The purple ones seem to be making a comeback.  They are thought to have first been cultivated in Afghanistan.  During the Middle Ages through selective breeding, the Dutch jazzed up the carrot to create the zesty orange colour that we use today.

Carrots get their bright orange colour from alpha and beta-carotene, which is made into vitamin A in your body. These carotenes are special antioxidants that protect the body against oxidative damage and reduce your risk of heart disease and many other conditions.

Interesting fact! A medium sized carrot supplies enough beta-carotene to meet your Recommended Dietary Intake of vitamin A for two days!

Carrots (as well as other orange and dark green veggies) also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which are deposited in the retina, macula and lens of your eye where they act as an antioxidant to protect against UV damage. Think of these as a natural sunscreen for your eyes! Eating your orange veggies on a regular basis is thought to help prevent macular degeneration, which affects 1 in 7 Australians over the age of 50.

Carrots are available all year round, however, in Sydney they tend to come in season around May.  When choosing a carrot, make sure it’s ridged and smooth without cracks.  Avoid carrots that bend easily when force is applied, as this is a sign they are not fresh.  If the leaves are still attached, make sure they are vibrant and green.

Carrots are easy to store.  Refrigerate in a plastic bag, and keep them away from apples, which can cause carrots to become bitter.

Carrots are very versatile and can be used in a variety of ways – boiled, sautéed, steamed, baked or raw. Wash before use and peel if necessary.  Note: A great way to up your fibre and nutrient intake is to leave the skins of root vegetables on when cooking.  You can safely do this if you buy organic!

4 ways to use your carrot:

  • Add grated carrot to your muffin mixes, home-made patties or spaghetti bolognaise sauce
  • Julienne your carrots and throw them into stir-fries, curries, risottos or soups
  • Add carrot and celery sticks with cut cucumber, baby tomatoes, and sugar snap peas for a fresh and healthy snack
  • Place raw carrots, beetroot and green apples through a juicer for a nutrient-packed drink

Food Matters with Sue Radd – Psyllium Power

Have you heard of psyllium husks?  Chances are, if you’ve ever attended the Nutrition and Wellbeing Clinic, the husks of this little seed may have been flagged to you as highly beneficial for your condition.  Check out Sue Radd’s latest column to learn how psyllium could help you, where to buy it and how to incorporate it more in your meals and snacks.

Food InFocus – The Awesome Power of Beans, Peas, Lentils Part 1

So you caught episode 2 on where to buy beans and how to cook them, and now you’re interested in learning more. In Part 1 of this short TV interview, Sue Radd explains all the many health benefits you could reap by making beans a more central part of your diet.

Kitchen Tip – Stick Hand Blender

The smart and nifty Stick Hand Blender is Marike’s favourite kitchen device (meet Marike Joubert - one of our lifestyle dietitians).  Why transfer your big pot of soup to a blender when you can bring the blender to the pot, she says.

Marike is in her mid-twenties and has a busy work and social schedule.  This makes her a big fan of one-pot dinners and easy-to-clean kitchen tools.  Marike believes the stick hand blender is a must for any busy foodie.  She loves using the hand blender when pureeing pumpkin or potato and leek soups, making funky hommus dips, and whizzing frozen berry and banana smoothies.

Why should you own a stick hand blender?

  • They’re smaller and tend to be cheaper than traditional blenders; they have a variety of speeds for different uses and don’t make as much noise as traditional blenders.
  • The stick blender also has a long shaft that allows it to be completely immersed – avoiding any mess and spray.
  • It tends to come with clever attachments like a whisk, a chopping compartment and a frother for hot drinks.
  • It can be used in virtually any container or pot – and even taken on holidays!
  • It’s quick n’ easy to clean – just detach the blade and rinse the shaft.

On the flip side, there are some things that a stick hand blender probably won’t be able to do for you.  They generally don’t have quite enough power to blend ice or hard nuts.  So it’s not a bad idea to still keep a traditional blender in your cupboard for heavy duty tasks.

If you’re keen to purchase one for yourself, here’s a tip: choose a brand with a button that’s easy to hold down, as you need to keep pressing the button on a stick hand blender to keep it whizzing.  

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Published by the Nutrition & Wellbeing Clinic, Copyright 2013.

Suite 10, 80 Cecil Avenue, Castle Hill NSW 2154 Ph: +61 2 9899 5208 Fx: +61 2 9899 2848 www.nwbc.com.au

We are a boutique Dietitians clinic in Sydney, Australia, offering one-on-one consultations, culinary medicine cooking workshops, motivational health seminars and nutrition advisory services to businesses in the local and global area.

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