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SKIN FOOD: How to eat your way to Healthy, Glowy Skin

Our skin is a powerful indicator of what is going on inside, particularly the liver, blood and colon. It is in fact our largest detoxifying organ. What we feed ourselves gets distributed through our bodies, effecting each and every cell, our organs and their various functions. If what we eat can make us go to the bathroom (or not), keep us trim (or not), boost our energy (or not), you can bet that it also effects every one of our other bodily processes, and skin repair is one of them! Years of consuming artificial ingredients, preservatives, additives, hormones and toxins eventually take their toll, and often the first thing to “go” is keeping our skin “glowy” and our hair shiny because frankly, the body has more important functions to focus on maintaining our beauty! But by making the load easy for the body to bear, it can work on protecting us from the signs of aging, unburdened.

What to avoid:

Dairy is the main culprit here! Dairy is highly acidic and inflammatory to the human body, with little beneficial dietary components – it has no antioxidants to fight free radicals, or fibre to ensure a well functioning digestive tract. Dairy is also pumped with hormones and antibiotics, which not only promote acne but can lead to hormonal imbalances and even antibiotic resistance. Replace dairy with dairy-free alternatives such as nut milk, coconut yoghurt, coconut/almond ice creams, cashew cheese and nutritional yeast. Once you get the hang of it you will find there is something for everything and everyone! See my replacement advice here and here.

Avoid processed, packaged and refined foods, refined sugar, excessive caffeine consumption, alcohol (especially sugary drinks), vegetable oils.

What to include:

Hydrate with 2L of water daily, ensure 8 hours of quality sleep each night, optimise digestion and eat a clean whole-food diet with copious amounts of greens as well as a variety of colourful plant foods, to get adequate fibre, vitamin A, C, E, zinc and omega 3… including (but not limited to) many of those listed below, on a regular basis:

Red capsicum – high antioxidant levels, vibrant red capsicums help to keep your skin healthy and supple. They are a wonderful source of both vitamin C and the mineral silicon, assisting the strengthening and regeneration of collagen, the main structural protein in connective tissue. Healthy collagen production keeps the skin firm and reduces oxidative damage! Skin tip: much on capsicum throughout your day as you would celery or carrot sticks, enjoy it with dip for extra satiety.

Sweet potato – it’s high levels of beta-carotene convert to vitamin A in the body, meaning it provides us with both vitamins A and C, the antioxidants that fight free radicals from damaging our cell tissue, causing premature aging. Skin tip: choose sweet potatoes that have the deepest orange colour, these contain the most carotene!

Cabbage – containing the skin-loving combo of vitamins A, C and E, cabbage is highest in some of the most powerful antioxidants found in cruciferous vegetables. Interestingly, it actually contains more vitamin C than oranges! By now we know that vitamin C is critical when looking to minimise wrinkles, fight inflammation and heal damaged tissue. It’s impressive nutrient content makes it a potent detoxifying food, slowing the aging process.

Lemon – another good source of vitamin C, lemons also support the hard-working liver, our main detoxifying organ. They strengthen liver enzymes and promote the secretion of bile, which in turn aids digestion. A detoxification agent, blood purifier and digestive aid, they are in actual fact alkalising once within the body (despite their acidic taste!). Skin tip: Consume the juice of ½ lemon with a cup of warm water first thing daily to cleanse the body and prepare metabolism, and use lemon throughout your day in salad dressings, stir-fries and smoothies.

Almonds – the monounsaturated fats within almonds help retain moisture within the skin, softening and protecting it. These beautifying nuts are rich in vitamin E, the primary antioxidant in human epidermal tissue. Vitamin E works to protect the skin from the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays, whilst also nourishing the skin from within to prevent dryness.

Fermented Vegetables – loaded with probiotics and enzymes, fermented vegetables work on ensuring the gut is a friendly environment for good bacteria to thrive! This helps with digestion and the absorption of all these skin-loving nutrients. Probiotics also work to keep your system free from nasty pathogenic bacteria that cause digestive upset, poor immunity and inflammation, which may lead to skin irritation, acne or dull, unclear skin. Skin tip: don’t be afraid of it, just spoon a few tablespoons on top of a salad, crackers or alongside a meal!

Other foods to include  – all green leafy vegetables, carrots, avocado, berries, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and brazil nuts.

A love note to Soy…

One of the most commonly asked questions I get is regarding the health of soy foods. I either hear that someone would love to go vegan but wants to avoid soy (which is fine, but also not necessary), or that they wish they “could” consume it, but are worried about relying on it as a source of plant-based protein because of all the negative implications they have heard from someone, somewhere. Regardless, my answer is the same! The right types of soy are unequivocally, a healthful choice. I talk more about the right types below.

Let’s look at the evidence in regard to some major concerns:

Soy contains oestrogen: No it actually doesn’t. It does however contain phytoestrogens (beneficial constituents of plants, also found in flaxseeds). This type of oestrogen “imitator” is not bad, but indeed, beneficial, with its naturally occurring oestrogenic activity. They adapt to what the specific individual needs, raising or lowering oestrogen levels accordingly. Regarding female fertility, a large-scale study at a fertility centre demonstrated improved birth rates in females consuming soy and undergoing fertility treatment. A note on menopause, women dealing with hot flashes found relief from soy products according to this study.

Soy makes men grow breasts: Nooo! Men’s sex hormones, including testosterone remain unaffected by consuming soy products. This study concluded that soy does not “exert feminizing effects on men at intake levels equal to and even considerably higher than are typical for Asian males.” Soy does not adversely effect semen quality, and a study at Harvard University found soy intake had no effect overall on male fertility.

Just so we are clear on this topic, I’d like to point out the ludicrously of these claims by illustrating that the milk from a cow comes from a female animal that has just given birth. Not only is this a much bigger animal than us, with a different hormonal profile, but just as humans, when cows give birth, their oestrogen levels elevate. Therefore, it stands to reason that the concerning source of oestrogen in the diet is cows milk! And so far, I’ve just mentioned the natural oestrogen (due to their recent pregnancy)… think about the hefty doses of synthetic hormones dairy livestock are injected with to increase their milk production! This only adds to the oestrogen load of most cows milk. Yuk!

Cancer growth and recurrence: research appears to indicate soy consumption has a positive effect on preventing or slowing down the growth of cancer. Phytoestrogens (present in soy) act as antioxidants and have anti-proliferative properties to inhibit tumour growth. Among women with breast cancer, soy food consumption has been significantly associated with decreased risk of death and recurrence. This study suggests that greater consumption of isoflavone-containing foods is associated with a reduced risk of endometrial cancer in postmenopausal women. Other analyses have found that soy foods are protective against prostate cancer in men.

Bone health: I hear you, don’t we need dairy to protect against osteoporosis? No, we don’t, and evidence suggests that populations consuming higher amounts of cows milk actually have higher incidence of osteoporosis versus populations who don’t. There are a number of reasons for this, namely, the acidity of the milk causing greater calcium excretion from the body. However, I thought it apt to point out that whilst soy generally does contain less calcium, it contains triple the amount of magnesium, a vital mineral for bone maintenance. Indeed, the latest research suggests soy milk is actually much better for bone health. Interestingly, the beneficial isoflavones (types of phytoestrogens) in soy are thought to inhibit the breakdown of bones. For example the isoflavone Daidzein, is actually used to create the drug ipriflavone, which is used to treat osteoporosis.

Hypothyroidism and soy: Soy products do not cause hypothyroidism and hypothyroid adults need not avoid soy foods. However, the isoflavones  in soy may potentially reduce iodine availability, required for healthy thyroid hormone production. It is therefore suggested that people who consume soy might need slightly more iodine in their diets (which we can get from sea veggies like dulse and nori).

***There is always conflicting evidence and debate around the statistical significance of the findings in such studies. However whether there is no benefit, little benefit, or substantial benefit, I am yet to find a negative finding regarding soy, and that should be the message we hear loud and clear.

At the end of the day, the fear around soy seems to stem from a few sources:

  • The grouping of all soy together – the bad: i.e. concentrated soy proteins and soy-derivatives used to thicken or emulsify products (often non-vegan products too), GMO, non-organic, non-traditional varieties such as highly-processed faux soy meats + the good: i.e. traditional sources of soy, non-GMO and organic such as tempeh, tamari, miso, natto and even a little good quality tofu from time to time is ok. So too is edamame. Combining the good and the bad like this is akin to saying that the questionable ground meat in a fast food chain burger is the same quality as the meat from your local organic butcher (whilst I don’t think either meat is healthy, this is a helpful comparison!);
  • Rare cases of harm due to consumption of ridiculously large amounts of soy on a daily basis;
  • Similar to point 1 above, because soy is grown in ginormous quantities and added to absolutely everything, including often unhealthy packaged foods, it is viewed negatively, similarly to corn. Again, non-GMO and organic varieties in their wholefood form are fine!; and
  • Poorly-conducted research based and/or articles by groups with vested interests e.g. the Weston A Price Foundation (WAPF).

 

Soy sources to include:

organic and non-GMO edamame and fermented sources such as tempeh, natto, miso, tamari (easiest to digest and assimilate). Whilst soy milk and tofu are more processed, organic varieties from time-to-time if you really enjoy them are not going to negatively impact your health and should not be feared.

I am not claiming soy to be a miraculous cure-all, I am simply pointing out that there is a lot of good evidence indicating its benefits, and that you should feel confident in including it as part of a plant-rich varied diet (if you so choose). 

 

Healthy Replacements for all your favourites

ELIMINATE: red meat, eggs, dairy, gluten/wheat, refined sugar and caffeine…

For some, these words are absurd. Others, are subtly aware (deep within them) that they were a long time coming. For most, it is completely overwhelming.

When I tell my clients to eliminate certain foods from their diet, it is my priority to replace those foods with healthy alternatives. My goal is to not only offer a more nutritious option, but an item/s that taste similar and/or better, making the transition far easier and less daunting than initially thought.

The truth is, we all love to have our unhealthy habits or choices confirmed – we like to be told that a glass or two of red wine each night is good for us, that “butter is back”, that we need to eat cheese and ice cream because… well, calcium! But the second you start to question that, the overwhelm sets in and cutting out these staples, that so many of us have grown up on, seems unbearable. Impossible. Cruel! Well, I am here to tell you, it isn’t so bad. Here are some suggestions I put forward in my plight to have my clients and readers, not only looking better, but feeling a whole lot more lighter, energetic and clear-headed…

Instead of coffee:

Order an almond or coconut milk chai tea, hold the sugar – ask if they have Natvia instead or carry some in your purse. Extra cinnamon please!

Most cafe’s these days have alternatives like matcha, turmeric, or chai lattes. Swap your regular milk for a plant-based option, and be sure to ask what it is sweetened with. Again, if it is sugar, ask for it unsweetened and add your own BYO Natvia. 

At home, try making my hot cacao, or your own turmeric latte.

Instead of dairy:

Swap dairy milk with plant-based options – almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, oat milk, soy milk (definitely organic and non-GMO). *A note on soy… we are all so quick to dismiss it as having “too much oestrogen”, but may I remind you the biological and often synthetic oestrogen in cows milk, as it comes from a pregnant cow obviously producing her own hormones however additionally often injected with hormones… compared to the natural, weak phytoestrogens found in the soy bean. Just think about that for a moment. Read here for more on soy and oestrogen.*

Cheese – nut-based cheeses, for creamy pasta sauces add coconut milk, pumpkin puree or soaked cashews with nutritional yeast (tastes like cheese and is AMAZING for you), sprinkle nutritional yeast on a salad, instead of adding fetta or goats cheese, add avocado for the same creamy, “fatty” addition, cheese cake can be made with soaked cashews as a base.

Yoghurt – Coconut yoghurt, almond yoghurt – check ingredients for added sugar, cashew or coconut cream.

Also check out my post on going dairy-free, here.

Instead of gluten/wheat:

Grains – Brown, basmati or wild rice, Quinoa, Millet, Amaranth, Teff, Buckwheat;

Bread – Sprouted bread varieties, DIY your own bread, or choose a gluten-free option (check ingredients for eggs if avoiding, sugar, and additives you can’t pronounce);

Crackers – flax crackers, rice crackers, corn or rice thins, buckwheat crackers, seed crackers;

Pasta – Quinoa pasta, rice pasta, Konjac noodles, Zucchini pasta, kelp noodles, 100% buckwheat soba noodles;

Flours – Almond meal, Buckwheat flour, Coconut flour, Teff flour, Chia flour, Banana flour.

Instead of red meat:

Tempeh, lentils, beans, chickpeas, quinoa, rice, portobello mushrooms, stuffed veggies… some meal ideas:

Tempeh stir-fry with or without brown rice; Mixed Bean salad with roast veg + avo; Stuffed sweet potatoes with beans, cashew cheese, guacamole; Quinoa salad with roast veg and roast tamari pumpkin seeds; Stuffed capsicums with rice/teff and lentils; Stuffed mushrooms with quinoa, capsicum and capers, Zucchini pasta with lentil bolognese, Cauliflower rice with chickpeas, almonds and greens, Mushroom and lentil san choy bow, Cauliflower mash with peas and mushroom gravy….

Instead of eggs:

Breakfast options – smoothies, chia pudding, bircher muesli, oat porridge, quinoa porridge, pea protein powders (I like Nuzest), Avocado smash or hummus and mushrooms on gluten-free toast, breakfast salad of quinoa, sauteed greens and mushrooms, roast tomatoes, avocado and pumpkin/sweet potato and pepita’s;

Cooking – flax egg, arrowroot, tapioca flour, chia, chia flour, mashed banana, water or almond milk

Order out – if there is a big vegetarian brekky with eggs, ask for it without eggs but add extra veggies, avocado or sweet potato to bulk it up or opt for the porridge options (there is always is one!) with a dairy-free milk.

Instead of sugary snacks or treats:

All homemade or health-food store bought treats made with stevia/xylitol OR coconut nectar, maple syrup, dates

Bliss balls, DIY muesli bars, DIY granola, Cacao/turmeric lattes (as above), Raw chocolate (In Aus, Pana chocolate is a good brand, Well naturally from Woolies, or see if you can get your hands on BSKT vegan chocolate), or make your own raw choc, Cacao smoothie, Berry smoothie, Chocolate or coconut/berry based chia pudding, Vegan pancakes, Strawberry Chia Jam, Avocado chocolate mousse.

Going Dairy-Free? Here’s what you need to know…

With the new year well into its first month, a lot of us have made new years resolutions involving health overhauls. A lot of friends have asked me how to reduce their dairy intake. There are a lot of reasons people choose to cut out dairy… First of all, a large proportion of the world’s population are indeed lactose intolerant (many do not even know!), causing nasty symptoms such as digestive upset and skin irritations. Further, dairy is highly acidic, making it worthwhile to ditch during a health reboot (we want to consume more alkalising foods). Another good reason is that many dairy products, particularly non-organic varieties, are loaded with hormones and antibiotics, administered to the livestock and inevitably passed on to the consumer. Yuck! And of course, those consuming a vegan diet cut dairy out entirely.

Despite all these reasons to limit dairy intake, people are generally quite attached to it – we love our butter, pastries, cakes, ice cream, yoghurt, milk in our coffee, cream, cheese, milk shakes etc. And we often don’t even realise what contains dairy… Most candy bars, baked items, condiments and even supplements contain traces of dairy! It’s not until you can’t have it do you really think about how much it is (unnecessarily) in. But I promise you, with these helpful tips and healthy alternatives, it really is not so daunting. These easy swaps make going dairy-free a delectable breeze!

Almond Milk

Better than cows milk! Find my recipe here. I use this in everything from oats and baking to smoothies and teas. It is a one-for-one milk replacement, so feel free to use it in anything you would use milk!

Nutritional Yeast

Rich in protein and B vitamins, nutritional yeast is a power-packed superfood that brings a cheese-like flavour to meals. Sprinkle it on top of salads, pasta, bean-based meals or in wraps, rolls and sandwiches. I also like to add ½-1 tsp to salad dressings or dips. Try this vegan walnut caesar dressing using nutritional yeast on your next salad.  

Cashew Cheese

Use as a replacement to white cheeses like ricotta, cottage cheese or goats cheese. It is great as a dip with crackers, spread on toast or a sandwich/wrap, atop a pasta or zoodle dish, or dolloped on top of veggies. It is generally made from a blend of soaked cashews, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, dijon mustard, salt, pepper, garlic and water.

Brazil Nut Parmesan

Just 1 tbsp of this will be your daily dose of selenium, a mineral rich in antioxidants and required for immunity and normal thyroid function. Process 1 cup of Brazil nuts with 2 tbsp nutritional yeast, zest of ½ lemon, 1 clove of garlic and a pinch of sea salt. Use as you would parmesan cheese. Add smoked paprika for a smokey variety.

Cashew Cream

Delicious on top of pancakes, healthy baked goods, porridge or fresh fruit – use it as you would regular cream or custard, and enjoy every second! You can make your own simply by combining 1 cup soaked cashews, ¼-½ cup filtered water, maple syrup or sweetener of choice and vanilla bean. Blend and drizzle.

Coconut Yoghurt

A good coconut yoghurt is the answer to all dairy free prayers! Some can be a bit heavy, so a little bit goes a long way. Find one with no sugar or that only uses natural sugars. And as with regular yoghurt, the natural unflavoured varieties are always best to avoid artificial flavours and excess sugar. Try my tasty Spiced Coco Berry Bliss Smoothie.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is great for cooking both sweet and savoury dishes, rather than butter. It is a good baking oil as it has a higher smoke point than some other oils, meaning its nutrition stays in tact and it doesn’t turn carcinogenic. Macadamia oil is even higher. Coconut oil can also be spread on toast, if desired. Look for organic cold-pressed varieties. Another alternative for that buttery texture is avocado.

Tahini

Instead of using mayonnaise to bring creaminess to your dressings, consider adding calcium rich sesame spread aka tahini. If you aren’t fond of the taste and prefer something sweeter, almond butter does the trick! Try my creamy tahini cumin dipping sauce here.

Chocolate

Telling someone to cut out their beloved chocolate is definitely not a comfortable conversation. But there is an alternative! In Australia we have Pana Chocolate, a decadant raw vegan chocolate brand. Otherwise, an easy homemade recipe is simply: ½ cup raw cacao, 2 tbsp xylitol, ½ cup coconut oil, tsp vanilla essence, melted on the stove then freeze it in a baking dish or container. You can add raspberries, nuts, seeds, coconut and/or sea salt. You can also try my completely dairy-free chocolate mousse recipe here. So creamy!

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If you notice dairy has any effect on you – bloating, flatulence, stomach pain, break outs, mood swings, sleep disturbances – perhaps this is something you could consider? Try cutting it out for a period of 7-14 days and see if you notice relief from any of your symptoms. It might seem like a challenge, but the benefits will be so rewarding!

What about soy?

A common question I receive is “what about soy?” Personally, I limit my soy intake to fermented soy products such as tempeh, tamari and miso as non-fermented varieties tend to be very processed, full of unnecessary additives, and contain phytic acid which interferes with the absorption of important nutrients like iron. If I am out however and tofu, soy sauce, or soy milk is on the menu I will make the exception. When selecting these options, organic is always best.

Calcium 101

Another regular question is, “where do you get calcium from?” Aha! This is a favourite of mine to answer! Did you know that dairy actually increases calcium loss from the bones due to it’s high acidity? Put simply, the body tries to counteract the acidic conditions dairy (and other animal products) creates by releasing minerals that neutralize the situation. Calcium is a mineral that is actually a fantastic acid-neutralizer, and as such is released from the bones (where it is predominantly stored) and subsequently excreted! What’s more, plant sources of calcium are actually much more absorbable than that from dairy – approximately 30% of calcium from dairy is absorbed by the human body, compared to 40-65% absorption rate from plants! Isn’t it crazy that we have associated bone health with dairy for so long?!

Bottom line: meet daily calcium requirements through a variety of sources (preferably plant-based), cut out inhibitors and maintain regular exercise for strong healthy bones.

Plant-based Calcium Sources:

  • Collard greens
  • Broccoli
  • Bok Choy
  • Kale
  • Almonds/Almond butter
  • Sesame seeds/Tahini
  • Figs
  • Navy beans, black beans, white beans
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