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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Protein supplement or real food Whats better

Saturday, July 27, 2013
If the shelves at the supermarkets, pharmacies and health food stores are any indication, a lot of you are using protein powder as a way to boost your protein intake, or to replace real food. And, many people will claim that high quality protein like seafood is ‘too expensive’. But when you consider all the advantages and pitfalls, you may decide that purchasing fish and meat as your protein supplement is actually more cost effective as well as better for you.

With real food you also get...

Real food sources of protein give you vitamins and minerals, often fibre and good fats as well. Protein powder provides just… protein. Your first step in assessing the value of real food versus protein powder is to examine the nutrition label of your protein supplement and calculate the price per gram of protein there.

How much protein real food contains

Now review the protein content of real food. White fleshed fish contains about 20% protein; that means 20g high quality protein for every 100g of fish. Seafood is also low in fat. Beef, kangaroo, lamb and chicken also contain about 20% protein, and include more or less fat depending on the variety of meat and the cut. An egg contains about 6g protein, and is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals as well as good fats. Nuts and seeds contain about 18% protein, but with a large fat content they’re not such a spectacular source of protein. Legumes contain about 9% protein, and include plenty of fibre to help your digestion move smoothly and your hormones stay balanced. But they’re all good; you don’t have to choose one of these foods exclusively; use a combination. They all contain protein as well as nutrients you need for health.

How much protein you need:

Calculating how much protein you actually need each day can be a challenge. The conservative estimate is 0.8g of protein per kilogram of your ideal body weight (so a 70kg adult would need 56g protein daily). However as you age, when you’re recovering from surgery or an illness, or engaging in high level fitness training, you need much more protein. Everyone is different; the best way to find out how much you actually need, and whether you need to use a protein supplement, is in consultation with your nutritionist.

You should be very careful about supplementing protein if...

Before we finish, a safety tip: There are some people who really shouldn’t take protein supplements without professional guidance. This includes people who have kidney disease, or a family history of kidney problems, because delicate kidneys may find processing excessive protein challenging. Dairy intolerant folk should be careful with protein powders made from whey, or they may experience digestive problems or increased inflammation.

Now you know, here's what to do next:

Hopefully I’ve convinced you how much real food sources of protein could be more cost effective for your budget and your health. Now, head online and discover some real food recipes that can supply all the protein you need – without the processed protein powder supplement.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also enjoy "More Protein Please" 

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Recipe for smoky paprika prawns and peas

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fresh peas are in season for only a short time in this sub-tropical climate, so I look forward to their appearance early June each year. You can't beat the flavour and texture of fresh peas, and I find the process of shelling peas for dinner so calming. I rather like prawns too, so created this recipe to use one of my favourite vegetables as well as one of my favourite shellfish. The photo is of the completed dish - and you'll notice it includes squid as well. I had some on hand so I threw it in as well.  Hope you enjoy this dish!

Ingredients for one person:

olive oil

200g green raw prawns ('shrimp' to my American friends), or a combination of 100g prawns and 100g sliced squid tube.

1 small clove garlic, crushed

1 baby potato, quartered

1/3 stalk celery, sliced

1/4 brown onion, finely diced

200g fresh peas weighed in their pods

1 teaspoon ground dried smoked paprika

1 bay leaf

fresh parsley

200g canned diced tomato (or 400g fresh tomato)

1/4 cup water


1. Heat a little olive oil and gently saute the onion, garlic and celery until soft.

2. Add the tomato, water, bay leaf, paprika and potato, simmer gently until potato is just cooked (about 15 mins)

3. If you are including squid, add at this point and simmer a further five minutes. Otherwise...

4. Add the prawns and peas, simmer gently a further 6 minutes or until prawns are cooked.

5. Sprinkle fresh parsley leaves on top to serve.

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Food chemicals and you

Saturday, July 20, 2013
We can’t get away from food chemicals. Whether naturally occurring or artificially created, health-promoting or unhelpful, we all ingest them. In large enough quantities, eating too much of certain food chemicals can affect how you feel and behave. Children are particularly susceptible because they have a much smaller body weight than adults. Adults can be less susceptible because most have learnt some control over their emotions, and because they have a larger body mass than children, so the effect isn’t so evident.

Artificial food chemicals like food dyes, preservatives and flavour enhancers appear regularly in processed foods. Most times they can be identified by the food label numbering system; when you examine the label of a packaged food like a sauce, often there will be a series of numbers within the contents list which are actually just shorthand for some very long chemical names. Well known – or infamous – artificial food chemicals with behavioural effects include MSG and red colouring, but there are lots of others too. Savvy parents have known for some time that feeding their child too much processed food can result in some very unpleasant behaviours. That’s what artificial food chemicals can do to a tiny brain.

Naturally occurring food chemicals exist too. They’re not necessarily harmful, and some are actually helpful, but children particularly can be susceptible to their psychological effects. One type which can cause problems is salicylates and amines. These give food a ‘sharp’ or ‘tangy’ taste; vintage cheese and tangy fruits like citrus are good examples. For most of us, the salicylates and amines in food have no effect at all, but for some children these natural chemicals can have really unpleasant behavioural effects; creating anger outbursts, uncontrollable tantrums and the like. 

If you suspect that your child, or even yourself, is affected by natural or artificial food chemicals, you can easily review your diet to check. Scan the labels of processed foods in your kitchen, using a book like ‘The Additive Code Breaker’ as a guide. Next, if you want to investigate the possibility of salicylate or amine sensitivity, take a look at the food intolerance information produced by the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital allergy unit – you can find them online.
But before you head down the path of time consuming elimination diets to investigate food chemical intolerance, first consider one very important mood-affecting food chemical: sugar. Whether real or artificial, this food sweetener can have powerful negative effects on mood and behaviours in children and adults. Almost everyone believes they don’t eat too much sugar, but when you actually add up the total sugars from your processed foods and drinks, you may be surprised to find that you can easily exceed 25g per day, the recommended maximum.

Yes, food chemicals are everywhere. But since you can control what you put in your mouth, you can manage their effects.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy this article about sugar and it's effects on mood. 
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Recipe chocolate zucchini cakes dairy-free and grain-free

Monday, July 15, 2013

Oh my, did I ever enjoy creating these little cakes. They were inspired by a recipe for paleo chocolate zucchini bread on Elena's Pantry web site. But I wanted to use macadamia nut paste rather than coconut oil. Here's what emerged. This quantity makes enough for 6-10 traditionally sized cup cakes (you know, the size cupcakes used to be before they succumbed to the modern practice of super-sizing everything...)


3/4 cup almond meal (I make my own almond meal using my masticating juicer, it's more cost-effective, but because the almonds I use are raw, not blanched, and not skinned, the cakes will have a more substantial texture)

2 tablespoons of raw cacao powder or cocoa powder (note: all tablespoons are 15ml)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon bicarb soda

1 egg

2 tablespoons macadamia nut paste

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup grated raw zucchini, loosely packed.


1. Mix it all together thoroughly.

2. Spoon into cupcake moulds lined with baking paper

3. Bake at pre-heated 180C oven for 15 minutes

If you liked this recipe, you might also like this recipe for grain-free, dairy-free banana bread 

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How to love your liver - and why to

Saturday, July 13, 2013
Tucked away in the upper right hand corner of your abdomen is your liver, a sensitive organ that can greatly affect whether you glow with vibrant health, or you trudge through your day feeling like you’re carrying around your own rubbish dump. 

Structurally, your liver resembles a sponge, with blood continuously flowing through for processing and cleaning. Fat soluble toxins are removed, then packaged, dissolved in bile, and released into your intestines. The bile/toxin molecules attach to soluble fibre from food and are carried out of your body. That’s one role, but your liver has lots of other jobs to do too. It stores some fuel as glycogen, ready to top up your blood glucose levels temporarily. It breaks down excess hormones and disposes of them. It manages your blood cholesterol level, creating cholesterol bundles for despatch (lipoproteins).

You can make life for your liver easier, or harder.  One way to make life a misery for those hard working liver cells is to drink too much alcohol. During digestion alcohol produces acetylaldehyde, a toxic poison. As with other toxins, your liver can easily cope with small amounts; but large amounts of alcohol, either daily or in a binge, can easily overwhelm your liver’s capacity. As a result, fat cells may be formed within the organ itself. Lazy things, those fat cells. They just sit around, take up space and get in the way. You know where this story is going: Eventually the excess poison in your system kills off hard working liver cells and you can become chronically ill.

Exposure to other poisons like environmental chemicals create problems for your liver in the same way that alcohol will; overwhelming it. This is why having a poorly functioning liver feels like you’re carrying around your own personal rubbish dump.

With all that work to do, your liver needs a big energy supply; so it relies heavily on nutrition from protein, plus vitamins and minerals. A good supply of soluble fibre is essential too, so those toxins can be removed from your body. Without fibre, the toxins can tend to be re-circulated for yet another processing, further exacerbating any overload. 

There are lots of ways to help your liver work more efficiently. It’s a most forgiving organ, so you’ll start feeling rewarded pretty quickly. Firstly, keep your alcohol and caffeine intake within acceptable limits (or cut them out completely for a while to give your liver a rest). High quality food provides high density nutrients that your liver needs to work well: protein, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit. Fasting can actually be counter-productive, as your liver won’t have access to its usual supply of raw materials to do its work. 

A liver lover’s diet includes one or two pieces of fresh fruit every day, a salad as a main meal, some high quality animal protein, and not too much caffeine or alcohol. 

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy this article about foods your liver will love...and hate

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Recipe: Simple healthy snack balls

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

This recipe emerged from my desire to use my seed mix recipe without having to sprinkle it on cereal or over stewed fruit. And I had some macadamia nut paste on's what emerged:

Ingredients (to make enough for a snack for one person)

1 tablespoon seed mix. (Recipe available on my blog, click here)

1 tablespoon macadamia nut butter

1/2 teaspoon honey


Use a spatula-like knife to work the seed mix and honey through the nut butter. Then roll into small balls (about two).

Want to make these fancier? Add a pinch of dried cinnamon, or roll in dried coconut. 

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Feed your brain well for more brain power

Saturday, July 06, 2013

When you have a demanding day ahead, you certainly want your brain to be able to help you along with some quick and solid thinking power. You might have a big exam to attend, or a work meeting where you’re going to need to be able to think fast on your feet. What you definitely don’t want is a brain that feels foggy, or to feel like you’re being pushed around by your emotions. What you choose to eat makes a difference to how your brain performs; it’s extremely reliant on and responsive to the nutrients you supply to it, especially the ‘big 3’: fats, proteins and carbohydrates.

First, let’s look at what your brain is mostly made of: fat. Yep, what’s between your ears is actually mostly a big blob of fatty and watery stuff. The cells that shape your brain have membranes made of fat molecules, and the more flexible the membrane, the more effectively brain cells can function. The fats you eat affect the flexibility of the membrane. Your body needs some omega-3 oils and some omega-6 oils, but the ratio between them is what’s most important.  When you eat a diet high in omega-3 fats (like from oily fish, flaxseed, chia seeds and green veg), the membranes become more flexible. However when you eat too many omega-6 fats (found in dairy, pastries, deep fried food and trans-fats), your brain cell membranes can become ‘stiff’ and less able to communicate effectively.

The second important nutrient group for your brain is proteins. Your brain uses these plus vitamins and minerals to build neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that create thoughts and feelings. A diet that includes enough high quality animal protein from eggs, seafood and meat will help build better neurotransmitters. Fortunately animal protein sources are also rich in vitamins and minerals – a double boost.

Lastly, but very importantly, your brain needs fuel in the form of glucose in the right quantities to function well. How you think and feel can often reflect the amount of sugar in your bloodstream, and here’s where what you choose to eat can have rapid positive or negative effects. Your brain knows that it can’t function well without glucose; that’s often why foggy thinking happens when you haven’t eaten for a while. The best brain function happens when there is a steady supply of glucose. Sugary foods like soft drinks can make your blood glucose level rise quickly, but then fall again fast, resulting in some sudden and sometimes unpleasant brain effects – like mood swings. Choosing ‘slow release’ (low glycemic index) foods will help prevent this happening.

So, to help your brain help you, feed it with good oils, include high quality animal protein in your diet, and make sure you don’t feed it too much sugar all at once!

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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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