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How to get healthy this Women’s Month: Advice from a dietitian


In honour of Women’s Month, our guest dietitian Melanie Sher, unpacks key ingredients and lifestyle advice, from plant-based protein, what to eat for optimal hormone production and self-care for overall health and wellbeing for women.

Hello August! Woman’s Month! And in my opinion, and I may be ever-so-slightly bias, the best month of the year!

One of my favourite quotes goes as follows “I am a woman – what’s your superpower?” And this is indeed true – most women are superwomen, nurtures, caregivers, organizers, co-ordinators… they just manage to do it all. We are great at looking after others, but are we always as good at looking after ourselves?

This month, the focus is on women’s health and what women can do to live right and stay healthy.

So let’s discuss a few things that YOU, as a woman, can do for yourself to ensure you live your best possible life.

Eat well

“You are what you eat?” Heard this one before? Food is the source of nutrition and all good things for the body. The food you eat will affect everything: your appetite control, your mood, your energy levels, your health, and your immunity. So let’s discuss some foods you can incorporate into your diet for overall health and wellbeing.

  1. Soy. It is considered to be ‘A storehouse of nutritional riches,’ as it contains all 9 essential amino acids, vitamin E, some B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, zinc, and calcium, amongst others, making it one of the best vegetarian protein alternatives. Some examples include edamame beans, soymilk, miso, tempeh, tofu and meat alternatives, like Fry’s. My favourite from the Fry’s range is the Chicken-Style Strips! I love including it into a veggie stir fry for dinner – yum! But for years, soy got a bad rap because of its isoflavones, as it was feared that they could act as estrogen in the body and stimulate cancer cells. But a steady stream of studies showed that a diet moderate-to-high in soy didn’t increase the chances of developing breast cancer and may even reduce that risk.

    In one study of more than 73,000 Chinese women, researchers found that those who ate at least 13 grams of soy protein a day, roughly one to two servings, were 11% less likely to develop breast cancer than those who got less than 5 grams. So without going into too much science, soy can be eaten in combination with a healthy, balanced diet. But, as with everything else that we eat in our diet, it should be eaten in moderation, and in combination with other foods.

  1. Healthy fats. Yes, you heard me right, fats are not the enemy. In fact, the ‘good fats’ are an essential part of a well-balanced diet. Fat is a major source of energy and helps you absorb certain vitamins and minerals. We need fat to build cell membranes and protective myelin sheaths. Healthy fats also have a cardio-protective effect, are essential for brain functioning, and are the raw material that we need to produce and maintain proper hormone function. So what are these healthy fats we talk of? Your mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats, of course. Here are some of my favourite food items you can eat to  ensure you’re getting your ‘daily dose:’
  • Seeds! Eating pumpkin, flax, sesame, and sunflower seeds consistently as part of a healthy diet supports hormone balance. They provide the body with omega-3 fatty acids, trace minerals, and nutrients needed for hormone production. But remember to grind seeds with a harder shell, such as flaxseeds, before eating them, sprinkling them on your salad or adding them to your smoothie. This allows easier digestion by the body, and ensures that you get the full nutritional value!
  • Avocados! Besides the fact that they are absolutely delicious, avocados are another excellent addition to your hormone-balancing diet. They’re full of mono-unsaturated fats, potassium, magnesium, vitamin E, B-vitamins, and folic acid — all essential for maintaining hormonal balance in the body. They are also low in sugar and high in fiber, making them a great choice for regulating the production of insulin in your body.
  1. Non-dairy calcium sources. It’s no secret that calcium is vital for strong bones and teeth, but it goes beyond that. This mineral also helps the body maintain healthy blood vessels, regulate blood pressure, and even prevent insulin resistance (which could lead to type 2 diabetes).  For women it is extra-important to reach our daily calcium requirements to decrease our risk of developing osteoporosis. So with all these known benefits, we need to make sure we are eating enough calcium daily. Not sure how to add alternative food sources of calcium into your diet? Why not make a tasty broccoli salad, throw some black beans into your stir fry or prepare a scrambled tofu wrap from work lunch? Some other non-dairy sources of calcium include almonds, fortified orange juice, and soy milk and products, which can all be incorporated into a healthy, balanced diet. Did someone say non-dairy, delicious smoothies?!

Exercise regularly

One of the keys to living a healthy, well-balanced life is making time to exercise regularly.  Exercise is one of those controllable factors in ensuring overall health, and whilst cardiovascular exercise improves heart health and assists with weight management, resistance training – especially when using your own body-weight – will help you build and maintain muscle mass.

Other benefits of exercise include lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, preventing diabetes, improving mood and cognitive function, and reducing mortality.

Many of the health issues that women face can be improved substantially with consistent exercise.

  • Exercise helps counteract hormonally-driven mood swings. Women live with shifting levels of estrogen and progesterone that impact their fertility patterns as well as their brain chemistry and moods. When estrogen levels drop, such as before and during a woman’s period or leading up to menopause, there is a decrease in the release of the “feel-good” brain chemical called serotonin. This makes them more susceptible to moodiness, depression and anxiety attacks, such as the symptoms found in severe premenstrual syndrome or postpartum depression. Exercise counters these hormonally-triggered mood swings by releasing endorphins, another mood regulator. Sometimes called the “runner’s high”, endorphins leave you feeling happy and relaxed after a workout. 
  • Exercise also plays a vital role in building and maintaining strong muscles and bones. This is because exercise helps release hormones that promote the ability of your muscles to absorb amino acids. This helps them grow and reduces their breakdown, which helps promote overall health.

Over and above these health benefits of exercise of women, exercise can also increase your energy levels, improve your digestion, improves your quality of sleep, and can decrease your risk of developing chronic diseases. Exercise offers incredible benefits that can improve nearly every aspect of your health!

Practice gratitude

We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude. Rather than complain about the things you think you deserve, take a few moments to focus on all that you have. Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life. Whether you choose to write a few sentences in a gratitude journal, or simply take a moment to silently acknowledge all that you have, giving thanks can transform your life.

Some health benefits of practicing gratitude are as follows:

  • Gratitude improves self-care.
  • Gratitude improves physical health.
  • Gratitude improves psychological health.
  • Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
  • Grateful people sleep
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem.
  • Gratitude increases mental strength.

So superwomen … what are you going to do to take care of yourself during this beautiful Women’s Month?

Want to know more about your nutrition? Get in touch with Melanie Sher.

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Diabetes update from Fry’s

A teaspoon of sugar. . . A drop in the ocean or a dangerous liaison?

Sugar, once the only supposed causative culprit of high blood sugar, is actually now accepted as a lesser evil than various other sweetened and even unsweetened foods.

Caryn Davies, a registered dietician shares some perspective on the sugar saga. Diabetes management is no longer solely focused on restricting all dietary items that contain sugar, but is rather centered on an understanding and avoidance of the foods which can dramatically raise blood sugar. Surprisingly, ‘sweetness’ is not necessarily an accurate predictor.

Of course, a teaspoon of sugar will increase one’s blood sugar, but more dramatic effects are interestingly noted after the consumption of highly refined carbohydrate foods, such as a slice of white or brown bread, a cup of certain breakfast cereals or fruit juice and even one rice cake. The ability of foods to affect our blood sugar after eating has been qualified and quantified in the context of the Glycemic Index (GI) and the Glycemic Load (GL), which give us insight into the type and amount of carbohydrates that should be consumed for optimal blood sugar control.

The best food choices for diabetics include carbohydrates that have been minimally processed (low GI carbohydrates), as these will result in a more gradual rise in blood sugar after eating, than the highly processed, more refined alternatives (high GI carbohydrates). Unlike carbohydrates, protein and fat do not exert an immediate rise in blood sugar and the effect of eating carbohydrates in conjunction with a small amount of healthy fat or lean protein is beneficial to overall glycemic control, as is the presence of fibre.

Many foods do contain a combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat, but some contain disproportionate amounts of fat, which is especially unhealthy for diabetics, as a high fat intake has the ability to reduce the efficiency of insulin, (the hormone which controls rising blood sugar). Thus, the key to effective diabetes management is to eat mixed and carefully balanced meals and to choose combination foods that are high in fibre and low in total and saturated fat.

Food shopping can get decidedly overwhelming as the topic of health can be interpreted and marketed in many different ways. Furthermore, food labeling is not always easy to decipher or even available.

The road to becoming consumer savvy starts with familiarizing oneself with common low GI foods and the concept of portion control. Well renowned low GI foods include unrefined starches, such as brown rice and oat bran; high protein grains such as quinoa, most legumes (beans, chickpeas & lentils), raw nuts and fruit & vegetable varieties that are eaten with the skin on. Whole foods, eaten as close to their natural form as possible, are the ultimate benchmark. Second to this, is portion control, because even a low GI carbohydrate consumed in large quantities could send blood sugar skyrocketing! (Potentially more than some high GI foods consumed in very small quantities.)

This brings us back to sugar –the currently considered vice of the modern diet! Perspective from the Glycemic Index, yields it somewhat acceptable in moderation. However, issues arise when portion control (the Glycemic Load) is ignored. Although a teaspoon of sugar in an afternoon cup of tea may be relatively slight in effect, 4 cups of heavily sugared caffeine in a day paints another picture altogether. This coupled with the added sugar that is found in most cereals, convenience snack foods, sweetened dairy products and the diversity of drinks stocking the supermarket shelves these days, suddenly collaborate as a lifestyle risk factor for sugar addiction, insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity! (All of which can be exacerbated by an excess of sugar in the diet.)

These statistically increasing conditions of lifestyle, despite being manageable, are to a large extent preventable! All it takes is a little bit of consumer savvy! Choose high fibre carbohydrates (> 6g fibre per 100g,) products that are low in fat (<3 g per 100g,) and practice portion control! (Add extra salad for satiety!) These simple principles, although used as the base of diabetes management, are not only useful for diabetics, but for anyone seeking good health, weight control and sustained energy!