Extra Virgin Olive Oil – can it be used for cooking?

Extra virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil packed with antioxidants and heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids which make it an ideal choice for salad dressings. There is a lot of discussion about which oils are better suited for cooking and we are commonly asked whether extra virgin olive oil should be avoided due to its ‘low’ smoke point.

A smoke point relates to the temperature that the oil starts to smoke and break down. When this happens it can affect the nutrition and flavour of the oil and the dish you are preparing. Also reaching the smoke point can damage the antioxidants and the structure of the beneficial fats.

The smoke point of oil generally becomes an issue when deep frying food and that oil is saved to be used at a later time to minimise waste.

Contrary to popular belief extra virgin olive oil is not only suitable for salad dressings, with a smoke point of 190-215ºC. it is suitable for most types of cooking including baking therefore if you like to spray your pan or your food with extra virgin olive oil for non-stick cooking then there is no reason to avoid it. As long as you are not deep frying, there is no reason to exclusively use one type of oil. A range of oils can be used depending on the dishes prepared. For example some Asian dishes are better with sesame or peanut oil or the occasional coconut oil.

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Can beetroot juice enhance sports performance?

Beetroot contains a particularly high content of inorganic nitrate which has been found to have a positive effect on athletic performance. When consumed, nitrate is converted by the body to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide serves multiple important functions such as increasing blood flow, by acting as a vasodilator and providing the muscles with a greater supply of oxygen and nutrients. It also helps to clear away waste products from the working muscles.

Beetroot juice is an easy and convenient way to deliver a high dose of nitrate which may help to increase blood nitric oxide concentrations. It can be made at home using a standard kitchen juicer or purchased as ready-to-drink concentrated shots or powder forms by various companies.

Studies that have looked at supplementation with beetroot juice found improvements in cardiorespiratory endurances in athletes including an increase in time to exhaustion at submaximal intensities and improved performance at anaerobic threshold intensities.

However, there is still work to be done to determine the recommended timing and dosage of beetroot supplementation in athletes.

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Butter or margarine – which is best?

Butter or margarine? That is the question we are always asked.

There is an ongoing debate about which of these two spreads is better to use. The decision of which to use really comes down to taste, the quantity used and any long-standing heart conditions.

The main difference between butter and margarine is the fatty acid composition; however, the calorie content between the two does not differ unless buying fat reduced versions.


Butter is predominantly saturated fat and research has linked a diet high in saturated fats to an increase in cholesterol which may increase the risk of heart disease. Butter is made by churning milk or cream which separates the butterfat (solids) from the buttermilk (liquids).


Margarines are composed of different oils and depending on the oil used the fatty acid will also change. A sunflower margarine is high in polyunsaturated fats and an olive oil/canola oil margarine will be high in monounsaturated fats. Margarines can also be fortified with plant sterols to assist with cholesterol reabsorption. Both mono -& poly-unsaturated fats have a heart protective effect and are not linked to increases in cholesterol level.

If you have heart disease then using a margarine might be a better option as it is recommended to swap saturated fats for unsaturated fats. However, if you eat a healthy balanced diet then using butter might be suitable option for you.

Another thing to consider is taste preference and how much and how often you use any of these two spreads. We need to look at the whole diet. A thin scraping of butter on a slice of bread might not be enough to affect cholesterol levels.

If you need further guidance in managing heart disease and cholesterol make an appointment with our PPN dietitians to help you better understand the nutritional adequacy of your diet to meet your health goals.

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Why we should all be eating more prebiotic foods

We all know that dietary fibre is good for our gut health. High intakes of dietary fibre have also been linked with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, colon cancer and obesity.

Certain types of dietary fibres called ‘prebiotics’ are referred to as non digestible food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth and/or activity of beneficial ‘good’ bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in the large bowel, thus positively impacting a person’s gut microbiome.

For a food to be classified as a prebiotics it must:

  1. Resist gastric acidity, hydrolysis by human enzymes and gastrointestinal absorption.
  2. Be fermented by the intestinal microflora.
  3. Selectively stimulate the growth and/or activity of intestinal bacteria associated with health and well-being.

So in other words, prebiotics are the food that our good gut bacteria need to survive!

Some other health benefits linked to prebiotic intake includes improved gut barrier function and host immunity, improved mineral absorption, improved blood glucose and insulin profiles, protection against gut infections and some improvements in inflammatory conditions.

Dietary fibres classified as having a prebiotic effect includes inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). Such foods include:

  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Spring onion
  • Shallots
  • Beetroot
  • Asparagus
  • Cabbage
  • Leeks
  • Legumes
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Oats
  • Chicory
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Cashews
  • Pistachio nuts

So if we know these food are great for our health, why are we not eating more of them?

Some people, particularly those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), report unpleasant side effects such as wind, abdominal bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea when consuming these foods. As a result, they may have been told to follow a low FODMAP diet (which eliminates these foods) to help alleviate symptoms. However, it is important to seek professional advice from a dietitian when doing this, as a low FODMAP diet is only intended for a short period of time (2-8 weeks), with the aim of reintroducing these foods back into the diet in varying quantities, to avoid long term restriction of beneficial prebiotics and disrupting the levels of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in the large bowel.

  1. Joanne Slavin. Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits. Nutrients. 2013;5(4):1417-1435.
  2. Tuck CJ, McNamara LS, Gibson PR. Editorial: rethinking predictors of response to the low FODMAP diet – should we retire fructose and lactose breath-hydrogen testing and concentrate on visceral hypersensitivity?’. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2017;45(9):1281-1282.
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Sports drinks… Are they necessary?

It is important to stay on top of our hydration. Increases in temperature often means we lose more fluid, as our body sweats to cool us down – especially if working or exercising outdoors in the sunlight. But how exactly do we make sure that our bodies are well hydrated?

Ideally, fluid should be replaced in accordance with sweating rates. It is important to note that there are large differences between individuals when it comes to fluid lost through sweat, even when completing the same activities under the same conditions. This is especially important for athletes to monitor, as recovery after a training session or competition can be vital for performance at the next session. Some athletes may see fluid losses that equate up to 2% of their body weight, which can begin to impact performance, especially in hot temperatures (>30ºC). Exceeding this amount could result in heat stress and delay recovery times, impacting performance during the next exercise session.

Fluid losses can result in decreased blood flow around the body and as a result, increases in core body temperature. High intensity exercise is the biggest risk factor for heat stress as a result of dehydration. It is best to avoid dehydration by replacing lost fluids when exercising for 60 minutes or longer, especially in bouts of high intensity exercise.

There are many products marketed toward athletes, such as sports drinks. Some commonly found within Australia include Gatorade, Powderade and Staminade. These sports drinks can be useful for effective recovery of athletes, when used appropriately. They are typically made up of fluid, electrolytes, and carbohydrate, which are specifically balanced and designed for rehydration and refuelling, during or after exercise.

*Carbohydrate: is our bodies first choice of fuel for the brain and muscles. Carbohydrate can be found in the form of various sugars such as glucose, sucrose, fructose or maltodextrin, with most drinks containing somewhere between 4-8g of carbohydrate per 100ml.

*Electrolytes: including as sodium and potassium. Sodium is the main electrolyte lose through sweat, and the sodium added to sports drinks increases fluid absorption and retention. Potassium is another electrolyte which aids muscular contractions.

Additional added ingredients include flavours, vitamins, minerals and proteins. These most likely offer very little or no added benefits, and are rather added for palatability. Some drinks may also contain caffeine, which can improve performance.

For athletes, sports drinks may be useful during exercise when the activity lasts for a duration of 60-90 minutes or longer. They may also be useful for recovery after a prolonged exercise session, to replace carbohydrate (glycogen) stores and electrolytes lost through sweat. For short bouts of exercise, or low intensity sessions with little loss of fluid, sports drink may not be necessary.

But what about those of us who aren’t elite athletes, but want to stay on top of our hydration? While sports drinks can be useful for athletes, they are not necessary on an everyday basis for those simply looking to quench their thirst. They tend to be quite high in energy as well as sugar. Many range from 600-1200kJ of energy and 10-14 teaspoons of sugar in 1 standard drink. On an everyday basis, water is more than likely sufficient to prevent dehydration.

It is important to consume sufficient water following an exercise session, with individual requirements that will vary, however drinking to thirst should be sufficient. Take note of the temperature, as you will most likely need to drink more fluid on a hot day. The need for sports drinks is dependent upon the duration, intensity and environment of the exercise you are undertaking. For individual nutrition advice regarding hydration and recovery, see one of our Accredited Practising Dietitians.

  1. Shirreffs SM, Sawka MN, Stone M. Water and Electrolyte Needs for Football Training and Match-play. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2006 Jul;24(7):699-707.
  2. Coyle EF. Fluid and fuel intake during exercise. Journal of Sports Sciences. 3002 Aug 7; 22(1):39-55.
  3. Shirreffs SM. Hydration in sport and exercise: water, sports drinks and other drinks. Nutrition Bulletin. 2009 Dec;34(4):374-379.
    Volume 34, Issue 4
  4. Armstrong LE. Assessing Hydration Status: The Elusive Gold Standard. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2013 Jul;26(5):575-584.
  5. Shirreffs SM. Markers of hydration status. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003 Dec;57(2):6-9.
  6. Rehrer NJ. Fluid and Electrolyte Balance in Ultra- Endurance Sport. Sports Medicine. 2001 Aug;31(10):701-715.
  7. Convertino VA, et al. Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise. 1996 Jan;28(1).
  8. Shirreffs SM, Armstrong LE, Cheuvront SN. Fluid and electrolyte needs for preparation and recovery from training and competition. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2004 Jan;22(1):7-63.
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Facts about Fat

Fat is one of three macronutrients found in the diet. Fat has previously been thought to be the ‘bad guy’, leading to weight gain and poor health outcomes. More recent studies, however, have found that diets high in fat are not the primary cause of weight gain. Each gram of fat contains twice the amount of kilojoules, or energy, than carbohydrate or protein. While this means that an overconsumption of fat can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight, it also means that fat can aid with satiety. The truth of the matter is, fat is an essential part of our diet, and is important for good health. It is a major source of energy for the body, aids with absorption of some vitamins and minerals and is essential for the building of cells, blood clotting and muscle movement. What is of more interest is the role that different types of fats have in the body. Some fats have been identified as being better than others. ‘Good fats’ include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, while ‘bad fats’ include trans-fats and saturated fats.

Trans fats and saturated fats play a role in the level of cholesterol found in the blood.

There are two different types of cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. LDL is commonly known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol while HDL cholesterol is the ‘good’ version of cholesterol. Cholesterol has many important functions in the body, however having high levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood can prompt blockages to form in arteries in the heart and elsewhere in the body, contributing to an increased risk of heart disease. A diet rich in saturated and trans fats can increase total cholesterol and tip the balance toward more harmful LDL cholesterol. Trans fats can be found in deep fried foods and baked goods such as biscuits, cakes, pastries and buns, and in small amounts in dairy products, beef, lamb and veal. Common sources of saturated fat include red meat, whole milk and other whole-milk dairy foods, cheese, coconut oil and many processed and baked goods.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds, olives, oils, fish, lean meats and poultry, eggs, avocado and margarine spreads. Including a range of these foods in your diet may help to reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol found in the blood. The increasingly popular Mediterranean diet is low in saturated fat while high in both monounsaturated fats, including an abundance of plant foods, fresh fruit olive oil, dairy products, fish and poultry. This pattern of eating has been associated with a reduced risk of mental and physical health problems, including cardiovascular disease. For good health, aim to eat a balanced diet, of which fat is included. Opt to swap saturated and trans fats for the healthier unsaturated fats where possible, by following patterns of the Mediterranean diet.

See an accredited PPN practising dietitian to assist you in managing your fat intake.

  1. Willet WC, Leibel RL. Dietary fat is not major determinant of body fat. American Journal of Medicine. 2002 Dec 30;113.
  2. Lichtenstein AH. Dietary fats and cardiovascular disease risk: quantity or quality? Journal of Womens Health. 2003 Mar 12(2):109-14.
  3. Riccardi G, Giacco R, Rivellese AA. Dietary fat, insulin sensitivity and the metabolic syndrome. Clinical Nutrition. 2004 Aug ,23(4):447-56.
  4. Willett WC, Sacks F, Trichopoulou A, Drescher G, Ferro-luzzi A, Helsing E, Trichopoulous D. Mediterranean diet pyramid: a cultural model for healthy eating. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1995 Jun 6, 61(6):1402-1406.
  5. Knoops KT, De Groot LC, Kromhout D, Perri AE, Moreiras-Varela O, Menotti A, Van Staveren WA. Mediterranean Diet, Lifestyle Factors and 10-year Mortality in Elderly European Men and Women. The Journal of the American Medical Assocaition. 2004 Sep 22;292(1):1422-9.
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Are you getting enough Iron?

Iron is a mineral needed by the body for the transport of oxygen to all of our cells and tissues. It is vital for growth, brain development, immunity and overall health and wellbeing.

Iron deficiency is a fairly common problem and without intervention, it is one that can lead to iron deficiency or anaemia. Common causes of iron deficiency in adults include an inadequate dietary iron intake, chronic loss of blood and a decreases ability to absorb iron. Risk of a deficiency is higher during life stages of rapid growth when iron needs increase, or when involved in vigorous exercise. Particularly, pregnant and lactating mothers, babies and toddler, menstruating women, and female athletes are at risk. Adult males require 8mg of iron per day, while adult females require 18mg.

There are two types of iron: haem and non-haem iron. These two types of iron differ in their ability to be absorbed by the body. Haem iron is derived from haemoglobin and myoglobin, and it is well absorbed and remains relatively unaffected by other foods eaten within the same meal. Haem iron can be found predominately in meat, fish or poultry. Beef and lamb are some of the best sources of iron, as they contain double the amount of iron found in pork, chicken and fish. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating an iron rich diet which includes 130g of cooked beef or lamb every second day.

Non-haem iron is found in plant-based foods, and is not as well absorbed by the body when compared to haem iron. Examples of non-haem iron sources include tofu, spinach, eggs and lentils. Adding a source of Vitamin C to a meal containing a non-haem iron source will increase the amount of iron absorbed (see our previous blog post for more information!).

If you have low energy, or experience poor concentration, irritability and general low moods, you may have low iron stores. The best way to prevent iron deficiencies is to consume an iron-rich foods regularly. If you suffer from iron deficiency, your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement to assist in increasing your iron stores. Once they have returned to normal, you should be able to maintain your iron stores by consuming regular iron-rich meals. If you are concerned about your iron levels, see your GP to ask for a blood test.

  1. Hallberg L, et al. Iron requirements and bioavailability of dietary iron. Experientia Supplentum. 1980;44:223-44.
  2. Monsen ER, et al. Iron nutrition and absorption: dietary factors which impact iron bioavailability. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1988 Jul;88(7):786-90.
  3. Morris ER, et al. An overview of current information on bioavailability of dietary iron to humans. Federation Proceedings. 1983 Apr;42(6):1716-20.
  4. Bermejo F, Garcia-Lopez S. A guide to diagnosis of iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia in digestive diseases. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2009 Oct 7;15(37):4638-4643.
  5. Lynch SR, et al. Interaction of Vitamin C and iron. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1980;355:32-44.
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Setting Realistic Health Goals

For most of us, making a change can be incredibly challenging when we don’t know where to start. It can be the same when it comes to our health. How often have you said ‘I need to do more exercise’ or ‘I need to eat better’? Saying this out loud indicates that you are contemplating making a change; however, these statements are too broad and usually nothing ever changes as a result.

In order to put words into action, we need to start thinking about HOW to exercise more or HOW we can start to eat better.

Setting exercise goals

Ask yourself what you like to do. Sometimes something as simple as a walk is a good start or perhaps start putting that gym membership to good use (let’s face it, we all have one but never use it enough). If you decide that you will go for a walk, set the days and time of day. This way you are more likely to make it happen.

Setting diet goals

Similar rules apply to dietary changes. Think about your setbacks. Is it portions sizes, after dinner snacking, not enough water?

Once you identify what you need to change, put a plan in place to make it happen. Start working on one setback and continue to add to it as time goes on. One change might seem like nothing, but this way it does not seem too daunting and you are less likely to throw in the towel.

Ensure goals are realistic for you. Do not compare yourself to others and what they are doing. Most importantly all changes need to fit into your lifestyle. When making a change ask yourself: ‘Can I keep this up in the long term?’ If the answer is no, the goal needs to be amended to suit you and your lifestyle.

For further guidance, come see one of our PPN dietitians to help guide you through your lifestyle change!

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Which probiotic is right for me?

Our gut microbiome is a collection of bacteria that lives in the digestive tract. A healthy balance of gut bacteria is crucial our health and well-being. If an imbalance is present, individuals can be more susceptible to illness and disease. In order to achieve a healthy gut, there needs to be diversity in the types of gut microbes present.

Today, more and more people are deciding to take probiotics in an attempt to improve their gut microbiome, manage lower gastrointestinal symptoms and optimise overall health and well-being. Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host. They can be consumed in different forms such as capsules, sachets, drinks and fermented foods including sauerkraut, kefir and yoghurts.

The issue is, there are so many different types of probiotics to choose from. So what should we be looking for?

When it comes to probiotics, there are many factors determining the response a person will have to treatment. These include probiotic strain(s), dose and mode of administration (capsules, food and sachets), the health status of the person, their diet and medications.

Current research is looking into the role of specific probiotics in managing particular lower gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating/distension and diarrhoea-predominant IBS. If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), it’s recommended you speak with your gastroenterologist or dietitian to determine if a specific strain(s) would be better suited to improving your gastrointestinal symptoms and quality of life.

Here are three handy tips to remember when deciding on a probiotic:

  1. VARIETY: Looks for a broad spectrum probiotic that has >10 different strains of microorganisms
  2. DOSE: Look for the Colony Forming Units (CFUs) – this will tell you how much bacteria you are receiving in each dose. Most doses will range from 1 million to 100 billion. It is always better to go for higher CFUs as not all bacteria survive when travelling through the gastrointestinal tract.
  3. FREQUENCY: Probiotics must be taken on a regular basis for a reasonable period of time (at least one month). Regular consumption is important because probiotic strains are transient and will generally be washed out within days.
  1. Hungin AP, Mulligan C, Pot B, Whorwell P, Agréus L, Fracasso P, et al. Systematic review: probiotics in the management of lower gastrointestinal symptoms in clinical practice — an evidence-based international guide. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2013 Oct;38(8):864-86
  2. FAO/WHO Working Group. Guidelines for the evaluation of probiotics in food. Report of a joint FAO/WHO working group on drafting guidelines from the evaluation of probiotics in food. London, Ontario, Canada 2001.
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Nutrient absorption… How does it work?

Our bodies require a range of nutrients for proper growth and development, some in large quantities and others in only small amounts. However, not all nutrients react within our body in the same way, or are absorbed to the same extent. In fact, different nutrients can be quite unique in the way our body processes them.

Nutrients in the form of supplements are absorbed differently to the nutrients found naturally in food. Some nutrients interact with one another, interfering with or enhancing their ability to be absorbed by the body. Food products can also be fortified with particular nutrients during production to enhance nutrient content. Other factors such as stress and alcohol consumption can also have an impact on our absorption. We can use some of this knowledge to our advantage to make the most of our meals by pairing certain foods together, or avoiding foods which may inhibit absorption of a particular meal. Here are a few examples:


Iron absorption is improved by the presence of ascorbic acid, more commonly known as Vitamin C. However, iron absorption is inhibited by calcium, when consumed simultaneously. Tannins and phytates are also inhibitors of iron absorption, so be sure to reduce the intake of tea and coffee around the time of consuming an iron-rich meal, particularly from a plant-based iron source. To boost your iron absorption, pair iron-rich meat and legumes with Vitamin C containing foods such as capsicum, oranges, broccoli and chilli.


Calcium is absorbed primarily in the small intestine. When large amounts are consumed, calcium can pass through the lining of the small intestine on its own; however, when consumed in small amounts, calcium’s absorption is improved with the presence of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is mostly absorbed by sun exposure to the skin; however, the vitamin can also be found in some seafood such as salmon and tuna, eggs and fortified dairy products such as soy milk.

Fat soluble vitamins

Vitamins A, D, E and K are ‘fat-soluble’ vitamins, which means they need fats to be absorbed efficiently. Regularly include a source of healthy unsaturated fat into your meals, including oily fish, avocado, olive or olive oils, nuts and seeds. This can be done by using olive oil-based dressings, topping your salads or toast with avocado and seeds, or snacking on nuts.

If you experience changes in your energy levels, bowel habits, skin integrity or hair and nails, check in with your GP to find out if you have any nutrient deficiencies. Our accredited practising dietitians can also assist you in achieving a well balanced diet and reduce your risk of nutritional deficiencies.

  1. Gibson RS, Peras L, Hotz C. Improving the Bioavailability of Nutrients in Plant Foods at the Household Level. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2006 May;65(2):160-8.
  2. Pressman P, Clements RA, Hayes AW. Bioavailability of micronutrients obtained from supplements and food. Toxicology Research and Application. 2017; 1:1-7.
  3. Hallberg L, et al. The role of Vitamin C in Iron Absorption. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. 1989; 30:103-8.
  4. Zijp IM, et al. Effect of tea and other dietary factors on iron absorption. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2000 Sep;40(5):371-98.
  5. Lynch SR, Cook JD. Interaction of Vitamin C and Iron. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1980;355: 32-44.
  6. Loonerdal B. Calcium and iron absorption—mechanisms and public health relevance. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. 2010 Oct;80(4-5):293-9.
  7. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) & World Health Organization (WHO) (2010). Fats and Fatty Acids in Human Nutrition. Report of an expert consultation. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper. 2010;91:1-166.
  8. Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Fat Soluble Vitamins. 1989; pp. 78-97.
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