Archive for Nutrition

Bone Up For Better Health

If you’re already working out or following an exercise program, most likely you’re focusing on muscle and fat. But underneath that muscle and fat are your bones. Your bones don’t respond “visibly” to your exercise routine, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important for overall health. Exercise has a great influence on your bone health, appearance, and well being.

Osteoporosis (gradual loss of bone mass), is a common affliction in women. It leads to smaller bones, shorter height, a “hunch back” look, and the possibility of broken bones after middle age. With osteoporosis, bones become less dense, and therefore less strong. According to Sue Grossbauer, RD, the risk of osteoporosis increases after menopause, when estrogen levels decline. In fact, about half of all women over age 50 develop bone fractures as a result of osteoporosis.

To protect bones, medical researchers recommend a routine that includes at least one of three types of exercise:

  • Weight bearing exercise, such as walking, hiking, jogging, stair climbing, skiing, jumping rope, and dancing. These types of exercises are more apt to improve bone mass than any other physical activity, as they put both gravitational and muscular stress on your bones.
  • High-impact exercise – tennis, baseball, and soccer.
  • Weight lifting – resistance training, weight machines or dumbbells. Even household chores that require carrying heavy items, such as groceries and children, are included in this category.

If you’re currently not involved in an exercise program, or you simply want to add more physical activity to your daily routine, then:

  • Walk more often – to the store, work, social events. Get off the bus a few stops earlier. If you drive to the store, park far from the entrance.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • While watching TV, use the treadmill or exercise bike. Or do stomach crunches and light calisthenics.

Of course, exercise is only one aspect of keeping your bones healthy. You also need enough calcium and vitamin D. Don’t wait until menopause to start thinking about calcium – developing bone mass in your younger years gives you the reserve to draw on later. When thinking about calcium, most women automatically think “milk”. Sure, low-fat milk is a good choice, but there are other foods that give you the calcium needed to keep your bones strong.

  1. Yogurt and frozen yogurt offer 200-400 mg./cup of calcium. To maximize nutrition, top with slices of fresh or canned fruit. Make dips for veggies with plain, low-fat or no-fat yogurt, using your own spices (dill, onion, garlic – or a Ranch powder).
  2. Soy foods are gaining in popularity – not only is soy good for your bones; it’s very heart-healthy, too. Tofu has 250 mgs. per half cup and calcium-fortified soy milk has 200-500 mgs. per 8 oz. Firm tofu can be chopped up and used in stir-fries; silken tofu can be blended with fruit in a blender for a nutritious, calcium-packed smoothie, or blended with spices to make a great dip for cut-up veggies.
  3. Enjoy naturally high-calcium foods such as sardines or canned salmon. Dark green veggies are another source – kale, spinach, bok choy, collard greens, mustard greens, chicory, broccoli and acorn squash. Get creative with legumes – chickpeas & pinto beans. Sprinkle almonds on top of your oatmeal. Make desserts using figs or blackstrap molasses.
  4. Use low-fat cheese on sandwiches, make quesadillas for a quick lunch or dinner, or sprinkle some cheese on a salad (use fresh spinach to really give your salad a boost of calcium!).
  5. For a nutritious snack, whip up a smoothie in the blender using milk or yogurt, and some fruit. Or have a piece of string cheese and some crackers. How about a nutritious, low-fat muffin with a glass of calcium-fortified orange juice?

If you are concerned about getting enough calcium – maybe you don’t drink milk or eat some of the foods mentioned above – taking a calcium supplement is a must. However, it is NOT a substitute for high calcium foods, so eating the right foods is a better choice.

To get the best calcium absorption, take only 500 milligrams at one time. Your body may not be able to absorb larger doses at one time. Take calcium pills with meals to make sure your stomach acid breaks down the supplement. Calcium citrate is generally easier to break down.

If your calcium supplement doesn’t contain vitamin D, you should take 200-400 units of vitamin D per 1000 mgs. of calcium, as vitamin D is necessary for the efficient absorption of calcium.

Taking the antacid, Tums after each meal is an easy way to reach your calcium goal. Consult your doctor to find out which type of supplement is best for you.

Take care of your bones and they will provide you with the strong, sturdy frame needed for life. No bones about it!

Food For Thought

I remember my teenage years when dinner “on the run” meant stopping at the local convenience store for a package of Ho-Ho’s. I was all of 118 pounds then, and squeezed into size 9 Calvin Klein jeans very nicely.

Let’s face it – now that we’re older (and hopefully wiser), we can’t live off of Ho-Ho’s and Doritos for dinner anymore – unless we’re willing to accept a host of health problems.

Every time you pick up a magazine, you can read about the latest dieting fad – the grapefruit diet, the latest celebrity diet, the liquid diet, diet pills. However, the only safe and effective way to lose weight and keep it off is to exercise and eat “right.” Just what does eating “right” mean?

The Food Guide Pyramid is an outline of what to eat each day based on the Dietary Guidelines. It’s not a rigid prescription, but a general guide that lets you choose a healthful diet. It calls for eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need, and the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight.

The Food Guide Pyramid shows to eat 6-11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta each day. For example, one serving in this category would be one slice of bread, 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta. Since white bread, rice and pasta give minimal nutrients, it is better to eat whole-wheat products.

The next food group is vegetables, which we need to eat 3-5 servings of each day. This would include one cup of raw leafy vegetables, ½ cup of other cooked or chopped vegetables, or ¾ cup of vegetable juice.

We also need 2-4 servings of fruit each day. One medium apple, banana or orange counts as one serving, as well as ½ cup of chopped or cooked fruit, or ¾ cup of fruit juice. Researchers have found that canned and frozen fruits (and vegetables) have almost equal the fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium of fresh. “Fresh produce is often picked before it’s ripe, then shipped hundreds of miles,” explains Dr. Dean Edell, author of “Eat, Drink and Be Merry,” “but canned and frozen produce is picked closer to ripeness and then sealed, locking in the nutrients.”

As far as meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts go – we only need 2-3 servings a day. That would mean 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish (the size of the palm of your hand), or ½ cup of cooked dry beans, two tablespoons of peanut butter, or one egg. A study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” tracked more than 100,000 people for 14 years and found that one egg a day isn’t so bad after all. “If your diet is balanced you don’t have to avoid eggs, and can even include them in your diet,” said Frank Hu, lead author of the study.

With the milk, yogurt and cheese group, we also only need 2-3 servings per day. That’s one cup of milk (keep it no fat or low fat) or yogurt, 1 ½ oz. of natural cheese, or 2 oz. of process cheese.

Lastly, use fats, oils and sweets sparingly. That would include butter, margarine, and oils for fats. Instead of adding butter to your mashed potatoes, use a bit of chicken broth instead. Spray pans with cooking spray to sauté food, instead of using oil or butter. Standard American dietary guidelines suggest that your total fat intake should not exceed 30 percent of the day’s total food intake, though some doctors and other experts strongly believe it should be lower – between 20 and 25 percent.

When it comes to eating before or after exercise, some people can wake up in the morning and go for a walk on an empty stomach. Others may feel weak and lightheaded if they don’t eat before exercising. According to Michelle Stanten, Fitness Editor for “Prevention” magazine, the most important points to remember when it comes to eating before working out are:

Don’t eat a full meal. Wait at least 30 minutes to begin exercising after you eat. After eating, your heart pumps more blood to the stomach to aid in digestion. When you’re exercising, the arm and leg muscles you’re working need blood. If you eat too close to exercising, your heart ends up working harder than it should, trying to pump blood to both your digestive organs and your muscles.

Good choices would be small snacks that are easy to digest, such as fresh or dried fruit, a bagel with a little peanut butter, raw veggies and low-fat dip, or low-fat cheese and crackers – not Ho-Ho’s or Doritos.

Food & Nutrition

Fresh vs frozen

Q. Is there much difference in the nutritional value of frozen and fresh vegetables?

It all depends on how fresh they were to start with and how you cook them. ‘Fresh’ no longer means ‘just picked’. If your fresh vegetables have sat at the markets, then at the greengrocer and then in your fridge before you prepare them, their vitamin levels will have already declined. And if you overcook them or hold them warm for more than 5 minutes, that further destroys some (not all) of the nutrients. It’s mostly the heat-sensitive vitamins – C and B group – that are affected. The content of minerals and fibre remains the same. So frozen can be as good as fresh as long as you cook them quickly in as little water as possible.

On the other hand, uncooked fresh vegetables – like a salad – give us a higher intake of these vitamins plus many antioxidants. I often recommend a salad a day for just this reason.

Microwaving away the goodness?

Q. Does microwave cooking destroy the goodness in your food?

No. In fact, microwaving retains a great many more nutrients than does boiling as it uses little or no water so you don’t leach out the valuable nutrients into the surrounding water. And it cooks food fast by ‘energising’ the particles of water within a food. So microwaving rates on a par with steaming. This means that the heat-sensitive vitamins – B vitamins and vitamin C – are not depleted as much.

Most other nutrients are not affected adversely by any cooking method. In fact, cooking improves the digestibility of most proteins and increases the availability of lycopene and other fat-soluble vitamins by softening tough outer cell walls. Mineral and fibre content do not change.

Healthy recipes

Q. How can you tell if a recipe is healthy?

Look at these 4 key things:

1. It excludes unhealthy ingredients Look down the list of ingredients. If they contain a lot of sugar, lots of fat, white flour, white rice, it probably isn’t that great for your health.

2. It is based on healthy fats and not too much of them. A little oil is fine but you don’t want recipes that call for lots of butter, cream, sour cream, mascarpone or copha. Save these ones for a special occasion.

3. It doesn’t have large amounts of salted ingredients Stock (liquid or cubes or powder), soy sauce, fish sauce or similar Asian salty sauces, bacon, anchovies and cheese all mean a high intake of sodium (salt), which is harmful to your blood pressure. You can choose to leave out the salt from you can’t take out the salt from these ingredients.

4. It employs a healthy cooking method Steaming, grilling, roasting on a tray in the oven or pan frying in a non-stick pan with a thin smear of oil are all good for you. Deep frying or shallow frying in a pan is not.

Less oil in carrot cake

Q. I would like a substitute for oil in a carrot cake recipe. I love carrot cake but am very conscious of oil intake. Do you think I could use yoghurt?

I love carrot cake too! But I feel you can’t eliminate the oil completely as the cake won’t have a good flavour (and oil is healthier than the butter or sour cream used to make most cakes).

You could try using only half the quantity of oil and substitute the other half with apple puree (canned or bottled or home-made) rather than yoghurt. The apple keeps a cake moist and functions more like a fat than fruit.

Freezing uncooked meat

Q. Is it safe to refreeze uncooked meat once it has been thawed?

Generally no. Once your meat has thawed and is ‘soft’ when you press it with your finger, it is best NOT to re-freeze. But if your meat is still partly frozen and ‘firm’ to touch, it’s OK to pop back in the freezer. The safest way to defrost meat, poultry or fish is overnight in the fridge. Food defrosted this way never reaches a temperature over 4 degrees Celsius so food poisoning is avoided. If you are stuck with a lot of thawed meat, your safest option is to cook it as a casserole or curry and then freeze it as a finished dish.

Nutrition losses during processing

Q. When whole grain rice is processed into a puffed rice breakfast cereal, are the vitamins lost?

Processing any whole grain with milling and high temperature steaming or toasting into breakfast cereal results in losses of both vitamins and minerals. Fortunately in Australia our food industry is allowed to ‘add back’ nutrients so the end product continues to be a nutritious food –although it will always have less than the original whole grain with its full complement of nutrients. Typically four B vitamins and iron are added, but manufacturers may add others. To know which nutrients your cereal is fortified with, simply check the ingredients list on the pack.

Big meals or small snacks

Q. From a health viewpoint, how many meals is best – three main meals a day or several smaller ones?

Three meals a day is not a hard and fast rule. In some African villages, men and women work all day without consuming more than a light snack. However, their evening meal is long, with many courses. Many people are unable to consume three large meals and fare better on five or six small meals over the day. Children and adolescents in particular need between-meal snacks as their energy needs are high, but their capacity is limited.

Interestingly, research has shown that people who snack frequently tend not to consume more kilojoules than those having just three meals a day. Some studies even show they are more likely to be slimmer. Nutritionists think this may be due to better appetite control and a boost in metabolic rate with more frequent eating.

The bottom line: If you plan to start eating mini-meals over the day, make sure you decrease the size of your three main meals. So instead of a sandwich, fruit and yoghurt for lunch, just eat the sandwich and save the fruit and yoghurt for 3pm.

Flavour without salt

Q. Is there a substitute for salt in cooking to add flavour without the health risk?

The healthiest way to substitute salt is by cooking with lots of garlic, onion, ginger, spices, lemon and fresh herbs. It takes about two weeks, but once you start cooking this way, it won’t be long before you begin to enjoy food’s true flavours unmasked by salt. Or you can buy a salt substitute based on potassium chloride rather than sodium chloride which adds a salt-like flavour. But before you buy this, check with your doctor, as too much potassium can be harmful if you have kidney problems or are taking certain medications.

Iron-fortified milks and calcium

Q. Are iron-fortified milks beneficial? I have read that iron is not absorbed effectively when mixed with a dairy product. Is this correct?

Iron from non-meat sources (known as non-haem iron) is poorly absorbed by the body. In theory, many factors in the diet can make this absorption worse, including the calcium in dairy products, the tannins in tea and coffee, and the phytates found in beans, lentils and bran cereals. Recent research has revealed, however, that the net effect of these ‘inhibitors’ on iron absorption may not be as bad as we think. And vitamin C (which is also added to iron-fortified milks) can significantly improve iron absorption. So whilst the iron absorbed from these milks may not be that great, when compared to red meat, it will still be better than if these milks were not consumed at all. If you have iron deficiency anaemia or you eat no meat, products like these can make a difference to overall intake. Calcium intakes have to be quite high before they interfere with iron absorption – more likely with calcium supplements than from food alone.

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Use-by or Best-before date?

Q. What’s the difference between Use-by and Best-before?

The Use-by date gives you an idea of how long you can safely consume a food. The food should be eaten or thrown away by the Use-by date for health and safety reasons such as food poisoning. Once passed, the food is not safe to eat, even though you may not see any signs of spoilage like mould or an off-smell.

Generally Use-by dates are found on perishables and short-shelf life foods such as fresh meat packed at the supermarket, packet ham, milk, yoghurt and dairy products as well as many ready-to-heat products like chilled pasta sauce or garlic bread. It is illegal to sell food once past its Use-by date.

Best-before date tells you the time of best eating quality if stored properly according to instructions. A product will remain fresh and of good quality right up to its ‘Best before’ date (and sometimes beyond) if it is properly stored, both at home and at the supermarket.

The food is not spoiled immediately after the date and can still be sold if in good condition and not damaged or deteriorated, but its quality has begun to decline.

Most cereals, biscuits, snack foods, flour, eggs, canned and frozen foods are labelled with a Best-before date. Frozen, dried and canned products, in particular, tend to keep their quality for some time after the ‘Best-before’ date.

Manufacturers generally err on the side of caution and set an conservative ‘Best-before’ date to encourage you to eat the product while it is fresh and at its best. So think of the ‘Best-before’ dates as a general guide only.

If it’s in your fridge and passed the Best-before date, use the look-and –sniff test. Provided the food looks and smells as you would expect, it should be safe to eat.

Saturated fat or total fat?

Q. What is the difference between ‘total fat’ and ‘saturated fat’ and which one do I look at if I want to know how much fat is in food?

All packaged foods must show both total fat AND saturated fat on their label. Some foods – if they choose – may also include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. This usually applies to oils and margarines that want to show their type of fat.

The total fat is ALL the fat present. This is the figure you want.

It includes saturated fat plus monounsaturated plus polyunsaturated plus trans fat – it’s the sum of these four types. Anyone with heart disease usually only wants to limit the ‘bad’ saturated fat. But if you want to find out how much fat is in food, just be guided by the ‘total fat’ listing. So with olive oil, it contains 80 grams of fat per 100 grams (which is 80 per cent fat) but only a small 15 per cent saturated fat.

Natural vs synthetic additives

Q. Why do some products state ‘No preservatives, no artificial colours and no artificial flavours’ but the list of ingredients state flavour enhancers (621, 627, 631) flavours (270, 262) and colours (160a)?

That’s because the flavours and colours are NATURAL rather than synthetic with no counterpart in nature (artificial). For example, many natural flavours are extracted from herbs or spices, so are close to their natural state.

Flavour (270) is lactic acid which occurs in milk. Colour (160a) is beta-carotene, which is the yellow-orange colour carrots and mango.

Flavour enhancers on the other hand have no flavour of their own but bring out the flavour of other ingredients. No 621 is MSG, a well-known additive in gravies, noodles and sauces while Nos 627 and 631 are similar.

Maltodextrin and gluten

Q. I’m on a gluten-free diet. I’ve noticed maltodextrin on food labels. Does it contain gluten?

Yes. It may contain small fragments of protein particles related to gluten. Maltodextrin is a starch which is used as a thickener or texture modifying agent in foods such as pasta sauces, puddings and cake mixes.

It can be derived from either wheat or maize (corn) and the distinction is important. Maize thickener or maize maltodextrin is gluten-free, but wheat is not.The label will tell you which one is present.

Until a few years ago, wheat starch and maltodextrin were permitted on gluten-free diets for coeliacs. However some coeliacs noticed that they developed symptoms of diarrhoea or bloating every time they ate it. It seems that even such tiny amounts (less than 0.02 per cent) are enough to cause problems for some super-sensitive people. Others however report no effect.

How much sodium?

Q. When comparing the fat or fibre content on the label of a food, I am unsure what level of sodium is acceptable for a healthy diet. Please help!

Salt chemically is sodium chloride and it’s the sodium part that matters. The recommended intake for adults falls between 920 to 2300 milligrams (mg) sodium a day, although the body needs much less than this to survive. However the average Australian consumes more than double this so we’re overdoing the sodium!

You could work out how much sodium you’re eating by totalling your intake from what’s on food labels. A slice of bread has 130mg, a slice of ham has 400mg, a 50g snack pack of crisps 450mg and so on. Vegetables, fruits, oats, milk, meat and fish have low amounts, say less than 20mg per serve.

By law, products labelled ‘low salt’ must have no more than 120mg sodium per 100 grams.

Cooling hot food before storing

Q. It used to be a no-no to put hot food into the fridge because it reduces the temperature inside the fridge. But now we’re also told not to leave food cooling on the bench as this allows bacteria to form. What is correct?

Bacteria in food loves to grow when the temperature is between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius, so food needs to be kept either very cold or very hot to stop the bacterial growth and so prevent food poisoning. The correct practice when storing leftover hot food is to allow it to cool on the bench until it has stopped steaming before placing it in the fridge. Don’t leave it to completely cool as slower cooling provides the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. When reheating food, heat to steaming hot – this will kill any bacteria that may have grown whilst in the fridge. Never reheat food more than once.

Fresh fruit and vegetables

Q. How do green long-life bags work? And do fruit and vegetables kept in them really have the same nutritional properties as fresh?

As they ripen, fruit and vegetables release a gas called ethylene. This helps to continue the ripening process, but ultimately ends up causing the deterioration of fruit and vegetables. The green bags you describe work by absorbing that ethylene gas, slowing the ripening process and therefore the time it takes them to deteriorate. All fresh produce declines in nutritional value as it ages, so any product that delays this aging process will also keep the level of vitamins up. So use them and they will help you maintain nutrition.

No Cholesterol Claims

Q. I have a high cholesterol, so I buy foods with NO CHOLESTEROL on the pack. But I’ve heard that all these foods are misleading. Is this right?

There are many foods which are free of cholesterol in the technical sense but are still high in fat. Examples are potato crisps and most snack foods, margarine, oil, avocadoes, much fast food, biscuits, pastries and toasted muesli.

You need to know the type of fat in these foods. Steer clear of saturated fats which mostly raise blood cholesterol and go for mono- and polyunsaturated fats which tend to lower it. Unfortunately most snack and fast foods are cooked in fats like palm oil or beef tallow which have good keeping qualities and are relatively inexpensive – but add a lot of saturated fat.

Additive watch

Q. Why do food companies have to use additives? And how many are there?

Additives are used to extend shelf life or make a food more convenient or lower in kilojoules. They are grouped into 20 different categories based on what function they perform. Here’s the list of these functions.

On food labels, you will find additives often listed under this functional name plus a code number e.g. sulphur dioxide is used to prolong the life of wine and will be listed as on the bottle as PRESERVATIVE (220).

anti-caking agents
anti-foaming agents
colour retention agents/colour fixatives
flavour enhancers
flour treatment agents
food acids
glazing agents
mineral salts
modified starches
vegetable gums/gelling agents

What’s an emulsifier?

Q. What does EMULSIFIER mean on the label?

Emulsifiers are oily substances, which stabilise mixtures and prevent oil and water from separating. In a salad dressing, for instance, an emulsifier keeps the oil and vinegar mixed so they don’t separate into two layers on standing. Emulsifiers are closely related to fats and so can be considered quite safe.

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Weight and Body Shape

How much fat on a low-fat diet?

Q. On a low-fat diet, how many grams of fat per day is considered low-fat? Is it based on total fats or saturated fats?

A low fat diet usually contains around 40g of total fat a day. Nutritionists recommend cutting out unhealthy saturated fats where you can and achieving this fat allowance from healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats found in oils, spreads, nuts, avocados and hummus. As a guide, 20 grams of fat is found in one third of a large avocado, one tablespoon of oil, 5 teaspoons of spread or 40 grams of nuts.

Grapefruit for slimming

Q. Does grapefruit have special ‘slimming’ qualities if you’re trying to lose weight?

Sadly no. Grapefruit cannot dissolve fat or burn up kilojoules. Half a large grapefruit offers 250 kilojoules (60 calories), about the same as an orange, apple or a slice of bread. Grapefruit are low in kilojoules – but not completely devoid. Their other dieting assets are that they are a rich source of vitamin C and they take time to eat, thus ensuring that you pace your eating.

Skipping breakfast?

Q. I am trying to lose weight, so should I skip breakfast to save on calories?

Missing breakfast is the worst thing you can do if you are trying to lose weight. Breakfast is important as it seems to ‘switch on’ your metabolism after the night’s sleep and prevents mid-morning snacking on biscuits and pastries. Nothing could be faster than a bowl of wholegrain cereal with milk; if you’re really pressed for time, try freezing some sandwiches on the weekend and take one out to eat each morning.

Which diet is best?

Q. Is there one diet that can get rid of your excess fat better than another?

Regardless of whatever ‘gimmick’ they use, all diets work on the same principle – reducing your intake of kilojoules one way or another.

Researchers in the US have compared the success of four popular weight loss diets – Atikins, Weight Watchers, the Zone and Ornish (a strict semi-vegetarian diet) – when followed for one year.

Their results revealed that the diet made little difference! All were successful in lowering body weight by between 4 to 6kg over the year. But the study proved just how hard it is to stick to a diet for a long period. Just under half those that began the diet comparison were not able to last the year!

So which diet is best? The answer is the diet YOU can stick for the long haul it takes to shed your excess weight.

Reference: Dansinger et al. Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction: A randomised trial. J Am Med Assoc 2005:293;43-53

Afternoon cravings

Q. I am trying to lose weight but am finding it hard due to cravings. I especially crave carbs during the afternoon.

Cravings can undo all your diet and exercise strategies and trying to overcome them is important to dieting success. They can be a way of comforting ourselves and soothing away anger or resentment (perhaps over a very restrictive diet regime?). They may also indicate our meals are not adequate or balanced.

It is my belief that the best insurance against cravings is to make sure you’re eating healthy balanced meals, with a generous serve of protein, some low GI carbohydrate and plenty of fill-you-up vegetables or salad – especially at lunch time. This will ensure that any physical causes for the cravings are dealt with, particularly those late afternoon or early evening ones. Planning to have a sensible snack at these times can help too so it’s not all denial and ‘willpower’. If you still suffer from cravings, then you need to look in to other reasons why you want food.

Shrink that stomach

Q. Can you shrink your stomach?

Yes, according to new research. This is a topic that’s been controversial for years but now results from a US study show that this ‘wives tale’ may have some truth to it.

By carefully measuring stomach volume with small inflatable balloons, researchers discovered that overweight people tended to have larger stomachs with a greater capacity. Heavier people took longer to feel full and consumed 945 more kilojoules (225 calories) at maximum satiation than did normal-weight subjects.

The take-home lesson? Don’t wait to feel stuffed full before you stop eating – consider portion sizes and stop eating when you’re just comfortable but not overly so!

Reference: Silvia Delgado-aros et al Independent influences of body mass and gastric volumes on satiation in humans. Gastroenterology 2004;126(2):432

Is alcohol fattening?

Q. Could you tell me what effect alcohol has on body fat as there is no actual fat in it?

Remember that ANY food or drink – no matter how much fat it contains – can cause weight/fat gain if you eat/drink too much of it. This is because it is the total kilojoules (kJ), not the total fat in your diet, that really counts toward excess weight.

Reducing the fat in your diet will help cut kilojoules. This is because fat is kilojoule dense (37 kJ per gram). But so too is alcohol (29kJ per gram). Weight for weight, alcohol and fat are roughly twice as fattening as carbohydrate or protein.

Having said that, alcohol helps you relax and loosens inhibitions so you may end up eating more after a couple of drinks that you would otherwise. There’s also plenty of research showing alcohol has an appetite-enhancing effect which is why it’s traditionally served as an aperitif before dinner. It seems people drink alcohol IN ADDITION to their regular fare – in other words, alcohol doesn’t substitute for a potato or a slice of bread. It’s consumed as well as them!

So, if you are watching your weight, keeping fat and alcohol intake in check will go a long way to keeping your weight in check.

Dud diets?

Q. I need to lose some weight. What should I look for when the next new diet book or celebrity diet appears?

Not all diets are sustainable for more than a few days nor do they meet your nutrition needs day to day. It pays to be critical and scrutinize what they ask you to eat before you embark on one as research shows.

Twenty of the most popular diet books were independently evaluated in a study by Australian dietitians at the University of Wollongong. Only five of these books were rated acceptable, meaning that the diets meet dietary and public health guidelines. The rest were fat diets, while a few were even considered unsafe.

Dud diet books tend to have 5 unhealthy features in common. The researchers suggest if your diet books says any of the following five, give it the flick:

1. Banning or promoting certain foods or food groups

2. Implying that a food can change body chemistry

3. Blaming hormones for weight control

4. Recommending supplements and special ‘health foods’

5. Promising quick, even miraculous, results

Reference: Williams L and Williams P. Evaluation of a tool for rating popular diet books. Nutr & Diet 2003;60:187-197

Five reasons you aren’t losing weight

Q. I’m always trying to lose that last 5 kilos but I never seem to take it off and keep it off. What am I doing wrong?

Generally there are 5 main reasons why you’re not shedding that weight long term, even though at times you may be eating light and watching the fats and snacks. Here’s what they are – see if this fits you:

1. You aren’t doing enough exercise

2. Your portion sizes are too large

3. You eat on the run

4. You are an emotional eater (you turn to food when things are bad)

5. You forget healthy eating on the weekends

How to gain weight

Q. I need to gain weight, but don’t seem to be able to no matter what I eat. What do you recommend to people who want to gain weight?

The secret to eating for weight gain is to eat regularly – three to six times a day – and include foods that are “concentrated” and nutrient-dense – in other words, those that will give you the most kilojoules/calories in the least volume. These foods generally include more fat than is recommended for the general overweight population so if you are worried about cholesterol choose lean meat, poultry and fish and use fats or foods with fats that are either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. You may find it helpful to:

  • Eat small and often, especially if your appetite is small or you fill up quickly
  • include more healthy fat with your meals such as margarine spread thickly on toast and sandwiches, olive oil on vegetables, dressings on salad, avocados and peanut butter on bread
  • snack on foods like full-fat yoghurt, flavoured milk, cheese with biscuits
  • cut down on your aerobic (fat-burning workouts) and do more weights
  • have a drink before dinner to perk up your appetite
  • stop smoking if you do – smoking blunts your taste buds and decreases your appetite.

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Food Content

Food and what’s in it

Hormones in chicken

Q. How can I avoid buying chicken containing growth hormone as I am worried about what it can do?

The use of growth hormones in chickens is such a widely-held myth that the Australian Chicken Meat Federation has a fact sheet on its web site The practice of using hormones in chicken farming was banned in the 1960’s. Knowing consumers want to be confident in this ban, the Commonwealth Government’s National Residue Survey Program tests annually for hormonal growth promoters. We are happy to say they report no residues have ever been detected, so any chicken you buy will be free from these chemicals.

Sugar in breakfast foods?

Q. How can I tell if muesli and breakfast bars are too high in sugar?

It is difficult to give firm guidelines on the amount of sugar acceptable. Reading the label is not a help as it does not distinguish between natural sugars from fruit or from added sugar. Diabetes Australia encourages its members to first check out fat, fibre and Glycaemic Index (GI) and then look through the ingredients list to work out where the sugars come from. If the sugars are derived from nutritious ingredients like fruit, these foods are generally healthier than those where sugar is added (and it could appear as sucrose, glucose, dextrose or corn syrup). As a rule of thumb, I suggest choosing brands with less than 20 per cent sugar. However, those over 20 per cent can still be fine if they contain dried fruit or yoghurt.

Tea for antioxidants?

Q. I drink about 3 cups of English Breakfast tea each day. Does all tea have antioxidants and is this changed when you add milk?

All green and black teas contain a similar content of flavonoids which are powerful antioxidants, showing promise as heart-protective and anti-cancer agents. The main thing that affects the amount of antioxidants is brewing time – the longer you leave the tea to brew, the more flavonoids are released. Research has shown that adding milk, sugar or lemon does not alter tea’s antioxidant abilities at all.

Acidophilus in yoghurt

Q. Is it true that the acidophilus in yoghurt is so unstable that it can be destroyed on the short unrefrigerated trip home from the supermarket?

No. According to a major yoghurt manufacturer, you would have to leave the yoghurt in your car for 24 hours at a temperature of 200C or higher to kill the ‘friendly bacteria’. The average trip home of 15-20 minutes would not do that. Still high temperatures may cause the total number of bacteria to decline. So ideally you should bring your refrigerated items home in an insulated carrier bag and pop them straight in the refrigerator. And try to buy from a supermarket with a big turnover so you’re buying yoghurt fresh with the maximum live bacteria.

Caffeine limits

Q. How much caffeine is safe to drink?

Caffeine is a natural stimulant that is present not only in coffee but also in energy drinks, tea, cocoa, cola soft drinks and chocolate. Most adults can handle 300 milligrams of caffeine a day without ill effects (equal to 4 cups of instant coffee or 5–6 cups of tea or 3 cups of percolated coffee). Caffeine, a methylxanthine compound, acts on the nervous system, speeding up the heartbeat and rate of breathing, dilating blood vessels and overcoming fatigue. It also increases stomach acid secretions and is a mild diuretic. Too much caffeine may give rise to insomnia, stomach upsets, jitteriness, palpitations, anxiety and headache. However, many coffee addicts develop a tolerance to caffeine and can drink large amounts without noticing any problems. But if they give it up, they soon experience caffeine withdrawal – headache, drowsiness and lack of energy. These symptoms subside after four to seven days.


Q. Are avocadoes really oily and fattening?

Avocados ARE high in fat (23 per cent) but their fat is rich in monounsaturates. This type of fat, also found in olive or canola oil, is now regarded as a “healthy” fat which is good for the heart.

Like other fruit and vegetables, avocadoes have no cholesterol. But in contrast to other fruit and vegetables, avocadoes are a lot higher in kilojoules.

Half an avocado supplies 1,070 kilojoules (255 calories) and 28 g of fat, equivalent in kilojoules to two thick slices (60 g) of cheddar cheese.

Wheat grass juice

Q. I have noticed that most health food outlets promote wheat grass juice. What are the health benefits of this drink?

It’s a bit like liquifying fresh spinach leaves or parsley or other fresh herbs. The green liquid is high in vitamin C, folate, minerals and plant antioxidants so would be a nutrient-packed ‘tonic’. But you could obtain the same nutrients by eating a large fresh green leaf salad made with dark lettuces and herbs like rocket and parsley. I don’t think it can live up to all the claims made by its promoters such as ‘defies ageing’ or ‘stops cancer’.

Oily fish types

Q. We are told by nutritionists to eat more oily fish each week. What kinds of fish are considered oily and what is the best way to cook this sort of fish to preserve its nutrient value?

Eating fish or seafood two to three times a week is recommended for health. Oily varieties, include salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, gemfish, mullet and herring (both fresh or canned). They are rich in omega-3 fats, containing 5 to 6 times more than white fish. Whilst these fats won’t lower cholesterol, they will keep the heart rhythm steady, the blood free-flowing and blood triglycerides down. The best cooking methods are barbecuing, baking or steaming. Heat does not affect the omega-3’s.

Honey or sugar?

Q. I always thought that honey was better than sugar. But my friend (who has diabetes) tells me that they’re the same. Is that true or not?

Your friend is right. Honey, although natural, made by bees from the nectar of flowers, has no significant nutritional advantages over sugar.

Spoon for spoon, they are very similar, having around 300 kilojoules or 20 grams of carbohydrate per tablespoon, which must be counted if you have diabetes – unlike a sweetener. Both can cause tooth decay.

Honey contains about 75 per cent sugars (mainly glucose and fructose) which is lower than refined white sugar at virtually 100 per cent sucrose. Water, traces of minerals and some B vitamins make up the remaining 20 per cent. But the amounts present are tiny – too small to make a useful contribution to your intake. Unlike bread or breakfast cereal, there are not enough B vitamins in honey to metabolise the kilojoules it supplies.

Cooking with wine

Q I was told when wine (or any alcohol) is cooked it becomes non-alcoholic. Is this true?

The answer depends on how long you cook the alcohol for. During cooking, alcohol evaporates – the longer you cook it and the higher the temperature, the greater the evaporation and the less alcohol is retained in the final dish. If you add the wine or liqueur towards the end of your cooking, the resulting dish will have a much higher alcohol content (in some cases as much as 85 per cent of the alcohol can remain) than one where the alcohol was added at the beginning and heated for an hour or so.

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Special Diets

Special Diets for Health Problems

Help for insomnia

Q. I suffer from mild but irritating insomnia. Are there any dietary or natural approaches that can help with a good night’s sleep?

Evening eating and drinking habits can interfere with natural sleep rhythms. Try these tips to achieve a more easy night’s sleep:

  • Avoid heavy meals late at night – allow two hours after dinner before bed.
  • Sip a glass of warm milk.
  • Keep alcohol moderate – just one drink a night.
  • Skip caffeine (tea, coffee, cocoa, energy drinks with guarana) after 4pm.
  • Try caffeine-free herbal teas such as chamomile.

Combine these tips with a good daily exercise routine, some evening relaxation or stretching, and a regular bed time.

Calcium when you can’t drink milk

Q. My teenage daughter is lactose intolerant. How can she get enough calcium if she can’t eat milk and cheese? Can you suggest other foods high in calcium?

Many people with lactose intolerance can manage lactose in small amounts so eliminating ALL dairy products is not necessary. Yoghurt is low in lactose and many hard yellow cheeses are virtually lactose free. A special milk (trade name Zymil) is available as reduced-lactose or lactose-free varieties at supermarkets. Soy beverages can also be used as a milk substitute but make sure your buy one with added calcium for your daughter. Other good sources of calcium include salmon and sardines (provided you eat the bones), almonds, spinach and tahini (sesame seed paste).

How to reduce wind

Q. I have a lot of trouble with wind and was wondering what else I can do. I’ve already cut out really windy foods like cabbage and lentils but I still seem to have problems which is so embarrassing.

You can also eliminate other notorious gas-producing foods such as bran, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, curries, onions, corn and dark grain breads. In addition, tips that have worked for others are:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Staying regular (don’t get constipated)
  • Daily exercise
  • Eliminate a sweetener called sorbitol found in sugarfree gum, diet cordials and pear or apple juice (in high quantities)
  • Watch you’re not swallowing air when chewing
  • Cut out fizzy drinks and beer

If the wind persists, perhaps it’s wise to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist to check for Irritable Bowel Syndrome or lactose intolerance, as these are often the underlying reason for flatulence as well as for bloating and loose motions.

Candida diet

Q. Should I try a yeast-free diet to clear up my Candida infection?

A yeast-free diet has been claimed to clear up vaginal infections, fatigue, skin disorders and headaches, all supposedly due to the excessive growth of a micro-organism Candida albicans. The diet eliminates yeast spread, bread, beer and wine as well as any food likely to carry yeasts or moulds.

Many people swear that they feel better and have more energy on the diet, but this can be attributed to the better quality of food they’re eating. Because a yeast-free diet also excludes sugar, white flour and ‘junk foods’, it greatly improves eating habits – people on the diet end up cooking regular meals and eat lots of vegetables, rice, beans, fruit, fish, lean meat and yoghurt. Scientifically, there have been no sound clinical trials to show whether a yeast-free diet works or not. Candida infections do occur, but they are not directly related to the diet nor to the symptoms often claimed.

Retaining fluid

Q. I tend to retain fluids. Are there any foods I should be avoiding?

The most important is salt, especially if you also have any kidney problems or Meniere’s syndrome. Make an effort to avoid using salt and buy no-added-salt products when shopping and see if this makes a difference after 2 or 3 weeks. In addition, you can counteract salt’s harmful effects by eating extra potassium and magnesium, two minerals which you’ll find in fruits, juices, vegetables, nuts and lean meats. Eat plenty of these.

Anaemia and cholesterol

Q. My doctor recently told me I was anaemic. Could you give me some advice on low cholesterol, high iron foods?

Lack of iron in your diet is one of the main causes of iron deficiency anaemia. The best source of dietary iron is lean red meat and nutritionists recommend that if eaten three to four times a week it can reduce your risk of iron deficiency anaemia without raising your blood cholesterol.

Whole grains, legumes, leafy vegetables, nuts and eggs are also sources of iron but their iron is not as well absorbed as that from red meat. To make the most of the iron in these foods. make sure you include a rich source of vitamin C (orange juice, capsicum or tomato), at the same meal.


Q. Are there certain foods that you could suggest to help with menopause symptoms?

Many were hopeful that soy foods (and the phytoestrogens they contain) could alleviate menopausal symptoms but research shows their benefits are mild if they occur at all. More certain is the fact that a healthy diet containing a wide variety of foods (including soy and other legumes) will be good for your health and well-being at this time. Menopause is a time to lower fat and increase your fruit and vegetable intake to help maintain weight, ensure you get three serves of low fat dairy to keep bones strong and to limit alcohol which for some can make hot flushes worse.

Irritable Bowl Syndrome and fibre

Q. I have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and need to reduce my fibre, not increase it. Can you help?

To reduce your fibre intake, aim to eat low-fibre versions of breads, grains and cereals such as

  • white bread – not wholemeal or grainy
  • white rice – not brown
  • puffed rice – not whole wheat cereals
  • flaked cereals- not muesli, oats or bran cereals

You may also be eating a lot of fibre from vegetables, dried beans and fruit which could contribute to wind or other bowel symptoms. So opt for lower fibre types such as peeled apples, peaches and apricots. Avoid dried fruits like prunes, apricots, sultanas and raisins which are concentrated in fibre.

Asthma and food

Q. I am asthmatic and find foods like dried apricots provoke my asthma. Are there other foods I should avoid?

Food is not the usual trigger for asthma. However you may be one of the small percentage of adults with asthma (around one to two percent) that is affected by certain food chemicals – both natural and added.

Dried apricots are generally treated with sulphur preservatives such as sodium metabisulphite (code number 223) to maintain their nice colour and prevent wrinkling or drying out. Most likely, it is the sulphur that’s causing a flare-up in your asthma.

Other common foods that are preserved with sulphur are wine, fruit juices, fruit-flavoured soft drinks, pickled onions and sausages. You can check for it by looking for the code numbers 220, 221, 222, 223, 224, 225 and 228.

To avoid these trigger foods without unnecessarily restricting your diet, it is best to seek the advice of a dietitian who specialises in food sensitivity or intolerance. For your nearest Accredited Practicing Dietitian, call 1800 812 942.

Iron without meat

Q. If I don’t eat meat, how can I get the iron I need?

Vegetarians can obtain iron with the help of vitamin C, one of the ‘enhancers’ of iron uptake. Vitamin C or ascorbic acid reacts with non-haem iron, making it an ‘easier’ molecule for absorption. Adding a glass of fruit juice or some tomato or capsicum (all rich in vitamin C) to a meal increases the amount of iron from grains or lentils. Most vegetarian meals with their emphasis on vegetables and fruit would automatically contain much vitamin C. Even small amounts of meat (such as a few strips of beef in a vegetable stir-fry) improve iron absorption.

Something in meat known simply as the ‘meat factor’ also works to make the iron in vegetables more readily available. What you drink with your meal also plays a part. Orange juice doubles iron intake relative to water, while milk decreases it by 50 per cent and tea by 75 per cent. Like the phytate in spinach, the polyphenols in tea act to bind iron, especially non-haem iron.

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Menus for Healthy Eating

Menus with nutrition analysis suitable for women over 35 years, that are high in calcium, low in saturated fat and salt, moderate in sugar and high in fibre.

General Menu No 1


6500kJ or 1600Cals

Menu with nutrition analysis suitable for women over 35 years, that is high in calcium, low in saturated fat and salt, moderate in sugar and high in fibre.

This menu plan is designed for women who are more sedentary or who need to lose weight.


Large bowl chopped fresh fruit (pear, berries and figs) topped with tub low fat plain yoghurt and small handful of toasted flaked almonds


Large tossed salad topped with cottage cheese and a small can tuna or salmon (water packed) or 100g chicken breast, ham, turkey or roast beef with a crusty grain roll.

Option: Make it up as a large salad roll or sandwich


Pan fried whiting filets (or other white fish, around 150g) served on wilted spinach with sweet potato mash.

Low fat berry yoghurt topped with 200g of fresh berries

Fat for the day for cooking or spreading

1 ½ tbsp oil or margarine


Choose three – make sure at least one contains dairy:

  • 2 scoops of gelato or fruit ice
  • 2 rice cakes spread with low fat ricotta and drizzle of honey
  • 50g dried fruit medley
  • 300ml carton flavoured low fat milk *
  • 3 whole wheat crackers with spread and sliced tomato and cracked pepper

*Buy one of the low fat high calcium brands such as Tone, Shape, Skinny, Hi-Lo or similar. When you are shopping, check the label for milks with a calcium level of at least 150mg of calcium per 100ml.

Nutrition intake for the day

(approx figures)

Energy 6500kJ (1600cals)
Total fat 55g
Saturated fat 10g
Carbohydrate 170g
 Fibre 37g
Sodium  980g
Calcium 1320mg

General Menu No 2


8000kJ or 2000cals

Menu with nutrition analysis suitable for women over 35 years, that is high in calcium, low in saturated fat and salt, moderate in sugar and high in fibre.

This menu plan is higher in kilojoules (calories) than General Menu No 1. It is designed for more active or larger frame women who want to maintain their weight.


3 wholegrain breakfast biscuits with sliced banana and low fat milk*


Chicken and tabouleh wrap or lavosh (flatbread)


Baked lamb rack with pesto sauce served with jacket potato, steamed green beans and carrots

2 scoops lemon gelato/sorbet with 100g fresh strawberries

Fat for the day for cooking or spreading

2 tbsp oil or margarine


Choose three – make sure at least one contains dairy:

  • Fruit and nut bar
  • 4 wholegrain crackers with low fat cheese and sliced tomato
  • 300ml carton flavoured low fat milk
  • Date scone
  • Tub low fat fruit yoghurt

* Buy one of the low fat high calcium brands such as Tone, Shape, Skinny, Hi-Lo or similar. When you’re shopping, check the label for milks with a calcium level of at least 150mg of calcium per 100ml.

Nutrition intake for the day

(approx figures)

Energy 8500kJ (2000cals)
Total fat 78g
Saturated fat 20g
Carbohydrate 225g
 Fibre 32g
Sodium 1690g
Calcium 1030mg

Vegetarian Menu


8500kJ or 2000cals

Menu with nutrition analysis suitable for women over 35 years, that is high in calcium, low in saturated fat and salt, moderate in sugar and high in fibre.

Designed for ovo-lacto-vegetarians (who eat eggs and dairy foods).


Iron-fortified breakfast cereal and low fat milk* topped with chopped dried apricots

Glass fruit juice or low-fat milk


Bowl chickpea and vegetable soup

Crusty bread roll with peanut butter


Lentil patties with fresh tomato basil salsa
Brown rice
Rocket and spinach salad

Baked apple stuffed with dried fruits and honey served with 200g tub low fat vanilla yoghurt

Fat for the day for cooking or spreading

1 ½ tbsp oil or margarine


Choose three – make sure at least one contains dairy

  • Fruit and nut bar
  • 1 cup air-popped popcorn
  • Slice wholegrain fruit bread toasted and spread with low fat ricotta cheese
  • 2 rice cakes with slice low fat cheese
  • 2 scoops of gelato or fruit ice

* Buy one of the low fat high calcium brands such as Tone, Shape, Skinny, Hi-Lo or similar. When you’re shopping, check the label for milks with a calcium level of at least 150mg of calcium per 100ml.

Nutrition intake for the day

(approx figures)

Energy 8500kJ (2000cals)
Total fat 60g
Saturated fat 15g
Carbohydrate 300g
 Fibre 43g
Sodium 2115g
Calcium 1120mg


High Phytoestrogen Menu


8475kJ or 2200cals

Menu with nutrition analysis suitable for women over 35 years, that is high in calcium, low in saturated fat and salt, moderate in sugar and high in fibre.

This menu gives you ways to incorporate more phytoestrogen-rich foods in your daily meals. These include soy beans and soy foods like tofu and soy drink, lentils, chick peas and other legumes, flaxseed and rye.

It does not have to be vegetarian but to maximise your intake of these foods means preparing meals based on plant foods and less on meat and chicken.


Baked beans on two slices of soy-linseed toast Glass low-fat soy milk


Soy linseed bread sandwich with salmon, cucumber and rocket


Stir-fried noodles with Asian vegetables, tofu cubes and chicken

Grilled pineapple served with ½ tub low fat passionfruit yoghurt and passionfruit pulp

Fat for the day for cooking or spreading

1 tbsp oil or margarine


Choose three

  • 3 soy linseed crackers with ¼ cup hummous dip
  • Nut and seed bar
  • Soy smoothie with banana and 1-2 tbs wheat germ or ground flax seed
  • 2 slices of dark rye toast with spread and vegemite
  • 1 cup air-popped popcorn

Not all soy milks are fortified with calcium. If your brand does not have 120mg of calcium per 100ml or higher, a calcium supplement is a good idea. Check with your GP or pharmacist for the best type with the most calcium and/or vitamin D.

Nutrition intake for the day

(approx figures)

Energy 8475kJ (2200cals)
Total fat 68g
Saturated fat 10g
Carbohydrate 230g
 Fibre 33g
Sodium 2500mg
Calcium 1324mg





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Nutrition Labelling

What Does it Mean?

By dietician Cate Lombard

Are you surprised by the following?

Without reading the small print do you know what you’re getting when you buy your weekly groceries?
Protein 3.6g  12.0g (12%)
Fat – Total 0.4g 1.3g (1.3%)
– Saturated 0.1g 0.3g (0.3%)
Carbohydrate – total 20g 67g
-sugars 0.8g 2.8g (2.8%)
Dietry Fibre 3.3g 11.0g (11%)
Sodium 84mg 280mg
Potassium 102mg 340mg
Thiamin 0.55mg (50%RDI)* 1.83mg
  • Apple and strawberry fruit puree – with only 1% strawberry
  • Lemon crumbed fish – without any lemon
  • Bacon and onion sauce – with no bacon

Are you a label or a non label reader?

When it comes to the weekly shopping do you spend hours in the supermarket reading labels and choosing products or do you just throw the products in the trolley and get out as fast as you can?

A food label will tell you a lot of information if you know what you are looking for. Here we will try to explain labels, what they mean, how to choose the best products for your health and how to compare products.


Example information


How to choose a healthy product

Whilst it is preferable to eat fresh whole foods where possible, there are times we need to use manufactured foods to supplement our diet. For a healthy diet it is important to choose foods that assist in maintaining the correct balance of nutrients.

Because there are hundreds of thousands of manufactured products containing a huge range of ingredients it is impossible to advise on exactly what to look for on a label for each food. Here are some general guidelines related to important nutrients that might be helpful.
When looking at labels don’t just look at the kilojoules and the fat content. Compare the fibre, sugar and salt or sodium content.

SUGAR > 10g sugar per 100g is a lot, 2g sugar per 100g is a little
FAT > 20g of fat per 100g is a lot, 3g of fat per 100g is a little
SALT > 500mg sodium per 100g is a lot, 100mg per 100g is a little
FIBRE > 10g fibre per 100g is a lot, 2g per 100g is a little

A lot of foods make claims on their labels about benefits to health. Often these claims are promoted with a tick. However, the only strictly tested labelling program available in Australia is the National Heart Foundation Tick Program. Foods with the National Heart Foundation red tick logo must meet strict nutrient standards and be tested before they carry the tick. There may be similar products that are just as healthy as the Tick product, so check and compare the labels.

HINT Compare the nutrition value of similar products using the per 100g information. Add up your individual intake using the serving size information, but check the size of your serving first.


Fibre is the indigestible part of plants. Choose foods high in fibre, preferably wholegrain. This is particularly important for bread and breakfast cereal, as these can provide a large proportion of our fibre needs for the day. The ingredient list will contain words such as wholegrain, wheat or wholemeal flour, whole oats or bran.

Hi Bran Cereal Per serve per 100g
Dietary Fibre 7.3g 18.3g
Wholemeal Bread Per slice per 100g
Dietary Fibre 3.5g 6.0g
HINT The average intake of fibre in Australian women is approximately 21g per day. We should aim for an intake of 30g per day.


Not all fats are bad. We do need to keep the total amount of fat in our diet reasonably low, but the trick is to make the fat we do eat come from oils such as nuts, seeds, fish or avocado and to avoid saturated fat from meat, chicken and dairy foods and even palm oil or vegetable shortening.

Polyunsaturated fats help reduce the risk of heart disease. They come in two forms: omega 3 fats found in fish and omega 6 fats are the more common type found in nuts, soy bean, sunflower and safflower oils and margarines. Generally we get plenty of omega 6 fats but not enough omega 3 fats in the Australian diet.

The label will help you identify foods that have a lot of saturated fat. The example below tells us that most of the fat in this product is saturated and therefore should be avoided.

Frozen Oven Fry Chips
Per serve
Total fat 25g
-saturated fat 20g
Ingredients: potatoes, tallow, vegetable shortening, salt, preservative

With recent interest in omega 3 fatty acids and their importance for health, some manufacturers now point this out on the label. For example canned tuna is naturally a good source of these fats. The manufacturer might include this on the label, but it does not mean they have added any additional omega 3 fatty acids.

HINT If you are a moderately active women an intake of 50 -60 grams per day would be considered a moderate fat intake. If you are wanting to reduce your weight or reduce fat intake for health reasons aim for 40g per day.

HINT 1 teaspoon fat is approximately 5g so if a label says 25g fat that is equal to about 5 teaspoons per serve .

HINT Fat can also be disguised on labels as animal fat, vegetable oil, coconut, copha, cream, di or monoglycerides, lard, mayonnaise, milk solids, palm oil, shortening or tallow.


yoghurtsSugar on the nutrition panel comes under two headings: total carbohydrate and added sugar or just sugar. The total carbohydrate includes the sugar or starch that occurs naturally in a food such as milk, flour, grains such as rice, fruit, vegetables such as potato, as well as any added sugar.

The total sugars tell you how much sugar is in the product but still includes the natural sugars from fruit, dried fruit and milk. This is why some foods with dried fruit in them seem to have a high sugar content.

Of course manufacturers can add these in place of sugar to ‘naturally ‘ sweeten foods. Natural or added sugar have the same kilojoule value.

HINT 5 grams sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon. Check the breakfast cereal in your cupboard now and calculate how much sugar you or your children are having for breakfast each day. If the cereal says 25g sugars per serve then that is equal to 5 teaspoons of sugar for breakfast.

HINT Sugar can also feature on labels as malt, malt extract, maltose, maltodextrines, dextrose, glucose, glucose syrup, raw sugar, fruit juice, fructose or apple juice. HINT Low fat products often labelled light, lite, or fat free are often high in sugar. They do contain little fat but have so much added sugar that the final kilojoule content can be just as high as a regular product.

Explaining the terms

Low GI means Low Glycemic Index
This is a rating of the effect of the food on blood sugar levels and is not necessarily related to the sugar content or the total carbohydrate. Foods considered to be low GI will raise blood sugar slowly and may satisfy our hunger for a longer period. Low GI foods can help people with diabetes control their condition. Carbohydrate occurs naturally in food as starch or sugar and provides energy.

Carbohydrate is important to the normal functioning of the body. Foods are now appearing with labels stating they are low carbohydrate. This is in response to a number of ‘Fad Diets’ claiming the benefits of low carb and high protein diet over a traditional low kilojoule balanced diet. There is little evidence that reducing carbohydrates has any advantage over other eating patterns.

97% fat free means the food contains 3 percent fat, or 3 grams in each 100 grams.

Cholesterol free can be confusing and these foods may still be high in fat.

Light or lite can mean a number of things: light taste, light salted, less fat: check the label carefully.

Cooked in vegetable oil. Palm oil is often used to fry snack foods. This is still high in saturated fat. It would be better to choose foods with polyunsaturated, canola or olive oil.

Reduced salt 25% less salt than their counterparts. No artificial colours or flavours can be misleading as some foods such as bread and breakfast food are not permitted to contain these anyway. They can still contain natural colour such as caramel, or beta carotene to give a brown or golden colour and flavour such as cocoa. These foods may still contain preservatives.

Recommended Daily Intake (RDI ) for nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are permitted to be added to foods. However the Australian New Zealand Food Authority ( ANZFA) Standards Code only allows added vitamins and minerals where there is a demonstrated benefit to health and where there will be no harm caused. If a manufacturer wishes to make a claim regarding the vitamin or mineral content, the food needs to provide at least 10% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for that vitamin or mineral. .The nutrition panel will also include a reference to that nutrient and provide information about the proportion of the RDI for that vitamin or mineral.


  • Eat whole fresh foods where possible.
  • Compare the labels of manufactured foods. Compare the nutrition panels of similar products using the per 100g information.
  • Don’t just look at the fat and kilojoule content. Compare the fibre, sugar and salt.
  • Don’t be fooled when some breakfast cereals are advertised as being healthy: check and compare the labels and ingredient list.
  • The ingredient list will tell you what foods are providing the highest proportion of sugar and fat. Don’t forget some fats and sugars can be disguised with a number of names.
  • Choose foods low in saturated fat.

Note: This article is an archive. Whilst the Women’s Health Secrets has made every effort to ensure this information was accurate at the time of publication, the article content has not been updated since the date listed below.

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Unscrambling The Egg

Choosing which type of egg to buy used to be simple – there was only one choice. Walk into a supermarket today however and you’ll find rows and rows – everything from free range to vegetarian. So much choice can be confusing so here’s some information to make it easier.

Nutritional value

Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse, supplying high quality protein, 18 different vitamins and minerals, including selenium (an antioxidant), iron and zinc (for the immune system). They are also a source of two valuable antioxidants that may prevent loss of eyesight with age: lutein and zeaxanthin.

Eggs also offer vitamins A and D and a range of B vitamins. Worth mentioning is vitamin B12, which is hard to obtain on vegetarian diets, and folate, a B vitamin which can help minimise birth defects. There’s also choline, a substance related to the B vitamins that is important for our brain and liver metabolism.

Two medium eggs provide around 13 g of protein, 10 g of fat (only 3 g of which are saturated), 710 kilojoules and 375 mg cholesterol. They have almost no carbohydrate or fibre.

Eggs, cholesterol and fat

Unfortunately the good name of the egg has been marred since the 1970s when they gained a reputation as a cholesterol nightmare. These days we know that saturated fat rather than cholesterol is the problem when it comes to heart disease.

Only a proportion of the population (15 to 25 per cent) need to stay away from eggs, as well as any cholesterol rich food including prawns and liver. These people, known as hyper-responders, tend to ‘over react’ to cholesterol in their diet, putting them at a greater risk of heart disease than the rest of us.

You may be surprised to learn that eggs have recently gained the Heart Foundation tick of approval. This is because saturated fat is just a small part of their total fat content. Plus older analyses set the cholesterol content of an egg at a high of 250 milligrams, when the recommended maximum is 300 milligrams a day. More recent figures reveal eggs’ cholesterol to be much lower – around 190 milligrams per egg – making them less of a worry.

Research also shows that eggs have a smaller impact on blood cholesterol levels than previously thought. Eggs actually have mostly healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats with just a small amount of cholesterol raising saturated fats – so long as you don’t fry them in butter or drown them in cream.

How many eggs?

Healthy adults with normal cholesterol levels can enjoy a couple of eggs a day as part of a healthy diet.

If you do have high cholesterol, keeping saturated fat low, avoiding very high cholesterol foods and limiting eggs to two or three a week is best. All the cholesterol is concentrated in the yolk. The white has none.


Caged eggs

Come from hens that are continuously housed in cages within a large shed.  Each cage houses 3-5 hens that have access to food troughs and water drinkers, and have just enough space to stand up and turn.

Barn laid

Come from hens kept in a large barn or shed where they can move around, spread their wings, bathe in dust and scratch for food.


Come from hens that are housed overnight in sheds, similar to those of barn-housed hens, but have access to the outdoors during the day.

Vegetarian eggs

Come from hens fed grain and legume-based feed only. No feed derived from meat or fish products is used.

Omega-3 eggs

Come from hens fed canola, flaxseed and fish meal. These eggs have a higher proportion of omega-3 fats – important for a healthy heart, eyes and brain – than normal eggs.

Organic eggs

To be classified organic, hens must be free range as well as being fed a diet with at least 95 per cent organically grown grain. There are no pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilisers used in the paddocks where the hens are kept or in the production of the hens’ feed. To be certain you’re getting organic, look for a certification logo from one of the organic organisations (e.g. Demeter, Biodynamic).

Lutein-enriched eggs

Come from hens fed marigold petals which boosts the level of the natural antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. These two antioxidants are needed by the macula of the eye, a tiny part at the back of the eye that absorbs and neutralises damaging light rays. A high intake of lutein and zeaxanthin has been linked to lower risk of macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older people.

Which one is best?

Your choice of egg will depend on your own health, finances and beliefs. Regardless of the eggs you choose, they all offer similar amounts of protein, total fat and cholesterol.

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