Nowadays there is so much information out there about nutrition and healthy living that you may be feeling overwhelmed. Whether you are trying to manage your weight, improve your eating habits, increase your energy or simply meal plan, getting your information from reliable sources is essential.
In partnership with Dr. Vegan, we carried out a Live Q&A on Facebook with Shona Wilkinson, a Registered Nutritionist with 14 years’ experience in the health industry and product development sector. During her time as Head Nutritionist at Tesco, she led a team of 74 nutritionists and was in charge of the online and offline product selection. She now runs her own business specialising in developing and bringing supplements to the market.
During our live session followers sent in their questions around nutrition and Shona replied to all of them by providing ideas healthy snacks and the best oils for cooking, to the use of vitamins for better health and calorie counting.
Shona Wilkinson, RN, mBANT, CNHC
Are there any foods to help with the menopause?
The menopause can be a tricky time with a multitude of symptoms! Focus on foods which help balance your hormones to help reduce these symptoms. We know that omega 3 oils can help balance our hormones. Foods which contain omega 3 include oily fish such as mackerel and Sardines or plant sources include flaxseeds or chia seeds. Some research shows the benefits of Phytoestrogen containing foods such as chickpeas, grapes, barley and green tea. Focus on getting a nutrient dense diet with plenty of green leafy vegetables and avoid foods with added sugars and processed carbs.
Which oil is healthiest to cook with, can you help?
Great question. The best oils include olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil. This is because they can stand quite high temperatures without oxidising. Butter is also good to cook with. I try to avoid sunflower oil as this oxidises easily at a lower temperature.
I have very fussy toddlers but want to make sure they are getting all of the right things! Do you have any tips?
Toddlers can be difficult! It is however a good time to introduce them to a variety of different foods. Mange tout is a great snack for them to chew on and is packed full of nutrients. They taste sweet as well which is an added advantage. Focus on vegetables and add them to most meals even if they are hidden in mashed potatoes or casseroles. Try to make mealtimes a fun event and not a battlefield! Talk about the texture of foods and encourage them to feel them and smell them. Also involve them in the cooking process. Messy but fun and informative!
Can you recommend what vegetables give the best nutrients that also work in smoothies - I’d like to find some that keep my energy going through the day?
Smoothies are a great way of getting a good intake of nutrients. You don’t need to follow a recipe - I just throw in whatever is around! A good plan is to have 3/4 of the smoothie as vegetables and the last 1/4 can be ingredients for taste. Good vegetables to add are spinach, kale and celery. Make 3/4 of your smoothie with these then add ingredients such as nuts and seeds, berries, honey, lemon, ginger or even nut butters. You can make really healthy smoothies that are delicious too!
I’ve heard that there are really good oils and vitamins in fish, can I find these in a plant-based diet?
Yes, the nutrients you are referring to are called omega 3 fatty acids. They are really good for our vision, our cardiovascular system and our brain function. You can now get omega 3 in supplement form from algae if you don’t want to take a fish oil. Food sources include nuts and seeds such as walnuts and chia seeds. Be aware though that the conversion into the beneficial compounds needed is quite low with plant sources though so you may want to consider a supplement.
I really struggle with what to eat for lunch that’s easy to throw together, healthy but filling and will give me a boost for the afternoon! Do you have any suggestions of what’s good to eat at lunchtime?
The best thing is to be prepared. Easier said than done! Make sure you have some form of protein such as chicken with a salad or some fish such as tuna. Also check out Mr Lee's Noodles of course! They are delicious and easy to prepare for lunch.
I have osteoarthritis, are there any foods that I should avoid?
I know it sounds boring but foods to avoid are sugar and refined carbs because they can cause inflammation. Instead focus on foods that reduce inflammation such as oily fish, dark green leafy vegetables and oils such as avocado. The Mediterranean diet has been known to be beneficial.
What are some good sources of iron whilst following a plant-based diet?
There are some delicious foods that are good sources of plant-based iron. Good ones to focus on are legumes such as beans and lentils. Don’t forget nuts and seeds contain small amounts too. Aim to have some leafy greens every day such as spinach or kale. You can even have these in a smoothie. Healthy and delicious! Plant based iron is called non heme iron which isn’t absorbed quite as well as iron from meat so ensure you have a good intake of the plant based sources.
Can you help me with snacks that will keep me going through the day? I always crave chocolate!
Most of us crave chocolate at some time! There can be a number of reasons for this but it is usually to do with blood sugar level swings, hormone imbalances or sometimes just habit! Don’t feel that you have to deprive yourself of chocolate though as you can still have some dark chocolate which has health benefits. Look for chocolate that is about 75% cocoa or more. It will say this on the label. You can eat this guilt free in small amounts. Otherwise, good snacks include oatcakes with cottage cheese or houmous. Or carrot and cucumber sticks with guacamole. Natural yoghurt with some added nuts or seeds and berries. A protein shake or a health snack bar or protein bar.
The chocolate with a high cocoa content takes a bit of getting used to! We are all going through a tough time at the moment and probably don’t realise how much stress we are under so it’s a balance of giving yourself the right nutrients to cope with the stress but also being kind to ourselves. I know it’s a bit boring to say but it’s all about balance!
Any ideas on the best plant-based recipes to encourage bone and soft tissue regeneration?
There are many nutrients to focus on for keeping our body in a positive state of repair. Try focusing on vitamin c containing foods to help with tissue healing. Good sources include kiwi citrus fruits and peppers. Also ensure a good intake of protein which aids the recovery of injured tissue. Plant based sources of protein include tofu, edamame, lentils and beans and chickpeas.
Some people say breakfasts are important, other people say it depends on you as a person. What do you believe to be true? I’m rarely hungry in the morning but people say to eat breakfast anyway.
Yes, we used to say it was the most important meal of the day but research has shown that this isn’t necessarily the case. Many people benefit from intermittent fasting for example - they don’t eat after 8pm at night and don’t eat again until 12 lunchtime the next day. This has shown real health benefits. If you aren’t someone who feels hungry in the morning then simply don’t eat until you are. As you say - everyone is different. The aim is to stop your blood sugar levels going too low but if your body isn’t telling you that you’re hungry then your blood sugar levels are probably ok. Listen to your body not what someone else tells you!
Do you recommend counting calories for weight loss and do I weigh my food before or after it’s cooked?
This is a bit extreme. Calorie counting can sometimes be useful but remember that some foods that are healthy can add calories to a meal such as avocado or oily fish. Calories from an avocado aren’t the same as calories from chocolate for example. Use them as a guide but don’t miss out on those healthy fats because of calories.
I’m wanting to eat healthier, but there aren’t many vegetables I like. Is it okay to get my 5 a day from fruit alone or is this too much sugar?
Bear in mind that 5 is the absolute minimum per day and the majority should really be from vegetables. 5 portions of fruit a day is ok but vegetables really contain all the nutrients we need and should be the focus of your intake. You won’t be getting the nutrients you need by focusing on fruit. Experiment with some new and exciting vegetables. There are so many available in the supermarkets now.
I really like miso yet it is quite salty (and salt has a bad reputation) Should I worry about it in my miso?
Yes, it does taste quite salty but the health benefits far outweigh the salt intake. Check that the salt is naturally part of the miso rather than added for flavour.
What do you recommend to help a dull complexion? Do vitamins and supplements really work in relation to your hair and skin?
Supplements absolutely do help by making sure you have a good intake of the right nutrients for our skin. Look for a product which is designed specifically for skin. It should contain ingredients such as vitamin C and zinc. Probiotics have also shown to be beneficial for good skin health. For a full complexion you can also try omega 3 which helps with dry lacklustre skin. There are omega 3 supplements from algae that are better than fish if you are a vegan or vegetarian.
Are there any vegetables more nutritious than others that I should try to incorporate? Or are they all about the same?
Dark green leafy vegetables are the best by far! Examples are kale, cabbage and broccoli. Try adding them to casseroles to disguise them if you want!
Acquiring accurate nutritional advice which promotes the right balance between feeling good and staying healthy is important no matter your goals. For more information on healthy eating, you can visit the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, Eat for Health.
Packed with real freeze-dried ingredients, certified low in sugar and with no added nasties, our noodles and congee are perfect to be part of a balanced diet. Have them as a lunchtime snack or top them up with extra veggies and protein to make it a meal!