Tea in Sydney

Winter has barged in on my year and left me with cold fingers and a snuffley nose.  I intend to deal with this situation in two ways:
1. Escape to Europe for some northern hemisphere summer
2. Enjoy the wonderful warming benefits of tea at every opportunity

Tea is pretty much always my drink of choice (unless it is cocktail hour), and I love that there are as many different plants that taste good infused in boiling water as there are health benefits from those teas.  Some of my favourites are herbal teas like fennel, mint, rosehip, hibiscus, ginger, lemon balm, nettle, dandelion root and the wonderful blends by the geniuses at Pukka (a London tea brand that is starting to make it’s way here to Australia).  Earl Grey is my all time favourite black tea, although I am starting to develop a respect for Orange Pekoe.

Over the last few years I have developed a deep appreciation for the complexity and variety of green tea, a term that really refers to a whole library of teas, each  with a unique colour, flavour and aroma.  Oolong, white tea, red tea, Pu Erh tea, all completely different and suited to different situations.  One of my favourite teas at the moment is an Australian green tea, grown in the Kiewa Valley at Tawonga in Victoria by the Alpine Tea Company.

http://www.alpineteaco.com.au/

I am also thrilled to note that some new tea houses are starting to pop up (I am also discovering ones that may have always been here) and offering more opportunities for a cup of tea on a busy day.

This weekend I have had two very different tea house experiences.  One was a classic Chinese tea tasting session in a Neutral Bay tea shop run by the wonderful Raymond Mao.  Time seems to stand still as we sit and watch him prepare his teas for us to examine, smell and taste, appreciating the way the flavour changes with each infusion.  Raymond has great knowledge of tea and the process involved in creating each variety, beginning as they all do with the leaves or young shoots of the Camelia bush (or tree in some cases).  Raymond has made tea pilgrimages to different areas of China and has wonderful photos of small villages who care for 500 year old tea trees.  If you have a bit of time, sit and drink in his knowledge whilst you taste his tea.

http://myteahouse.net.au/p2b.asp

Tea tasting at My Tea House, Neutral Bay

Tea tasting at My Tea House, Neutral Bay

Raymond Mao, My Tea House, Neutral Bay

Raymond Mao, My Tea House, Neutral Bay

The other tea house was part of the new breed, which sets itself apart from the cafes or coffee shops with a few teas on the menu as a dedicated, tea only venue that creates the feel of a classic tea salon.  The Tea Parlour in Refern is a time capsule in which you can sink into a plush armchair, open a vintage book to read from the tea menu and select a home made scone or cucumber sandwich to accompany your pot of tea.  A great space to come with a small group for high tea, or a close friend for a tete-a-tete.  I raise my china to the emergence of many more tea houses to balance out our coffee heavy culture.

http://www.twothousand.com.au/eat-drink/tea-parlour/

How healthy is your work?

Researchers from the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research at the University of WA have found a link between sedentary work (where long periods of time are spent sitting) and an increased risk of colorectal cancer, regardless of recreational physical activity.

The study was carried out in Western Australia between 2005 and 2007 and involved men and women self-administering a questionnaire about their work history, lifestyle, diet and medication use.

Participants were asked about their lifetime occupational history and the results indicated that the participants who had spent 10 or more years working in sedentary jobs had an increased risk of distal colon and rectal cancers compared with those who had never had a sedentary job.

How many hours do you sit down each day?

If you work with a computer it is probably quite a few (I know how long I spend tapping at this machine!)

Whilst the mechanisms behind the increased risk are not yet fully understood, we can take the general message and try to include more physical activity in our day at work.

This could be as simple as getting up every 1-2 hours and having a good stretch.  This also helps avoid neck and shoulder stiffness, stretches your eyes and allows you to take some deep breaths.  A couple of bigger bursts of activity through the day can include going for a brisk walk around the block as a mid-morning break, taking the stairs when we come back in from lunch, or going to a nearby gym or yoga class for a session during the day.  You may have to come to some understanding with your boss, but in the long run you will both benefit as your increased energy and focus will help improve your productivity overall.

The abstract from the WA study can be found here:

http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/03/18/aje.kwq513.abstract

Make your own herbal medicines

I was given a great book for Christmas: ‘Grow Your Own Drugs: A Year With James Wong’, the companion to the BBC TV show that has also aired here in Australia.  James Wong is an ethnobotanist interested in medicinal plants and home grown remedies (and quite easy on the eye).

James Wong - Grow Your Own Drugs

I haven’t seen the show but the book is fantastic and filled with great ideas for turning fresh and dried herbs, essential oils and other simple ingredients into homemade herbal medicines.  Some of the herbs in his recipes are not readily available in Australia, at least to my knowledge, but I found plenty that are and so I had a go..

TummySoother1

The first thing that caught my eye was his “Peppermint Tummy Soother for Indigestion”, a peppermint and chamomile syrup to take as needed for stomach cramps and nervous indigestion.  Most people have herbal tea bags in the cupboard so this is super easy.  I used dried peppermint leaves, 4 chamomile tea bags and some beautiful fresh chamomile flowers from J’s sister.

TummySoother2

I basically made a really strong tea, simmering the herbs in water for 20 mins, then leaving to cool and straining through a sieve and muslin.  He recommends pushing on the herby bits with a spoon (I used my fingers) to squeeze out all the therapeutic juices.  This is what I ended up with:

TummySoother3

I returned this to the clean pot and simmered for ages to reduce to 200ml volume.  James Wong suggested to simmer gently and I possibly took this slightly too far as it took about 40 mins to reduce!  Anyway, I was able to put a lot of love into my liquid herbs by spending so much time with them.  When the volume was right I added a cup and a bit of honey (from my cousins’ bees!) and 75ml of good cloudy apple cider vinegar.  This stuff is a great digestive tonic, alkaliser and all around friend to your body.

Continue reading

And we’re back..

2011 is off to a busy start!  It’s hard to believe that January has come and gone.  My days have been full with new patients and a busy health food store, enjoying the long summer light and more than a little worry and heartache for everyone in Queensland who has suffered through the floods and the impending cyclone.  My thoughts and best wishes (and a little donation) are with you.

Reduce your need for NSAIDs this party season

It is that time of the year where there seems to be a Christmas party or end of year event every other night and of course, the big one, New Years Eve!   Where we would normally have some alcohol-free nights in the week, suddenly there is no end to the wine, beer, cocktails and champagne which go hand in hand with the silly season.  This leads to what some rightly call an ‘accumulated hangover’, the feeling of being hit harder than usual by the after effects of alcohol, due in part to the overload on your liver.  This is the time that many people reach for the panadol, naprogesic, nurofen, ponstan or any other pain-relieving drug.

NSAIDs for pain relief

These drugs are classed as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and work by inhibiting the production of certain chemicals in our body which contribute to pain and inflammation.  These chemicals do not work in isolation, but  are part of a larger system which governs many physiological processes in the body.  Thus when we take NSAIDs we are not only affecting the inflammatory process, but also our kidney function, blood vessel constriction, immune function and many other house-keeping and maintenance processes.

It is important to be aware of the risks associated with NSAID use, especially when your use is long term and frequent.  One of the most significant risks stems from unwanted effects on the gastrointestinal system, such as gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) due to the reduction of the  protective role usually played by the chemical inhibited by NSAIDs.  Gastritis can develop into ulceration and cause bleeding which is serious and potentially life threatening.  Another downside to NSAID use is an increased risk of stroke. This is dependent on many factors, including age, duration and frequency of use, concurrent use of other medications, and is the subject of further research.  If you have concerns around your NSAID use, speak to your Doctor, Naturopath or health professional before you stop taking any medications.

5 ways to help reduce your post-party hangover without using NSAIDs

1. Drink water - This is obvious but this is why it is number one:  if you drink water whilst you drink alcohol you will be less dehydrated and this has a huge impact on how you feel the next day.  Keep drinking water throughout your hangover to aid your liver in the elimination of toxins.

2. Eat food – Food in your stomach slows the absorption of alcohol and while some might prefer the cheap drunk route it is bound to lead to excess consumption and a big hangover.  Include vegetables to boost your vitamin and mineral status and support your detox processes.  Bitter greens, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, garlic, parsley, citrus fruits, rosemary and sage are all liver helpers.

3. Check the Omega 3 fatty acid sources in your diet - It is essential to get good amounts of these fatty acids either in your diet or from supplements as they help to reduce your overall tendency to inflammation.  Omega 3 fatty acids reduce the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals without inhibiting the other processes that these chemicals are involved in (see above).

4. Make sure you are getting plenty of Magnesium, Zinc and B Vitamins, either from your diet or supplements, as these help your body detoxify alcohol.

5. Support your liver -  it is doing a hard slog to support you.  Herbal medicine is a great way to support liver function.  Talk to your Naturopath or Herbalist about which liver herbs are best for you.

Love your liver

Your liver works hard not just dealing with the alcohol we consume, but detoxifying all the chemicals our bodies are exposed to from food, pollution, drugs, beauty products and many other sources.  One of the best things you can do for your liver is to give it regular breaks, such as alcohol-free days, to improve recovery and help prepare you for the next night out.

Have a happy and healthy new year!

No Meat November

In early November my partner had an interesting idea:  why don’t we have a meat-free month in preparation for Christmas?  This was his version of a spring detox and a great idea as reducing animal proteins and tending your diet more towards plant proteins, fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to improve digestion, reduce inflammation and boost protective antioxidants (and maybe even lose weight!)

I was thrilled at the suggestion, thinking to myself that this would be a great break for him and not really that hard for me.  I had it in mind that I only eat meat a few times a week anyway.  So we set some rules: fish and seafood were allowed but all other meats excluded with the exception of one meat meal per week (a safety measure that I find handy in any restrictive diet to avoid binges that result in throwing the whole idea out).

Broad Bean, Leek & Rocket Pizza

Broad Bean, Leek & Rocket Pizza

No Meat November was a great opportunity to explore delicious vegetarian meals like this green pizza.

We got through it, or I should say, he got through it.  I faltered at the last weekend, spent with family in country Queensland, where meat was very much on the menu.  To be honest though, by that point I had realised that I do eat meat more than once or twice a week, and I like having that option.  This is not a comment on the ethics of vegetarianism, I have huge respect for those who make the effort required to follow their own nutritional path, ensuring they still gain the nutrients usually provided by the foods they avoid.  During my (largely) pescetarian month I felt real opposition to my diet plan from a variety of sources and was reminded how little choice there is on the average menu for those that choose not to eat meat.

What we both gained from this month was awareness.  Eating can often be quite unconscious: I thought it would be a breeze to cut out meat to once a week but was surprised at the number of opportunities that arose throughout the weeks where I would have normally chosen meat.  We tell ourselves certain things about the way we eat, but sometimes it can take a process that encourages greater awareness, like keeping a diet diary or reducing sugar, to bring the reality of our food choices into focus.

My goal is conscious eating, enjoying the choices I make and being aware of the impact of what I eat on my health and wellbeing.  This requires self-awareness, honesty and a bit of education to make sure you are well equipped to give your body what it needs every day.  In the lead up to Christmas, I will ask myself: have I eaten any vegetables today?

Ghosts in the literature

I am all for an evidence-based approach to assessing the risks and benefits of a health-related intervention, but it seems vitally important that we remain realistic about the possibility that the evidence may not always be as clear as it seems.

A colleague alerted me to a case in the US which has highlighted the practice of publication planning, where pharmaceutical companies may employ the services of a medical education and communication company (MECC) to create and distribute the marketing message around a drug.

Documents revealed through a litigation case against pharmaceutical company Wyeth revealed that this practice extends to the ghostwriting of articles, reviews and commentaries which are placed into medical journals.  Academics are invited to put their name to these pre-written articles and can make changes as long as they do not deviate from the marketing message.

In this specific case more than 14,000 plaintiffs brought claims against Wyeth around the link between the use of menopausal hormone therapy, Prempro, and the development of breast cancer.

The documents that were revealed to be part of the marketing campaign executed by DesignWrite, an MECC, were intended to promote unproven benefits and downplay potential side effects of the drug.  As they were published in respected medical literature they would have played a role in building physician confidence in the drug.

I’m not sure how widespread this practice is, it seems bizarre that it would even be legal.   The point here is that there should be much more transparency about the true authors of any document that gains publication in a medical journal, and with this I wholly agree.

For a much more detailed account of this case please see the article on PLoS Medicine, we have them to thank for bringing this practice to light.

http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000335

Take your immune system to lunch

Last week I succumbed to the spring cold that has been going around so I decided to raid the fridge for an immune boosting lunch.

The basic elements I was looking for were:

  • Protein: to give my body the building blocks it needs to fight viruses and make antibodies.  This could be a small amount of lean meat, fish, soy or egg, or a combination of plant proteins such as grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
  • Vegetables: filled with vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals that boost our immune function and help cleanse our bodies of waste.  The more variety and colour, the better.
  • Spices: the edible medical cabinet, all culinary herbs and spices have medicinal properties and are used in cultures around the world for their health enhancing effects.
  • Grains: carbohydrates are our primary energy source and a small amount of a whole grain like brown rice or quinoa with veges and protein makes a well rounded meal.

Any combination of ingredients will do, as long as you try to include the elements above.  Here is what I made:

Immunelunch

Tofu & green vegetable stir fry with garlic, tumeric and quinoa

It only took about half an hour and left me feeling well nourished!

The protein:  Tofu and tempeh, both great vegetarian protein sources, cubed and stir fried in chilli oil.  Set aside to wait.

The vegetables: Greens!! Brocolli, zucchini, green beans and shallots, sliced and slowly stir fried with peanut oil, a little sesame oil and sliced garlic.  Garlic is one of the best immune boosting ingredients we have, acting like a natural antibiotic.

The spices: fennel and cumin seeds are great digestion boosters; I added the whole seeds with the oil and veges.  Tumeric is an amazing root with anti-inflammatory and immune building properties; I added the powder with a little water when the veges were almost done.  Also sea salt, black pepper and a little bit of spicy seasoning (Trocomare).

The grains:  Left over cooked rice and red quinoa (from the fridge or cooked in the rice cooker as required), added at the end after the spices, stir fried to warm through and take on the flavours.  Quinoa is a high protein grain that contains good levels of the amino acid lysine which helps your body fight viral infections.

The best part was the delicious and health promoting leftovers that I found in the fridge the next time I went searching for an immune boosting meal.

In defence of food

A quick but hearty recommendation for an important book. ‘In Defense of Food‘, by Michael Pollan, offers a welcome perspective for anyone who is confused about what to eat, perhaps as a result of conflicting nutrition advice or the current scientific tendency to reductionist thinking which has resulted in an emphasis on nutrients over wholefoods. I am as concerned as Pollan about the current status of food science, where it seems to be a good idea to develop products such as omega 3 fatty acid fortified bacon. Nature did not intend this. We can (and it is getting pretty close to a must) tap into our own instincts and common sense about what to nourish ourselves with. Pollan explains more on his site: http://michaelpollan.com/books/in-defense-of-food/.

Fish #2 (Europe)

My trip to Europe was a fantastic excuse to explore local cuisines and try foods that I don’t usually come across in Australia. I continued my mission to encourage variety in my fish consumption by taking every opportunity to eat dishes that included new types of fish. Some of these were prepared in restaurants or pubs, like the wonderful battered Haddock and pan-fried Halibut with chunky chips and mushy peas at Steels in the English seaside town of Cleethorpes, and some were cooked for me by friends.  Here is a selection of the highlights for me:

Grilled Sardines with sea salt crust, Matoshinos, Porto

Grilled Sardines with sea salt crust, Matoshinos, Porto

These giant sardines were cooked in front of us on a barbeque out in the street and served with garlic and olive oil potatoes, char-grilled capsicum and grilled squid.  Small fish like this are a great choice especially if, like me, you tend to eat a lot of much bigger fish like salmon.  The smaller the fish, the less time spent in the ocean accumulating waste.  If you can eat the whole fish there are other benefits: skin and organs contain high levels of omega 3 fatty acids and bones are a great source of calcium.

Codfish with Cornbread, Porto

Codfish with Cornbread, Porto

This dish had a simple name but stacks of flavour.  Based around Bacalhau, dried cod which is a specialty of Portugal (although often imported from Norway or Newfoundland), this was a new take on a fish pie with potato and leeks mixed with shredded cod and topped with a delicious cornbread crust.  I love a good fish pie, an excellent way to include some vegetables in your meal.

Scorpion Fish with zucchini, olives and piquillo peppers, Le Train Bleu, Paris

Scorpion Fish with zucchini, olives and piquillo peppers, Le Train Bleu, Paris

The full title for this dish is much longer and fancier than my description, but that is to be expected from one of the most incredible restaurants in Paris.  High above the hectic bustle of the Gare de Lyon, Le Train Bleu is an oasis.  Scorpion fish is a notoriously venomous species, however I found the flavour was lacking something, until I tried all the elements of the dish together and realised that the fish had been balanced to take the vegetables into account.  What a nice approach  – a meal where the meat and veges work together in perfect harmony!

Fresh Girelles royales

Fresh Girelles royales

Our friends in Provence introduced these beautiful fish as Girelles royales.  They were bought fresh that day and cooked for us on a barbeque hot plate.  We ate them whole with bread, white wine and sunshine. Magnifique.

Grilled Girelles royales

Grilled Girelles royales, Provence