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15/Jul/2021

We’re halfway through winter, and lovely, summery days are months away. Brrr, it’s cold!

But it’s the perfect time to create delicious meals – hearty casseroles, pasta and soups – to warm you from the inside out. With bread fresh from the bakery (or fresh from the oven if you perfected your sourdough during 2020!). Yum…I’m drooling just thinking about it 😋.

However, we need to be careful with our food choices in winter, when we’re generally less active and comfort meals are calling our name. We may begin to put on some weight, which is no good for our joints, pain levels and health in general.

The good news is we can enjoy these foods as part of a balanced diet by making some healthy food swaps and choices.

Here are our top tips:

Watch your portion size

It’s easy to overeat when you use large plates and bowls as we tend to fill them to the edges or brims. So swap your large crockery for smaller dishes when plating up your meals.

Choose wholegrain foods over those that use refined or processed grain

They have more nutrients and fibre and are much better for you. Swap white bread or rolls for wholemeal or wholegrain, white rice for brown rice/quinoa/wild rice. And limit your intake of foods made using refined grains like white flour, such as cakes, biscuits, muffins. Treat them as a ‘sometimes’ food, not an everyday food. Read this article from the Better Health Channel to find out more about the benefits of cereals and whole grains.

Enjoy lean protein

Select lean cuts of meat and trim off any fat. Remove the skin from your chicken. Choose to buy sustainable seafood. And give tofu a go. Then bake, steam, grill or stir-fry your protein with lots of vegies.

Be adventurous!

    • Try swapping cream in soups for silken tofu. You’ll get a protein hit, a creamy soup, and it’s much lower in fat. If you need convincing, give this pumpkin and tofu recipe from The Australian Women’s Weekly a go. It’s so easy and sooooo good!
    • Use sweet potatoes (also known as kumara) instead of white potatoes – for chips, mash, casseroles and stews, on the BBQ or with your Sunday roast. They’re full of nutrients and very tasty.
    • Instead of traditional pasta, use a spiraliser to make zucchini or carrot noodles. They’re light, healthy and add more vegies to your meal. If you don’t have a spiraliser, you can buy them ready-made from the supermarket. And don’t stop at pasta – you can use spiralised vegies in so many meals.
    • Swap white rice for cauliflower ‘rice’. It’s lower in carbs and super easy to make. As with spiralised vegies, you can also buy cauliflower rice at your supermarket. And it’s sure to become the base of so many favourite new recipes.
    • Swap salt for herbs and spices. We tend to have too much salt in our diet – from what we add ourselves to the salts already in the foods we eat. We know this is bad for our blood pressure, but it’s also not great for our bone health as it causes calcium loss. So when you’re cooking, try using fresh or dried herbs and spices such as garlic, ginger, chilli or black pepper instead of salt.

Be wary of your sugar intake

Too much sugar in your diet can increase muscle and joint inflammation, as well as cause weight gain, tooth decay and a whole host of other health issues. Reduce the number of sugary drinks you consume (including fruit juices, soft drinks and alcohol), use sugar alternatives when you cook or bake, and read the nutrition panel on foods to see how much sugar is in them before buying them. This article from Choice lists some of the many names for sugar. Also, check out this article from Weight Watchers for more ideas on how you can reduce your sugar intake.

Fake it!

Instead of your usual Saturday night takeaway, try making your own ‘fakeaway’. There are many websites with recipes and inspiration to make healthier versions of your favourite takeaway meals. Check out these recipes from KidSpot, the CSIRO and our wonderful volunteer Melissa, an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Seek help

Talk with your doctor and/or an Accredited Practising Dietitian for information and advice. Visit Dietitians Australia to find an APD near you.

Other tips for keeping healthy and well during winter:

Take your time

Eat slowly, and savour your meal. Notice the tastes and textures and how it makes you feel – after all, food is more than just fuel. Also, as you eat, take the time to assess whether you’re still hungry or if you’re just eating because there’s food on your plate. If it’s the latter, stop eating.

Stay active

We need to exercise and be physically active for our musculoskeletal health, pain levels and overall good health. But it can be tough to fit regular exercise in our days when it’s so dark and cold on these wintery days. And it can take some firm resolve to slide out of bed on a chilly morning to walk before work. Find out how you can stay active in the cooler months.

Drink water

It lubricates and cushions our joints, aids digestion, prevents constipation, keeps our temperature normal and helps maintain blood pressure. It carries nutrients and oxygen to our cells, flushes out toxins, and cushions the brain and spinal cord. It can also help prevent gout attacks, boost energy levels and fight fatigue. It also makes us feel full, which in turn helps us maintain or lose weight. It’s practically magic ✨. But if you, like many others, find it difficult to drink enough water, read our blog for tips to help.

Batch cook

When you’re feeling great, and have a lazy few hours to prep meals for the coming week, do it. You’ll have healthy, hearty food to go in your fridge or freezer that you can pull out when you need a quick meal – no muss, no fuss. Check out our recent blog on cooking hacks for more info.

Make your meals colourful

Fruit and veggies fall into five different colour categories: red, purple/blue, orange, green and white/brown. And each one has unique disease-fighting chemicals (phytochemicals). So when you’re making a meal, try and include as many colours as you can. It’s good for you, it looks appealing and tastes delicious!

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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13/Jan/2021

It’s the start of 2021 and many of us are feeling the effects of consuming too many yummy things during the holidays. Trifles, honey glazed hams, wine, pavlova, cheesecakes, rum balls, cocktails, pudding, soft drinks, fancy salads with sweet dressings, crackers, lots and lots of lollies…and that was just one day!!

But sadly while we may love these high-sugar foods, they don’t love us back. And if we don’t consume them in moderation, they can have some very negative impacts on our health and wellbeing.

So let’s take a look at the delicious, but bittersweet world of sugar.

Did you know?

Consuming too much sugar can increase muscle and joint inflammation. It can also lead to weight gain, an increased risk of developing diabetes and heart disease, high blood pressure, acne and dental disease. Which means Mary Poppins had it all wrong with her spoonful of sugar – it doesn’t help the medicine go down ☹.

How much sugar should we aim for?

Because of the many health issues linked to a diet high in sugar, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released a guideline that states “in both adults and children, WHO recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake”. (i)

By free sugars they’re referring to the sugars “added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates”. (ii)

For an adult with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), 10% works out to be about 12 teaspoons (or 50 grams) of sugar, in all its forms, per day.(iii) While that sounds like a lot, there’s a lot of hidden sugar in our food. Apart from what we add when cooking or making a cuppa, there’s the sugar that’s in our processed, packaged and pre-prepared foods, soft drinks, fruit drinks, bread, crackers, alcohol etc. So it all adds up very quickly.

In the 2018 report Nutrition across the life stages, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reported that “more than half of the population in each age group up to 19–30 have intakes of free sugars that are greater than the WHO guideline. While this decreased slightly with older age groups, it remains high, with between 35% and 50% of the population with intakes greater than or equal to 10% of energy intake”.(iv)

The main contributors to added sugars intake include: “fruit and vegetable juices and drinks, soft drinks, cakes and muffins, cordials and sweet biscuits”.(v)

But we can change our eating behaviour to reduce the amount of sugar we consume. We don’t have to be a slave to our sweet tooth or our eating habits. And in a short period of time we can experience the improved health benefits of eating a balanced diet, low in sugar.

Did you know?

Sugar has many different names. You may be familiar with some of the ones ending in ‘ose’ – glucose, fructose, dextrose – but there are many that don’t even sound like a sugar, like demarara and turbinado! That’s why it’s a good idea to become familiar with the different names of sugar, so you know what to look for. Choice has a helpful list of 42 different names for added sugar to help you.

Let’s get started – some tips for reducing your sugar intake

  • Get help. You don’t have to do this on your own. Talk with your doctor or a dietitian for advice and strategies to help you reduce your sugar consumption. And get the family involved. It’s more than likely that if one person in the household is consuming too much sugar, then others are too.
  • Read the nutrition information panels and ingredients lists on your packaged foods. EatForHealth.gov.au has some great resources to help you understand what you’re looking at. And remember, sugar has several names that may be listed in the ingredients list – so one product may list sugar, invert sugar, malt extract, glucose solids, golden syrup, and honey – all in the one item! That’s a lot of sugar.
  • Compare similar products. Once you’ve wrapped your head around reading nutrition panels and ingredients lists, compare products before you buy them. For example, compare different yoghurts – one may have a much higher percentage of added sugar than another.
  • Decide how you’re going to do this. You may decide to go cold turkey and stop consuming anything with sugar. This sounds really hard to me but it works for a lot of people. Or you can make changes gradually and consistently. This can also be tough, so getting help from a dietitian is a really good idea.
  • Reduce your intake of sugary drinks, including alcohol. We know soft drinks are full of sugar, but so too are flavoured milk drinks, fruit and vegie juices and store bought smoothies, slushies, milkshakes etc. Drink water – plain or sparkling instead. And if you want a flavour hit, add some lemon or lime slices, or some mint leaves.
  • Think about why you’re eating that ice cream after dinner or mid-afternoon chocolate bar. Are you actually hungry or is it a habit? If you’re hungry choose something that’s not full of sugar like unsweetened Greek yoghurt with some passionfruit or berries, or a small handful of unsalted almonds. If you’re eating because it’s a habit, do something else. Take the dog for a walk, talk with your kids, fold the laundry, clean your teeth. Distract yourself until you’re no longer thinking about eating.
  • Make sure you’re eating enough fibre and protein. They’ll make you feel full and satisfied, so you’re less likely to snack. Fibre is also important for a healthy digestive system, while protein has many health benefits including providing energy, growing and repairing cells and keeping your immune system healthy.
  • Manage your stress. We often reach for the comfort foods when we’re feeling anxious or stressed because they make us feel better. Find other ways to deal with stressful situations that don’t involve sugary food or drinks.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Being tired or feeling fatigued is one of the many reasons we crave sugary things because we know it’ll give us a quick burst of energy. But that energy doesn’t last. You soon go back to feeling tired and needing more sugar to keep you going. And lack of sleep is also linked to weight gain; when coupled with a diet high in sugar, it’s not a great combo. Read our information on sleep for more information about how you can improve your sleep quality and quantity.
  • Be prepared for the potential for sugar withdrawal. Sugar is addictive, and some people may find they experience symptoms such as headache, fatigue and lack of concentration when they reduce their sugar intake. But it will pass. Have some strategies in place in case this happens to you such as: going for a walk, calling a friend, having a cup of tea or coffee (minus any added sugars or syrups), drinking some water, getting some fresh air, doing a crossword. Whatever works to distract you from the symptoms you’re experiencing.

In the end, it’s up to you how much or how little sugar you want to have in your diet. There are definite health benefits for having a diet low in sugar, but that doesn’t mean no sugar.

So if you’re struggling with the idea of giving up all of the sweet things that you enjoy, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy your favourite sweet every now and again.

And you’re more likely to really savour it because you’re eating it because you enjoy it – not because you’re tired, stressed, bored or because it’s a habit. So take some steps today to reduce your sugar intake. Your body will thank you for it.

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore

References

i-ii WHO Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children, 2015.
iii Food Standards Australia & New Zealand: Sugar, 2019.
iv-v AIHW Nutrition across the life stages, 2018.


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02/Jul/2020

An article in the news this week caught my eye and really struck a chord. I don’t know about you, but the period of isolation has seen me gain a little more weight than I’m happy with

Having more time to cook and create, stress eating, the return of Masterchef (Go Poh!) and not being as physically active as we were before COVID…not to mention the snacking, cocktail hour and a whole bunch of other factors has caused many of us to gain weight during iso.

Apart from the many health issues associated with being overweight (e.g. heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure) it’s also linked to increased pain and joint damage due to the increased stress on your joints. It can also affect your ability to be as active as you’d like, which can lead to more pain, musculoskeletal issues and weight gain. We also know that fat releases molecules that increase inflammation throughout your body.

Clearly maintaining a healthy weight is important.

So if, like me, you want to lose some of the weight you’ve gained during the last few months, we can do it! We can turn this around. It may be a challenge and take some time, but we can lose the COVID kilos.

  • Start with a goal. It really does help if you have a clear goal in mind. Just the idea of losing weight isn’t a goal, but a specific, measurable plan – for example – losing 5 kilos in 8 weeks is. So make sure your goal is SMARTspecific, measureable, achievable, realistic and has a timeframe. Read our blog on setting goals for more info. When you’ve created a goal that suits your specific wants and needs, write it down and put it somewhere prominent. It’s a great visual to help you stay on track, and remind you of why you started.
  • Keep track. It’s helpful when you’re trying to get back into a healthy routine to write down what you’re eating. You can use a simple notepad or download an app. Whatever format you choose, make sure you use it. Add every little thing you eat and drink, how much you’re consuming and when. Keeping track of your food intake really helps you see if your diet is balanced and it can help you spot any trends as far as snacking, serving sizes etc. That’ll help you adjust things if you need to.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes a colourful variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, proteins and healthy fats. This gives your body the energy and nutrients it needs to work properly, helps you maintain a healthy weight, helps protect you against other health conditions and is vital for a healthy immune system.
  • (Re)Establish a routine. If you had a healthy diet and exercise routine pre-COVID, reestablish it. It may not be exactly the same, but if you had it once, you can do it again. Look at what’s changed for you over these last few months, how it’s affected your diet and exercise, and what things you need to do to get things working again for you in this new world. If you didn’t have a good routine before COVID, now’s the perfect time to get one. Think about your typical weekday (weekends will have a slightly different routine), what you need to fit into your day including your family, work and other commitments. Write it all down and think about how you can establish a routine that works for you. Think about when you’ll work on creating healthy meal plans, when you’ll shop for ingredients, when you’ll cook, and when you’ll exercise. If you break it down into the small tasks, it makes it easier to fit into your schedule. This may take some trial and error, but it’s worth the effort.
  • Get the family involved. Whether you have family living with you, or they’re in another location, get them involved. They’ll be your cheer squad, but they may also benefit from a little TLC when it comes to their diet and exercise. You can support each other, work through problems together, share recipes and ideas.
  • Exercise. Obviously. Make sure exercise is part of your everyday routine. It’s important to help manage your musculoskeletal condition, pain, mental health, weight, sleep – and so many others things.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Research has shown a clear link between not getting enough sleep and weight gain. Poor sleep is also linked to difficulties losing weight. As many people with musculoskeletal conditions struggle with sleep, this is yet another reason to really look at how you can improve your sleep quality and quantity. And if you need help, talk with your doctor.
  • Eat mindfully. This involves taking the time to be aware of what you’re cooking and eating – savour the tastes, the smells, the textures. Be present while you eat, and try not to be distracted by things like the work, TV and other devices. Don’t hurry, eat small bites, take your time and enjoy.
  • Distract yourself. Sometimes we eat not because we’re hungry, but because we’re bored, sad, lonely or upset. Before you eat something outside of meal times, ask yourself why you’re reaching for that food. Do you actually feel hungry? Or is there another reason? If you’re not hungry, distract yourself with a walk, call a friend, drink a glass of water (not wine! – many of us are overdoing that too – see below).
  • Choose snacks wisely. I’m not a chocoholic, but somehow it’s been finding its way into my cupboard on a regular basis. It’s easy for this sort of thing to become a habit, so be mindful of what you’re snacking on and how often. If you’re snacking on less healthy options like high fat, high sugar or high salt treats, substitute them for healthy options such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, yoghurt. But be aware of the serving size and the frequency. You can have too much of a good thing! And save the treats for when you can really savour them. When you only eat them occasionally you’ll enjoy them even more.
  • Acknowledge that you’re not perfect and you may eat some things that aren’t part of your healthy eating plan. That’s OK, you’ll get back on track. Don’t let it trip you up, or allow the negative self-talk to sabotage your weight loss. Go back to your goal, remind yourself why you’re doing this, and move on.
  • Don’t deprive yourself but don’t ‘treat’ yourself too often either. Find that balance of enjoying your food, but don’t use it as a reward or to make yourself feel better if you’re feeling down or stressed.
  • Get help. If you’re struggling with your weight and you need professional help, talk with your doctor or dietitian. They can help you with practical information and strategies that are specifically tailored to you.
  • Be careful with alcohol. Reports are showing that many of us are drinking more during these stressful times. If that sounds familiar, cut back on your alcohol intake. Substitute other drinks that you enjoy instead of alcohol, though be careful of drinks high in sugar. Try different teas and infusions, add lemon and other fruits to your water, give kombucha a go (maybe? It can be an acquired taste), make a mocktail (again be careful of the sugar content).

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealth, managing your pain or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore

Photo by Heather Ford on Unsplash


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16/Apr/2020

Managing your weight in isolation

Hands up if you‘re giving Nigella or Jamie a run for their money when it comes to getting creative in the kitchen at the moment? Every second post on social media includes amazing looking recipes and we’ve actually got the time to give them a go. Masterchef has come back on TV, so we’re whipping on our aprons faster than you can say sauté. And with the kids home, we’re getting them involved too. All good right? Absolutely!

The problem is we need to be mindful of our weight with all the cooking, baking and snacking we’re doing.

It’s important for everyone – whether you have a musculoskeletal condition or not – to maintain a healthy weight.

Being at a healthy weight and regular exercise gives you the energy to get the most out of life and will protect you from developing many health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. It will also help you manage your musculoskeletal condition and chronic pain.

But with our usual routines disrupted because of COVID-19 and isolation it’s easy to fall into some bad habits. Being aware of this, and taking some simple steps to ensure they don’t become your new normal is important. So here are some tips to help you manage your weight while in iso:

  • Watch the snacks and grazing. Because we’re isolated to our homes, we’re only a few short steps from the fridge or pantry. And with all the cooking we’ve been doing, they’re full of all kinds of delicious things. So it’s really important to resist them. Stick to your set times for main meals, have healthy snacks such as fruit, yoghurt and nuts on hand for when you’re peckish, drink more water, go for a quick walk. Distract yourself from the contents of your fridge or pantry.
  • Which brings us to the next point – ask yourself honestly if you’re hungry or just bored? If you’re hungry, grab a healthy snack. If you’re bored, then do something. Read a book, go for a walk, talk with your family, clean the shower. Focus your attention elsewhere.
  • Be aware of your portion sizes, as it’s easy for them to slowly increase over time. Check out your plates and bowls – do they hold more than a normal sized serve? If so, consider using smaller dishes. Read this article from QLD Health for more info about portion sizes.
  • Track your eating. If you’re concerned that you’re eating more than usual, and you’re starting to gain weight, keep a food diary to help you track what you’re eating. You can use a simple notepad, or download an app. There are lots out there and many of them are free.
  • Alcohol – whoa mama. That’s a big one for many people at the moment. It’s fine to enjoy the occasional drink, but we do need to be careful that fear, anxiety, loneliness and worry aren’t leading us to drink more than is healthy. Find out more about alcohol – how it affects you, what a standard drink is, and tips to help you reduce or quit drinking alcohol.
  • Stay active. Eating a healthy diet, getting a good night’s sleep, and exercise all work together to help you manage your weight and your health overall. Read our recent blogs on exercising during the pandemic, and online exercises for more info about how you can exercise and stay active during isolation.
  • Talk with your doctor or a dietitian if you’re worried about your diet and weight, and want some professional help. You can do this in person, or via a telehealth consultation. Remember you can still go to see your doctor while in isolation – the clinic will have extra precautions in place to protect everyone from potential infections. But if you’re not comfortable doing this, telehealth is an option for us all.
  • Make your meals an occasion. We can’t go out but we can have fun with our meals and make them a social time for ourselves and our families. Just as much as watching our weight is important, so is social connection during this stressful time. Connect with the people living in your house, or use a video app to catch up with loved ones and make it an occasion. Dress up, chat, laugh, take some time to enjoy a meal together.
  • Don’t deny yourself something you really like. If you love chocolate, allow yourself a small treat occasionally, just not too often. It’s all about moderation.
  • Give yourself a break. We’re only a few weeks into iso – so we’re all having to tread water really quickly to stay afloat. But as time goes by we’ll get better at it. We just need to ensure our new routines are healthy and balanced.

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Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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