Monday, 4 January 2016

Organic or Conventional?

Market display of fruit and vegetables
How important is it to buy organic fruit and vegetables? Organics often cost several times more than the equivalent conventional, but is the extra spend worth it?  Non-organic fruit and vegetables are regularly sprayed with potentially toxic chemicals. Do the safety regulations work?  How toxic is conventional food? Read on to find out.
Why is organic food more expensive?

Fruit and vegetables grown using chemicals are cheaper for us to buy at the shop, but these cheaper prices do not take into account the true environmental and health costs. In organic farming, the farmer is responsible for choosing the nutrients and pest control methods he uses based upon his own expert local knowledge and ethics. In contrast, chemical-based farming requires us to trust in the research undertaken by chemical companies. It also needs us to trust government approvals processes and regulations. We also rely on those farmers to apply chemicals responsibly using recommended application rates and withholding periods before harvesting.

Conventional farming has the advantage of economies of scale. Although more profitable, chemical-based mono-cultures are more susceptible to pest attack, in turn needing even more chemicals to control pests.

Organic agriculture is more often based on a diversity of crops which offer the benefit of multiple income streams, companion planting and natural pest control. The organic farmer is responsible for obtaining and applying nutrients as manures and non-chemical pest control methods.  These costs are built into the costs of organic produce. However, the more we support organic farmers by buying their produce, the lower organic prices will become over time, as their economies of scale improve.

Environmental considerations

The impact of horticultural chemicals in local soils and on waterways through wash-off is not well understood. The cumulative impacts of long term chemical exposure and the impacts of continual use of a cocktail of chemicals on the environment is also only poorly understood. The climate change implications of the manufacture, transport and application of horticultural chemicals are also not included into the cost structures of modern conventional methods.

Health considerations

The acute toxicity of agricultural chemicals is reasonably well understood- hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent studying the human health impacts of the acute toxicity of chemical residues in our food. This forms the basis of regulations and application strategies given to farmers. However, the human health impacts of long term cumulative exposure or the exposure to a cocktail of horticultural chemicals is not well understood. For example there are over 35 chemicals approved for use on local WA strawberries with different withholding periods (the period between application and harvesting).  One wonders if these are always complied with during busy spraying and picking schedules, or what the effects of multiple trace amounts of residual chemicals might be. The ‘safe’ levels are also determined after peeling or washing as would be expected in a normal household, making it even more important to do so.

The cumulative effects of chemical application can also lead to high levels of toxic residues in soils. For example the higher Cadmium levels in phosphate rocks used to manufacture superphosphate in WA have led to unacceptable accumulations of this highly toxic heavy metal in horticultural soils. Potatoes grown in soils with high cadmium- as well as other vegetables such as leafy greens- in particular absorb this cadmium which is then transferred to the consumer. There are no safe levels of cadmium in the body as it is a toxic heavy metal, but superphosphate from Christmas island has now been banned for potatoes in W.A., due to high levels accumulated in the soils here. Organic potatoes do not have this problem.
Babies in utero and after birth, and small children, are the most sensitive to chemical residues in produce- their metabolisms are different to adults’ metabolisms, and toxins remain longer in their bodies. Even small amounts of chemicals can alter a child’s brain chemistry. Farm workers, their families and children who are exposed to these chemicals have higher levels of some cancers, ADHD, birth defects, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and lower IQ in kids. Many of these chemicals are known or suspected carcinogens or endocrine disruptors. The truth is, we do not know the long term effect of accumulated chemical residues which we are nowadays bathed in from in-utero, from our water, in the air and through our food. It makes sense to avoid them if you can, as well as support organic farmers, the environment and the future.

From a health viewpoint, it is far more important to eat an abundance of (conventional OR organic) fruit and vegetables than it is to limit fruit and vegetables because of fear over pesticide residues, and an inability to afford organics. A 2012 study estimated that increasing fruit and vegetable consumption (conventional) could prevent 20,000 cancer cases annually (U.S. figures), and 10 cases of cancer per year could be attributed to consumption of pesticides from the additional produce. There are many studies and plenty of evidence to show that eating fruit and vegetables at least 3 times a day protects against so many diseases, from hypertension and diabetes to heart disease and cancer. And even with this information being widely available, many people still do not eat sufficient fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.

Is it possible to remove pesticide residues? The answer to this very important question is: Yes, to some extent, but not completely. It is possible to wash off much of the chemical residues, or remove it by peeling some produce. Tests have shown that washing in running water is fairly effective. I sometimes use a vegetable wash to help dissolve less water soluble compounds.  Rubbing soft skinned produce such as peaches, and scrubbing carrots and potatoes can help remove residues. Peeling can be very effective at removing chemical


As with any complex story, it is important to keep things in perspective. The health benefits of more fruit and vegetables do outweigh the problem of the chemical residues.  For certain high-risk produce like potatoes, broccoli, apples and strawberries I always buy organic when available. For avocados, bananas and other things with a thick skin, I tend to buy conventional as they can be easily peeled. I look out for specials on organic produce and prefer supporting our local organic farmers and businesses as I can afford. However, our reality is that my family and I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, and we cannot always afford to buy organic, so we simply do our best.

Many people do not eat enough fruit and vegetables, and this makes them vulnerable to many chronic diseases. Eating more fruit and vegetables- a minimum of 2 pieces or serves of fruit and 5-7 serves of vegetables a day, and preferably more- has been found to be highly beneficial. Eating organic is more than a luxury- it is important for our environment and for the health of our children, particularly those with certain chemical sensitivities. We can minimise the risks of pesticide residues in non-organic produce by washing  or peeling before eating, and by selectively purchasing organic produce as we can afford. This way, we can help balance our finite household budgets as well as improve our health.


Fear Not Fruit!

In recent years, there has been a fair amount of awareness developing about how bad processed sugar is for us. It has been realised by many health-seeking people that processed sugars are not our friend, and that insulin resistance, candida, raised triglycerides, obesity and even cancer may be associated with our culture’s high sugar diets. We have witnessed the rise of such successful books as Sarah Wilson’s Why I Quit Sugar, as well as the recently popular That Sugar Film. How about the surge of dietary approaches that limit carbohydrates- Low Carb, Ketogenic, even the popular Paleo? 

The casualty of all this new understanding that sugar may be far more implicated in our culture’s obesity epidemic than butter, has been eating fruit. Fruit tends to get lumped in with processed sugar- with high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, cane sugar, beet sugar, all those sugars that are added to sweeten processed foods to make them taste good. But fruit is not a processed food. It is a whole food. It is a completely different thing. 

Mankind has always valued fruit- we have evolved eating fruit. Whether it’s the berries and grapes of England, the figs, dates and mangoes of the Middle East or the bananas and avocados of South America, fruit is deeply embedded in our culture. Access to fruit was highly valued and allowed the royalty to live longer lives than the peasants who had to survive winter on dried meat and grain. Fruit is associated with prosperity in our language- a “fruitful” business deal. Children are the fruits of our loins. Apparently the Bible mentions fruit over 300 times! On some level, we know fruit is important and it has been valued till recently.

Fruit provides incredible nutrition. Many phytonutrients are jam packed inside all that juicy goodness. Fruit is easy to digest so does not put a strain on our digestive system- instead fruit gently cleanses our bodies. Fruit is full of soluble fibre, including prebiotics which feed the healthy bugs in our guts. While science has managed to define single important nutrients from fruits- such as the anthocyanins that make blueberries blue, the lycopene in tomatoes and watermelon, flavanoids in grapes and citrus and the polyphenols in berries- it is not the isolated  nutrients that are important. It is the whole package!  

Whole fruit does not cause diabetes. In fact, fruit consumption is associated with lower incidence of diabetes type 2, although fruit juice consumption is associated with higher incidence of diabetes type 2.(1) Fruit does not mess around with blood sugar and is generally low to medium on the glycemic scale- a piece of wholemeal bread can raise blood sugar more than a piece of fruit!(2) In one study, even 20 pieces of fruit a day did not create adverse blood sugar or triglyceride effects and only benefitted.(3) Even dates do not raise blood insulin.(4) And fruit does not cause or worsen candida- candida is a symptom of other conditions and fruit can actually help balance your body so that candida can no longer thrive.

Fear not fruit! I will even go as far as to say....which animal in the animal kingdom are we most like, and what do they mostly eat? Apes and chimpanzees, and fruit. We have long arms and wonderful hands perfect for picking fruit. I have also been on a journey around fruit eating, as I have hashimotos disease, and found than a gluten free diet led me to a grain free diet which led me to a Paleo diet, and even a stint of ketogenic. I have felt good on Paleo, but too much meat and not enough fruit is not a good balance! I was also suffering from fear of fruit, a current epidemic! Currently my husband Dave and I are feeling great on a high fruit diet, a summer cleanse. It has felt amazing at this time of year to indulge in fruit, and let go of heavier foods. I feel light, bouyant, sweeter!

I think throwing the fruit out with the processed sugars is a very bad idea. Fruit contains nutrients that are very difficult to get elsewhere. It is a whole food. It is easy to eat and it is a source of sweetness that we should not deny ourselves. We are far better throwing out the croissants, or the raw cheesecake made with hard-to-digest nuts, and enjoying a luscious mango or piece of watermelon. Just as our ancestors have done for thousands of years.
Eat fruit, be happy :) 

1.    Muraki I, Imamura F, Manson JE, Hu FB, Willett WC, van Dam RM, et al. Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies. BMJ. 2013;347:f5001.
2.    Myth: I can't eat fruit if I have diabetes [Internet]. [cited 2015 Dec 11]. Available from:
3.    Meyer BJ, de Bruin EJ, Plessis Du DG, van der Merwe M, Meyer AC. Some biochemical effects of a mainly fruit diet in man. S Afr Med J. 1971 Mar;45(10):253–61.
4.    Alkaabi JM, Al-Dabbagh B, Ahmad S, Saadi HF, Gariballa S, Ghazali MA. Glycemic indices of five varieties of dates in healthy and diabetic subjects. Nutr J. 2011;10:59.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Honey- Medicine and Magic

Honey- Medicine and Magic

Some of you may know that we have a backyard bee hive and we love our bees. We can see the bees from the back sitting area and they are busy from dawn to dusk! We talk to them every day and I even sing to them. Well, they sing- or at least hum- to us too! :)

In these days of superbugs and and antibiotic resistance, honey’s healing qualities are becoming more recognised again- in fact, they have only been forgotten for the last 50 years as antibiotics became the norm- but we are rapidly losing the ability to rely on the effectiveness of antibiotics. Honey has been used both internally and externally for healing for thousands of years, and it is as effective now as it has always been.

Worldwide studies have shown that honey is a remarkable wound healer- wounds, ulcers and burns treated with honey heal quicker, they smell less and scarring is less. In one study, honey was compared to the commonly used silver sulfadiazine in 104 1st degree burn patients. After a week, 91% of the honey treated burns were infection free compared to only 7% of the silver sulfadiazine treated burns.

Honey is now being used successfully in nursing homes and hospitals when nothing else has worked, such as in diabetic leg ulcers, even where amputation is imminent. Gangrene, fungal infections, post-surgical wound infections, burns, dental plaque and stomach ulcers can also all be treated effectively with honey. Honey is active against many bacteria such as staphlycoccus aureus, streptococcus, rubella, salmonella, candida...many others. Of course, work with your qualified health practitioner for more serious conditions- but sometimes, simple is best.

But, who will make money from giving you honey when you ask for help from your doctor or pharmacist? Of course, a medical grade honey has now been produced (someone had to do it!), but any organic wildflower honey where the bees had access to a range of flowers can be effective in anti-biotic resistant skin and wound infections. There are some honeys that are more effective than others- such as Manuka honey from New Zealand and our own West Australian Jarrah honey- but don’t let the expense of them stop you using our wonderfully effective range of other honeys for your skin infections, even quite serious ones. Bees are naturally attracted to medicinal plants and we are lucky here in W.A. to have many wonderful honeys, and they are all antibacterial to various degrees.

Internally, honey can be used for immune stimulation, overall health improvement, and treatment of colds, flus and respiratory infections.

It is no wonder that honey, bees and other bee products such as pollen, propolis and royal jelly have such a rich cultural history. The ancient Egyptions are the first recorded to have kept bees domestically, the Ancient Greeks used honey as a superfood in the Olympic Games, and the famous Roman writer Pliny described a region where people lived to over 100 years old because of their consumption of honey and pollen. It is also documented in Russia that many centenarians acredit their longevity to lavish consumption of honey. Honey has been used as a currency for barter and even to pay taxes.

Did you know that honeybees visit over 2 million flowers to make one 450g jar of honey? That an average worker bee lives only 6 weeks and creates only 1/2 tsp of honey in her life? That all worker bees are female?

Honey is a miraculous and magical food and medicine, and it is full of minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, probiotics and also substances they haven’t named or recognised yet. It is a wonderful wild food, and we tend not to eat enough wild foods. It is convenient, available, nutritious, and with the international decline of bees, which will be catastrophic if it continues, supporting bee keepers is a good idea too. But we are better off having thousands of householders having a single bee hive in their garden than a few apiarists with thousands of bee hives, so if it appeals to you, consider keeping bees. It is a wonderful hobby that keeps you in touch with the wild side, and the rewards are so sweet!

Herbal Antibiotics by Stephen Buhner
Superfoods by David Wolfe

Photo credit- Genevieve Cooper

Fire Cider

Prevention is a lot smarter when it comes to sickness- there are many things you can do to boost your immunity before the winter season sets in. Your good health helps your body fight off the germs that abound in the colder months. Start to think about changing your diet and your daily habits in tune with the cooler weather, and your body will thank you.

This is a great recipe to prepare now, before you need it! It is something you take by the tablespoon (1 tbs daily) as a preventative to getting sick over the winter months, and also to boost your immunity when you do get sick. It is antibacterial, anti-viral, and it helps warm you and increase your circulation. You can splash it on your vegies or rice or any food or drink straight, or diluted.

If anyone knows where to get fresh horseradish here in Perth, I would be grateful to know! I have used daikon radish from an Asian store before, or just left it out. It still has plenty of benefits with the other ingredients. Be careful of adding so much hot pepper that you don't want to take it. I will also be using fresh turmeric as it is available here (I get mine from Peaches, Sth Freo). Enjoy!

Fire Cider

  • 1/2 cup fresh grated organic ginger root
  • 1/2 cup fresh grated organic horseradish root
  • 1 medium organic onion chopped
  • 10 cloves of organic garlic crushed or chopped
  • 2 organic jalapeno peppers chopped
  • Zest and juice from 1 organic lemon
  • fresh organic rosemary Several sprigs of - or 2 tbsp of dried rosemary leaves
  • 1 tbsp organic turmeric powder
  • organic apple cider vinegar
  • raw local honey to taste
Prepare all of your cold-fighting roots, fruits, and herbs and place them in a quart sized jar. Cover with apple cider vinegar (with the mother still in it, such as Braggs) Use a piece of natural parchment paper or wax paper under the lid to keep the vinegar from touching the metal lid as it corrodes it. Shake well! Store in a dark, cool place for one month and remember to shake daily (but if you forget, that's ok too, shake when you remember, and put your love and prayers into it!).
After one month, use cheesecloth to strain out the pulp, pouring the vinegar into a clean jar. Be sure to squeeze as much of the liquid goodness as you can from the pulp while straining. Next, comes the honey! Add 1/4 cup of honey and stir until incorporated. Taste your cider and add another 1/4 cup until you reach the desired sweetness.
Remember to label it!
Ingredient Variations
These herbs and spices would make a wonderful addition to your Fire Cider creations: Thyme, Cayenne, Rosehips, Ginseng, Orange, Grapefruit, Schizandra berries, Astragalus, Parsley, Burdock, Oregano, Peppercorns
Recipe from 

Moroccan Preserved Lemons


Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Do you have an abundance of lemons at the moment? This recipe give you a wonderful condiment and flavour boost to many dishes, especially African dishes. I love to add my preserved lemons to rissoles along with cumin and other spices.
Preserved lemon is a traditional North African condiment where its sour and salty flavour adds a distinct flavour to classic tagines, roast chickens and other meals. 


  • 2 1/2 pounds lemons (preferably Meyer lemons)
  • 1/4 cup unrefined sea salt


  1. Trim the ends off lemons, taking care not to cut into the flesh, then slice the lemons as if to quarter them - keeping the base of the lemon intact.
  2. Sprinkle the interior of the lemons with unrefined sea salt then layer in your mason jar, crock or fermentation device. Sprinkle with unrefined sea salt then mash with a wooden spoon or dowel until the rinds of the lemon begin to soften and the lemons release their juice which should combine with the salt to create a brine conducive to the proliferation of beneficial bacteria.
  3. Continue mashing, salting and mashing until your lemons fill the jar and rest below the level of the brine.
  4. Ferment at room temperature for three to four weeks. Lemons can be kept for one to two years.

Fermentations and Easy Sauerkraut

If you have Liked my Facebook Page  you may have noticed that I love to make fermented foods. These foods, used by traditional cultures all around the world to preserve food and for medicinal purposes, help heal our guts-  and our gut health is foundational to our immune system, our brain health and our whole wellbeing. Many people have found that by eating fermented foods and feeding and repopulating the healthy bacteria into their body, many health issues improve dramatically. If you have ever taken antibiotics and not consciously taken probiotics or yoghurt afterwards, you are likely to be suffering from an unhealthy balance of micro-organisms in your digestive system. If you have candida or thrush, ditto. We need lots and lots of the good bugs! Here is a very simple recipe for making some sauerkraut.

Easy Sauerkraut
  • 1 Head of cabbage (red, green or Napa or a combo)
  • 1 tbs of caraway or fennel seeds (I use the fresh wild fennel seeds that are growing all around Freo at the moment)
  • 1 Tbs sea salt
  • 4 tbs whey (you don’t actually need the whey, but it helps, and the recipe for making whey is below. If you don't use whey, just add a little more salt. )

Chop, grate or cut your favourite type of cabbage into strips. You could also put it in the Thermomix or food processor and break it up that way.
Put all the ingredients into a sturdy, large bowl, and start kneading and squeezing them with your hands. Keep kneading for about 10 minutes. Alternatively, mix them well and let them sit for a couple of hours. Either way (and kneading your vegies puts your energy and love into them, so I recommend that if you have time!), the juices will be released from the cabbage.
Put the mixture with all its juices into a wide mouthed jar, pressing down into the jar and making sure the juices come up and cover the cabbage by a cm or so- this stops mould growing. If there is not enough juice to cover the cabbage, add a little water with a pinch of salt in it to cover.
Put the lid on and leave it sitting on the bench for 3 days, before moving it to the fridge. I usually start eating it right away. It will last for many weeks.

To make whey- and cream cheese:
Take a tub of yoghurt.
Pour into a strainer over a bowl, first lining the strainer with a damp cloth- muslin is ideal, but a new Chux cloth or piece of tshirt will do too. Let it drain for a couple of hours.

The liquid in the bowl is whey- use it for your fermented vegies.
The solids in the very healthy and nourishing cream cheese. Use it for dips, spreads or in recipes.

If I have no whey in the fridge, sometimes I will just scoop off the clear liquid that forms on top of a tub of yoghurt, and use that. You can also use water kefir, or some liquid reserved from a previous ferment.

Enjoy your fermenting journey- it can be addictive!

The Benefits of Meditation

The Benefits of Meditation

The physical and psychological benefits have been known for thousands of years, and are even being scientifically shown to increase our immunity and health. A Harvard Medical School study has shown that those who practice meditation and relaxation have higher levels of disease fighting genes activated in their bodies.

The experiment, which showed just how responsive genes are to behaviour, mood and environment, revealed that genes can switch on, just as easily as they switch off.
''Harvard researchers asked the control group to start practising relaxation methods every day,'' says Jake Toby, hypnotherapist at London's BodyMind Medicine Centre, who teaches clients how to induce the relaxation effect.
''After two months, their bodies began to change: the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and protect the body from cancer all began to switch on.''  SMH article

And this benefit increased and continued as the people continued to practice. It is difficult in our busy lives to find the time to put aside to meditate and just be with oneself without distraction. But what is the alternative? A life full of busyness and not really being deeply in touch with ourselves? Never finding the time to just be? Surely that is not what life is meant to be about.

I find regular meditation to be a beautiful way to simply remind myself of what is really important. If I am upset or stressed, sitting quietly helps my body to calm down and see things from a clearer perspective. If I am too busy, meditation reminds me to stop and smell the roses, to be grateful for the small things, and to just BE. Taking the time to just sit and BE reminds me of the sacredness of the day, of the moment, of my life, and also that I am just a mere blip in the larger scheme of things, and so not to take it all too seriously.

To me, meditation is something that needs to be lived all the time, but the truth is, I forget. So my daily practice helps me to remember, and that carries over to the rest of my life.