Category Archives for Low carb

Sleep and exercise tips

Sleep and exercise tips

Here’s the third in our series on low-carb tips. What’s sleep go to do with low-carb tips? A lot, it turns out.

Poor sleep has negative consequences for the hormones that control hunger, appetite and weight:

  • Increases ghrelin, the hunger hormone – you eat more
  • Decreases leptin, the satiety hormone – your body doesn’t tell you when to stop eating
  • Decreases serotonin, the ‘feel good’ hormone – your mood is lower and you tend to go for ‘comfort’ foods to try to life mood
  • Decreases melatonin, the sleep-wake cycle hormone – poor sleep leads to poor sleep: seems obvious but it’s harder to get back into a good sleep pattern
  • Increases cortisol, the stress hormone – this increases fat storage (especially around the middle) and decreases muscle tissue
  • Decreases Human Growth Hormone, which leads to increased fat mass and decreased muscle mass, along with reduced energy.

Any of these effects, alone or in combination, can slow your metabolic rate and make you eat, on average, an extra 500 calories per day. Your body is in survival mode and so does everything possible to maintain or build energy stores. Eating well is more difficult.

When you think about making dietary change, feeling positive and in control are important psychological components of sticking to good intentions, so sleeping well is perhaps the unrecognised success factor in adopting a low-carb eating pattern.

It’s clear that sleeping well is essential, but if you’re not a good sleeper, how can you improve?

No coffee or chocolate after noon

Caffeine has a “half-life” of 5 to 6 hours in the average person. The half-life means that if you ingest 200mg caffeine, 5 to 6 hours later you’ll still have 100mg in your body. As it’s a stimulant, this means that the caffeine is keeping you more alert and less likely to sleep.

The half-life is variable. For some it’s shorter, for others longer; depending on age, gender, size, and genetics, as well as liver function and hormones.

A small espresso coffee (or cappuccino or café latte) contains around 200mg caffeine, which is the suggested healthy daily amount. A 100g serve of dark chocolate contains around 50mg caffeine – though if weight loss is a goal this serving size is not desirable.

Avoid alcohol: Try mineral water with lemon or lime

Most alcohol adds carbs, but it also disturbs sleep. Sure, you might be able to drift off more quickly if you’ve had a drink or two, but it disturbs sleep later in a few ways:

It raises your blood glucose levels, which raises insulin and makes you hot. The extra heat wakes you, or at the least disturbs your sleep. Insulin is a hormone that works by delivering blood glucose to the cells for storage, and for most people this means storage in the fat cells.

Alcohol decreases the amount of time you spend in REM sleep – the restorative sleep that you need to maximise.

Instead of alcohol, there’s something almost magical about drinking sparkling water with a slice of citrus that makes you feel a bit special. Nutritionally, it’s not much different to a glass of tap water, but psychologically it makes a big difference.

Give it a try. Select a lovely glass, or even a cut crystal hi-ball tumbler. Fill it with sparkling water, add the lemon or lime slice or even a squeeze of fresh juice, and enjoy.

Ribbons of cucumber in water is a surprising delight, too, so why not give that a try.

Go to bed early

To get around 8 hours of sleep, it’s important to work out the time you need to get up in the morning and then work backwards to determine your bed time. If you need to be up and about by 6am, for example, then sleep time needs to be 8 hours earlier – 10pm. Then, if it takes you say 30 minutes after getting into bed before you get to sleep, then bed time needs to be 9.30pm.

If you’ve been habitually burning the candle at both ends, you’ll probably need to gradually bring your sleep time back. It won’t work if you’ve been going to bed at midnight and then today decide that 9.30pm is more appropriate. You’ll probably lie awake for hours! Instead, go to bed at 11.45pm for a week, then 11.30pm for another week, then 11.15pm for a week, and so on.

No TV or mobile phone in your bedroom

Ah, the dreaded curse of being permanently connected. The ‘ping’ of a notification, the red stand-by light of the TV, and the invisible wi-fi signals can all interfere with sleep quantity and quality. Focusing on what you’re missing out on in the wider world means you miss out on sleep.

The bedroom should have limited functions: sleep, dressing, and time with your partner.

Establish a consistent bed-time routine

Like training children to sleep well, we also need to train ourselves to sleep well. Going to sleep and waking at (more or less) the same time every day makes it easier, as do things like having a shower before bed, turning off the TV an hour before bed, and ensuring that we don’t have a huge meal right before bed time. You might like to read a chapter of a light novel before settling down, just to help your body relax.

Early morning walk or exercise

Starting the day right makes it easier to continue the day right. Exercising before breakfast is great for waking you up, making you hungry for breakfast, and setting your mind into the right space to continue well. Feeling good carries over and helps you make better food choices for the rest of the day.

Schedule 2-3 gym sessions per week – and go!

Getting to the gym has many benefits, especially when you’re losing weight. Maintaining muscle while losing body fat keeps your metabolism firing higher. This means that you lose primarily body fat and not your valuable lean muscle. As with exercising early in the morning, a gym workout makes you feel your body working, sometimes feel glad that it’s over, but you feel food. Feeling good carries over to help you eat better and sleep better, so it’s a winning move to get to the gym regularly.



Salads are not boring

Even though it’s still November, with hot weather well and truly here mums everywhere are trying to convince their families that salads are not boring. Cooking in the heat becomes a real chore and salads take priority – if for no other reason than to keep the kitchen cool.

Most people have a “fall back” salad that consists of lettuce, cucumber, tomato and a choice of a few other vegies. This is great and the salad can be treated with flexibility ie whatever is in the fridge. Over time, though, if you don’t get inventive the basic salad can become quite boring.

There are many websites dedicated to recipes, but if you’re trying to lose weight it can be hard to tell which recipes will suit the weight loss strategy you’re following. Here are five recipes to kick-start your summer food preparation.

Salad with creamy garlic vinaigrette – Serves 4

  • 4 cups lettuce
  • ½ cup red cherry tomatoes
  • ½ cup yellow cherry tomatoes
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
  • 1 avocado, pitted and sliced


  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Place dressing ingredients in a screw-top jar, seal, and shake well to combine.
  3. Pour dressing over salad and toss gently.


Asian salad – Serves 6

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 baby cos lettuce
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and grated
  • 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup beansprouts
  • ¼ cup fresh mint leaves
  • ¼ cup fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 red chilli, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp chopped roasted peanuts (optional)
  1. Place oil and lime juice in a screw-top jar with salt and pepper and shake well.
  2. Wash and spin the lettuce, and roughly chop.
  3. Place the lettuce, carrot, spring onions, beansprouts, mint, coriander and chilli in a bowl and toss.
  4. Add dressing and sprinkle with peanuts (if using).


Mediterranean salad – Serves 4

  • 250g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 Lebanese cucumbers, quartered lengthways and diced
  • 400g can butter beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 small red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1 large yellow capsicum, diced
  • 2 Tbsp chopped mint
  • 2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 60g feta, crumbled
  1. Place the tomatoes, cucumber, butter beans, onion, capsicum, mint, parsley and olives in a large bowl and toss to combine.
  2. Whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice. Pour over the salad and gently toss to coat.
  3. Crumble the feta over the top of the salad and serve.


Fig salad – Serves 2

  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp hot water
  • ground black pepper
  • 4 large handfuls mixed baby salad leaves
  • 4 fresh figs, quartered
  • 3 Tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
  1. Combine the lemon juice, oil and hot water in a screw-top jar and shake to combine. Season with the pepper.
  2. Place the salad leaves in a large bowl and toss with the dressing.
  3. Arrange the dressed leaves on a large platter and top with the figs and pine nuts.


Broccoli and bacon salad – Serves 6

  • 2 large heads of broccoli, cut into small florets and stems finely sliced
  • 6 rashers bacon, finely sliced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small bunch fresh chives, finely chopped (if the bunch has flowers, these can be added to the salad at the end)


  • ½ clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Blanch the broccoli for 1 minute in boiling salted water. Drain and spread to dry on a tea towel. Once completely dry, transfer to a serving dish.
  2. Fry the bacon in olive oil over medium heat until crisp and golden, then spoon the bacon over the broccoli. Reserve the left-over fat to include in the dressing if you like.
  3. Combine the garlic, mustard, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and bacon fat if using in a bowl and whisk.
  4. Add the tomatoes and chives to the broccoli and bacon. Pour the dressing over the top and toss well, and season to taste.

This is good with diced or crumbled feta tossed through.

Give these a try and see if you can shake up your summer salad routines.

Lack of protein may stop you losing weight.

Are you confused about protein? We don’t blame you? Just this week we’ve seen two studies hit the media with conflicting points of view.

  1. Some ground-breaking weight management research has been released from Dr Alison Gosby at Sydney University. The research found for the first time that reducing the percentage of dietary protein will result in increased total energy intake, contributing to weight problems. The research looked at the results of 38 studies over a broad range of ages.
  2. A study of mice fed a high protein diet found that they did not live as long as those on a lower protein diet. Of course mice are herbivores (see link), where us humans are omnivores.

Here are the key points of the research by Dr Gosby that can guide us all in the pursuit of healthy sustainable weight loss:

  1. All humans are hard-wired to get adequate protein in our diet – perhaps to keep our cells alive and turning over.
  2. If we don’t get adequate protein from our food and meal choices, this may drive us to continue eating and snacking until our protein levels (amino acid stores) get topped up.
  3. If we’re choosing foods based upon them being “low-fat”, “low GI” or “low sugar”, these foods may sound healthy but could be very poor sources of protein.
  4. Even using fruits as a snack sounds healthy – and is healthy if you are not wanting to lose weight or the fruit has been carefully included in a well formulated diet. But fruit supplies mainly sugar (naturally packaged) and has almost no protein.
  5. Even some foods that claim to be a “good source of protein”, like many cereals, and are very high in sugar. You’d have to eat loads to get a decent protein serve.
  6. The trick is not to have a “high protein diet” having a large steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but to ensure that you are getting some quality protein into every meal and snack.
  7. Many healthy-sounding snack bars have a lot of sugar, low fat and hardly any protein. Same for many popular shakes.
  8. There’s been plenty of research in the satiating power of protein.

Dr Gosby said, “We have shown that when people are trying to lose weight they need to look at macronutrient composition, not just calories. If you cut out calories but don’t consider protein intake, you’re going to be hungry and your diet won’t be successful. Preparing your own meals, rather than relying on energy-dense, low-protein processed foods, could make an enormous difference to the amount of food you need to consume.”

The snacks recommended on the Healthy Inspirations plans are very carefully assessed for protein quality and amount, in relationship to the carbohydrate and fat amounts, so that they are balanced snacks to help you avoid hunger while you are losing or managing your weight.

The protein serves in the Healthy Inspirations Daily Planners are carefully measured to ensure you get enough protein for satiety, blood sugar stability and effective weight loss, while at the same time ensuring you don’t eat a “high-protein” diet. But our 10 years of practical experience in weight loss with thousands of women (not mice) is that they naturally self-regulate their protein serves. If we were to suggest that they have large protein serves (which we do not) they’d turn around and say “I can’t and won’t eat all that.”

The researchers may have been able to force-feed mice a high-protein diet, but we’ve never tried – and nor would we try – to force our members to eat a high protein diet. Instead we ensure adequate protein along with a healthy intake of carbohydrate and fat, providing loads of nutrients and fibre for sustained health and weight loss.

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Jamie Hayes

Link to story.

For extra reading on how study data can be plucked out to create a message and headline that suits the author’s and other special interest group, here’s a very good blog by Dr John Briffa. Click here.



What's Safer to Eat – Sugar or Fat?

There’s been some interesting stories in the media (links below) that have questioned whether weight gain and weight loss is all about energy balance (eating less and moving more). Have the experts got it wrong – for the last 30 years?

Do yourself a favour and watch the ABC Catalyst show. Click here.

About 30 years ago we were told:

  1. The energy balance theory. “Weight loss is all about eating less (calories) and exercising more.”
  2. The low-fat story. Carbohydrates and proteins have just 4 calories a gram but fat has 9 calories a gram. To eat less calories reduce fat in your diet and choose low fat versions.
  3. Believing this to be “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” the global food industry made money hand over fist by promoting the low-fat message and selling us low-fat foods. But to make low fat foods palatable they added sugar. Here’s an example: One tablespoon of regular Praise mayonnaise has 0.5 grams of sugar. One tablespoon of Praise low-fat mayonnaise has 4.9 grams of sugar. Nearly 10 times the amount.

The sad thing is that many of our health authorities bought into the message. The Heart Foundation says “Sugar, is a type of carbohydrate, needed by our body for energy.” (link)  Anybody reading this might interpret this statement as meaning two things:

  1. Sugar is harmless.
  2. Sugar is actually an essential nutrient.

To their credit, they do try to put this in perspective. You can be the judge as to whether they do this adequately, knowing that there is growing debate about whether we have got the “sugar is better than fat” message wrong.

Not So Sweet

Last week, and tonight, ABC’s Health Report ran some more stories on sugar and expanded it to foods and drinks containing carbohydrate. It’s worth listening to last week’s interview. (link) Here’s the link for tonight’s interview. (link) The first interview included science writer Gary Taubes who makes these points.

  1. Instead of looking at energy balance “calories in versus calories out” we should look at what causes fat cells (in some people) to enlarge.
  2. Fat cell growth is mainly affected by the (essential to life) hormone insulin.
  3. Insulin is stimulated by dietary carbohydrate, and by a small amount by protein.
  4. Insulin is not affected by dietary fat.
  5. Not all carbs are bad. Foods like green leafy vegetables are high in nutrients and low in carbs.
  6. Just as some can eat more than others and stay slim, each person has an individual tolerance to how much dietary carbohydrate they can tolerate to optimise their weight.

That is the question that we seek to answer.


Losing Weight Without Losing Your Health

We all have to be careful and skeptical about what we read in the media. The media have a vested interest to hook you in.

They understand that “Bad news sells”. You’ll never see a headline like “New XYZ Diet Actually Works AND Makes You Healthier”.

You’re more likely to see something like: Carb cutting a risk for disaster – News Limited Network March 19, 2013

In the last week University of Canberra nutritionist Professor Peter Williams spoke at a symposium in Sydney “In the short term, a year or so, there are some advantages from a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet,” he says. But he mainly raised questions (fears) about long term outcomes. The “bad news” got lots of media attention.

He shared a systematic review of observational studies. Although systematic reviews are high levels of evidence, observational studies are regarded as low level of evidence as they only suggest correlation and not causation.

How about this headline: Ice Cream Consumption Leads to Shark Attacks is an editorial in which the author makes light (but a good point) about studies based on correlation versus causation. Because one thing is observed happening at the same time as another, does not mean that one thing caused the other.

Professor Williams was the Director of Scientific and Consumer Affairs at Kellogg Australia and is currently an advisor to the Grains and Legumes Council. No doubt these organisations see a risk in any trend towards any diet that leads to a reduction in the consumption of cereals and grains. They want to sell cereals and grains. It serves them financially if people are scared into eating them.

But then there are reports that tell another side to the story.

High-protein diet helps weight loss – study  From: The Australian – AAP  January 23, 2012

A University of Sydney study looked at the effect of diet, exercise and behaviour change in 71 overweight and obese women aged 18 to 25 over a year. The women were randomly placed on either a higher protein or a higher carbohydrate diet, with both diets providing a similar amount of kilojoules, saturated fat and fibre. All participants also met with a dietitian at least monthly and walked for 30 minutes every day. After 12 months, all the women recorded significant drops in body weight. However, the women on the higher protein diet lost nearly twice as much weight and fat as those on the carbohydrate diet.

“The women reported the higher protein diet kept them fuller for longer and had a positive effect on self-esteem,” researcher Dr Helen O’Connor said. “They also had better iron levels, compared with the women on the higher carbohydrate diet.”

Against the grain From: The Australian April 30, 2011

In the article Gary Taubes writes:

“I’d like to see the time come when someone who is overweight goes to see their doctor and the doctor tells them that the cure for what ails them is to avoid the carbohydrate-rich foods that make them fat, not to eat less and exercise more. That to me is step number one.

“If the physicians and nutritionists can understand why people really get fat and communicate that to their patients, that will go a long way to dealing with this problem. If mothers knew that their children were fat because of the carbs they were eating – the sugars, in particular – they’d know what to do about it.

“Of course you can starve people and force them to work out six hours a day and they’ll lose weight, but you’re only temporarily addressing one of the more obvious symptoms of their problem. As soon as the starvation and the six hours of exercise a day comes to an end – as it must – they’ll put the weight right back on.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m beating my head against a wall. It seems for every article I read that shows glimmers of getting it, there will be half a dozen repeating the conventional wisdom: sometimes the articles will have little nutrition content at all, but they’ll use the phrase ‘artery-clogging saturated fats’ and I’ll feel like I’ve been time-warped back to the 1970s.”

Lower Carb – Higher Protein – Saturated Fat – What are the Risks?

Healthy Inspirations offers members a choice of low fat or low carb plans. Both programs raise protein intake to about 1.5 grams per kilogram body weight, from the member’s choice of meat, poultry, fish, dairy and vegetarian sources. This poses no health risk whatsoever, except to those with kidney disease who are excluded from doing the program.

A common questions are:

  1. “If the member chooses to increase their red meat consumption, will this raise their saturated fat intake?
  2. “Will doing that raise their cholesterol and their risk for heart disease years and decades down the track?”

Not everybody knows (or is told) that the body actually make most of its own cholesterol, which it needs for a variety of functions, especially good hormonal function. Dietary intake plays a role in cholesterol levels but it is small by comparison.

Ironically, any dietary or surgical process that results one’s own fat stores being metabolised can have a temporary side effect of increasing LDL and total cholesterol. A slow 1/2 kg per week rate of weight loss will require the body to consume 500 g a week of its own fat. It often takes a few months after the weight loss has stabilised for LDL and total cholesterol to return to normal levels. The good news is that most members will have some other blood markers start to improve as soon as they start. Typically their triglycerides will go down and their HDL (good) cholesterol will go up.

Is Saturated Fat as Bad as We Have Been Told?

More and more researchers are reviewing the original studies upon which many of our fears of saturated fat are founded, and on which much health authority advice is based. The March 2013 Food and Nutrition Sciences journal published an article by dietitian Zoe Harcombe (and others) entitled “Food for Thought: Have We Been Giving the Wrong Advice?“.

They write: “The Seven Countries study classified processed foods, primarily carbohydrates, as saturated fats. The UK government and NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) do the same, listing biscuits, cakes, pastries and savoury snacks as saturated fats.” This suggests that the Seven Countries study was misleading as biscuits, cakes, pastries and many savoury snacks are high in processed carbohydrates.  If you wish to download this remarkable report click here.

Why does this matter? For the last 30 years we have been told to reduce fats and especially protein-containing foods that also contain saturated fats (like whole milk). But we have to eat, and so, by default we end up eating more “low fat” cereals, grains, fruits and starchy vegetables – all which have a higher carbohydrate load. We now have a dangerous ‘diabesity’ pandemic on our hands, with no apparent answers.

The Healthy Inspirations program

The Healthy Inspirations program is not a “One diet suits all.” program. Rather, it is a process of careful monitoring to help each member discover the “way of eating” that facilitates their weight loss and improves both health and wellness. When each member starts, we write to their doctor to give them the opportunity to advise us or their patient, and to monitor their patient’s health. The screening sometimes identifies members whose health conditions require that they see a dietitian referred by their doctor.

Healthy Inspirations is a food-based program, that can help people avoid expensive weight loss surgery and its side effects. There’s no dietary supplements prescribed. For many suffering health conditions, the program leads to a reduction in symptoms and medication.

Almost all members double their intake of vegetables and dramatically reduce their intake of processed foods. Vegetables and some fruits are the key source of carbohydrates and many nutrients on the program. Careful attention is given to the vegetables with high nutrient (protective) value and low carbohydrate density (minimising negative blood sugar effects).

Apart from the wide choice of dairy and soy based protein snacks, all main meals are made up of fresh foods – foods that grandmothers would recognise as real food! Members lose weight, slowly and steadily and without being hungry. The common statement that “diets don’t work” has some truth as most diets require deprivation and willpower as the body is being starved. Not so with Healthy Inspirations.


For members choosing the lower carb plan, during the first 16 weeks more and more carbs (and variety) are gradually introduced, including cereals and grains as promoted by Professor Williams. Let’s repeat his quote “In the short term, a year or so, there are some advantages from a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet.”

Our consultant dietitian Jill MacGregor APD said:

“At the end of the day we are in the business of helping people reduce weight/fat and therefore their risk of co-morbibities associated with overweight and obesity. Reducing strain on Beta cells, liver and heart/ lungs is crucial to wellness. Whether this improves longevity is not something we or anyone can guarantee. The article (Carb cutting a risk for disaster) makes many assumptions about low carb diets which are also not necessarily correct e.g. high fat content, lack of dietary fibre and high cholesterol. I believe carbohydrate modification and determining individual tolerance level to carbohydrate rich foods is the most effective way forward in weight management.”

Healthy Inspirations does not take a “one diet suits all” approach. We recommend a process that leads to a personalised, healthy, sustainable and family-friendly eating lifestyle for each member.

Jamie Hayes, Managing Director