Bringing the Mediterranean Down-Under – The Basis of traditional Mediterranean Eating By Nicky Bonnefin APD

You may have pondered across the idea of sitting under the Mediterranean sun, soaking up its warmth and culture. These may not be the only thoughts coming to mind when the word ‘Mediterranean’ is mentioned, with the new waves of information and research, suggesting that Mediterranean eating pattern may be one of the most beneficial styles for our heath.

So is it just the food or a certain dish? As the Mediterranean beaches wash over the shores of 21 countries, the food is more of a pattern, with a broad basis of ingredients, rather than a cuisine. But traditionally the food accompanied the Mediterranean ‘diaita’ – or the Mediterranean way of life.  The Mediterranean’s knew and love their food – but connection and sharing was a key part of many Mediterranean homes and communities. Many people had labour heavy jobs, so movement was common, and life was a slower pace, which could be attributed to lower stress levels. Research suggests these may be some reasons for the health benefits experienced.


What was the basis of traditional Mediterranean eating?

Plants-based staples: including vegetables, wholegrains and legumes.

These staples are full of vitamins, minerals and diverse fibres. The fibre and low GI carbohydrates provide slow release energy keeping you full, meanwhile, the diversity feed many types of gut bacteria (or gut flora). These guys, the gut bacteria, make a lot of compounds. One of their major jobs involve making immune factors, meaning, they play a big role in fighting bugs and protecting our system. The vitamins and minerals in the foods can be likened to the ‘nuts and bolts’ in our body –  helping us to use the energy, and help the systems to hum along nicely. Grains are best eaten whole, in minimally-processed ways. This is because the processing removes a lot of the fibre, vitamins and minerals. Whole grains include wheat, oats, rye, barley, rice, corn, buckwheat, amaranth, sorghum, quinoa, teff and millet. 


More plant-based protein, seafood and reduced meat. Legumes, beans nuts and seeds made up a large amount of the Mediterranean protein intake. New research has shown links that reducing meat-based proteins for plant-based proteins may have help us age and have a protective effect against cancer and developing type 2 diabetes. This could be partly because the plants also have the fibre, helping the immune system and maintaining good blood sugar levels and bowel functioning.

Legumes are chickpeas, split peas and lentils and some beans include kidney, cannellini, pinto and black beans. In the way of seafood, much of it that was consumed had rich sources of omega-3 fats, which can help keep our hearts healthy in several ways. Other meats have higher amounts of saturated fat, which when out of proportion, can raise cholesterol levels. Omega-3 rich seafoods include salmon, sardines, tuna, herring and anchovies. Fresh, canned or boxed are all fine!


Fruit and Greek yoghurt: These were commonly use for a dessert or snack. Similar to your veggies, the fruit is abundant in fibre, vitamins and minerals. The yoghurt provides more food for your gut bacteria, is filling, and is a source of calcium.  Seasonal, sweet and crunchy fruit with a creamy yoghurt made for a budget friendly, delicious snack or dessert.


Healthy fats: It would be hard to find a pantry without a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil! It is a good source of heart-healthy fat and is full of phytonutrients (or plant-nutrients), like antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. These have been shown to assist with health in many ways.

You can use EVOO in baking, grilling, sautéing, stir-frying – or dressing on salads and vegetables. Other common healthy fats included nuts and seeds. (Avocados were uncommon, but are also one!),


Different nutrients in a variety of some of the foods mentioned above in the Mediterranean eating pattern, have also shown links between improved brain functioning, mood and aging.

So, how can we put more of the Mediterranean into our meals? I have 10 top tips


1.       To increase plant proteins, add legumes to casseroles, bolognaises, curries, soups, stews, salads or burger patties! These are a cheap and could be an idea for a vegetarian meal!

2.       Try aiming for 1-2 vegetarian meals per week and omega-3 rich seafoods and red meats 2-3 x per week each. Make up the remaining days with your families favourite dishes with white meat and eggs. Less processed meats in deli meats and sausages can help your bowels too

3.       Getting your seafood: top crackers, grains or salad at lunch with canned fish. For dinner make a tuna bake or enjoy crispy skinned salmon with your favourite side of fresh veg.

4.       Blend chickpeas into hummus, or making with pumpkin and beetroot and delicious too.

5.       For some and crunch – top your salad, pasta or breakfast with some nuts or have as a snack

6.       Enjoy fruit and creamy yoghurt as a dessert or snack. Or try adding fruits to a salad –  they can make a bland meal a little more interesting and are cheaper than packaged food too J 

7.       Cook, spread and drizzle with your foods with extra-virgin olive oil.

8.       Top avocado on toast, a sandwich or your lunch crackers like Vita-Weats or Ryvita’s.

9.       Enjoy being physically active – finding something you enjoy or ask a friend to come too.

10.   When you’re able – share meals together, laugh and enjoy your food!

  Winter Warmers

Well, you can tell the season has definitely changed.  Perhaps it has been a little more difficult to go for that walk or get stuck into the garden.  However, winter time is the most important time to get out and keep moving to get enough vitamin D and keep our bones and muscles strong.


Vitamin D is not only a vitamin but a hormone as well, with its main role in building strong bones and maintaining muscles particularly important as we age.   Vitamin D works with calcium to our keep bones strong so an inadequate amount of either vitamin D or calcium can result in reduced bone density which can then reduce strength and increase our risk of falls.


Winter time is well known to increase the rate of vitamin D deficiency due to spending more time indoors and covering up.  Vitamin D is made in our skin from the sun’s direct UV rays.  Unfortunately, the skin can not make vitamin D with UV rays through glass windows so you have to get out side.  In winter, on the Central Coast, we need around 30 minutes of sun exposure every day with most of our arms and legs exposed.  We may need more if we are covered up, are older, have darker skin or are carrying a few extra kilos. 


The best times are before or after the harsh Australian midday sun of 11-2pm but if you find you get burnt that means the skin is not able to make the Vitamin D and it is best to get back inside or cover up. 


Most of our vitamin D will come from the sun as there is not enough in the foods we eat to meet our nutrition needs. 


Foods that do contain some vitamin D include fatty fish (mackerel and herring), liver, eggs, some margarines, other dairy or soy drinks which have been fortified as well as mushrooms that have been exposed to direct sunlight.   

If you are unsure that you are getting enough Vitamin D simply ask your GP for a blood test to check your levels and they may advise on supplementation if needed.


For optimal health getting out side to do some form of physical activity will benefit you in many, many ways.  Giving your muscles and heart, a bit of a workout will warm you up during and after the activity by increasing your metabolism.  It may even help reduce your heating bills. 

Doing different types of physical activity over the week can give you various benefits such as muscle strength, bone strength, joint flexibility, balance and co-ordination and reducing aches and pains.  Physical activity is well known to increase our mood whether it is by the release of endorphins, being social, getting that feeling of accomplishment or developing that mind-body-nature connection.

As we age it can be more difficult and even unsafe to do certain exercises particularly if you have certain conditions such as hypertension or cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, or have had any injury.  So, it is best to stay on the safe side and discuss your exercise intensions with your GP. Also ask to get some professional advice from a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist who can prescribe you safe and effective exercises to suit your body’s ability and needs so you can then move on to doing more enjoyable activities like bush walking, cycling, dancing or gardening.


Make your New Year’s Resolutions a Reality

At this time of year almost everyone makes New Year’s Resolutions in one form or another, but more often than not, most people do not achieve what they set out to achieve.


If your New Year's Resolutions involve becoming healthier, losing weight or being fitter you need to understand that:

1.      These big goals are broken down into lots of smaller lifestyle changes.

2.      Making lifestyle changes a reality is actually really difficult.  

3.      You will need more support than what you realise.  


Now in order to achieve these big goals there are some evidence-based principles and processes that, as a Dietitian, I use for all my clients to help them reach their goals.


Unfortunately, the weight loss and 'dieting' industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry that essentially sells us a lie. All those 'magic' quick fix diet books, pills, and shakes do not work long term, and often make us worse off physically, emotionally, nutritionally and health-wise. 


Because our diets are such an integral part of our health the best thing you can do for your health is to see a Dietitian to work through the process of successfully achieving your goals. 


I want everyone to be clever about their eating and health so they can live life to the fullest.  


First, we need to assess the whole situation- diet, medical and social factors. Then we break down the issues and focus on one thing at a time as all these things add up to affect our overall diet and then health:

- Being mindful of your eating

- Making better food choices and reading labels

- Being aware and getting back in control of your natural hunger signals

- Tackling emotional eating and sugar cravings

- Increasing metabolic rate to burn fat

- Portions

- Meal planning and organisation

- Managing eating away from home and the list goes on . . .


Then there is all the education, planning and problem solving to work through the barrage of barriers and also finding your motivators and staying motivated.


It may seem like a long, slow process but this is what works and it is definitely possible for anyone who has the commitment to attend appointments and work through the process.   Slow and steady wins the race!


Little by little, all these small changes will add up and by the end of 2019 you will have achieved so much, made new habits more normal and feel so much better and even be quite proud of yourself. 


If you are ready to keep working on your eating habits and health to make your New Year's Resolutions a reality, we would love to help you. Book your appointment today by calling 0407 492 278 .


Keep The Family's Diet From Going Crackers!

Well it’s that time of year again, where we are bombarded with all those temptations at social occasions. Here are a few tips to keep that healthy balance for your family.


Partake in Party Food

*          Bringing a plate of something healthy is a sure-fired way to reduce too much temptation, not only for the kids but for all. 


*          Avoid over-filling plates. Encourage the kids to decide to try a little of a few options rather than a lot of everything.


*          Bring a container for leftovers so nothing goes to waste and you and the kids feel like they did not miss out if they did not try everything.


Keep it Colourful

*          Sticks and dip- celebrate with a rainbow of capsicum, cucumber, carrot, celery, beans, broccoli and cauliflower stalks or florets.


*          Crisp up the cheese platter with thinly sliced, crunchy pear and apple cheeks.  Keep the slices together to avoid browning.


*          You can make friends with salad! Jazz up a salad with some herbs or edible flowers like violets or nasturtiums. Serve the dressing on the side so everyone can choose how much or how little they like.  Kids tend to like this too.


*          Everyone loves a summer fruit salad. Add some mint or thyme for a twist.


Keep Your Cool

*        Frozen fruit such as orange quarters, grapes, berries and banana chunks are always a hit for all.

*        Create home-made yoghurt or fruit juice ice-blocks with added fruit slices.

Cheers I Hear?

*          To water add festive shaped ice cubes, mint of fruit of your choice.


*          Instead of lemonade, add soda water to the punch with plenty of fruit and ice. Serve in small glasses with extra ice to keep the portions small.


Gift Giving

*          Gourmet Food Baskets:

*        Grab some fresh fruit, uncracked nuts, fair trade tea or coffee, honey, home or locally made chutneys, oils, dressings and sauces. The kids will have fun putting together a unique basket for relatives.


*          Healthy and Earth-friendly:

*        Green shopping bags, fruit and veggie bags to encourage the kids to help out with the shopping- they can even double up as the gift wrap!

*        Reusable water bottles or keep cups

*        Reusable straws and personal picnic sets


*          Active gifts to keep everyone moving and grooving:

*        bats, rackets, balls of all sports, Frisbee, skipping rope, hula hoop, boogie boards, fit ball, yoga mat, weight set, helmets, gloves, shoes, padding, bike maintenance kits the list is endless!

*        Classes for land or water sport, dance, gymnastics, circus, Pilates or yoga.

*        Family adventure tours- walks, bike rides, water sports like sailing or kayaking


All the best with starting some new healthy festive trends. I am sure they will catch on. Merry Christmas!


Spring into Your Nutritious Garden

Having a garden to grow our own food in can enrich our lives in many ways.

Growing fruit and vegetables increases access and consequently our intake of these food high in fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants giving you all a huge range of health benefits and reducing your risk of many lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

As a great weight bearing activity and being outside soaking up those sun rays for vitamin D you can be sure to keep your bones strong, muscles strong, limbs limber and mind happy too.

Home food gardening also greatly reduces our food miles, carbon footprint, food waste as well as the cost of food. So many pluses!

Becoming a good gardener and having a productive food garden is not something that just happens overnight. It takes many years as there is so much to think about, do and many mistakes to be made to learn from.

Learning about how food grows really helps us know what we are eating, appreciate it and even love cooking.  Slow down and experience the full sensations of the garden.  From the different textures and moisture of the soil, water, plants and produce to the smells and taste of it all.

For beginners, starting out with a couple of pots is a great idea to learn about plants and get in the habit of looking after plants. I like to recommend pots with water reservoirs built in and to mulch to reduce evaporation of water and nutrients, meaning more productivity and less failures. 

When confident to move on, build up pot numbers and move to a bigger veggie patch or 2, start a compost, keep worms, chickens, bees or even install an aquaponics system for fish. The sky is the limit. And if you don’t have enough space joining your local community garden can be an option.

Just like our gut needs a good mix of nutrients and fibres for a good microbiota, the garden needs a good mix plants to avoid any imbalances and avoid any one pest taking over. Just like alcohol and some drugs can wipe out the good and bad guys in our gut so do herbicides and pesticides in the garden. So learning about companion planting, crop rotation, organic gardening, natural pest control and having a range of different plants and flowers helps to keep a good thriving ecosystem and a higher yield.  Great flowers to grow include marigolds, nasturtium, lavender and any herbs that flower, most do.

To start with easy to grow herbs are parsley, rosemary, mint, oregano and thyme. Easy to grow vegetables are lettuce, shallot, beans including snow peas, sugar snap peas, beetroot and silverbeet which grow and can be harvested all year round, as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicum, beetroot, potato, sweet potato and carrot.

If you happen to have excess produce you can take it along to your local Produce Swap- Long Jetty, Dooralong, Matcham Holgate, Woy Woy. Meet some new people and learn about what they grow and what a diverse range of foods that can be grown in your local area.  Pick up someone else’s surplus harvest, seeds, plants or home-made preserves.  If you don’t have anything to offer from your garden you can simply bring along some empty jars, egg cartons, baskets or even some coffee grounds from a local café with some bags or containers to distribute.

I think the best home garden meal is a salad. Salads can include more than just your standard lettuce, tomato and cucumber- try a mix of finely sliced cabbage or fennel, grated carrot and beetroot, green beans, snow peas or sugar snap peas, capsicum, corn, shallot, herbs and even edible flowers like violets and peppery nasturtiums. Add some roasted sweet potato or steamed corn on the cob, home laid chicken eggs or nuts and you have yourself the freshest, tastiest and nutritious meal you can get in town.


Help The Whole Family Eat Better Plastic Free

As a dietitian I am excited by Plastic Free July.  Eating a diet without having any form of plastic packaging can be a challenge but it can definitely be a healthier one which means our food supply will be more sustainable for future generations. 

Most of us have already swapped our single use shopping bags, coffee cups and drink bottles for reusable ones and are not forgetting them so often now which is fantastic.

I believe the next step after this is to avoid plastic packaged fruit and vegetables.  It has been quite a while since I have bought produce in a net, plastic wrapped and even used a plastic bag. I simply refuse, go without and buy something else instead.  The most environmentally friendly bags are cloth bags made from pre-loved material such as sheets or clothes as this prevents these items going to land fill and avoids the manufacture of more new stuff and the carbon footprint associated. 

Before I built up my supply of cloth bags I reused the standard plastic ones so at least they got a few more uses before they broke.  I find that the reusable plastic net bags sold now are not made to last as one of my plastic net bags is starting to break after only 1 year.  Another reason I like to use cloth bags is because it makes my shopping trip bright and colourful, almost fun.  Some of the fabrics I use bring back fond memories and it helps me put more care in about what I buy and be mindful during the shopping experience. 

I love hand selecting my fruit and vegetables, even getting the ones people are less likely to buy, cracked carrots, scrapped zucchinis and funny shaped produce so there is even less wastage. I have always grown up eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and I know that is because we always had so many around all the time.

Using unique bags can also help getting kids involved in the shopping process especially if they have their own set.  It keeps their busy fingers out of trouble and makes them feel they part of meal times.  With their curiosity it is great for kids to explore and learn about fruit and vegetables- learning when they are ripe, how to care for them- do you put it in the fruit bowl or fridge or is it time for the freezer? Feeling the texture, weight, firmness and aroma at different ripening stages is important learn to eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables as they grow.

Fruit and vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and fibre and are powerfully protective against chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. They help keep our bowel motions soft and regular, unlock and give us energy, support our immune system, brain function and good mental health.

Out of the essential food groups, fruit and vegetables have the most variety in colours, textures, sizes, shapes and tastes and all these qualities change if they are cooked in different ways and change throughout the chewing and eating process. With so much to learn to enjoy, continuing to teach our kids to eat fruit and vegetables as they grow will set them up with healthy habits for life. 

I recommend having at least 2 sets of re-usable shopping bags in the household or car so that they are not forgotten. Sticky notes can also be helpful placed in the ideal location to help you remember and get into the habit of taking your bags. 

If you are wanting to continue to reduce your single use plastic you can also use cloth bread bags and buy your bread from the bakery.  Linen is the best fabric to use but if you just have cotton simply place your bread, cloth and all, in a bread box or container to avoid it drying out. Even if you do forget your bread bag you can also take back your bread tags and twist ties to the bakery for reuse and use the bread bag as your bin liner or place in the Redcycle bins.

Then if you are super keen to keep up your plastic free goal, taking jars and containers to the whole food shop, butcher, deli, fish shop and take-aways is the next step.  Trashless take-away is a great website to find a store near you that promotes taking your own container.

To get more involved in your community you can join Boomerang Bags to help make reusable cloth shopping bags for your community. No sewing experience is needed as there are plenty of non-sewing jobs and people are always willing to show you how it is done.

For Plastic Free July Bright Diets will be selling Bright Bags. Unique, upcycled cloth shopping, bread and fruit and vegie bags to brighten up your shopping trip.

Over the next few months to years you will notice a huge change in the amount of landfill waste in your household bin, find your family’s eating to be more fresh and wholesome and I bet you will feel very proud indeed!

Bright Diets is selling Bright Bags- upcycled reusable cloth bags for your shopping trip. Call 0407492278 or email if interested in purchasing from our range of patterns and sizes.

Happy Plastic Free July!


Eat Like an Eco-Warrior

Today more than ever we are more aware of our impact on the Earth and the eco-friendly movement has well and truly taken off.

We know that what we eat has a huge effect on our planet from deforestation of rainforests- the lungs of our Earth, to carbon emissions made from the production, processing and transport of our food, the use of chemicals to grow food and last but not least all the food and packaging wastage along the way.

Sometimes it can be hard to know where one is to start to even try to make a dent in the big problems of our food system.

As eating a healthy diet is actually better for the planet and your health this can be the best place to start. 

1.  Stick to the 5 core food groups: These healthy foods have protective effects against heart disease, overweight, diabetes and some cancers. 

·                    Wholegrains

·                    Fruit (Go for 2 a day)

·                    Vegetables (Go for 5 a day)

·                    Iron rich protein foods: eggs, legumes (beans, lentils), fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, tofu (limit to 1-2 serves per day) lean meat, poultry.

·                    Calcium rich protein foods: Low fat dairy products, soy alternatives, fish with bones. (Aim for 2-3 serves per day) 

2.  Cut down on those ‘Discretionary choices’ AKA ‘sometimes foods’ such as fried food, chips, sweet foods, chocolates, lollies, biscuits, pastries.  These are highly processed, often plastic packaged, nutrient poor and add to increasing risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  Is it a coincidence that these foods are not good for our environment and not good for our health?

Avoid impulse buying of highly processed over packaged ‘sometimes’ foods. Be prepared when leaving the house.

·                    Eat beforehand

·                    Take snack foods such as fruit, yoghurt, cheese and biscuits or nuts

·                    Pack lunch for work or school using re-usable containers

3. Fresh produce from the green grocer or farmer’s market are usually cheaper, fresher, hence more nutritious, taste better and lasts longer.

·                    Buy minimally processed and packaged foods and take your own green bags even for fruit, vegetables and bread or containers for meat/ deli items.

·                    Choose products with short ingredients lists. 

4.  Even Fresher! Cut out the transport between harvest and plate.

·                    Start a vegetable garden.  Easy ones to grow are tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, capsicum, silver beet and beans.

·                    Join your local community garden and produce swap group.

5.  Drink mainly tap water and reuse drink containers. 

Your body does not need the sugar, artificial colours, flavours or sweeteners found in processed beverages and the environment definitely does not need the carbon emissions from making all these extra ingredients or the plastic!

6. Get out and get active, turn off the screen and move!

Movement is protective against many of those chronic diseases, helps you relax, keeps you in a happy mood and also makes you sleep better!

·                    Limit the use of your car – walk or ride your bike.

·                    Go for a jog or stroll, enter and train for a fun run/walk.

·                    Give family gifts of adventure like kayaking, stand up paddleboard classes or walking tours.

Join me at the Central Coast Harvest Festival Eat Like an Eco-Warrior Workshop to learn more about eating better for the planet, how to make changes to your eating and become an advocate for making changes in our food system and community.

Eat like an EcoWarrior.jpg

Manic Mealtimes to Marvelous Mealtimes

A universal concern amongst parents is what their kids eat and how to get them to eat that healthy balanced diet.   Often it is difficult to know just how much kids need to eat as their appetites change from day to day or week to week and their food preferences can also annoyingly change all of a sudden too.  Sometimes we want that overnight quick fix but in reality it just takes time, patience and perseverance.  Here are a few strategies focus on to keep your sanity and help them on their healthy way.

Consider the whole diet

-          Think about their eating over the whole day or week rather than for that day.

-          Offer 5-6 small meals over the day to give your child plenty of opportunity to eat a range of different foods from the 5 food groups.

-          Offer water as the main drink as sweet drinks can fill small tummies up, ruin appetites and natural appetite regulation.

-          If they don’t like cooked vegetables try vegetable sticks perhaps with dip as snacks or with the meal, soups, vegetable juice or even fruit as an alternative until they learn to like eating their veggies.

-          Always provide foods that kids will eat in addition to foods that you want them to learn to eat.

Eat at the table together

-          Mealtimes are not only a time to eat but a time to socialise. Creating happy memories at mealtimes help kids associate eating as being a positive experience.  Kids are more likely to try something new when they are calm and in a happy mood at the table.  If focussing on food creates conflict best to change the subject and focus on something more fun and interesting.

-          Children learn by seeing what is going on.  When parents eat with their kids they are showing their enjoyment of foods so kids learn to eat these foods too in time with enough exposure.

Have Fun with Food

-          Encourage your child to enjoy interacting with a wide variety of foods. Start a vegetable garden, involve them in meal choices, shopping and cooking.

-          Make some quirky creations and invent elaborate stories to capture their interest. Bugs and butterflies, cars and boats, faces and flowers. Chop things up in different ways and just let them play.

Eat mindfully

-          Remove distractions like TV and other screens and focus on the sensations of the meal.  Talk about the smells, textures and tastes and why you like certain foods.  Tell stories about fond memories of growing, cooking and eating foods when your were young.

-          Encourage listening to one’s natural hunger and satiety signals.  This is an important skill that is commonly lost when we eat for reasons other than for true hunger.  Avoid offering food as a reward, distraction or if they get upset. Use other rewards, activities and comfort strategies.  Appetites will change depending on activity and energy levels, growth and how much they have been eating. Trusting your child’s natural hunger is the best way for them to know how much to eat is just enough and to avoid eating more than what their body needs.   


If your child is aged 2-5 years old they would love reading about how Pierre learns to eat a rainbow. 

Pierre Learns To Eat A Rainbow is a story about how Pierre, the pear, learns to eat a wider range of foods. It is for both children and parents to help them through that fussy eating phase we all go through. It is a one of a kind rustic creation that little eyes and fingers would love exploring the pages of and with the help of their parents learning about all the wonderful different types of foods there are to take pleasure in eating. It is the ultimate book for the next generation to care for their world, made mostly from up-cycled materials and only available electronically through Amazon. Have fun reading!