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The single biggest dietary factor for reducing your risk of most chronic diseases is…


catalyst gut reactionGo on, guess?

We should eat more protein, paleo-style? We need to quit sugar? We need more ‘good’ fats or less ‘bad’ fats?

The answer to this question was explored on the last two week’s of ABC TV’s Catalyst program – Gut Reaction. (And although its a simplistic question, the research supporting the answer is worth paying attention to.)

The researchers explored how our diets are related to the state of our gastrointestinal health (in particular, microbes) and the impact this has on our overall health including our risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

The findings were actually completely unsexy and unsensational. Sad news for the diet and processed food industries.

The single biggest thing you can do with your diet to reduce your risk of these major chronic diseases is to eat more…. FIBRE!

Told you it wasn’t sexy.  It’s just common sense. But it’s nice to have some of the biochemistry to back up how the bacteria in our gut rely on a fibre rich diet to improve our immune systems which brings a myriad of other health promoting effects.

The good news is that eating more fibre is simple and easy, unlike trying to follow most fad diets.

As you know, I bang on a bit about eating a diet mainly comprised of plant foods in their whole, unprocessed (within reason) form – eg. not out of a box or a plastic packet. These new finding support this age old idea.

Do you know there are six different types of fibre? We should aim to include all of these in our diet regularly, if not daily:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Raw salad vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes and pulses
  • Nuts and seeds

I recommend flicking over to Catalyst and watching Part 1 and Part 2 of Gut Reaction.  They give some excellent examples of how hormones including insulin change drastically depending on the level of fibre in your diet.

Here’s some other sensible ideas on diet and getting more vegetables in your diet.

Have you got a favourite way of increasing fibre in your diet or some excellent fibre-rich recipes? Share them in the comments.

For further information on TCM dietary therapy contact Sarah George.  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (CMRB registered), massage therapy and natural medicine at Acupuncture & Natural Therapies Centre and lectures at the Endeavour College of Natural Health in Chinese Medicine.


Drew Hutton’s Australian Story: The Greens, Lock the Gate and an acupuncture cameo


Australian storyThis week you MUST watch ABC TV’s Australian Story.

The courageous and dedicated Drew Hutton shares his story of environmental activism, in particular his involvement in the Lock the Gate movement to protect valuable farming land from the coal seam gas industry. He speaks about the incredible toll his commitment to this work has taken on his relationships and health.

Which leads us to the acupuncture cameo. Around about 20 minutes in you may see some footage of Drew being treated for peripheral neuropathy with acupuncture by yours truly. I’m not one to usually draw attention to these things but it’s not everyday that acupuncture makes it onto national television.

I’m glad to have had the opportunity (alongside the team at Acupuncture & Natural Therapy Centre) to help a great man who has given so much for the greater good.

View the entire Australian Story “Lock me Away” here. (Be quick – it won’t be on iView for long.)

For further information on acupuncture contact Sarah George.  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (CMBA registered), massage therapy and natural medicine at Acupuncture & Natural Therapies Centre and lectures at the Endeavour College of Natural Health in Chinese Medicine.

How to eat more local, seasonal vegies each week: Food Connect

Today's vegie bounty from the Food Connect box.

Today’s vegie bounty from the Food Connect box: celery, potatoes (Dutch Cream), pumpkin (Jap), sweet potatoes, tomatoes, chillies, Chinese greens, broccoli, lettuce, baby spinach, dill and radishes.

As an acupuncturist who aims to improve the overall health of each and every one of my patients, if there is one general piece of lifestyle advice that I could give nearly everyone it would be:

Eat more whole foods, particularly vegetables.

How many serves of vegetables should you aim for in a day?

Five serves per day. “What is a serve?” I hear you ask. Check out these guidelines. Generally, a cup of raw or a 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables is 1 serve. You’ll most likely need to spread them over at least 2-3 meals. (It’s okay to exceed your vegie intake but don’t exceed your fruit intake of two serves/day due to the sugar content.)

Don’t forget that some fresh produce is best eaten organic or chemical free. What are the dirty dozen?

How can you eat this many chemical-free vegies easily?

Let me tell you a story…

Once upon a time, many years ago, I was at a Mind Body Spirit Festival. A man walked around giving out organic carrots for people to taste. The carrot was deliciously sweet to taste. The man was Robert Pekin – the brains behind Food Connect. He gave me a brochure about his Community Supported Agriculture program he was about to start. I became a subscriber as soon as they opened and continued my subscription for years. Something happened and I got out of sync. I’m so glad that I am once again a subscriber and picked up my second box today.

Here’s why I love Food Connect:

  • You can purchase a vegie, fruit or fruit and veg box in different sizes from Food Connect.
  • If you don’t want a box, you can select your own foods from their extensive list. See here.
  • They also sell breads, flours (including brown rice flour), sauces, honey, eggs and lots more.
  • If you don’t want to order every week, you don’t have to. Or if you do, you can set up a standard order.
  • The produce is sourced locally within 400km of Brisbane and is either chemical free, bio-dynamic or organic.
  • The produce is in season, unlike many of the offerings in our big supermarkets.
  • You support local farmers and get to know a little about their farms. They are featured in the newsletter in each box and you can also do farm tours.
  • You choose which ‘City Cousin‘ you will pick your order up from. These wonderful people are found in every few suburbs.
  • It’s not that expensive. The box featured above and below cost $44. I’ve found this reduces my weekly food bill by not needing to visit the shops most days.
What a small vegie box might look like.

What a small vegie box might look like.

The produce in the box I picked up today had traveled only 184km. This would not be the case if I had bought the same items in a major supermarket.

Having a weekly order of vegies each week will increase your vegie intake easily. You will need to eat through them before the next order is due. It also saves you having to do day-to-day grocery shops. If your fridge and pantry are stocked with fresh vegetables already you will be more likely to eat them.

Tonight I turned my vegies into this delicious tofu and vegie curry:

Food connect curry

So make the commitment to increase your vegetable intake. If it’s not through a scheme like Food Connect, regularly visit farmers’ markets for your groceries or even grow your own fresh produce!

For further information on TCM dietary therapy contact Sarah George.  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (CMRB registered), massage therapy and natural medicine at Acupuncture & Natural Therapies Centre and lectures at the Endeavour College of Natural Health in Chinese Medicine.



How to balance the Five Flavours perfectly in a meal

The more colours the better! Vegies for the omelette.

The five flavours in fruit and vegetable form.

In Chinese Medicine we class every food according to its temperature, affinity with different parts of the body and its flavour.

There are five key flavours and a food may fall into more than one category. Each flavour has a different effect on the body, as follows:

  • Bitter (Fire element): drying and downbearing. Bitter foods are good for promoting excretion of excess fluids (dampness) and stimulating digestion.
  • Sweet (Earth element): warming, strengthening and moistening. Sweet foods give us fuel for energy and are particularly useful in times of weakness. They also nourish our body fluids.
  • Pungent (Metal element): aid circulation and promote sweating. Pungent foods help to move stagnation and tension in the body, as well as improving blood flow. These foods also push ‘upwards and outwards’ promoting a sweat which is why they are also used during acute colds and flu.
  • Salty (Water element): cooling, softening and moistening. Salty foods can alter fluid balance in the body and in some cases may promote bowel movements. They soften hardness (think of epsom salts in the bath).
  • Sour (Wood element): astringe and preserve fluids. Sour foods close the pores and promote an inward movement to nourish our body fluids and subdue anger. (Think of the face you pull when you eat a lemon – these babies’ faces say it all!.

While all of the flavours need to be consumed in moderation and then increased or decreased according to each person’s current health condition, sweet and salty foods should be particularly used sparingly in modern diets, unless a person’s health condition suggests otherwise. A Chinese Medicine practitioner can guide you in this area.

In the modern diet, bitter foods are eaten rarely and there is usually cause for most western people to increase their intake of bitter foods.

For a person in a good state of health we usually recommend a consumption of all of the flavours in moderation. Cooking in Asian cultures often pays close attention to the seasoning of dishes to represent a balance of flavours. A classic example is ‘pho’ (Vietnamese noodle soup) which is served with fresh chilli and mint (pungent), lemon/lime (sour), carrot and mung bean sprouts (sweet), green leafy vegetables (bitter) and fish and/or soy sauce (salty).

Here’s a western recipe (that I have blogged about before) which brings together these five flavours perfectly:

Mediterranean eggplant salad


  • 2 large eggplants, cubed, salted, drained and dried
  • olive oil for frying
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon currants
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds
  • 6 roma tomatoes, quartered lengthways
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 red chillies, sliced finely
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 preserved lemon, discard flesh and slice rind finely
  • a few handfuls of green leafy vegetables: baby spinach, cress and/or rocket leaves


  1. Warm olive oil in pan and fry eggplant until golden in small batches.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towel.
  2. In same pan, saute cumin seeds, garlic, currants and almonds until golden.  Add tomato and oregano until browned.  Remove from heat.
  3. Add fried eggplant, chilli, lemon juice, parsley, preserved lemon and spinach to the tomato mixture.  Season with black pepper.  Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to serving.

Here is the breakdown of this recipe according to the flavours:

  • Bitter: oregano, parsley and green leafy vegetables.
  • Sweet: eggplant, currants, cumin, tomato and almonds.
  • Pungent: cumin, garlic, oregano and chilli.
  • Salty: preserved lemon, eggplant (once salted and rinsed).
  • Sour: tomato, lemon juice and preserved lemon.

Perfect balance. Enjoy this recipe. It’s delicious!

For further information on TCM dietary therapy contact Sarah George.  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (CMRB registered), massage therapy and natural medicine at Acupuncture & Natural Therapies Centre and lectures at the Endeavour College of Natural Health in Chinese Medicine.

Chocolate beetroot cake: gluten and dairy free


choc-beet cake sliceJust prior to undergoing the knife for my hip operation I went crazy (rather, had a ball in the kitchen) preparing meals for the post-op recovery phase. I put a lot of thought into the ingredients that I would and would not use, and as promised earlier, I will blog about this sometime soon.

But for now please enjoy this delicious chocolate beetroot cake recipe from the post-op phase. I wanted it to be nutritious (for a cake) containing lots of nuts and beetroot (to promote tissue healing) without foods that disagree with my body – gluten and dairy. I also opted for maple syrup over refined sugar as the sweetener. It’s even iced with a chocolate and cashew icing made without refined sugar. This was to give me a sweet treat to brighten my days in recovery.

Here are some of the Chinese medicine properties for some of the key ingredients:

  • Cocoa: neutral temperature, sweet and bitter in flavour, cocoa is considered to be strengthening and stimulating.
  • Beetroot: neutral temperature and sweet flavoured, beetroots nourish the Stomach, Spleen and Heart and move Liver Qi and Blood, promoting blood circulation.
  • Almond: neutral temperature and sweet flavoured, almonds are moistening and benefit the Lung, Large Intestine and Spleen.
  • Walnut: warm in temperature and sweet flavoured, walnuts tonify the Kidneys and reduce inflammation.

This cake is rich and moist, and still delicious after I took it out of the freezer (where it was frozen individually piece by piece). The cake is still sweet overall so keep serving sizes small and be aware that a high daily intake of sweet foods is not recommended – moderation is the key!

Find the chocolate beetroot cake recipe here. (I shared it on my clinic’s website first.)

For further information on eating well with food intolerances contact Sarah George.  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (CMRB registered), massage therapy and natural medicine at Acupuncture & Natural Therapies Centre and lectures at the Endeavour College of Natural Health in Chinese Medicine.

Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love


My brilliant friend, Antonella Gambotto-Burke, has just launched her latest collection of interviews and articles titled, Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love.

As many of you know, I have a special interest in using Chinese medicine to optimise male and female reproductive health, and assisting women with pregnancy care, and pre- and post-natal support. So I love to read and learn about everything from personal experiences to birthing traditions to the latest evidence based theories in this area.

Inspired by her own experiences of pregnancy, birth and motherhood, Antonella sought out a wide range of experts in the field to bring us this beautiful collection of interviews, articles and even some pages of motherhood tips.

The book is beautiful to look at. But it’s the information shared within that celebrates motherhood (in its glory and challenges) that is the real treasure here. Inside are interviews with Sheila Kitzinger, Laura Markham, Steve Biddulph and Gabor Maté with a forward by Michel Odent. Antonella and her guests discuss among many topics: difficult births, parenting theories, bonding with a new baby and the experience of fathers.

So in addition to just telling you all about this book, I have two pieces of good news:

  1. Antonella will be speaking in Brisbane at Riverbend Books on Friday 27th June, 6.30pm. Tickets are $10 and you can book here.
  2. You can save $5 on Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love by clicking here (Arbon Publishing) and using this code – SGMama. (This is exclusive to you, The Wellness Ninja readers!)

I’ve already given a copy to a friend just before she gave birth to her beautiful little girl. It was gladly received!

For further information on Chinese medicine for fertility, pregnancy and birth contact Sarah George.  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (CMRB registered), massage therapy and natural medicine at Acupuncture & Natural Therapies Centre and lectures at the Endeavour College of Natural Health in Chinese Medicine.

How to live well this winter



Winter arrived right on cue this year in Brisbane. As I left the college I lecture at this afternoon the chilly air went straight through me. Note to self: I need to refresh my winter wardrobe.Winter leunig

But what about winter and your health? Winter has a bad reputation for ‘catching a cold’ and cops the flack for setting the scene for ‘flu season’.

Let’s think about winter. And here’s a classic to put you in the mood:

If you have time to notice that we have seasons you will have discovered recently that the days are getting shorter and the temperature is cooler. And if you don’t have time, make some.

In keeping with my other seasonal living guides (summer and autumn), here is your guide to living well in winter.

Winter is all about the Water element (in which we find the Kidneys and Bladder). It is when the Yang (hot, energetic Qi) is hidden by the Yin (cool, peaceful Qi) accumulation. And so we crave:

  • Comfort and being cosy
  • Embracing the indoors
  • Introversion
  • Getting more sleep (earlier to bed, later to rise)
  • Using the warm quilt and/or flannelette sheets
  • Getting crafty (crocheting or knitting? I heard they are the new yoga!)
  • Comforting foods – soups, stews, curries, apple cinnamon crumble 

Top tips for good health in winter:

  • Storing and building our energy for the spring. By reading the ideas above it certainly sounds like this is exactly what winter is for.
  • Keep warm. Not so warm you work up a sweat but enough to protect that Yang Qi. Think of it a little as you need to keep your internal furnace firing so that when you are out in the cold you can warm back up quickly again. Most importantly keep your feet and lower back warm. There is no place for a midriff top in winter! And if there is a cold breeze around wrap a scarf around your neck. Also keep your bed comfortably warm.
  • Get a dose of sunlight on a clear day. The far infrared rays will warm you on a cool day and boost your mood. Here’s a guide to sunlight exposure for vitamin D in the winter.
  • Keep exercising within comfortable limits. Winter may be a time to slow down and get indoors but we still need some moderate activity to keep us healthy and happy.
  • Wash your hands regularly. Being inside more often exposes you to more people’s germs in confined spaces. Wash your hands regularly and/or carry around some hand sanitiser to reduce your risk of catching a cold or flu.
  • Protect your skin and respiratory system from dryness. Find yourself a good natural moisturiser (no, sorbelene won’t do) to nourish your face and body. Use lip balm. Modify the humidity in your home if necessary. Increase the good oils in your diet.
  • Eat warm. Include some nourishing dishes made with seasonal produce in your diet. Make use of some warming foods and spices as described in my quick guide to eating well in winter. Chinese medicine likes to include some dark coloured foods too (eg. black sesame, black soy beans and brown rice). Now is also the time to partake in preserved foods. Salads, juices and smoothies are best left until the weather warms up again. And swap the muesli for porridge or congee.
  • A wee nip of alcohol in moderation warms from within. In fact a Ming Dynasty doctor recommended “Alcoholic beverages are bitter and acrid in flavour and hot in thermal nature. When consumed regularly and in the right amount, alcohol regulates blood flow, promotes Qi circulation, stimulates the mind and warms the body.” What is the right amount? Please read these guidelines.

For further information on living with the seasons contact Sarah George.  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (CMRB registered), massage therapy and natural medicine at Acupuncture & Natural Therapies Centre and lectures at the Endeavour College of Natural Health in Chinese Medicine.


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