Ask Arlene: Food QuestionsOur  resident nutritionist answers your questions about sushi, getting that post-baby body into shape and healthy eating tips.

Should I really chew food a certain number of times, or is this just an old wive’s tale?

Counting to 100 for each mouthful might be going a little overboard – but, just as with most of Mom’s advice, it turns out that she was basically right.  Thoroughly chewing your food is the first step in good digestion, experts say, and it also helps prevent what gastroenterologists call a “café coronary” – or in Mom’s terms, choking.  Eating more slowly helps prevent belching and heartburn later on. And best of all, since it takes your stomach at least 10-20 minutes to start registering a feeling of fullness, eating your meal in slow gear is a great way to keep from cleaning your plate!

I have a bad skin and wondered if any foods do affect my skin – both to improve it or which should I avoid?

It has been speculated that chocolate and greasy food promote skin problems.  No studies have ever proved this.  However, I do believe that fat should be avoided and consequently chocolate should be eaten in moderate quantities.  Certain foods might cause allergies, which result in skin reactions to them – eggs and milk are common foods to affect these breakouts.  A healthy diet of fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, nuts, chicken, eggs and whole grains will promote a healthy skin.  Ensure you eat sufficient quantities of orange/red vegetables and fruit as these provide Vitamin A, which prevents the skin from becoming dry and flaky.  Sufficient iron is necessary for a healthy skin (fortified cereal, meat, eggs). Drink water as a thirst quencher in preference to cold drinks, as this keeps the skin hydrated.

I just cannot lose weight; I have tried numerous diets but nothing seems to work, help! I am carrying only about 4kg above my goal and cannot lose it.

If you are not meeting your goal, you must be doing something incorrectly.  Are you nibbling?  A handful of this or that throughout the day or even just tasting while you prepare meals can add up more calories than you think.  An extra 50 calories a day (a few lollies) is all it takes to gain 2kg in a year.  Keep a diary of all the foods you are consuming.  Scan the quantities to ensure that they are not mega sizes (roll weight 60g, bagel 60g, bread 30g, etc).  Try cutting out something extra for a few weeks such as your late night snack, or alcohol, and see if you drop a kilo or two.  To rule out under exercising use a pedometer, and you should be doing at least 10000 steps a day.  Reduce your portions by removing 1/3 of what you are eating.  Review any medications you may be on, and lastly if the above steps are not effective consult your doctor to ensure your hormones are in balance (thyroid) and that you are not menopausal.

I am pregnant and am so concerned that I will gain weight like I did with my previous pregnancy.  It was such a struggle to lose it.  Do you have any tips?

Most people assume when they are pregnant they should eat for two.  In fact you only need approximately 300 calories extra per day depending on your activity level.  These extra calories equate to half a sandwich or a glass of milk and a fruit – required mainly in the second and third trimester when the baby is growing rapidly.  You should gain 10-12 kg during the pregnancy.  1-2kg in the first trimester, and 1-2 kg every month thereafter.  Keep a food diary where you keep track of your eating, exercise and your weight.  You should continue with an exercise program throughout your pregnancy unless your doctor advises otherwise.  You should eat three small meals plus two nutritious snacks (fruit, yoghurt).  Large weight gains can lead to health complications such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.

Every diet you read it tells you not to skip breakfast. I am really not a breakfast person; will it affect my weight loss?

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You would do better to skip dinner, and eat breakfast.  Your metabolic rate slows down when you sleep, and if you do not eat when you wake up, your body goes into “hibernation” mode.  It stores fat to use later.  Skip this miracle meal, and your metabolism could stay slower longer, meaning fewer calories will be burned.  A simple, healthy breakfast (oats, fruit, yoghurt, cereal) revs up your internal engine.  If the meal is high-fibre, you will feel fuller longer.

I am so bored with my food.  I have been doing the low carb diet for three months and been living on eggs, cottage cheese, grilled chicken and fish.  I cannot look at almost any food, so I am now in starvation mode or bingeing on carbohydrates.  Please help!

Any eating regime, which limits the food groups you consume, is not going to work in the long term. Start by eating small quantities of “different” flavoured foods.  The meal plan on my internet site  is a great place to start as it offers you variety of food, flavours, and recipes while still controlling the quantity.  Make your eating a daily adventure.  It does take effort and organization, as you have to ensure you have the correct ingredients.

Try a new food each week.  It is easy to stick to the same regime, as it is totally mindless.  Expanding the variety of foods you eat takes a little more thought when you are grocery shopping, but it is worth it.  Include different textures in your meal.  Red cabbage, nuts or carrots may be for crunchy, cottage cheese or yoghurt may be for creamy, and brown rice for chewy.

Use different flavours – mustard, Thai fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce, thyme, basil, rosemary, and my favourite coriander.  Different cooking methods bring out different flavours in food.  Stir-fry vegetables, roast vegetables, and steamed vegetables make your meal have a different slant.  Eating is for both enjoyment and nutrition, maximise on both!