arlene's wayEverything from soy to constipation and all things in between.

I have been experiencing constipation for several weeks. My diet has not changed and I am not taking any medication. I am way about taking laxatives, so how can I correct this?

As you already know, a change in diet and some medications can cause constipation. A change in routine, not enough water or fibre in your diet, pregnancy, lack of regular exercise, advancing age and even putting off going to the toilet can all cause constipation. While laxatives have their place in relieving acute constipation, I can understand your desire to find the cause, rather than use a quick fix. I suggest drinking more water, increasing your daily exercise and ensuring you are getting enough cereal fibre into your diet. As the constipation has been a problem for several weeks, I suggest you see your doctor or dietitian to work out the cause of the problem, which can be different for everyone.

I have tried to reduce the amount of salt in my diet, but now I read that I am not getting enough iodine. How can I get more iodine without adding salt to my food?

Iodine is an essential nutrient used to produce thyroid hormones, to regulate metabolism and for normal growth and development. Iodine deficiency in Australia has been rising for a number of reasons including the reduced use of iodised salt in food. But it is easy to get the recommended daily intake of iodine (150 micrograms for men and women). These days all bread is required to be iodine fortified. You can also get iodine from oysters, tinned salmon, sushi (seaweed), a variety of dairy products and fresh fruit and vegetables.

I struggle to put on weight (and keep it on). Can you advise me on how to gain weight in a healthy way?

When trying to put on weight, eating larger serves can be difficult which may be why you battle with your weight in the first place.  Deep-fried fast food, chips, chocolates and cakes may contain extra kilojoules, but consuming these foods in excess is not only unhealthy, but may upset your stomach. The key to healthy weight gain is making every bite count and increasing the kilojoule, protein or healthy fat content of each mouthful. For example:

  • Add extra layers to sandwiches using an olive oil spread + avocado + cheese
  • Add olive oil to cooked pasta, rice and vegetables before serving
  • Add a tablespoon of chopped nuts or almond meal to cereal
  • Enhance milk drinks by adding protein or skim milk powders
  • Snack on nuts, seeds, and dried fruit or crackers with avocado, cream cheese or hummous
  • Smoothies, Up & Go, or Sustagen poppers make a great snack.

arlene's wayCan you give me some advice on introducing solids to my daughter who is now 3 months old and is my first child.

Babies are generally ready to commence eating solid foods between 4-6 months of age, which may be before their first tooth emerges. It is important to wait until four months of age to introduce solids, as prior to that babies are more susceptible to food-borne illnesses and diarrhoea. There may also be an increased risk of allergies and eczema if solids are commenced before 17 weeks. After six months, breast milk alone can no longer provide all the nutrients a baby needs for normal development and growth. Delaying solids beyond six months may also increase the risk of allergies and could potentially delay jaw, muscle and speech development, as well as the progress of developing motor skills. There are no hard and fast rules as to which foods to introduce or in which order. The most important thing is to make the experience safe and enjoyable for your baby, progressing her through many different foods and textures as possible.

Is soy bad for you?

Soy is a staple in many meat-free diets, but there are many myths surrounding this plant based protein. Soy bean are complete plant protein – meaning they contain all the essential amino acids that our body can’t make. Soy is also high in soluble fibre, low in fat and is low GI. So with al these benefits why hasn’t soy been embraced by all? Some people believe soy reduces nutrient absorption because it contains phytates, which can interfere with the absorption of some vitamins and minerals. However, phytates naturally occur in many common foods such as seeds, nuts, and grains (including wheat and oats). Given that amount of phytates in soy is much lower than in oats or wheat, it is unlikely soy will have a significant impact on reducing the absorption of nutrients.  Soy contains isoflavins, a type of phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogens are plant oestrogens with a structure similar to the female sex hormone oestrogen, but with a much weaker effect. A recent study assessing soy impact on male fertility found no effect on semen volume or sperm concentration, count, morphology or motility when men consumed test drinks containing either high or low levels of soy isoflavins.