The low down on cholesterol

heart rate


Finding out about cholesterol can be a little confusing. First of all, what is it? Secondly, why is it bad for us? Is it all bad for us? Do we need it for anything? What can we do, short of medical intervention, to keep cholesterol in check?

This straight forward guide to cholesterol will help you keep yours at a healthy level.


What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat which is waxy in texture. It finds its way around the body in the blood and is found in all the body’s cells. It’s essential for the smooth functioning of the body. Whilst some cholesterol is taken in through the diet, about two-thirds of cholesterol is manufactured by the body in the liver.


What do we use cholesterol for?

Cholesterol is produced by the liver and also made by most cells in the body. It is carried around in the blood by lipoproteins – more about them later. The body uses small amounts of cholesterol for:

  • the integrity of cell membranes
  • manufacturing hormones including oestrogen, testosterone and adrenal hormones
  • aiding certain metabolic processes, such as your body’s production of vitamin D
  • helping the body digest fat and absorbing nutrients, via the production of bile acids


 LDLs, HDLs and VLDLs

  • Low density lipoprotein (LDL). This is what’s known as the bad cholesterol. It carries most of the cholesterol that is delivered to the cells, and when it reaches high levels in the bloodstream, it can clog up your arteries.
  • High density lipoprotein (HDL), is called the ‘good’ cholesterol. It helps remove excess cholesterol out of the cells, including cells in the arteries.
  • Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL). All of the lipoproteins are made up of cholesterol, protein and fats. VLSLs contain the highest amount of triglycerides of all the lipoproteins, which make them the worst type of cholesterol.


Blood Cholesterol Levels

It is recommended that cholesterol levels should be 5.5 mmols per litre IF there are no other risk factors present. If there are other cardiovascular risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure or pre existing cardiovascular heart disease, you should aim for a level of 2 mmols per litre of blood. Around about half of all Australian adults have a blood cholesterol leverl above 5mmol/l. Have you had yours checked lately?



This is the ratio of good cholesterol (HDL) to bad cholesterol (LDL). The ratio is determined by dividing the LDL cholesterol into the HDL cholesterol. For example, if a person has an HDL cholesterol of 50 mg/dL and an LDL cholesterol of 150 mg/dL, the HDL/LDL ratio would be 0.33. The goal is to keep the ratio above 0.3, with the ideal HDL/LDL ratio being above 0.4.


Which foods contain cholesterol?

  • Eggs
  • Animal products that are rich in fat such as meats and full fat dairy foods.
  • Prawns and other shellfish
  • All foods from animals contain some cholesterol. Foods from plants do not contain cholesterol.


Dietary tips for lower cholesterol

Generally, cholesterol from food has very little effect on the blood cholesterol level; the amount of saturated fat you eat is far more important. That’s good news if you’re looking to throw another shrimp on the bar -b this summer, as shellfish are generally low in saturated fats and are a good source of omega-3s.


Foods to avoid – I’m sure this list won’t surprise you

  • Fatty meats
  • Processed meats like salami and sausages
  • Snack foods like chips
  • Most takeaway foods, especially deep fried foods
  • Cakes, biscuits and pastries.


The dietary “do’s” of cholesterol

  • Increase the amount and variety of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrain foods you have each day.
  • Choose lean meat (meat trimmed of fat or labelled as ‘heart smart’).
  • Limit fatty meats, including sausages and salami, and choose leaner sandwich meats like turkey breast or cooked lean chicken.
  • Have fish (fresh or canned) at least twice a week.
  • Replace butter and dairy blends with polyunsaturated margarines.
  • Include foods in your diet that are rich in soluble fibre and healthy fats, such as nuts, legumes and seeds. The fibre will help to “mop up” cholesterol
  • Limit your cheese intake.


Cholesterol Cutting


  • polyunsaturated oils such as sunflower oil and safflower oil
  • oats
  • legumes
  • alfalfa sprouts (YUM)
  • garlic and onion


Plant Sterols

Plant sterols are found naturally in plant foods including sunflower and canola seeds, vegetable oils and (in smaller amounts) nuts, legumes, cereals, fruit and vegetables. Some margarine and milks have concentrated plant sterols added to them. Margarines enriched with plant sterols may help lower LDL cholesterol.


Cholesterol lowering lifestyle tips

  • Lower your triglyceride levels by cutting out alcohol, and if that doesn’t seem possible, reduce your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks a day. Avoid binge drinking.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking increases the ability of LDL cholesterol to get into artery cells and cause damage.
  • Exercise regularly, and by regularly, I mean daily. At least one bout of exercise which will get you huffing and puffing a bit. Include more incidental exercise in your day. Getting up from your desk and having a walk around for a couple of minutes has been shown to reduce blood triglyceride levels. Exercise increases HDL levels while reducing LDL and triglyceride levels in the body.
  • Lose any excess body fat. Being overweight may contribute to raised blood triglyceride and LDL levels.
  • Control your blood sugar levels, particularly  if you have diabetes. High blood sugars are linked to an increased risk of atherosclerosis (‘hardening of the arteries’).

How To Fend Off The Menopause Midriff

menopause midriff

“Healthy Diet Won’t Stop Menopause Weight Gain”

menopause midriffThat’s a nice scary headline for women of a certain age, isn’t it? It’s one that did the rounds of online news sites a couple of weeks ago now.

Not so scary really when you stop to read the fine print though!


In a study of 7000 healthy Australian women age 48  to 56, researchers found  those who ate the most healthy foods gained just as much weight over the six years of the study, as those who ate the least healthy foods – about 1.7 kilograms.


Is the middle aged spread unavoidable?

Well, not really. If you eat too much of anything you will gain weight, regardless of the health value of the food. So whilst eating healthy food won’t stop you gaining weight in your late 40′ s and early 50’s , eating less of it will. Chief researcher, Clare Collins said “Women, on average, will gain two kilograms over the menopause years and the only women who resist that are women who put either extra focus on their diet or extra focus on physical activity or both,”


“Our earlier research had found people who had a higher diet quality score also consumed more calories, because if you have a greater frequency and variety of healthy foods you also consume more energy,” she said. “So the good news is we showed they don’t gain [more] weight.”

Analysis of the study’s data also seems to be finding a link between high fruit and vegetable intake and less weight gain. Collins suspects this is due to switching from unhealthy foods.


My experience

A couple of months ago, I was the lightest I’ve been since year 11 at school. I was training for a half marathon, so doing quite a bit of exercise, though not the mileage I’ve done for previous races. I upped my resistance training, which I think really helped with fat burning, and yes, I was watching what I ate very closely for the month prior to the race. Before I popped something into my mouth, I considered whether it would help me go faster, or whether it would just end up being dead weight I’d have to carry around the course. Getting on for two months later, I am still sitting on the lighter side of my usual adult weight range. It’s unlikely this is due to loss of muscle or bone mass due to the type of exercise I do. It is due to eating less food and being pretty much alcohol free. Even just a couple of glasses a week gives your calorie intake a boost of up to 400 calories.


So… how to fend off the menopause midriff?

The peri-menopausal and post menopausal health message is pretty much the same as at any other time of your life.  If your diet isn’t up to scratch, include more fruit and vegetables in your diet. Eat less food, drink less alcohol and exercise more to fend off the menopause midriff.

Your Healthy Habits Are Making You Fat

being positive

Some of the first things people do when they go an a health kick and try to lose weight, such as eating more fruit and drinking more water, can actually cause you to struggle to lose weight. Here are 5 so called “healthy habits” which could be preventing you from losing weight.


hydrationDrinking water

Getting enough water is definitely essential to good health, helping you to stay hydrated and full of energy, and keeping all the cells in your body (including those in your digestive system) in good shape. Studies have shown however, that some of the chemicals found in drinking water could also be making you fat.

The chemical BPA, still found in some plastic water bottles, encourages the body to make more fat. But don’t feel too smug if your drinking vessel is BPA free. Studies have also shown that our drinking water can also contain the hormone oestrogen, which effects the way are bodies store fat. The more exposure to these chemicals, the harder it is to lose weight.

This isn’t an excuse to drink wine instead of water though! Just switch to filtered water and you’ll be fine. Do steer away from too much bottled water, as it may not contain the mineral content you’ll find in tap water. Your standard tap filter generally won’t filter out trace minerals found in water, but make sure you read the fine print before you buy.


appleSnacking on Fruit

Packed with fibre, antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals, fruits have undoubted health benefits. However, less is more when it comes to fruit and weight loss. Many people overindulge in fruits, fruit juices and smoothies, forgetting that fruits are not only packed with micro nutrients, but also calories. A calorie is still a calorie, no matter how healthy, and you’re just as likely to get fat eating too much fruit, as you are eating too much of anything else. I recall a number of conversations with clients who’ve lamented that they are eating “healthily” yet are not able to lose weight. Very often, too much fruit is the culprit, in one case, about six pieces a day.

Fructose, the sugar found in fruit, has been found to be a possible trigger in overeating. After eating fructose, the brain doesn’t register the same feelings of fullness as it does when we consume glucose. So the message is, fruit is important for its nutrients, but don’t go overboard. If your aim is weight loss, two pieces of fruit a day is the limit, and these should be consumed as whole fresh fruit, not fruit juice, so that you get the benefits of the fibre found in fruit as well. If you’re a big fruit eater, try swapping some of your fruit for vegetables such as carrot and capsicum sticks.


avocado james barkerCutting fat from your diet

If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, I’m guessing you will have rejected a food based on the fat content written on the packet. Conversely, you may have bought a food based on its perceived low fat content. “99% fat free” has a very attractive ring to it if you are trying to lose weight.

Low fat options are often not the best, for a number of reasons. Firstly, some of the fatty acids removed from food to make it low fat, actually help our bodies break down fat. Secondly, low fat options are often packed with sugar to compensate for the loss in flavour which can accompany the removal of fat. It’s back to the number of calories thing again, isn’t it? And lastly, some studies have found that eating fats that are good for you-monounsaturated fats found in olives, nuts and avocados, can actually help promote weight loss.


Trail TrainingExercise

Whilst exercise is not going to make you fat, and it is essential for good health, there are two classic mistakes people make when it comes to exercise and weight loss.

The first is thinking that exercise alone will give you the weight loss you are after. Of course, it is possible to lose weight simply by increasing your exercise levels.  To see any significant weight loss from exercise alone, however, you would need to increase the amount of moderate intensity exercise you do by about an hour a day to create an energy deficit. This is certainly doable, but not advisable, if you are looking to see short term results. Increasing your level of exercise by an hour a day from one day to the next is just not the way to go. You should build your exercise volume and intensity gradually to reduce the risk of injury.

Also, people tend to over estimate the amount of exercise they do, and feel they can “reward” themselves for exercising, by eating some kind of calorie laden treat, leading to weight gain. For maximum benefits, increase the amount of exercise you are doing, and develop healthy eating habits.


being positiveBeing Positive

Whilst being positive may make you happier and boost your immune system, research suggests that optimistic people may have more trouble losing weight.

Research by America’s National Institute on Ageing, shows that impulsivity is the strongest predictor of who will become overweight.

In another study, Japanese researchers from DoshishaUniversity studied obese women and men participating in a six month weight loss program. They found the people who were more positive in their outlook lost the least amount of weight. It is thought that being positive and optimistic means that you won’t worry enough about your weight to be able to resist temptation and stick to healthy eating and fitness regimes. If this sounds like you, it’s a good idea to make sure you incorporate exercise that you like doing as part of your lifestyle. A support system such as training with friends or in a group environment can be an absolute boon if you’re so happy you struggle to stick at it!


Photos courtesy of

Training Logs are not just for 50 year olds

training log


All you need to keep your own training log is pen and paper. They are one of the simplest, yet most effective training tools going around. You can go down the technological, gizmo route if you want to, but truly, you simply need a notebook and a pen to be able to track your training. A combination of both is often useful, as you can upload your workout to your PC and look at heaps of pretty graphs.



 Why keep a training log?

  • There is less of a tendency to skip training if you know you are reporting on it, even if you are only reporting in to yourself.
  • You can share your training with others to keep you even more accountable.
  • It keeps you focused on the task at hand.
  • You can look back on past training logs to see what works for you and what doesn’t.
  • If you happen to suffer an injury, you can analyse your training to assess whether over training, or a particular type of training, may have been the cause.
  • Looking over past training logs can help you get your taper right.


Paralysis by Analysis?

The more information you have on yourself the better, however there is no point being so overwhelmed by all the metrics, that you give up and keep track of nothing at all. You need to find a level of record keeping that you are comfortable with and will be consistent with, for a training log to be of real help to you.

At the minimum, I’d suggest:

  • Type of exercise
  • Distance and/or time, or in the case of resistance exercise, set and reps
  • Intensity
  • How you felt/how the session went
  • Where you trained
  • Terrain
  • Surface

Stepping it up a level, I’d also record

  • Resting heart rate daily- ie your heart rate when you wake up first thing in the morning – this can help you determine if you have been over training. An elevated heart rate for several days is often a sign.
  • Type of shoes you ran in
  • Weather conditions
  • Unclothed weight before and after training (especially in hot weather) to determine how much fluid you should be replacing
  • Who you trained with – were they a suitable training partner – were you able to run at the right pace for you, or were you struggling to keep up with them/had to slow down?
  • Sleep
  • Appetite
  • Mood
  • Heart rate whilst training – during efforts and rest intervals

Most of these things need not much more than a watch with a stopwatch function, though a heart rate monitor is best if you want to record your heart rate whilst training. A lap timer is also a very handy function.

However you record your training, it needs to be something which you can quickly and easily access at the end of each training session, and if you are keeping track of your resting heart rate, something you can access easily form your bed, with minimal effort.

Keep clear records which you and other people will understand. You may need to share them with a coach, physio or doctor if you need help with pinpointing what’s going right and what could do with a bit of tweaking.

For that reason, I love the notebook and pen option. Other ideas are storing it on your phone, uploading information recorded on heart rate monitors/GPS style training watches, a simple spreadsheet on your computer.

I’d normally just keep a notebook style training log, but I’ll be putting my training log up on this website in the countdown to my fiftieth birthday. That will definitely keep me honest, and it’ll be a good guide for anyone wondering about suitable training volume and intensity. You might be surprised at how little I am doing first up. But, I’ve had a five week layoff, and I can’t expect just to pick up where I left off.

May 2015 Update: since I wrote this blog post, my training has been up and down. I didn’t keep a training log on this site – I just didn’t think it was worth it at the time. A little niggle which I didn’t look after turned into a nagging chronic discomfort. It still hanging around, but I’m happily dealing with it, and for the first time in about 18 months I’m running consistently. There’s been lots happening in that time, and whilst I didn’t sit back on my bum and do nothing, it’s not been the fittest time in my life.

It’s taken quite a while to get back into any kind of running shape, and for a while there I was officially the slowest runner in our household. Yes, both my kids beat me in a couple of fun runs. I know I’ve got no hope of catching the 11 year old (but then, he does run at state level so there’s no shame in that), but I’ve definitely got my 8 year old’s measure after a victory over him in our last 5km. There’s fight in the old do yet! So,whilst I’m still not back to being as fit as I’d like to be, I’m on the way, and am thoroughly enjoying running. That 18 months out was probably just what I needed.




City to Surf 2013

Congratulations to our Open Women’s Team on placing fifth in the 2013 City to Surf. 

Great to see a big contingent of “Hooked on Healthers” at the City to Surf this year, both as runners and also as volunteers manning the drinks stations with the scouts and other volunteer groups.


Our women’s open team placed 5th with an overall time of  3 hrs, 45 mins and 7 secs. This in spite of Jane Raftesath running in odd shoes. Somehow the last minute shoe lace change left her wearing one old shoe and one new shoe to the start line!


Tara McNamara (Sat 6:45am Frenchs Forest) had a great City to Surf. This is how she saw the race


I had 3 goals for the race this year..

1) run up heartbreak hill

2) run the whole 14 kms

3) run in under 90 mins

I managed all three!!! I felt good through the race (after my normal warm up 3kms and dodging the people in the early stages helped me stay …calm and not try go too fast – the hill was great – head down, feet moving, looking at the next corner and all of a sudden it was over!
The most frustrating section was the the last km – then having to dodge people did bother me – I stopped looking at my watch cause i knew I was close to getting under 90 mins and tried not to yell at people to get out of my way and, as much as possible with the crowds, I ran as fast as I could.

Smiling as I crossed the line and finally looking at my watch…. 87mins!

Happy with it all, I met some work colleagues and drank a lot of water before joining the queue for the bus home.

Thanks so much for making me a better runner


Here are all our results.

Tara McNamara: 87:47

Courtney Heyden: 73:53

Petra Thallmayer: 89:12

Jane Raftesath: 72:26

Sam Evans: 72:26

Sam O’Connor: 104:41 – fastest walker in the north

Pamela Martin: 116:44

Leanne Forster: 89:50

Susanne Lewis: 82:38 – 292nd in category

Bernice Woodbury: 82:33

Trish Pavely: 80:14

Dave Spencer: 67:59

Megan Mouradian: 71:47

Cathy Stockwell: 83:10



Putting Myself First



When I realised I was staring down the barrel at my fiftieth birthday and I was nowhere near the kind of shape I’d planned to be in, I knew I needed to figure out why. So I took at look at what has happened since my last run, the Gold Coast half marathon.



  •  I had a niggling injury which I’ve allowed to escalate by not taking care of it
  • I had a few too many champagnes the night of the half and as I’m intolerant of yeast and fermented products, it knocked me around a bit
  •  I’ve had a gastric bug
  •  I’ve had sick children demanding to be looked after
  • I’ve had a sick husband looking poorly all weekend
  •  I’ve been feeling bad as I haven’t seen my aunt who’s in a nursing home, for nearly three weeks now (not to mention my mum, who’s not in a nursing home but likes to see me)
  • I’ve been helping my kids with their sport, regular homework, projects, spelling bees, public speaking, table manners, controlling their temper – you name it


The list could go on, but the point is, I haven’t been putting myself first. (Ironically, my first title for this post was “Putting Yourself First”)


The fact is, you need to put yourself first at least some of the time. You are no use to anyone if you are so worn out that you can’t cope. I was fine about putting my interests and running on hold for a couple of weeks after the half marathon.  I needed a rest anyway, one of my children had an important sporting event coming up so I was happy to support him, the other one had written in a self assessment that he doesn’t like school because he misses his mum (so I figured I need to be putting a bit of time in there), but all of a sudden that couple of weeks has turned into five weeks, and I’m not feeling at all good physically. My clothes aren’t fitting so well, my joints are a bit achy, I feel like I have a low grade cold, and I’m definitely not getting enough sleep. It’s not only effecting my physically, but mentally as well,  which in turn, makes me less able to do all the things that need to be done to maintain relationships with those who are close to me.


So how do I plan to turn it all around? Well, figuring things had to change, I started with a haircut a couple of days ago, I have a doctor’s appointment next week, I will book a massage as soon as I stop writing, and no matter what happens, I am going to the pool and swimming a km this afternoon, followed by some injury specific resistance exercises.

I’ll tell you more about my “get fit quick” plan in my next post. It will probably be more like a “get fit sensibly and safely plan”, but it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it does it?

In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you manage to put yourself first – I reckon we should just all do what our husbands do and say “no” a bit more frequently.



Recovery Booster: Blueberry and Flax Seed Pancakes

Recovery Boost: Blueberry pancakes

Recovery Boost: Blueberry pancakes

This delicious recovery meal is perfect for a leisurely breakfast after those long Sunday runs. The recipe delivers just the right ratio of carbohydrate and protein. Unlike recovery drinks, it offers up a good amount of fibre too.

For best results, eat within 30 minutes of completing your run. 





  • 1/2 cup flax seed meal
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
  • 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen blueberries
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of carb soda
  • 1 tablespoon of raw sugar


Cooking instructions

  1. Set a nonstick frypan over medium heat.
  2. Stir together the dry ingredients in a bowl
  3. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and milk together.
  4. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients, and stir just until moistened.
  5. Spoon 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the hot frying pan.
  6. Sprinkle with blueberries.
  7. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface, then flip and cook until browned on the other side.


Nutrition Breakdown

Servings: 4

Calories: 355

Fat: 10.3g

Carbohydrate: 53.4g

 Protein: 13.6g