Down the Hatch

Part biology lesson, part health clinic – here’s the low-down on your body and nutrition.

“We are animals and our bodies are made to process food,” says Dietitian Dr Naras Lapsys ( Take a bite into an apple, and digestion begins immediately via the saliva in your mouth. While your stomach churns things up, your small intestine’s the real workhorse. “The intestinal tract is metres long,” says Lapsys. ”Its job is to suck every bit of nutrition out of food, and different parts absorb different vitamins and minerals.”

Helping, er, smooth things along, is the fibre in that apple. Women should get 25g of fibre a day, and there’s about 4g in an apple. But if you want to fight diseases like diabetes and cancer, you need to be clocking 28g per day, according to Kellogg’s Dietitian Bobbie Crothers. The average Aussie woman gets more like 20g, or even less – so the fibre in food is critical.

Plus when you plan to gain nutrition from food, you get bonus points. Eat a banana for energy and get the prebiotic Fructooligosaccharides that feeds good bacteria in the gut. “Vitamins are catalysts,” says Dr Alan Barclay. “They speed up reactions but without the carbs, fats and protein, there’s no effect.”

TIP: Eat the rainbow.  Fancy a simple explanation of antioxidants? Plants produce pigments to protect them from the damaging rays of the sun. These pigments? They’re anti-oxidants and if we eat them, we’re protected from free radicals too, says Miessence founder Narelle Chenery (

So what if instead, you take those apples and blitz them in a juicer (OK, honestly you buy a fresh fruit and veg juice from the little grocer at the train station). Immediately, you lose the fibre, which also works to regulate sugar consumption. Instant sugar hit, minimal satiety.

But there’s a flip side to instantaneous absorption – if you loose the sugar. “For a short term detox, juice provides the body with the nutrients it needs without having to work as hard,” says Chenery, High chlorophyll grasses like wheatgrass, for example, only release their nutrition when the cellulose bonds are broken by juicing – a process the body can’t complete on its own.

“It’s simply a way of getting more bang for your buck,” says juice devotee Catherine Craig ( Craig’s cleansing juices claim to deliver 6kgs of veggies a day, and that’s significant if you want to fight disease. A huge study of breast cancer survivors in Shanghai found that veggie eaters (specifically lovers of Brassicas like broccoli and cabbage) not only had lower cancer reoccurrence rates, but that those who ate the most had a 62 percent reduced risk of total mortality and 35 percent reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence compared to those who ate the least. Quantities matter.

TIP: Swap your juicer for a blender. You’ll keep the fibre and nutrients otherwise destined for the rubbish bin. Already got a mortgage for your small appliance collection? At least add some of that pulp from your juicer back into your bevvie.

“As a nation, we are overfed but undernourished,” says Pam Stone, Blackmores Director of Education ( If you drink, smoke, are stressed or think there’s any chance you might get pregnant (folate is critical in the first few weeks of conception), your body can benefit from a multivitamin – and independent dietitians like Lapsys agree, it’s a good insurance policy when sub-optimal nutrition is hard to determine.

So what happens when you pop that pill? Well for water-soluble vitamins like C and B, the synthetic versions are basically indistinguishable from the real deal on a biochemical level, says Stone. Within hours they wash the body with what it needs to extract energy from food and preserve immunity. Then you pee the rest out.

However, oil based vitamins are more complex. “They’re digested primarily in the small intestine, where enzymes break down the fats,“ explains Stone. So look for naturally sourced A, E and beta carotene – your body will absorb them more easily. Choosing a marine source of Omega-3, says Lapsys, is your best bet.


Curly or black, it’s making hipsters and hippies swoon from Cali to Bondi. The cancer fighting Brassica is packed with Vitamins A, C and K, antioxidant carotenoids and flavonoids (but then, so is broccoli). It’s also full of alkaline minerals that balance acid foods in the diet (but then, so is broccoli). If you want to get fully hippy? Massaging kale breaks down the fibres making it tastier and, apparently, sweeter.

It’s got more potassium than a banana and less salt and sugar than a sports drink, and it comes straight from a coconut so it must be full of sunshine, or tropical holiday essence, or something, right? Look, it’s a better base for cocktails than cola but it’s unlikely to solve any more significant health issues than a hangover.

Cow’s milk is so passé. While dietitians like Barclay recommend milo and milk for young women, health nuts are buying nut bags for their home extraction sessions. Almond milk contains some calcium but heaps of Vitamin D which helps absorb calcium from other sources. It’s low cal and cholesterol-free, unlike milk.


B Vitamins + Siberian ginseng. It’s about energizing, not stimulating. Without Bs, your body can’t convert the fuel it needs. Basic. The adaptogenic qualities of Siberian G are a little more mysterious, but the feeling? Coffee sharp without the jitters, or the come-down.

Valarian. “To get refreshing Stage Three and Four sleep, you need the right concentration”, says Stone. It will get you to sleep quickly and keep you there.

St John’s Wort. Found in some studies to be affective as the hard prescription drugs in treating the blues, this herb has credentials. It can interfere with other meds though, so proceed with care.



You know probiotics are the bomb and fish oil’s got you hook, line and sinker. No news there. Here’s two new kids worth adding to your kitchen bench line-up

We’re supposed to eat 80 per cent alkaline foods and 20 per cent acids, but surprise, the average diet is the reverse, says Chenery. To keep the body’s pH in line, the body will pull the alkaline minerals it needs from anywhere, including your bones. A mineral supplement will balance things out.

It’s the new vitamin on the lips and under the tongue of dietitians, responsible for regulating calcium levels and helping with bone and muscle strength. It’s technically not a vitamin since the body can synthesize it with help from the sun, but D deficiency on the rise in young women who’ve heeded the sun smart message – and stay too long in the office. It’s not common in the average diet, so help your hips survive retirement bowls tournaments and get a supplement.

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  1. […] wondered what’s actually better for you, a glass of OJ or a Vitamin C capsule? Find out in Down the Hatch, published in this month’s Marie Claire (PS, the answer is kinda obvious but there is […]

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