Are Plant-based Milks Better for You?

For anyone who doesn’t want to drink cow’s milk there are many alternatives available. Are these healthier than traditional milk, and should we all be making the switch?

First it was soy, now there’s almond, cashew, hazelnut, oat, rice and coconut. Plant-based milks are increasingly popular, with no shortage of people promoting their supposed health benefits over regular milk.

Plenty of us don’t drink cow’s milk, and there’s no reason why you have to, says nutrition researcher Dr Tim Crowe.

“If you don’t like milk, or if you’re intolerant to it, or have ethical issues with it, then seeking out an alternative that some of these plant-based milks may offer seems a logical step.”

That said, continues Dr Crowe, if you’re happy drinking cow’s milk, then there’s really no reason to switch to a plant-based option. Milk contains important nutrients including protein, vitamin D and A, and many micronutrients. It also plays a significant role in bone health, being a particularly rich source of dietary calcium.

And for anyone concerned that milk promotes inflammation in the body, a number of review studies have shown the opposite – that diary acts as an anti-inflammatory.


How to choose a healthy milk alternative

None of the plant-based milks naturally contain enough calcium to rival cow’s milk, which is why many of them – but not all – are fortified. Whatever one you choose, read the nutrition label. This will tell you if it contains added calcium and any sweeteners. Vegans may also want a milk that has added B12.

Soy: If you’re after the closest match nutritionally with diary milk, then choose soy. Soy typically contains more protein than other plant-based alternatives (and like milk it’s a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids), along with carbohydrates and B vitamins. Most soy milks are fortified with calcium and contain healthy unsaturated fats and fibre.


Almond: You may have heard that almonds contain calcium, so it makes sense to assume almond milk is rich in calcium, doesn’t it? Not unless it’s fortified.

A 2017 survey conducted by consumer group Choice found almond milk contained only two to 14 per cent almonds, with water being the predominant ingredient. Almond milk is also low in energy and protein but as a bonus does contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Other nut milks like cashew, hazelnut and macadamia have a similar nutrition profile, although tend to be more expensive.


Oat: Blend oats and water, strain off the liquid, and you have oat milk. Low in fat but also low in protein, oat milk is naturally sweet, contains fibre (including the cholesterol lowering beta-glucan), vitamin E, folate and riboflavin.


Coconut: There’s little advantage to choosing this, as it’s low in protein and carbs, and high in saturated fats.


Rice: Produced from milled rice and water, rice milk is naturally high in carbs and sugars, but low in protein and calcium, unless fortified.


Are any plant milks good for children?

If you want to give your children plant-based milks, it’s a good idea to discuss the best options with a dietitian first as many may not be suitable.

Of all the plant milks, soy milk comes out on top for children as it provides similar nutritional benefits to diary milk. Protein is an important part of a child’s diet, essential for normal growth and development, and soy provides a similar amount of protein to diary milk.

For children, look for a soy milk that is full fat and fortified with calcium, ideally at least 100mg per 100ml.

Rice milk is the plant milk least likely to trigger an allergy but it is still not a suitable milk substitute for children because of its low protein content.

How To Handle a Chatty Co-Worker

Chatting to colleagues at work is one of the things we’ve missed most while working from home during COVID-19. But how do you respond when a workmate talks too much?

Those small conversations you have with your workmates can be powerful interactions. Casual talk about your life, what you’re doing at the weekend, and even discussing work politics builds rapport and nurtures budding friendships.

As valuable as those conversations can be, sometimes you need to let a co-worker know that they are chatting too much and you need to get on with work. How do you do this without causing offence?

“When you have an incessant talker, you have two options,” says author and workplace advice columnist Alison Green.

“You can deal with it on a case-by-case basis as it happens, or have a big picture conversation about your need for more space to focus. The second option will probably feel more awkward in the moment, but it tends to be less exhausting in the long run.

But if you’re not ready for that – and it’s fine if you’re not – then the approach to try first is being more assertive about setting boundaries in the moment.”

Green advises saying things like:

  • “Sorry, I’m swamped today and can’t really chat!”
  • “I’d better get back to this X project, I’ve got a ton of work to do.”
  • “I’m glad your weekend was good! I can’t talk much today, got to finish up X.”
  • “Sorry to cut you off – I’ve got to get back to this.”


Liz Fosslien, co-author of No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Feelings at Work suggests a similar approach: “A great way to frame the problem is to make it about either a) your need for heads-down time to focus on and finish important work, or b) your need for more alone time,” she explains.

Fosslien also suggests setting a time in the future when you’re likely to be available and more in the mood to chat. “You can offer an alternative time to talk by adding, ‘Maybe we can grab coffee together tomorrow morning?”

If chattiness is becoming a frequent problem, it might be necessary to have a more direct conversation about it, uncomfortable as this may be. Green suggests saying: “I want to let you know that I’m trying to focus better during the day so I probably won’t be able to chat as much as we used to.”

Once you’ve said that, you’ll likely find it easier to be direct in the future.

You Like to Move It, Move It

Do you tell yourself you should move your body more? Do you feel guilty at the end of the week for not exercising enough?

This guilt-driven “should” mindset is a clue to why you might not be incorporating enough movement into your day.

Too often we turn exercise into yet another thing we have to do. Or, worse, yet another example of how we’ve failed.

Instead, start to change the way you think about movement and exercise and how it can make your life better.

Follow these steps to motivate yourself to move your body more:

1. Create a list of reasons WHY you want to exercise

Does it simply make you feel good? Does it help you with stress or sleep? Do you want more energy?

2. Imagine your life once you’ve achieved those outcomes

Take a moment to visualise your future self once you’re reaping the benefits of step 1. Imagine what your life would be like when you have lots of energy, or when you get better quality sleep, or when you feel fit.

3. Understand the real reasons why you’re putting it off

What’s actually stopping you from moving more? Unless it’s a medical condition or injury, there is something else stopping you from prioritising exercise. And it’s not time. We all have time for things we really want to do, even if it’s just scrolling through social media for half an hour before bed.

For example, you might be embarrassed about how unfit you’ve become. Or, you might not be prioritising self-care because work/family/personal issues have taken over. Find out what the problem is, so you can address it head-on.

4. Make it easier

Too often we take an all or nothing approach. We tell ourselves we’re going to run for an hour every day before breakfast. And then when we inevitably fail, we give up.

Yet, research shows that movement “snacks” can be just as effective. Start by finding 10 minutes to move your body: a brisk walk, or simply stand and roll your arms and shoulders to get the blood pumping.

Make it so easy that there’s no excuse not to do it.


The motivating magic of music for movement

Next time you take a movement break, pop on some headphones and blast some music. Numerous scientific studies have shown that music is not only motivational but can improve your exercise performance.

The best tempo for exercise is 120 beats per minute, or bpm. The five most popular 120bpm songs right now, according to jogfm, are:

  • Pink – Raise Your Glass
  • Lady Gaga – Bad Romance
  • Lady Gaga & Colby O’Donis – Just Dance
  • Journey – Don’t Stop Believin
  • Ke$ha – Tik Tok

I’m Not an Anti-Vaxxer, But…

How do you feel about the COVID-19 vaccine? If you’re unsure about its safety, we answer some of your concerns.

It’s brand new, was rapidly developed, and we don’t really know that much about the vaccine, do we?

There have been a number of studies published on COVID-19 vaccine acceptance rates around the world. Some countries, like China and Malaysia, have acceptance rates over 90%, while other countries have much lower rates. In the US, the vaccine acceptance rate was found to be 57%, while in Russia and Italy, it’s a little over 50%. Yet more countries, like Australia, hover around the 75% mark.

We don’t have to get the vaccine, but the more of us do, the safer everyone will be - particularly when international travel becomes more in reach for everyone.

Most of the reasons for hesitancy centre around the safety of the vaccine. Here are some of the most common concerns:

Concern: The vaccines have been developed too quickly

The vaccines appear to have been developed quickly. But the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis meant that all available resources and efforts, including some of the best minds in the world, were directed towards finding a vaccine.

Vaccines can be developed faster than in the past, thanks to newer technology that uses the genetic code for the virus to build the vaccine. Researchers were able to start work as soon as the genome for the virus was released in January 2020.

Clinical trials of the vaccine were also able to progress quickly because COVID-19 was widespread in many countries. This meant that differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups could be detected sooner than for a rarer disease.

Concern: There were shortcuts taken so safety was not prioritised

It’s true that COVID-19 vaccine trials were set up quickly, but this doesn’t mean that safety was compromised.

In fact, most of the vaccine trials included tens of thousands of people. This provided a larger amount of data than for many other vaccines we often get. Phase 1 and 2 trials often overlapped because safety had already been established.

In most countries, COVID-19 vaccines must meet the same high standards as any other vaccine. Once a vaccine is being used, experts and regulators continue to monitor its safety.


Concern: There may be long-term side effects

The vaccines have been tested since mid-2020, and millions of doses have now been given with very few reported adverse effects. But they continue to be monitored, with countries sharing their vaccine safety monitoring data via a global database.


For up-to-date information on the vaccines, visit your government health body’s website and look for the COVID-19 updates.

How Screens Can Affect Your Eyes

You may experience it as a headache at the end of the day. Or perhaps your eyes are sore or burning, and your vision is blurred. Theses are all signs of digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome.

Digital eye strain is more than just a work issue. Even though we can spend most of our working day in front of a screen, we often do the same when we get home. There are increasing numbers of people presenting with eye strain due to overuse of digital devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Why do devices strain our eyes?

  • When reading on a device, we tend to blink less than usual. As blinking is key to moistening the eyes, this can lead to dry, gritty, red eyes.
  • We view digital screens at less than ideal distances or angles – often way too close
  • Devices often have glare or reflection, or poor contrast between the text and the background
  • Other factors that can make symptoms worse include poor posture, incorrect setup of your computer or workstation, incorrect prescription in your glasses, and circulating air from an air conditioner or nearby fan which can further dry your eyes.

What can you do about it?

  • Take breaks. Rest your eyes by looking away from the digital screen.
  • Blink often. Remind yourself to blink regularly when looking at a screen, as this will moisten your eyes.
  • Use artificial tears. Over-the-counter artificial tears can help prevent and relieve dry eyes. Use them even when your eyes feel fine to keep them well-lubricated and prevent a recurrence of symptoms.
  • Check the lighting. Reduce the amount of overhead and surrounding light that is competing with your device’s screen.
  • Get your eyes checked. Make sure you have appropriate vision correction, and consider investing in glasses or contacts designed specifically for computer work. Ask your optometrist about lens coatings and tints that might help too.
  • Adjust your monitor and screen settings. Position your computer screen so it’s one arm’s length in front of your face and enlarge the type for easier reading. Adjust the contrast and brightness to a level that’s comfortable for you.
  • Use a document holder. If you need to refer to print material working at your computer, use a document holder, placed either between the keyboard and monitor or to one side. The goal is to reduce how much your eyes need to readjust and how often you turn your neck and head.

Bipolar Disorder: What It Means and How You Can Help

Someone tells you they have bipolar. You don’t feel you really know what it is, and you definitely don’t feel you know how to help them. Here we cover the foundations of bipolar disorder so you know what to say and how to help.

Kanye West, Winston Churchill, Mariah Carey, Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix. They have all been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a condition which involves alternating periods of intense mania (very high mood and energy) and severe depression.

Bipolar disorder tends to be episodic rather than persistent. This means people with the disorder can often have long periods of feeling fine. Their work and personal life go on as usual.

In fact, people with bipolar disorder are often highly creative, socially sensitive, perceptive, and have a strong drive to make the world better.

Extreme ups and downs

During episodes, people with bipolar disorder have extreme moods. A manic episode can feel like an extremely high mood, or feeling very active or agitated. They can have racing thoughts and rapid speech.

People describe this high as “feeling like your brakes have failed”. They can feel themselves going too far, too fast.

The depressive episode can feel like an extremely low mood with feelings of hopelessness and sadness.

For some people, these episodes can be less extreme than others. There are different types of bipolar disorder, and everyone experiences it differently.


How to support someone with bipolar disorder

  • Talk and listen

Allow and encourage them to talk about how they feel. They more we can talk about mental health at work, the healthier we’ll be.

That said, it’s important to respect their privacy. If they don’t want others to know about their mental health issues, then you mustn’t share with anyone else.

  • Ask them what helps

Your friend has probably lived with this for many years, and they know what helps and what doesn’t, both during and outside of episodes. Ask and respect their response; don’t try to problem-solve for them.

  • Encourage them to keep up with treatment

It can be tempting for people with bipolar to stop medication or stop seeing a therapist when they feel well for a long time. This can be particularly true during episodes of mania, when they feel unstoppable.

With professional treatment, bipolar disorder can be managed well. Treatments usually involve a mix of medication, therapy and lifestyle changes.

You can be the firm voice of reason reminding them to keep going with whatever treatment plan they are following.


Watch for symptoms

The up and down episodes are often pre-empted by early symptoms.

The signs of oncoming mania include:

  • Sleeping less
  • Restlessness
  • Speaking rapidly
  • Increase in activity level
  • Irritability or aggression

Depression warning signs include:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleeping more
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Change in appetite

Think You Are Too Young for A Heart Attack?

Protecting your heart when you’re in your 20s, 30s or 40s is probably the last thing on your mind. But heart attacks can – and do – happen to younger people.

Heart disease has been the world’s most common cause of death for decades. Although we think of it as an older person’s disease because your risk of heart disease increases with age, that’s not the whole story.

Research published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation found that heart attacks are increasingly occurring in younger people, especially women. The researchers studied more than 28,000 people hospitalised for heart attacks from 1995 to 2014. They found that the rate of heart attacks in patients aged 35 to 54 had increased from 27 per cent at the start of the study, to 32 per cent by the end.


How to protect your heart – whatever your age

There is no single cause for heart disease, but there are a number of risk factors. It’s never too early to improve your heart health by doing the following:

  • Quit or reduce smoking. Smokers are three times more likely to die of a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Improve your diet. What you eat and drink substantially affects four of the major heart disease risk factors – high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity. A heart-healthy diet is low in saturated fats, salt, added sugar and alcohol and rich in plant foods like fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
  • Get active. Keeping physically active gives you double benefits. It improves blood flow in the vessels around the heart as well as controlling other heart disease risk factors including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight. Work your way up to 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.

Seek treatment early

Heart disease is an older person’s disease that kills young people. Getting treatment early is vital. Call emergency services if you experience chest discomfort or pain. This can feel like uncomfortable pressure, aching, numbness, squeezing, fullness or pain, which may spread to your arms, neck, jaw or back. Other less obvious symptoms include a burning feeling in your chest and shortness of breath.

How to Cope When You Don’t Love Your Job

Fact: you won’t always love your job.

Fact: every job has parts you won’t love.

Fact: your boss has had jobs they haven’t loved either.

There are a thousand reasons why you might not love your current job.

It may have changed significantly since you took it on.

You may have taken it as a stepping stone to the kind of job you really want.

You may have accepted an opportunity cost – perhaps a less interesting job for more flexibility.

Let’s just say, for whatever reason, you’re not in your dream job right now.

Fact: you can still be happy.

Here are five ways to be happier in a job you don’t love.

  • Re-establish your why

Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking and Help! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done, says the first step is to be clear on why your job matters to you.

You might enjoy helping your colleagues solve problems, or you’re simply there to support your family. Remind yourself of this greater purpose.

  • Find a skill you can develop

It can feel amazing to find something you’re good at. Even if it’s not your “life’s purpose”, look for a skill you can develop. It could be professional or personal. Want to nail being able to do a presentation in front of a group of people? Maybe there’s a local Toastmasters group you can join, or ask if you can start one at work. Always wished you were a whiz at Excel? Look for chances to put up your hand for opportunities beyond your day-to-day job.

  • Make it bearable for others

Seek out ways to connect with people and brighten their day. It’s scientifically proven that an act of kindness makes you feel better too.

Make it a mini-challenge every day to do something kind for someone, or have an in-depth conversation and really get to know a colleague.

  • Keep a gratitude list

It’s so easy to only focus on the negative. Especially if your colleagues are also unhappy with their job, it can be tempting to wallow in misery.

Start making a list of tiny things you’re grateful for about your day. It could even be how easy the commute was this morning, or the new biscuits in the kitchen.

  • Celebrate small wins

Set yourself a definable goal each day, and congratulate yourself when you do it. No need to wait for your boss or colleagues to give you positive feedback; you can do it yourself. It doesn’t have to be big. The goal could be doing that project plan, or sending that email you’ve been putting off. No one needs to know – unless you want to encourage others to do the same!

Why You Should Add Weights to Your Workout

Walking, running, swimming, cycling – and almost any team sport – these are fabulous ways to exercise. They all boost your metabolism and help you manage your physical and mental health.

But if you want to super-charge your health, and your fitness goals, then adding some strength training can make a huge difference.

In short, weight training will help you feel better, move better, and even look better.

Strength training and weight training refer to using some kind of resistance to work your muscles. This could be free weights, weight machines, resistance bands or even your own body weight.

It’s especially important as you get older.

According to Harvard Health, the average 30-year-old will lose about a quarter of their muscle strength by age 70 and half by age 90. Without strength training, your body will become weaker over the years, and less able to do everyday things.

The proven benefits of doing weights are significant. They include:

  • stronger bones and muscles
  • better sleep
  • faster metabolism, so you can burn more kilojoules/calories at rest
  • better blood sugar control
  • improved cardiovascular fitness
  • better cholesterol levels
  • improved weight management
  • reduced lower back pain
  • relief for arthritis pain and motion range
  • increased confidence

Weight training brings some other, more surprising benefits too.

Research shows it may help reduce depression and anxiety. A Harvard analysis of 33 studies involving more than 1,800 people found that people with mild to moderate depression who did weight training at least twice a week saw significant reductions in their symptoms, compared with those who didn’t.

Strength training also helps prevent heart disease. A study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise revealed that less than an hour of weekly resistance exercise reduces the risk of developing metabolic syndrome by up to 70 per cent. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and elevated blood sugar, that raise your risk of heart disease.

Great! How do I start?

To begin with, you only need a 20-minute workout, at least two days a week. Avoid doing consecutive days, so your muscles have time to rest and rebuild.

The good news is that you don’t need to join a gym to get started. You can use your own body weight with exercises such as pushups, lunges and squats. Check out free videos on YouTube with a search terms such as “strength training at home no equipment”. If you can get to a gym, ask the instructors to show you how to use the equipment.

Remember, you won’t see results straight away, but you’ll probably feel the benefits. It takes around four to eight weeks to see any visible difference in your body, depending on how much exercise you did before and how often you train.

If you have an underlying health condition, check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.


Cardio or weights?

Which is better?

If you’ve only got 45 minutes for a workout, should you spend that precious time on cardio or weights?

This debate has been raging among health professionals for years, with most agreeing the answer is “both” and “it depends”.

And certainly, if you want to build muscle, then weights and strength training is the best choice. Likewise, if you want to be able to run long distances, then cardio would help you reach your goals.

But what about the rest of us? Those who exercise to feel good and be healthier?

A combination of both is best. You can achieve this by either separating your workouts – for example, warming up on a treadmill at the gym and then moving over to the weights – or by combining body weight exercises such as burpees or jumping squats.

What to Do If You Are Low in Iron

You may put your fatigue down to a busy job, or the demands of a growing family. But it could also be due to iron deficiency – and it’s easily fixed.

Feeling wiped out? Finding it hard to concentrate? Picking up every bug going around? Or maybe you can’t exercise at the intensity you used to, find yourself getting breathless walking up a gentle hill, or notice you’re often a little dizzy or lightheaded. It’s time to see your GP, as these are all signs of iron deficiency.


What does iron do?

You learnt at school that iron transports oxygen around the body in your blood, but it’s also involved in energy production and immune function. So if you’re not getting enough iron – due to insufficient intake from your diet or a problem absorbing it – you can end up with a whole range of symptoms from fatigue, brittle nails and pale skin to dizziness, cold hands and feet and trouble concentrating. You can even develop unusual cravings for substances such as ice or dirt, a condition known as pica.


Who is most likely to be lacking in iron?

Worldwide, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder. Those most at risk include menstruating women (because of blood loss), pregnant and lactating women, babies and toddlers, teenage girls and female athletes.

There’s also some evidence that globally, vegetarians and vegans are more at risk too, because they don’t eat any meat or fish – foods that contain the more absorbable form of iron called haem iron. However, vegetarians who eat a well-balanced diet are no more likely to have iron deficiency anaemia than non-vegetarians.


If I think I’m low in iron, should I take a supplement?

It’s important to hold off on the supplements until you know iron is the problem.

The only reliable way of telling if you are iron deficient is through a blood test, so always visit your doctor to get checked out. All those symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness and breathlessness can indicate other health conditions, too. Incorrectly self-diagnosing can be dangerous and may delay you getting the treatment you need.

Another reason not to rush into buying iron supplements is that even if you are iron deficient it may not be a problem with your diet. You could have difficulties absorbing iron due to a gastrointestinal disorder such as coeliac disease, or you’ve been a bit heavy handed with zinc supplements, which can affect iron absorption too.

Taking additional iron when you don’t need to can also interfere with your body’s absorption of other vital minerals, such as zinc and copper.

And if you do need supplements, always take them exactly as your doctor advises. That’s because the human body isn’t particularly good at excreting iron, and you could poison yourself if you take more than the recommended dose.

Children are especially at risk of iron toxicity, so always keep iron supplements tightly capped and out of children’s reach.


Should I eat more red meat?

Depending on your level of deficiency, you may be able to restore your iron levels through eating more iron-rich foods. While red meat is a particularly good source of iron, some actually get most of their iron from non-meat sources, such as wholegrains.

Good source of iron include:

  • Meat, poultry, organ meats like liver, and seafood. These contain the more absorbable heme iron.
  • Wholegrains, and iron-fortified breakfast cereals and breads.
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and kale; dried fruits including raisins, prunes and dried apricots; nuts and seeds; and legumes such as dried beans, peas, lentils, and soy beans (including tofu).

Vitamin C increases iron absorption, so eat plenty of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables with your meals.

Avoid tea and coffee around mealtimes as the tannins in them can bind to iron, making it harder for your body to absorb.