Eat Smarter

Capsicum: which colour is better?

You are in the produce aisle and you are faced with a choice of red, yellow or green capsicums – possibly even orange too. Which one gives you the most nutritional bang for your buck?

Firstly, it is good to know that these are all the same vegetable: red, yellow and orange capsicums are just riper versions of green capsicums. They all have the same macronutrients, as in fibre, protein, carbohydrates.

However, the micronutrients do vary.

In a battle of the capsicums, red would win on phytonutrients and vitamins. Compared to green capsicums, red capsicums have almost 11 times more beta-carotene and one and a half times more vitamin C.

The yellow ones still have more vitamin C than the green ones, but less than the red version.

In short, red, yellow and orange capsicums have higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants, but they are often more expensive. Green capsicums are still a very good source of fibre along with vitamins A, C and E, plus iron and zinc.

Not sure what a capsicum is? They are also known as bell peppers, sweet peppers or peppers in many places.

7 Ways to Sleep Better in the Heat

Hot, humid nights do not have to spell disaster for your sleep.

To get deep, restorative sleep your body needs to cool down before bedtime and stay cool. But hot temperatures make this much harder, leaving you waking unrefreshed and irritable. Here are some simple tips to help you beat the heat.

1. Keep curtains and blinds closed. Stop your bedroom getting too hot during the day by closing your curtains or blinds when it is forecast to be hot.

2. Do not exercise close to bedtime.

Exercise during the morning or day can benefit your sleep, as it expends energy, which helps you feel more tired in the evening. But exercise too close to bedtime and it can cause your body temperature to spike, making it more difficult to fall asleep when you need to.

3. Take a shower. Cool your body with a cool or tepid shower before bed. If you wake in the night and cannot fall back asleep, have another cool shower.

4. Use a fan. The ideal sleeping temperature is around 17 to 19 degrees Celsius, says the Sleep Health Foundation. Unless you have air-conditioning, this is hard to achieve, so you will need to have air flowing over your skin to offload heat from your body. Ceiling fans are useful here, but any type of small or pedestal fan will make a difference.

5. Open a window. An open window can help circulate the air as it cools overnight, but unless you have a flyscreen it can also let in mosquitoes and flies. Hanging a wet sheet in front of an open window will cool the air entering your bedroom (and may prevent mozzies from entering too).

6. Reduce bedding and bed clothes. Expose as much of your skin to the air as possible with light clothing such as sleeveless tops, loose-fitting shorts, underwear or nothing at all if that is comfortable.

Invest in sheets and pillowcases made from natural fibres like cotton, linen or bamboo, which are more breathable than those made from synthetic fabric.

If you like sleeping with a sheet, have it loosely draped over the bed so you can stick your feet out in the middle of the night – this can actually cool you down!

Your temperature reaches a low point between 3am and 5am, so keep a light blanket close by.

7. Stay hydrated. If you cannot lower the temperature of your room your body will cool you down through sweating. Make sure you go to bed well hydrated, and keep some water near your bed to make sure you can replenish the liquid you are losing.

How to Support a Struggling Mate

When you notice a friend is going through a tough time, it can be hard to know how to help them. What do you say? What if it opens up a whole can of worms that you cannot cope with? What if they get offended?

Here are two expert tools you can use:


ALEC was developed by R U OK? Day, and is recommended by Movember.

It is a four-step process to help you navigate a conversation with a friend who might be doing it tough.

This explanation of ALEC comes from Movember.

A stands for Ask

Start by asking how he is feeling. It is worth mentioning any changes you have picked up on.

Use a prompt like, “You have not seemed yourself lately – are you feeling OK?”

You might have to ask twice. People often say “I’m fine” when they are not, so do not be afraid to ask twice. You can use something specific you have noticed, like, “It is just that you have not been replying to my texts, and that is not like you.”

L is for listen

Give him your full attention. Let him know you are hearing what he is saying and you are not judging. You do not have to diagnose problems or offer solutions.

Ask questions along the way, such as, “That cannot be easy – how long have you left this way?”

R U OK? adds this suggestion: Remind them whilst the distress they are feeling at this point in time may be overwhelming, it would not be permanent, and having a plan and support network is a great way of handling the distress.

E is for encourage action

Help him focus on simple things that might improve how he feels. Is he getting enough sleep? Is he exercising and eating well? Maybe there was something that had helped in the past – it is worth asking.

Suggest that he share how he is feeling with others he trusts, including his GP or a mental health professional. This will make things easier for both of you.

C is for check in

Suggest you catch up soon – in person if you can. If you cannot manage a meet-up, make time for a call, or drop him a message. This helps to show that you care; plus, you will get a feel for whether he is feeling any better.

2. The conversation practice tool

On their website, Movember offers a tool that allows you to practise a conversation ahead of time. You can use suggested prompts, or practise conversations for particular situations such as a relationship breakup.

The Problem with Salt

You need it to survive, but too much and you risk major health issues. We look at where salt is, and how to use less.

Salt is made up of sodium and chloride. Of these two elements, it is the sodium that is the problem. We need a small amount of sodium to stay alive – to conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals.

But because most of us eat twice the recommended amount of salt, we end up with too much sodium in our blood. The body then holds onto water to dilute the sodium, increasing the volume of blood in the bloodstream. This can lead to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and premature death.

“High blood pressure is the biggest cause of death in the world,” said Graham MacGregor, a UK professor of cardiovascular medicine and chair of the campaigning group Action on Salt, in the Guardian online.

“Sixty per cent of strokes are due to high blood pressure, and 50 per cent of all heart disease is due to raised blood pressure.”

Even if high blood pressure is not a concern for you, MacGregor explains that a high salt diet can cause you to excrete more calcium. This makes it more likely that your bones will thin as you age, putting you at risk of osteoporosis.


How to eat less salt

  • Cut back on overly processed and packaged foods. This is where you will find 75 per cent of the salt we consume. The worst offenders are salty snack foods, packaged ‘ready meals’, burgers and pizza, processed meats such as ham and bacon, and certain sauces and condiments.
  • Read labels. Surprisingly, foods we do not think of as salty can contain high amounts too, such as bread and breakfast cereals, so it pays to compare products. Food labels in many countries list total sodium content, so choose products with less than 400mg sodium per 100g, ideally less than 120mg per 100g.
  • Cook your own meals. Cooking with fresh, unprocessed ingredients means you can control the amount of salt you use, and eating fewer takeaway and pre-packaged meals will automatically lower your salt intake.
  • Use salt alternatives. Herbs, spices, lemon juice and vinegars in your cooking can add flavour with less sodium. You can also buy low-sodium versions of traditional high-salt products, like soy sauce. Over time your tastebuds adapt to less salt, and food starts to taste better.

Eat Smarter


Prunes have suffered something of an image problem in the past, due to their well-known role in treating constipation. But the benefits of prunes, or dried plums, go way beyond your digestive health.

  • Bone strength. A 2022 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating five or six prunes a day helped women past menopause to preserve bone mineral density in their hips, which could translate to a lower risk of osteoporosis and fewer bone breaks. And it is not because of calcium. The researchers speculated that the daily handful of prunes lowered inflammatory chemicals that contribute to bone breakdown.
  • Blood sugar. Despite being fairly high in carbs, prunes do not cause a substantial rise in blood sugar levels. The fibre in prunes slows the rate your body absorbs carbs after a meal, and prunes also appear to increase levels of adiponectin, a hormone that plays a role in blood sugar regulation.
  • Heart health. A number of studies has found that prunes benefit your heart. Eating prunes and drinking prune juice improved levels of HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol, decreased ‘bad’ or LDL cholesterol and lowered blood pressure. It is thought that the combination of fibre, potassium and antioxidants is what makes prunes heart protective.

World Osteoporosis Day is 20 October. For more information on bone health, visit

1 Thing You Can Do Today

Shed a tear or two

When you are watching a sad movie, listening to a sad song, or remembering a sad event, how easy is it for you to have a good cry? If you rarely cry because you are uncomfortable, seeing it as a weakness or a loss of control, you could be missing out. Crying, it turns out, is a healthy response, and can benefit you in many ways:

  • Releases stress. We carry around a lot of stress and when we cry in response to this, our tears contain a number of stress hormones and other chemicals. Researchers think crying can reduce the levels of these chemicals in the body, which in turn may reduce stress.
  • Can improve mood. A surprising finding, but crying may lift your spirits and help you feel better. It is all down to the hormone oxytocin and feel-good chemicals called endorphins that are released when you cry, which, incidentally, can also help reduce pain.
  • Soothes your emotions. One study found that crying can have a self-soothing effect. Self-soothing is when you are able to regulate your own emotions and calm yourself. The study explained that crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps people relax.

While crying can be a healthy response, if continuing sad thoughts are causing you distress, seek support from your doctor or mental health professional.

How to Talk About Candy with Your Children

It is Halloween at the end of this month, and for anyone with children, that can mean candy. Lots and lots of candy.

It is a tricky situation: you do not want your children eating too much sugar (and all those artificial additives). And yet you want your children to grow up seeing food as a source of joy, not shame.

You know from experience that if you deny yourself a certain food, you end up craving it. We tend to want what we cannot have.

So how should you handle it?

Registered dietitian and producer of Nutrition for Littlies, Alyssa Miller, says there is nothing wrong with sweet food. It is just an intense source of instant energy.

“In the end, we want to raise conscious eaters, who know how foods affect their body and how to eat all foods in a way that makes them feel good,” says Miller.

She says to keep focusing on how foods make us feel instead of warning your children they will be sick if they eat too many Halloween lollies, say something like, “My belly gets a little upset when I eat too much candy, I think I will have a few tonight and save some for another day.”

If – or when you eat candy, stop yourself from saying things like “I’m being bad tonight” or “I’m going to have to go to the gym tomorrow.”

Remember: no food is “bad”, and eating is not something that should ever be punished.

When You Eat Matters More Than You Think

What you eat is important, no question. But what about when you eat? We shine a light on how the timing of your meals can affect your health.

The time of the day you eat most of your food can affect your weight, appetite, chronic disease risk and your body’s ability to burn and store fat.

It is called “chrononutrition”, and it is an emerging area of research that looks at how the timing of your meals affects your circadian rhythm.

Do not eat too much, too late

People whose largest meal is in the evening may be heavier and have bigger blood fats and blood sugar after eating, found a 2020 review of studies published the Journal of Neurochemistry.

But before you get too alarmed, this does not mean you have to skip dinner or go to bed hungry.

“Nothing bad is going to happen if you eat a balanced dinner earlier in the evening, or have a small protein-rich snack to quell hunger pangs before you go to bed,” says dietitian Abby Langer.

“Your body knows what to do with the food you consume in the dark, trust me.”

Alan Flanagan, author of the 2020 study, agrees, saying it is more about thinking about total energy distribution throughout the whole day.

“In people with impaired glucose control [higher than normal blood sugar levels] the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of greater distribution of total daily energy earlier in the days,” he says.

“When over 35 per cent of energy comes later in the day, that’s pretty consistently associated with increased BMI, body fat percentage, and cardiometabolic risk, in particular diabetes risk.”

Other studies from 2022 supported these conclusions, finding:

  • People were significantly hungrier than they had a late-eating compared to early-eating schedule.
  • Later eating caused people to burn less fat and fewer calories, and pushed their fat cells to store more fat.
  • Earlier eaters had greater improvements in their blood sugar, cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity (a marker of diabetes risk) and lost more weight than later eaters.

Making it work for you

It is not practical for many of us to eat our largest meal in the morning, so how can you optimise your health without too much disruption?

  • Do not skip breakfast. This does not mean you have to eat as soon as you get up, but try to eat the majority of your calories during the morning and afternoon.
  • Aim to eat dinner earlier in the evening. Avoid sitting down at 10pm to eat. Instead, if you are a late eater, start by moving your meal at least one hour earlier than usual, aiming to eat dinner no later than two to three hours before bed.
  • Lighten the load. Make dinner a meal that is chock full of vegetables rather than carbohydrates, and switch to eating most of your carbs (bread, pasta etc) to earlier in the day when you are more sensitive to insulin. You will still gain benefits even if you can only do this for four or five days a week.

Can You Pass This 10 Second Test?

It will give you clues on your longevity and future quality of life.

This test is a powerful predictor of mortality, according to its creator, Dr Jonathan Myers, a professor at Stanford University, USA.

One in five people cannot do it.

The test? Stand on one leg for 10 seconds.

You have three tries to achieve it.

Why does balance matter?

Many people take their balance for granted, until it is taken away by eye or ear conditions, or general ageing.

Yet it turns out it is a vitally important clue to your health, now and into the future.

In 2022, a team of researchers from Brazil, Finland, USA, UK and Australia published research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

They reported that inability to pass the 10 second balance test was associated with a twofold risk of death from any cause within 10 years.

Without good balance, you are more prone to falls. And falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide.


How to improve your balance

If you tried the test and found it hard, do not worry. Balance can be improved through simple and low-cost balance training.

Balance is strongly related to strength. The stronger your muscles, particularly big muscles like your legs and core, the better your balance is likely to be.

Physiotherapists recommend these exercises to work on your balance:

1. Start by changing your “base of support”. That is, the surface you are standing on, for example:

  • balance on one leg
  • balance with your feet one in front of the other, like you are standing on a tightrope
  • stand on something unstable, such as cushions, a foam mat or wobble board.

2. Add a change to your visual input

While trying any movement from point 1, try closing your eyes, turning your head or moving your eyes from side to side or up and down. This will challenge your vestibular system or inner ear.

3. Add dynamic movement

While doing 1 and 2, try movement such as:

  • moving your arms, legs or torso
  • holding weights in your hands or as ankle weights
  • combine more complicated movements like walking along an imaginary tightrope

What Happens When Your Thoughts Are Not Helpful

We all have habitual, automatic ways of thinking, and we are often so used to these thoughts that it never occurs to us to challenge them.

Yet for many of us, these ways of thinking are making us miserable.

You probably do not realise you are doing it. But chances are that at some point today, you have had thoughts or made assumptions that are deeply unhelpful – and probably incorrect.

You are not alone. It turns out many of us share the same unhelpful thinking styles. Here we outline the four most common patterns, with advice from a clinical psychologist on how to overcome them.

  • All-or-nothing thinking

Also called black-white thinking, this thinking style only allows one extreme or another, with nothing in between. You are either good or bad, perfect or a failure. You do not allow yourself the compassion to see yourself as a flawed but wonderful human.

Clinical Psychologist Dr Gemma Healey advises: “Try catching these thoughts and saying ‘Ah, there’s the ‘I‘m not good enough’ story’, or ‘Ah, there’s the I’m a failure story’.”

  • Catastrophising

When you take a small problem and imagine the worst outcome possible, you are catastrophising. You might make a mistake in your job, and then imagine that you will lose your job, lose your home and lose your family because of your failure.

Dr Healey says: try allowing your thoughts to come and go on their own without hooking into them. You can do this by imagining your thoughts as leaves floating by on a stream, as cars travelling on the freeway, or as clouds floating in the sky.

  • Shoulding and musting

Whenever you notice yourself saying “should” or “must”, it is a sign you could be setting yourself unfair expectations.

While sometimes it can be helpful, such as “I should wear safety equipment for this job”, it is more usually associated with blame and guilt. “I should be less emotional”, or “I should not eat so much.”

Dr Healey says: “When you notice yourself should-ing or must-ing try and bring some flexibility into the rule by softening it to something like “It would be nice if…”, or ”I would prefer it if…”.”

  • Overgeneralising

If you have even grabbed onto one negative thing that happened in the past, and assumed it will always keep happening over and over, you are overgeneralising. It is the classic, “this always happens to me” type of thinking, similar to “I never get things right”, or “people always misunderstand me”. Words like “always” and “never” are strong clues.

Dr Healey’s advice is to notice and challenge the thought. Ask yourself, “Is it true that I never…? Can I think of situations where this has not applied?”


How to catch your thoughts

The problem with thought patterns like unhelpful thinking is that we often do not realise we are doing it.

The key to overcoming unhelpful thinking is to start to tune in and notice the thoughts. This takes practice.

Each day, take 5-10 minutes to practice noticing your thoughts. Go somewhere you will not be disturbed and take some deep breaths to quieten your mind.

Then start noticing the thoughts that go through your mind. Try not to judge them or get caught up in them. Simply notice. Then you can start to recognise some of the styles listed here.

This helps you separate yourself from negative thoughts, so you have more choice in how you respond to each thought.