Recommended Nutrient Intake


“I am looking for “naturopaths’ advice” on vitamins and minerals levels -zinc, magnesium, calcium, chromium, iron, B12, D, C etc. I know the GPs recommended levels, which are not the optimum levels, I would like to know where I can find the “real” levels we actually need.”


GP’s recommended nutrient levels, so long as the GP in question is staying up to date with changes, are generally coming from the best research available at the time. You can access this information via government websites such as this:

As you can see from this Australian Government page about Nutrient Reference Values, there are quite a few different methods used, with the approach used and amounts recommended varying between countries. It really isn’t as cut and dried as you might think: there is no definitive “ideal nutrient intake” list. Researchers, organisations, governments and countries don’t necessarily all agree, and the lists we do have are a ‘best guess’ for the average person.

This is very helpful, and the information provided by government bodies is probably some of the best we have available to us, but it’s important to recognise the following:

*Recommendations change as ongoing research brings new information to light, and too much of a supplement can be just as concerning as a nutrient deficiency. What is advised as best practise now won’t necessarily be considered best practise in 5 years time. We have only to look at past and present changes in nutrition knowledge and government recommendations to see this in action. For example, nutrition textbooks in the past used to rate non-heme iron (iron from plants) as inferior to heme iron (iron from meat), because there is a poorer absorption rate from plant-based iron. What we now know is that using plants as our source of iron ensures the body (a highly intelligent system) has control over the absorption efficiency, adjusting intake to suit needs. Our body can’t do this with heme-iron: we have to absorb it whether we need it or not, and too much iron isn’t good for us. I’ll keep using iron as my example to illustrate what I’m talking about through the rest of this blog.

*”Optimum” doesn’t automatically equate with “more”. Just because something is bad for you when its absent (eg a nutrient deficiency) doesn’t automatically mean that having bucket-loads of it is going to be good for you. If you are deficient, supplementation can be a life-changer, yes; but provide more than is needed to correct the deficiency, and at best, you are wasting money and resources. You might even be doing yourself some harm.

We seem to have a strange obsession with getting MORE nutrition all the time, often forcing supplements into bodies that don’t needs them, in forms that are alien to the body, and in combinations or ratios that are unnatural and can contribute to imbalances. It isn’t easy to get rid of iron once it’s in our body, which is why its a smart idea not to overload it in the first place. Iron is a pro-oxidant, so too much can damage DNA and other molecules. High iron intakes are being associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer (esp colorectal).

So if I had an iron deficiency, an iron supplement could be highly beneficial to me. But if I didn’t, that supplement might be contributing to some pretty significant disease progression. And we are only just learning this about iron now! Yes, some estimates for recommended daily intake are too low, but some may be too high. I err on the side of caution by sourcing my nutrition from food rather than supplements (where possible) and letting the wisdom of my body sort out what is best for me. I try to provide my body with a broad range of nutrients from a diverse range of whole plant foods, while limiting my intake of empty calories and processed (nutrient-stripped) foods. I also try to avoid behaviours that chew up nutrients eg not sleeping properly, getting stressed etc.

*There is a big difference between a recommended daily intake (which is the average daily amount needed to keep the average person in good health) and a supplemental range, which is the amount needed to correct a nutrient deficiency or when using a supplement as a form of therapy for a specific illness. The supplemental range is much higher than the RDI, and it’s probably this range you are thinking of, rather than the more normal daily intake we need to avoid a deficiency.

It really isn’t a good idea to take supplements at these higher doses for ongoing periods of time, without professional guidance. And to be perfectly honest, I think most of us professionals are a wee bit over-confident about our knowledge of the body and nutrition, and some are tending to overdose people. Let me give you an insight into the complexities of nutrition for a moment: I’ve already told you about how iron absorption changes depending on whether the iron is coming from a plant or an animal… Absorption also changes in response to your age, sex, medical conditions, the way foods and/or supplements are combined, the way food is cooked etc.

If you are a woman who is pregnant, your needs are higher than those needed for a man, and your iron absorption rate will increase dramatically to compensate for this. The health of your stomach has a big influence over iron absorption and drugs that decrease stomach acid can seriously hinder iron absorption. Mind you, so can a strong cup of tea eaten with your meals; or that course of antibiotics you just took; or the pain-killers you’ve been using; or the calcium, zinc, and/or magnesium supplements you’ve been taking.

And it really isn’t all just about provision and absorption; equally significant are the things you do that increase or decrease your body’s demand for a nutrient. Yes, the iron needs to be present in our diet and absorption needs to be working well and managed by the natural intelligence of the body… but once it gets into the blood stream one person’s use and excretion of absorbed iron might be greater or lesser than another’s.

*The recommendations are averages, drawn from research into large groups of people. Good reference charts will provide nutrient recommendations for different sexes and stages of life, for example, but even then, individual needs are quite variable. Nutrition is actually very complex: my need for iron might be a lot less than another person’s need for iron, because I don’t have a highly processed diet and I don’t pop calcium tablets ‘just in case’. But if I have digestive problems or a caffeine addiction, my need for iron might be higher. The RDI for iron gives me a broad idea about the average amount needed in my diet, and this is a good starting point, but it doesn’t tell me anything about my own individual needs. Again, my philosophy is to stick with foods rather than supplements where possible, because:

  1. It’s pretty difficult to overdose on nutrients that come from real food.
  2. The nutrient array in whole plant foods is perfectly designed by nature in ideal ratios.
  3. When a nutrient comes from a whole food, it’s in a natural form that my body recognises and can take or leave, depending in it’s own intelligent self-assessment of its needs at that time. Nutrients work best when they are combined with other nutrients in specific ratios. This is called ‘synergism’. Some of the synergistic nutrients for iron include Vitamins B2 and 12, Vitamin C, lysine, molybdenum, folic acid, selenium, histadine and copper.
  4. I know that the list of needed nutrients for good health is much bigger than the current nutrients that are being focused on. For example, I’m keen on immuno-modulating polysaccharides, mucilages and bioflavonoids… and I can’t get these in a pill.

The Super Hero

I had a lovely morning talking with my daughter and she has inspired some blogs. Here’s the first one, before I forget everything she told me!

“I don’t understand. You get these people who go vegan, but they haven’t done their research and they aren’t eating properly, and they get sick, and then instead of fixing up their diet, they just decide veganism is bad for them and they stop altogether. Where’s the sense in that?

It’s like being a super hero and burning out because you are saving too many people and doing it all night when you should be sleeping. So you go to the doctor and you ask him for advice and he says ‘Oh you should stop being a super hero, it’s bad for you’.

If you really loved helping and saving people, you wouldn’t accept a lame kind of response like that. You’d think ‘This doctor is useless. If he was a decent doctor, he’d say ‘Let me help you organise your time and energy better, and set some limits on how much work you do and when, so that you can keep doing what you love’.” Continue reading

The Two Wolves

Once upon a time, or so the Cherokee legend goes, a young Indian boy received a beautiful drum as a gift. When his best friend saw it, he asked if he could play with it, but the boy felt torn. He didn’t want to share his new present, so he angrily told his friend, “No!”

His friend ran away, and the boy sat down on a rock by the stream to contemplate his dilemma. He hated the fact that he had hurt his friend’s feelings, but the drum was too precious to share. In his quandary, he went to his grandfather for advice.

The elder listened quietly and then replied. “I often feel as though there are two wolves fighting inside me. One is mean and greedy and full or arrogance and pride, but the other is peaceful and generous. All the time they are struggling, and you, my boy, have those same two wolves inside you.”

“Which one will win?”, asked the boy.

The elder smiled and said “The one you feed.”

This story, told in How God changes your Brain, by Newburg and Waldman (neurotheology), is a wonderful example of the power of therapeutic story-telling. Stories can help us see ourselves more clearly. They give us visual metaphors to describe intangible feelings inside us, along with new strategies for managing our challenges. Continue reading

Injury healing and tissue repair- Part 2

In Part 1 we looked at the role of inflammation in wound repair and the management of inflammation. Part 2 is about tissue perfusion. A lot of this information is applicable for preventing tissue damage in the first place and explores practises that ensure better recovery. Injuries, wounds etc obviously come in many different forms, so this information is general only.

What are tissues? Tissues are groups of cells that are bound together or are working together as a team to do a special job. You could think of cells as being the bricks in the house, and tissues as being the walls i.e. the bricks/cells combine together to form the walls/tissues. Just as cells combine to create tissues, tissues combine to create organs. Using our house building analogy, an organ would be a group of walls working together to become a room! And all of our organs working together as a team are the equivalent of the house as a whole.

Good tissue perfusion is a good blood supply to the tissues. Good tissue perfusion is really helpful when it comes to repairing wounds and/or reducing excess inflammation. When enough blood is being delivered to our body tissues, the cells in our tissues are being nourished with nutrients and oxygen from our blood. As well as delivering what the cells need to survive and thrive, our blood also helps to remove waste products from the tissues and cells, which is just as important for maintaining healthy tissue and cellular function. Continue reading

Injury healing and tissue repair – Part 1

 Managing inflammation


Inflammation is often what causes pain but it’s important to understand that inflammation is the bodies attempt to repair a wound and resolve or prevent infection. When there is a broken bone or broken skin, inflammation is the magical process that helps knit everything back together again.

A little bit of inflammation is natural and helpful, but quite often when it comes to healing, it can help to dampen the inflammation process slightly, because our Western/modern diet and lifestyle tends to tip inflammation into overdrive or to steer it in unhelpful directions that hinder rather than help healing.

In some scenarios, inflammation is a natural response to irritation and friction. For example, in osteoarthritis the loss of friction-avoiding, shock-absorbing cartilage means that bones start to touch and rub against each other. This causes inflammation. Friction-based inflammation can occur on a day-to-day basis when we neglect our posture, put too much pressure on the musculoskeletal system by being overweight or ignore injuries and continue to aggravate them rather than resting and getting help to recover properly. One of the most important things you can do to prevent inflammation is to avoid sitting too much, pushing your body too hard, and engaging in repetitive physical movements that result in wear and tear of specific muscles and joints.

If you are in pain, it pays to ask yourself ‘is there something I am doing (or not doing, such as stretching and walking) that might be causing this inflammation/pain?’ If you ignore early warning signs and don’t take reparative action, this acute (short term) inflammation can become chronic (long term) inflammation. You can recover from acute inflammation, but chronic inflammation does physical damage to tissues that can be irreparable. When inflammation is caused by mechanical problems, the most important response is to become more aware of the way you move your body and make positive changes to prevent further damage and give your body space to heal. You can back this up with dietary and lifestyle changes and herbal medicine, but let me tell you a bit more about inflammation before we get to that.

Inflammation can also occur when the immune system is a bit muddled up. There are a range of issues that contribute to immune dysfunction. The immune system can become muddled up when our body’s microbiome is out of balance, especially our gut flora. Our gut flora can be negatively affected by an unhealthy fibre-lacking diet containing too much refined sugar and processed foods. It can also be impacted by the use of antibiotics, too much alcohol and other drugs (both prescribed and recreational), stress, sleep-deprivation and an over-sterile environment. Food sensitivities have a massive role to play in immune system dysfunction, as do viral infections and burn-out, all of which can often be well-managed by a naturopath or herbalist.


*Don’t ignore pain and discomfort- address these issues with rest, recovery and rehabilitation so that you don’t do permanent damage.

*Avoid saturated fats, excess omega-6 fats and trans fats (i.e. animal products and processed foods), as these are inflammatory.

* If you are over-weight, get some help with weight loss. Being over-weight puts extra load-bearing pressure on joints and contributes to inflammation in the body.

*Don’t over-eat as this increases the immune response, leading to excess inflammation.

*Avoid refined sugar (including white flour and white flour products like white pasta and white bread) as these contribute to both weight gain and inflammation due to their negative effect on bowel flora.

*Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics and hand sanitisers.

*Avoid inactivity. A sedentary lifestyle increases inflammation, particularly for women.

*Avoid repetitive movements and poor posture (both of which cause wear and tear).

*Excess exercise can cause inflammation (but this can be balanced with anti-inflammatory herbs and diet).

*Don’t smoke! Smoking is inflammatory.

*Address high blood sugar and blood pressure (both can be addressed with diet)

*Manage stress! Reduce triggers and learn stress-management skills.

*Address unbalanced hormones as they can contribute to inflammation (get help from herbalist/naturopath).

*Avoid foods that you are allergic or sensitive to, or that you can’t digest properly, and consider working with a naturopath/herbalist to improve digestion.

*Avoid vitamin D deficiency. If you can’t get sunlight, take a supplement.


*Whole plant foods in general, due to the anti-inflammatory phytonutrient content and the fibre content, which supports healthy gut flora.

*Plenty of healthy omega 3’s from foods like linseeds, chia seeds, edamame, black beans, kidney beans, pumpkin and walnuts.

*Arthritic joints can be supported with legumes and soy due to the isoflavones and lignans, beautiful phytoestrogens that reduce oestrogen excess and it’s effect on arthritic joints.

*Foods rich in antioxidants reduce inflammation, such as citrus, berries, kiwifruit, pumpkin, capsicum, sweet potatoes, cabbage, melons, broccoli, olives and avocados.

*Maintain a healthy weight with regular exercise, stretching and good posture.

*Flavones (a phyto- or plant- nutrient) are anti-inflammatory eg parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano, capsicum, artichoke, celery, chamomile, biacal skullcap, dandelion flowers and leaves, lemon balm, peppermint and perilla.

*Quercetin (A flavonol) is anti-inflammatory, and found in onion, kale, broccoli, cranberry, black currant, green tea, fennel, hawthorn, gingko.

*Anthocyanidins are anti-inflammatory, and found in blueberry, blackberry, elderberry, currants, raspberries, red/purple cabbage, eggplant and colourful potatoes, and dark leafy greens.

*Gallic acid is anti-inflammatory and found in nuts, berries and grapes.

*Eat legumes, which contain anti-inflammatory compounds such as coumarins, saponins and good quality fibre.

*Anti-inflammatory herbs not mentioned so far include echinacea, withania, bilberry, gotu kola, turmeric, licorice, calendula, devil’s claw, eyebright, feverfew, ginger, golden rod, bupleurum, horsechestnut, tiensi ginseng, rehmannia, saw palmetto, wild yam, andrographis, yarrow, nettle leaf etc

In Part two, we will be looking at tissue perfusion and the role it plays in healing. 

Probiotics, prebiotics and gut flora

Taking a probiotic or fermented food can be helpful to our gut flora but only to an extent. They really don’t survive long if they aren’t being fed and the quantity of microbes in the tablets or fermented food compared to the the population in the gut itself…. well, think of it as being a bit like asking one doctor to service an entire hospital. A mere drop in the ocean so to speak!

Probiotics and fermented foods can add new strains (species) but they don’t do a lot to really boost numbers. What really makes a difference is your diet. Within days of changing what you eat, your gut flora changes too, because it’s your diet that boosts or starves each strain. And the healthiest bacterial populations in our gut feed on plant foods (indigestible fibre) so this is what we need in order to nurture and build a thriving healthy gut environment. Animal products don’t contribute to this healthy population because they don’t contain fibre. In fact, by having too much animal foods in your diet, you risk starving your healthy gut flora, and as I’ve pointed out previously, this can lead to inflammation both in the gut and the body as a whole.

Given that the microbes in your supplemental probiotic can die so quickly after being consumed if you don’t feed them, it makes sense to take your probiotic with your plant-based meal. This gives them a fighting chance for survival. But to really boost the population, make every meal a plant-based meal!

Fermented foods are a nice package deal because they already contain some fibre to feed the bacteria, and naturopathic blends often contain a mix of probiotics and prebiotics (prebiotics being the fibrous food our gut flora/bacteria feed on).

Another thing I would like to point out is there are many bacterial strains we might benefit from that aren’t necessarily going to be found in a probiotic or a fermented food. Probably one of the best ways to access new species is to live a little closer to nature and loosen our obsession with cleanliness. I often make a joke when people do things that seem slightly less than hygienic by modern standards, that they are ‘expanding their microbiome’. In other words, they are building diversity amongst the microbial populations that inhabit their body. Living with pets, going camping or hiking, and being less stringent with personal and household hygiene (i.e. don’t use strong chemicals, use natural and preferably edible products) are smart ways to expand your microbiome.

Lastly, and I know this will be a controversial thing for me to say and I won’t be popular for saying it, but why aren’t we asking questions about what happens to our gut flora when we use colonic irrigation? The best microflora you could possibly start your life with are the microbes you are seeded with from your mother’s vagina during a natural vaginal birth, microbes that are vital to the development of your immune system. Every ‘cleansing’ assault on the gut, whether it be from antibiotics or colonics, is diminishing the diversity of this original population and there are no guarantees you will ever get these back again. You certainly won’t be able to replace them with a probiotic, neither in terms of quantity, nor variety.

The best cleansing, scouring action you can give your gut is a whole-foods plant based diet. The fibre in this diet will cleanse and strengthen the gut lining while also nourishing the gut flora that keep it healthy. And the best ‘probiotic’ is a whole-foods plant-based diet and a more natural lifestyle.


Nourish rather than destroy

Your microbiome is your personal ecosystem of microbes that live in and on your body. Microbes are small organisms, e.g. bacteria and viruses, more commonly known as ‘germs’ or ‘bugs’. These microbes out-number our cells 10 to 1, and while most of us think of microbes as being bad, the vast majority of microbes within and around us are friendly or benign. Many of the microbes that share our body with us are vital to the function of body systems, and we could not survive without them. While most of them live in our gut, they inhabit every surface of our body that comes into contact with the outside world, such as our skin, throat, nose, lungs, bladder, vagina and so on.

A healthy balance of microbes in your body is very important to the healthy functioning of your immune system. Imbalances in our micro biome can contribute to many modern diseases involving inflammation and immune dysfunction such as allergies and automimmune disease. In a way, you could think of your microbiome as being part of your immune system, because it helps keep bad bugs under control. I think of these microbes as being a support team for our white blood cells.

Likewise, a lot of the microflora in your gut are vital to healthy gut functioning. Much like digestive enzymes, gut flora breaks down or digest parts of our food that we cannot digest ourselves. Sometimes they are converting nutrients from unusable into usable forms, or simply making them small enough for to transport across our intestinal lining from the gut into our blood so we can use these amazing nutrients in our body.

An incredible example of the way this works is the interaction between phytoestrogens and the microbes that live in your gut (also known as ‘gut flora’). A little back story first: Phytoestrogens are nutrients in plants that have a similar shape to the oestrogen we produce in our body (the word ‘phyto’ means plant). This means they can slot into the same cell receptor sites that real oestrogen slots into. This means that if your body isn’t producing enough of its own oestrogen, these plant oestrogens can slot into the receptor sites and switch on some (not all) of the helpful actions oestrogen has in our body. Plant oestrogens aren’t as strong as real oestrogen, but they are definitely better than nothing and can really help with the transition through menopause. Likewise, plant oestrogens can help in cases of oestrogen excess, by blocking some of the receptor sites so that our real oestrogen can’t log into the receptor sites, hence reducing the negative symptoms of oestrogen excess.

In other words, phytoestrogens (plant oestrogens) are balancing, but they can’t do their job unless we have the right microbes in our gut to break them down and transform them into the special little keys we need to unlock or block estrogenic action in the body. It’s our gut flora that makes all the difference between phytoestrogens being able to help or making no difference at all…. and this is just one example of many, many magical functions our gut flora can have.

A really big thing we need to be thinking about as we move forward medically, is our obsession with cleanliness, cleansing and our often aggressive approach to infection. So often, we are taking extreme approaches to hygiene that over-sterilise and unbalance the microbial worlds within and around us with things like antibiotics (or naturopathic equivalents such as colloidal silver and oregano oil), antiseptic hand washes, strong cleaning chemicals, chlorine in our water and so on. Obviously hygiene is very important and has made a massive difference to human health on the whole, but we have taken it too far, and the naturopathic tendency to over-emphasise often quite drastic cleansing or purging regimes is much the same.

We need balance in our lives. We need more contact with nature, with microbe-laden dirt, with fresh microbe-laden air, with animals and home grown foods. Everything these days is far too sterile and we are destroying the microbial biodiversity that sustains us. We need to exercise our immune systems, not baby them and suppress them with the excessive use of vaccines, stringent hygiene and antibiotics. We need to focus on nourishing the helpful microbe diversity within and around us rather than being rigidly obsessed with the so-called enemy and going on mass-rampage seek and destroy missions! The future of medicine will probably be more about using specific types of microbes to balance our microbiome and hence treat disease (and knowing how to feed these strains with diet and lifestyle choices), than about the unrestrained kill-everything approach we have been using in recent decades.

There is also a fascinating parallel between our inner and outer worlds, in terms of the way we tend to destroy rather than nurture. To truly survive as a species, we not only need to live in harmony with our inner community, we need to live harmoniously with our natural environment, contributing to the health of the ecosystem we inhabit, rather than systematically destroying it. I suspect that what humanity really needs in order to survive is a complete paradigm shift, where we cultivate an ‘us’ mentality that embraces the ecological whole, rather than the current divide-and-conquer approach that so often informs our approach to everything we do as a species.





Enhancing Iron Absorption

When we source iron from animal products and/or supplements, our body isn’t able to intelligently modulate uptake. The iron is absorbed, whether we need it or not, and this can put us in danger of iron excess. Iron is pro-oxidative and hence damaging to DNA and other molecules.

Iron excess is associated with a broad range of chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and colorectal and other cancers. Chronic (long term) iron overdose can result in aggressive behaviour, fatigue or hyperactivity, gut damage, seratonin imbalances, liver damage and so on.

When we source our iron from plant based foods, our body automatically adjusts how much we absorb based on what we need, which means we are in no danger of iron excess. If we need less, we will absorb less; if we need more, we absorb more. Vegans and vegetarians typically develop lower ferritin stores and this optimizes their absorption of iron.


You can dramatically enhance this absorption process by making sure you have vitamin-C rich foods with (or around about the same times as) iron rich foods. Most fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, but some of the richer sources are broccoli, cabbage, kale, parsley, capsicum, black currants, guava, kiwifruit, mango, orange, pineapple, rockmelon, and strawberry. The citric acids in citrus fruits also enhance absorption, as do the beta-carotenes in yellow, red and orange foods.

What I love is that plant-based foods often contain the perfect ratio of iron to absorption-enhancing cofactors, all in the one neat and tidy package. Whole foods are more than the sum of their parts due to the synergistic effect of plant nutrients (phytonutrients). Think of this as being a bit like a magical chemistry experiment, where the ingredients added interact in incredible ways, unlocking and transforming one another into new forms or combining to form something completely different from the starting ingredients : this is what happens in our body when we eat whole foods.

I absolutely love fruit smoothies with an abundance of nut and seeds added, along with organic kale and lemon from my garden. This morning I had frozen bananas with kale, lemon, walnuts, unhulled tahini paste and figs. I wasn’t deliberately looking for anything in particular nutritionally with this mix, but it’s accidentally high in both calcium, iron and all the cofactors needed to enhance iron absorption. And last night we had pizza with our own homemade ‘cheese’ drizzled over the top: a combination or avocado, cashews, lemon juice, salt and fresh basil from the garden… another really good example of iron mixed with absorption-enhancing cofactors.

Humous is another perfect example: loads of chickpeas and tahini with lemon juice and garlic! Did you know that adding onions and garlic to your meals can increase availability of iron from grains and legumes by 50%. Isn’t that amazing!? And if you were being really clever with your kitchen alchemy, you would sprout your chickpeas before you cook them because sprouting your legumes significantly improves iron availability.

Another good example of great food combining in the kitchen might be a kale salad with sprouted lentils of chickpeas, green beans, red capsicum, tomato, avocado and lemon juice, with everything massaging in together so the flavours mix and the kale softens. No offence to pop-eye, but the abundant iron in spinach isn’t anywhere near as absorbable as the iron from some of its green cousins, such as kale, broccoli and green beans.


Poor digestive function in the stomach (i.e. not enough hydrochloric acid) can compromise your ability to absorb iron. To remedy this, it helps to address your eating style by making sure you slow down to eat and reduce stress and multi-tasking. Be present relaxed and happy when you eat, as much as possible, and on a more general level, reduce/address stress in your life and work on improving your ability to respond to it calmly and effectively. You can also improve stomach digestion via the use of herbs (especially bitter tasting herbs like dandelion and chamomile) and digestive enzymes.

Of course, it goes without saying that antacids are going to impair iron absorption. Other drugs that impair iron absorption include antibiotics, bile acid sequestrants, antibiotic and NSAIDS (e.g. Aspirin.These have the added problem of possibly causing loss of iron via stomach bleeding),

Excessive intake of calcium in the form of dairy products and/or supplements, can hinder your absorption of iron. As far as I can tell, when we eat plant-based whole foods that contain both iron and calcium, the ratios of one to the other are not extreme, and our body can select and choose what it needs based on an ongoing self-assessment of both iron and calcium levels. Other supplements that can decrease iron absorption include magnesium and zinc supplements. It’s these complexities regarding nutrition that make nature’s whole plant-foods the best pharmacy you can turn to.

Drinking tea and coffee with your meals is not a good idea as they can reduce your ability to absorb minerals such as iron.


Women of menstruating age need the highest iron dose per day, of around 18mg per day.

The following contains just over 22mg, keeping in mind that nutrient content varies:

¼ cup chickpeas = 1.2mg

½ cup lentils = 3.5mg

½ cup cooked broccoli = 0.5mg

¼ cup hempseeds = 4.9mg

¼ avocado = 0.25mg

½ cup strawberries = 0.3mg

½ cup oatmeal = 1.1mg

½ cup quinoa = 1.4mg

½ cup chopped basil = 0.6mg

½ cup parsley = 2mg

½ cup cooked sweet potato = 1.2mg

½ cup tofu = 2.5mg

¼ cup pumpkin seeds =2.9mg



St Johns Wort- safe use

St John’s Wort is probably one of the most researched and self-prescribed herbs around, so I thought I’d let people know some info for safe usage. These are some of the things I have to think about, as a professional, before prescribing:

Pregnancy and breastfeeding: while this herb appears to be safe so far given studies on both pregnancy and breastfeeding, I tend to err on the side of caution in pregnancy and use less or no herbs (or only miscarriage-prevention herbs), especially if there is any history of miscarriage.

There is a wonderful word we use in herbal medicine called ‘contraindicated’, which is the opposite to ‘indicated’. When someone says “St John’s Wort is indicated in ___”, this means “use this herb for this condition”. If a herb is contraindicated for a particular condition, it means DONT use it.

For example, St Johns Wort is contraindicated for people who have skin photosensitivity, and people taking high doses should be careful if they get a lot of sun exposure or artificial UVA irradiation.

St Johns Wort has been listed as contraindicated with the following drugs: warfarin, digoxin, cyclosporin, indinavir and related anti-HIV drugs, the contraceptive pill… and many others! This is because doctors are worried that something in SJWort may make the body metabolise prescribed drugs faster and thus reduce their effectiveness. It looks like the cause for this might be a specific phytochemical called hyperforin that is present in some subspecies of STWort and not others. Low SJW doses of no more than 2g per day, and/or a form containing less hyperforin (e.g. liquid herbal extract like the ones us herbalists use!) can make SJW safe to use with prescribed drugs, but it should still be done with professional supervision. I’ve certainly seen people get pregnant while on the pill due to taking SJW concurrently (at the same time). So basically, if you are on prescribed medication, don’t self-prescribe SJW- get professional guidance.

Another thing to think about is that yes, SJW is helpful in mild to moderate depression, but not in severe depression (esp if there is suicide risk) and it may be quite distinctly unhelpful for those with mania, hypomania, bipolar type patterns because it can trigger manic episodes. If you don’t have a diagnosed history of bipolar/mania type problems but you have an ‘over-stimulated’ type response to SJW you might be undiagnosed, or perhaps you are quite simply taking too strong a dose. Stop taking it, or at the very least reduce the dose, and seek professional guidance.

Lastly there is the issue of combining SJW with SSRI’s (anti-depressants). The concern here is something called seratonin-overload syndrome. It’s probably not as much of a problem as it’s made out to be… doctors for example, sometimes prescribe more than one SSRI at the same time. BUT if you are going to combine SJW with SSRI’s it’s a good idea to start with very low doses and to have a practitioner guiding you through the process i.e. have professional supervision. Better not to experiment on your own!

Being a student

I’ve been happily neglecting all my websites at the moment because I’m working on a book about my grandparents and my great uncle, but every now and then some fascinating naturopathic references pop up, a paragraph here and there, in the letters I’m scouring through in the search for book material.

The other day an old unsent letter reminded me that I had originally been looking at studying to become a dietician. I had forgotten about that. The timing, looking through these old letters, is quite interesting because my daughter has just started studying naturopathy and she too was faced with the same subject dilemma.

The latest letter I’ve found doesn’t have a date on it, but I’m guessing it was in the late 1990’s. I was just about to start my clinic time. I apprenticed myself to some amazing herbalists and naturopaths around town, including a local psychologist who helped me hone my spiritual counselling and colour therapy skills. I was also in the midst of studying pathology, which really wasn’t my idea of fun:

“At the moment I am totally engrossed in Pathology 1. There is a LOT of reading to do and I am having to constantly refer to my medical dictionary. The subject result is based 100% on the exam and I am a little nervous.

I had a few false starts with this subject but am now finding it fascinating even if I sometimes have to cover up the pictures so I can get through the text! (yuk!) The frequent references to animal experiments make me squirm with discomfort. They go on about this test and that test on various animals without batting an eyelid and then say “but of course, we can’t find out the effect on a human because that would be immoral”. Weird logic. Glad I didn’t do medicine *laughing* I would have been sneaking into the laboratories and setting the animals free!”

Incredible isn’t it? The vast majority of those studies on animals are completely meaningless anyway, because they quite simply don’t apply to humans. So we are torturing them for no reason. Like the carry-on about needing to soak nuts. That idea came from research on dogs, which have very different digestive systems to our own. I never soak my nuts. I WANT the phytates! They are beautiful nutrients that protect us from cancer, osteoporosis and inflammation. We need human-relevant studies into human-nutrition, and we need to think in a more holistic manner: labelling phytates as ‘anti-nutrients’ is classic more-is-better thinking that doesn’t take into account the diverse biochemical activity of any one phytochemical, and the subtle interplay between the that chemical and the multitude of others that compose a whole food.