Health Benefits of Turmeric – Scientific Evidence

Turmeric is an orange spice that comes from a plant related to ginger. It is commonly used in Asian countries as well as Central America.

Turmeric is mainly used to make curry powders and is a key ingredient in many Asian dishes. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric. This compound gives turmeric a golden yellow dye which can be used to dye clothes and colour foods.

Source: Taylor Kiser (Unsplash)

Long before evidence-based medicine, turmeric was used by communities as a traditional medicine to treat many health conditions. Our recent obsession with superfoods has led to turmeric becoming more popular than ever in Western countries – turmeric lattes, turmeric juices anyone?

SOURCE: Osha Key (Unsplash)

But is turmeric really what it’s hyped up to be? At least on the scientific side of things?

Keep reading below as I’ll be going through the recent studies that have investigated the potential health effects of turmeric and curcumin.

Difference Between Turmeric and Curcumin

Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric.

Laboratory studies have shown that curcumin possess anti-inflammatory, anti-neoplastic, anti-proliferative and anti-oxidant properties.

Many studies investigating the health benefits of curcumin and turmeric will use a sample extract that has been designed to have high levels of curcumin. These high levels are usually achieved by taking a curcumin supplement and are not equivalent to our daily average turmeric consumption.

Skin Health

Several studies have suggested the possibility of using curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, to treat dermatological diseases.

Some dermatological diseases that have shown to improve with turmeric/curcumin use include acne, alopecia, atopic dermatitis, facial photoaging, psoriasis and vitiligo.

A study by Vaughn, Barnum and Sivamani in 2016 examined the evidence for using turmeric/curcumin topically and orally to modulate skin health and function.

They looked at 16 studies and collated their data. Vaughn and his colleagues found that there is some early evidence that turmeric/curcumin products, both ingested and topical, may provide therapeutic benefits for skin health. However, there were limitations in some of the studies and further research into exact mechanisms and efficacy needs to be done.

SOURCE: Kamila Maciejewska (Unsplash)


Turmeric and curcumin extracts have long been used to treat arthritic joint pain and swelling due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

But is there any efficacy of these treatments for alleviating the symptoms of joint arthritis?

Several studies provide scientific evidence that supports the use of 1000mg/day of curcumin (turmeric extract) in treating arthritis. However, there were limitations in the studies that suggest larger studies are needed to confirm if turmeric actually provides therapeutic benefit for arthritis patients.

SOURCE: Clem Onojeghuo (Unsplash)


Due to the unfavourable side effects of anti-depressants, many people are quick to try to find better alternatives.

One such alternative is turmeric. Historic and anecdotal evidence suggests that turmeric alleviated depressive symptoms.

How has this fared with current scientific evidence?

There has been some evidence that curcumin supplements have a positive effect in reducing depression and anxiety scores. However, the majority of these studies are laboratory and animal studies. There has been few good quality clinical trials to suggest this. So further research must be done to assess this health claim.

Source: Zulmaury Saavedra (Unsplash)


Curcumin has been shown to have anti-neoplastic and anti-oxidant properties.

There are multiple studies – animal and molecular – that show curcumin reducing the growth of cancer cells, the formation of new blood vessels in tumours and spread of cancer.

Although there is promising evidence in the laboratory, there is lack of clinical evidence and trials to suggest that curcumin can actually treat cancer.

In terms of cancer prevention, a 30 day study in 44 men with pre-cancerous lesions showed that 4g of curcumin reduced these lesions by 40%.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is a complicated disease process. Research has shown how curcumin can improve the function of the cells lining of your blood vessels and therefore can help improve blood pressure and blood clotting.

It’s anti-inflammatory properties also can reduce your heart risk of heart disease.

A study compared two groups, one on placebo and one on 4 grams of curcumin per day and evaluated their risk of experiencing a heart attack after undergoing a coronary artery bypass surgery. They found that the curcumin group had a 65% reduced risk of a heart attack in the hospital.

A study found that curcumin decreased a person’s risk of experiencing a heart attack after undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery by 65%


There is no doubt that curcumin is a potent compound found in turmeric that has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-oxidant properties.

Studies have also shown some evidence that these properties could extend to treating arthritis, depression, skin diseases and preventing heart disease and cancer.

However, not all of these studies are clinical trials that show a clear association. Many of these are still animal and laboratory studies. Some clinical trials also have limitations.

So even though there is promising evidence about the health benefits of turmeric, more studies of better quality and on a larger scale must be conducted.


3 Meat Substitutes You Probably Didn’t Know About

There’s so many plant-based foods out there that provide us with the perfect meat substitute.

I’m happy that my local supermarket has a section for ‘plant-based meats’ now. There’s burger patties, sausages and even mock duck! While it’s not technically whole-foods and is on the processed side of things, I fully support these new innovations if that means someone can transition to a plant-based diet much easier.

It also lets me try new things and see if I can re-create it on my own at home!

However, I do agree sometimes that most of these pre-made plant-based meats have lots of unnecessary and excess ingredients. So I usually like to make my own out of vegetables or nuts!

We’re used to seeing jackfruit and cauliflower used to replace meat… but have you seen how bananas can replace your meat too? I’m serious!

These are the 3 meat substitutes you probably didn’t know about! Or have you? Let me know in the comments if you have already worked with these!

1. Banana

When I told my friends that I made these Vietnamese meat balls (nem nuong) with bananas they didn’t believe me!

Bananas have a wonderful texture to act as a meat substitute. They have a soft yet starchy consistency that allows you to create mould the fruit into certain shapes. Perfect for meat balls, patties, ground meat and similar!

But you have to choose the type and ripeness of the bananas carefully.

There are three main types of bananas that you’ll encounter at mainstream supermarkets and at Asian grocery stores.

  • Cavendish banana – your well-known typical banana
  • Lady finger bananas – are shorter and chubbier versions (surely they’re men’s fingers!), very sweet when ripe
  • Plaintain bananas – notably larger and longer, higher starch component, less sweet

The plaintain banana is the best one to use as a meat substitute. It’s less sweet compared to lady finger bananas and has a higher starch component. However, the plaintain banana is often sold and eaten when its unripe, so you’ll have to wait a few days until it starts to ripen.

On the other hand, the lady finger bananas are great to use in sweeter meat dishes.

In terms of the level of ripeness, I recommend erring on the more unripe side. You don’t want the bananas to ripen too much that it becomes mushy and loses its starchness. Also, you can always microwave the bananas to soften them up if need!

Source: Wikimedia commons

2. Cabbage

Shredded cabbage can be used as a meat substitute for many meat dishes.

While it doesn’t offer the same hearty and meaty texture like jackfruit and eggplant, cabbage provides textured pieces with a good crunch. How long you cook the cabbage will also help reduce the crunch if you want a more chewy consistency.

The best way to enjoy cabbage as a meat substitute is to mix it with lots of sauce and flavour. The mixture will then serve as a perfect filler for tacos, pies and dumplings.

Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

3. Walnuts

Crushed walnuts are a great substitute for mince and ground meat.

Add your herbs and spices and pulse the walnuts in a food processor until course and crumbly. The trick is to keep the mince-like consistency and if pulsed for too long, the walnuts will turn into a smooth butter form.

These are great for taco meat and nut loaf. Go a step further and add in your favourite sauces to create a pasta bolognese!

SOURCE: Tom Hermans (Unsplash)

5 Vegetables That Can Substitute for Meat

In an ideal world, meat substitutes would not exist. But clearly, the majority of us grew up with meat. My transition into a plant-based diet would not have been as smooth if there weren’t meat substitutes or meat-like dishes that helped me with my cravings.

There are so many pre-made plant-based meat substitutes on the market today. I know there are many people who are against them but I personally don’t mind them. I love trying out new things and seeing if it is fit for my diet, taste buds and of course, my wallet!

But I also tend to agree that sometimes these pre-made meat substitutes are highly processed. You’d be amazed at how many (read: excessive) ingredients there are in a supposedly ‘plant-based’ patty.

So here is a list of 5 vegetables that are excellent as meat substitutes! Definitely give them a go for your next meal.

1. Eggplant

The consistency of eggplant makes it an excellent meat substitute. It’s chewy, hearty and is highly versatile.

Many people dislike the taste of eggplant, mainly due to its slight bitterness. However, the eggplant has a spongy texture which allows flavours to absorb well. So if you don’t like eggplant as a side vegetable, try it as a meat substitute, coated with lots of flavour – I’m sure you’ll start loving it!

I often use eggplant to substitute for chicken cutlets (for example, Japanese Katsu curry) or meatballs. But they’re also great for hamburgers and even as a bacon substitute!

Source: Wouter Meijering (Unsplash)

2. Mushroom

Mushrooms are pretty standard in a plant-based diet. They are a fantastic vegetable to include as sides and toppings. But take them one step further and use them as a meat substitute for your next dish!

Mushrooms provide an earthy, umami-rich flavour that is perfect for savoury dishes. They absorb flavouring extremely well so will soak up all your spices, herbs and sauces. Their texture is also chewy and hearty.

There are many types of mushrooms. Try to experiment with different types of mushrooms and see which one suits your dishes best.

I like to use large portobello mushrooms as a patty in burgers. Oyster and shiitake mushrooms are perfect as meat substitutes in hot-pot. Enoki mushrooms have the best texture and shape for french fries.

SOURCE: Lisanto 李奕良 (Unsplash)

3. Jackfruit

This tropical fruit is one of mother nature’s wonders.

It’s texture is similar to chicken and pork as it can shred into individual fibre-like strands. Many pulled pork recipes use jackfruit as their meat substitute but you can definitely use it for any chicken, pork or even beef recipes.

Make sure to buy young jackfruit though. Young jackfruit has a milder taste compared to mature jackfruit (more sweet). Other than this, it absorbs herbs, spices and sauces very well so is perfect for your marinade. Young jackfruit is available in cans or frozen – you can buy them fresh but it’s harder to prepare them.

SOURCE: Thedeliciouslife (flickr)

4. Lentils

Lentils are a dense nutritional powerhouse. Studies have shown its anti-oxidant properties as well as possible role in weight management.

Thankfully, lentils are a good meat substitute. They are often used to to create burger patties. I love using lentils as a ‘filling’ for many recipes that use minced or ground meats or smaller meat chunks. Because of their size, lentils have a high surface area for absorbing spices and aromatics.

For example, I use it in my Vietnamese steamed pork buns, dumplings and they are perfect for tacos and pies!

SOURCE: Deryn Macey (Unsplash)

5. Cauliflower

You have probably seen a cauliflower buffalo wing recipe floating around!

Cauliflower has a shred-like texture and because they are dense yet crumbly when cooked, they are the perfect meat substitute.

Owing to their complex structure, their high surface area means that flavour can be embedded in every cook and cranny of the vegetable, bringing you so much flavour to your dish!

My favourite cauliflower recipes include ‘tuna’ pasta bake and cauliflower steak!

SOURCE: Jennifer Schmidt (Unsplash)

I hope you found this list useful for your next dish! When I was in the step of transitioning to a plant-based diet, I was so lost in my meat-dish cravings yet didn’t know how to cook vegan dishes very well! So when I learnt and experimented with these meat substitutes, my life changed!

Let me know in the comments what meat substitutes (pre-made or not) you’ve tried!

Karen ⚘

  • Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (VI)
  • Certified Personal Trainer (Cert III and IV)
  • Fellowship of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine (Pathway)

6 High Protein Nuts

If you need a reason to eat more nuts, this list is for you.

Nuts are a nutritional powerhouse for everyone especially those on a plant-based diet. They offer healthy fats, fibre and loads of nutritional benefits.

Studies have shown the health benefits of nuts in reducing inflammation and chronic diseases.

To top it off, nuts are one of the best sources of plant-based protein. These dense nuts are easy to include in your breakfast smoothie bowl, as a mid-afternoon snack or as part of a dessert that you want to feel better about!

Below are 5 high protein nuts that will help you reach your daily recommended protein intake!

1. Almonds

Protein = 20g per 100g

Our obsession with almonds have sky-rocketed over the past years. It’s not hard to see why.

Almonds provide an impressive 20g of protein for every 100g. A 2016 review suggested that regular consumption of almonds reduces the level of LDL cholesterol and thereby, reducing the risk of heart disease.

These nuts are rich in vitamin E, niacin and essential minerals such as calcium, copper and iron. Almonds contain a high level of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which are considered as healthy fats. Their dietary fibre content is impressive too providing 12.5g per 100g which is 42% of the adult daily recommended value.

As with most nuts, almonds are one of the most healthiest snack foods out there. Enjoy them with your cake or in your muesli. I like to use almond flour and almond meal as an alternative to white flour when cooking. Almond milk is also a good alternative for cow’s milk and other plant-based milks but just remember that their nutritional content won’t be the same as snacking on raw, unprocessed almonds.

SOURCE: Tetiana Bykovets (Unsplash)

2. Peanuts

Protein = 26g per 100g

Peanut butter lovers rejoice! This is the cue for my two dogs to eagerly sit in front of me with saliva dripping down their tongues.

Since peanuts are so commonplace in today’s world, we often forget how amazing they are nutritionally. A 100g scoop of peanuts provide a wholesome 26g of protein. They are an all-rounder with high levels of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin E and folate. Peanuts also have a high amount of dietary fibre (30% DV) which can assist with daily bowel motions.

Peanuts are often considered as a functional food for famine relief. It’s high-protein, high-energy and nutrition-dense properties allows peanut-based pastes to be developed for malnourished communities.

As part of Vietnamese cuisine, we like to crush peanuts and garnish our vermicelli bowls!

SOURCE: Corleto Peanut butter (Unsplash)

3. Cashews

Protein = 18g per 100g

Cashews are often used in Indian and Pakistani cuisine for sweets and curries. I like to use cashews to make my own plant-based cheese to curb my cheesy-nacho cravings and tomato-cheese toasties.

Of course, snacking on cashews are the best way to benefit from their nutritional content without extra calories.

Cashews are rich sources of copper, phosphorus and magnesium. They provide good levels of vitamin B6 and vitamin K. As with many nuts, cashews contain a good amount of monounsaturated healthy fats which can lower your bad cholesterol.

A 100g serving of cashews provide 36% of the daily recommended value of protein.

SOURCE: Syed Hussaini (Unsplash)

4. Pistachios

Protein = 20g per 100g

This may or may not be an excuse to eat more pistachio ice-cream!

Raw pistachios are very high in dietary fibre. A 100g portion of pistachios provides 10.3g of fibre, making up 35% of your recommended daily fibre intake!

Compared to other tree nuts, pistachios have a lower fat (although its healthy fats) and calorie content with higher amounts of minerals such as potassium and vitamin K. Pistachios are rich in thiamine (76% DV), vitamin B6 (131% DV) and phosphorous (70% DV).

It’s best to stick to raw, minimally processed pistachios to reap up their benefits. (So not an excuse to eat more pistachio ice-cream!)

SOURCE: Marcos Paulo Prado (Unsplash)

5. Walnuts

Protein = 15g per 100g

I love walnuts in my cake and muesli. Their excellent nutritional value makes me feel good about eating my banana walnut coffee cake! I like to enjoy walnuts as a snack on their own or as an ice-cream topping and salad garnish.

At 15g per 100g, walnuts provide a pretty healthy dose of protein per serve. They are rich in manganese providing 163% of the daily recommended value in an adult. Other minerals of note include zinc, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. They are also high in vitamin B6 too.

Walnuts are also used for savoury dishes as well, notably in cooking chicken… but remember that jackfruit is an amazing chicken-substitute, so add your walnuts in those dishes!

SOURCE: NordWood Themes (Unsplash)

6. Brazil Nuts

Protein = 14g per 100g

Did you know that in Brazil, it is illegal to cut down a Brazil nut tree?

Brazil nuts are a nutful of goodness.

They contain 14% of protein, 12% carbohydrates and 66% of fats. The majority of these fats are healthy fats, primarily made up of healthy polyunsaturated (mostly omega-6 fatty acids) and monounsaturated fats.

Brazil nuts are rich in a diverse variety of micronutrients. 100g of these South American nuts provide 30% of the daily recommended value of fibre. They are rich in magnesium (106% of DV), phosphorous (104% DV), thiamine (54% DV) and manganese (57% DV). Notably, they are considered to be the richest dietary source of selenium with 100g providing 34x the daily recommended value of selenium in an adult!

Studies have shown that consuming one Brazil nut per day for 8 weeks was sufficient to restore selenium blood levels and increase high-density lipids cholesterol in obese women.

I like to eat Brazil nuts as a snack with a consideration of how much I eat per day due to its potent selenium content. You can also enjoy them in cookies or even make a homemade brazil nut butter!


Thanks for reading to the end of this list guys! I hope this helps you choose your next nutty snack to give your muscles a bit of that extra booster! My favourite nuts are peanuts and brazil nuts (although I had to get used to the taste first). Let me know in the comments what your favourite nuts are?

Karen ⚘

  • Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (VI)
  • Certified Personal Trainer (Cert III and IV)
  • Fellowship of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine (Pathway)

5 High Protein Fruits for Your Next Snack

Protein is an essential macronutrient for the human body. As we become more health conscious, we’re constantly seeking out high protein foods.

I have listed down 5 high protein fruits that can help you to achieve your high protein diet.

We often don’t associate fruit with protein. The best sources of protein often come from vegetables, legumes and grains.

However, fruits are part of a healthy and balanced diet. Fruits are a great source of carbohydrates needed to fuel your body for energy. They also provide many nutritional benefits especially in terms of fibre, vitamins and antioxidants.

So it’s good to know which fruits have high sources of protein. You’re going to eat fruit as part of a healthy and balanced diet anyway, so why not choose fruits that are high in protein? They will give a good boost to your overall amino acid intake!

This is a great list for vegetarians, vegans and those who like to optimise their food to provide them the best nutrition and enjoyment (quality of life). I aim for a high protein diet. However there are days when I don’t feel like eating high protein vegetables such as lentils or broccoli. And that’s ok. So I try to make it up with high protein snacks such as guavas and dried apricots that are much more enjoyable!

Below are 5 high protein fruits that you should include in your next shopping list!

1. Avocado

Protein = 4g per Avocado

Oh hell yes! There’s even more reason to love avocado.

The versatility of avocado has been demonstrated across the world. From avocado oil to avocado soup, you can easily create high protein meals with this beloved green fruit.How do you like your avocado? Let me know in the comments below. Try my Vietnamese-inspired vegan avocado smoothie, you’ll never look at smoothies the same way again!

At 4g of protein per avocado, that’s a pretty hefty protein content for a fruit. It also provides a good source of healthy monounsaturated fats especially for vegans and vegetarians.

Avocados are rich in vitamin Bs, vitamin K and potassium. They have antioxidant properties, stemming from phytosterols and carotenoids.

Furthermore, they provide 23% of an adult’s daily value of dietary fibre – amazing for your gut health!

Avocado spread onto a bun can make a high protein meal.
Source: Mae Mu on Unsplash

2. Guava

Protein = 4.2g per cup

I did a little dance when I found this out! I love guavas! Guava season is the best season.

Guavas are tropical fruits that are red, pink or white inside. Depending on the species and the maturity of the fruit, there are roughly three components to the guava which provide different tastes.

The skin and flesh of the fruit vary in thickness as well as their consistency. Some are tough and crunchy while others are soft and juicy. In the centre of the guava is the pulp. This is my favourite part to eat as it is often very sweet with hints of sourness. However, depending on the guava, the edible seeds may be interspersed within the pulp or may surround it.

A cup of guava provides 4.2 grams of protein! This makes it one of the yummiest high protein snacks out there.

They provide a reasonable amount of folate and dietary fibre. Guavas also provide 275%!!! (not a typo) of your daily value of vitamin C.

A half cut pink guava on top of whole guavas.
Source: Victoria Rachitzky Hoch on Flickr

3. Jackfruit

Protein = 2.84g per cup

If you haven’t heard of jackfruit and you are plant-based, you are indeed missing out!

Growing up as a Vietnamese kid, I was exposed to jackfruit early on but didn’t think much of it. It was available at the Asian grocery stores in the form of fresh ripe snack pieces or jackfruit chips.

It was only when my plant-based diet forced me to be more creative. And alas, I found the amazing culinary uses of jackfruit! Check out my jackfruit peking duck pancake recipe here!

Jackfruit is often used as a meat substitute due to its texture. Its an easy way to get in plant-based proteins which is a form of healthy protein!

The fruit also contains high levels of vitamin B6 (25% of daily adult value) and moderate levels of vitamin C and potassium.

Multiple jackfruits growing on a tree.
Source: Vinod Kumar on Unsplash

4. Dried Apricots

Protein = 4.4g per cup

Did you know that dried apricots have a higher protein content than fresh apricots (2.2g per cup)?

Dried apricots are easy, delicious and protein rich snacks. They are an important source of vitamin A and potassium. Carotenoids are compounds that give the apricots their orange pigment and studies have shown some health benefits.

The amount of fibre (7.3g) packed in each dried apricot is impressive. Thus, they are used as a natural aperient for constipation!

However, it is important to ensure the brand you buy has no added sugars.

Dried apricots on a bamboo skewer is a yummy high protein snack.
Source: Marco Verch on Flickr

5. Prunes

Protein = 3.8g per cup

Like apricots, dried plums (prunes) have a higher protein content than their fresh counterparts (1.16g per cup).

However, their laxative effect doesn’t sit well with everyone. In 2001, the FDA authorised plum farmers to market prunes as ‘dried plums’ due to the negative connotations of ‘prunes’.

Prunes can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. They provide a natural source of protein as well as a natural source of fruity sweetness to any dish. I like to use prunes as a natural sweetener for my cakes or plant-based milks.

Prunes are rich in vitamin K (57% of daily value) and moderately rich in vitamin B6 and B3. They are high in carbohydrates and sugars and are essential for fueling your energy. Many people often steer away from fruits high in sugar… but should this be the case?

A wooden barrel filled with many prunes.
Source: PXFUEL

Thank you for reading this list, I hope it helped you. Although fruits are relatively lower in protein, I’m happy to know that my dried apricot snacks are giving my muscles a bit of a punch! Let me know in the comments what other lists you’d like to see next.

Feature image by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Karen ⚘

  • Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (VI)
  • Certified Personal Trainer (Cert III and IV)
  • Fellowship of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine (Pathway)

How Exactly does Red Meat cause Cancer?

In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published new findings that red meat and processed meat were carcinogenic.

Common red meat include beef, pork and lamb. Other meats that are considered ‘red’ include veal, mutton, horse and goat. This also includes fresh, minced or frozen meats.

Processed meat is meat that has undergone salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other preservation or flavour-enhancing techniques. Common processed meats include bacon, ham, salami, sausages and hot-dogs. Others include corned beef, jerky, canned beef, meat by-products (blood) and even meat-based preparations and sauces.

WHO has classified processed meat as Group 1, which means ‘carcinogenic to humans’. They are able to classify this as they have convincing evidence to say that processed meats causes cancer.

WHO has classified red meat as Group 2A, which means ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. Although there is a strong positive correlation between red meat consumption and developing colorectal cancer, there are chance, bias or confounding factors that may have played a role. Thus, they could not classify it in Group 1.

Red meat has an established link to colon, prostate and pancreatic cancer while processed meats has only been linked to colon cancer.

But how exactly does red meat and processed meats cause cancer? I believe understanding the mechanism behind these things will help make you a better informant for your body.

So first of all, what is cancer?

Cancer is caused by cells that have been damaged. These damaged cells try to repair themselves and if they can’t, they then undergo self-destruction. This is a process that protects our body from cancer and diseases. It prevents the cell from reproducing new cells that have the same damage.

Sometimes the damage occurs in this process and the process fails to protects us. The cell eventually becomes unregulated. This means that the cell doesn’t do what it normally does, but instead, it starts to produce lots and lots of new cells. Unfortunately, these new cells are also damaged and can become ‘cancerous’.


So what causes all this in the first place? How does the cell become damaged? How does this relate to red meat and processed meat?

Researchers have found chemicals present in red and processed meats that can cause cell damage and increase the risk of cancer. These chemicals are also added during the processing of meat or produced when cooking. A study has shown that red-meat-induced genetic damage to colon cells happens in just a few weeks!

The identified chemicals include:

  • Haem
  • Nitrates and nitrites
  • Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic amines (PCAs)


Red meat has a naturally red pigment called haem. Haem increases the risk of cancer in two ways. It can cause direct cell damage and can cause bacteria in the body to produce harmful chemicals.

Nitrates and Nitrites

Processed meats are kept fresh by adding nitrates and nitrites. When we consume these nitrates and nitrites, these compounds are converted to other chemicals known as nitrosamines and N-nitroso compounds (NOCs). Studies have shown these to be carcinogenic.

A study analysed the stool of people who ate a high-meat diet to those who ate vegetarian food. They found that the group who had a high-meat diet had high levels of NOCs while the vegetarian group had low levels of NOCs. Furthermore, the scientists were able to collect the cells that lined the colon. These cells are normally shed with every bowel movement. A large amount of cells from the high-meat diet group had NOC-induced DNA changes, while a lower proportion of cells were damaged in the vegetarian group.

Photo by Leo Aus dem Wunderland on Unsplash

Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) and Polycyclic Amines (PCAs)

When meat is cooked at high temperatures or if the food is in direct contact with a flame or hot surface (such as grilling, barbecue or pan-frying), HCAs and PCAs are produced. These chemicals have been found to damage cells in the bowel and increase the risk of bowel cancer.

However, studies have also found high levels of HCAs to be produced in cooked chicken. So HCAs may play a role but are unlikely to be the only cause.

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

All of this means, that when you consume red meat and processed meat, your cells are exposed to these chemicals. These chemicals have the potential to damage the cells’ genetic material such as its DNA. Our cells are equipped with mechanisms to repair damaged DNA and the majority of the time, the repairs are successful. However, if any of these processes fail or the damage is in the genetic material that controls this self-repair function, cells can undergo malignant transformation.

So this means that with every consumption of red meat or processed meat, you are increasing your exposure and the number of potential cell damage. This will increase the number of times your cells will have to undergo self-repair and thus, increasing the chances of the process failing.


5 Ways to Eat Less Meat

Do you want to eat less meat but don’t know where to start?

How do you change something that has been a way of life since you were young?

Unfortunately our global meat consumption is still on the rise and America leads the way by eating four times as much meat as the rest of the world. However, as we become more conscious about our health, the environment and ethics, eating less meat seems much more appealing. Especially when the benefits of eating less meat are backed up by science!

Approximately 8 million adults in the U.S do not consume meat and one-half of vegetarians are vegans which equates to approximately 3.7 million U.S adults.

The plant-based movement has pressured the food and restaurant industry to offer more vegetarian and vegan dishes. In 2018, the demand for plant-based foods increased to 20% compared with a much smaller 8% in 2017. Furthermore, a study showed that 37% of Americans often or always eat vegetarian meals when dining out.

So you are not alone!

The amazing thing about this movement is that most of us have grown up eating meat. So the collection of our struggles (the cravings, accidental slip-ups, failure) and our success (of creating our first plant-based dish, eating one less day of meat, eating less meat overall or eliminating it altogether) will resonate across the community.

What is even more amazing is that food is created by people of different cultures, experiences and tastes. To be able to put this all together to contribute to a plant-based world, I love it. I think that’s a serious case of humanity bonding over a problem and finding a solution to it.

Firstly, I want to thank you for considering to eat less meat. It’s the first step to a hard but rewarding journey that will benefit so many people and things in the world.

Below are 5 ways to eat less meat that has worked for me, my friends and family and my clients.

But wait! Before this, write down a meat diary. This is an effective way to personalise your meatless endeavours and you can look back on it to see how far you have progressed!

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Write down:

  • What type of meat do you eat? Processed vs unprocessed meat, red meat vs white meat, beef vs pork vs chicken vs lamb vs seafood vs others
  • How many meat days do you have per week? Do you have any meatless days?
  • How much meat do you eat? You can quantify it by the number of meals containing meat you have each day, how big are the portions, what type of food/dish do you eat? (e.g. steak, skewers, mince in pasta, slices)

Doing this will already kick-start your goal of eating less meat before you have even done these 5 things!

1. Eliminate processed meat

Ok… maybe I jumped the gun too early! The only reason why I recommend eliminating processed meats is because it is classified as a class 1 carcinogen. There is strong evidence to substantiate these claims. It has been linked to colorectal cancer, prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer. It also has high amounts of salts that can be bad for people with high blood pressure. So if you want to eat less meat, start off with eating less processed meat.

Having said that, I know eliminating it can be hard. Even for people who don’t eat much red meat or meat in general, processed meats are convenient and super tasty. This is why they are such a popular choice with children for school lunches.

Start replacing your processed meats in favour of other meats or plant-based options instead. Deli-style meats have become immensely popular with the rise of the platter and cheese boards. Spruce up some colour by adding vegetables and fruits instead to the plate. Try to omit the ham in your sandwich and opt for tuna or chicken instead, or even better, try plant-based meats or vegetables.

Photo by angela pham on Unsplash
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

2. Reduce the portion size of your meat

For every 50 grams portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18%.

For every 100 gram portion of red meat eaten daily, the risk of colorectal cancer could increase by 17%. Although the evidence backing this statement is not as strong as for processed meats, you can still reduce your portion sizes for other health and environmental benefits.

Personally, I feel that these scientific statements should be enough to deter people from eating meat. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the confounding consequences of colorectal cancer on patients and their families while I was on my surgical term. I’ve been able to scrub in to help the surgeons in theatre and I’ll never forget seeing my first tumour.

Gradually reduce the portion size of your meat on your meat days. It could be a tenth, an eighth, a quarter or half. Every bit helps! You can substitute in a plant-based option such as mashed potatoes to cover the quarter of meat you just reduced.

Photo by John Fornander on Unsplash

3. Use meat as a side-dish and build your meals around plants, not meat

Instead of choosing a meat dish and planning your sides and salads around the meat, do it the other way around.

Choose a plant-based dish or protein as your main and pick out a smaller meat choice. I like to choose two vegetables or one plant-based protein and base my meals around them.

Chicken skewers, small slices of beef or pork dumplings are easy choices as they make great entrees or side-dishes and offers minimal meat content with great flavour.

Photo by Wan Song on Unsplash
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

4. Be a flexitarian

When I started my transition into a plant-based diet, I called myself a flexitarian. This would often instigate jokes, laughter and incredulous comments due to the nature of the word. A flexi-what? But for some reason, the vibe was always positive. It invited friends and family to ask me what the heck is a flexitarian and if they knew, a small discussion on plant-based and veganism would ensue. This topic is something I love to talk about, but with friends and family, I risk becoming overbearing and condescending. So I really liked to introduce the topic in that sense.

My goal as a flexitarian was to make sure I ate plant-based meals at home – 100% of the time. All the other times, I could be less than 100%. If I ordered take-away, dined out with friends or ate at a party or social gathering, I could be less than 100%. This worked really well to satisfy my cravings but also allowed me to resist my temptations and become mentally strong.

As I became used to eating plant-based foods at home, I started to crave different plant-based options. I wanted to try other people’s plant-based creations and interpretations. I sub-consciously started to seek out vegetarian and vegan options when I dined out. It happened quite naturally. Even when I started to do this, I still considered myself as a flexitarian. There was a chance that I was going to slip-up and I didn’t want to put unnecessary pressure on myself. Eventually I started to become fully plant-based.

This strategy also works to introduce your new diet and lifestyle to your friends and family. I know a lot of people say “you do you, don’t worry about what everyone else thinks”. This is true… to an extent. We don’t like to admit it, but we all care about what our closest family and friends think. Plant-based, vegetarian and vegan diets are not without its own critics. This strategy will help you slowly introduce your values to your closest ones without being too forceful and also invites them to be non-judgemental and curious.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

5. Learn how to cook vegetables and plant-based meals better

When you learn how to do something well, you end up enjoying it more. As is the case for cooking vegetables and plant-based meals.

From my experience, a lot of people who want to eat less meat say that they don’t know what vegetarian or vegan meals to cook. This was my problem too. We grow up eating meat so we learn how to cook meat. So learning to cook with plant-based foods can seem effortful and daunting.

A common misconception of a plant-based diet is fresh, raw veggies with little to no flavouring. In fact, plant-based cooking often utilise a lot of herbs and spices to further enhance the taste of the vegetables. Furthermore, vegetarian and vegan meals are not entirely built upon vegetables. Grains, beans, legumes, fruit, nuts and seeds provide endless amounts of flavour and texture. We often consider fruit as a snack or dessert. But did you know that it can act as a meat substitute too?

Learning how to cook vegetables and plant-based meals is easier than ever. Type in ‘vegetarian recipes’ and you’ll get 1,830,000,000 results. You also learn as you go. When my Mum taught me how to make vegan fish sauce, I found out how the first half of the recipe could also lead me to creating a beautiful soup broth!

I was a meat-eater for a longer period of time than I am plant-based. However, I was a terrible cook back then. Even though I was relatively OK with consuming meat back then, I struggled with handling the flesh of an animal. However, my cooking skills have dramatically improved when I became plant-based.

The reason? I felt good eating my food. I was more equipped, emotionally and mentally, handling a broccoli compared to a piece of chicken breast. I also knew that if I was to sustain this lifestyle for my benefit and others, I would have to take charge and learn more about what I was doing.

Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash

Dear The Heart Foundation, I’m Scared

As a fresh-faced, wide-eyed first year medical student, I used your website from day 1 to look up what the symptoms of a heart attack were.

As a senior medical student, I have used your clinical guidelines to learn the next steps in managing a patient presenting with chest pain.

As a future doctor, I know that I will be using your website again and again. This time, it will not only be for my benefit but for the benefit of my patients too.

But now,

As a daughter of older parents who were less fortunate to grow up educated about nutrition, physical activity and the concept of preventative medicine.

As an average Australian who cares about my own health and well-being.

As a future mother who will be going to pack her children’s school lunches.

Can I trust you?

Can I, along with the 1.57 million Australians who turn to you for advice, trust you?

Why am I asking you this question? Why don’t I trust that you are ‘dedicated to making a real difference to the heart health of Australians?’ as your website proudly displays?

It’s because I’m scared.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt all the other work that you do. I don’t mistrust the guidelines you put out telling me what to do for a patient with heart failure and so forth. I applaud your support for people with heart disease.

But I’m just having trouble trusting your nutritional advice and advocacy. Especially since nutrition plays a significant role in the development of chronic diseases, like heart disease.

In the past, you struck a deal with McDonald’s. Each tick was worth $300,000 per year. You started to endorse several meals, including one that contained 36 grams of sugar per serve.

Your heart ticks of approval were slapped across Uncle Toby’s Fruit Fix bars that were 71% sugar! Uncle Toby’s Oats Temptations had 34% sugar and Nestle’s Milo Breakfast cereal has 29.7% sugar! This is akin to a lung tick of approval on a packet of cigarettes!

Thankfully, once the public pressure was too much, you were forced to cancel the campaign and discontinue it. But then you started to endorse supermarket generic brands like Aldi for an undisclosed amount.

You proudly state on your website here that ‘up to 2.8 million Australians have looked for the Tick every day when shopping for food’. Yes, that included my Mum who as a migrant, has little health and English literacy. She relied on a little red tick to help her choose healthy foods. Yet, the majority of your healthy heart ticks were on processed junk. You didn’t proudly mention that on your website.

When I learnt that similar foundations over in America were being sponsored by drug companies and food industries, I actually defended you. Nah, that’s America for ya. The health policies here in Australia are much better.

But no, once again, you proved how the corporates have infiltrated your hearts and the hearts of millions of Australians.

I also heard about your Pharmaceutical Rounds. This is where you brought together representatives from 10 leading drug companies to discuss “advice for health professionals”. There are many examples in the U.S. where drug companies have utilised these opportunities to push their own agenda and interests.

I’ll tell you what. We do a similar thing at the hospitals. We do something called Morning Rounds. These Rounds are when we handover, communicate and discuss the patient and their reason(s) for being in hospital. The doctors, nurses and other allied health staff all have the patients and their families best interest at heart. Feelings that I don’t think are shared at your Pharm Rounds.

Photo by Romain V on Unsplash

I know you disembarked this in 2017, but I hear you still receive funding from the pharmaceutical companies. Three drug companies – Sanofi, AstraZeneca and Amgen – gave you $690,000 over three years. Regardless of how that money was spent, how much it represents the Foundation’s overall revenue, why are you accepting money from pharmaceutical companies?

Is there actually a possibility that a $2.07 million relationship means nothing at all? Even the most PG-rated sugar-daddy, sugar-baby relationship cost at least a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Also, congratulations on your $2.5 million per year relationship with the food industry! When’s the baby? Oh you already had it! The baby looks so much like a Sanitarium Weet-bix box that has your 5 star health ratings and the words ‘Cholesterol-Lowering’ on it. Claims that were made from a small study funded by Sanitarium itself.

photo from coles online

While Weet-bix is actually one of the better cereals out there, my relationship queries has been demonstrated clearly. Other previous sponsorships include Nestle-owned Uncle Tobys and Mackay Sugar Limited. Employees have worked for CSR, the sugar giant and sugar lobby group Sugar Australia (no surprise who owns Sugar Australia… CSR!)

And why wouldn’t corporates partner up with you? They have the ‘chance to increase sales’.

Again, I come back to the point that I don’t disagree with your support and advocacy for people with heart disease. But it’s confusing when you start helping food manufacturers promote their products for a targeted (read: trusting) audience. Even if it is deemed healthy, it speaks volumes about your integrity.

So can I trust you? Can I trust you to give legitimate nutritional advice to my parents, my families, my future patients and my future kids? I’m scared for them and for my self.

I want to trust you. But I’m scared.


We are done eating ourselves, now we’re going to eat the poor

Throughout my 23 years of life, subtract those which I was still too young to remember, I have encountered many people in my life.

Throughout my 5 years in medical school, 2 of which were full-time hospital and community-based placements, I have encountered many people in my life.

Of those people who I have encountered in my life, there were more people who were overweight than underweight.

This observation is backed up by a study published in the Lancet in 2017. Researchers pooled and analysed the world-wide trends of body-mass index, underweight, overweight and obesity of 2416 population-based studies from 1975 to 2016. Included were 128.9 million children, adolescents and adults.

The findings were that, over 40 years, our world has transitioned into having more obese people than those who are underweight. Long gone are the days when the majority of the world’s population are underweight due to lack food and lack of nutrients. It is now the era of over-consumption and indulgence. Yet, despite all the food we have available to us, we are STILL undernourished and unhealthy.

How embarrassing. We as a society, have pigged ourselves into oblivion.

To the point that overweight and obesity are linked to more deaths worldwide than underweight.

What is even more upsetting is that there are parts of the world including sub-Saharan Africa and Asia where underweight is still a problem. But because our obesity epidemic is literally a first-world problem, we have created a first-world demand.

Professor George Davey Smith from the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol believes there is a danger of becoming “a fatter, healthier, but more unequal world”.

He explains that our knee-jerk response to tackling this obesity epidemic will be at the expense of the poor. “A focus on obesity at the expense of recognition of the substantial remaining burden of under-nutrition threatens to divert resources away from disorders that affect the poor to those that are more likely to affect the wealthier in low income countries.”

Such is the case of diabetes. Diabetes Type 2 is largely preventable. Its consequences such as diabetic retinopathy and nephropathy have thousands of money and hands dedicated to its work-up, diagnosis, treatment and management.

Is this the case for poorer countries where children require ophthalmologists and nephrologists for something unpreventable? What resources could be offered to these patients, healthcare staff, hospitals, governments and organisations… by other hospitals, governments and organisations if diabetes type 2 wasn’t so prevalent today?

In 2011-2012, $8.6 billion (AUD) was spent in Australia on obesity. In 2008, $147 billion (USD) was spent in the United States on medical care costs of obesity (imagine what the figures will be now). The annual nationwide productive costs of obesity-related absenteeism range between $3.38 billion and $3.38 billion.

We are so privileged to be obese. And to have that amount of money spent on the consequences of our overindulgence is insane.

Imagine, for a second that all of that money was spent on addressing the problem of undernutrition. Or even addressing the root causes of obesity and preventing it from occurring, rather than swiping a medicare card and charging a gap to tell patients that they are at a very high risk of a heart attack in the next 5 years.

Sorry, I’m an idealist… so I’ll try again. Imagine that this obesity crisis wasn’t that much of a crisis. It was halved, quartered or sliced into a tenth. If we took a tenth of what we spent on obesity in Australia from the figure above, we would have $860 million to spend on another sector.

Nutrition! Exercise! Prevention! Childhood healthy habits! Policies! Prevention!

Photo by Iñigo De la Maza on Unsplash

We don’t even have to spend it on those obesity-related prevention factors. We could spend it on homelessness, drug use, mental health, domestic violence, drought-relief, climate change, animal welfare…!

I know that overall, it is quite complex. Easier said than done, ya-da ya-da. This was supposed to be a post about losing weight on a plant-based diet. But when I started researching on the statistics of obesity and came across this point, I couldn’t help but delve further into it.

Before my tangent, we were discussing how we have so much food available to us and although we’re fat, we are still undernourished and unhealthy. The question is why?

Stay tuned for my next post on how switching to a plant-based diet can help you lose weight and nourish you.

Referenced studies: