Nutrition 101

Specifically regarding weight loss

Happy March 1st!

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It’s finally here. March is finally here. Just one more week until we “spring forward”. Now there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Although this is welcome news, we still have a long way to go and getting through the Spring we need to ensure that our immune system is up to scratch to protect from those Springtime bugs that come up with the flowers as the temperature rises.

The best way to improve the the immune system is to eat whole foods and avoid processed foods. Garlic, onions, mushrooms, ginger and honey are all fabulous. As well, some spices such as oregano, cinnamon, cloves and turmeric.

How to incorporate as many of these as possible is to make a soup, perfect for this time of year. Using your own stock is even better and will fix up any sniffles over the next few weeks.

Start a day earlier by roasting a chicken. A whole lot easier than it sounds. In a baking dish, drizzle the bottom with olive oil and place the chicken on top. In the cavity, put in some salt, pepper, lemon quarters and whole garlic cloves. On the outside, rub some salt, pepper and extra-virgin olive oil under the skin and on top of the skin. Cover with foil and place in a preheated oven (350ºF) for 1 hour. Remove foil and cook for a further 15 minutes until the chicken is browned and the juices run clear.

Save all the bones from the roast chicken. If you are not making the stock right away, save the bones in the fridge. When you are ready, place the bones in a pot and add in a carrot, roughly chopped onion, garlic cloves, salt and pepper and whole sprigs of parsley. Cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for one hour. Cool and strain into a jar and keep in the fridge.

This is the best stock you can use for soup, a guaranteed flavourful soup full of immune boosting nutrients.

Top up your immunity further by taking a good quality probiotic in the morning, a drop of vitamin D (1000IU) and a teaspoon of pharmaceutical grade fish oil.

Then. Get Ready for Spring!

Winterize Your Greens

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I think I can safely say that summer is behind us. Fall is almost behind us. It’s time to adjust our diets to cater to the colder months. According to traditional healing systems, such as Chinese and Ayuervedic medicine, our bodies need cooling foods in the hot months and warming foods in the colder months. Realistically, we often eat the same foods year round but when you think of these cooling and warming foods, it makes a lot of sense.

Cooling foods are more of the raw fruits and vegetables, citrus fruits and leafy, crunchy vegetables. Warming foods require more cooking or preservation. Tomato sauces, lentils, winter squash, cabbage and dried fruits are all warming foods. Garlic and Ginger are both warming while curry is cooling. That seems counter-intuitive but if you ever eat a curry in mid-winter and then go outside, you will soon realize that you aren’t as warm as you were before you ate the curry.

Meat, dairy, eggs and heavier foods such as butter, cream, chocolate and whole grains such as barley lend themselves much better to the winter months but vegetables are just as important and shouldn’t be neglected. It’s just a matter of switching. For example, a staple in the summer, salad, can become cooked winter greens so there is no excuse to give-up the greens in the winter months. The nutrients they provide are all the more important to fend of the cold and flu bugs.

Although, lettuce doesn’t lend itself well to being cooked, kale, swiss chard and bok choy does. Very well. Steamed kale with a drizzle of tamari and olive oil is delicious. Sauteed bok choy is super simple and probably easier – and quicker – to put together than a salad in the summer.

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Warmed greens in minutes. Bok choy is sauteed in butter and drizzled with tamari and olive oil.

 

 

 

 

A Vent on Serving Sizes

I’m reading about the FDA’s plan to change serving sizes listed on the nutritional profile panels of packaged foods. The initial reaction is …. good. It’s about time they updated those 20 year guidelines and got with the times. Nobody actually eats the old serving sizes.

Image provided by gizmodo.com

Image provided by gizmodo.com

When we look at the nutritional panel, we can see the actual calories (fat, sugar, sodium etc) rather than be convinced that we aren’t eating as much as we really are.

But I’m not sure this is actually a good thing. When I first came to Canada, I remember looking around and thinking “Well, if they eat that much and look bigger, it’s ok for me to do that too”. No, it’s not! We aren’t sheep and we should be working to raise the bar on health, not bringing it further down.

Awareness on actual intake is definitely a good thing but much like house prices, perhaps we’ll just get used to consuming 400 calories in one coffee drink. If that becomes the norm and accepted, then we really are in trouble.

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Image provided by Ergonomics Plus

Instead, how about going back to packaging the food in smaller containers? Instead of making a serving size of pop 20oz, let’s put them back in the old 8oz bottle. Or move back to calling a small size an actual small size. I went out for ice cream last night and ordered a small gelato. Which wasn’t gelato, it was ice cream but that’s another story. I swear I ended up with about a half tub of Haagen Daz sized container on a waffle cone. It was so good I had trouble stopping but eventually did let the last part go to my husband who complained his stomach hurt after eating his “small” and the rest of mine.

If I ask for a small, is it possible to actually get a small?

ice cream

Image provided by Health.com

And here’s a really crazy idea. Eating whole foods that don’t even come in containers. Fruits, greens, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. You know the things that actually keep us healthy throughout our lives.

 

 

Dodgy Fruits and Veg

15 Dozen

Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a list of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables as well as a list of the cleanest produce. This list can help us budget by selecting organic versions of the produce that are heavily sprayed and allows us to get away with conventional produce that isn’t so contaminated.

Anybody who has their own fruit trees will know that it’s hard to have a good yield without the use of pesticides. These fruits are the common ones, especially apples and pears. Potatoes are also hard since they vulnerable to bugs and easily damaged.

So it’s no surprise that some of the most common fruits and vegetables hit the Dirty Dozen list year after year. Much hasn’t really changed from last year with the following listed as the highest contaminants (in no particular order):

1. Apples
2. Peaches
3. Imported Nectarines
4. Strawberries
5. Grapes
6. Cherry Tomatoes (new, they were listed as a “runner up” last year)
7. Imported Snap Peas (new)
8. Potatoes
9. Celery
10. Bell Peppers
11. Cucumbers
12. Spinach

So what’s the issue with the pesticides used? First of all, the contaminants have been so successful in producing larger crops that their use increases year after year. For us, they have been shown to produce behavioural and developmental problems in our children whose immature bodies are unable to process the chemicals. Before you dismiss this, consider the recent statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 1 in 5 schoolchildren in the US are on some form of psychological medication. ONE.IN.FIVE. Yikes.

Furthermore, they are endocrine disruptors. In plain English, they mess with our hormones creating a whole host of problems including infertility. Finally, they are .. surprise, surprise …. carcinogenic. In my last post, I was asking you to eat more greens to prevent against cancer. And yet, many conventional greens are sprayed with chemicals that counter this benefit. So when you do choose your greens, select organic versions of spinach, kale and collard (the latter two were runners up on the Dirty Dozen list).

This is just us. The damage they are doing to the environment is a whole other story, one that is changing the entire eco-system, killing off entire species of wild and marine life, reducing the quality of the soil and contaminating our drinking water.

If your budget doesn’t stretch to 100% organic, you can save some money by choosing conventional versions of the following produce, aptly named “The Clean 15”:

1. Asparagus
2. Avocado
3. Cabbage
4. Cantaloupe
5. Cauliflower
6. Eggplant
7. Grapefruit
8. Kiwi
9. Mango
10. Onions
11. Papayas*
12. Pineapple
13. Sweet Corn*
14. Sweet Pea
15. Sweet Potatoes

* Although these are listed as low in pesticide residue, papaya and sweet corn have other problems. They are both GMO foods and should be only consumed as organic versions.

The EWG has compiled this information into a PDF that you can print and carry with you to the grocery store. Click here to download the EWG’s 2014 Shopper’s Guide.

Another Reason to Eat your Greens

The last month has proved to be a huge learning curve for me. I was forced to tackle a subject I prefer to run away from. Cancer.

The word cancer will evoke some kind of emotion in everybody that sees it. Today’s version of the plague, it is a rare – and lucky – person that hasn’t been touched by it in some way. I have watched friends suffer through their own or their parents treatments and some have lost loved ones as a result of this disease. My father-in-law died of a unique type of lung cancer, mesothelioma, almost 15 years ago.

Now it touches me again. My mother, a couple of months ago, was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer. She was hurriedly taken into surgery to remove a portion of her lung and lymph nodes the cancer had spread to.

The initial thought is why? Why does lung cancer hit an otherwise healthy woman in her late 60’s? She doesn’t fit the profile of somebody with lung cancer, but then again, nor did my father-in-law.

We can analyze all we want, but the past is in the past and it’s time to review her diet and lifestyle to help her beat this.

So, to the books I went. Research and more research using the resources I had but until now, hadn’t used. Some things were consistent with diets used for other diseases, some were more cancer-specific.

But overall, what I needed to do was to provide a diet that was mainly alkaline (in order to keep the blood pH level in it’s very narrow, healthy range), rich in antioxidants and high in foods that increase the oxygen level of the blood.

Of course, diet is not the only factor we need to consider but a good diet will help fight against the toxins that are around us everyday. Those that are known to be carcinogenic and those that are too new to know the full effects, such as GMOs and WIFI.

The best place to begin is with leafy, green vegetables. A food that can be almost as hated as disease itself but once you get to know them, figure out what to do with them and maximize their flavour, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them in your diet every day.

A list of these foods would include the infamous kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and swiss chard. There are more than enough of them to create plenty of variety in the diet. And a good thing too as many of them have different properties and benefits that we gain the most defence by rotating through all of them regularly.

If there was a good time of year to start adding leafy greens into your diet, it’s now. Springtime brings the crop. Start looking for local produce at the grocery store and from farmer’s markets, which will shortly kick off in earnest. Asparagus is one of the first green vegetables to arrive and it’s always a joyful day when I see that. Not because I love asparagus, although I do, but because it really, truly means that the winter is over.

Here are some ideas to add some leafy greens to your meals every day of the week. Not only will they put your body in a better position to fight off disease, they will also fill you up with satisfying nutrients that will keep the cravings at bay.

Frozen greens or pre-packaged green make it quick and easy to include them in your meals.

Frozen greens or pre-packaged green make it quick and easy to include them in your meals.

MONDAY: Take an egg and watercress sandwich for lunch. Use the remaining watercress in a green salad in the evening. Mix it with a box of mixed baby greens and dress it with a homemade simple vinaigrette.

TUESDAY: Add some chopped arugula to a pasta sauce. It’s great with lentils and tomatoes.

WEDNESDAY: Finely chop some dandelion greens and mix it with some chunks of cooked potato. Dress it with a mixture of a clove of crushed garlic, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, a tbsp of white balsamic vinegar and 2 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil.

THURSDAY: Add a couple of handfuls of spinach to a morning smoothie. It’s mild flavour will go unnoticed in a fruit smoothie.

FRIDAY: Make some coleslaw using red and green cabbage. It will go perfectly with the fish you make on Fridays 🙂

SATURDAY: Snack on some homemade kale chips. Strip the leaves off a fresh bunch of kale, wash and pat dry. Roughly chop, toss with olive oil and sea salt and bake on a baking tray at 350°F for 15-20 minutes until crispy but not burnt.

SUNDAY: Prepare a side of sautéed Swiss Chard. Strip the leaves from the stalk and chop the stalk into bite sized chunks. Rinse stalks and leaves very well. Spin dry. Sauté a large sliced onion in 2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet until golden brown and caramelized, approximately 10-15 minutes. Add the stalks after 10 minutes, add the leaves a minute before the end. Season with 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. You can also try some other ideas for toppings for greens.

A can of beans

Lentils cook within half hour without requiring any pre-soaking. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a can of lentils, you can literally throw them in water, let them cook and then store them until you need them. Easy.

Beans, particularly chickpeas, are not so easy.  They do require pre-soaking and much longer cooking times. Although, it’s not laborious, it is time consuming and requires pre-planning. So cans do come in handy for beans.

Beans are a wonderful healthy source of fibre and protein that stabilizes blood sugar levels and keeps you feeling full for a long time. But any time we cut corners, there a concern that we take in unwanted chemicals. Canned beans definitely fall into this category. Many labels now scream “no salt or low sodium” which a good step in lowering the amount of salt the canned beans contain. But most brands also contain an ingredient that is detrimental to our health and the environment. Disodium EDTA is often listed and should be avoided.

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Most brands have disodium EDTA listed in the ingredients.

EDTA was approved by the FDA as a pharmaceutical aid in chelation therapy (the removal of heavy metals in the body). It’s widely used now in all kinds of industries. In the food industry it is used as a preservative and prevents discolouration.

Is it enough to make you run for the dried beans? Well, yes, ideally but realistically, I don’t want to discourage eating this great food. Thankfully, not all brands contain this ingredient and it might surprise you which one do and which ones don’t.

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The good guys

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A safe choice

So, don’t stop what you are doing and change your food choices, just remember to check the can and avoid those that list disodium EDTA as an ingredient.

If Jesus ate it, it’s probably ok

In one of my favourite nutrition books, In Defense of Food, the author Michael Pollen gives a  few simple guidelines to follow.

One of them, don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize. I like it’s simplicity to keep us away from processed foods.

One step further than that, I came across 5 foods that Jesus would have eaten (all of which I have talked about at some point during the year). That definitely surpasses Grandma!

  1. Pomegranates
  2. Olive oil
  3. Fish
  4. Wine – The red version, and not licence to drink a bottle a day!
  5. Figs – In a house I lived in as a child, there was a fig tree in the backyard. How I wish I had that now! Never appreciated it at the time.