Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Season's Eatings! Healthy Holiday Recipes

Whether you're having your own holiday dinner or joining friends and family, healthy, elegant holiday recipes that taste delicious and decadent are always in order! We've included some of our figure-friendly favourites that we're sure will be a hit at on any dinner table.


Appetizer: Steak-&-Boursin-Wrapped Bells.
Loaded with lean protein, vitamin C, calcium, phosphorous and zinc, this brighgly-coloured, gorgeous and simple appetizer is a sure crowd pleaser.

Ingredients:
Serves 16

16 thin slices grilled steak, such as filet mignon (about 8 ounces) or Deli Roast Beef
1 cup light Boursin cheese, divided
4 ounces thinly sliced bell pepper

Directions:
Spread each steak slice with 1 teaspoon Boursin cheese and top with bell pepper slices. Roll the steak around the bell pepper slices.

Per piece: 37 calories; 2 g fat (1 g sat, 0 g mono); 13 mg cholesterol; 1 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 5 g protein; 0 g fiber; 34 mg sodium; 66 mg potassium.

Side Dish: Mashed Roots with Buttermilk & Chives.
Warm, creamy, decadent and fibre-rich. Who would have thought! Ditch those plain old mashed potatoes and spice things up with celery root, rutabaga, and ofcourse, some Yukon Golds!

Ingredients:
Serves 8

2 pounds celery root, (celeriac), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
5 cloves garlic, peeled
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3/4 cup nonfat buttermilk,
1/2 teaspoon
salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup snipped fresh chives

Directions:
1. Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a large pan or Dutch oven. Place celery root, rutabaga and potatoes in a large steamer basket over the water, cover and steam over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Add garlic and continue steaming, checking the water level and replenishing as necessary, until the vegetables are fall-apart tender, 20 minutes more.
2. Remove the vegetables, drain the cooking liquid and return the vegetables to the pan. Add 2 tablespoons butter and mash until chunky-smooth. Gradually stir in buttermilk, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
3. Just before serving, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and chives.

Per serving: 173 calories; 6 g fat (4 g sat, 0 g mono); 15 mg cholesterol; 26 g carbohydrates; 4 g protein; 4 g fiber; 289 mg sodium; 826 mg potassium.


Side Dish: Maple-Roasted Sweet Potatoes.
Bright orange and full of carotenoids (antioxidants) as well as vitamin C, it's hard to resist roasted sweet potatoes, especially when maple syrup is involved. What could be more festive?

Ingredients:
Serves 12

2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Arrange sweet potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes; toss to coat.
3. Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to 50 minutes more.

Per serving: 96 calories; 2 g fat (1 g sat, 0 g mono); 5 mg cholesterol; 19 g carbohydrates; 1 g protein; 2 g fiber; 118 mg sodium; 189 mg potassium.


With Turkey: Bulgur Stuffing with Dried Cranberries & Hazelnuts.
Fibre-rich and festive, bulgur is a nutty whole grain that pairs perfectly with turkey as well as holiday staples like cranberries and hazelnuts. This stuffing is also high in vitamin C and magnesium, as well as omega-3 essential fatty acids. A wonderful substitution for traditional bread stuffing.

Ingredients:
Serves 10

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups chopped onions, (2 large)
1 cup chopped celery, (2-3 stalks)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 cups bulgur, rinsed
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup orange juice
2/3 cup chopped hazelnuts, (2 ounces)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Add onions and celery; cook, stirring often, until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, cinnamon and allspice; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add bulgur and stir for a few seconds. Add broth, bay leaf and salt; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the bulgur is tender and liquid has been absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine dried cranberries and orange juice in a small microwave-safe bowl. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on high for 2 minutes. (Alternatively, bring dried cranberries and orange juice to a simmer in a small saucepan on the stovetop and remove from heat.) Set aside to plump.
3. Toast hazelnuts in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until light golden and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. When the bulgur is ready, discard the bay leaf. Add the cranberries, toasted hazelnuts, parsley and pepper; fluff with a fork.

Per serving: 210 calories; 7 g fat (1 g sat, 5 g mono); 2 mg cholesterol; 34 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 6 g protein; 7 g fiber; 114 mg sodium; 269 mg potassium.

"Marky Mark" Wahlberg Ditches Diet After Filming

It's quite funny how one can easily predict that after an extended period of strict dieting and deprivation, people often just ditch their diets all together. There may indeed be exceptions to the rule, but this is not the case with actor and former Calvin Klein underwear model Mark Wahlberg. After two long years of strict dieting and training for his latest film "The Fighter", Wahlberg is throwing in the dieting towel - at least for now.

Once known best for his 6-pack abs, Wahlberg has managed to maintain a fit physique for all these years with a devotion and passion for fitness. Now 39, one could argue that this actor and father looks just as good as he did back then. In fact, he has just completed shooting his latest film "the Fighter" in which he plays a boxer, a role which he prepared for by training for a staggering two years, five days a week, 30 minutes a session.

Now that it's all over, Mark admits that his "new regimen consists of a bottle of red wine and a lot of food" and that he is just enjoying himself at this point. Regarding his wife's opinion on his new diet, Wahlberg said ‘She’s like, “If you want to hold on to me, you gotta do something”.’ Can it really be that bad? Considering Mark's love of boxing, he will most likely continue to balance his now relaxed caloric intake with regular exercise, although perhaps not as strictly as before, saying "‘Ultimately if I can train for another six months and look like a world class fighter that would be great.’ I guess only time will tell!

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Little More Protein Helps Keep the Pounds Off

Losing weight, while difficult, can be done using any number of diets. Obviously some diets are healthier than others, but weight loss through dietary means ultimately boils down to limiting the number of calories you take in - regardless of what you're consuming. Keeping weight off, it turns out, might just be a little bit more complicated, according to researchers.

Once a person reaches their weight goal, they must readjust the number of calories they consume to promote weight maintenance, not loss. But it turns out that at this point, what a person eats to maintain their weight can actually help or hinder their ability to keep the pounds off. But the good news is that the diets that have been found to work best are also the easiest to stick to, and are backed by sound science.

It has been shown that diets slightly higher in protein - that is, on the higher end of what is recommended, but not more - so about 30% of your caloric intake, when paired with foods low on the glycemic index, deliver the best results. This all makes perfect sense if you break it down a little further. Low-GI foods are more slowly digested and sugars are released into the bloodstream gradually, not spiking blood glucose or insulin levels. These foods also tend to be higher in fibre, which promotes feelings of fullness. In addition, protein is an important factor that is associated with feelings of satisfaction. So if you're full and satisfied, and your blood sugar is not spiking or dipping, you're likely to stay healthy and happy, and able to maintain your weight for longer! No wonder diets high in vegetables and fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and lean protein are said to be the healthiest in the world.

Friday, November 26, 2010

10 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Throughout history, times of celebration have been synonymous with bounty. For those who had little, there was always something on the table to be thankful for, and it was not a time for rationing or showing restraint. Today, the holidays are no different -- the problem is that we are! Times have changed, and for many people, holiday indulgence turns into gluttony; bounty is all around in the form of appetizers, alcohol, main dishes and desserts and we just cant resist - nor should we entirely. The funny thing is that most people don't want to gain weight over the holidays, but holding back is very difficult. In fact, the average holiday meal clocks in at around 3,000 calories -- that's more than most people need in a day, never mind in one single meal!

Not to worry, we're here to help you moderate the effects of the holidays on your health. Just follow these 10 tips and you'll be in far better shape than if you just threw in the towel and let loose on the buffet table (proverbial or otherwise).

1. Plan Ahead. This point is key. You need to know what you're getting in to in regards to holiday dinners and events so that you can ration your calories and meals accordingly. But following a plan does not mean that you should skip meals. You've heard it before and we'll say it again: always eat breakfast. The key here is to keep your metabolism revved up and working all day long, but this also means that the rest of your meals can't be super-sized. Eat small, regular meals and healthy snacks during the day to help avoid overeating at holiday parties.

2. Drink moderately. Note that we're not suggesting you abstain from enjoying a drink or two, but realize that alcohol and other sugary beverages are loaded with calories that you won't even notice you're drinking. To make matters worse, alcohol makes you hungrier, so all this does is make you eat even more! Try alternating each drink with a glass of water.

3. Don't deny yourself. Have a small taste of the things you really enjoy, but the key word is taste. If you know you'll want a bit more of something you love, have less of something else! There's no point on filling up on things you don't really want just for the sake of it. And if you happen to overindulge at one meal, don't kick yourself over it - just get back on track with your next meal.

4. Make smart swaps - Substitute Greek or strained yogurt for cream, sour cream and mayonnaise, and substitute herbs and spices for salt and fats. You can also add strained applesauce or pumpkin puree instead of butter or cooking oil when baking.

5. Eat smaller portions or use a smaller plate. A smaller plate will limit the amount of food you can load on, creates more work for you in terms of going back for more, and also makes people notice when you dig in for seconds and thirds - which might just stop you. When it comes to large portions, try sharing them. This works well with dessert. You can also avoid loading up on dressings and side dishes which are typically high in calories. Trim the fat from your meat and use less gravy and dressings (or choose low-fat ones).

6. Prepare Smaller Portions. Believe it or not, not everyone is interested in tasting all 12 of your appetizers. You might be surprised at how well received a simpler, smaller dinner will be in between all the others.

7. Pace, don't race. Eat your food slowly. The point is to really enjoy and taste your food. Really savour each bite. If you eat too fast your stomach won't have time to register that it is full and you'll have gone way over what's necessary by the time you call it quits.

8. Out of sight, out of mind. And out of reach! Be sure to avoid loitering in the same room as the food because if you can see or smell it, you're going to keep thinking about it, and your chances of going back for more increase exponentially! A better strategy? Focus your attention on the company, rather than the buffet or the bar.

9. If you must snack, choose raw vegetables, low fat dips and salsa.

And lastly,

10. Make sure you get regular exercise and lots of sleep throughout the holidays. The only way to balance those calories in and maintain your weight is to burn them off! Exercise is also a great way to blow off any holiday stress, because as fun as they are, there's always something on that to do list. Try to go for a walk after dinner (a great way to get away from the food), or get to the gym in the mornings before the holiday activities begin! Take naps if you're feeling exhausted, because the more tired you are, the hungrier you'll feel.

So, with these tips at hand, go forth and enjoy your holidays without all the guilt and weight gain. Here's to your good health this holiday season!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Is Personal Health on Your To-Do List?

We all know people whose lives are scheduled from dusk to dawn. They're in meetings or travelling or glued to their computers and blackberries, with "no time" to get any physical activity or choose healthy meals to eat. Yup, when it's time to eat, it's all about pre-packaged or prepared meals and lunches are often synonymous with meetings in restaurants. The end result? Often overweight, hypertension and eventually heart disease. It is completely understandable when people have an excess of obligations, whether in work or otherwise, that they end up prioritizing by deadlines - the sooner something is 'due', the more attention it needs. So when is health 'due'?

Since we imagine health as an abstract concept that we can't always wrap our heads around, it's difficult to know how to prioritize it or where it belongs on our to-do lists. Today? Next week? After this deadline? Well, just the same as we have to eat and shower and breathe each day, health should be something that we just 'do' every day - and it shouldn't be so difficult. But to begin with, it wouldn't hurt to actually schedule it, just like an important meeting, so that we're prompted to take action.

Did you know that the definition of mental health includes a balance between work and leisure time? That's right - you simply have to take a little time off here and there to gain some perspective. An in terms of physical health, how about spending an hour or 2 on the weekend getting your meals prepared for the week to save time, including blanching some veggies and pre-cooking some chicken breasts and whole grains so they're easily accessible in your fridge. Or what about buying healthy snacks like fruit, veggies, granola bars, yogurt and so on - it's not that hard. You can even do your groceries on-line if you don't want to take the time to go to the store, and finally you can always have healthy meals delivered to your door, so there are no excuses!

Mental and physical health are of the utmost importance and deserve as much if not more 'scheduling' and priority on your to-do list as anything else. So go on. Take a breather!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Scientists: Obesity Caused by More than Diet and Exercise

While North Americans tend to take the main focus (and blame), obesity is on the rise all over the world - and not just in humans. Scientists have discovered that the average weight of a number of species from mice to monkeys is on the rise and they're struggling to figure out why.

In humans, we know that diet and exercise are the keys to a healthy weight and preventing obesity, but what about in other animals? Why are their weights on the rise, and what can this tell us about ourselves? Scientists believe that factors such as light exposure or infections might have something to do with it; stating "It may be something in the air, the water or the food, other than the nutrients.".

Forgive my skepticism, but the truth is, as long as energy intake is balanced with output, energy is balanced. It may not be easy or what everyone wants to hear, but it appears as if people are constantly looking for someone or something else to blame to absolve themselves of the responsibility of maintaining their health. I'm not suggesting that individuals should take all the blame since there are obviously bigger factors involved, but if we are able, we should try to take the reigns.

It will be very interesting to see what other factors will be found in future research that contribute to obesity, but for now, let's just stick to the basics.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What to Eat for the Healthiest Hair

Winter is just about upon us, so it'll be no time until we start seeing that dreaded winter hair loss and breakage. Yes, winter is harsh on our hair. Cold winter winds whipping, scarves and jackets tangling and indoor heating drying out our strands - how soon until those 'winter protection' commercials from brands like Pantene start airing? Don't worry though - while shampoo and conditioner will help, you can strengthen your hair from the inside out and actually enhance it's growth through a healthy diet.

Many people think that applying something on the surface of their hair (or skin) is going to solve their dryness problem, but the problem actually has more to do with nutritional deficiencies than the quality of your cream. Those external products can help protect and act as a defense mechanism, but they won't fix the initial problem. The real key is to make sure you're getting enough protein, vitamin E, omega-3 and 6 MUFAs and PUFAs along with vitamins B, C, E, A and K. You also need to be getting enough iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and zinc if you want healthy strong hair. Now, it should be noted that deficiencies in these nutrients can cause breakage and hair loss, but if you're already getting enough, there's no sense in going overboard - more is not better; 'enough' is what you need.

So what kinds of foods can help maintain healthy, strong strands? Foods like fish, meat, poultry, raw nuts, seeds, whole grains and green leafy vegetables pretty much run the gamut from Vitamin A to zinc in addition to providing you with lean protein, simple and complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. You can really do a lot with those ingredients! And sure, there are always supplements that can provide you with many of these nutrients, but if you're not getting enough fats in general (20-30% of your daily calories or 44-66g per day on a 2000 calorie diet), dryness will still be a factor. Plus, nutrients tend to be more biologically available and usable from whole foods anyways. As long as you're having complete, balanced meals (with items from 3 or more food groups at each meal) you should do very well. Here's to your healthy, strong hair!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Oat Bran Lowers Cholesterol

On these frosty, cool mornings, a hot bowl of oats is just what the doctor ordered - literally. We've known for years that oats are a factor in good health and that soluble fibre helps to reduce LDL cholesterol levels (the bad kind), but today, Health Canada has formally recognized the health benefits of Oat bran specifically.

You may have seen the claims on the packages of Quaker oats, all oats in fact, stating that "oat fibre helps reduce cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease." These claims kind of alluded to the fact that the soluble fibre in oats, called beta-glucancan, help reduce LDL levels, however it seemed as if they were kind of beating around the bush. This is because Health Canada strictly regulates health claims, and very few specific food items or brands of foods are able to have claims associated with disease prevention. Nutrients, yes, but whole foods or parts of them, not usually.

Recently, Becel's pro-activ margarine was the first product in Canada able to display the claim "lowers cholesterol absorption" thanks the fact that it contains plant sterols. Now, Quaker oats can join that special list and proudly display health claims such as "1/3 cup (30g) of Quick Quaker Oats or Quaker Large Flake Oats supplies 40% of the daily amount of the fibres shown to help reduce cholesterol."

According to Dr. Randall Kaplan, PhD, Director, Nutrition Science and Regulatory Affairs at PepsiCo Canada, "A large body of evidence has demonstrated the effectiveness of oat fibre consumption in reducing blood cholesterol. Health Canada's announcement means that we can communicate something very tangible to Canadians - eating foods that contain oat fibre, such as oatmeal, helps reduce cholesterol."

Friday, November 19, 2010

For Diet Advice, Women Don't Welcome Men's Input

It's a fact of human nature: our behaviors and thoughts are shaped by the norms of society. We act within the confines of what is considered acceptable, and if we deviate, we're considered strange. For women, things like choosing what to wear, how to look from day to day, and body weight are strongly determined by what other women are doing. So when it comes to dieting, men's opinions and advice have little effect on women.

Australian researchers have come to the conclusion that for women, diet tips from men are not only unwelcome, but also disregarded. It was concluded that women don't diet and worry about their weight for men, they worry about it for other women. Yes - I guess women are like that. This makes sense if you consider that men love women with curves, but women seem to want to rid themselves of their curves in our society. Plus, what women wear initiates in high fashion, where models tend to look more like coat hangers. This also further highlights the fact that women can be more strongly persuaded in both a positive or negative direction when examples or advice are delivered by a woman as opposed to a man.

For example, in the study, women paid greater attention to unhealthy messages promoting crash diets if women delivered them! This is scary stuff. But knowing this can also help us make a difference in shifting society's norms to healthier standards. Good health should not be a 'trend' and should not be sacrificed for the sake of 'looking good' - whatever that means. Women and men require pretty much the same breakdown of nutrients, just tailored in amounts proportional to their size and activity level, so sound advice is sound advice any way you slice it, from a woman or a man. Perhaps women ought to pay more attention to what the opposite sex has to say in regards to good food and and a more positive body image - they seem to know a thing or two about that.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Some Healthy Diet Lessons From Hollywood

Although it might seem petty to care about and scrutinize celebrities based on their appearances, the fact remains that what they do and how they look ultimately reflects upon society - young girls and women mostly. Most people know what it means to be healthy, but it's difficult to go against what the rest of society is doing. So when it's trendy to be way too skinny, we need some positive examples of girls who are doing things right who can tip the scales in a healthier direction.

On that note, today I came across two examples of people who are doing things right: Natalie Portman and Kelly Osbourne. We're reported before on Kelly Osbourne, who has undergone a major diet and lifestyle overhaul. She used to be the poster child for bad habits but now she seems to be the polar opposite! Once overweight, she's now in the best shape of her life, which is why she's donning this month's cover of SHAPE magazine. Kelly looks absolutely spectacular in a red, belly-baring bikini. Her secret? Swapping chips and soda for healthier options. In her own words, "I started losing weight and realized, ‘Oh, it’s true what they say: Diet and exercise really work!’". That's right - not starvation!!

Now on the flip side, Natalie Portman basically had to starve herself to 'accurately portray' a prima ballerina in her latest film 'Black Swan'. Natalie is normally a wonderful role model when it comes to eating right and exercising (she's vegetarian and maintains a healthy weight), but she had to switch up her healthy habits in order to look underweight. She was exercising excessively and not eating enough, and probably lost more weight than she even needed to in order to accurately play her role. Her extreme weight loss actually alarmed her trainer when he noticed how lean she had gotten and he could see her ribs and spine. Thankfully, once shooting was over, Portman bounced back to her healthy habits straight away. She said "It was pretty immediate. I was ready to leave the ballet life," adding "I was like, 'Please don't let there be re-shoots for this [film] because I don't think I could get back into the costumes!'". Yep, it's better to eat and be healthy!

So, it goes to show that while there are a bunch of bad examples out there for girls and women, there are still some positive messages resonating from Hollywood that might help some people stay on the right track to health!

What You Eat Today Affects Your Future Health

Heart disease is a young person's disease in an older person's body. It doesn't happen over night, and it doesn't happen as a result of age - it happens as a result of inappropriate diet and lifestyle choices that stem from youth through adolescence and eventually, one day, kick you in the butt when you're older.

The funny thing about this fact is that when we're in our teens and twenties especially, poor diet and lifestyle choices are trendy! Now, the American Heart Association has come out with new research that more clearly illustrates the fact that a high sodium intake during adolescence - you know, when it's cool - is strongly associated with heart disease and hypertension in adulthood. In fact, they showed that on average, adolescents take in a whopping nine grams of sodium each day! I can't fathom -- the recommendation is no more than 2300mg, but 1500mg is the ideal goal. They're taking in nearly 4x the 'looser' recommendation and 6x the best recommendation.

Now don't worry, there is always room for improvement when it comes to poor diet and lifestyle choices - it's never too late to make a change for better health, but just think about some of the things young people (not exclusively) say: "hey, do you have a smoke?" or "I'm gonna go get a double down sandwich, it's so gross and bad for you -- you have to try one!" or "I'm so lazy" or"We're gonna drink so much tonight, then eat Chinese food, then chips and then go to bed at 4am". Yep - it's not pretty. We've all seen and heard it. We put our bodies through a lot of bad stuff, especially when we're young, and yet we are still surprised later on when we get sick.

You can still add many years of good health to your life by taking action as soon as possible, instead of waiting until things get worse...you're not 'doomed'! So go on, get active, cut back on that salt and saturated fat, eat more frequent and smaller meals, lose those few extra pounds on your tummy, get more rest, reduce your alcohol intake to 1-2 standard drinks per day, and eat more fruits and veggies! Any or all of the above can yield amazing health benefits - the more the better.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Healthy Diet Considered for World Heritage List

What do the Taj Mahal, The Great wall of China, and the Old City of Jerusalem and the pyramids have in common with the Mediterranean diet? Not a heck of a lot on the surface (unless you count the 'pyramid' part). That is, except for the fact that one of the healthiest known patterns of eating i.e. the Mediterranean diet; may be up for consideration to be added to the list of World heritage along with many other cultural icons.

Actually, to be more clear, the list doesn't only contain things you can see and places to go (known as tangibles), it also contains important traditions that have existed for centuries, such as basket weaving, dancing and so on (called intangibles), and this is actually the part of the list where the Mediterranean diet may soon be found. If that should surprise you, think about it - the diet isn't 'new' and it's not a diet in the sense of weight loss; it's a healthy pattern of eating including fresh, natural, health promoting ingredients that, when eaten together regularly, have been shown to reduce the risk of just about every chronic disease we know of.

Since food is such a key cultural component all over the world, and what we eat can make or break our health, it makes sense that such a groundbreaking and health-promoting cultural staple should make the list. But if it does, what exactly is next? Therein lies the problem. But those who are hoping to see the Mediteranean diet added to the World Heritage list argue that it's more than just food, more than just a diet - it's about the way you eat, the importance of the ingredients to society and the economy, the passing on of traditions and the pleasure of actually eating the food. I think we can all agree with that point! I guess we'll just have to wait and see if it makes the cut.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Eat Your Way to Better Health with Quinoa

We Canadians certainly love our staple foods. When it comes to complex carbohydrates, we frequently chow down on potatoes, oats, rice and foods made from wheat including pastas, crackers, bread. But more recently, in part due to a boom of individuals suffering from gluten intolerance (an allergy to wheat), it seems that ancient grains are making a comeback in a big way, and are regularly being resurrected onto our dinner plates.

Some experts argue that over-exposure to particular foods can cause our bodies to develop an immune response to particular proteins within the foods, producing antibodies against these antigens, resulting in an allergic reaction to the foods in question. Whether or not over-exposure is the cause is hotly debated, but this gives us even more reason to mix up what we consume on a daily basis - which is the goal if we want to maximize the variety of nutrients we consume each week. This is where ancient grains can help.

You may or may not have heard of quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), but there is a lot to be said about this ancient powerhouse grain that has been around for centuries. NASA astronauts have definitely heard of it, as they've been taking it to space for a while due to it's amazingly complete nutritional profile and they're actually considering including it as part of a program to grow crops in space. Hey-when you've got to pack light, this tiny grain packs a huge nutritional punch. Described as the 'perfect grain', not only is this grain gluten-free, is good source of calcium, iron, vitamin E, phosphorous and some B vitamins and it contains all the essential amino acids and more protein than just about any other grain (almost 2x that of rice or barley). Cooking quinoa is simple - in fact you cook it just like you would rice, buckwheat or any other grain, but it only takes about 15 minutes. The main difference is that you have to soak it and rinse it for a little bit at first.

The outside of the quinoa grain contains a compound called saponin, so if you don't rinse and agitate the grain before cooking it, you will end up with a bitter, soapy flavour which you can bet tastes horrible. Don't worry, though, it only takes a few minutes to rinse, and once the firm little coating comes off, they're good to cook! You can do anything with quinoa that you would with any other grain - have it at breakfast (porridge), in salads, soups, or paired with your meat and veggies. Quinoa is so common now that you can find it literally in any store - so go on, get yourself some. It might even become a new staple food in your kitchen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Miracle Food of the Moment: Chia Seeds

You may have seen them sold as 'salba', but now chia seeds are virtually everywhere and claim to be the miracle food we've been missing. So why should you pay attention to these tiny black and white seeds? There are a number of reasons - in fact I bet you'll go out and buy some after you read this!

I'm not sure if you ever had a chia pet back in the 90s (wow, so fun!) - I personally missed the boat on that one - but funny enough, these are the exact same seeds. Instead of sprouting them, you just eat the seeds whole or cracked. They might be tiny (smaller than a sesame seed), but they pack an even bigger and badder punch than flax seeds when it comes to their omega-3 content, plus they're very high in fibre, low in calories and extremely versatile. Chia seeds are perfect and acceptable for the prevention and management of diabetes, dyslipidemia or hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) and heart disease.

Just one tablespoon of chia seeds contains only 50 calories, but 2.3 g of Omega 3 essential fatty acids, 2 g of easily digestible and high quality protein containing all essential amino acids, 5 g of highly soluble Fibre, 70 mg of Calcium and has an ORAC (antioxidant) Value of 960! The seeds are also a good source of phosphorus, and a very good source manganese as well as being very low in sodium and cholesterol. Thanks to this particularly impressive nutrient profile, chia seeds can help reduce food cravings, improve your glycemic response and enhance regularity. In addition, studies have shown that chia seeds can improve systolic blood pressure and reduce other risk factors for cardiovascular disease in people with Type 2 diabetes. In other words, the proof is in the pudding.

Speaking of pudding, the seeds can be sprinkled on foods, used as an ingredient in baked goods, mixed into a glass of water or - if you're feeling particularly ambitious - just eat it from a spoon! So how many of you are about to go buy some chia seeds? I've already got mine!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why Stress Leads to Weight Gain

We certainly put our bodies through a lot on a daily basis. Think about it - we push ourselves to do things we're not meant to do, overexert our muscles and organs and yet we deprive ourselves of some of the bare essentials of life like sleep, relaxation and physical activity that are meant to reset the balance - heck sometimes we even forget to breathe! These factors, in addition to some relics of our evolutionary past can help answer the question of why we tend to pack on the pounds while under stress.

For starters, busybodies, workaholics and other people who are particularly stressed tend to get fewer hours of sleep each night. A lack of sleep has been shown time and time again to lead to weight gain, so we've got part of the answer there. Additionally, in times of stress, our bodies release stress hormones like cortisol that result in the storage of excess fat, especially around the tummy. We also know that this is the most dangerous and deadly place to store fat on our bodies. This used to be a survival mechanism for our ancestors who didn't have reliable access to food, and also had to run away from hungry beasts to escape death - That's what I call stressful -but these days, simply sitting in rush hour traffic has the same effect. And finally, as if that wasn't enough, it's now been found that the act of eating itself brings us even more joy and pleasure when we're stressed, and that little bit of happiness is so intoxicating that we keep on eating! Researchers have found that eating can help reduce stress, so it's not surprising that under stress, we eat more! Can you say 'comfort food'?.

But don't fret - weight gain under times of stress is not inevitable. It has been shown that even small amounts of pleasurable foods can reduce our stress levels. So basically, all you need is just a little bit of 'comfort food', a little reflection and deep breathing (seriously, for maybe ten minutes a day or when you need a 'moment'- you can do it), a little physical activity sprinkled in here and there (walking to work or getting off the bus one stop early - just need at least 30 minutes a day and you can spread it out) and going to be 30-60 min earlier each day.

If you think these suggestions are impossible or unreasonable, a very wise person once told me 'you never know what you can do until you try'. I'm sure you apply this reasoning to your daily life in regards to your job, maybe school and your relationships, so giving an honest effort is without a doubt something you can do. You're absolutely capable!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Most People Ignore Nutrition When Dining Out

For many of us, going out for dinner is a treat - a once in a while occasion that usually spells indulgence. But even for those who are looking for lighter fare or healthier alternatives when dining out, intentions don't always translate into actions once it's time to order. According to a new consumer report, only 25% of consumers actually consider nutrition and go for healthy options when eating out.

The 2010 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report was designed to inform restaurants, manufacturers, and suppliers as to where consumer preferences lie, so they can better cater to their needs. So basically, the report found that 75% of people disregard the healthy options (whether intentionally or otherwise) when dining out, which means that the industry will keep giving them what they want! According to those consumers who actually went for the 'healthier' options, about one fifth reported that the food didn't taste all that great and they were often disappointed.

The report goes on to say that while there is a big push these days to choose healthier options at mealtimes, intentions don't usually pan out while eating out. I guess this all goes back to the reason why people choose to eat out in the first place. If you look at it in the perspective of 'indulgence and relaxation' then yes, you will likely select something you don't usually eat on the regular, something you don't or can't make at home, and you treat yourself. Also, there's steadfast evidence showing that who we eat with influences what we end up eating. So, if your friends order sharing plates like nachos or dips, or more indulgent dishes like creamy pastas or burgers, it's often difficult not to follow suit or resist sneaking a few chips in that you initially had no intention of eating.

My advice: if you're being really careful and can't blow your diet - stay away from restaurants all together or implement some iron-clad will power. But, more realistically, being that it's the Holiday season starting now through to January, Christmas parties will be in full swing and restaurants will likely be unavoidable. In that case, do yourself a favour and order a salad with the dressing on the side, without all the bells and whistles that add calories. Chances are there will be alcohol and finger foods involved anyways, so going for a salad really isn't that much of a sacrifice!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Another Crazy Diet For Carnivores (and Celebrities)

Humans are omnivores. Unlike lions whose teeth are all pointy and sharp, designed to pierce and tear in order to exclusively eat meat, we humans have teeth designed for cutting and grinding nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables in addition to those lion-esque canines made for meat. So why would anyone think it would be appropriate to go completely the other way, from what is known to be the healthiest pattern of eating (which would actually be little to no meat), by consuming strictly steaks and protein for 5-10 days or more? Read on.

Enter the Dukan Diet. With side effects like terrible breath, constipation, and possibly kidney damage, what's not to love? Celebrities like Gisele Bundchen, Jennifer Lopez and opera singer Katherine Jenkins are reportedly all over this diet, which originated in France. If this diet reminds you at all of Atkins, you're sorely mistaken. No, Atkins at least allows you some colour on your plate; Dukan, on the other hand expressly forbids even a leaf of lettuce. Meat only. No Fibre!? My insides are crying. After the first 5-10 days of meat only, dieters are allowed unlimited veggies, but only every other day until they reach their weight loss goals. Eventually, there's a more liberal phase - if you can even get there.

Our bodies use fats and carbohydrates as primary energy sources - we don't use protein as fuel until things get really nasty, like during starvation, where we start to see muscle wasting. Other than that, muscle is usually spared. This is the body's ditch effort to keep us alive as muscle is critical for a strong immune system and to keep us mobile. When we don't provide our bodies with any carbohydrates or fats, the body uses it's own stores first, which explains the stinky breath as a side-effect. You can also expect fatigue, mood swings, inability to focus and a general lack of energy. Once those stores are depleted, your body might start breaking down proteins in order to make glucose, because that's all your brain can use for energy. That's when things get really bad and dangerous. We're not designed to live like that, and our organs can suffer as a result.

All in all, we know that weight loss is driven by a calorie deficit, which means that you can still have a healthy balance of carbs, fats and protein, still lose weight, and not suffer or damage your body. Come on, people - snap out of it and eat an apple for crying out loud.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Forget What They Say: Eat More Eggs!

My blood nearly boiled last week when I heard that Canadian researchers actually went so far as to suggest that KFC's Double Down Sandwich is better for you than eggs. It begs the question, how can an intelligent person be so...well - ignorant? Let me explain.

In their defense, perhaps they didn't outright express that you should go for a double down over an egg, but for most readers, that's the message that comes across. What they said was that one egg had more cholesterol and is worse for your cholesterol levels and heart attack risk than the double down sandwich. For those of you who aren't familiar, KFC’s Double Down sandwich is something of a food 'joke' if you will - the stuff college guys' dreams and doctors' nightmares. Basically, you've got two pieces of deep fried chicken feigning as buns, sandwiching bacon, sauce and cheese.

So based on these 'findings', the average reader might just read the headlines and assume that nature's most complete and 'perfect' food, a source of virtually every nutrient essential to mankind, with only 7g of fat and 75 calories per egg, is somehow inferior to a 540 calorie artery-clogging bomb that contains 32g fat and nearly 1400mg sodium (that value exceeds most new recommendations which suggest that between 1200-1500mg sodium per day is healthy). Right - no, that makes perfect sense.

In addition, the report released last week failed to mention the fact that most of the cholesterol that is circulating within our bodies was actually made there, most especially upon ingesting loads of fat and sugar. What does that mean? Realistically, upon ingesting a double down, your body will make lots more cholesterol than you will obtain by simply eating an egg.

So before you boycott eggs or think it might be wise to try the double down sandwich, I implore you to be a little wiser and look at all the (nutrition) facts, not just one point.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Banning Happy Meals: A Question of Ethics?

Not sure if you've heard the news today, but it's official: San Francisco has banned happy meals! This may cause some people to jump for joy, while others will be outraged, but in case you're curious, here are my thoughts on the situation: By definition, the ultimate 'ideal' aim of all public health strategies and policies is to reduce the risk of harm to individuals while working to promote the greater good of society as a whole. In other words, reducing health risks like obesity and preventing or treating all chronic diseases like hypertension, for example, requires a balance of personal responsibility with social responsibility.

People have got to take control of their diet and lifestyle choices but they first have to be able to do so! It's unfair and unrealistic to expect anyone to take appropriate preventative health measures without the appropriate resources and without being adequately informed, knowledgeable or capable of using them. We must be careful not to blame the victim if and when they become ill if society has not provided them with the resources they need to make informed choices; we must always look at the bigger picture.

Consumers are not always aware of what goes into their food products, so food manufacturers and government officials must take some responsibility in the prevention of obesity and chronic disease by decreasing the amount of sodium, sugar and fat that consumers are exposed to. With greater awareness of the health risks of poor dietary choices and health risks like high sodium intakes, there may be a shift in social norms and acceptability of the fact that certain foods have a very negative impact on health.

So, sure, kiddies won't get 'prizes' now for ordering fries and burgers...but they can still order fries and burgers if they want. Still, this may also be a great first step to avoiding a number of personal, familial, financial, social and societal burdens resulting from future illness that could result from poor eating habits in childhood. I give San Francisco a big "Thumbs Up" for putting their foot down on this matter.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

'Fat' Still a Hot Topic This Week, Only More Taboo

Since last week, and through to this week, people are all worked up over MUFAs - healthy fats that help lower bad cholesterol and improve heart health. This week, however it's a different story - people are still talking about fat, but not the kind you eat. At some point recently, somebody decided it became 'OK' again to blatantly call people 'fat' in the media - well, presumably, because since last week, my count is up to 4.

Gone are the days of tip-toeing around the issue of overweight and obesity, or being PC about it and calling people "heavy-set". Yup, the media seems to have taken their censors off recently.
First, Torontonians were reeling when a reporter slammed our mayor elect Rob Ford as being 'too fat' to be mayor, next, a Marie Claire blogger called the obese stars of the TV show Mike & Molly "fat people" who she found"disgusting" and "uncomfortable to watch" in one of her posts. As if that wasn't enough, renowned fashion designer Tom Ford made headlines when he shunned a customer by saying "I don't want fat guys like you in my shop" which was a big mistake on many accounts, including the fact that the customer was billionaire Jean Pigozzi. And finally, today, I read a headline that asked if Mike "the situation" Sorrentino from the massively successful MTV series Jersey Shore looks "fat" on the cover of Men's Health! Holy cow - to all this, I say "enough already"!

Whatever someone's weight happens to be, it is never OK to outright call people 'fat'. As I mentioned in my post about Rob Ford, there are so many reasons why people are overweight or obese, and it's not just about what they eat or how much they move around. In fact, there are 12 key determinants of health as outlined by the World Health Organization that influence all aspects of everyone's lives. These include income and social status, social support, relationships with family and friends, genetics, health services, culture and education, just to name a few. The way that all 12 of these determinants interact eventually result in the health outcomes that we see in people. You can check out more about this topic here.

So come on people, ignorance not an acceptable excuse when it comes to criticizing others in regards to their appearance. Let's all be a little bit more objective and understanding and keep our judgments to ourselves. And to the media: put those censors back on!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Eating Like a Caveman is Not Very Wise

With the frequent introduction of new and crazy diet trends complete with proponents who back them up, sometimes the 'crazy' diets that have been around a little longer get pushed into the sidelines. This doesn't, however, make them any less strange or wild, just slightly less popular. One such diet is the 'Paleo' or 'Caveman' diet, but it's starting to make it's way back into headlines. If you already eat like a caveman, you might be thinking this is great, but there are plenty of reasons you should re-think your dietary strategy.

The diet is based on the fact that humans (and their digestive systems) have evolved very little since the time of the caveman, but the foods we eat have evolved rapidly. If you consider food processing and preserving methods, factory farming and even the relatively 'simple' art of cooking, a lot has changed in the human diet since the time of the caveman. This is hard to dispute, and I agree with this point. But the Paleo diet also suggests we stick to our roots and eat lots of meat, wild game, nuts and seeds, and avoid anything that wasn't around during the time of the caveman, namely dairy, potatoes, sugar, grains and beans.

While it's great to avoid refined sugars and consume lots of fish, seeds and nuts, that's about as much as I can say is positive about this dietary approach. I can't agree with the 'lots of meat' part, or cutting out healthy sources of fibre. What about fruits and vegetables? We now know that the less meat we consume, the longer we may live, especially disease-free. There is up-standing scientific evidence backing up the fact that plant-based diets are the absolute healthiest ways to eat, including lots of variety in fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains for fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Restricting important foods and taking in an excess of others (especially meats) is never a good idea, unless you have a good medical reason for doing so! Maybe soybeans and yogurts weren't around back when we were club-wielding cave-people, but the fact that they're here today is only to our benefit.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

New iPhone App Helps You Pick Your Groceries

Reading nutrition labels can sometimes feel like reading another language. You might feel like you're back in elementary school French class. Sure, you might recognize some of the terms, you've heard lots about them and you know when it's appropriate to use them - but left to your own devices in the grocery store, you might feel like you're on foreign exchange (or in some strange food jungle). Nutritionists and dietitians know this, and this is one major challenge in getting people to eat right - how can you know what foods and products are right for you, never mind actually obtaining and consuming them if you can't navigate your way around the store? Thankfully, at the risk of sounding completely cliche, there's an app for that.

CarrotLines is a new app for iPhones that allows it's user to input their specific nutrition needs, concerns and medical conditions, and then acts as a personal gatekeeper to choosing the right foods. The app turns your iPhone into a barcode scanner, which lets you know if the products you scanned 'fit' with your personal profile and requirements. You can even include allergies and lifestyle choices like being vegetarian, kosher or halal.

Say for example, your doctor advises you to eat foods low in sugar and high in fibre because you have a family history of diabetes. Scan a product with your phone and CarrotLines will let you know if the particular product is appropriate for people with or at risk of diabetes. Obviously you have to know a little bit about what is good or bad for you with this condition in order to select products to scan in the first place, or else you might be in the store for quite some time scanning a variety of products, however it's always reassuring to get that stamp of approval in the end!

For those of us without an iPhone, we're just going to have to take that extra ten minutes to learn what to look for before heading to the store, in addition to actually deciphering those nutrition labels on site. Just think of it as an 'immersion' experience - before you know it, you'll be fluent.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why You Need More "MUFAs" In Your Life

I've read and seen several news stories this week about MUFAs, and despite the fact that we talk about them all the time and know that they are good for us, I'm surprised at how much of a hot topic they are this week! I'm thinking people just like saying the word "MUFA"! That's fine by me because the more MUFAs you get in your diet, the better!

MUFAs, or monounsaturated fatty acids - the kind you find in olive oil, avocadoes nuts and seeds - are the heart-healthy fats that we need more of in our diets. These fatty acids are one of the key features of the Mediterranean diet because they help lower bad cholesterol and offset the bad fats in our bodies. In fact, new research suggests that MUFAs can even help raise levels of "good" HDL cholesterol in our bodies.

Choosing foods that are low in cholesterol is a good starting point to lowering your overall cholesterol levels. But are you aware that most of the cholesterol circulating in our bodies is actually made within our bodies by our livers? Cholesterol is made when our bodies take excess circulating sugars and fats and pack them into triglycerides (TGs) for storage for future use. Those triglycerides are then packed into lipoproteins of various densities, one of which you might recognize as low-density lipoprotein (LDL). In other words, the best way to boost your bad cholesterol is by eating lots of refined or processed sugars and unhealthy fats.

The amount of actual cholesterol that we get from dietary sources is usually minimal, because foods that contain cholesterol had to have come from an animal, because that animal had to have a liver to make the cholesterol to begin with! Anything without a liver can't make cholesterol - so your Becel margarine never had cholesterol to begin with, and neither did your potato chips, but you can bet that they will sure make your liver make cholesterol! Those sneaky marketers!

So, if you make sure to load up on tons of fruits and veggies, with moderate amounts of nuts, seeds, and plant oils, and cut back on your meat consumption, you can bet your cholesterol levels will improve before you know it. Keep those MUFAs comin'!