Living A Healthy Lifestyle Is Not Extreme, But The Consequences Of An Unhealthy Lifestyle Are.

One of the most common deterrents people have with switching to a clean and healthy lifestyle is that they think they’ll have to give up all the fun things in life. They think taking all the junk out of their diets is “too extreme”.

Losing all your hair and feeling nauseous everyday due to chemotherapy is extreme.

Having your chest cut open to unblock your arteries is extreme.

Being put in a care home at age 65 because you get lost going for a walk around the block and can’t recognize your own kids is extreme.

Eating real, whole foods while making time for exercise and meditation every day is NOT extreme.

Avoiding junk and any foods you may be allergic to is NOT extreme.

And it definitely doesn’t take the fun out of life. If consuming crap is the only thing you do for fun then you need to re-evaluate your life. I get that there is a social aspect to food but there are plenty of restaurants that offer healthier options now, and eating unhealthy food once in awhile at a social event isn’t going to give you cancer or heart disease or Alzheimer’s; it’s your daily habits that count.

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Quinoa Salad with Feta, Cucumbers, Red Peppers, and Raisins

I recreated this quinoa salad about a year ago after eating it at a restaurant. I played around with the ingredients and used my go-to olive oil and apple cider vinegar dressing. It is quick and easy to prepare, healthy and delicious! This salad has now become a staple at my house. It is filling enough to be eaten as a main meal but also makes a great side dish. I sometimes add in other leafy greens or nuts but the basic recipe is as follows:

Ingredients: (serves 5)

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cucumber
  • I head of romaine lettuce
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil
  • 2 TBSP Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt (or to taste)

Directions:

  1. Cook the quinoa according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, dice the cucumber and red pepper and add to a large bowl. Wash, dry, and chop the lettuce, then add to the bowl.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients including the cooked quinoa to the bowl. Stir well to combine.

*you can add more or less of the ingredients based on your personal preferences. Feel free to add in other leafy greens as well.

My Kid Does Not Need Your Pity: Avoiding Junk Food Is Not A Deprivation, It’s A Gift

If I had a nickel for every time someone expressed pity for my child because she’s never been to McDonald’s I’d be a billionaire.

While I let my child eat treats at parties and school events to avoid having her feel left out, I do not keep them at home nor do I take her through drive-thrus. I buy and make healthy treats at home and we either order takeout or go to a restaurant as a family once a week, but fast food restaurants are off limits, and the other 6 days of the week we eat a healthy home-cooked meal. She does not feel deprived because our way of eating is normal to her.

She is only 5 so she is not even aware yet of the difference between her diet and most kids’ diets. When she is old enough to notice and asks to try some of those other foods she will also be old enough to notice a difference in the way her body feels when she eats them. I am confident that that difference, coupled with the education I will give her about nutrition will make her want to continue eating healthy. And I have no doubt that 20 years from now, when the knowledge of the harmful effects of processed junk food on kids and the impact it has on their lifelong health is more mainstream, she will thank me. She will not have to struggle in her 20’s or 30’s or any age to figure out why she feels so crappy and “unwell” all the time.

If you follow similar food rules in your family, don’t feel bad about not giving your kids junk food. Feel good about giving them lifelong good health. Because what they eat now will affect their disease risk in adulthood. Everything you feed your kids is either nourishing them or harming them, so choose real food, not processed artificial junk.

The long-term benefits of eating healthy far outweigh any short-term happiness that comes with eating chicken nuggets and doughnuts.

Don’t Ignore A Food Intolerance!


One of the biggest differences between food allergies and food intolerances is that allergies usually cause more severe symptoms that cannot be ignored while intolerances tend to cause milder symptoms.  Because these milder symptoms seem to not cause any significant harm, people can make the grave mistake of ignoring them.

If it’s not causing your throat to close up it can’t really hurt you right?

WRONG!

One of the biggest risks of untreated food intolerances is chronic inflammation.  If you are regularly consuming something that your body can’t digest properly, your immune system will create a state of chronic, low level inflammation.  Chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, behavioural problems in children, depression, and many more health problems.  Undiagnosed food intolerances are one of the causes of chronic inflammation.  Some causes are unavoidable (stress, pollution, etc) but a food intolerance is definitely something you can treat in order to reduce the amount of chronic inflammation you have in your body.  You just need willpower.

Ask yourself: is the regular enjoyment of a particular food worth a chronic, crippling disease in the long run? Is it worth aging faster than you need to? Is your child’s need to enjoy a particular food greater than her need for lifelong health?

Another major problem with undiagnosed food intolerances is insufficient absorption of nutrients.  If your digestive system can’t break a food down properly, then your body can’t absorb all of the nutrients from that food.  Malnutrition has an even longer list of health problems than chronic inflammation.  You could eat all the healthy food you want but if you’re not able to digest it then what’s the point?

Now for all of you paranoid hypochondriacs out there, there is no need to go and eliminate gluten, dairy, and eggs for no reason.  Make sure that you actually have a food intolerance before eliminating an entire food group from your diet.  Get tested if you can, keep a food journal along with a symptom journal, and/or try an elimination diet.  And don’t forget to consider any nutritional “holes” you may be creating in your diet by removing a certain food.  Make sure you are able to get any lost nutrients from other food sources or consider supplementation as a last resort.  Seek help from a nutritionist if you find it difficult to figure out what you should and should not eat.

Lastly, find other foods that you enjoy equally as much as the one you had to eliminate, because being miserable isn’t good for your health either!

References
 1. Blasko, I., Stampfer-Kountchev, M., Robatscher, P., Veerhuis, R., Eikelenboom, P. and Grubeck-Loebenstein, B. (2004), How chronic inflammation can affect the brain and support the development of Alzheimer’s disease in old age: the role of microglia and astrocytes. Aging Cell, 3: 169–176. doi: 10.1111/j.1474-9728.2004.00101.x
2.  Leonard, Brian E. Inflammation, Depression and Dementia: Are they Connected? Neurochemical Research, 2007, Volume 32, Number 10, Page 1749
3.  W. Herbert Haught MDMichael Mansour MDRobert Rothlein Takashi K. Kishimoto Elizabeth A. Mainolfi BSJames B. Hendricks Claudia Hendricks MSJawahar L. Mehta MD. Alterations in circulating intercellular adhesion molecule-1 and L-selectin: Further evidence for chronic inflammation in ischemic heart disease. American Heart Journal.,July 1996, Vol.132(1):1–8, doi:10.1016/S0002-8703(96)90383-X
4.  Shacter E , Weitzman SA.  Laboratory of Immunology, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Food and Drug Administration, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-4555, USA. shacter@cber.fda.gov.  Oncology (Williston Park, N.Y.) [2002, 16(2):217-26, 229; discussion 230-2]

Oat and Jam Cups (gluten free and vegan)

I came up with this recipe last summer when I made a large batch of homemade sugar-free blueberry jam and didn’t know what to do with it all.  I don’t eat PB&J sandwiches very often so I created this jam-filled snack.  These cups can be eaten for breakfast or as a healthy snack or dessert.  You can use any type of jam you like, but try to find an organic jam with little to no sugar added to keep this treat healthy. 

Yield: 12 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/4 cups oat flour*
  • 1/2 cup virgin coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups jam of choice

*To create oat flour, simply grind oats in a coffee grinder or food processor (1 cup of oats will NOT equal 1 cup of oat flour, so measure again after you grind the oats).  You can also substitute whole wheat flour if gluten is not a problem for you.

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 350*F.  Grease a muffin pan or line with cupcake liners.  

2.  In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the jam.  Mix well. Place a tbsp of the oat mixture into each cup and press down with the back of a spoon or your fingertips. Place in oven for 10-15 mins until golden.  Remove from oven.

 

3. Add 1 1/2 tbsp of jam into each cup, then add a tbsp of the oat mixture on top. If you have extra oat mixture, just distribute it evenly among the cups. Place them back in the oven for another 15-20 mins, until the cups have browned slightly on top. Allow the cups to cool in pan for at least 10 mins before removing.  

Butternut Squash Pasta Recipe


I love butternut squash.  It’s creamy, slightly sweet, and makes a perfect dairy-free and tomato-free base for pasta sauce.  I’ve been making this recipe from Oh She Glows for over a year now, but I wanted to adapt it to come up with something simpler yet still delicious.  I would probably enjoy puréed butternut squash on its own as a pasta sauce but I added a few more ingredients to give it more flavour.  And some greens because I couldn’t let butternut squash be the lone vegetable in this dish.  However, if you have picky eaters at home who will not eat the greens, feel free to omit them.  

Yield: approximately 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 340g package penne pasta 
  • 1 medium-large butternut squash 
  • 5 cups chopped spinach or kale
  • 2 tbsp grass fed butter (or vegan alternative such as earth’s balance)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt 
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 425*F.  Slice off the stem of the butternut squash as well as the opposite end and then cut in half lengthwise.  Scoop out seeds and place the 2 halves flesh side down in a casserole dish with an inch of water.  Place in oven for 30-40 mins until the skin starts to brown and wrinkle slightly.  

2.  Cook pasta according to package directions, then drain and set aside.  Tip: adding a little oil to the cooking water and then rinsing the cooked pasta immediately in a colander with cold water will keep it from getting mushy and sticking together.  

3.  Scoop out the butternut squash flesh, place in a blender and purée.  Set aside.

4.  Heat butter in the same pot you cooked the pasta in.  Add crushed garlic and sauté for 2-3 mins.  Add chopped spinach or kale and cook for 4-5 mins.  Stir in 2 cups of butternut squash purée, mustard powder, paprika, salt, and pepper.  Stir well, and cook for about 5 more mins to thicken the sauce.  

5.  Pour over pasta and top with grated Parmesan cheese if you like.  

Note: if you get more than 2 cups of butternut squash purée, you can refrigerate or freeze the extra for later. 

Epigenetics 102: Prenatal Nutrition and Disease Prevention

I cringe when I hear the phrase “eating for 2”.  Pregnancy is not a license to eat all of your guilty-pleasure foods as often as you want.  Pregnancy is a time when you should be extra cautious of what you put in (and on) your body.  You really only need an extra 300 calories in the second trimester and 500 calories in the third trimester, with no extra calories in the first trimester.  Instead of focusing on doubling the amount of food you eat, you should be focusing on getting the most nutrient-dense foods possible.  Doubling up on empty calories will only harm your baby.  Because what a woman is exposed to during pregnancy through her diet and environment can prevent or cause disease in her child later in life.  

How? 

By changing the baby’s epigenome.  Genes cannot be changed, but they can be turned on or off by your epigenome.  Each cell in your body has the same genes, but not all of those genes are active in every cell.  The cells in your eyes have no use for digestive enzymes (and would probably be harmed by them) so the genes that code for them are turned off in all of the cells in your eyes.  Similarly, the genes that code for photoreceptors are only needed in your eyes and are thus turned off in all other cells of your body.  How do your cells know which genes to turn on or off? That’s where your epigenome comes in.  While your genome is your complete set of DNA, your epigenome is all of the chemical compounds that control your genes.  By binding to or detaching from genes they can activate or deactivate them.  

Some genes are only active during specific periods of fetal development.  Take for example the genes that code for eye development.  These genes, and others, are active only during specific stages of fetal development, and then remain inactive for the rest of your life.  Chemical compounds turn these genes off once they have served their function to prevent you from growing a third eye.  And those genes are deactivated in the rest of your body cells right from the beginning to ensure that you don’t end up with eyes in the back of your head…or on your arms…or feet…you get the picture.  

So that is how your feet become feet and your heart becomes a heart and so on.  Because your epigenome controls which genes are turned on or off in which body part.  This is called differentiation.  Without our epigenome, we’d all be undifferentiated aliens that are not only hideous to look at but unable to function in the world.  Or even survive for that matter.  

The epigenome of a fetus or young baby can be altered by environmental chemicals in a way that increases disease susceptibility even in adulthood.   This explains why seemingly healthy people can still end up having a heart attack or getting cancer.  It was most likely programmed into their epigenome before or shortly after birth.  This doesn’t mean that eating healthy, exercising, and avoiding toxic chemicals is pointless.  An unhealthy lifestyle will only speed up disease progression and make recovery that much more difficult.  More importantly, unlike genetic changes or mutations, epigenetic alterations are reversible.  Research is showing that it is possible to make beneficial epigenetics alterations through diet and lifestyle.  So you are not doomed if you didn’t get the best nutrition in the womb or during infancy; there is still hope of changing your fate.  

Maternal stress as well as early life experiences have been linked to epigenetics changes in babies that can increase susceptibility to mental health disorders later in life.  That doesn’t mean that if you had a highly stressful pregnancy your child is doomed to become depressed or schizophrenic in adulthood.  It just means that you need to be extra mindful of providing a warm and loving environment for your child to grow up in while avoiding exposure to toxins through food and environment.  Remember, epigenetics changes are reversible.  

One of the most hopeful areas of research regarding the epigenome is the field of nutritional epigenetics.  There is potential for chemopreventive agents such as phytochemicals in food to prevent genetic diseases when administered prenatally or during early infancy by influencing the epigenome.  There is hope that even for babies who are genetically predisposed to disease, the right prenatal nutrition can alter their epigenome in a way that keeps those disease-causing genes inactive from infancy all the way through adulthood.  So perhaps the prenatal vitamins of the future will create a generation of super-babies who are immune to disease.  

My journey to a healthier, clean lifestyle started when I was pregnant with my daughter. There is no greater motivation than the daunting reality that your diet and lifestyle choices are directly responsible for the lifelong health of your precious baby.  For any of you that are pregnant or breastfeeding, please understand the importance of what you eat/drink and expose yourself to through personal care products, cleaning products, and your environment. You can either set your child up for a lifetime of good health or a lifetime of health struggles.  Your child does not have a choice, but you do.  Pregnancy is not a license to eat anything and everything.  Make healthy choices now and your child will reap the benefits for a lifetime.  

References

Kaur, P., Shorey, L. E., Ho, E., Dashwood, R. H., & Williams, D. E. (2013). The epigenome as a potential mediator of cancer and disease prevention in prenatal development. Nutrition Reviews, 71(7), 441-457. doi:10.1111/nure.12030

Sasaki, A., Vega, W. d., & McGowan, P. O. (2013). Biological embedding in mental health: An epigenomic perspective1. Biochemistry & Cell Biology, 91(1), 14-21. doi:10.1139/bcb-2012-0070