Tag Archives: health and wellness

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.

Advertisements

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.

Nutrient Pairing: How To Get The Most Nutrition Out Of Your Food

 Edit Edit    A few months ago I found out that my daughter had an iron deficiency. I was shocked considering how many leafy greens she consumes in a day, not to mention how meticulous I am about making sure that she gets adequate amounts of all the food groups.

Her pediatrician suggested that she could be consuming too much dairy. A light bulb went off right away as I already knew that calcium blocks iron absorption, but I had failed to factor that in when planning her meals. I had not only been giving her too much dairy (she loves cheese and yogurt), but I had been adding it to almost every meal ever since I stopped breastfeeding her several months ago. She wouldn’t drink milk alone and I misguidedly thought that she needed it to replace the breastmilk that she wasn’t getting anymore. 

 Sooo I started her on an iron supplement and reduced her dairy intake. The doctor asked that I have her iron and hemoglobin levels checked again in about ten days to make sure her body was absorbing the iron. Her hemoglobin levels increased so quickly that her pediatrician said he would have expected to see those results after a month of taking supplements, not after a mere ten days. Clearly the reduced dairy made a huge difference as that was the only change I had made to her diet.

Sometimes nutrient deficiencies are not caused by an inadequate amount of that nutrient in your diet but rather by too much of an anti-nutrient, as in my daughter’s case. Bioavailability refers to how well a nutrient can be absorbed and used by your body. Just because a food contains a high amount of a certain nutrient doesn’t necessarily mean that your body will absorb it, and some nutrients need others in order to be absorbed. 

 Also bear in mind that the food that we eat today is not as nutrient dense as it was a few decades ago. By breeding and selecting for varieties that give better yield, longer shelf life, disease resistance and more durability during transport, we have lost the nutrient density that the original varieties contained1 in addition to the loss of nutrients from soil depletion. This is why it is important to be mindful of which nutrients work well together and which don’t when planning your meals in order to get the most nutrition possible from your food.

Tips on getting more nutrition out of your food:

1. Iron. Pair your iron-rich foods (red meat, beans, lentils, pork, poultry, seafood, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fortified cereals, bread and pasta) with some fruit or red peppers to make sure that you get enough Vitamin C to help your body absorb all that iron. Zinc also aids iron absorption. Foods high in zinc include oysters, meat and poultry, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fortified cereals, and seafood.

2. Calcium. Most dairy is fortified with vitamin D to make sure that your body can absorb the calcium, but if you’re vegan or lactose-intolerant, then you should pair your non-dairy calcium-rich foods with some vitamin D to ensure that you are absorbing it. Mushrooms are the only vegan food sources of vitamin D aside from fortified beverages, so a supplement might be a good idea if you don’t get a lot of sun exposure. Inulin is also required for calcium absorption; it can be found in bananas, garlic, leeks, asparagus, onions, and certain herbs.

3. Phytates. Phytate binds to minerals and makes them less bioavailable2. Sprouting grains, beans, nuts and seeds before you eat them will reduce their phytate content, allowing your body to absorb more of the zinc, iron, calcium, and magnesium in those foods2.

4. Vitamins A, D, E, and K. These are the fat soluble vitamins, meaning that they need fat to be absorbed by your body. Pair them with healthy fats like vegetable oils, avocados, and nuts. If you follow a low-fat diet you could be hindering your body’s ability to absorb these vitamins. Healthy fats are an important part of a balanced diet.     

5. Avoid caffeine with meals. Caffeine blocks the absorption of many vitamins and minerals, so if you choose to drink coffee or tea, do so in moderation as excessive caffeine intake can lead to nutrient deficiencies.

7. Eat a variety of healthy foods in moderation.  You can eat the healthiest foods in the world but too much of anything is never a good thing.

For an example of a recipe that uses the above food pairing rules try my Mango Kiwi Banana Smoothie With Greens and Avocado

References

1. M.J. Stephey. Eating your veggies: not as good for you? TIME, 2009. http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1880145,00.html

2. Sandberg, Ann-Sofie; Andlid, Thomas. Phytogenic and microbial phytases in human nutrition. International Journal of Food Science & Technology. Oct2002, Vol. 37 Issue 7, p823-833. 11p. DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2621.2002.00641.x.

3. World’s Healthiest Foods. http://www.whfoods.com/

The Decline of Probiotics in a Germophobic World (Part 1)

2015/01/img_5121.jpg
In today’s germophobic world it may be difficult to understand the concept of good germs. We have become so fixated on sanitizing everything and washing our hands frequently to get rid of “bad germs” that we have forgotten about “good germs” and their benefits.

Overuse of cleaning products and antibiotics have wiped out the good germs as well as the bad1, and the result is an increasing number of people with unhealthy gut flora. Gut flora is the term used to describe the microorganisms that naturally occur in your intestine. These “germs” do not make you sick but instead help you digest your food and also provide some protection against “bad germs”.

In developed countries children receive an average of 10-20 courses of antibiotics by the time they are 18 years old and there is evidence that not only do their gut flora fail to recover completely but they may also be replaced by unwanted microorganisms1.

This doesn’t mean that antibiotics are bad. Without them we would still be living in a world where common bacterial infections were life threatening. We do, however, need to stop overusing antibiotics.

The best way to help our guts recover after taking antibiotics is to replenish the good germs in our gut with probiotics.

Probiotics have been found to reduce intestinal permeability and increase insulin sensitivity which is hopeful for future diabetes prevention and management3. Multispecies probiotics (meaning a combination of different strains of bacteria and other microorganisms) have been proven to be an effective treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome7.

There is evidence that the microorganisms in your gut also affect your behaviour and can impact stress-related disorders in either a negative or positive manner, depending on the composition of your gut flora2.

An imbalance in gut flora has also been associated with an increased susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease)6 and obesity4.

Reading all of the research related to antibiotics and altered gut flora was a huge eye-opener for me. I used to be a very healthy child who rarely needed to visit the doctor. As I got older (into my teenage years) I started to eat A LOT of junk food and less healthy food which made me more susceptible to colds and illnesses. I was prescribed antibiotics quite often (looking back I probably did not need them half of the time). By the time I was in my 20’s I started having uncomfortable stomach symptoms after eating certain foods that I could previously consume with no discomfort. Eventually I ended up becoming sensitive to dairy and will now get a stomach ache after drinking milk or eating ice cream (yogurt does not pose a problem for me).

If I had known then what I know now I would have only taken antibiotics when I really needed them (when I had something like bronchitis or a sinus infection, not just cold-like symptoms). I also would have eaten plenty of probiotic foods after each course of antibiotics to replenish the good bacteria in my gut.

So what are probiotic foods? Basically foods that have had a chance to ferment under the right conditions with or without the help of a starter culture (usually bacteria or yeast), until a different food has been created (ex. cucumbers–>pickles). The most popular and well-known probiotic food is yogurt. Other probiotic food and beverages that are popular are sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), Kombucha (a fermented tea/tonic), kimchi (a spicier pickled version of sauerkraut), miso (fermented rye, beans, rice or barley), kefir (fermented goat milk and kefir grains), and pickles.

Store-bought yogurt and other fermented food products can contain extra sugar and sometimes other additives to enhance flavour or extend shelf life. To avoid unwanted sugar and additives it is a good idea to make your own. This may seem daunting at first but once you start fermenting your own foods it will become a breeze and you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner. If you would like to give it a try check out my personal yogurt recipe here.

If you simply don’t have the time to learn how to make your own yogurt then at least try to buy plain yogurt and add your own fresh fruit and/or sweeteners.

Personally I eat homemade yogurt every day and so does my toddler, but I wanted to enhance our gut health even further by adding more fermented foods to our diet. I recently tried making my own fermented applesauce (you can find the recipe that I used here), and not only did it turn out wonderful, it is kid-friendly as well (my toddler loves it!). My next goal is to try my hand at making sauerkraut.

When eating probiotic foods bear in mind the following:

1. Heat kills bacteria, even the good kind. Just as cooking food helps get rid of any undesired bacteria that could make you sick, heating fermented foods will kill the desired probiotics. If you fermented your food using sterile dishes and containers then the good bacteria that you added in should be able to ward off any bad bacteria that may try to invade.

2. If you see slime or mold in your fermented food or it looks pink, don’t eat it. Sometimes the fermenting process can go wrong and you may end up with mold or bad bacteria in your food, in which case it is harmful to ingest. So if it doesn’t smell or look right, throw it away.

3. Letting your food ferment for too long can result in alcohol formation. If you don’t refrigerate your food after it is done fermenting, the microorganisms will keep on fermenting which will eventually result in an alcoholic food or beverage. This is more likely to happen when making Kombucha so always do a taste test to make sure you have not made alcohol, especially if you are giving fermented foods to kids. Refrigeration drastically slows down the fermentation process but it does not halt it completely. So if you have had that fermented applesauce in your fridge for a month, taste a little yourself before giving any of it to your children.

4. Probiotics need prebiotics to thrive. So in addition to eating probiotic foods you also need to eat prebiotic food in order to keep your gut microorganisms happy. Prebiotics are plant fibers that can be found in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

For more detailed information on the health ramifications of an unhealthy gut flora, stay tuned for part 2!

References:

1. Blaser, M. Antibiotic overuse: Stop the killing of beneficial bacteria. Nature 476, 393–394 (25 August 2011) doi:10.1038/476393a

2. Cryan, J. F.; O’Mahony, S. M. The microbiome-gut-brain axis: from bowel to behavior. Neurogastroenterology & Motility. Mar2011, Vol. 23 Issue 3, p187-192. 6p. 1 Diagram. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2010.01664.x

3. Corado Gomes, Aline; Bueno, Allain Amador; de Souza, Rávila Graziany; Mota, João Felipe. Gut microbiota, probiotics and diabetes. Nutrition Journal. 2014, Vol. 13 Issue 1, p82-107. 26p. 1 Diagram, 2 Charts. DOI: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-60.

4. Fukuda, Shinji; Ohno, Hiroshi. Gut microbiome and metabolic diseases. Seminars in Immunopathology. Jan2014, Vol. 36 Issue 1, p103-114. 12p. DOI: 10.1007/s00281-013-0399-z

5. Holmes E, Li JV, Athanasiou T, Ashrafian H, Nicholson JK: Understanding the role of gut microbiome-host metabolic signal disruption in health and disease. Trends Microbiol 2011, 19:349–359.

6. Luckey, David; Gomez, Andres; Murray, Joseph; White, Bryan; Taneja, Veena. Bugs & us: The role of the gut in autoimmunity. Indian Journal of Medical Research. Nov2013, Vol. 138 Issue 5, p732-743. 12p.

7. Yoon, Jun Sik; Sohn, Won; Lee, Oh Young; Lee, Sang Pyo; Lee, Kang Nyeong; Jun, Dae Won; Lee, Hang Lak; Yoon, Byung Chul; Choi, Ho Soon; Chung, Won-Seok; Seo, Jae-Gu. Effect of multispecies probiotics on irritable bowel syndrome: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology. Jan2014, Vol. 29 Issue 1, p52-59. 8p. DOI: 10.1111/jgh.12322

Ginger-Ale or Sugar-Ale?

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/db5/63410078/files/2014/12/img_4965.jpg
When I was a kid my mom would give me ginger-ale every time I had a stomach ache. Even in my teens and early 20’s I would drink ginger-ale every time I had an upset stomach. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I noticed a particular brand (Canada Dry) had “made with real ginger” written on the front label. It made me think: “aren’t all store-bought ginger-ales made with real ginger?”

Apparently not.

If you actually read the ingredients, they’re mostly made of carbonated water and sugar with both natural and artificial colours and flavours thrown in.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/db5/63410078/files/2014/12/img_4980.jpgThe only brand that I’ve seen that makes the claim “made with real ginger” on the label is Canada Dry, but if you read the ingredient list it’s still mostly sugar and additives.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/db5/63410078/files/2014/12/img_4967.jpg
A pregnant friend of mine recently told me that she drinks ginger-ale sometimes for her morning sickness, because she thought it contained ginger which is a proven remedy for nausea. It made me wonder how many pregnant women out there are unknowingly consuming sugar and harmful artificial additives under the false impression that they are drinking a “healthy” beverage to help with their morning sickness. It also got me thinking about all the parents who probably still give it to their kids for tummy troubles.

If you look at the ingredient list for soda, it’s not much different.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/db5/63410078/files/2014/12/img_4979-1.jpgMost pregnant women wouldn’t drink 7-up to cure morning sickness, nor would most parents give their children sugar filled soda to cure an upset stomach. But store bought ginger-ale is basically the same thing.

As a better option, try boiling some ginger in water and then add a natural sweetener like honey. You’ll get the benefits of ginger without any added sugar, colors or flavors. If you or your kids prefer fizzy drinks, add a little plain carbonated water and you’ve got yourself some homemade ginger-ale.

The Importance Of Using A Water Filter

IMG_4710.JPG
I’ve noticed something odd with a lot of people that I know: they drink filtered water yet cook with regular tap water.

Some people are under the impression that boiling water gets rid of heavy metals and other harmful chemicals. Others don’t even realize that there are harmful chemicals in their tap water in the first place. They think that the sole purpose of a water filter is to remove bacteria and other microorganisms.

Yes, boiling your water will kill microorganisms that can make you sick. But you cannot kill heavy metals or other toxic chemicals with heat. If anything, heating chemicals only makes them more reactive which increases the chances of turning them into a more harmful compound. Boiling water also releases those chemicals into your home by vaporizing them, which you then inhale. The only way to remove toxic chemicals from your tap water is with a filter or distillation system.

In an ideal world, the only chemical compound in your tap water would be H2O. But unfortunately tap water is treated with chlorine to kill illness-causing microorganisms and can also be contaminated with pesticides, lead and copper (in older homes that still have lead and copper pipes). Chlorine can react with organic matter in water to form disinfection by-products (DBP’s) such as trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids, which have been linked to cancer2 It is not the chlorine itself that is the problem, but the DBP’s.

I’m not saying that municipalities shouldn’t chlorinate water. I am grateful to be living in a developed country where I do not have to worry about access to safe drinking water. If it comes down to a choice between having chlorine in my water or E. Coli, I’ll take the chlorine. However, with today’s technology we can have water with neither. With the variety of water filters in the market today we can easily remove chlorine and other chemical contaminants to ensure we are drinking the purest water possible. DBP’s may not pose an immediate risk to our health in the same way illness-causing microorganisms do, but the damage caused by long-term low level exposure should not be ignored.

This is especially important when mixing baby formula with water and making baby food. Babies are more susceptible to the harmful effects of toxic chemicals in water due to their small body size and the fact that they are growing and developing so rapidly. Pregnant women should only drink filtered water since exposure to certain DBP’s during pregnancy has been found to be correlated with genomic damage which in turn raises cancer risk3.

Chemical contaminants in your water can cause reproductive problems and cancer over time 4. If you don’t have an under-the-sink filtration system, a filter jug or countertop filter
will work just fine. It is definitely more tedious to keep refilling a filter jug in order to get enough water to fill a pot for cooking; but wouldn’t you rather put in the extra effort than eat food that has absorbed chlorine and it’s carcinogenic by-products during cooking?

If you really want to limit your long-term exposure to chlorine and DBP’s, consider investing in a shower filter. People absorb more trihalomethanes (a DBP) through showering than other methods of exposure1. The vaporized chemicals also disperse throughout the rest of your home, contributing to indoor air pollution.

Remember that although the risk of getting cancer from your tap water is small, it is still a risk and combined with all of the other “small” risks in your daily life it can add up to a much bigger risk. The cumulative effect of all of these small risks is the bigger concern. And as always, the toxic effects are worse in children because their bodies and brains are still developing. That’s why it is so important to protect yourselves and your children by minimizing as many of these seemingly small risks as possible.

References:

1. Backer LC1, Ashley DL, Bonin MA, Cardinali FL, Kieszak SM, Wooten JV. Household exposures to drinking water disinfection by-products: whole blood trihalomethane levels. J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol. 2000 Jul-Aug;10(4):321-6.

2. “Chlorinated Water”. Canadian Cancer Society. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

3. Stayner, Leslie Thomas; Pedersen, Marie; Patelarou, Evridiki; Decordier, Ilse; Vande Loock, Kim; Chatzi, Leda; Espinosa, Ana; Fthenou, Eleni; Nieuwenhuijsen, Mark J.; Gracia-Lavedan, Esther; Stephanou, Euripides G.; Kirsch-Volders, Micheline; Kogevinas, Manolis. Exposure to Brominated Trihalomethanes in Water During Pregnancy and Micronuclei Frequency in Maternal and Cord Blood Lymphocytes. Environmental Health Perspectives. Jan2014, Vol. 122 Issue 1, p100-106. 7p. 3 Charts. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1206434

4. “The Water We Drink AN INTERNATIONAL COMPARISON OF DRINKING W ATER QUALITY STANDARDS AND GUIDELINES.” David Suzuki Foundation. 1 Nov. 2006. Web.