Saturday, December 21, 2013

Enough is Enough - Supplement Concerns in the Media

Yesterday, the media was full of stories about an editorial (simply the opinion of a few doctors) about the usefulness of a multivitamin by the general, well-nourished public. However, the media has shortened and oversimplified the editorial so the public thinks they are being told that we should not take a multivitamin. 

What's the real deal? Yes, you should be taking a multivitamin, if you are in need of additional nutrients in your diet. Who needs more nutrients? People who have illnesses that put them at risk for low nutrient levels (such as digestive absorption problems, etc.), vegetarians/vegans, pregnant and breastfeeding women, elderly with limited diets, 'picky-eaters' children, stressed-out adults...the list goes on and on. 

Did you know that the foods we eat today have very little nutrient value compared to the foods we ate 50 years ago? And, I'm not just saying that - there are studies out of Canada and the UK showing that we need to eat over 50 peaches today to get the same amount of some nutrients we would have gotten in eating just one peach half a century ago.

It's worth reading more about all of this. I've re-read the studies the editorial discusses - these are very general, large studies talking about some very major diseases (cardiovascular disease and cancer) that have multiple risk factors and reasons for developing. If you had asked me before the studies were published, what I thought they would find, I would say, "No, in this type of study design I don't think a multivitamin is going to statistically have a significant result saying it prevents these disease."But, please note that smaller, more focused studies have found supplements help cardiovascular disease and prevent cancer. 

All in all, do your research. Decide for yourself what supplements you should or should not be taking. Talk to a nutritional expert (including RDs, NDs, RHNs and even some MDs). Don't let the reporters of your local 6 o'clock news channel dictate what is best for your health - they are NOT the experts. 

My Confession - in my family all take a multivitamin and I'm an expert in this stuff yet, that news report even made ME wonder if we should stop. It bothered me so much I went and dug up the articles and read them for myself. What did I decide? Our household will continue to take the supplements we have determined are beneficial for our health needs with confidence.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Holiday Stress: How not to gain weight over the holidays

One thing you can't forget this holiday season - stress won't just keep you up at night, it'll also add weight to your waistline.

It sucks! I totally agree. But, when you're feeling stressed about getting all the people on your list crossed off, baking three dozen cookies for the holiday party, and getting all the trim and decorations up your body is producing coritsol. Cortisol is a hormone that helps you get through a stressful situation. Originally, it was designed to help you out run a bear back in the days when we lived in caves, but today's stress isn't as easily found and lost again. Lifestyle stress, including holiday stress, just seems to linger and linger. Phew! My stomach is getting into a knot just thinking about it.

When your body is stressed it is in a state of hyper-awareness for survival and, it stores fat as a precaution in case their won't be food later. But, over the holidays is there ever NOT a plate of delicious, high calorie food around? So, you end up putting more and more weight on. Talk about the need for a diet plan after the holidays (Ah, ha! Maybe that's why we are all drawn to weight loss resolutions in the New Year?!).

Take a break! Get to a yoga class. Read a book. Go for a walk. Or, even just take a few deep breaths while you read this. Love yourself - try not to stress too much and enjoy the holidays!

My Confession - I'm not sure if it's stress, shortbread or an evolutionary drive to put weight on when it gets cold outside but, I'm always finding my waistline a little tighter after the holidays. Either way - those shortbread sure are delicious! Yum.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Help Fighting Sugar Cravings

Why do we crave sugar? It can be addictive - eating sugar causes dopamine release in the part of the brain associated with reward and motivation. "Ah, ha!", you say. That explains why you can be found rummaging through drawers and cupboards like a frantic robber in search of something sweet.

Some Science on Sugar
According to studies, sugar does actually affect the brain. Researchers at the University of California trained rats to successfully navigate a maze, then replaced their water with 15 percent fructose syrup (soda is typically 12 percent). After six weeks of the fructose syrup, the rats were slower to complete the maze. When the rat’s brains were dissected the researchers discovered the sugar disrupted relay chemical messages, and thus effected the ability of the brain to form memories. 
(A Neat Fact: This study also experimented with omega-3 fatty acid intake and found when the rats’ diet were supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids they could complete the maze faster.)

Science isn't sure yet how directly sugar is linked to chronic disease. However, science does know that sugar does have a high glycemic index, and diets with a high glycemic index can lead to disease: The Nurses Study followed over 75,000 women for a decade and illustrated that a high glycemic load is linked with a high risk of coronary heart disease. 

"Big Sugar" - Estimated at $77.5 billion last year, the global sugar industry (nicknamed ‘Big Sugar’) is overseen by the Sugar Association. It has used millions of dollars to influence research, dietary guidelines and media to keep the bitter reality about sugar hidden. Check out documentaries online about Big Sugar - it's a really fascinating story.

My Confession: I totally love sugar! It's like my body has been invaded by a Sugar Monster that likes to randomly roar and stomp until its fed. So, I have a few bars of organic, free-trade dark chocolate hiding in the panty (shhh, don't tell the kids), and I take a few chunks to the couch as my post-kids-to-bed treat at night. It's nice - a little something sweet that doesn't contain too many calories...and, it's great at getting that pesky Sugar Monster to shut-up.

Monday, November 18, 2013

How to Avoid Bloating and Other Holiday Eating Gut Dilemmas

Santa’s belly may be round because he’s bloated. It’s just a hypothesis but after I read this new study on probiotics and the affects a simple diet (one with lots of sugar), I started to wonder.

FACT: Positively influencing the microflora in our gut (doing things so we have more good probiotics and less bad microbes such as salmonella and E. coli) makes us healthier.

New research published last week in Applied and Environmental Microbiology* reported how the microflora in the gut is affected by both diet and the status of our hormone receptor sites.

DIET: In the study, mice were given a diet with phytoestrogens or without. A phytoestrogen is a plant compound that acts like estrogen in the gut, offering positive benefits to the body. When phytoestrogens were present, the mice had a healthier microflora. When the mice ate a diet of mostly simple sugar (similar to the shortbread and hot chocolate diet we all consume over the holidays) they had more proteobiotics (bad microbes).

HORMONES: The study compared normal mice to a group bred to not have receptor sites for a specific hormone in the gut.  As we age, the number (status) of receptors in our gut changes - thus, we have different microflora with age and we should take this into account when we consider probiotic supplements and which foods we eat. In other words, we could enjoy better gut health if we eat more healthy foods such as those that contain phytoestrogens. Also, this opens the door for manufacturers of probiotics to do a better job of creating age-specific probiotic supplements that could take this hormone-receptor status into account. But, hold your horses, folks! Give them a few years yet as this is pretty new research.

My Confession: I love shortbread. Mmm! And, I have been known to say, “Why not eat some junk – you’re on vacation/holidays.” But, in the study they found negative changes in the mice’s gut flora with just 2 weeks on a simple diet. Yicks! No wonder a weekend of holiday parties can make me feel so bloated. Maybe I need to keep my holiday bad-diet to shorter stints of time, and counteract with more probiotics and foods with fibre and phytoestrogens in them. And, phew - just imagine what Santa feels like after his 6 weeks of pre-Christmas holiday engagements where he’s expected to eat cookies – no wonder he’s got such a big belly. Someone get the man some probiotics!

*Link to the study - 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Omega-3 fatty acids: Good or Bad

Can omega-3s harm you?
It's time to delve into another media frenzy that has taken a perfectly good clinical study and caused utter confusion amongst society. So, here's what you love me for. Keep reading for the 'real deal', the 'inside scoop', the 'truth uncovered'...

Late last month, a study was published that investigated whether there was potential risk to taking high dosages of fish oil - dosages far greater than what one would consume eating the American Heart Association's recommended 2 servings of fatty fish a week, or a daily fish oil supplement. In fact, the researchers even point that they still recommend people continue to consumer fatty fish regularly and take supplements.

Why do this study?
These studies are important - once researchers discover a nutrient can offer the body healthy benefits (such as fish oil's proven ability to help boost cardiovascular, immune, mental, joint and digestive health), it's scientifically responsible to investigate if an upper limit exists. And, the study found that there may be a point where too much fish oil may have negative effects on the immune and cardiovascular system. But, its important to put these findings in perspective - this research is not about whether fish oil is dangerous, it helps scientists better determine how much fish oil is most beneficial to our health.

What's a Safe Dosage?
To date, research studies have used anywhere between 500mg and 9g of omega-3 fatty acids*. But, what is the "best" dosage for you? Well, that depends on your health condition, diet, age and weight. Health Canada says a safe dosage for adults is 100-5000mg of EPA + DHA (those are two types of omega-3 fatty acids) daily. Curious about your kids? Health Canada suggests kids under 8 years of age get 50-1500mg of EPA+DHA daily. Read more on Health Canada's Monograph for fish oil here -

*Note: The amount of omega-3 fatty acids is not the same as the amount of fish oil. Fish oil contains some omega-3 fatty acids - read your supplement label carefully.

Interested in reading what the media has to say? Here is a bit more of a well rounded story on this latest study:

My Confession? Our family not only takes a fish oil supplement each morning in our shake, we seek out environmentally conscious fatty fish choices in our diets to support the little kids' brain development, and the aging joint of us big kids'.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dark Winter Days: How to beat SAD and other darkness-linked health issues

It's dark going to work, and dark when you come home. In the fall and winter, we experience fewer hours of daylight. This darkness has amazing effects on living things around us - just look at the yellow, orange and red leaves (or in your neck of the woods they may already be brown and on the ground). The dark days of winter have just as profound effects on our bodies as the leaves - such as changes to mood and sleep-wake cycles as well as cessation of vitamin D production.

Do You Feel Like Hibernating?
Mr. Sun helps to tell our body when it is time to be awake and active. When exposed to sunlight, sensors in our eyes send messages along a nerve pathway to the hypothalamus in the brain. From there, factors involved in determining if we feel awake or sleepy are controlled, as well as the body’s temperature and hormones. One of the major hormones that regulate our sleep-awake cycle is melatonin, produced by the pineal gland.  Melatonin is only produced during dark hours giving you a sleepy sensation, thus with fewer sunlight hours, and an increased use of artificial lighting during the fall our body can lose the natural day-night rhythm causing people to have trouble sleeping, or experience daytime drowsiness. 

Skip the Sunscreen 
At latitudes above 35°, there is minimal, if any, pre-vitamin D3 production in the skin as it doesn't experience much sunlight. Vitamin D is an important fat-soluble vitamin in the human body involved in bone health including calcium absorption in the gut, maintenance of blood phosphate levels, bone growth and remodeling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Researchers are also discovering links with vitamin D deficiency and diseases including some forms of cancer, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, rickets and osteoporosis. Get your D in! Vitamin D supplements are a great idea. Food wise - fortified milk and salmon are the best sources (of note, studies have found that wild salmon has 75-90% more vitamin D than farmed salmon.) 

It's a SAD Time of Year
Are you experiencing fatigue, oversleeping, overeating, weight gain, cravings, moodiness or depression? SAD is a type of depression that has a seasonal cycle, provoked by the decreased number of sunlight hours in a day. According to the Mood Disorder Society of Canada, 2-4% of Canadians suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  How does this all work? Well, serotonin is converted into melatonin in the body – serotonin and melatonin are chemicals in your body that cause happiness and sleep. Research shows promising results for the use of light therapy, melatonin, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Other SAD coping strategies include meditation and a healthy diet focusing on nutrient-rich foods such as green vegetables, cherries, mushrooms, nuts and seeds. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Starting Solids

A mom asked me today for ideas about ways to get her baby to eat solids. There are many ways to get your kids started on solids.

4-6 months
It's helpful if you start putting your baby in the highchair during your meals, so they get accustomed to the mealtime routine. Give them a spoon and bowl to play with.

About 6 months
Once they are ready (use instinct, your doctor's advice and your baby's behaviour to decide when he/she is "ready), start with small, soft pieces of food on their high chair tray, or help put a spoon with food to their lips. If the spoon-feeding is a fight, maybe you've got a strong headed little one and they want to feed themselves.

ITS GOING TO BE MESSY, DEAL WITH IT! Get over the fear of it being a mess as that's going to be a problem for at least another year - put down a towel on the floor, feed them in their diaper only, and have clothes handy for clean up. Food should be fun, and that starts early.

6 Months and Beyond
The guidelines on what and when to feed your baby foods has changed recently, relaxing some of the previous "rules" of when to introduce foods. Talk with your doctor or check out reputable resources like Health Canada's website on infant nutrition (url below).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Getting Kids to Eat Well in the Summer

Between the hot dogs at bar-b-ques and, the mid-summer day treats like ice cream and popsicles, your little ones (like mine) may not be eating healthy this summer. As parents, we have potential courses of action: do nothing, wait until September and let back to school momentum fix it all, or try a few quick food tricks to curb their poor summertime diets. As a mom, sure, doing nothing would be easiest but teaching kids how to make good food choices is a priceless lifelong lesson. So, let me make it easy for you - here are some tricks to getting your kid to eat better this summer:

Try introducing smoothies made with bananas and their favourite frozen fruit. This cool, fun, slurp-through-a-stray snack will keep your kids happy. And, you can hide all sorts of goodness in a smoothie including green powders, berry powders, fish oil and probiotics. You can even try adding in protein if you've got a picky(sticks-out-her-tongue at meat)-eater at home.

Skewer It
Fruit is always a great summer go-to snack. If your kids just aren't having it, try making bright, colourful fruit skewers. They are a hit at birthday parties, and may just get a few more servings of fruit into your kid's diet.

Dip, dip and more dip
Picky eaters can commonly be persuaded to eat a less desired food when dip is offered. In our house, we find showing our little ones which foods to dip (playing it up with lots of enthusiastic sounds and words) can help a lot. Try to keep the dips healthy; hummus, yogurt or guacamole are healthier dip choices, than ketchup and store-bought salad dressing.

Ensuring your kids are offered healthy food options throughout the day will help them learn what foods are good choices to best fuel their bodies. Try to keep snacks healthy (cheese, yogurt, fruit, vegetables) as much as possible so, you can breath easier at the end of the day, when dinner becomes yet another hot dog and ice cream cone.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Going Gluten-Free - Fad Diet or a Food Revolution?

It's hard to miss the gluten-free talk these days. It's everywhere - the topic of daytime talk shows, magazine articles, blogs and best-selling books. Gluten is becoming a "bad word". But, is it warranted? Is gluten truly a bad food?

For some, gluten causes the immune system in their body to attack - this is Celiac disease. Thanks to an increased awareness and understanding, more people are able to clearly identify whether or not they have Celiac disease. For those with Celiac disease, including a very good friend of mine, gluten really is a bad word - and it has to be avoided at all cost.

Some people find gluten doesn't agree with them - causing bloating, gas and other undesirable symptoms. For those folks, gluten is best in small dosages or not at all.

As for the rest of us, gluten isn't a huge problem. The real problem lies in the foods we commonly find gluten in. Where is gluten? Its in bread, pasta, crackers, cookies and most packaged foods (salad dressings, condiments, canned goods, boxed foods). These aren't "healthy" foods. As such, it may not be so much about "gluten" being a bad word, but the foods we find them in. This new anti-gluten diet is sort of an Atkin's diet re-packaged and re-marketed by companies hoping to get more money from the public who are desperate for weight-management help.

As with all "diets" that become popular in the media, its best to take them with a grain of salt. Stop and think trendy diets through before jumping on their band-wagon. Because, despite what some folks want us to believe, that whole-food diet your mom served is still a great, healthy diet! Yes, I can hear her now, "Allison, you can't get down from the table until you eat your vegetables, and have two more bites of meat."

A healthy diet is full of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, beans/nuts/seeds and low-fat protein (fish, eggs, chicken). As for the anti-gluten diet trend...if avoiding gluten can help you cut out some unhealthy foods like donuts and packaged foods than great! But, as with any diet it is important to include variation and moderation...and, keep it real.