Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The return of gestational diabetes

So I started this blog due to my history of gestational diabetes and then I got pregnant with our third child. In the first trimester I found the fatigue overwhelming and got lazy with my blog. My eating habits started up pretty well but old habits crept in. Frankly I crave carbohydrates when I'm tired and have been over-indulging. Two weeks ago I had my glucose tolerance test and the next day when I heard the nurse's voice on the phone I knew the results. GDM was baaaaack. Probably the kick in the pants that was needed. After a weekend of overcoming my denial that GDM in my second pregnancy was a fluke and coming to terms that I do have a genetic predisposition which means I will need to watch my diet for the rest of my life, I decided to look at this diagnosis as a blessing. No more denial, no more excuses, this is my time to make the permanent lifestyle changes required. Better now so I can enjoy good health rather than trying to dramatically alter my lifestyle when it may be more difficult and greater damage may have been done to my pancreas/liver requiring more intensive interventions.
We are all motivated differently in life. Some people only require one life event to alter their habits. I apparently need a university degree, a masters degree, and two kicks in the pants. Let's hope this will be enough.
Fortunately for me I have a supportive network of family and friends who want my success. Here's to our collective good health!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Time to ReBoot

I knew I was in danger of my hare vs. tortoise behaviour. Last week I felt I was doing really well following through on increasing my total vegetable and fruit intake, choosing healthy protein choices and limiting the sugar/refined carbohydrates. I had more energy and generally felt more positive. A few nights of bad sleep, thank you to my adorable toddler, and I started into the cereal. I have an addiction to boxed cold cereal. I rarely can stop at one bowl. Even if it is Bran Flakes that I buy, one bowl leads to another. I love the combination of cold cereal and milk. Once I started with that I noticed I was craving more grain products. Rather than preparing the whole grain products that fit my real food philosophy (quinoa, brown rice, whole grain couscous, barley etc.), I reached for the whole wheat bagel, whole wheat toast, whole wheat tortilla shell. I know technically these fall under the "whole grain" category. However as one reader pointed out, whole wheat bread has the same glycemic index as white bread, which will still give me that refined carbohydrate spike and drop of blood sugar. These choices were closely followed by delicious homemade pizza on the BBQ (white flour) and white pasta. I'm not going to stop the homemade pizza my husband treats us with, but when I include multiple of these grains in a day it starts to displace my vegetables and fruit and I need to find a balance there.

I know there is a growing movement out there of people who are questioning the role of grains in our diets. I have on my to-do list to read their arguments and come to my own conclusion. All I can say for now is that when I eat whole wheat bread products my vegetable and fruit intake suffers and I have less energy and am more moody (my poor family). I guess I need to follow my personal food philosophy, listen to my body and choose the real food whole grains.

How about you? Do you have a food item that sets you on the slippery slope away from healthy eating? Do you have a strategy to get back on track?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

He Says Gelato, I Say Ice Cream

Source unknown. On pinterest pinned by Miriam Wexler from shortorderdad.com

It's summer time and I love going out for a walk, especially one that has a stop that includes ice cream! Have you noticed recently that the typical ice cream shops with the large white buckets are being replaced by cafes with sleek stainless steel rectangular trays mounded high with fancy looking gelato? Ever since my over-indulgence in Rome (had gelato 3 different times in one day!) I have started a love affair with the rich tasting ultra smooth dessert. I was curious as to the difference between the two.

Similar to ice cream, gelato does have a dairy base, but it uses more milk than cream, which makes it lower in fat than ice cream as well as total calories. They also whip less air into it, which explains the denser texture and intense flavours. This also leads to more sugar than ice cream. With my genetic pre-disposition to diabetes limiting sugar is one of my top priorities to reduce the work for my fragile pancreas. Does this mean I would pick ice cream over gelato? Nope, I just would make sure to enjoy the kid sized portion, because honestly with the flavour intensity of gelato a couple of small spoonfuls and my taste buds are satisfied.

Some of the fruit flavored gelati (plural for gelato, those Italian lessons did teach me one thing!), do not contain a dairy base and are technically called sorbetto (sorbetti). Due to the elimination of the dairy, these do not contain fat, but are even higher in sugar.

Recently a frozen yogurt shop has opened on the street near me. Their nutritional information is not available on their website. I think that means time for a reconnaissance trip! I'm sure my girls will not complain.

How about you? Do you have a preference for ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt? Do you always have some tucked away in your freezer or do you leave it for special outings?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Visual Food Journal - Fruit Overload!

From last Tuesday. I was hoping to get a full day in, but kept forgetting. This one was the most complete from last week.

Breakfast: Steel-cut oatmeal with blueberries, strawberries, chia seeds, hemp seeds, almonds and pumpkin seeds.

Mid-morning snack: Apple and hard-boiled egg (I usually pre-cook a few hard-boiled eggs and have them on hand in the fridge, for some reason this was calling to me, odd I know)

Lunch: left over grilled vegetables, salmon steamed in parchment paper with cilantro and citrus slices

I rarely drink juice these days, but I had some leftover strawberry mint lemonade I had made for a picnic.

Post-lunch: strawberries and cherries

Post-lunch 2: slice of cheese as an after-thought with the berries

Afternoon snack: trail-mix

Dinner: BBQ pork chop, asparagus, sweet potato fries (apparently I'm on a kick with these), salad with heirloom tomatoes from the market, cucumber, and peppers.

After dinner: Watermelon

What I didn't include:
3 tall glasses water
I went to a friend's for a girl's night and I snacked on a couple fruit kabobs and a brownie.

My assessment: Got my colors in, over-did the fruit at the expense of calcium and whole grains, and I reached my goal for the omega-3s.

Friday, 22 June 2012

My Attempt at Homemade Yogurt

A few years ago I read about a man who saved all his trash for year. He discovered that by far his number one source of waste was food packaging. Although I will never reach the level of The Zero Waste Home, I am interested in reducing some of the food packaging that comes into my house. One item we consume a great deal of per week is yogurt. I have hemmed and hawed over buying a yogurt maker but adding another appliance to my overstuffed kitchen runs counter to my attempts at minimalism. Therefore after recieving encouragement and inspiration from Jo at Simply Being Mum, who writes a great weekly post about reducing food waste, I choose to try the slow cooker method. Thereby using an already underutilized kitchen appliance.

What have I learned?  Two successes out of five and the reason why? Me and my foggy Mommy brain. Please tell me Mommy brain really does exist so I have an excuse for my spaced out behaviour.  I adapted my recipe from this site. Making your own yogurt is not complicated people, remembering that I am in the process of making yogurt and to follow the steps apparently is beyond my current capacity. Here are the steps I followed.

1. Heat 4 cups/1 liter milk to 180F. - in my slow cooker this took about 1.5 hours. Most recipes used 8 cups/ 2 liters, but I suspected I may have trouble and didn't want to waste too much milk.

2. Turn off heat and let milk cool to 110F, this usually takes 3-3.5 hours.

3. Take out 1 cup/250ml and wisk in 1/4 cup/ 75ml skim milk powder and 1/4 cup/ 75ml yogurt.

4. Wisk the mixture back into the crockpot. Cover. I usually put it on low for 10-15min to get it back up to 110F. Then leave it for 8-10 hours. The first few times I covered it with a big towel, then I remembered the insulation bag the crockpot came with and used it.

5. Voila. 1 liter of homemade yogurt. I usually strained some of it overnight in the fridge with a coffee filter or cheesecloth over a strainer and in the morning had delicious yogurt cheese to spread on toast.


Where did I got wrong? It was always the forgetting that I was making yogurt that day. Once in the reheating up to 110F I forgot to set the timer and headed out the door with the girls. When I got home I'd overheated it and killed the bacteria in the starter (yogurt added in). Another time I got home late and forgot all about the yogurt ready and waiting for me to transfer it to the fridge. Finally I didn't calculate out how long it would take me, which resulted in it being ready 2 hours after I go to bed. I took it off early and drained it in the fridge for yogurt cheese...so it was salvaged. Really not huge fails, more just pains.

I think it is time for me to give my friend's mom a call. I remember her always having a batch of homemade yogurt on the go that we would use to complement the delicious, spicy East Indian food she made. I'm sure her method is less complicated that mine! Maybe I can get her paratha recipe at the same time. Salivating just thinking of it.

Have you ever made homemade yogurt? Do you have an easier method?

My Personal Food Philosophy

Oh the world of nutrition can be a confusing place. Not only is nutrition difficult to research, food is an intensely personal choice fueled by multiple variables such as our culture, life experiences, beliefs, taste preferences and economic situations.

As I've been reading more blogs and news articles to see what people are saying, I find the conviction and sometimes aggressiveness of certain people a little intimidating. They are convinced that their particular diet pattern is the one and only to follow. I find the extreme statements such as avoid all legumes because they are toxic for your gut or avoid all saturated fats one-sided and usually after a little digging these opinions come from cherry picking the research to suit their particular theory or belief.

So rather than taking the time to deconstruct all the latest dietary trends out there I'm going to write out my own personal evolving food philosophy.

1. Eat Real Food. Food that comes from a source you can identify as close to the original source as is realistic. Such as honey rather than table sugar or brown rice rather than white flour.

2. Enjoy your rainbow of colours of vegetables and fruit everyday, with an emphasis on vegetables and low glycemic-index fruit (apples, berries, cherries, plums, grapefruits, peaches)

3. Eat fish at least 1-2 times a week, chose sustainable fish sources.

4. Enjoy nuts and seeds, they make for great snacks eaten mindfully. In other words pour out a portion rather than munching in front of the TV from a giant bag. Those covered in sugar etc. don't count.

5. Chose whole grains 90% of the time over refined (refined grains could fall under #10.)

6. Incorporate beans and legumes often

7. Enjoy small portions of red meat (beef. lamb, bison, pork), just not every day. Don't eat the charred part of BBQ'd meat. If possible preferentially chose pasture-fed meat options.

8. Limit or avoid the processed meats (these don't really fall under my real food motto as it is hard to identify what part of the animal the hotdog comes from).  

9. Listen to your body, eat when you are hungry, drink when you are thirsty. Stop eating before you feel full, wait 20 minutes before taking more. Know your own personal weaknesses and devise a strategy to find balance. Don't bring the cookies on sale home, but enjoy one while at a celebration on the weekend. 

10. Limit the processed nutrient-poor foods (chips, cola, crackers, sugary drinks, bakery items) to special occasions.  As for my daughters, I just plan on not making it available to them everyday. I won't interfere if they are at a social event and these foods are available. My plan is to lead by example. Sally at Real Mom Nutrition wrote an excellent couple of posts about a healthy snack policy for her preschooler's soccer group and the importance of not setting our children up for failure

11. Avoid extremes within real foods (cut out all grains, avoid all fat). Don't be afraid of fat. Better to eat an egg than a bag of "100 calorie portion control cookies".

12. Water is the best liquid to drink.

13. Take advantage of delicious fresh and dried herbs and spices

14. Enjoy fermented foods (yogurt, sourdough whole grain bread..... the occasional beer)

15. Relax and enjoy eating.

In Summary: Take pleasure in mindfully eating simply prepared real food with loved ones.

My philosophy is evolving over time and there are a few areas I am still developing my own opinion on. How about you? Do you have a food philosophy/manifesto/guide? We all want to live our lives in a fulfilling healthy manner and the path to get there can be very different

Sunday, 17 June 2012

My Preschooler Likes Brussels Sprouts

I wish I could take credit for my daughter liking Brussels sprouts, but can not. I have to attribute it to a 2 second clip in a Franklin video we took out of the library one day. In the scene the mother tells Franklin's sister in a friendly voice to, "Eat up your Brussels sprouts, dear.". After this scene my daughter turned to me and told me she wanted to eat some Brussels sprouts, fortunately for us I like Brussels sprouts and always have a bag in the freezer. I happily obliged and she wolfed down 5. Since that time I'd guess she eats them 70-80% of the time I offer them depending on her food jags.
Amazing what an influence media can have on our children's food preferences. Which marketers are well aware of and utilize to their client's benefit.
Now if only Disney would release a book of the Princess's favorite vegetables or Lightning McQueen's dark green leafy vegetable fuel. I am feeling nostalgic for Popeye and his spinach.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Visual Food Journal

The National Weight Control Registry is a database of over 10 000 people who have lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for over a year. The researchers who collect the information from participants hope to find the secrets to successful weight maintenance. One of the factors they found supported long term success was frequent self-monitoring (self-weighing and monitoring of food intake). Although I am not looking to lose weight at this time, except perhaps those mommy love handles! I am hoping to stop yo-yoing with my healthy eating (and lifestyle).

Food journals never work for me - but visuals do. So I am going to start documenting my food intake with pictures. I'll post one day a week here....not as a guide for you to follow (we all have our own food preferences and path to take) but as a way to improve my own mindful eating. Hope you enjoy!

Breakfast part one- Spinach Omelette with Salsa

Breakfast part two - Whole grain toast with homemade yogurt cheese and strawberries

Mid-morning snack - apple with cheese

Mid-morning snack #2 - caught at the hair salon for longer than anticipated, little one fussy and had finished her snack. Ran over to the convenience store next door with wet hair - only options were cookies or chips. Cookies kept the little hands and mouth busy for the rest of the appointment. Normally I would have binged and eaten at least 8 (they are relatively small cookies) but this time read the label and chose four (15 grams carbohydrate...ok sugar)

Lunch - Tuna wrap with salad, quacamole, 5% sour cream, salsa
not pictured - handful of baby carrots

Mid-afternoon snack - blueberries and almonds

Dinner - Grass-fed ground beef cooked in 1Tbsp tomato paste and Berbere ethiopian spice mixture (around 90 grams - most of it is hidden under the salad and tomatoes), green beans, asparagus (snacked on more outside of the plate), sweet potato fries, salsa, sour cream, guac (taco night, I skipped the tortilla but not my family), and green salad

Evening/post dinner snack - plain yogurt, blueberries and chia seeds
Ate a small bowl of my little ones' Raisin Bran cereal when she asked for it then didn't eat any. - not pictured, the temptation to avoid food waste can be my downfall especially with the little ones around!

I also drank 3 x 500ml glasses of water

My verdict - I think I did pretty well with the colours of the rainbow, a little blueberry heavy due to my recent farmer's market haul. Future goal more vegetables than fruit. Met my omega-3 goals with tuna and chia seeds. Drinking the 500ml of water first thing in the morning is helping me get my fluid intake up. Need to remember to pack better snacks and extra for outings. 

How about you? Do you have a strategy that supports mindful eating?

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Strawberry Season - Yummy!

Went to the Jean Talon Market this week. Due to our exceptionally hot March this year the strawberries  have arrived early. Yum.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Coconut Oil - not all saturated fats are equal

One of the universal truths we were taught years ago was that saturated fats are unhealthy and should be avoided/minimized. The first crack in my blind acceptance of this belief was due to a flippant remark by one of my nutrition profs, who specialized in lipid research. He commented that not all saturated fats react the same way in the body and the simplification of the message by certain fellow academics were not beneficial for the profession or the public. Ah the nature of academia.

Nutrition is a notoriously difficult science to research. It isn't like pharmaceutical drugs where you can compare one pill to another. Nutrients interact, work together, and compete with each other in a myriad of different ways. Often findings indicate the reduction of a certain nutrient (such as saturated fat from animal products) is beneficial if it is replaced by a more beneficial one (such as omega-3 fatty acids), but the benefit is lost when the replacement is in the form of an equally or more detrimental nutrient (such as sugar or trans fats). Unfortunately in the simplification of our messaging these nuances may be lost and all we hear is fat is bad and as the expression goes we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Based on our obesity/diabetes epidemic, the low fat, high carbohydrate message from the 1980s/1990s has proven to be ineffective and possibly even harmful. The replacement of saturated fats in our diet with refined carbohydrates (high glycemic index) is actually more detrimental for cardiovascular healthhttp://www.ajcn.org/content/93/4/684.full

Saturated fat came onto our radar with the 1953 Seven Countries epidemiological study by Ancel Keys that linked a high saturated fat intake with high coronary heart disease. As I mentioned in my post about fish, these types of studies only give us clues (correlations) and not definitive causes. It could be that those countries exercised less, or ate more processed meats etc.

With the popularity of the paleo diet exploding and people beginning to question the black and white stance regarding saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat. I thought I would look at one dietary fat source that appears to be gaining a popular following. Coconut oil.

Virgin coconut oil is high in saturated fat. Just as with polyunsaturated fats (omega-6 and omega-3) there are different saturated fatty acids and they don't all work the same way in our body. The main saturated fatty acid in non-hydrogenated coconut oil is lauric acid, the same we find in breast milk. It is a smaller saturated fatty acid (less carbons) than those found in meat. Shorter fatty acids make up something called medium-chained triglycerides (MCTs). Coconut oil is comprised of over 50% MCTs.

MCTs are digested, absorbed and utilized in a different manner than longer chain fatty acids. They are more readily used as energy rather than fat storage. They also are believed to contribute to a feeling of fullness, although the research at this point is not strong.

Coconut oil does increase cholesterol the most of all oils, but it does so by increasing HDL (high density lipoprotein), the so-called good cholesterol. When looking at the relationship between blood cholesterol and heart disease it is the ratio of the good cholesterol HDL to the less desirable cholesterol LDL or total cholesterol that is important. Therefore an increase in HDL (and resulting change in the ratio) can be viewed as positive.
A small study in women with abdominal obesity found after 12 weeks of supplementation of 2 Tbsp coconut oil vs 2 Tbsp soy oil that there was an increase in HDL (better LDL/HDL ratio) in the coconut group. The study also asked the participants to walk 50 minutes per day and there was weight loss in both groups but only the coconut oil group had a decrease in waist circumference (measure of abdominal fat). This is a small study but if it is replicable it could have important implications as the fat we store in our abdomen is the nasty fat that sends out many inflammatory hormones and messengers that wreck havoc on our bodies.

This obviously is not a doctoral thesis...just a blog. What I have read so far has whet my appetite to dig into the research a little more. How well designed were the studies etc. In the meantime adding a little virgin coconut oil in my baking or on a batch of popcorn in moderation doesn't seem like a bad idea. I won't be using it on my stove top cooking though as it has a relatively low smoke point (similar to extra virgin olive oil).

The refined version (labeled coconut oil rather than virgin coconut oil) has a much higher smoke point. I haven't been able to find the fatty acid breakdown of this one yet - so I will stick with the virgin coconut oil until I am able to read more.

As for the paleo diet. I plan to read more about it in the future, at the moment I won't start eating red meat three times a day, even if it is pasture-fed (better lipid profile). Even if the saturated fatty acids found in animal products earn a reprieve, for me the evidence that a plant-based low-glycemic index diet is a healthy choice continues to dominate.

How about you? What do you think about coconut oil?

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Fish - the Ultimate Brain Food

Growing up I decided I didn't like fish. A shame really considering I lived beside the Pacific Ocean where the salmon and fishing opportunities were plentiful. Fortunately I've had a change of taste and have come to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of seafood. I also developed an appreciation for sashimi until a meal of vegetarian sashimi sent my gestational diabetes sugars through the roof. Did you know they put sugar in sushi rice? I digress.

Fish is good for us. Populations that eat more fish live longer. Of course these types of studies (epidemiological) only find possible associations and you can't assume their findings to be cause and effect (it could be that they also have less cars and walk more, or have stronger community support etc.). However their findings were so strong they have spurred a great deal of research into fish and the components of fish (omega 3 fatty acids) that may contribute to good health. In brief our North American lifestyles promote inflammation in our bodies (high omega-6 fat intake, stress, lack of sleep etc.), whereas omega-3 fatty acids are precursors to anti-inflammatory agents in our bodies. Ultimately re-tipping the scales towards a balance. They also play an important role in the development and function of the central nervous system. Hence the expression that fish is brain food.

What are the three main Omega-3 fatty acids? 
ALA- alpha-linolenic acid, the smaller (less carbon and double bonds) omega-3 fatty acid that is found in vegetable sources (flax seed, chia seed, hemp seed, walnuts, canola oil, soybean).

EPA - eicosapentaenoic acid, the fatty acid that is converted into anti-inflammatory messengers in the body. It's good for your heart.

DHA- docosahexaenoic acid, the fatty acid that is incorporated into the cell membranes of nervous tissue and retina. Because of it's structure it makes these membranes very fluid/flexible. It's good for your eyes and brain.

How much should I be eating per day?
The dietary reference intakes recommend consuming 1.1g/day (females) and 1.6g/day (males) of ALA. For children ages 1-3 years old, it is 0.7g/day and 0.9g/day for 4-8 years old. This recommendation was based on the average intake of North Americans. The DRI is to prevent deficiency, and it is difficult to determine optimal intake for health.

Unfortunately our bodies ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA is limited, therefore in addition to ALA we need a dietary source of EPA and DHA. We don't have an official recommendation for DHA and EPA intake. An expert panel of researchers concluded in 2008 that there was sufficient evidence to recommend 250-500mg of DHA+EPA per day for cardiovascular health. (Harris et al. 2009 J.Nutr.)

A consensus statement in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2007 recommended that pregnant women consume 200mg/day of DHA.

So my next goal is to evaluate my family's intake and try to get the adults up to a minimum of 1.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day with 300-500mg being DHA+EPA (averaged over the week). I am not a big fan of supplements as omega-3 fatty acids may not be the only part of fish that is beneficial for our health, therefore I will look to food sources primarily. However I will be open to them if we fall short of the mark.

Food Sources of DHA/EPA: (this is not an exhaustive list just some of the foods we eat on a regular basis)
Salmon (75 grams): 1900 mg
Rainbow Trout (75 grams): 900mg
Omega-3 eggs (chickens can convert the ALA to EPA/DHA so they feed them flax seed): 75mg DHA
Light Tuna canned in water (75 g or 1/2 cup): 200mg
(I usually buy canned light, not albacore/white because it is from smaller fish and contains less mercury, although it also has less DHA/EPA)
Anchovy (1 fillet 4g): 84mg
Sardines and Mackerel are good sources too.

Food Sources ALA:
Flax Seeds (1 Tbsp): 1.6 grams
Chia Seeds (1 Tbsp): 1.9 grams
Hemp Seeds (1 Tbsp): 0.84 grams
Walnuts (30g or 1/4 cup): 2.6 grams
Canola oil (1 Tbsp): 1.3 grams
My source is the Canadian Nutrient File. An excellent database if ever you want to look up the detailed nutrition information of your foods. The American one did not contain omega-3s.

So general plan will be two meals of fatty fish a week with a serving of a food source rich in ALA daily (ground flax on yogurt, or snack of walnuts). Do you like fish? If not, what are your food and/or supplement sources of DHA/EPA?

As we don't live and eat in a vacuum. Those of you interested in reading more about the best seafood choices for sustainability, there is a great table at National Geographic. http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/take-action/impact-of-seafood/#/seafood-decision-guide/

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Food for Thought: Apple vs Juice

Which one fills you up more? Although both have the same calories and sugar content, our bodies do not react the same way to them. There is an increasing amount of evidence to show that our body is not able to recognize the amount of calories we consume when it is in the liquid form. Rather than waiting for research to tell us this maybe we just need to listen to our bodies. Honestly, how many of us eat three apples in a sitting?
As an aside - the equal sign is a bit of a misnomer because in reality the apples have fiber, folate, vitamin A, and beta-carotene, all of which have been removed in the processing to make juice.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Is it Hunger or is it Thirst?

My eldest turned four years old this past week. I can't believe how fast the time has gone by. It feels like yesterday that I was hit by the mack truck of motherhood. I have heard recently that when they your children are young it is physical exhaustion that consumes you, but hit the teen years and you are into the emotional exhaustion. Another reason to get my body humming along at it's maximal healthy potential. 

As for making healthy choices the afternoons can be my nemesis. My energy bottoms out and I usually find myself in front of my cupboards having the same debate, sometimes multiple times a day. I want something to eat, but not really sure what and I don't really feel hungry, just tired and missing something. Usually I end up reaching for a quick carbohydrate type snack such as crackers and end up feeling more sluggish an hour later. There are multiple variables that could be contributing to my afternoon slump. A few of them being not enough protein at breakfast and lunch, too many simple carbohydrates which are sending me on an insulin/sugar joyride with the inevitable crash, lack of physical activity and lack of quality sleep. All of which I plan on tackling over the next little while. But as I stand there, there is one question I am starting to ask myself more often. 

Am I really hungry or am I thirsty? Sometimes I think that I am walking around in a constant state of low-level dehydration. I don't drink water between my meals and sometimes after a meal when I'm cleaning up I'll realize I've only drank 1/2 of my glass of water. We have all heard of the maxim to drink 8-10 cups of liquid a day (2-2.5 Litres). Looking back I think I am averaging 3 cups per day or 750ml. The general guideline of 2-2.5 litres of total water is based on the average intake of female North Americans  (males it is 3.7L). This includes water in our foods. According to national surveys in the U.S. approximately 20-28% of our liquid comes from water, 28% from our food and 44% from other beverages (juice, milk, soda etc.). So if 25% is coming from my foods then perhaps I need to just drink 1500-1600ml (6 cups) per day. Which feels more manageable to me.
The recommendation is to drink when you are thirsty. But am I mistaking my thirsty signals for hunger? If I wait for the thirsty signal to scream at me am I already dehydrated?

My quick fix solution for the moment? Start the day with 500ml (2 cups) water before breakfast. Next time I'm standing in front of the cupboard ask myself, when was the last time I had something to drink? I think I'll reach for a glass of water with lemon slices before those goldfish crackers and see how I feel.

For now I'm going to favour water as my source of liquid. Where does your liquid come from? How much do you drink a day? 

Up next: Are we drinking ourselves to obesity? (referring to those other beverages)

Monday, 14 May 2012

Sly Sugar: Is it a treat or is it an everyday food?

Growing up my favorite after dinner treat was a Root Beer Float. Thinking of it right now I can taste the foamy rootbeer soaked vanilla ice cream and hear the clink of the spoon against the glass as I scooped out the last dredges of ice cream. That being said I had a float maybe a few times a year, it was considered a treat. In high school I remember being jealous of the kids who brought cash to school everyday to spend in the vending machines. Their lunches consisted of a can of soft drink and a chocolate eclair from the cafeteria. Wow treats every day! Looking back on it now they probably didn't feel so hot by the time 3pm rolled around when their bodies crashed from the sugar-high. But the green-eyed monster doesn't notice these things.

So what foods do we consider treats? Should I even be using that word? Have foods that I once considered treats become a daily part of our diet?  For Canadians 35% of our daily sugar intake is coming from so-called Other Foods, which accounts to 7% of our daily calories. Other foods are nutrient-poor foods that don't fall under a food group, such as soft drinks, candy, fruit drinks, and chocolate bars. I am loath to even call them foods, but that is a whole other can of worms.
Enough with the numbers. Below are some pictures to illustrate our intake of sugar from these nutrient poor foods. *Rather than buying 65 pounds of sugar to illustrate my point, I used a 2kg (4.4 pound) bag of sugar and did some photo multiplication. If you have suggestions as to a better way to illustrate that much sugar - I'm all ears, as I'm not entirely satisfied with the end result of my attempt.

Average Canadian's sugar intake from Other Foods such as, soft drinks, candies, chocolate bars, fruit drinks, and added sugar and syrups is around 7.6 tsp per day for a total of 13.9 kg/ year (30.6 pounds). The picture is of 2 kg (4.4 pounds) bags of sugar.

Topping out the charts are those teenage boys aged 14-18 years old who consume 16 teaspoons of sugar from Other Foods per day, resulting in 28.8 kg per year (63.5 pounds).

For the little ones aged 1-3 years. 3.3 teaspoons per day from Other Foods for a total of 6 kg per year (13.2 pounds).

Other Foods for the preschooler and elementary-aged children 4-8 years provides 6.5 teaspoons per day, which equals 11.8 kg/year (26 pounds).

If you are interested in seeing more of the numbers and percentages, my data is from Statistics Canada.


Unfortunately the way they present the data, it is difficult to provide an accurate quantity of sugar per day from specific food sources per sex and age group, such as soft drinks. They do list the top food sources of sugar. For children ages 1-8 years old it is milk. Can you guess what it is for the 9-18 years old? Soft Drinks. Which says to me that they are drinking soft drinks everyday and getting more sugar from soft drinks than fruit. I guess soft drinks aren't considered as treats anymore.

How often do you eat foods that you consider treats? Daily, weekly, monthly? Should I be even using the word treat to describe these foods?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Rainbow update

How are you doing with your colours? I found myself yesterday afternoon wanting a snack and rather than reaching for the ever accessible children's Goldfish crackers I thought, "I haven't had anything orange yet today", so I finished the little bag of baby carrots languishing at the back of my fridge. Yes Goldfish crackers are orange...wrong orange my friends.

Here are some photos of my colours this week.

Last night's dinner, thought to take a picture after eating half of it. 
Chicken and Quinoa stir-fry with red and yellow peppers, asparagus, onion and garlic.

Arugula Salad last night.
After dinner blueberries and yogurt - photo very unattractive.

Ingredients for Monday night's dinner. See end result below.

Spinach and Mushroom Frittata with Roasted Cauliflower.
Carrots eaten while prepping dinner.

The colours for today! Plan is:
Breakfast: Spinach Omelette, banana
Lunch: Stir-fry leftovers with salad 
or a  tomato, avocado & cheese sandwich
Dinner: Spaghetti squash with tomatoes, shrimp and feta cheese 
(it's really tasty, I promise)
Snacks: orange pepper, blueberries and yogurt, cucumber

Up next is Sly Sugar Sunday. Wishing you a day of delicious colourful eating!

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow

When I first graduated from school I used to joke with my friends that we needed to publish the next best-selling diet book. We were going to call it the Rainbow Diet, as in eat the colors of the rainbow. Not very original, I know. The idea of eating different colored plant-based foods has been around for a while but I have noticed recently that this simple idea is starting to catch on. All you have to do is search, "eating the rainbow".

So what is the benefit of eating different colored plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes? There is a multitude of naturally occurring organic compounds in plant foods known as phytochemicals. A subset of these phytochemicals are antioxidants that play an important role in protecting our body from oxidative stress, which can contribute to heart disease, cancer, degenerative eye disease and dementia. The individual chemical structures of antioxidants are what give these plant-based foods their colors. For instance lycopene, an antioxidant in tomatoes and watermelon reflects the color red and beta-carotene provides carrots with their orange color. Rather than remembering their complicated names and combinations, eat a variety of colors and you're covered.

Below is an incomplete list of the colors and foods associated with them.

Red: beets, red onions, red potatoes, tomatoes, radicchio, radishes, red bell peppers, pink or red grapefruit, blood oranges, rhubarb, strawberries, cherries, red plums, raspberries, watermelon, red apples, cranberries, red grapes, red pears, pomegranates, red chili pepper

Orange:  carrots, sweet potatoes, orange bell peppers, orange squash (butternut, acorn), mango, navel and mandarin oranges, papayas, apricots, canteloupe (orange melons), nectarines, peaches, pumpkins

Yellow:  yellow bell peppers, corn, yellow squash (spaghetti), yellow tomatoes, golden beets, rutabagas, grapefruit, lemons, pineapples, yellow apples, yellow pears

Green: artichokes, asparagus, green bell peppers, endive, green beans, lettuce, peas, spinach, watercress, arugula, cucumbers, okra, zucchini, bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, brussel sprouts, green cabbage, endive, kale, leeks, swiss chard, celery, kiwi, limes, green pears, avocados, green grapes, honeydew melon, green chilies, parsley, cilantro, other green herbs

Blue: blueberries, blue plums, blue grapes

Purple: eggplant, purple-tipped Belgian endive, purple cabbage, purple carrots, prunes, black currants, figs, plums, figs, grapes, raisins, blackberries, dates

White/Tan: cauliflower, onions, mushrooms, jicama, parsnips, potatoes, shallots, turnips, white corn, kohlrabi, garlic, ginger, bananas

So my family goal for this week is to increase the variety of colors we are eating every day. I think we'll aim for 4-5 as 7 may be a bit ambitious to start with. I see a great deal of blueberries and eggplant in my near future. How many colors have you eaten today? By the way, yellow fast food french fries don't count.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Sneaky Salt Saturday: Salad with a Side of Salt

One of my first rotations as a nutrition intern was at a small community hospital. As we sat down for lunch each day I saw the cook open up her lunch salad, reach for the salt shaker and douse it in table salt. I thought, "people put salt on their salads? how odd." I hadn't yet considered what was in that bottled salad dressing I poured over my own salad. 

Canadians and Americans consume about 3400mg of sodium per day (1 1/2 teaspoons of salt). Which is more than double the 1000-1500mg ((2/3 teaspoon salt) recommended daily amount and 50% more than the recommended maximum amount (1 teaspoon). It is estimated that 75% of our sodium comes from processed foods and not the table salt we add at home. So what is the danger in eating so much extra sodium? I'll keep it simple: it leads to high blood pressure which leads to heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. Not a numbers person? I personally prefer visuals, so here it is. This is how much extra salt we are eating each day and over the entire year.

Since my time as an intern I have married an Italian who prefers a basic splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil to the bottled preparations I would bring home. Although I have to admit I enjoy his (and that of my friends) homemade salad dressing, I still occasionally succumb to the lure of a good sale price and the convenience of 30 seconds saved. So my first baby step to healthy eating will be to cut back on the sneaky sources of excess sodium in my diet, starting with salad dressing.

The average commercial balsamic or italian salad dressing has between 100-250mg sodium per tablespoon. The one I have in my fridge at this time has 150mg per tablespoon. So rather than boring you with my math, below is a picture to show the difference over the year. Eating one tablespoon of the commercial salad dressing in place of my homemade olive oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano dressing every day is equal to 2/3 cup of extra salt per year. My apologies for the photo quality.

Although this post isn't about sugar, salad dressing can also be a significant source. Even if you are making your own dressing at home, balsamic vinegar can be up to 33% sugar, which is why I now choose red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar instead. Below is a recipe of a dressing my mother-in-law prepares and keeps in the fridge for a week at a time.

Nonna's salad dressing
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
2 Tablespoons Plain Yogurt

Do you have a favorite homemade salad dressing recipe? What are your sneaky sources of sodium? Soup? Fast Food? Cereal? Condiments? Pizza? Cheese?

Friday, 4 May 2012

What Motivates Your Food Choices?

If you were to approach someone on the street eating an apple and ask they why they chose that apple what do you think their response would be? Other than the obvious odd look of course.....

1. I like apples (taste)
2. It was the easiest thing to grab on the way out the door (convenience)
3. It was on sale (economy)
4. I have to fit into a size 4 bridesmaid dress this weekend and am dieting (physical appearance)
5. It is good for me (health)
6. I heard it will make me smarter (myths and beliefs)
7. We always ate apples in the mornings growing up (culture)
8. I saw someone eating an apple on TV this morning and I had a craving (not sure what to call this, external influence?)
9. I was sad and it makes me feel better (emotional eating)

Do you know what motivates your food choices? There are many variables that influence our food choices and I'm sure I haven't covered them all.

One thing I have learned over the years is that number one, taste, is non-negotiable. If it doesn't taste good it won't be eaten more than once. That being said taste preferences can adapt over time with gradual changes. Here in North America we are adapted to a diet high in sugar, fat and salt, all of which are shortcuts to tastiness. Unfortunately an excess of refined sugar, bad fats and salt are bad for our health. One of my main goals with my family journey to health is to re-educate our taste preferences back to the basics of whole foods, herbs, spices, and healthy fats. First up is Sneaky Salt Saturday, discovering and reducing excessive sodium.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Confessions of a Sweet-Toothed Nutritionist

Years ago when I told friends and family that I was switching my major in university to nutrition their universal reaction was, "you?...in nutrition?....oh really?". I was known for my love of sweet and salty low nutritional value foods, in other words, junk food. My grandmother would send me $5.00 for my birthday and tell me not to spend it all in the candy store with a wink. Friday nights with my best friend in high school consisted of a movie, a McCain Deep and Delicious cake, a bag of chips and assorted bulk bin candy (no rebel party animal here). Several years later I don't receive birthday cards from my grandma anymore and my junk food buddy lives thousands of miles from me. I would love to say that my years of higher education has transformed my eating habits and now I practice what I preach, but I can't. Although there has been improvement I still feel far from that ideal healthy eater everyone assumes I must be when they find out I am a nutritionist. Over the years I have kept promising myself that tomorrow I would magically transform my diet. 

When I was pregnant with my second child I developed gestational diabetes. I followed the diet relatively strictly, maintained normal blood sugars and gave birth to a healthy girl. I was convinced that this diagnosis was the motivating factor for me to overhaul my diet and maintain these healthy eating habits for good. I lasted a week. My daughter is now one year old and I continue to have that nagging little voice in my head that I need to get serious about eating better not only for myself but also for my daughters. 

Looking back at my failed attempts to transform my diet I realize that when it comes to change I am a hare, not a tortoise. In other words, I race out of the starting gate with excitement and passion, then run out of steam quickly and return to my previous habits. So I've decided this time around I am going to approach healthy eating like a tortoise, slow and steady, one small change at a time. In my years as a practicing nutritionist I have realised that we are faced with multiple healthy living choices a day. So I've decided to start this blog as a way to document my family's tortoise journey to healthy eating and living, one small choice at a time. I hope you decide to join me or at least cheer me on from the sidelines.