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Tips for Successful Weight Loss

Have you joined the ranks of those who vowed to shed a few pounds this year?  Be it 5, 15, 20 lbs or more, we all want one thing – for it to come off and stay off. Naturally, we turn to one of the countless fad diets out there.  After all, they do promise one thing.  Results.  Fast results.  However, the weight always comes back post-diet.  Chances are it’s happened to you or someone you know.

What if there is a more sustainable method out there?

Consider this: learn how to change your eating habits for good.

It’s not an earth shattering concept.  In fact, you’ve all heard it before.  The challenge is it takes some work on your part, which is a caveat that scares most people off.  But don’t be fooled.  This strategy is easier to adopt than it sounds.  See for yourself with these 5 simple tips that help you get started.

Tip #1: Eat breakfast

Foregoing breakfast because you want to lose weight?  It won’t help you.  In fact, it’s counterproductive to your goal.  Trimming inches from the body requires an efficient digestive system which needs to be kick started each morning after a night of hibernation.  A healthy breakfast will end the overnight ‘fast’ and rev the stomach up to produce the juices required for digestion.  As well, eating breakfast, especially one high in protein, increases a brain hormone called dopamine.  This hormone is released when the body experiences pleasure, such as those associated with food consumption.  When dopamine levels are low, which occurs when there is a large gap in between meals, our food cravings increase causing us to overindulge in food in order to satisfy the cravings (usually for refined carbs), leading to weight gain.

A protein-rich breakfast will not only help to stabilize your dopamine levels, it’ll also contribute to satiety.  A bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit, some hard-boiled eggs, or a cup of organic plain yogurt with fresh fruit are examples of healthy, protein-dense choices that are quick and easy to make.  That’s right, “I don’t have time”, is not an excuse for missing breakfast.

Tip #2: Don’t skip meals

Skipping meals might reduce the amount of calories you’re consuming, but does it reduce your body fat composition?  No.  When you deprive your body of food, it goes into starvation mode and starts to conserve body fat, burning instead tissue and muscle as fuel for energy.  Skipping meals also lowers your metabolic rate which means you burn fewer calories.  So now you have an increase in body fat conservation and a decrease in calories burned.  Doesn’t sound like a formula for weight loss if you ask me.

Focus instead on eating 3 meals and 2 snacks per day, smaller portions, and choosing foods that are high in protein, low in refined carbohydrates, and low in fats.  Protein is a key part of any healthy meal plan.  It is the building block of muscles, and the goal is to achieve a higher muscle to fat ratio as muscles burn more calories.  Choose lean meats like chicken or fish, and whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains for their high nutrient content that will aid in metabolic functions and contribute to your overall health.  And remember, frequent meals will keep cravings and overindulgence at bay as dopamine levels will be more controlled.

Tip #3: Exercise

No weight management program is complete without an exercise regimen.  Calories consumed must be expended, otherwise they are stored by the body as fat (triglycerides).  The purpose here is to increase your physical activity so that you can burn calories and increase your lean muscle mass.  Need motivation to get moving? Chew on this: one pound of muscle burns approximately 6.5 calories per hour.  One pound of fat burns only 1.2 calories per hour.  You do the math.

The best way to gain lean muscles and burn more calories is with strength training.  Crossfit, kettlebell, and body pump classes are cleverly crafted to give you the cardio and strength training you need.  If you’re not quite ready for that, Fitness Magazine has an easy-to-follow strength training routine for beginners.  If your work and family life leaves you too pressed for time to get to the gym, invest in a mini trampoline (also referred to as a rebounder).  They are inexpensive and just 10 minutes a day bouncing on it is equivalent to 30 minutes of running.  Rebounding offers many health benefits, including reduction of body fat and strengthening of muscles (particularly the legs and abdominals).

Tip #4: Decrease the frequency of dining out

Restaurant meals taste great and are convenient, but they are also high in trans-fat, refined carbohydrates, preservatives and additives, and cooked in oil that are rancid. All of these factors contribute to weight gain, among other health concerns.  Cut back on your dine out (and take-out) meals to twice a week, less if you can manage it, and you’ll notice your clothes fit better.

Home cooking can be just as quick and easy as grabbing take-out, with the added benefit that you’re feeding your family healthy, nutrient rich meals.  Check out this video from nutritionist Theresa Albert, where she shows you how to get simple and delicious meals for a week with 2 whole chickens.  Need more inspiration?  Head over to Love and Lemons or this blog post 16 Weeks of Lightened Up Meals for more healthy recipes.  Maximize your cooking time by doubling the recipes and pack the extras for lunch or freeze for speedy heat-up dinners during the week.

Tip #5: Watch your carbohydrates

I want to be clear that the idea here is not to remove carbohydrates completely from your diet.  On the contrary.  Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet as they provide the body with glucose, which is converted to energy and used to support bodily functions and physical activity.  The objective here then, is to ensure that we consume the healthy carbohydrates and eliminate the unhealthy ones.

It’ll come as no surprise to you that we regularly gravitate to, and over consume, the unhealthy sources of carbohydrates such as white sugar, refined white bread, French fries, pastries, pop, and other refined foods.  Not only are these foods lacking in nutrients, they actually rob us of our stored nutrients during the metabolism process.  And while you think that piece of pie or one more cookie can’t be harmful, know that any carbohydrates in excess of the body’s daily requirement is stored as body fat.

Turn your attention instead to healthy sources of carbohydrates like unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts or seeds.  These foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a host of phytonutrients that promote optimal health.

Now it’s your turn

Start making a change to your eating habits today and be on your way to a slimmer, healthier you.

Remember, food doesn’t respond the same way in everyone, so you may require a more personal approach depending on your situation.  If that’s the case, then work with your nutritionist and/or healthcare practitioner to develop a customized plan that meets your health goals.

Photo by: Arya Ziai, licence: flickr

Foods that Help You Beat a Hangover

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Holiday parties are almost synonymous with booze, which makes it easy for some of us to throw back a few drinks too many.  The nutritionist in me isn’t encouraging it, but since it’s the holiday season, I’ll cut everyone some slack.

So what to do the next day when you find yourself in poor shape to handle closing a big deal with a client, an important meeting with the boss, or a 10K run with your running group?  Try some of these foods for a natural cure to your hangover:

  • Eggs contain significant amounts of cysteine, an amino-acid that has the ability to break down toxins created when alcohol is metabolized in the body.  These toxins, ethanol and acetaldehyde, not only contribute to your hangover symptoms, they also cause damage to your cells.  Cysteine will help your body to detoxify, and thanks to its strong antioxidant properties, protect your cells from free radical damage.
  • Have some asparagus with your eggs.  A study published in the Journal of Food Science in 2009, found that the amino acids and minerals contained in asparagus stimulated the production of the enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH).  These enzymes are responsible for breaking down the toxins ethanol and acetaldehyde into acetate, so that they can be excreted from the body. It stands to reason then, that the more ADH and ALDH produced by the body, the faster it can detoxify the liver, which means the sooner you’re back on your game.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of clear liquids like pure filtered water, clear organic broth, or coconut water.  Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it causes you to lose water and leaves you dehydrated.  For each glass of alcohol consumed, you can expel up to four times as many liquid.  Furthermore, alcohol suppresses the hormone that stops you from urinating (the anti-diuretic hormone), signaling the kidneys to reabsorb less water.  When you have an equation of greater water output versus input, you get symptoms of dehydration – headache, dizziness, thirst, lethargy.  Combat these by consuming at least 2 litres of water to increase body fluid levels and help flush toxins from the body.  Coconut water and clear broth will also do the trick, with the added bonus of helping your body replenish nutrients and electrolytes lost from your night of drinking.
  • Toast is always a good choice for settling a queasy stomach.  Choose a whole-grain bread for its B-vitamins content to replenish those used by the body during the process of alcohol metabolism.  You’ll also find toast to be a good source of carbohydrate that will help regulate blood sugar levels, as fluctuation is a common cause of consuming alcohol.  Normally your liver will produce more glucose in response to a dip in blood sugar.  However when you drink, your liver’s priority shifts to metabolizing the alcohol and keeps it too busy to carry out all its other tasks.  Add raw, unpasteurized honey to your toast for added carb intake and see a boost to your mood and energy as your blood sugar returns to normal.  Raw honey is also packed with antioxidants that aid in curbing the negative effects of the alcoholic toxins.

You can reduce your chances of a hangover by eating before and while you drink, alternating one glass of water for every alcoholic drink you have, avoiding the bubbly drinks as they increase the rate of alcohol absorption in the blood, and choosing clear or lighter colour liquors which have less congeners (the chemical that gives alcohol its colour, taste, and smell).

Don’t let your celebrations knock you off your feet and keep you from enjoying the holidays!

Got your own natural remedy for curing hangovers? Share it in the comment box.

How to Refuel Post-exercise

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After a long and hard workout, what do you drink to help you recover and refuel?  Nothing, you say? Well then, you best read on.

Many of us know to fuel up before we exercise, but we forget how important it is to replenish all that used up energy after we exercise. Getting the right foods into your body could mean the difference between reaping the full benefits of your workout versus letting it all go to waste.

Here are 4 key nutrients to include in your post-exercise drink or meal:

Carbohydrate – this is the main fuel for your cells. It is stored by your body in the form of glycogen and used for energy by your muscles to produce movement.  After exercise, your glycogen stores will be depleted, which means you will need to up your carb intake to replenish your energy reserves.  Glycogen stores are most rapid during the first 2 hours post-exercise, so it’s best to get your carbohydrate intake during this time period.  How much?  The recommended amount is 1 g/kg of body weight.

Protein – combining protein with your carbohydrate intake will increase the efficiency of glycogen recovery compared to consuming carbohydrate on its own.  How does that work? Well, the two nutrients work together to stimulate a greater output of insulin which increases the uptake of glucose and amino acids into the muscle cells, thereby promoting glycogen and protein synthesis.  Protein is also required for muscle formation and growth.  So after resistance or endurance exercise, you’ll want to get 15-20 g of protein to maximize muscle repair.

Electrolytes – when you sweat during exercise, you lose electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.  Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that play a vital role in nerve transmission and muscle contraction.  They are also essential for the maintenance of water balance and distribution between cells, and for maintaining optimal pH balance.  A loss of electrolytes can lead to an imbalance which can result in muscle cramps, fatigue, nausea, and mental confusion.  Most sports drinks are enhanced with the electrolytes you need for recovery, however they also come with additives and food colouring.  Instead, choose pure coconut water, which is high in potassium, and add some sea salt.

Antioxidants – exercising increases your body’s production of free-radicals, which are molecules that cause cellular deterioration of your healthy cells.  Antioxidants have the ability to neutralize these free-radicals, preventing them from causing damage to your cells.  Fruits and vegetables like berries, pomegranate, or kale, are packed with antioxidants that help your body to repair and maintain good health.

The best way to put this all together?  In a smoothie.  Create your own, or try mine:

1 banana (frozen)
½ cup organic mixed berries (frozen)
½ cup organic tofu
1 ½ cups coconut water (I used O.N.E. Coconut Water)
A pinch of sea salt

Place all ingredients in a blender.  Blend until desired consistency.

Got a post-workout drink or meal to share?  Leave it in the comment box.  I’d love to try it!

Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen 2014

Every year the people at Environmental Working Group (EWG) – an organization dedicated to environmental health research and advocacy – conduct a study on conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables to assess their level of pesticide residues that can potentially be harmful to our health.  The findings are shared with consumers in two easy to use lists: Dirty Dozen, and Clean Fifteen.  EWG’s aim is to bring awareness to possible health hazards related to consuming pesticide laden foods so that you can make an informed decision when shopping for your produce.  While many regulating bodies in the food industry maintain that pesticides pose no threat to the human population, it is hard to ignore the numerous research findings that link its toxic effects to cancer, birth defects, abnormal brain and nervous system functions, and genetic alterations, among other health problems.

So how can you use the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen resources to help you eat healthier and reduce your pesticide consumption?

The Dirty Dozen list identifies the top twelve foods that tested positive to containing multiple types of pesticides and showed high concentration levels relative to other produce items.  Apples top the list for the fourth year, mainly due to the number of chemicals used for preservation during the long months of cold storage.  A single strawberry was found to have 13 different pesticides on it, and a single grape tested positive to 15 pesticides.  It’s a good idea to opt for the organically grown versions when it comes to items found on this list.  Use this tool to help you prioritize your organic purchases without breaking the bank, while lowering your exposure to toxic chemicals.

The Clean Fifteen list showcases the fruits and vegetables that are least likely to be contaminated with pesticides.  Topping the list are avocados, with only 1 percent of the samples showing any detectable traces of pesticides.  Over 80 percent of pineapples, mangos, kiwis, and papayas were found to be free of any pesticide contamination.  You can feel safe enjoying these conventionally grown, and be assured that they won’t contribute to your toxic load.

Check out the full 2014 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists below.  Then, head over the EWG website to get your own copy and read the full report of their 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.  Want the lists by your side when grocery shopping? Just download the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides app onto your smartphone.

Fish and Shrimp Socca Tacos with Cilantro Pesto

I was craving fish tacos for dinner; had been dreaming about it for a few days now.  So you can imagine my disappointment when I only found one small haddock fillet in my freezer….eeeks!  Normally I would just make something else, but my cravings were so strong that my mind wouldn’t let me think of anything else.  It was time to get creative.
Cilantro Socca Collage
Luckily I also had some jumbo shrimps and home-made cilantro pesto in my freezer.  Out they came with the fish fillet and voila, I had me some Fish and Shrimp Socca Tacos with Cilantro Pesto. This dish takes all of 15 minutes to make, provided that you have the pesto made in advance. Otherwise, tack on another 5 minutes.  And since I am avoiding gluten, I opted for this socca flatbread as my soft taco wrap making this recipe gluten, dairy, and sugar free.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
fish & shrimp taco 2

Fish and Shrimp Socca Tacos with Cilantro Pesto

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients
1 small haddock fillet (or any other white fish)
9 jumbo shrimps (shells removed and deveined)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small, thin slices of fresh ginger, minced
1 tsp grapeseed oil

For the pesto:
2 cups fresh cilantro, loosely packed
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
4-6 cloves garlic, smashed
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

For the Socca (recipe from thekitn.com):
1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup water
1.5 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon fine sea salt

Directions
1. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together chickpea flour, water, oil, and salt. Set aside and let rest for ½ – 2 hours.
2. In a food processor, combine cilantro, pumpkin seeds, garlic, and salt.  Pulse a few times until all ingredients are finely chopped.  Add the olive oil and process until desired consistency.  Set aside 1/4 – 1/3 cup for the tacos.  Store the rest in the fridge or freezer.
3. Film a small skillet with oil (I used grapeseed oil) and set over medium-low heat.  Pour a thin layer of the socca batter into the skillet until the bottom is covered (pour in less batter for smaller wraps).  Cook 2-3 minutes, flip and cook another 2-3 minutes.  Repeat this step until batter is used up.
4. While the wraps are cooking, heat some oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and ginger.  Sautee for about 30 seconds.
5. Add the fish and shrimps.  Cook for 3-4 minutes.  Flip, and cook another 3-4 minutes.
6. Assemble tacos: spread cilantro pesto on a wrap, add shrimp and fish filling, fold wrap over and enjoy!

You will have socca wraps left over, so you can double the filling ingredients and now the recipe serves two.  Or you can reduce the socca ingredients by half to get just the amount of wraps you need.  I put my extra wraps in the fridge and enjoyed them the next day as bread with stew or chili to soak up the yummy sauce.

Hot Carob with Coconut Whipped Cream

Chilled to the bone thanks to the -35 C temps in Toronto?  Warm up with this Hot Carob with Coconut Whipped Cream drink….. a fun twist to the traditional hot coco.

If you’re a chocolate lover who’s looking for an alternative that is lower in fat and caffeine-free, then carob is your new BFF. Carob has the same taste and mouth-feel as chocolate, but offers more advantages: it’s naturally sweet, high in fibre and calcium, and rich in vitamin D.  So you can satisfy those chocolate cravings while building bone strength and improving your digestive tract, all at the same time.  How can you beat that?

Carob is a legume that grows in the Mediterranean regions, and has been used since ancient times for consumption as well as medicinal purposes.  Thanks to its anti-allergic, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties (among others), carob is effective at treating conditions such as colds, diarrhea, high cholesterol levels, and poor digestion.  The carob pods are grounded into flour which is then sold to consumers as carob powder. Look for it in your local health food stores.

Not sure how you can use carob powder? Here are few ideas you can try:
• Use it for decoration: roll your energy balls in it, or sprinkle on top of cakes and cupcakes.
• Substitute cocoa powder with carob powder the next time you make brownies.
• Use carob chips instead of chocolate chips when baking cookies and muffins.
• Add it to your hot beverages like in the hot carob drink below.
carob collage

Hot Carob with Coconut Whipped Cream

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:
1 cup almond milk
2 tbsp carob powder
1 tsp raw organic honey
One 15 ounce can full-fat coconut milk

Directions:
1. Heat the almond milk in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
2. When the milk is warm, slowly add in the carob powder as you stir (to prevent clumbs). Heat for another 30-60 seconds.
3. Remove from heat and let cool to a drinkable temperature; add the honey. Pour into your favourite mug and top with coconut whip cream.

For the coconut whipped cream (recipe courtesy of thekitn.com):
1. Place the can of coconut milk in the refrigerator and leave it there until well-chilled; I left mine in overnight.
2. Open the can of coconut milk. There will be a firm, waxy layer on top.
3. Scoop out this firm layer coconut cream that has solidified at the top of the can.
4. Stop as soon as you reach the water at the bottom of the can; don’t include anything but the solid cream. (You can use the water in smoothies, or just drink it straight.)
5. Place this cream in the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl.
6. Turn your mixer or hand beaters to high speed, and whip the coconut cream for 3 to 5 minutes.
7. Whip until it becomes fluffy and light, with soft peaks. Mix in sugar or vanilla, if using.


How do you use carob powder in your recipes? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comment box so that I can give them a try too!

Sugar. Oh honey, honey.

Raise your hand if you have a sweet tooth.  My hand is up.  And I know that I’m not alone here because according to StatsCan, Canadians consume, on average, 110 g of sugar a day.  That’s equivalent to 26 teaspoons!  While a daily recommended intake amount for sugar has yet to be set, the World Health Organization recommends a maximum of 10% of calories be from free sugars.  Do the math and it means that we are consuming 60 g above the daily recommended maximum.  Is that a concern?  You bet.  Sugar (especially refined white sugar), in excess, can become toxic in the body, weakening our immune system and eventually leading to many health concerns such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and the list goes on.

So we all know what we need to do here – cut sugar from our daily diet.  A feat that’s easier said than done.  And to most, is not very appealing (myself included).  A more attainable ask is to reduce our sugar intake and opt for natural sweeteners that won’t spike blood sugar, are free of toxins, and will actually add nutrients rather than strip them from the body.  Here are three options you can try:

Organic raw honey
Honey is not just a natural sweetener made by nature’s hard-working honeybees.  It has a lot more to offer than that.  First of all, honey is composed mostly of fructose (38%) and glucose (31%), both monosaccharides that are used directly by the body for a quick source of energy.  Second, it contains a number of enzymes that enhances the metabolism of carbohydrates such as sugar and starches.  Third, it is rich in the following nutrients: amino acids, vitamins B and C, and the minerals calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, selenium, chromium and manganese.  Fourth, thanks to honey’s high phytonutrient content (flavonoids, antioxidants, and others) it is often used as an effective anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungus, anti-tumor (colon), and anti-inflammatory agent.

Honey is low on the glycemic index, with a score of 55, indicating that it does not cause a rapid rise in blood sugar.  So you don’t have to worry about getting a sudden surge in energy only to crash and burn later on.  Studies conducted on patients with type 2 diabetes show that natural honey caused a significantly lower rise in blood sugar levels than refined sugars.

So what should you look for when buying honey?  Keep in mind that heat destroys the healing properties and nutrients that are found in honey.  Therefore, to get the full benefits, be sure to buy raw organic honey.  Unpasteurized honey is the next best thing as it is only exposed to slight heat during processing.  Pasteurized honey is the least beneficial as most of its healing constituents have been destroyed by the heating process.  You’ll also want to remember this heat concept when using honey in your hot beverages, like tea.  It’s best to wait for the beverage to reach a drinkable temperature before adding the honey.  The other thing to keep in mind when making your selection is that darker honeys will contain a greater amount of antioxidants.

Honey can be easily substituted for sugar in most recipes when cooking or baking.  For every cup of sugar that the recipe calls for, use one-half to three-quarters of a cup of honey, and reduce the amount of liquid by one-quarter of a cup.  In addition, reduce the cooking temperature by 25°F since honey causes foods to brown more easily.

Pure maple syrup
Maple syrup is also a natural sweetener made from the sap of sugar, black or red maple trees.  The trees are tapped for their sap, which is then boiled to evaporate the water, leaving behind the maple syrup.  The main sugar in pure maple syrup is sucrose, with the darker syrups having small amounts of fructose and glucose.  Sucrose is a disaccharide so it will need to be converted in the body to glucose before it can be absorbed and used for energy.

Like honey, you can find many nutrients in maple syrup that are beneficial to health.  For starters, maple syrup contains the minerals calcium, potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron.  Next, you can find trace amounts of vitamins B2 (riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B3 (niacin), biotin, and folic acid, as well as trace amounts of amino acids.  And when it comes to healing properties, pure maple syrup is jam packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances – 54 phenolic compounds to be exact – which have been shown to fight cancer, diabetes and bacterial illnesses.  In fact, scientists at the University of Rhode Island have found that the phenolics in maple syrup help in the management of Type 2 diabetes by inhibiting two carbohydrate hydrolyzing enzymes.

Be sure to look for 100% pure maple syrup instead of maple “flavoured” syrup.

Raw evaporated cane sugar
The juice of the natural sugar cane is made up of sugar and water, and is high in the minerals calcium, chromium, cobalt, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, and iron.  It is also rich in vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6, along with a high concentration of phytonutrients, antioxidants, proteins, soluble fiber and a number of other health supportive compounds.  After the juice has been pressed from the sugar cane plant, it is then hand-stirred with paddles under low heat to evaporate the water, and then the dried juice is formed into a block of sugar.  This process ensures that the nutrients of the sugar cane juice are preserved and remain in the sugar.  Doubtful? Check out the study conducted at the Simon Bolivar University.  However, not all evaporated cane sugar undergo this process, so you must be sure to look for Rapadura, Panela, or Sucanat.  All other cane sugar (like Muscavado, Turbinado, Demarara) are all refined, although not to the extent as white sugar.

Evaporated cane sugar is also rich in polyphenols, including a large amount of antioxidant phytonutrients.  These polyphenols, combined with the vitamins and minerals, all work together to help slow down the body’s absorption of sugar (sucrose), preventing a sharp rise in blood sugar levels.  As well, thanks to the healing properties of the polyphenols, evaporated cane sugar has been studied for its role in health benefits such as fighting cancer, stabilizing blood sugar levels in diabetics, and assisting in weight loss.

A word of caution
So the next time you cook, bake, or have a sugar craving, consider one of these natural sweeteners over the typical refined white sugar.  But remember, consuming too much sugar, natural or refined, can be detrimental to your health.  So enjoy responsibly, consume in moderation, and always adhere to the advice of your health care practitioner.

Over to you….
What natural sweetener do you use as a substitute for refined sugars?  Leave a comment below and share with me your tips for reducing sugar intake.
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Sources: 1. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=96; 2. http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/webprojects2001/loveridge/index-page3.html; 3. http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/glycemic-index; 4. http://www.processedfreeamerica.org/resources/health-news/405-the-truth-about-evaporated-cane-juice; 5.http://www.scielo.br/pdf/cta/v30n1/aop_3523.pdf; 6. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0963996996000002; 7. http://www.uri.edu/news/releases/?id=5758; 8. http://www.mi-maplesyrup.com/Information/info_maplenutrition.htm; 9. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2011003/article/11540-eng.htm; 10. Vertolli, Michael, A Herbalist’s Favourite Home Remedies, Vitality Magazine, December 2013/January 2014 issue, p. 24.

I Found the Perfect Granola Recipe

I’ve been searching high and low for a granola recipe that is simple to make, has minimal ingredients, and low in sugar.  You’d be surprised how hard this task has been.  Most of the recipes I have come across are very high in sugar (and often call for more than one type), as well as a long list of ingredients.  So I kept searching and I’m happy to say that my perseverance has paid off!  This Pistachio Goji Berry Granola recipe from Love and Lemons is exactly what I’ve been looking for.  It’s super simple to make (done in just 15 minutes!), calls for healthy ingredients, and uses maple syrup instead of refined sugars.  All music to my ears.

Another great thing about this recipe is that you can easily substitute for ingredients you may not readily have in your cupboard.  I didn’t have the pistachios and goji berries on hand, so I used raw almonds and raw pumpkin seeds instead.  I also added in some flax seeds to get an extra boost of essential fatty acids. My first batch of home-made granola turned out to be so super delicious I had to pass along the recipe:
pistachio goji berry granola | Love and Lemons.

Got a granola recipe of your own that you love to pieces?  Don’t be shy. Share it with us by leaving a comment.

Pass the Salt Please

c202a_120531030036-eliminating-salt-horizontal-galleryHow many times have you ordered McDonald’s french fries, preloaded with salt, and made sure to add even more salt to it?  Or how about immediately reaching for the salt shaker when your fav dish arrives at the table, even though it’s likely the chef has already flavoured it?  Yes, that’s how much we, as a society, love salt.  And why wouldn’t we? Salt tastes great.  Plus, it’s an essential mineral that keeps the body functioning.  Found in every cell of the body, salt (comprised of sodium and chloride) works with potassium to regulate the fluid balance of the body, control the acid-base balance, and creates an electrical charge for muscle contraction and conduction of nerve impulses.  Sodium is also important for hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, which we need to digest our food, and it helps in the transport of amino acids from the gut into the blood.

However, we must keep in mind what they say about having too much of a good thing, which salt is no exception to. Too much salt can cause stress, kidney failure, obesity, and high blood pressure (which can lead to strokes or heart attacks).  In Canada alone, 14,000 deaths per year are a result of eating too much sodium; a problem that is completely preventable, simply by cutting back on the amount of salt we consume.

So just how much is too much?
Public health organizations have set the maximum daily amount of sodium intake at 2300 mg (milligrams), which is about 1 teaspoon.  1500 mg of sodium per day is all the body needs to maintain health, and is the recommended limit for people with high blood pressure or other salt-related health problems.  To put this into context, let’s look at a popular dinner choice for most – pizza.  One slice of veggie pizza has 420 mg of sodium.  A slice of pepperoni, 520 mg. Most people can, and will, eat half a pizza in one sitting.  That’s over 2000 mg of salt being consumed in just one meal; well over what the body needs and pretty darn close to reaching the daily maximum.

How can you reduce your salt intake?
Here are a few suggestions:

1. More home cooking, less restaurant dining.  Eating out is super convenient and tasty, there’s no doubt about that.  But you can also expect those meals to be heavy on the salt, even though you may just be ordering a salad. One serving of the Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad from Wendy’s has 1990 mg of salt.  You can reduce this by more than 70% simply by making your own meals at home so that you can control the salt usage.  For the times you do dine out, order wisely.  Ask for veggies to be steamed, dressing or sauces on the side (and use sparingly), stay away from deli meats, and limit the use of commercially prepared condiments.

2. Avoid canned foods.  Buy fresh where you can.  Did you know that one cup of canned tomatoes contains 343 mg of sodium?  A typical stew or sauce recipe will call for at least one 980 ml can of tomatoes, which equates to 1344 mg of salt.  And that doesn’t include the additional teaspoon of salt you will add for overall flavouring, as per the recipe.  Compare that to one cup of fresh tomatoes which has only 9 mg of sodium.  Need I say more?  Tomatoes freeze well, either whole or pureed, so stock up when they are on sale and store them in your freezer.  When using canned beans such as chickpeas or kidney beans, thoroughly rinse them with cold water to wash away some of the salt.

3. Read labels on packages carefully.  Take the time to read product labels when shopping, not just the front of the package, but also the nutritional data label and pay attention to the serving size indicated.  It’s common for food manufacturers to use smaller serving sizes so that the amount of calories or fats/carbs/sodium appear to be less.  They can also be tricky with their marketing, so understand what these common phrases used on food packages really mean:

Reduced sodium – 25% less sodium than its “normal” version of the food
Light in sodium – at least 50% less sodium than its ‘original’ version
Low sodium – contains 140mg or less of sodium per serving
Very low sodium – has 35mg of sodium or less per serving
Sodium-free – has less than 5mg of sodium per serving

4. Eat more natural foods.  Almost all wholesome, natural foods will have some sodium in them.  However, the amounts won’t be anywhere nearly as high as processed and packaged foods.  The added bonus is that natural foods are also packed with nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fibre that the body needs.  So try to add more fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds (raw and unsalted) to your daily diet and trim down on the chips, cheese, crackers and take-out food.

Find out how much salt is in your daily diet.
Curious to know what your salt intake looks like? Find out with this handy tool: salt calculator

So the next time you find yourself asking “pass the salt please”, consider opting to pass on the salt instead.

Got a great way to lower your salt intake?  Share it with us in the comment box.

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Sources:
1. CBC’s MarketPlace: http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/episodes/2012-2013/the-great-salt-shakedown
2. Hawkins, W. Rex, Eat Right Electrolyte: A Nutritional Guide to Minerals in our Daily Diet, 2006
3. Haas, Elson M., MD., Staying Healthy with Nutrition, 21st Edition
4. Self Nutrition Data: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2684/2

Is Broccoli Making a Come Back?

There has been so much hype given to superfoods these days that it’s easy to forget how some of the good old veggies we use to eat are just as fabulous.  I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I suddenly had this strong craving for some cream of broccoli soup.  So off to the grocery store I went to grab the ingredients I needed to satisfy my cravings.  I’ll share my recipe with you below, but first, let’s take a closer look at why making broccoli part of our daily diet is a good idea:

1. Supports the body’s detoxification system. Broccoli contains 3 glucosinolate phytonutrients – glucoraphanin, gluconasturtiian, and glucobrassicin – which work together to support all the steps involved in the body’s detoxification process (activation, neutralization, and elimination of contaminants).  They also make isothiocyanates (ITCs) which are molecules that regulate the detox process at the genetic level.

2. Helps to fight inflammation. Broccoli is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient that is not only commonly missing from our daily diets, but is also required to make anti-inflammatory messaging molecules.  Just 2 cups of broccoli contains about 450 milligrams of omega-3s in the form of alpha-lionlenic acid (ALA), which is comparable to the amount found in a soft gel flax oil capsule.

3. Lowers the risk of oxidative stress. Broccoli is a concentrated source of many antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids.  These nutrients all work together to lower the risk of oxidative stress which occurs when the body is not efficiently metabolizing oxygen.  Just 1 cup of broccoli will give you 135% Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant.  When combined with the many flavonoids also found in broccoli, such as kaempferol and quercitin, vitamin C can provide ongoing support of oxygen metabolism in the body.  Broccoli is also rich in the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, vitamin E, as well as the minerals manganese and zinc; all of which function as antioxidants.

If these three areas (inadequate detoxification, chronic inflammation, and oxidative stress) occurs in excess in the body, it can lead to the risk of cancer development.  Because broccoli has the properties to combat them, it is therefore regarded as a food that helps with cancer prevention.

Just in case you need further convincing on the health benefits that broccoli can offer you, consider these:

  • A recent study released by Arthritis and Rheumatism (August 28, 2013) found that sulforaphane, a compound found in high amounts in broccoli, plays a key role in preventing the progression of osteoarthritis.  The research showed that sulforaphane has the ability to block the enzymes that cause joint destruction by stopping a key molecule responsible for inflammation.
  • Broccoli helps to lower cholesterol, especially when they have been steam cooked.  The steaming action increases the ability of the fiber components in broccoli to bind with the bile acid in our digestive tract.  This binding allows for the bile acids to be more easily excreted from the body, resulting in the lowering of cholesterol levels.  Steam the broccoli for no longer than 5 minutes.
  • Broccoli is an excellent source of both vitamin A (11% DV in 1 cup) and vitamin K (116% DV), which helps to balance vitamin D metabolism (particularly when you are vitamin D deficient and supplementing in large doses).

So try adding some broccoli into your menu plan for next week.  It’s an inexpensive vegetable, and takes no time to cook. You can easily add them into a stir fry, a salad, or as a side dish to compliment a meat or fish serving.  And of course, it’s delicious in a my creamy broccoli puree soup that’s ready in just 30 minutes!

Creamy Broccoli Soup

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print
Cream of Broccoli 2

Ingredients:
1/2 bulb of fennel, cut into large pieces
1 1/2 onions, diced
6 cloves of garlic, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 large potato, cut into large pieces
1 bunch of broccoli (stems optional), cut into large pieces
Fresh basil leaves (about 6 large leaves)
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sunflower oil
4 cups of filtered water (or vegetable stock)

Directions:
1. In a large pot (or steamer) bring 2 inches of water to a boil and steam broccoli for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium/large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and garlic, cook for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the carrots and celery, cook for another 4-5 mintues, or until onions start to become translucent (reduce heat to medium-low if needed).
4. Add the fennel, potatoes, basil, oregano, and water.  Gently stir, cover, turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add sea salt to taste.
5. Let soup cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender, add the steamed broccoli and puree until smooth and creamy.

Soup can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, or frozen for future enjoyment.


How do you include broccoli into your daily diet?  Leave a comment and let us know!
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Sources:
1. The World’s Healthies Foods, http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=9
2. Vitality Magazine, October 2013 issue, p.54, Broccoli Compound May Prevent Osteoarthritis
3. Self Nutritional Data: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2356/2