5 Things that drive me crazy (as a dietitian)…..

I love nutrition. I love nutrition science. I love reading about nutrition. I love to watch programs on nutrition.  I love talking about nutrition. It’s a good thing, because I’m a dietitian. But I have to admit, there are topics that every time they come up I have to take a calming breath before I join the conversation.

1.“The War on obesity”: Every time I hear this it drives me CRAZY! I’ve read it in magazine articles. I’ve heard it as headlines on television programs. I’ve seen it in friends’ facebook posts. And every time I just want to yell STOP STOP STOP!! I am tired of people and the media painting obesity as being the root of all evil. Yes, obesity can be a risk factor for a disease, but weight is not a determination of health. You can be healthy at any weight. When I hear war, I think about fighting something bad. War on drugs….war on poverty…war on crime…I can totally understand this. There is no need for a War on obesity…phrases like this just encourage people to focus on weight rather than health, promote weight discrimination, and make people feel bad about themselves.

2. “Carbs are bad! No fat is bad! No, it’s gluten that’s the problem!” :   Newsflash….there is no one nutrient or food ingredient that is responsible for health problems. Yes, if you do have a particular health condition you may need to pay attention to particular nutrients on the advice of your doctor or dietitian. In general though, all nutrients play a role in health. Carbohydrates provide energy to your body and brain, and the foods that provide carbohydrates provide healthy nutrients as well. Fat is important for cell components and the absorption of fat soluble vitamins. With regard to gluten, unless you have celiac disease or have been diagnosed by doctor as having gluten sensitivity, there is no reason to avoid gluten. Please stop demonizing particular nutrients. I really hate to see people unnecessarily giving up a food they love.

3. “It is unnatural to drink cow’s milk; humans are the only species to drink the milk of another species!”: We are also the only species that drinks margaritas, but no one seems to be concerned about that. There are better things to fight about than whether your friend does or doesn’t use milk products. If you don’t like milk or don’t agree with drinking it or eating milk products, then don’t buy it. You don’t need to have milk products as part of a healthy diet, just make sure you get nutrients such as Calcium and Vitamins D and B12 from other sources. However, if you enjoy milk products, feel free to include them as part of a healthy diet.

4. “Superfoods!”:  There are no foods that will cure your health problems either. Yes they may be full of lovely antioxidants and have healthful nutrients, but the term “Superfoods” is often used as marketing technique to sell products whether it be magazines or food. At a farmers market recently I saw these misshapen blueberries and asked the vendor about them. He explained they were haskap berries and that they were a superfood. Did I buy them? Sure I did…not because they were being promoted as a superfood but because I’d never heard of them before, and I love berries. Don’t get me wrong…there are some very nutritious food out there that is being promoted as superfoods and if it is encouraging you to try new foods and increase the variety in your diet, that’s great. But remember, no one food is going to turn your health around. If you’re eating 90% crap, those haskap berries are not going to be a magic bullet of health.

5.Clean eating”: Is it no processed foods? Is it organic foods only? Is it vegetarian? Is it juicing? There is no real definition of clean eating. It can mean different things to different people, but it doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. If you are simply referring to reducing intake of processed foods, that can be a great step nutritionally. However, if it involves eliminating entire food groups, this could result in nutrient deficiencies.

So there you have it, my 5 pet-peeves.

Now to sit down and watch a fear mongering nutrition documentary… but that’s another post in itself.

Buying Local—the newest food trend.

Ahh…summer. As soon as the weather warms, I get the urge to try my hand at gardening. I have visions of a beautiful herb garden that I can snip off tasty leaves for whatever recipe I had planned for supper, or going out into my back yard and harvesting tomatoes for a tasty salad. Then I come back to reality and realize I don’t have a “green thumb”, or maybe it was the not so subtle hint from my 11 year old son telling me to step away from the herb plant in the grocery store because “you’re just going to kill it Mom!”

One of the biggest growing foods trends is “buying local”. But what exactly does this mean? The Canadian Food Inspection Agency defines local food as meaning “food produced in the province or territory in which it is sold or food sold across provincial borders within 50 km of the originating province or territory”.

So what’s the buzz all about?

According to Food Service & Nutrition (Vol. 1 No. 3, 2016) there are several reasons why people are more interested in purchasing locally produced food.

  1. To reduce food miles: Part of food production includes the transportation of that food. The closer food is produced, the less negative impact (such as greenhouse gases related to transportation) on the environment.
  2. Fresher, flavorful food: Food from local producers is harvested just before sale. Local producers may have more variety as they do not have don’t have to choose their products based on how well they survive transport; they can focus on flavor and diversity.
  3. To eat more seasonally.
  4. To support local economies.
  5. To know where their food is coming from, how it is produced, and its impact on the environment.

Are local fruits and vegetables more nutritious?

Nutritional content is influenced by numerous things. How it’s grown, crop variety, ripeness at harvest, and storage are all factors that could affect nutritional content. Local foods would be picked at peak ripeness and sold shortly after, so freshness is a bonus for local food. However, if you’re not storing it properly once you purchase it or letting it sit in the fridge for a couple of weeks instead of using it, you could be reducing the nutrient content of the your locally produced veggies.

Local growers may have more options with regard to diversity of crops they plant. Access to a more varied diet will result in a greater variety in nutrients being consumed which in turn is better for overall health.

Does local mean that the produce is organic?

Local does not necessarily mean organic. Local describes where it was produced whereas organic describes how it was produced. If organic produce is what you’re looking for, you need to find out more about the farming methods that is used by the grower.

Where can I buy local?

Growing your own fruits and veggies is a great option to ensure the freshest produce. But if you’re like me and you don’t have a green thumb, you still have plenty of options.

Farmer’s markets are a great place to visit whether they are formal markets or road side stands. In the Ottawa area there is a great website that is called A big list of Ottawa’s Farmers Markets that lists the locations and times of urban, suburban and rural markets in the area.

A friend recently told me about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) baskets. With CSAs, the farmer and consumer work cooperatively whereby the farmer grows food for pre-determined customers who enter a purchase agreement with them prior to the start of the growing season. The benefit of this is the farmer gains a guaranteed market for his produce and the consumer receives high quality fresh food as it becomes available during the growing season. You pay a fee, and then the farmer delivers you a fresh food basket to a pick up spot in your local community. Again the internet is great. You can easily research the CSA farms in your area. I found info on a David Suzuki site that lists links to CSA farms for various provinces across Canada.

You can also buy local within your own grocery stores. Stores may be part of provincial buy local programs. Here in Ontario, Foodland Ontario is a consumer promotion program of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs which encourages grocery shoppers to purchase Ontario food. One of things it does is to help retailers such as Ontario grocery stores to identify and promote Ontario products using the “Foodland Ontario” symbol.

Tips for buying Local

IMG_4154

Finds at the Carp Farmers’ market–rhubarb, rhubarb pie, elk burgers, and cider.

So now that you know where to find local produce how can you make it easier for yourself?

First, become familiar with what’s in season. You’re going to be disappointed if you’ve got your heart set on local pears in July if they’re not in season until August. Taking a look at an availability chart  makes this easy.

Second, once you know what’s in season then figure out what menu/recipe you want to do.

Third, if you find something and you don’t know how to cook with it, ask the seller. One of the things I like to do at a market is just browse. You may find something unexpected. This past weekend, I saw garlic scapes at the local farmer’s market and was going to pass them by because I didn’t know what to do with them.  But I decided–what the heck, I’ll just ask. “Try stir-frying them” the vendor suggested. That night we had stir fry with garlic scapes and even my son ate them…once he realized they weren’t green beans.

So if you’re looking to jazz up your eating, why not think local.  You may be surprized by the tasty treats and selection from you local growers.

My Favorite Brunch Recipe

It’s my favorite thing to make on weekends…but I don’t have a name for it, so if you’d like to suggest a name let me know!  You can make it with or without additional meat with as many eggs as you like.  I like to add chopped tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes because it adds a little sweetness.  You’ll notice it’s not very specific with regard to amounts…because it’s something I just like to throw together. You could even throw additional stuff like spinach in if you like!

IMG_3858

Lynda’s Yet Un-named Eggs

1 onion,sliced
Sliced mushrooms
green pepper, diced
red pepper, diced
diced fresh tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, halved
bacon, cooked and diced
eggs

  1. In a large frying pan (preferable with a cover), sauté onion in a bit of oil or butter on med-low until they caramelize a bit. Remove from pan and put aside.
  2. Add a bit more oil or butter to pan and sauté mushrooms. Once browned, add green pepper, red pepper.  Cook until softened. stirring frequently.
  3. Add tomatoes and cook until softened.
  4. Add onions back into mixture, and bacon.  Season with salt and pepper. Stir to distribute all ingredients. Flatten out veggies into a layer in the bottom of the pan.
  5. Crack eggs on top of the veggie layer. Cover and cook until whites are opaque.
  6. Once eggs are cooked, until into pieces; each piece has an egg over a veggie layer.
  7. Garnish with a sprinkle of cheese if desire.  Serve with toast.

Enjoy!!

Looking to make a switch to healthier eating habits? Try this…

adult-19006_1280

I went to bed earlier and now I’m eating healthier. Sound too simplistic?? 

It is.    

 So you need to hear the whole story…. 

Back in the fall, one of my resolutions was to eat healthier and to bring my lunch to work.  But here’s how my day would frequently go.  I would wake up in the morning, typically exhausted. I would hit the snooze button which left me less time to get ready.  I would quickly get ready for work, but inevitably I would end up running around looking for things like my work ID, keys, wallet, gym gear…etc. In the end I would run out the door, without breakfast, without a lunch. Great start! I’d get to work and have to rely on the food court. Yes, there were healthy choices, but after doing this day after day the options were less and less appealing and expensive. After work, my hubbie and I would take our son to his martial arts class.  Finally we’d get home for a late supper, the menu not yet decided on. Before long it was time to get our son off to bed, and even though I was tired, I would stay up watching tv or reading, or surfing the internet to enjoy some ”me time”.

I knew I needed to make changes and inspiration can come from anywhere.  Recently, I read two books that changed my perspective on making healthy changes.

Towards the end of December, like many other people, I started to think about New Year’s resolutions.  Coincidently, I also came across the book “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin.  In her book, she describes how over year she tackled 12 resolutions in order to appreciate and amplify the happiness that already existed in her life.

One of the things that caught my attention was her first resolution:  Boost energy by going to bed earlier.  Her reasoning was that if she had more energy she would be easier to stick to other resolutions, and if she felt more energetic she would feel happier. While not scientific, it seemed like good common sense.

So I made the resolution to go to bed earlier, and not surprisingly some small changes happened.  I woke up without my alarm clock and felt rested.  I felt happier and less cranky. I felt better able to cope with what may happen that day. I felt more productive because I wasn’t wasting time doing mindless things just to stay awake.  

Soon after I read her follow up book “Better than Before” where she took on habits.

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a habit can be defined as:

  1. a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance
  2.  an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary

 Rubin believes that she personally has a limited amount of self- control for a day and the more she uses the more it drops. So if she relies on will power to prevent herself from doing something, she needs to use it over and over to ensure a particular result. The result….she eventually runs out of resolve.  Rubin suggests that the defining aspect of habits is not will power but “decision-making” or the lack of decision-making that is eventually required.  If you rely on decisions, you decide on an action and that’s it.  The next time the situation arises you don’t need to evaluate it again because you have already decided and this helps preserve willpower for other things.

Interesting….so I decided, regardless of what type of day I had, I would be in bed by 1030 pm. And so a new healthy habit for me began.

The funny thing about having success with a new habit, it motivates you to make more changes.  So after a few days, I thought “what else could I do to make life a bit easier?”.  I resolved to get everything I needed for work ready the night before….clothes, gym gear in my knapsack, lunch containers washed, keys/wallet/sunglasses/ID in my bag.  Again, small changes happened.  I was more organized. I was less stressed in the morning. I had more time in the morning. The pay-offs were motivating.

So I decided, regardless of how I felt, before I went to bed at 1030 I would make sure that all my stuff was good to go for work the next day.

So now I was waking up in the morning rested, and in a good mood, and not rushed or looking for things. Because I had plenty of time, there was no excuse not to have breakfast and make a lunch for work. See where I’m going with this? Making lunches led to me to decide to make a better plan for groceries so I would have more options for meals. My plan for groceries led me to figure out meals for the week ahead of time….and so on and so on.  Soon I found that my eating habits were healthier than they were back in November.

So while initially I saw my issue as my eating habits, there were actually others issues that I was overlooking. One…I was tired.  Two…I was disorganized. Three…I didn’t have enough me time.

My point is that in order to change your eating habits, you may need to consider more than what you are eating. Instead, take a look at your life as a whole and figure out what changes could benefit you personally.  You may be surprised how one change may impact other areas of your life and lead to other changes. 

Then all of a sudden you wake up and realize that getting a good night sleep resulted in healthier eating!!

 

Chili with a Twist

One of my favorite recipes to make when I’m having a busy week is chili.  It’s easy and quick to make, makes a big pot, and is great as left overs!  Last time I made it, we were in the middle of eating supper when my husband said “You know this would make a great base for lasagna”. So I tweaked my mom’s lasagna recipe and our chili-lasagna was born.  How did it go over?? My 10 year son chose it over his favorite meal of macaroni and cheese.  So if you’re both a chili and lasagna lover like we are, this recipe is for you!!

Chili- Lasagna

IMG_3857

Chili (sauce):                                                                           Lasagna ingredients:
1 T vegetable oil                                                                    Oven ready lasagna noodles
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped                           900 g Monterey Jack cheese
1 green pepper, diced small                                                       with jalapenos, grated
2 lbs lean ground beef                                                         Parmesan cheese,grated
1-796 ml can diced tomatoes
1-796 ml can crushed tomatoes                                      Optional for garnish:
1-540 ml can black beans                                                   Sour Cream
1-398 ml canned baked beans in tomato sauce          Tortilla chips
5 T chili powder
½T cayenne powder                                                             Pan size: 9X13 inch
2 tsp ground coriander
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp cocoa (my mom is thinking this isn’t in her recipe!)
4 T vinegar

Directions:

1. In a large pot, heat vegetable oil over med-med high heat. Add onion: cook 1-2 minutes. Add green pepper; cook 1-2 minutes. Add ground beef; break up into pieces and cook until browned.
2. Add canned diced tomatoes and crushed tomatoes, black beans, baked beans, spices, salt, pepper, cocoa, and vinegar. Stir until combined. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low and cook covered for approximately an hour, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
3. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a 9X13 inch pan, spoon in enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of oven ready lasagna noodles, then a layer of chili sauce, then a layer of grated Monterey Jack cheese. Repeat layers until pan is full, ending with the cheese layer.  Note:  If you have any leftover chili, it freezes well.
4. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
5. Cover pan loosely with foil. Bake in oven for approximately 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 15 minutes or until noodles are tender. Remove from oven and let stand about 15 minutes before serving.
6. Optional: Once plated, I like to top with a spoonful of sour cream and garnish with a tortilla chip.

Enjoy!!

 

IN DEFENSE OF FOOD

Sitting at my laptop, I was mulling over what the topic of my first blog post should be about.  I happened to flick on the TV when I came across a program on “the Passionate Eye” called “In Defense of Food”. Nutrition in the media…what a great place to start!  And for anyone who hasn’t seen it…it’s being re-aired on the CBC Newsnetwork this Saturday, August 6 and it’s also it’s available on- line (http://www.cbc.ca/passionateeye/episodes/in-defence-of-food).

The Film

The first thing that you should be aware of is that film’s narrator and story consultant is a science journalist Michael Polan and the film is based on his book of the same name. Not faulting his information, it’s just good to know the perspective that you receiving it from.  I also haven’t read his book, so the info in the book may cover different things that the film did.

A quick summary of the film: he points out that many chronic diseases could be prevented with diet and that food we eat today is not what it used to be and this has taken a toll on our health.  He also points out that nutrition information can be complicated and he believes that healthy eating can be summed up in 7 words:

 Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

 He also came up will “food rules” to help guide his food choices.

 

So how does his advice and rules compare to a dietitian’s recommendations?

Advice #1: Eat Food

No arguments here about eating food.  This gives you access to a greater variety of nutrients and other healthful components found in food as compared to meal replacements.  And preparing food helps you develop cooking skills that will last a lifetime and helps you save money on your grocery bill.

Rule #1: Eat only food that will eventually rot.

I think this rule needs a bit of clarification.  It supports having meats, chicken, fish, fruits and vegetables but what about some of the foods like pasta, rice?  These can be nutritional sound choices particularly if you are choosing whole grains.  Dried beans and lentils are also healthy ingredients and can be used as a protein alternative in place of meat.

Rule # 2: Eat only foods that have been cooked by humans.

I partially agree with this rule. When you cook your own food you do have more control over things like salt, fat and preservatives.   But just because something isn’t homemade doesn’t mean that it’s not healthy.  For example canned tomatoes can be used to make a healthy spaghetti sauce or chili. Store-bought breads can be used to make sandwiches.  Canned fish and sliced meats can be a good protein. Reading nutrition labels on food products can help you make educated healthy choices.

Rule # 3: Avoid foods you see advertised on television.

I think this rule needs a bit of clarification. The purpose of advertising is convince you to buy something. Fast Food restaurants…yes they have a lot of higher fat, higher salt , higher energy, and less nutrient dense food choices.  However individual food product advertising…some may be healthy and others not so much.  Look at product nutrition labels to determine where you will get the most nutritional bang for your buck.

Advice #2: (Eat) Mostly plants

Great advice.  He is not advocating elimination of proteins such as meat, fish, chicken, and eggs just eating less of it.  Today we promote a balance meal to include smaller amounts of meat or using more meat alternatives with a greater emphasis on vegetables, fruit and whole grain foods.  For example you were looking at your dinner plate , ½  your plate would be filled with vegetables, ¼ with grain products and ¼ with meat or alternatives.

Rule # 4: Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food.

I would suggest tweaking this one. While this rule supports eating less meat, remember it can be part of a healthy diet.  “Eating well with Canada’s food guide” recommends having meat alternatives such as beans, lentils and tofu often, eating at least 2 servings of fish each week, and when using meats and poultry to opt for lean options.

Rule #5: If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.

Have to disagree with this one.  Just because a food item is made in a plant, does not mean it is unhealthy.  Frozen boneless chicken breasts can be a convenient and healthy protein in a stir-fry.  Frozen vegetables are just as healthy as fresh.  Dried pasta can be a healthy part of a casserole.  Nuts and nut butters can be a good source of protein.  Nutrition labels can be used to help you compare products and make more healthful choices.

Rule #6: Eat your colors—that is, eat as many different kinds of plants as possible.

A great idea!  No food contains all the same nutrients.  Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables helps to ensure you are getting all your nutrients you need for health.  “Eating well with Canada’s food guide” recommends eating at least 1 dark green and one orange vegetable each day.

Advice #3: (Eat) Not too Much

The clarification I would make here is not to overeat.  Portion sizes in restaurants can often be larger than you actually need, and this goes for beverages too, not just food.  When you are cooking at home, take into account what a standard serving size would be or go by the divided plate method (½ veg, ¼ protein, ¼ grains).  It’s also good to think about what affects your portion size; it may not just be your hunger. It is true that a bigger plate can lead to you eating more.

Rule # 7: Make water your beverage of choice.

Totally agree with this rule, and it is actually one of the recommendations in  “Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide”.  Water rehydrates the body and satisfies thirst without extra calories.  This rule also doesn’t eliminate other beverages such as low-fat milk, milk alternatives, tea, coffee, juice, etc.

Rule #8:  Stop eating before you’re full.

I like this rule because it asks you to be mindful of your hunger signals.  Being full is different from being not hungry anymore.

Rule #9:  Eat more like the French. 

I honestly can’t tell you how the French eat, but if it is as he describes in the film…to eat scheduled meals, eat smaller portions, and to eat food that you enjoy…then I’m all for it.  All of these suggestions support healthy eating practices and a healthy attitude toward eating.

Rule 10#:  Try to spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.

Another great suggestion.  Too often we rush through our meals or are so distracted that we are not paying attention to the meal itself.  There’s a lot to be said for “mindful eating”. Mindful eating improves meal satisfaction, decreases overeating, makes you more aware of satiety, and reduces eating not related to hunger.

Rule 11#:  Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

This one I don’t agree with.  Food is more available and therefore food options have changed over the years so there are many foods that are just waiting for you to discover. Don’t limit yourself to “what you grew up with”.  Explore the grocery store; find something you haven’t tried before, then track down a recipe. You never know, it may become your new favorite dish!

 

Overall I would say his advice and “rules” pretty much reflect the advice of many dietitians. Some rules may require further clarification so as not to be unnecessarily restrictive.

Yes there is a lot of nutrition information out there, and… pardon the pun…it can sometimes be hard to digest. But a dietitian can translate some of that mumbo jumbo into practical advice.  Many grocery stores actually have dietitians on staff who can provide grocery store tours and teach you what to look for on food labels and answer your nutrition questions along the way. That way you can confidently play by your own rules…not by somebody else’s.

 

For more information on “Eating well with Canada’s Food Guide” click here.