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Sandy Badgley, B.A., R.H.N.

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4 misleading promises you should check on food labels

In the quest to eat healthier foods, “read the nutrition label” has become a new mantra. It is possible to get all the information you need to make an informed buying decision, the key is getting past the marketing buzz and down to the facts found in the listing of ingredients.

Trans fat free

Trans fat free doesn’t necessarily mean that there are no trans fats in the product. If the product contains “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils, then there are trans fats. The amount can be determined by looking at the total fat content on the Nutrition Facts Label and subtracting the saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats that are indicated. If the numbers don’t add up to the total fat, the difference is the amount of trans fats in the food.

Natural

By Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) standards, a natural food or ingredient has nothing added to or removed from it except water. Some minimal processing such as grating, milling or blending is acceptable so the food can still be labelled as natural—for example, whole grain rolled oats.

Natural ingredients may include substances such as flavour components derived from natural foods, but if anything has been added to the substance, e.g. preservatives, then it can no longer be identified as a natural ingredient. Of note, those substances added to a flavour preparation do not have to be included as an ingredient on the product label.

Organic

Organic can apply to single ingredient foods such as apples or multi-ingredient foods if 95% or more of the ingredients are certified organic. The logo on the side of the page affirms that the product has met the requirements of the Canada Organic Regime.

If less than 95% of a product’s ingredients are organic, the whole product cannot be labelled as organic and it cannot bear the logo.

Whole grains

Whole grains are promoted far and wide and are a step up from refined ingredients in products such as cereals and crackers. It’s important to closely read the ingredients, as often you will find signs that the product is not as healthy as the manufacturer wants consumers to believe. Crackers will often include hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats). Cereals may contain several different types of sugar (e.g.  sugar, corn syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup, dextrose, etc.). Ingredients are listed in order of their weight, the heaviest shown first. Look past the first ingredient to see what else is in the product and, as a general rule of thumb, put it back on the shelf if there are unnatural or more than five ingredients.

There is so much that can be said about food packaging and labels, the above is just the tip of the iceberg. I will tell you more in future articles, but I hope that this gives you something to chew on in the meantime.

Getting the most out of your vitamin D

Vitamin D has been getting increasingly positive attention over the years as more and more studies link it to a wide range of health benefits, from boosting the immune system to preventing some forms of cancer. As more studies are done, it becomes a common nutritional supplement that’s even recognized as essential and prescribed by physicians.

Here are a few quick facts and tips about this essential substance:

•It is a hormone produced under the skin when it is exposed to sunshine; cholesterol is a vital component of vitamin D production. The same form of vitamin D that is produced in the human body, D3, can be found in butter, egg yolk, salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines. Those fish are also great sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.

•During warm weather months, the optimal amount of time to spend with skin exposed to the sun is just 10-20 minutes daily (without sunscreen but never allow skin to burn) between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to take advantage of D-producing ultraviolet B rays.

•When showering within 48 hours of sun exposure, washing may reduce some of the vitamin D production. Instead, just rinsing the exposed skin and washing the “hidden” parts can be a more effective method of preserving the natural D.

•Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, so supplements must be consumed along with some fat, such as cold-pressed olive oil for example, for optimal assimilation in the body.

One of the primary functions of vitamin D is to maintain proper blood levels of calcium and phosphorus; it also causes the minerals to be deposited into bone tissue, which explains its strong connection to bone and tooth health. Further studies show positive health effects far beyond bones, including links to reduced cancer risks—especially for breast, lung and colon cancers—improvement in inflammatory conditions like arthritis and autoimmune conditions such as MS, as well as cardiovascular health benefits.

In addition to the average Canadian, who typically needs to use supplemental vitamin D from November through April, there are some people who may have more of a tendency toward a D deficiency. Dark-skinned individuals produce less vitamin D naturally; overweight individuals require higher amounts to maintain adequate storage levels; those who are on statin drugs may have insufficient cholesterol in the body to produce the vitamin; older individuals often have lower levels, which may be due to lifestyle factors; and pregnant women have greater nutritional needs as well.

Health Canada recommends supplementation for adults at 1000 international units during late fall to late spring, but vitamin D levels are easily measured via a blood test (note: OHIP no longer covers this cost) in order to determine if a higher amount is required.

Vitamin D may not be a miracle cure-all but is certainly an essential item in your healthy toolkit.

6 tips for all-day energy

Do you find yourself running out of energy at different points during the day? Do you end up reaching for coffee or something with a bit of sugar in it to keep you going?

While there may be a burst of energy from the caffeine or sugar, there is often a big dip that follows, and then the cycle repeats itself. Then perhaps you find yourself amongst the sleepy passengers on the TTC or GO Train on the way home: too tired to cook a complete meal when you get there.

What is happening in the body through these energy bursts and dips is actually a blood sugar and insulin roller coaster that can be avoided by eating certain foods in particular combinations.  The result is more sustained energy, better mental focus and appetite control. Getting more stability in the body’s blood sugar response is often one of the first things that I work on with my nutritional counseling clients, and it usually does not take long to see improvement.

So what’s the trick?  Try these tips:

1. Avoid refined flours, sugars and white rice as they are too quickly metabolized in the body.

2. Avoid or at least minimize coffee as it contributes to rapid fluctuations in blood sugar.

3. Start your day with a good source of protein (e.g. plain Greek yogurt, eggs, lean meat) along with some complex carbohydrates (whole fruit or vegetables, whole grains) that provide energy and fibre – those morning pastries will spike your blood sugar and set you up for a day of swings.

4. Have five to six small meals (that includes snacks) throughout the day so that your blood sugar does not have a chance to crash before your next meal; include healthy protein, a good fat and complex carbohydrate. A couple of good snack examples are an apple with a handful of raw almonds, or vegetables with hummus or guacamole.

5. If your energy lags mid-afternoon, rather than taking a break for coffee or cookies, use that time to take a short walk, even if it’s just down the hall and back – physical activity promotes energy.

6. If you find yourself so hungry when you get home that you end up over-grazing before dinner, try eating an apple or some vegetables before you leave work to reduce your hunger later.

The key to making this work is to plan ahead so that you are never caught unprepared and needing to grab something quickly, as that’s when less healthy decisions are made. Every weekend, try to stock up on the next week’s worth of healthy ingredients and put together your snack packs for the office so that they are handy. Before long you’ll be unstoppable.

Living by the 80/20 rule

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that so much of life these days is about “more “: do more, live more, work more, be even more than what everyone expects. One hundred percent is not quite enough.

I have seen this, too, in how some people approach their diet, or in how they think they need to be approaching changes toward a healthier lifestyle. There is merit in being able to embrace a lifestyle concept entirely and live by it with full force but it is a rare individual who can go cold turkey from old habits. It can be quite stressful to do a complete overhaul; rebound binges may occur and guilt becomes yet another emotional hurdle to overcome. It can also be socially restrictive, preventing someone from being able to enjoy an evening out at a restaurant or at a friend’s house for dinner.

I like to support the 80/20 rule of living, especially when it comes to diet. The idea is that most of the time (this can be anywhere from 80% to 95% for a given period of time), I eat very nutrient-dense, clean food such as organic produce, cold-water fish that is simply prepared, and creative vegan meals. For a meat-eater this may also include organically-raised chicken or grass-fed beef. I stay hydrated with filtered water or herbal teas—my current favourite is Tulsi/Holy Basil. I can honestly say that I really enjoy eating this way and I certainly feel better for it. Over years of steady transition from what is the Standard (North) American Diet, my palate has adapted so that these foods are what I crave most.

The other 5-20% of the time, I am able to enjoy some of life’s indulgences. Here’s my confession:  the neighbourhood bakery makes really delicious, sinful brownies so I treat myself to one every month or so. I relish times spent with friends over some wine and a meal that they have lovingly prepared. There are also those nights, usually once a week, when neither my husband nor I are in the mood to prepare a meal so a local restaurant serves up a nice break from cooking.

The catch of course is being honest with yourself about on which side of the dividing line your choices lie. Is your 80/20 more of a 60/40 right now? That’s okay. As long as you know what your goals are and what your true starting point is, you can get to 80/20 by making small, steady changes over time. Then you CAN have your small piece of cake and eat it too.

 

 

 

 

Make room for these five supplements in your luggage

This article was originally published March 11, 2013.

March Break, time to take part in the Canadian tradition of escaping the last of winter for a week or two. It’s a time to relax and enjoy a break from your daily routine.

Keeping up with your nutritional routine is important but can be challenging while away. Available foods are often different from your usual selections and in some places it’s necessary to avoid fresh fruits and vegetables that have been washed in local water supplies.

What can you do if faced with limited choices or foods that are more indulgent and less nutritious than you would normally make for yourself at home? Here are five supplements that I consider essential to help travelers stay on track:

1) Good quality multivitamin – Maintaining fundamental nutritional requirements when away from home can be as simple as a daily multivitamin, especially for nutrients that are not stored in large amounts in the body like water-soluble vitamins such as B and C, and minerals that are needed daily for multiple biological functions.

2) Green powder – Chances are your vegetable intake will be reduced while on vacation. Green powders mixed with bottled water can fill that gap, alkalinize your body and take away some of the pain of vacation partying.

3) Fish oil capsules – You never want to be away from Omega 3 for too long. Anti-inflammatory and helpful for the nervous and cardiovascular systems, they help balance the pro-inflammatory foods and beverages that are part of a vacation. Apart from the guacamole made from local avocados, they may also be one of the few sources of healthy fats that you take in.

4) Probiotic – Vacation temptations are often sources of refined flours and sugars, which can contribute to digestive issues. Probiotics can help to prevent or at least reduce discomfort, bloating and problems with elimination that may occur with consumption of those foods, plus they are an important part of the body’s immune system and may help fight travel “bugs.” Look for a shelf-stable product as those don’t need to be refrigerated.

5) Fibre supplement – Travel constipation is not uncommon, as fruit and vegetable intake is often lower than at home and whole grains can be tough to find. I try to make a habit of buying apples for the hotel room, but if local produce can’t be trusted, adding fibre in powder form to your greens or taking a fibre capsule can keep things moving in the right direction, so you’re ready for the next holiday adventure.

One last suggestion: Just like medications, keep supplements in your carry-on bags and in their bottles to save potential confusion at Customs.

Happy travels.

Is your medication draining you? PART 1

Side effects from pharmaceutical medications are provided with every prescription that gets filled and drug commercials with such warnings are now filling the airwaves with a sense of doom. What these cautions often fail to mention are the actual nutrients that may be depleted when taking medications, either through blocking absorption or affecting transportation or utilization of nutrients in the body. Nutrient depletions are behind some of those side effects.

In Part 1 I’ll touch on statins, which are prescribed to regulate cholesterol levels and anti-depressants; Part 2 deals with Proton-Pump Inhibitors (stomach acid reducers) and the birth control pill. These articles are not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your physician and natural health practitioner before making any changes to medications or nutritional supplements.

Statins

May deplete: vitamins A, some Bs, D, E and K; minerals calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron; coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10).

CoQ10 is significantly depleted by statins. It is an antioxidant present in every cell in the body and is particularly concentrated in heart and liver tissue. One of its key roles is to help the cells produce energy.

Supplementing with the “ubiquinol” form of CoQ10 in gel caps is highly recommended by health care practitioners to replenish what is lost.

Anti-depressants

There are two categories to note. Selective Seratonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRI) may deplete: melatonin (which regulates the sleep-wake cycle) and sodium (an electrolyte, important to maintaining fluid balance and regulating blood pressure). Tricyclic anti-depressants may deplete: CoQ10 and riboflavin (B2).

The first step in countering the depleting effects is to avoid processed foods entirely, as they have been stripped of up to 80% of the nutrients from the food in its original form and will do nothing to fill the gap.

Instead, on a daily basis consume:

•lots of fresh vegetables, especially dark green leafy ones that are a great source of minerals, folate and betacarotene (as found in orange or yellow vegetables);

•nuts and seeds (sesame seeds contain abundant amounts of calcium; pumpkin seeds provide zinc, sunflower seeds are a good source of magnesium; nuts, seeds and olive oil are natural sources of vitamin E);

•whole grains, which will provide some B vitamins and minerals.

Taking a good quality multi-vitamin/mineral formulation on a daily basis is important for anyone dealing with health conditions or on medications. Vitamin D and B content in multivitamins are generally at minimal levels, so additional supplementation may be appropriate in certain situations. Post-menopausal women are advised against taking supplemental iron unless blood tests indicate that it is necessary as iron overload, a toxic condition, may occur.

Contact me at Pinstripe Nutrition if you would like nutritional guidance on dealing with these health conditions.

 

Is your medication draining you? PART 2

The first part of this series briefly addressed statins and anti-depressants, so now it’s time to talk about a couple of other very frequently prescribed medications: Proton-Pump Inhibitors, which reduce stomach acid, and the birth control pill.

Proton-Pump Inhibitors (PPI)

May deplete: boron, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc, betacarotene, some B, C, D, E and K vitamins.

The list is long, as PPIs can effectively shut down digestion. Without adequate stomach acid, the body cannot sufficiently break down protein, produce B12 or absorb many minerals. There is a link to osteoporosis and numerous possible side effects due to low magnesium in the body and the pharmaceutical companies advise that these medications are to be used on a short-term basis only.

Most people are surprised to learn that their digestive issues are due to decreased stomach acid, which naturally occurs with age, rather than too much, and then PPI’s reduce stomach acid even further.

Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., has produced some helpful material on this subject including his very quick read, Your Stomach.

A particular client of mine comes to mind: a long-term user of PPIs with multiple health complaints, who was shocked to see her full dinner still sitting in her stomach during an ultrasound mid-morning the next day. One week after making some adjustments to her routine, she is digesting food without discomfort for the first time in almost 15 years and improvements in her other health conditions are beginning to take place.

If you experience digestive issues in any way, I do encourage you to contact a natural health care practitioner, as there are ways to improve digestion naturally and to ensure that you are absorbing your nutrients. The effectiveness of nutritional supplements may also be hampered without a strong digestive system.

Birth Control Pill

May deplete: Vitamin A, B’s, and C, magnesium, selenium, zinc

As stated in Part 1, avoid nutrient-deficient processed foods entirely. Filling your plate with abundant amounts of fresh vegetables is a great starting point for replenishing much needed nutrients. A variety of whole grains, nuts and seeds can provide a breadth of natural sources of many minerals, for example, two Brazil nuts contain a day’s worth of selenium.

In terms of supplements, taking a good quality multi-vitamin/mineral formulation (capsule form with no unnecessary added ingredients) on a daily basis is a good idea and consider taking a separate B-complex as well.

With any medications that may be recommended or prescribed, it is essential to be informed of all potential side effects and nutrient depletions. Consult your doctor in conjunction with your natural health practitioner to achieve balance. Your body will thank you.

 

Detoxification is not an extreme sport

When you hear the word “detox,” does it conjure up images of unappealing juices or thoughts of dragging yourself around feeling drained, achy or nauseated?

If a really uncomfortable detox has been your experience, it was likely too severe and overwhelmed your body’s detoxification pathways. It is essential that your body is able to effectively eliminate the toxins that get released, which does not always happen if you go too hard right out of the gate. Another issue that can arise from fasting cleanses that last more than a couple of days is nutrient deficiency. The body requires protein plus numerous vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to sufficiently detoxify and function normally.

With all of that to deal with, why worry about detoxification? Perhaps you’ve avoided trying one because it seemed to be too much of a hassle and isn’t that what bodies do anyway? It is, and the liver is particularly active in this regard, but these days the toxic exposure is exponentially higher than previous generations faced.

In addition to the natural by-products from bodily processes that have to be dealt with, consider the following sampling of toxins to which the average person is exposed every day:

Dietary: antibiotics and hormones in meat and dairy, mercury in fish, pesticides and herbicides in non-organic foods including animal feed, over-the-counter and prescribed pharmaceuticals, food additives like colours, flavours and preservatives, chemical components from packaging (e.g. BPA in plastics and food can linings), contaminants in water, coffee, alcohol

Environmental: air pollution, chemical exposures at the workplace, household cleaning and “freshening” products, personal care items, perfumes and cosmetics, off-gassing from carpets and furnishings, cigarettes

And the lists go on. Supporting the body’s natural, daily detoxification processes is a fundamental part of a healthy lifestyle and can keep you sleeping well, full of energy and on the path to long-term good health.

A formal detox period can also be a useful tool in kickstarting weight loss or as part of a yearly or semi-annual cleanup. Spring is a good time to undertake this in keeping with the natural rhythms of the changing season. Once the detox is over though, choosing not to go back to old habits and instead keeping the cleaner food intake is perhaps the most important part of all.

Visit again tomorrow for some simple tips for a gentle starter detox.