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Celebrating Women: Amy Symington

There are many reasons why people choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle — whether its for ethical reasons or to inspire a healthy lifestyle — but avoiding meat and dairy may have other perks, including preventing chronic disease. Nutritionist, vegan chef, professor, and owner of Amelia Eats, Amy Symington, focuses on teaching individuals how dietary choices can actually impact overall health and contribute to saving lives.

Symington is a multi-faceted woman actively involved in the vegan health community. She is very warm and easy to approach and is intelligent in a non-assuming way. Symington started her career as a vegan chef seven years ago and now teaches nutrition and culinary classes at George Brown College. “There is a stigma to vegan food being not flavourful,” Symington says. “The other chefs try it and they are shocked at how good it is. I like to focus on converting people to a plant-based diet through food.”

Alongside teaching, Symington runs a business called Amelia Eats that does catering, nutritional consulting, and creates recipes for various publications and businesses. She provides vegan nutrition expertise through her website and will also provide deluxe vegan catering dinners at request.

Symington’s interests go beyond simple cooking. She is researching how plant-based fare can help people who are suffering from life-threatening illnesses such as cancer. “My mom had breast cancer. During her treatment, I focused on plant-based foods and nutrition,” Symington says. “During my mother’s treatment, I found there wasn’t an option for people with cancer to be provided with a nutritionist or dietician. It was more like an assembly line with pills. There is no tender love and care in our system when it comes to cancer. There are wonderful doctors and nurses, but when to nutrition there is a gap. Processed red meats in particular, sausage, and bacon is directly linked to an increased risk of cancer and also breast cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) came out with a statement that shook people last year.”

After learning more about these risks, Symington began a vegan supper club program on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto, and provides social and emotional support to cancer survivors. The program involves preparing and cooking vegan fare for cancer patients and their families twice a week. “Gilda’s program focuses on cancer survivors. There are 50 different cancer care affiliates in North America and the vegan supper club programming is very popular,” Symington says. “People were very skeptical at first and would jokingly ask for steak instead, but they came around to the vegan meal and now they love it. It is all about winning people over with really flavourful food.” She focuses on a menu with fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. “They are most nutrient dense foods out there with high fibre, healthy fats and high antioxidants. Antioxidants fight off ‘free radicals’, osteoporosis, and diabetes and help with chronic disease prevention in general.”

Symington’s mom focused more on a vegetarian diet when she was in treatment, and her doctor became concerned if this was the best choice for her health. This later inspired Symington to start a community guide about how plant-based diets can positively influence good nutrition if you have cancer. It is proven that fruits and vegetables are filled with phytochemicals, fibre, and health promoting nutrients and tend to be healthier than meat and dairy products. As an expert nutritionist, Symington is creating a plant-based guide to cancer nutrition for people who would like to prevent cancer, those going through treatment, and those who are in recovery from treatment. Symington received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) award to create the guide and this will help fund the project. “There will be three components, including a literature review on what to consume for cancer prevention, then large quantity recipes focusing on foods mentioned, and the third part will focus on how to run your own supper club programming,” Symington says. “The students at George Brown are helping create recipes and then we test the recipe at Gilda’s on Tuesdays.”

Along with her husband, Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, the couple plan to raise their son as a vegan.  “Generally. babies are vegan. You exclusively breast feed them, which is recommended. The first things that are recommended are cereals and fruits and vegetables. From there, use calcium-fortified tofu, lentils, and whole grains to get your complete proteins,” Symington says. “As a parent, you need to be informed about specific nutrients including vitamin D, DHA, probiotics, B12, iron, and calcium.”

When Symington isn’t working, she enjoys cooking on her own time and making delicious vegan food. Her guilty pleasure sounds absolutely delicious: “My death row meal is a good burrito or taco equipped with avocado and sweet potato with tempeh, and turmeric or tempeh tacos, always with hot sauce.” When she isn’t working, She also loves running and soccer, and is currently reading “Healing with Whole Foods” by Paul Pitchford.

Symington is leading the way in disease prevention with a compassionate approach to food and health. She is inspiring and her knowledge about vegan health foods gives people vital information about living a healthier lifestyle. Check out Symington’s recipes through Amelia Eats and if you get a chance, enjoy one of her vegan meals.

Five ways to spot nutritional misinformation

Last year, I bought a Paleo cookbook.

It all started when I went out to dinner with my mother and we chose a restaurant in Newmarket called Rawlicious. It served raw and vegan food. I was skeptical, but I rather enjoyed my meal and, after reading up on the “Paleo Diet”, I decided to buy the restaurant’s cookbook. Eating raw must be good for me, right?! There were all these advertisements and articles in the newspaper about how cavepeople ate simpler, and therefore healthier, meals. They had less transfats, less processed foods, and less sugars. This diet was sure to make a difference, I thought.

This, I would soon learn, is not essentially true.

Paleo. Gluten-Free. These “diet” terms are everywhere. They pop up every few years and we automatically flock towards them, trusting that the “experts” claiming there are health benefits to each fad. Why are we continually taken in by these crazes? According to Kate Comeau, dietician and spokesperson for Dieticians Canada, it’s a “desire to try something new and try something that will work.”

In this digital age, it’s easy to be consumed by the immense amount of information found on the Internet. There are, quite literally, thousands of blogs dedicated to weight loss and nutrition.

“Something comes up and you look to google, it is second nature. We are advocates of our own health,” Comeau says. “Because of the amount of information, it can lead to more confusion. We want to equip people with smart searching. Bring that information to your health care provider and get them to help you sort through it.”

But, how do we know what advice to trust? Which fads should we follow? Here are five ways to spot misinformation on the web and to make the right choice with your nutritional advice:

The Quick Fix: Losing weight is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It’s also a rather personal journey. There is no miracle-working pill, smoothie, or nutritional regime that will work for everyone. The only way to maintain a healthy lifestyle is to eat well and exercise regularly. Everything else is a false promise that may hinder your weight-loss journey.

The Product Sell: Do you need to buy a pill, a fibre supplement, or an entire week-worth of meals? These special food diets don’t encourage healthy eating habits, and instead make you dependent on the product themselves. There may also be financial gains for the person providing the nutritional advice.

The Personal Story: It’s great that Sally, age 45 with two kids at home, lost 30 pounds eating nothing but fruit for a week, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It is encouraging to see the results of a successful weight-loss journey, but its not proof that it will work for you. It may not even be true. “It can be quite compelling, especially if they are in an influential position. But just because it works for someone, doesn’t mean it’s science-based or that it would work for you,” Comeau says.

The Study: We hear the words often—”studies show” this [insert diet name here] will make you feel more awake and energized, while still allowing you to lose those extra pounds. But, what study? Were the subjects of the study following the same lifestyle as you? Are they the same age or gender? And is there more than one study to confirm the results? The more scientific evidence available, the more legitimate the advice.

The Qualifications: Celebrity-supported cookbooks are becoming increasingly popular, but I’m not sure when we decided they were the health experts. Look for the initials “RD or PDt” to ensure the person giving you the advice is a registered dietitian. They are the only people who should be giving nutritional advice.

Instead of buying into the latest diet fad or cleanse, Comeau suggests what seems like the simplest solution: eat better and exercise regularly. “I sound like a broken record,” Comeau says. “Eat more vegetables and focus on making food from basic ingredients from home.”

If you, like me, enjoy reading about nutrition and health on the web, try following @DCmemberblogs on Twitter. It is hosted by Dieticians Canada and links to credible, evidence-based blogs about nutrition. Information comes from 40 different member blogs, and there promises to be some amazing recipes in the mix.

For those who want more, Comeau suggests cochrane.org, a website dedicated to evidence-based analysis of health issues.

As for my “Paleo diet”, lets just say I never got that far. Turns out, it is harder to adopt that lifestyle than I thought (and I lot more expensive). I still make some of the recipes, but I don’t claim to do anything more than live by the Canadian Food Guide.

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5 Fruit Smoothies To Quench Your Thirst

Summer is here! With the warm weather tickling our fancy for a cold, summer drink, we couldn’t resist putting together these smoothie recipes for you to try. The colours will excite you, the taste will please you, and the satisfaction will complete you. What are you waiting for? Grab your blender and try out these 5 smoothie recipes now!

 

watermelon-frosty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watermelon Frosty
serves 2

2 1/4 cups frozen watermelon cubes
1/2+ cup water
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 large lemon, squeezed
1 fresh banana

Directions: Add all ingredients to the blender – plus 1/4 cup of water. Start blending. Add more water as needed to blend. Add as little liquid as possible to keep your frosty thick and “frosty!”

 

 smoothie 1 FINAL

Basil- Lime Delight

Serves 4 

1 lemon peeled, sliced and seeded.

2 limes peeled and halved

1/4 cup sugar or sweetener of choice

6-7 fresh basil leaves

3 cups ice

1 cup water or apple juice

Directions: Place all ingredients in a blender and secure lid. Turn machine on and quickly increase speed to high. Blend for 90 seconds. Garnish with fresh basil leaf or lemon wedge.

 

 Blueberry-Smoothie-Marla-Meridith-IMG_4652

 Very Peachy BlueBerry

Serves 3-4

1/4 cup Stewed Peaches

1/2 cup frozen Blueberries (plus extra for topping)

1 tablespoon Lemon Juice

3/4 cup unsweetened Almond Milk

handful of Ice

Stevia, Honey, Agave or Maple Syrup to taste

Fresh Mint for garnish

Directions: Stew peaches by cutting them into pieces and placing them in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water. Bring to a boil then simmer. Mash them against the side of the pan to release juices. Simmer about 6 minutes. Let the peaches chill in the fridge.

Blend all ingredients together. Sweeten to taste if needed. Garnish with mint and frozen blueberries.

 

mango_pineapple 

Mango Tango Pineapple-o

Serves 2

1 cup chopped fresh pineapple

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen mango, peeled, cubed, and frozen

1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

1/2 cup cranberry-pomegranate-cherry juice

Directions: Blend all ingredients together. Sweeten to taste if needed. Garnish with mango chunks and one slice of pineapple.

 

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If you’re up for a challenge or have some extra time (and fruits) laying around, try this layered smoothie to leave a lasting impression on your friends- and their tummies! 

Dare to Layer

Serves 4

10 ounces frozen raspberries, thawed

2 tablespoons honey

12 ounces unsweetened lemon-lime sparkling water

5 kiwis, peeled

1 teaspoon lime juice

1 cup roughly chopped cantaloupe

4 kiwi slices, for garnish

 Directions:

1. In the basin of a food processor or blender, combine raspberries and honey. Pulse or blend until pureed. Strain raspberry puree through a fine mesh sieve and discard seeds. Mix in lemon-lime sparkling water and set aside.

2. Combine the peeled kiwi and lime juice in the clean basin of a food processor or blender. Pulse or blend until pureed. Set aside.

3. Add the cantaloupe in the clean basin of a food processor or blender. Pulse or blend until pureed. Set aside.

4. To layer your drink, gently spoon equal amounts of kiwi puree into each of four bowls or glasses. Repeat with cantaloupe puree and raspberry puree. Garnish with kiwi slices.

 

Happy blending!

 

Featured Image

 

Detoxify your body

This spring, I have decided to try a detox from May 13th to May 22nd. Not a vegetarian or vegan and always on the go, I look forward to cutting out some meat from my diet, but I think I will have the hardest time letting go of cheese.

Prior to my first detox, I was able to talk to a Certified and Registered Nutritionist (CNP, RNCP) who is overseeing the first BarreNourish Detox at Barreworks. At the moment they have just under 20 people who have signed up, but are expecting 10-20 more people.

“It is all online-based, other than picking up the detox kit, and the teleseminars are live and recorded for convenience,” she explains. “I kept the Barreworks client in mind. It isn’t too extreme and I don’t restrict on calories. They’re energizing foods with a restriction of foods that drain energy and all processed foods. There is an emphasis on the reset button. It’s about resetting your habits. There is cooking and buying healthy ingredients while thinking ahead on meal planning. “
They also decided not limit portion sizes. “Restricting portion sizes and calories is exhausting on a person’s body. I did a survey ahead of time and there was a concern that they would not being able to exercise,” she says.

In addition, she added substitutes for common food allergies. “Most are taken out including wheat and dairy, but nuts in a lot of meals. Ninety percent could be replaced with seeds. There are recommended suggestions and you can choose other meals. There are 15-16 recipes and I have provided 25. You can substitute for another recipe.”

Although this is a mild detox and all whole-food based, it is not without side effects. The largest is cravings as well as headaches, fatigue, bloating and skin eruptions that last a day. In order to prevent them, participants can use a dry brush, drink more water, go to an infrared sauna and exercise to increase the elimination.

The most common cravings include caffeine, sugar, wheat and meat, although meat is not usually a strong craving. “Healthy snacks, especially deliciously sweet dates and raw white chocolate, are good for sugar. It is important to increase portion sizes and eat enough to decrease cravings,” she says. “It is hardest during the first three to four days and then you feel amazing.”

My nutritionist assures me that there are numerous benefits. They include weight loss, clear skin and increased energy. You will be more focused and creative.

Join me as I go through the BarreNourish 10-Day Detox.  Visit again soon to hear about my experiences as I go through the detox process.