The Illusion of Food

A few days ago at work, a fascinating article was circulated from the Nutrition Action Health Letter (published by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest) regarding food serving size, general habits, and consumption patterns.


The gist of the article is that the more food we see, the more food we eat regardless of hunger primarily due to mindless eating and a general feeling of being unaware of our hunger signals.  In large part, I blame industry for creating the level of gluttony and outrageous eating habits we are seeing today which has absolutely contributed to the increase in chronic diseases we are seeing (Type II Diabetes, Stroke, Heart Disease, Arthritis, Hyperlipidaemia, Colitis, Crohn’s, Renal Diseases, etc).

Rate of Type II Diabetes in the United States: 1980 - 2010

Rate of Type II Diabetes in the United States: 1980 – 2010

While industry certaintly plays a role, there is a lot we can do as individuals to take better control of our health…and an improvement in the amount of food ingested can significantly  improve the way you think, feel, move, and life.

In the Nutrition Action Health Letter, author  of the book Mindless EatingBrian Wansink, was interviewed and he reviewed the major findings from his research surrounding eating habits, serving sizes, and the concept of mindless eating (eating without paying attention to hunger signals).  Here are some interesting observations that might make you think, and look twice before you eat.

Mindless Eating

  • When people are given larger servings, they eat more.  In a study where people were given a large bucket of popcorn and others a small bucket, it was found that those who received the larger bucket ate 34% more popcorn.
  • Variety prompts increased consumption.  When people were presented with candy of different colours (as compared a single colour) they ate 40% more.
  • Chicken Wings Are Insightful!  When the bones of the wings consumed were removed from the table (as compared to leaving them on the table in the control group), participants ate more.
  • Health Labels Prompt Increased Consumption.  Labeling a product “low-fat” prompts people to eat more than they would have a normal product.
  • Healthy Restaurants = Underestimation of Calories.  When someone eats at Subway, and then at McDonald’s, they are more likely to underestimate the number of calories consumed at the Subway meal.
  • You are likely to eat more when eating a meal with a fast eater.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“We don’t walk. We overeat because we’ve made it easy to overeat. We have  fast-food joints on every corner. By the way, the ‘we’ is all of us. It’s not  the government. It’s all of us doing this together.”
– Dr. Oz


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Weekly Recipe Roundup: Spring Breakfast Smoothie, Slow Cooker Veggie Casserole, and Fruity Cookies

It’s been a while, thanks for sticking with me. The past few months have been busier than usual over here at The Health Junction while I finish up with school (send me good vibes on April 19th when I write my final board exam), starting my dream job working at Glycemic Index Laboratories, and switching to teaching nutrition and cooking at a new school where I’ll be continuing my work with middle school kids.

When I get super busy, it becomes easy to stop eating well by grabbing food on-the-go or resorting to relatively processed choices.  I never feel good when I don’t infuse my diet with healthy ingredients so during particularly hectic periods my I like to focus on recipes that:

  • don’t require more than 15-20 minutes prep time
  • make a lot and freeze well for storing away some leftovers
  • have diversity; I want to get as many nutrients as possible
  • taste good
  • are focused on lean, quality, non-animal protein sources
  • are low in dairy content

The following recipes satisfied the above criteria and I hope that you’ll enjoy them during busy times as much as I did.  Enjoy!

Spring Breakfast Smoothie

Spring Breakfast Smoothie  (serves 2)

  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup any type of berry
  • 1/2 cup carrot
  • 2 cups any type of leafy green.  If you are new to adding greens to your smoothie, start with a standard red leaf or romaine lettuce.
  • 1 scoop of protein powder (I like Vega Energizing Smoothie…the tropical mango, vanilla-almond, berry, or choc-a-lot flavours are nice)
  • 2-3 tbsp oats
  • 1.5 cups almond milk (or rice, or soy)
  • 1.5 cup water

Blend to your heart’s content.  Sip.  Enjoy knowing this breakfast is literally chalked full of Vitamin A, B6, B12, Folate, C, Magnesium, Potassium, Flavonoids, and Fiber.  The oats add a complex carbohydrate for increased energy and balances blood sugar.  Finally, the protein powder is totally vegan, has 10 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and just enough calories to keep you going without feeling bloated or full.


Vegetable Slow Cooker Casserole

  • 2  19-oz. cans cannellini beans
  • 1  19-oz. can garbanzo or fava beans
  • 1/4  cup purchased basil pesto
  • 1  medium onion, chopped
  • 4  cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-1/2  tsp. dried Italian seasoning, crushed
  • 1  16-oz. pkg. refrigerated cooked plain polenta cut in 1/2-inch-thick slices (looks like a tube…found in the international isle or  near the pasta section in your grocery store)
  • 1  large tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1  8-oz. pkg. finely shredded Italian cheese blend (2 cups)
  • 2  cups fresh spinach
  • 1  cup torn radicchio

Rinse and drain beans.  In large bowl combine beans, 2 tablespoons of pesto, onion, garlic, and Italian seasoning.  In 4- to 5-quart slow cooker layer half of bean mixture, half of polenta, and half of cheese. Add remaining beans and polenta.  Cover; cook on low heat setting for 4 to 6 hours (or on high heat setting 2 to 2-1/2 hours).  Add tomato, remaining cheese, spinach, and radicchio.  Combine remaining pesto and 1 tablespoon water. Drizzle pesto mixture on casserole.  Let stand, uncovered, 5 minutes.

Fruity Chocolate Chip Cookies

Fruity Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 cups oats (I use old-fashioned rolled oats)
  • 1 1/4 cup flour (whole wheat or brown rice work nice)
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried fruit (I like strawberries, cherries, raisins, apricots, cranberries or apple)
  • 3/4 cup milled flax seeds
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large bananas, mashed
  • 3/4 cup honey (I only use 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup coconut butter/oil (mash it well before adding it to recipe)
Pre-heat oven to 350.  Add all the dry ingredients up to an including the salt in a bowl.  Mix well.  Add the bananas, honey, and coconut butter in another bowl…mix well.  Combine wet ingredients into the dry ingredients…and mix well.  I use the kitchenaide mixer for a few minutes to make sure it’s well combined.  Drop cookies 1 tbsp at a time onto a cookie sheet…cook 10 minutes or until brown.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“I don’t like food that’s too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef  is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a  picture I’d buy a painting.”
– Andy Rooney


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Weekly Recipe Bulletin – Work Week Breakfast & 9 to 5 Lunch

Over the past year or so, I’ve come to realise that many people know what they should be eating – but making it happen is a whole other story.  The pace of life is so fast and we’re running in place (or from home to work, driving kids to sports, school, book clubs, dinner dates, the gym, etc) so trying to eat healthy with a limited “time” budget can be a challenge.  My whole world is healthy eating/living and even I find it hard at times!

With that in mind, this week the focus is on getting in a good breakfast and lunch with the following recipes – each packed with nutrition and can be accomplished with as little as 15 minutes a day.  Try it for one week and I promise that you’ll feel so good you’ll want to continue investing time and energy into your health.

Sunday Night Muesli Delight

On Sunday night, you’re going to grab a big Tupperware container (3-4 litres will do).  Grab the following ingredients, toss them into the Tupperware, and shake until combined (this will take you under 10 minutes).  Each  morning when you wake up, grab about 1/3rd a cup of this mix, top it with Almond milk (or whatever milk you enjoy) and let it sit for 20 minutes till the milk is absorbed…then enjoy.  Thank you my amazing teacher and author Caroline Dupont for her inspiration!  This makes about 10 servings.

– 2 cups rolled oats

– 1/2 cup chia seeds

– 1/2 cup flax seeds

– 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

– 1/2 cup sunflower seeds

– 1/4 cup goji berries

– 1/4 cup cranberries

– 4 dried apricots, chopped

– 2 tsp cinnamon

– 2 tbsp honey (optional)

9-5 Work Week Lunch

I’m on the 9-5 Work Week Lunch bandwagon and I’m never getting off.  Each time I eat a different variation of this recipe I’m floored by how awesome it tastes.  It leave you feeling full, focused, and doesn’t cause bloating or post-meal fatigue.  It takes about 15 minutes if you’re using your time wisely and can be done while you’re waiting for your muesli to soak.  Again, thank you to Caroline Dupont for sharing this secret with me so that I could share it with you!  Here’s how it works:

Get a medium-sized pot and put a grain in it – I like to use one of the following:  brown rice, soba noodles, millet, or quinoa.  For the purpose of this example, let’s go with quinoa.

In the pot, put 1/2 cup of water and bring it to a boil.  Add 1/4 cup of quinoa.

Put a steamer on top of the grain and add in the following (note, when you steam the veggies all their juices will fall into the quinoa which you’re going to eat – score!)

– 2 cups leafy green veggies (I like kale or swiss chard)

– 1 cup of an orange or red veggie (red pepper, carrots, etc)

– 1 cup of bean sprouts (or other sprouts)

Cover and let steam until the quinoa is ready – about 10 minutes.

Pour the quinoa and steamed veggies in a big bowl and mix.  Next you’re going to add your seasonings and concentrated protein – here is what I normally add in:

– 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds

– 1 tbsp sunflower seeds

– 1 tbsp walnuts

– 1 tbsp chia seeds

– 2-3 sheets of nori (sea weed)

– you could also add some cooked chicken, turkey, fish, or tofu

– 1 tbsp chives

– 1 tbsp fresh basil leaves

– tbsp fresh cilantro

– 1 diced raw clove of garlic

– 1 tbsp sauerkraut (the fermented kind you find in the refrigerated section of a health food store)

You need a suace to bring this to life.  You an use a bit of sesame seed oil, tahini, or ponzu sauce…I make a big patch of sauce on Sunday night and then use it throughout the week.  Here is a breakdown of my ponzu sauce that is adapted from the Fresh at Home cookbook (this cookbook btw has a whole chapter on cool sauces and there are 12 copies available at the Toronto Public Library):

– 4 cloves garlic

– 1/4 cup fresh ginger, chopped

– 1.5 stalks of lemongrass (available in the fresh spice/herb section of the fruit and veg section of your grocery store)

– 1/4 cup chili flakes

– 1/4 cup dry white wine

– 2 cup s water

– 1/3 cup soy sauce

– 1/3 cup brown sugar

Combine everything in a pot and bring to a boil.  Let simmer for 20 minutes, strain so that you remove all the chunks of garlic, lemon grass, and ginger and store the liquid in an air tight container in the fridge.


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Eating Out Without Busting Out (of your clothes)

We all have to eat out at times and chances are you’re faced with a food court full of options – so, what to choose?

Here are some Health Junction tips on how to make eating out a health success.

1.)  If you know in advance that you’ll be eating out, go online and check the menu to see what your options are.  It’s easier to plan a healthy meal when you’re not hungry.  I was just checking the Tim Hortons website and they actually have healthy meal suggestions with 3 grams of fat or less.

In general: skip the bacon, mind the cheese, go easy on the salad dressing, watch your fat, and try to select higher fiber meals.

Check out the sodium content.  Our daily limit is 2300 mg and a ham and swiss cheese sandwich from Tim Hortons has 1450 mg’s!  The egg salad sandwich would be a better option with 760 mgs.

2.)  Better meat options would be lean meat such as skinless chicken and fish.

3.)  Cutting down on fat is easier when food is prepared by broiling, baking, poaching, or grilling.

4.)  Portion sizes in restaurants are usually huge.  Someone told me this tip a while ago and I love it.  Divide you plate into two – eat half and take the other home with you.

5.) Choose vegetables as your side if given the option.  In general, for all meals half your plate should consist of vegetables/fruit.

6.) Choose whole grain carb options; whole grain rolls, brown rice, a potato with the skin on.

Here are some good options for breakfast, lunch, and supper at Tim Hortons:

Breakfast:  English Muffin w/ Egg and Cheese, Mixed Berry Oatmeal (has a bit of sugar so limit this to a special treat).

Lunch/Supper:  Minestrone Soup with an 12 grain bagel, Everything Bagel w/ light plain cream cheese.

Skip the muffins – they all have over 25 grams of sugar per serving.

If you really want a donut btw, the best choice would be chocolate or maple dip.