Why you shouldn’t have beef with dark chicken meat in 100 words

When I was growing up, and actually until about a year ago I always though dark poultry was “bad” for me because of the higher fat content.  During a course on sports nutrition, my teacher Dr. Daniel Watters (ND) totally blew my mind when he asked us to consider the importance of what the tissue we’re consuming is used for in the originating animal.

Dark vs. white chicken meat

In the case of chicken thighs vs. chicken breast for example, the thighs are a powerhouse of movement for the chicken and are very much full of muscle tissue.  So, imagine how a chicken moves and functions – the legs move around, but what about the breasts?  Not a whole lot of action going on with a chicken’s breast since they don’t actually fly.

Chicken

 

Chicken thighs are packed with much more myoglobin as compared to the breast and myoglobin contains a lot of iron which is excellent for the all you lady readers.  Dark meat also tends to have more zinc, B1, B2, B6, and B12 (important for you immune system, adapting to the environment, mood, prevention of migraine headaches and the list could literally go on for days).  Dark poultry meat has roughly 3 x more fat than its white counterpart but 2/3rd of that fat is unsaturated which isn’t bad for you in moderation.  Feeling peckish?  Try out this recipe adapted from The Looneyspoons Collection.

Amazingly Saucy Chicken Thighs

12 boneless skinless chicken thighs (try to get organic free range if possible)

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

2/3rd cup all natural grape jelly

1/2 cup of organic all natural ketchup

1 1/4 tsp dry mustard powder

Pepper

Preheat oven to 400.  In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients except for chicken and bring to a boil.  Jelly will melt.  Lay the thighs out in a 9 x 13 baking dish and pour sauce overtop the thighs.  Turn and coat well.  Place in oven for 45 minutes.  Serve with 1 cup of broccoli on the side and you’ve got yourself a dinner to remember.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“We all like chicken” 

–  Malcolm X (The Autobiography of Malcolm X)

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Tips for the Frugally Organic

A frequent question asked by confused consumers is “how important is it to eat organically – are the higher prices justified?”  While it’s true that organically grown food tends to be more expensive than the conventional counterparts, the nutritional, health, and environmental benefits far exceed food produced by industrial farming.

Organic vs Conventional Farming

Organic food means that it is not genetically modified (GMO), is free from pesticides and herbicides, and has not been grown from synthetic fertilizers.  Nutrient density of organic food is higher than conventionally grown crops.  Furthermore, by choosing organic you’ll help guarantee safer working conditions for farmers and enable the maintenance of nearby wildlife habitat.

GMO

Compared to industrial/conventional farming, organic food practices also produces fewer greenhouse emissions, preserves soil integrity, reduces water pollution and is the only sustainable long-term solution for preserving a variety of nutrient dense food.

Save Money Organic Food

Purchasing organic food can be costly, but it doesn’t need to be with these quick tips for the Frugally Organic:

Re-evaluate your budget and try to find more dollars to invest on organic food by cutting out on processed junk foods.

Farmer's Market

Visit a farmers market and speak to the vendors – find out what is grown organically.  You’ll be doing double duty by investing in locally grown organic food.  Wychwood Barns, The Brickworks, and Dufferin Grove Park are year-round farmers markets available in Toronto.  For a complete list of up-to-date information on Farmer’s Market’s in Toronto, click here.

Freeze your food.  Capitalize on seasonal fruits and vegetables by paying a lower price when supply is high and then dipping into your stock during the year.

Buy in bulk from places like Bulk Barn and pay a lower per gram rate.

Eat Seasonally

Sample Foods Seasonally.  Prices will always be lower in season and it’s also a great opportunity to try new foods!

Slow and steady wins the race.  Rome wasn’t built in a day!  Each week add a new organically grown food and watch your organic base grow.

And lastly, if you can only afford to purchase a few foods organically, here is a list known as the “Dirty Dozen” which includes foods with the highest concentration of pesticides and herbicides when consumed conventionally.

APPLES

CELERY

CHERRY TOMATOES

CUCUMBER

GRAPES

HOT PEPPERS

NECTARINES

PEACHES

POTATOES

SPINACH

STRAWBERRIES

SWEET BELL PEPPERS

KALE/COLLARD GREENS

SUMMER SQUASH

Go Organic

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”

– Wendell Barry, The Unsettling of America:  Culture and Agriculture

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Time for a new Canada Food Guide? A focus on dairy…

I’m not sure I totally understand why dairy is a designated food group for many national food guides – including The Canada Food Guide.  Before starting my job as a Nutritionist with the Toronto District School Board, I read through the Eating Well With Canada’s Food Guide: A Resource For Educators and Communicators several times (check it out yourself by clicking here), and the case for consuming dairy is made with respect to obtaining important nutrients like Calcium, Vitamin A, D, B12, Vitamin B1, Zinc, and Magnesium.  The aforementioned nutrients, according to the educators guide, are important for the development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth but also for the prevention of the osteoporosis.

Dairy

The Canada Food Guide states that people should drink 500 ml (2 cups of milk) everyday to ensure that adequate amounts of Vitamin D are obtained.  So, it is very true that consuming milk and other dairy products will provide several important nutrients, however, I don’t believe that the whole dairy store is being told.  The argument surrounding the legitimacy of dairy as an actual food group can be broken down into three main areas; immediate and long-term health consequences, nutrient density, and industry lobbying.

It is estimated that 7.5% of infants have a true allergy to dairy and by true allergy, I mean that there is an immune response to one of the over 25 proteins contained in cow’s milk.  A true allergy is indicated by the presence of an antibody (IgE) which will be detected upon high quality allergy tests such as the ELISA test.

antibody

The symptomatic response can be immediate and take place within minutes or delayed where a person will experience symptoms up to 24 hours after eating the food.  Common symptoms to dairy allergy include:

Skin: Itchy, Red Rash; Eczema; Hives; Black Eyes, Canker Sores, Swelling of the Lips, Mouth, Tongue, Face, or Throat.

Digestive: Abdominal Pain; Abdominal Cramps; Abdominal Bloating; Diarrhea; Gas; Nausea; Vomiting.

Respiratory: Runny Nose / Congestion; Sneezing; Watery Eyes; Itchy Eyes; Coughing; Wheezing; Shortness of Breath; Recurrent “colds”; Sinusitis

But where this gets interesting is that while 7.5% of infants are allergic to cow milk, many of them will “outgrow” the allergy, however, it is estimated that 1 in 6 of us have a dairy intolerance and that 70% of the world’s population will become lactase deficient in adulthood.  This means that there is no antibody, however, we have a problem breaking down the dairy due to an insufficient amount of the enzyme Lactase.

Food Intolerance Symptoms

If you experience abdominal pains, cramps, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, or nausea after consuming dairy products, you might be intolerant.  When food that we are intolerant to is repeatedly consumed it causes poor digestion overall and inadequate breakdown of other proteins consumed as well as a poor balance of good vs. bad bacteria in our intestines.  This may then cause our intestines to become more permeable and allows undigested proteins (diary or otherwise) to enter the blood stream where they are recognized as pathogens.  The result is an immune response which may lead to localized or system wide inflammation and is indicated in the progression of conditions such as; colitis, crohns, frequent colds, rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain, rashes, poor memory, seasonal allergies, chemical intolerance, fevers, intestinal infections, pancreatic insufficiency, eczema, dry skin, and childhood hyperactivity to name a few.

Experts agree that the number one allergy and food intolerance is diary.  But without dairy, we can’t get enough calcium so let’s leave it on the Canada Food Guide.  Not quite.

Bush

To say that we need calcium for strong and healthy bones and teeth is true.  But it’s only part of the story.  Calcium works synergistically with other minerals such as Potassium, Magnesium, Vitamin K, and Vitamin D.  The overemphasis of calcium without touching upon the other nutrients that are needed to make calcium work effectively is curious.

osteoporosis

Women are encouraged to consume lots of calcium to prevent the development of osteoporosis but this is a bit of a band-aid solution because until the dietary factors that are causing calcium to be leached from the bones is corrected, we’ll always be playing catchup.  For instance, foods that increase calcium loss should be considered (coffee, tea, pop, chocolate, sugar, grains) as well as items high in phosphorus (meat, grains, pop) since it binds to calcium and can leach Ca from bones.  We may significantly increase calcium stores by looking at smoking, alcohol intake, and GI issues that are preventing optimal nutrient absorption.  Interestingly drinking milk can actually cause calcium deficiency when there isn’t enough lactase to break it down.  The fermentation that occurs in the intestine when we’re lactase deficient causes a build up of lactic acid that subsequently binds to Calcium and Magnesium which means that the calcium can’t be used for building bones.

Countries with the highest consumption of dairy also have the highest rates of osteoporosis.

foods with calcium

And what about nutrient density?  I would argue that you can get all the calcium you need through eating a well-balanced diet that is high in greens and nuts.  The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for adults aged 19-50 is 1000 mg’s a day.  While one cup of cow’s milk contains 288 mg’s of calcium, a cup of soybeans contains 460 mg’s.  And if you were to have a salad including 1/2 cup of swiss chard, 1/2 cup of collard greens, and 1/2 cup of kale you’re at 174 mg’s – and think about all the other hugely important nutrients you’re getting from that salad…B Vitamins, Magnesium, Vitamin K, etc.  Check out this handout on sources of calcium and here is another one from Dietitian Leslie Beck from The Globe and Mail.

Canadian Milk

With regards to industry lobbying, it is prudent to recognize that the Canada Food Guide and it’s recommendations have an enormous consequence of the various agricultural sectors.  The food industry in Canada is a 100 billion dollar (per year) industry and you can imagine the result of suggesting that Canadians perhaps do not need to consume 2 servings dairy each day.  The most recent version of the CFG was created with the advice and suggestions of a 12 person advisory board which included; dietitians and academics as well as the nutrition education manager with the BC Dairy Foundation, the head of a group representing 85,000 oilseed growers, oilseed processors and makers of oilseed-based food products, and the director, scientific and regulatory affairs at the Food and Consumer Products Manufacturers of Canada.  These industries have absolutely no interest in the protection and promotion of health – their primary goal is to enhance the legitimacy of their product and to drive sales.  Other main objective is to of course, protect the jobs of those who work in their prospective industry.

I strongly believe that public health education campaigns should be created and communicated by groups with absolutely zero interest in the manufacturing and sale of any particular product or service.  It would seem to be in the real public interest to have a food guide created entirely with the influence of scientific research and a deep understanding of food-related behaviour patterns.

1353-big

The 2003 WHO report “Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Disease” is an extensive body of research surround the cause of the alarmingly high rate of chronic disease we are seeing worldwide.  In the report, there were certain foods that were found to have a preventative effect on health, meaning, they help prevent the development of diet and lifestyle related diseases and obesity.  The preventative foods listed include fruits, vegetables, , whole grain cereals, non-starch polysaccharides, legumes, fish, fish oils, unsalted nuts, and water.  Eating these foods help to reduce incidences of cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.  There was no mention of dairy.

Come back soon for more on ways you can tweak The Canada Food Guide to make it work effectively for you.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is  always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly  divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them.”

– B.R. Ambedkar

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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_casserole

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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Green Smoothies 101 in 100 Words: A Veggietastic Breakfast Solution

What is the most important thing I’ve learned at school over the past 12 months?

what did you learn today

Drink more water and eat more greens.  Okay, that is technically two but lucky for you they’re both included in this next nutritional recommendation.  If you’re interested in learning about the benefits of adequate water consumption, click here and for information on why leafy greens are important, this will help explain things.

Green Smoothie

Green smoothies are the easiest way I can think of to get a huge dose of vegetables into your diet.  When starting your day of with one of these diddy’s you’re paving the way towards a full day of health eating.  The sugar content is extremely low because the only sweet ingredient included is fruit which is naturally occurring.  With a dash of complex carbohydrates and a whole lot of fiber, green smoothies will help stabilize your blood sugar levels and prevent ravenous cravings later in the day.  Green smoothies are alkanalizing and are busting with vitamins and minerals.  Here is a recipe to get you started but the beauty of green smoothies is that the combinations are endless…as are the health benefits.

The Health Junction Green Combustion

  • 2-3 cups of leafy greens.  I like mixing red leaf lettuce and kale.
  • handful of frozen blueberries
  • half a banana
  • stalk of celery
  • 1/4th avocado
  • 1 scoop of vega energizing smoothie powder (I like the Choc-a-Lot Flavour)
  • 2 tbsp oats
  • 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk + 1 cup of water
  • Cinnamon (optional)
  • A couple of tbsp’s of hemp, flax, or chia seeds (optional)

Throw ingredients in the blender – it’s best to layer the denser foods (frozen blueberries, celery) on the bottom and the lighter ingredients on the top.  Pour in water and almond milk last.  I usually start blending on the ice crushing setting of my blender but do whatever works best with your home blender.

Pour into a large glass and sprinkle with some cinnamon.  This contains 7-8 servings of fruits and vegetables!

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

 “Each of us has two “doctors”—the left and the right leg.”

– Vilcabamban philosophy on the importance of walking

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Eating Likes the Aztecs: Amaranth 101 in 100 Words

Amaranth

What’s up with Amaranth?  I always see it on the standard list of gluten-free grains but it’s not so commonly used in western cooking.

Amaranth Plan

Amaranth, popular with the Aztecs, is a plant with a flowery head that contains the seeds we eat.  The nutritional profile of amaranth is interestingly similar to swiss chard, beets, spinach, and quinoa – this because they all belong to the same Chenopodiacease family.  Like many dark leafy greens, amaranth is chalked with magnesium, calcium, and iron in much higher quantities than most grains (like wheat for example).  In terms of taste, it can be described as nutty, earthy, and ever so slightly sweet.

Lysine

What’s cool about Amaranth is that it is rich in the essential amino acid Lysine.  An essential amino acid, btw, is protein building block that we cannot make and therefore must be obtained from our diet.  This particular amino acid is used for making carnitine which we need to convert fatty acids into energy.  Also, it helps the absorption of calcium which works very synergistically with the fact that Amaranth is a good source of calcium.  Overall, it has more protein than any other gluten-free grain and lots of fiber too.  Here is a amaranth porridge recipe from an awesome site called Naturally Ella that is DELICIOUS!

Amaranth Banana Porridge

Banana-Pecan Amaranth Porridge

(adapted from Naturally Ella & recipe created by Erin Alderson)

Ingredients

  • ½ cup amaranth
  • 1 cup water
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup pecan pieces
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 bananas
  • Milk (almond or coconut), to serve

 Directions: 

Combine amaranth with one cup water and salt. Bring amaranth to a boil, and reduce to a simmer and then cover and  simmer for 15 mins.  Remove from heat and let sit for 10 mins.  If it’s too thick, add some almond or coconut milk and set aside.  Add pecans to a dry skillet and toast over medium-low heat, stir often. Toast ar0und 3 minutes.  Set aside.  Heat coconut oil, maple syrup, and cinnamon over medium-low heat. Cut bananas in ½” slices and add to skillet, cook until bananas are extremely tender and maple syrup has absorbed into the slices.  Stir together ¾ of the bananas and amaranth. Pour into bowls and top with remaining bananas, pecans, and a drizzle of milk.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” 

– Irish Proverb

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Can I overdose on vitamins?

Is there any harm in going to town with vitamin and mineral supplements?

Supplement Overload

The long of the short is yes.  Before you waste money and potentially harm yourself, it would be prudent to ask yourself the following questions:

1.)  Do I need to be taking this supplement?

2.)  How much should I take?

3.)  Is it possible for me to avoid a supplementation and get what I want through food?

So, do you need to be taking a supplement?  I will throw that question back at you.  Why are you interested in supplementation?  Sure, there are some great vitamins and minerals that are useful to take daily for prevention of illness.  For example, Vitamin C and Zinc in the winter are excellent at supporting the immune system.  Omega-3 Fish Oil is helpful for those who want to work on supporting cognitive function, healthy skin and nails, and even low mood.

Dr. Oz

Oh No You Didn’t!

But then we get to all kinds of weird supplements that people are taking because of segments viewed on the Dr. Oz Show.  Raspberry Ketones, Blueberry Supplements, and Forskolin for example.  You may want to do some research on what exactly these supplements are indicated for and re-evaluate accordingly.  I’m a big fan of finding scholarly journals to see if the research backs the use of supplementing with a specific nutrient.  Dr. Oz Dr. said Forskolin “explodes” fat right out of fat cells and assists with weight loss” but I have never heard of a supplement that is better for weight loss than activity.  You get the gist.

Multi V

This leads me to Multivitamins.  I’m not a huge fan for a few reasons.  First off, why take a slew of vitamins and minerals that you may or may not need in doses that may or may not be enough for what you?  Secondly, while many nutrients work synergistically, others compete thereby reducing the overall effectiveness of certain compounds.  Thirdly, I believe that many people will make less of an effort to prepare and eat healthy whole foods when they have a multivitamin crutch in their back pocket.

Okay, so now we have narrowed down our list of supplements to those we really need.  The Canadian Government has a handy little chart available online that details how much of each nutrient you should be consuming each day.  You will notice that each nutrient has three columns; EAR, RDA/AI, and UL.

EAR is the amount that would satisfy the needs of 50% of the population.  Don’t pay too much attention to this number.

RDA/AI is the Recommended Daily Allowance and is the number you should be aiming for.

UL just means Upper Limit.  Don’t go above this number without consulting with a health care practitioner.

I remember not feeling well once upon a time after taking a bunch of Vitamin B Complex…my fingers and arms felt like there were electrical currents running through them and it was not pleasant.  It’s best to stay below the UL if you want to avoid potential dangerous side effects.

Pay special attention to Vitamins A, D, E, and K as these are fat soluble and can be stored in your body.  Taking too much of any particular fat soluble vitamin can be toxic.  To find out how much of a specific supplement you should be taking for prevention or therapeutic treatment of a condition, check with your Naturopathic Doctor or Nutritionist.

Food vs. Supplement

Can you get the nutrients required for optimal health through your food?  I would argue it is definitely more advantageous to try through food first but perhaps this is not realistic for certain populations and some conditions where nutrients are being taken therapeutically.  For example, most vegetarian (women) need iron, folate, and B12 supplementation.  People who work with kids and thereby require a super strong immune system might want to consider Vitamin C and Zinc supplementation but that’s not to say you can’t get it from food.  You certainly can.

Health Challenge

Here is a challenge for you.  Check out how much calcium you should be consuming each day and see if you can get to your RDA before the end of the day (here is the clincher) without the use of dairy.  Email me if you achieve this totally doable goal and let me know how you did it:  thehealthjunction@mail.com

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

““My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.” 

– Ellen DeGeneres

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The Health Junction’s 100th Post: A Year in Review

I can hardly believe it’s been a year since the inception of The Health Junction.  I started out with one faithful reader, Sophia P, and now there are over 400 loyal followers – I cannot tell you how thankful I am to have your support.  Not too sure how you ended up reading The Health Junction, but however you ended up here, THANK YOU!  It makes it much more enjoyable to write knowing there are people actually reading the material!

Sophia P (on the left) – my first and most loyal reader!

This time, a year ago I was working as a Marketing Project Manager in the media industry and though the job was a promotion for me, I felt disconnected from the work and uneasy with what I was putting out into the world (see this prior post) through my job.

Marketing Project Manager

It was a very troubling feeling for me to be doing a job that didn’t align with my personal values and it seems like it was fate that one day, while at work, I visited the continuing education site of a local community college to find something that piqued my interest – I randomly came across a course in wellness and nutrition.  I’ve never looked back!  After completing a community college certificate, I’m now pursuing school full-time working towards a designation as a registered nutritionist and it’s been such an amazing experience so far.  I quit my job and am now working as a part-time Nutritionist where I have the privilege of teaching nutrition and cooking to middle school kids – going to work everyday really does make me happy and when I leave…I still feel happy.

Watermelon Smoothie Demo @ The Coady Street Party (thanks Carly D!)

Health, wellness, and nutrition is something that I love because it’s something we have total control over and even a small change can significantly improve the way we feel.  The benefits of working towards a balanced approach to living healthily are quickly compounded; doing something small and realising that we feel better motivates us to keep it up and maybe try for further improvements.  So, in light of this huge milestone for The Health Junction, here are the top 10 things I learned about nutrition, health, and wellness over the past year.

1.)  Drinking Water Is The Bomb.  Drinking 10 glasses of water a day is probably the easiest and fastest thing you can do to immediately improve your health.  It gets things moving, helps us to eliminate toxic waste, and on and on.  Check out this post on water if you need a “refresher”.

2.)  Moving Every Day Is Also The Bomb.  If you want to be healthy, half the picture is moving your booty each and every day.  Even if it’s for a walk up and down stairs or a brisk jaunt around the neighbourhood your body needs to move in order to maintain health.

3.) Chew Your Food.  It improves digestion and makes you feel fuller longer.

4.) Your Mind & Body Are Connected.  It’s not some new age mumbo jumbo and though I would have balked at this notion in the past, I truly believe that the way we think and feel impacts our physical health.  Science has backed me up on this one time and time and time again.  If you want to be physically fit, it’s imperative to find ways of managing and eliminating stress and emotional distress.  Getting enough sleep will help you cope with stress better.

5.) Leafy Greens:  Suck It Up Sally.  Sorry to be a Drill Sergeant here, but you need to eat your leafy greens.  They provide a host of important minerals, vitamins, and fiber.  They help clean out our body and nourish us with the nutrients we need to thrive.  How can you do this?  Start by eating two cups with a side salad at lunch each day.  Believe the hype on this one and if you don’t like the taste, give it some time.  Your taste buds will adjust and before  you know it, you’ll be craving kale.

6.) The Sunshine Vitamin.  If you live in a colder climate you should be taking a Vitamin D supplement between the months of September and April – or all year if you want to simplify things.  Check out this prior post on why Vitamin D if you want more info, but in short, you would be wise to take 1000 IU of Vitamin D every day.

7.) You The Single Most Important influence On Your Kids Dietary/Health Habits.  Check out this study if this subject matter interests you, but here is a poem that best encapsulates why eating healthy helps your kids.

Roses Are Red

Violets Are Blue

Monkey See.  Monkey Do.

8.) Say “So Long” To Energy Suckers.  You can’t like or get along with everyone…well, the Dalai Lama might be able to, but for the rest of us, it’s not realistic.  Life is too short to continually expend efforts and energy on one way relationships or people who leave you feeling upset.  Clean house and concentrate on people who make you laugh, are fun, and are doing good things in the world.

9.) Choose unrefined whole foods.  Whole grain breads over white.  Brown rice over white.  Vegetables and fruit.  Nuts and seeds.  Organic high quality proteins.  Oatmeal instead of store-bought cereals.  Nut butters.  Beans.  You will feel fuller, get more nutrients, and live longer if you choose smarter whole foods more often.

10.) Slow and Steady Wins The Race.  This is a toughy…for me and probably many of you reading.  When I started out as a nutrition student, I wanted to make every change possible to improve my eating habits.  Trying to do too much too quickly resulted in doing none of it well.  I’ve come to realise that making real changes comes from small steps that over time add up and those are the changes that are longterm and sustainable.  If you’re not sure where to start, check out #5 🙂

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama):

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” 

– Dalai Lama XIV

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Vitamin D and Living Above The 37th Parallel

It’s COLD!

For those of you reading from warmer climates, perhaps this post will make you feel even BETTER about having the sense to set up shop somewhere hot.  For the rest of us living in places that require a winter jacket, at least we have an excuse to drink hot chocolate and sit by a warm fire.  Two days ago, I had to get off my bike and get on the subway because it was so cold.  That was a signal that maybe riding in below 0 degree weather is a dumb move, but also it’s time to get in the habit of taking my Vitamin D supplement.

So, here is how Vitamin D works.  We have a cholesterol like substance called 7-dehydrocholesterol in our skin and once this substance comes into contact with sunlight it is converted into cholecalciferol.  The cholecalciferol moves to the liver and then kidney’s where it goes through two more conversion and eventually ends up as 125-dihydroxycholecalciferol or what we consider to be Vitamin D.

The original substance in our skin can never start the process of becoming Vitamin D without sunlight and if you live above the 37th parallel you’re likely lacking the rays required especially between the months of September to April.  Draw a line from San Fransisco to Philly, and Athens to Beijing –  anything north of this is above the 37th parallel.

You might be wondering, “why do I need Vitamin D in the first place“?  The primary use of Vit D is that it’s used in the gut to help absorb calcium and also works hard at maintaining adequate levels of phosphorus – both are needed for healthy teeth and bones.  It actually functions like a hormone in our body, works in close conjunction with parathyroid hormone and is structurally is very close to both estrogen and cortisone.

There is a strong correlation between colder climates and those with low levels of Vitamin D and the development of Multiple Sclerosis.  Furthermore, there is a belief that low levels of Vitamin D slow down our immune response – is it a coincidence that most colds and flu’s come on in the winter when our exposure to sunlight is at its lowest?  Finally, Vitamin D is involved in muscle and heart support, the prevention of certain types of cancer (ovarian, prostate, colon, bladder, rectal), and mood/cognitive support in the older population.

Food sources of Vitamin D include: salmon, sardines, fortified milk, eggs, and shiitake mushrooms.

Since it’s sometimes (often) hard to get enough Vitamin D from food, Health Canada and most natural health practitioners suggest that Canadians supplement as follows:

Age group Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) per day Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) per day
Infants 0-6 months 400 IU  (10 mcg) * 1000 IU (25 mcg)
Infants 7-12 months 400 IU  (10 mcg) * 1500 IU (38 mcg)
Children 1-3 years 600 IU (15 mcg) 2500 IU (63 mcg)
Children 4-8 years 600 IU (15 mcg) 3000 IU (75 mcg)
Children and Adults                      9-70 years 600 IU (15 mcg) 4000 IU (100 mcg)
Adults > 70 years 800 IU (20 mcg) 4000 IU (100 mcg)
Pregnancy & Lactation 600 IU (15 mcg) 4000 IU (100 mcg)

A note on “Upper Limits” – this means, just don’t take more that the amount indicated in the right hand column without consulting with a healthcare practitioner.

If you are breastfeeding or pregnant, the Canadian Pediatric Society has a comprehensive position statement on Vitamin D supplementation here, but it’s long so to summarize:  if you are pregnant and or nursing, supplementing at 4000 IU is thought to be beneficial for both you and your in utero and/or nursing baby.  Please check with your health care provider if you have any concerns about how much Vitamin D you should be taking.

Other special populations who might need to pay extra attention to Vitamin D supplementation include those who have issues with fat digestion and absorption (those who have had their gallbladder removed, Crohn’s Disease, partial stomach or pancreas removal) since Vitamin D is a fat soluble – it needs fat to be absorbed.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama):

“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.” 

– Dalai Lama XIV

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Hemp Hearts 101 in 100 Words

The Health Junction received and overwhelming response to Chia Seeds 101 in 100 Words – thank you!  Since you seem to enjoy reading about seeds so much, here is a another 100 word post on Hemp Seeds – another goodie you might want to consider stocking in your cupboards.

If you like flax seeds and chia seeds, hemp hearts will also appeal to you.  Hemp Hearts come from inside the shell of a hemp seed and they are high in essential fatty acids (EFA’s).  About 35% of their EFA comes from ALA Omega-3 which is the vegetarian derived omega-3 source responsible for reducing inflammation.  Aside from their anti-inflammatory properties, they’re also high in Vitamin E (antioxidant), Magnesium (good for your muscles and relaxation  – 2 tbsp provides 55% of your daily Mg requirements), and contain a full spectrum of the all important B Vitamins.

In my mind, what differentiates hemp hearts from other seeds is that they are a complete protein which means they contain all 10 essential amino acids – one serving of 2 tbsp provides 7 grams of protein.  In short, 2 tbsp of hemp hearts sprinkled in cereal, on a salad, or in a smoothie offers an excellent  nutritional bang for your buck.  I enjoy a brand called Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts.  And yes, they come from hemp plant but no, they won’t make you feel loopy:)

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama):

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

– Dalai Lama XIV

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