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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Aging Joyfully: A Lesson from the Oldsters

I recently completed a course on geriatric nutrition and before my first class I have to admit, I was not excited.  Studying nutrition specifically geared at the elderly population is so far off the nutritional topics I am typically drawn to and so, I went to my first class with very low expectations.

What I anticipated to be my least favourite course in the program ended up being truly life changing and my perspective on aging, the elderly population, and the general concept of happiness were challenged and reformed.  The instructor, Japanese Naturopathic Doctor Mami Ishii, brought a unique perspective into a population that is generally considered unglamorous and a life stage that most of us are not looking forward to all that much.

Aging Population

Dr. Ishii had the class read Healthy at 100 by John Robbins which has literally, even after studying nutrition for over 2 years, revolutionized the way I view what constitutes vitality and healthy living.  In his book, Robbins starts by outlining the dietary and lifestyle habits of four of the world’s longest-living societies; Abkhasians (South Russia), Vilcabambans (Equador), Hunzans (Central Asia), and the Okinawans (Japan).  Each of these four places has an extraordinarily high number of people who live until and beyond 100 years and they share the same approach to diet and lifestyle.  In fact, the commonalities are staggering.


Okinawa, Japan

 What Robbins outlined in Healthy at 100 is that each of these groups eats a plant-based, whole foods diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  They eat very little processed foods and sugar and opt for whole grain carbohydrates.  The concept of retirement is null and void and “oldsters” in these areas are active and live purposefully throughout their lives.  Culturally, the older you are, the more esteem you’re given.  They are very active, yet their caloric intake is less than 2000/day.  They limit animal based products to 1% (Hunzans, Vilcabambans), 3% (Okinawa), and 10% (Abkasian).

Healthy at 100

Robbins goes into describing the changes China has undergone in the past few decades and nicely summarizes findings from one of the largest epidemiological studies ever conducted all of which you can read in a book called The China Study by Dr. Colin Campbell.  The China Study had researchers collected blood, urine, and diet journals from 50 people in each 65 counties and 130 villages selected throughout China.  Researchers analyzed the data with respect to over 50 diseases and though the results are plentiful, findings can be summarized as follows.


In areas of China that are still developing, people are dying from diseases related to nutritional deficiencies and hygiene inadequacies which includes ailments like tuberculosis, respiratory illnesses, measles, and diarrhea.  Conversely, in areas of China that have been developed the diseases have shifted dramatically to deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity related illnesses such as complications from Type II Diabetes.  Dr. Campbell coins this shift as death from “nutritional extravagance” because it has been directly linked to an increase in refined foods and a much higher intake of saturated fats stemming from animal foods (meat and dairy) and hydrogenated foods.  In short, the one of the largest indicators of wealth in China is the level of ones cholesterol levels.  You can bet that high levels of HDL cholesterol are not found in the developing areas of China, but instead larger more prosperous cities.


What does all this have to do with geriatric nutrition?  We should expect to live into old age and this part of the life-cycle is natural, beautiful, and meant to be experienced.  The idea that we are all going to die from a chronic illness is rubbish and believing in dying from disease is something worth reconsidering.  Reading Healthy at 100 made me reconsider my dietary choices and the overwhelming evidence that supports the longevity associated with a whole foods, plant-based diet that is low in animal based foods is undeniable.  It’s a hard revelation to come to for those us use to eating meat each day…or even several times a week.  The idea of aging joyfully and experiencing life to its fullest is definitely something I am striving for and the advice in Healthy to 100 makes it seem possible, if not expected.


Healthy at 100 is a positive and encouraging read that will inspire you to look at your diet, connect with your community, and move intentionally each and every day.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr


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Boring Salads Are For Suckers! 10 Ways to Spice Up Your Leafy Greens

Eating a salad feels like s chore for many people, but it doesn’t need to because salads can be fun.  Yes FUN!  Just like anything else, adding some variety into your salad eating routine is the best way to keep motivation high and your colon happy.  Getting 8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day requires planning, scheduling, and just a little bit of time by the payoff is indisputable.


I was curious to see what the correlation was between fruit and vegetable intake and long-term health status and turned to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.  Started in 1971, this is a longitudinal study that is tracking the dietary habits and health status of just over 14,000 US citizens.  This study is well designed and helpful in seeing over time, what happens to the body as a result of dietary choices.


So, in 2002, researchers at Tulane University did a follow-up study as published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on 9,600 of the original participants and found that when someone eats 3 servings of fruits and vegetables a day compared to just 1 their risk was decreased as follows:

27% less chance of having a stroke

42% less chance of dying from a stroke

24% less chance of having a heart attack

27% less chance in having cardiovascular disease

15% less chance of dying in general

And that is  just at 3 servings a day.  Imagine what eating the recommended 8 can do for your body?


Here are ten ways to make your salad more appealing:

1.)  Mix your greens up.  Romaine lettuce every day is boring!  Try combining different leafy greens up or rotate through a favourite list.  My favourite combination is kale and red leaf lettuce.  Here is a good list to start with.

2.)  Add fruit to your salad.  I like diced apples, berries, pears and oranges.  Dried raisins or cranberries are also nice.

3.)  Toast some nuts and throw them on top.  A couple of tablespoons is a good serving size.  I enjoy cashews, walnuts, pecans or almonds.

4.)  Toast up some seeds and throw them on top.  A couple of tbsp’s should do it.  Try pumpkin, sesame, or sunflower.


5.)  Make your own salad dressing.  It’s SO MUCH HEALTHIER than what you will find in a bottle and it tastes 1000% better.  The easiest recipe is combining 1 tbsp of olive oil with 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I use a fig infused balsamic vinegar).  Check out this site for dressing ideas.

6.) Add bean sprouts.  Yum.

7.)  Add green onions, garlic, or shallots.  You might stink, but that’s ok.


8.)  Add fresh herbs.  I like basil but cilantro, chives, dill and parsley are nice too.

9.)  Mix it with a grain for example, 1/2 of brown rice or some cooked quinoa.

10.)  Add a vegetarian source of protein.  Chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, tofu, edamame, and eggs.


BONUS:  Top with cheese (if lactose isn’t a problem for you).  Some popular choices are goat cheese, feta, mozzarella, and parmesan.  Limit your serving size to 1/8th to 1/4th of a cup since cheese is high in saturated fat.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“If you don’t take care of your body, where are you going to live?”

– Author Unknown


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Monday Morning Roundup: A collection of cool tidbits on health & nutrition

Monday Mornings…blah, right?  To help you ease your way into the week, here is a collection of stories from around the “information super highway” on health and nutrition.  Enjoy!

In highly dense urban areas, it can be tough to find space for recreation.  This article, featured in The Brownstoner, explores a proposal to install a floating pool just beyond the Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Could this be the answer to getting fit in the city?

Sunscreen is explained so that you, me, and the kid down the road can understand it in a great feature in Information is Beautiful.

If you’re still HUNGOVER from the weekend, check out this article from ManJr on ways to come off the booze and back into the workweek.  Please disregard the suggestion to drink coke…and the greasy breakfast one as well.

This one is my favourite of the week – What Your Poop and Pee Are Telling You About Your Body featured on Kimberly Snyder’s website.

Quitting smoking is no easy feat but this blog, Global One TV: A Blog for Mystics posted by Eric Allen Bell and written by Liz Lewis might motivate you once you see how quickly your body reacts (in a positive way).


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The Down Low on Sweet’N Low (and other synthetic sweeteners)

Everyone’s got something to say about synthetic sweeteners and it seems to be one of those topics in nutrition that garners a lot of attention.  I think the main reason for the constant media coverage is because that research surrounding synthetic sweeteners is so contradictory.  In the 1970’s a study on Saccharin (Sweet’N Low) found that it causes a significantly higher rate of bladder cancer in rodents which is where the controversy started.  After this discovery, there were several failed attempts to ban the use of Saccharin and it has been found safe for humans.

So, why do they get such a bad wrap?  Turns out that when our body ingests something sweet, we expect the number of calories to correlate.  Very sweet in our mind means lots of calories.  When we eat something with synthetic sweeteners which are way sweeter than sugar, our body anticipates a load of food preps our digestive system for a considerable caloric intake.  It never actually materializes though and so we feel unsatisfied which actually leads to overeating down the line.

In fact, it’s been proven that people who consume artificial sweeteners gain more weight than those who eat plain sugar.  The weight gain is the super unhealthy type as well that is centered around the midsection (adiposity) that causes heart disease, stroke, and issues with insulin uptake which eventually results in Type II diabetes.

Each sweetener on the market has a different chemical make up – here is how they are broken down:

Sucralose (Splenda) is 600 times sweeter than regular sugar (sucrose).  This specific sweetener is made from sugar but the molecular arrangement is different.  Instead of using 3 pairs of hydrogen and oxygen atoms sucralose uses 3 chlorine atoms.  In recent studies conduct on animals, sucralose was found to decrease the amount of healthy bacteria in the gut by about 50% – no such studies have been preformed on humans to date.

Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) is 180 times sweeter than sugar.  When ingested aspartame breaks down into aspartic acid and phenylalanine which are amino acids – amino acids are the building blocks of protein so when ingested our body recognizes it as a protein and both can be digested.  The other component of aspartame is methanol (our body doesn’t know what to do with this substance) which when further broken down becomes formaldehyde which is a recognized carcinogen.  The catch here is that you would need to consume an exorbitant amount of aspartame for it to have a cancerous effect, however, FDA has received more complaints about aspartame than any other additive.  Negative symptoms associated with aspartame include headaches, dizziness, mood changes, and memory loss.

Saccharine (Sweet’N Low) is 300 times sweeter than sugar.  This is the sweetener associated with bladder cancer in animals, however, the evidence to support a similar effect in humans has not been substantiated.  It’s made of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur atoms – when broken down our body doesn’t know what to do with the compounds and so it passes through our system undigested.  Dextrose and maltodextrine are used to bulk up saccharine and have a quarter of the caloric energy as sugar so there are calories consumed with you ingest this sweetener.

Neotame  is 13,000 times sweeter than sugar but in its chemical structure is basically the same thing as aspartame minus the phenylalanine.  It’s considered same to consume.

So, while synthetic sweeteners are “safe” to consume I still don’t think they’re the answer – we know that they give people a false sense of security, messes with our metabolism, and cause a host of health issues related to weight gain.  Check back soon for a post on healthier alternatives to refined table sugar.  Being healthy doesn’t mean you can exude sweetness!


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Worldy Nutrition Series: South America

South America contains 12 countries, each with their own very distinct cuisine, however, there are some nutritional trends that transverse across the region.  Traditionally three meals a day are eaten but lunch is the largest dish of the day.  The main grain varies considerably but often consists of corn, rice, and the ultra grain quinoa which is grown in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.  Coffee, Yerba Mate (type of tea), and Red Wine are popular beverages.  In terms of nutritional deficiencies, the most common concerns are low iron, Vitamin A, and Iodine.

Yerba Mate Tea


With improvements in healthcare, infrastructure, and literacy in South American infant mortality rates have gone down steadily, however, the danger as with many regions “in transition” is that the incidence of chronic illness will continue to rise.  The World Health Organization published an in-depth report in 2003 called Diet, Nutrition, and The Prevention of Chronic Diseases where global nutrition trends were examined in parallel with the rise in chronic diseases.

Something that I found interesting from this report was that as regions move from developed to more economically prosperous , the shift brings about a rise in obesity and malnutrition.  With more and more disposable income, what is happening is that traditional high nutrient diets which are commonly plant heavy and largely non-animal based protein are being replaced with calorie dense, high fat, animal based meals.  Such dietary habits are a key contributor to chronic illnesses such as Cancer, Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes.  A combination of communicable (water born or person-to-person) diseases and chronic illness has been coined “the double burden of disease”.  Unfortunately, South America is in the midst of this intense battle.

Many countries in South America are in transition or still in the early stages of development so it will be interesting to see how their government handles nutrition and public health in the upcoming years.

Stayed tuned to the Worldly Nutrition Series when we stop in North America tomorrow.


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Part I – What’s Up With Cholesterol?

Although Cholesterol is required for cell membrane integrity, hormone production, bile production, and the conversion of Vitamin D received from the sun into a usable form, it’s also strongly negatively associated with heart disease and stroke.

When someone has a heart attack or stroke, I was always under the assumption that they need to limit their intake of cholesterol, one of the nasty culprits of atheroslcerosis – the narrowing of arteries.  In fact cholesterol lowering drugs, Statins (Lipator, Crestor, Zocor) are a $35 billion dollar industry and so many people are on them, yet, Heart Disease and Stroke is still the number one killer in Canada.

From a holistic perspective, we take the stance that cholesterol is not the cause of atherosclerosis, but in fact a symptom of a greater systemic issue.  Conventionally, medical doctors believe that cholesterol is an important contributing factor because people who have atherosclerosis have higher than normal levels of total cholesterol in their blood.  I was speaking to an MD friend of mine and we disagreed on the role that cholesterol plays in the greater picture and she explained that conventionally, genetic predisposition to higher levels of cholesterol is something they believe is important in disease management.

Holistically, as a general rule we believe in the old saying, genetics load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger.  To to understand what causes atherosclerosis in the first place, here is a brief description:

  1. Something causes the middle muscular layer of the arterial wall to become injured.  This injury causes cell mutation and multiplication which leads to a bulge in the arterial wall.
  2. If the bulge gets large enough, the arterial wall will burst.  In response to the burst, clotting takes place and minerals such as calcium get trapped in the clotting.
  3. Because of opposing electromagnetic charges, minerals attract fats to the clotting site – including cholesterol which is always circulating in the blood.
  4. This debris, including cholesterol composes the plaque that narrows the arteries and can cause the complete blockage responsible for  both heart disease and stroke.

If we are healthy and strong, when the cell becomes disturbed (see point # 1 above) our immune system will react by sending T-Cells to the site of injury where antibodies will be created to discard of the messed up cells before mutation occurs.

Conventionally, atherosclerosis is treated by administering Statin drugs which lower cholesterol in order to control the plaque that is formed in the arterial walls – they are successful in lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke by up to 60% and so I agree with my MD friend that in order to mitigate risk incertain situations with certain individuals unable or unwilling to make lifestyle changes,Statin drugs have legitimate place in managing heart disease and stroke.

These benefits of Statin drugs don’t come without consequences – the list of side effects are staggering; muscle pain and damage, liver damage, digestive issues, increase in blood sugar (a co-factor in both atherosclerosis and Type II Diabetes), memory loss, and confusion.  Additionally, patients may experience headaches, trouble sleeping, rashes, constipation, and nausea.

The issue at large as far as I’m concerned remains that although Statin drugs are used to manage heart disease and stroke by lowering cholesterol yet these diseases remains the number one killer in Canada….and this trend is just continuing.  Something isn’t working, right?

This isn’t me, but she captures exactly how I feel on this topic!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post to find out what causes arterial wall injury in the first place and learn how you can take control of your health through diet and lifestyle – preventing a disease is always cheaper and easier to achieve than dealing with the issue later on.