The Health Junction Mailbox: Are Smoothies bad for me?

Dear The Health Junction,

I merely wanted to know what your take on smoothies was. At first they seemed to be the key to eternal life, but then I asked my other nutritionist mate Glen who pissed on the parade a bit, and then I started to read a book called Bad Science that is dissing Patrick Holford and the whole idea of nutritional science in general so I have got myself all confused.

What do you say?

From,

Stephen Kent, Sengawa Japan

Hiking with Stephen @ Mt. Takao in Japan

Hiking with Stephen @ Mt. Takao in Japan

Dear Stephen,

First up, I’m glad I could find a picture of you which showcases that you’re a healthy guy who enjoys eating healthy food (apple in hand and all)…though, bring British, I know you do enjoy the occasional beer.

Fukuoka Izakaya

Fukuoka Izakaya

Readers should really check out this great article by Glen Matten, founder of the site Health Uncut:  The Antidote to Poor Health Advice  before reading on as I think it provides some excellent insight into the usual main component of smoothies – fruit.

So, are smoothies bad for you?  Yes and No depending on how they’re made.  If you’re putting a bunch of fruit and little else in your smoothie, then I would argue you’re doing more harm than good.  Why?  Because, while natural, fruit contains a lot of sugar which we know, in excess and over time, can cause a cascade or health problems.  Inflammation, insulin resistance, hypertension, an increase in bad “LDL” cholesterol while decreasing your healthy “HDL” cholesterol..just to name a few.  I eat fruit but consider it a special treat which in my opinion should be limited to 1-2 servings a day.  Even at that, I would recommend choosing lower Glycemic Index fruits which will have less of an impact on your blood sugar levels than it’s higher GI counterparts.

fruit smoothie

Having fruit means having sugar and having sugar is especially problematic in the morning when you want to start your day off with a slow and steady release of energy rather than a sudden onslaught of sugar which is found in many homemade smoothies.

That being said, I have a green smoothie a few mornings during the week but I try to use them as an opportunity to ingest vegetables, protein, and healthy fats.  The combination of healthy fats, protein, vegetables, and some fruit help keep me satiated, sharp, energized, and blood-sugar balanced at during the time of day when it matters the most – starting off with stable blood sugar levels paves the way for stable blood sugar levels throughout the day.  Here is how I do it:

green-smoothie

BASIC AM GREEN SMOOTHIE

1/4th Avocado or 1 tbsp coconut oil

1/4 – 1/2 cup of low glycemic load fruit (I use a mix of raspberries, cherries, blueberries, and strawberries).  Click here for information on the GI/GL of fruit.  Low GI is 55 or less, low GL is 10 or less).

1-2 cups of leafy greens (start with a mild leafy green such as red leaf lettuce or romaine).  I normally use 1 cup romaine or red leaf lettuce and 1 cup of kale or bok choy.

2 tbsp of seeds (mix it up between flax, hemp, and chia)

3/4 cup of unsweetened almond milk

1 scoop Vega energizing smoothie powder (10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber per serving).

2 tbsp cooked steel-cut oats (good if you commute to work via foot or bike and you need a bit of extra available energy).

Place in a blender (I enjoy the Blendec but there are lots of great options on the market) and blend for 45 seconds or until contents are well mixed.  Drink immediately.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“”May the Smoothie be with you…Always”.

–  Author Unknown

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Why Cats Don’t Suffer From Adrenal Fatigue…

For such a small and often overlooked body part, the adrenal glands sure do pack a hormone infused punch.  The adrenal glands are located just above our kidney’s and are the key gland that control our reaction to physical, environmental, and emotional stressors.

adrenal glands

Among the host of hormones produced by the adrenal glands are cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.  Cortisol works by increasing the level of glucose in our blood, controlling inflammation, reducing swelling, and inhibiting pain-causing prostaglandins.  In addition, cortisol plays an integral role in regulating fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism, our immune response, and blood pressure.

Frustrated Businesswoman on Telephone

What’s up with adrenaline and noradrenaline?  Much like cortisol, these hormones are released when we feel threatened and cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels.  Another result is the dilation of passageways, including those in the lungs so that more oxygen and glucose can circulate and help us combat the impending stressors.

Stressor

Now, you may  know that I enjoy cats and members of the cat family.  However, if this guy above was chasing me I would not enjoy it and my adrenal glands would spring into action by secreting the hormones described above to help me run faster, breath better, utilize energy most efficiently, and get myself to safety.  Fantastic.  But, what happens when we are exposed to long-term stress?  The kind that sort of just hangs around and is constant?

chronic stress

If the acute stress we are supposed to be able to handle becomes chronic, eventually our adrenal glands become less responsive and putter out because they are tired – hence a very common condition called Adrenal Fatigue.  The main cause of adrenal fatigue is actually low levels of cortisol because our adrenals simply can’t keep up with demand.  Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:

Symptoms of AF

  • Feeling tired
  • Trouble getting out of bed despite adequate sleep
  • Feeling rundown
  • Difficulty recovering from stress
  • Difficulty recovering from illness
  • Food cravings; sugary and salty
  • More energy in the PM as compared to the AM
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • Dehydration
  • Weight loss
  • Low blood pressure (worse when moving from a sitting to standing)
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Pain
  • General Inflammation
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Inability to sleep soundly
  • General lack of wellness

How can adrenal fatigue be addressed?  Both lifestyle and nutritional modifications can help revive your adrenal glands and pave the way for a happier, healthier you.

LIFESTYLE CONSIDERATIONS

A great first place to start is a book called Adrenal Fatigue:  The 21st Century Stress Syndrome written by Dr. James L. Wilson.

Adrenal-Fatigue-Cover

In his book, Wilson writes about the lifestyle factors that need to be addressed in order to treat the root cause of why adrenal fatigue exists in the first place and the obvious first factor to consider is stress.  Are there constant stressors in your life that need to be dealt with?  Common stressors include; work commitments, being unhappy in your workplace role, family obligations, lack of time to oneself, inability to express emotions effectively, etc.  Wilson asks readers to ask three questions regarding stressors:

  • Can you change the situation?  If so, then do.
  • Can you change the way you adapt to the situation?  If so, then do.
  • If all else fails, can you leave the situation?

Sleep

Aside from identifying and reducing the stressors in your life, you’ll be better able to cope with day-to-day obstacles when you’re well rested and so, 8 hours of sleep is recommended and it’s best to be in bed by 10 pm.  Also, if possible try to avoid being on the computer or watching TV a few hours before bed.  Also, strongly consider removing chocolate, coffee, booze, cigarette’s, and other known stimulants from your diet as they interfere with sleep patterns.

Exercising Cat

Exercise helps to release stress and energizes both the mind and body – try your best to work in 30 minutes of physical activity a day.  If you’re not in shape, start with brisk walking…do whatever it takes to get your body moving.

Laughing Cat - Vitamin L2

Figure out ways to make yourself laugh.  It will make you feel better and helps to relieve stress.  See this prior post for more on this topic.

Cat Nap

Take naps during the day, but only for 15-minutes and lay down when you do it.  A snooze on the subway doesn’t count.

NUTRITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

Nutrition is an integral component of correcting adrenal fatigue and the recommendations below will work hand in hand with the aforementioned lifestyle changes.

1.)  There is a relationship between stress, cortisol, and blood sugar levels.  Earlier in this post, I explained that cortisol in part, helps to bring up blood sugar levels during times of stress so we can hypothetically fight off whatever is putting us at risk.  Another reason why our glucose levels might be low and require cortisol is when we have large spikes and dips in our blood sugar levels brought on by foods that cause an exaggerated metabolic response to food.  Food that can cause rapid spikes and then dips in blood sugar levels include:

  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Sugar
  • Caffeine
  • Tea
  • Alcohol
  • Fruit

While fruits and grains are good for us, people suffering from adrenal fatigue may consider holding off on eating fruit and grains in the morning in order to prevent a cascade of inappropriate blood sugar fluctuations throughout the day.  When selecting grains, always choose whole grains and when considering fruit, select low glycemic index fruits which will have the smallest impact on our blood sugar response.    Click here for a list of low glycemic index fruits.

Meal Time

2.)  Eat regular meals.  This is closely tied with the information above as it is crucial to keep blood sugar levels stable in order to regulate cortisol and insulin levels in the blood.  Try eating breakfast within an hour of waking, have an early lunch (11 – 11:30 am), a snack at 2:30 or 3 pm, and then dinner between 5 – 6 pm.

3.)  Limit fatty foods and excessive salt.

4.)  Plant and animal sterols are useful to help keep the immune system in balance which is often a problem when one is exposed to prolonged periods of stress.  Food sources of plant and animal sterols include fresh (low GI) fruit, organic free range eggs, nuts, seeds, veggies, healthy fats (coconut oil, olive oil), fresh fish.

Cat Eating Veggies

5.)  Get your vitamins and minerals through lots of leafy greens and orange/red/yellow/purple veggies.  Vitamin C, and the B Vitamins are often depleted during stress and can be found in the food listed.  additionally, these foods are high in magnesium which is helpful in promoting relaxation and supporting anxiety and depression.

6.) Give your digestive system a break by choosing high quality proteins such as organic free range chicken, wild fish, beans, nuts, and seeds.  These proteins are less taxing on the hydrochloric acid required to break protein down and will allow for easier digestion not only of proteins, but all foods ingested.

Cat Having Tea

7.)  Consider taking some adaptogenic herbs which may help your body adapt and manage stress.  One great adaptogen is ginseng which can be taken as a supplement, a tea infusion, or a tincture.  To make a tea, try boiling a small pot of water with 3-5 slices of fresh ginseng and allow it to steep for 5 minutes.  You can also purchase ginseng tea or ginseng supplements from most health food stores.  Siberian, Panox, and Indian Ginseng are all good options.

8.)  Consider taking Vitamin C (2 grams/day), Vitamin B5 (1500 mg/day), and Magnesium (150 mg twice a day).  Food sources of each of these nutrients are listed below:

Vitamin C: papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, kiwi, oranges, kale.

Vitamin B5:  whole grains, cauliflower, broccoli, salmon, sweet potatoes, tomatoes.

Magnesium:  pumpkin seeds, spinach, Swiss Chard, soybeans, sesame seeds, halibut, black beans, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds.

 

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“Cats have it all – admiration, an endless sleep, and company only when they want it.”

– Rod McKuen

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Sports Nutrition: Don’t Be Caught Running On Empty

If you have ever “hit the wall” while participating in a sporting event, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  It suddenly feels way more difficult to achieve the level of intensity that was possible even 5 minutes before; legs start to drag, arms feel hollow, and mentally it feels like an uphill battle (maybe literally and figuratively).

Hitting The WallIf you’re a Canadian reader, you may remember the heartbreak triathlete Paula Findlay experienced at the London 2012 Olympics.  Originally considered a frontrunner, Findlay finished last in the women’s triathlon event.  In her post event interview, Findlay described her legs feeling like lead in the water, during her cycle her legs felt empty and she was dizzy.

Paula Findlay

Her coaches said it was because of a hip injury but after some digging, turns out that the reason Findlay couldn’t garner the steam to get going in London was due to an iron deficiency.  For more on Iron, check out this post.  Though Findlay suffered from an iron deficiency, let’s start with the most common factor for poor performance during sport and that comes from a lack of energy.

Energy Pathways - Sports

In the world of sports nutrition, energy is created in units called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).  ATP is created quickly and anaerobically (without oxygen) for activities that are short in duration and high in intensity (think sprints and weightlifting), however, when exercise starts to exceed a couple of minutes the aerobic system kicks in.  Aerobic energy is created more slowly than its anaerobic counterparts, however, the number of ATP units produced are much more plentiful.

Energy Pathways

In all but the initial 6 seconds of activity, ATP comes from the breakdown of glycogen or fat.  When we eat carbohydrates, they are broken down until single units called glucose.  While a small amount of glucose circulates in the bloodstream for immediate energy, the vast majority of it is stored in the muscles as glycogen for future energy needs.  When we have superseded our glycogen store capacity, glucose is stored as fat.

In order to have adequate energy, it’s essential that we are consuming enough glucose to fill our muscles with glycogen – our stored form of glucose that comes from carbohydrate based foods.  Of course other macronutrients like fat and protein offer their own sports related advantages, but for this post, the focus in purely on obtaining and maintaining energy.

STEP 1:  make sure that you’re eating enough carbohydrate daily.  The number of grams of carbs required can be calculated using the table below.

Activity   Level grams of   carbohydrates/kg of body weight/day
3-5 hours/week 4-5 grams
5-7 hours/week 5-6 grams
1-2 hours/day 6-7 grams
2-4 hours/day 7-8 grams

For example, if I work out 7 hours a week and have a weight of 60 KG’s (pounds/2.2 = weight in KG) then I should be eating between 300 and 360 grams of carbs per day.  NOTE:  when speaking about grams of carbs, I’m not referring to the weight in grams.  Rather it is the amount of carbohydrate available in a serving size.  Check the nutritional information to see how many grams of carbohydrate are available in a typical serving size.

Nutritional Label

STEP 2:  When selecting your daily carbohydrates (ie: not right before, during or after a sporting event) choose the right type of carbohydrate.  Instead of differentiating between simple sugars and complex carbohydrates, it may be more useful to instead select carbohydrates based on their Glycemic Index value.  Each food has an inherent GI value; low is 0-55, medium is 56-70, and high is 71-100 and it is generally considered more advantageous to choose lower GI foods.  The reason for this is that lower GI foods result in a slow and gradual release of glucose and allow for more stable blood sugar levels – in fact low GI diets are associated with a decrease risk for heart disease, Type II Diabetes, bowel cancer, upper gastrointestinal tract cancer, and pancreatic cancer.  Examples of lower GI carbohydrates include:

Fruit:  apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, berries.

Veggies:  pretty much any veggie except for starchy vegetables.

Multi Grain Breads, oats, muesli, bran cereals

Wheat or bulger pasta, basmati rice.

Beans and lentils

Nuts & Seeds

Fish, Chicken, Eggs

Low Fat Dairy

Pre-Workout Snack

Pre-Workout Snack

STEP 3:  Have a snack 1-2 hours before a workout.  It seems that lower GI carbohydrate choices allow more fat to be burned in comparison to glycogen during a workout.  What this means is that you will keep your endurance up for a longer period of time because glycogen stores are being depleted at a slower rate.  Aim for 30-60 grams of carbs 1-2 hours before your workout or event.  This could include fresh or dried fruit, a granola bar, or a homemade smoothie (add some leafy greens for increased nutrient density!).  Check out this great site for 50 pre-workout snack ideas.

eload-gels-apple

STEP 4:  Re-fuel appropriately during exercise.  It’s said that there is no need to eat during exercise lasting less than one hour.  If you’re participating in an endurance type event, then you must ensure you’re getting 30-60 grams of carbs each hour – the best type of carb to consume in this case would be a higher GI carbohydrate so that the energy hits your system quickly.  It takes Carbs about 30 minutes to be digested and absorbed so when participating in an event longer than an hour, it’s crucial to start your hourly 30-60 gram carb intake within the first 30 minutes of exercise.  There are various gels, sports drinks, and gummies to choose from which can be purchased at any health food/nutrition/sports store.  In Canada, try The Running Room.

STEP 5:  Replenish your glycogen stores after exercise to speed recovery and help prevent fatigue and hypoglycemia.  It’s important to consume about 1 gram of carbohydrate/KG within two hours – choose low GI carbs if you are workout out only once in a day and high GI foods if you engage in multiple same day workouts.

Stay tunned for more on sports nutrition and an upcoming post on a diet fit for muscles and strength!

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them — a desire, a dream, a vision.”

– Muhammad Ali

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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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Weekly Recipe Bulletin: Tokyo Oatmeal, Chocolate Mousse a la Sante, Apple Sunday Sweetness

I can’t believe it’s been this long, but about 8 years ago I moved back to Japan to teach English and after a year in the middle of nowhere I was relocated to West Tokyo.  The area I lived in was like a village in a huge city and luckily, my friend Stephen lived a hop skip and a jump from my apartment.  Together we explored Sengawa – there was this one main drag that had everything; a video store, pachinko parlours, phone shops, bakeries, shoe shops, flower stores, and a little fruit shop.

Sengawa’s Main Drag

Every Monday on my day off work, I went grocery shopping for the week and stopped off at the fruit shop where I got literally two bags of fruit – in it were 7 asian pears (called nashi in Japanese).

Asian pears are delectable.

Why?

Well, they look like an apple and taste like a  mix of apple and a perfectly ripened pear.  They’re sweet but not overbearing.  Each morning, I made oatmeal with a nashi and when I moved back to Canada I kind of forgot about nashi’s until the other day when I happened upon one at No Frills.  Here is the recipe:

Tokyo Oatmeal

– 1 nashi, diced

– 1/3 cup of quick oats

– 2 tbsp goji berries

– 1/2 tsp cinnamon

– 1/2 tsp nutmeg

– 1 tbsp maple syrup or brown sugar

– almond, rice, or soy milk

– 1 tbsp flax seeds, milled (optional)

Directions:  cut up a nashi and put the chunks into a small pot.  Add almond milk until the nashi is just covered and over medium heat, bring to a gentle boil.  Add 2 tbsp goji berries and 1/3 cup of oats.  Cook for 3 minutes.  Add spices and flax-seed.  Stir in maple syrup and enjoy!  Serves 1.

Dairy and gluten-free.

I was reading Meghan Telpner’s weekly newsletter and she had a recipe for Chocolate Black Bean Pudding – it looked so interesting so I had to five it a whirl.  Sure glad I did!  With a few tweaks of my own it turned from a pudding to a delicatble mousse.  What I like about this recipe is that it is a nice dessert but the black bean component slows down digestion and will therefore help control your blood sugar.  It’s rich and flavourful, satisfying and yet also a “healthier” option for connecting with your sweet tooth.  Bon Appetite!

  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups black beans
  • 1/2 cup pureed sweet potato
  • 2 Tbs coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds, ground + 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 banana’s, diced

Instructions:  in a small pot on low heat, melt the chocolate.  Place all ingredients including the melted chocolate in a bowl and either process it using a food processor or even easier, an immersion hand blender.  Blend until smooth and place in the fridge for 1 hour and serve with a bit of chopped up banana on top.  Serves 8.

Dairy and gluten-free.

Apple Sunday

I saw this recipe in my weekly WHFoods newsletter and thought it sounded like a treat and a half…and I was right.  It’s divine.  Like the recipe above, it’ll satisfy your sweet tooth but the protein included somewhat keeps your blood sugar from spiking into oblivion.  It’s full of whole and natural foods and something you can feel good eating – 1 serving contains 100% of your daily manganese and 30% of your DV vitamin E requirements.  I found the almond extract a little over powering so reduced the amount in my version below.

  • 2 apples (one granny smith green apple and a red apple of any kind)
  • 2 TBS almond butter
  • ¼ cup maple syrup (the real kind, not the Auntie J variety)
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 2 TBS grated coconut

Instructions:  cut up the apples into little cubes and place them into two dishes.  In a small mixing bowl, combine the maple syrup, almond butter, and almond extract and mix until well combined.  Drizzle the mixture onto the apples.  Top with each  bowl with 1 tbsp unsweetened coconut.  Serves 2.

Dairy and gluten-free.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama):

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” 

– Dalai Lama XIV

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Raw Honey is Rad…and other groovy natural sweeteners!

Last week, The Health Junction did a post on synthetic sweeteners and if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet the gist is that they’re not “dangerous” per se, but in fact, these products mess up our metabolism and are proven to lead to long-term weight gain and the associated co-diseases such as diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

 

So, is straight up white table sugar really a better option?  White sugar has absolutely no nutritional value, is highly processed, and comes from genetically modified crops of sugar cane.  It’s still definitely better than synthetic sweeteners, but I would like to table some more nutritious options to keep you sweet and slim.

Evaporated Cane Sugar is not completely stripped of nutrition because it hasn’t been as processed as white sugar – in fact it still has calcium and potassium.  You can bake with cane sugar and when looking for it at the grocery store it’s sometimes called crystallized cane juice, milled cane sugar or direct consumption sugar.  It has a Glycemic Index of 43 compared to white sugar which is 80.

Brown Sugar is white sugar with molasses added back into it (after having been removed in the first place) and anti clumping agents.

 

Sucanatthe name comes from SUgar CAne NATural.  It’s basically dried cane sugar which means it’s much less processed and contains more vitamins and minerals than table sugar.  You can substitute Sucanat for table sugar and brown sugar 1 for 1 when baking.  It’s Glycemic Index is lower than table sugar at 43.

 

 

Brown Rice Syruphas a mild, nutty taste, and can be used in recipes where sweetness isn’t the dominant flavour.  It’s made by steeping brown rice with enzymes where the rice is eventually converted into a liquid form.  Brown Rice Syrup has a high Glycemic Index of 85.

 

 

Agave comes from Blue Agave, the same Mexican plant used to make tequila.  A sap is extracted from the core of Blue Agave and then converted into a syrup which is popular in recent days because it dissolves so well in cold liquids.  It is much sweeter than conventional sugar so you only need a tiny bit.  It has a low gycemic index ranging between 15-30 making it a nice choice for blood sugar stabilization.

 

 

Stevia comes from a variety of sunflower plants and is 300 times sweeter than table sugar.  Now, if you read the last post on synthetic sweeteners you may assume that Stevia causes the same issues with metabolism but it doesn’t.  Interestingly, a recent study has shown that with mice, Stevia helps regenerate b-cells in the pancreas which in turn can improve insulin sensitivity – something of interest to diabetics who have issues with insulin uptake.  Stevia has a glycemic index of 0 meaning it doesn’t cause a fluctuation in blood sugar.  Cooking with Stevia can be tricky because of the conversions but there are a lot of online resources to assist.

 

 

Raw Honeyis really cool.  When bees collect nectar from flowers, it mixes with enzymes in their saliva turning it into honey.  They carry the liquid back to a hive and on the journey, the fluttering from their wings dries it out into the consistency we know as honey.  When honey isn’t processed it contains a ton of phytonutrients and is considered anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal.  Wow!  The glycemic index of honey is 30.  This is one of those foods where you’ll want to invest in a high quality organic product to get the health benefits.

 

 

Maple Syrup – most of it comes from Quebec.  The sap that comes from maple trees is boiled and contains 22% of our daily requirements of  magnesium in two tablespoons.  It’s also high in zinc.  It has a glycemic index of 54.

 

Coconut Sugaris worth trying because it contains no additives or artificial flavours.  If you’re getting raw organic coconut sugar, it’s also a source of potassium, calcium, zinc, and 16 amino acids including glutamine which is involved in metabolism.  It has a low glycemic index of 35.

The long of the short is that unprocessed sweeteners that are derived from natural sources tend to offer more bang for your buck – you’ll get more nutrients and in most cases a more gradual and steady rise and fall in your blood sugar levels.

 

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Super Science Friend & The Glycemic Index

The Health Junction: Nerdy and Proud

What’s the big deal with the Glycemic Index?!  A lot actually.  Call me a nerd if you like, but the Glycemic Index really gets me tickin’.

The Health Junction has a super smart science friend named Janice, aka, Jawesome who runs Canada’s leading laboratory in the area of clinical nutritional research.  I was lucky enough to visit Jawseome at work yesterday and spent three hours watching the ins and outs of  Glycemic Index Labs.   GI Labs was founded by Dr. Thomas Wolever (check out his latest book here) who along with David Jenkins came up with the revolutionary concept of Glycemic Index for carbohydrate selection in their now famous 1981 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Nutrition Guru Jawesome (Janice Campbell)

I’m proud to say that these two pioneers of nutritional sciences continue to teach at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine (Nutritional Sciences) but interestingly, Canada is the only place in the world where Glycemic Index ratings cannot be displayed on food packaging.  My friend Janice, did her thesis at U of T on GI methodology under the supervision of Dr. Wolever (who I met yesterday!!) and offered some great insight into why the GI is a great tool to understand for us everyday lay people.

How does the Glycemic Index work?

Simply put, the GI works by measuring how a food changes blood sugar levels.  Low GI foods cause a slow, gradual rise and then a subsequent gentle fall in blood glucose.  High GI foods will result in a sudden spike and quick fall in blood glucose levels.  Foods are ranked out of 100; low GI is 55 or less, high GI is 70 or more.

Why are lower GI foods ideal?

Eating carbohydrates that have a high GI results in rapid fluctuations in blood sugar and over time can result in problems with blood sugar control – commonly expressed as hypoglycemia.  Over time, insulin, which helps shuttle glucose into the cells for energy, becomes less effective and ultimately can lead to Pre-Diabetes or Type II Diabetes.  Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer are all closely linked together.  Having one, increases the risk of having or developing another.

What are the health benefits of lower GI foods?

Compared to a higher GI food, in general, low GI foods will leave you feeling fuller, longer.  It can be a vaulable tool in selecting carbohydrates that help control blood sugar levels and may help assist in managing body weight.

How do I know what food are low GI?

There are a lot of resources available online, but in general look for whole unprocessed foods; wholegrain bread instead of white, long brown rice instead of short grain or white, oatmeal instead of rice krispies.  The longer it takes to breakdown food, the better.  This doesn’t mean that you have to avoid high GI foods, because they may contain lots of great nutrients (example, potatoes).  If you are going to eat a high GI food and are concerned about your blood sugar, try eating some protein or another high fiber carbohydrate in combination with the high GI food.

What is the difference between Glycemic Load and Glycemic Index?

Glycemix Index tells you how quickly a carbohydrate in a food will raise your blood sugar.  The Glycemic Load gives us an even better picture because it give us information on how much of of the carbohydrate exisits in a specific food.  A great example that Jawesome told me about was watermelon.

Watermelon has a GI of 72 but the fact is that there isn’t actually a lot (quantity wise) of carbohydrate in the fruit.  So you would need to eat A LOT of watermelon to see a blood sugar rise – in fact is has a load of only 4 (out of a total of 60).  This chart gives a nice summary:

Check back for tomorrow when The Health Junction continues the Worldy Nutrition Series with a stop in Europe.

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