Friday, April 27, 2012

Spring Cleansing

Ahh – Spring has finally sprung – after a long winter, the days are getting longer and the weather is getting warmer, brighter and greener.  It’s traditionally a time for Spring Cleaning – and while this generally causes people to think about cleaning their homes – it can also refer to cleansing our bodies.  Spring is a natural and perfect time for undertaking a cleanse/detoxification to remove toxins that may have accumulated and provide our bodies with a lighter start to the season.  

We may not think about it, but we live in an increasingly toxic world.  We are exposed to toxins through our environments (air pollution), pesticides and chemicals in our food, chemicals in the cleaning products and personal care products we use and chemicals used in the manufacturing of much of the furniture in our homes.  Chemicals are ubiquitous in our society and most of us don’t think about our exposure or how it affects our health.  While our bodies were designed to detoxify toxins, the increasingly high level of exposure we are experiencing can create a burden on our detoxification organs, causing them to become sluggish, which can lead to a depressed immune system and greater susceptibility to infections and illness. 

Through our regular daily processes, our bodies create endotoxins that need to be eliminated.  Metabolism, the creation and regulation of hormones and the growth, regeneration and death of cells all create endotoxins that need to be neutralized and eliminated.  Many organs and systems are involved in this process: the liver, the kidneys, the skin, the intestinal tract, the lungs and the lymphatic system. Wastes are filtered from the bloodstream, from our digestive tract, through perspiration and exhalation, through our immune system and lymphatic system.  However, over time, these detoxification systems can get tired, clogged up and worn down and stop working as well.  Undergoing a detoxification program allows our body to have a rest, clears out any excess toxins, recharges our bodies and gives our internal organs a boost, allowing our detoxification system to continue working smoothly.

The main aspect of a detoxification is that during this period, we lessen our body’s exposure to toxins and support our body by ingesting foods and nutrients that support our body’s detoxification activities.  This allows our body to cycle through the cell regeneration cycle at a faster rate, and to build new cells, decompose of aged cells and repair damaged cells more quickly and easily. Detoxification usually involves adopting a simpler diet, eliminating harder to digest foods for a specific time period, and can also involve other tactics such as sweat therapy, hydrotherapy, vitamin C flushing and metabolic cleansing.  We can also support the detoxification process by taking certain supplements, such as vitamins, minerals and/or herbs.

Undergoing a detoxification can be beneficial to anyone, but can be especially beneficial when our body begins to show us signs that things are not working as well as they should be.  Some signs include digestive distress, discomfort or unease, constipation, fatigue/low energy, eruptions in our skin (acne, rosacea, eczema), emotional instability, cognitive difficulties, frequent illnesses or headaches. Detoxification can help reduce sugar cravings, balance blood-sugar swings, facilitate digestion and elimination and restore the internal balance of healthy bacteria in the intestinal tract.

The first step is to identify where you may be exposed to toxins in your home, work and environment and work to minimize and lessen your exposure.  This may involve switching to natural cleaning products, trying to eat more organically grown or raised food, or filtering your water.   This process also includes identifying and reducing stress. Reducing stress is also a key component of detoxification because if the body is stressed, it is not able to focus its energy on detoxifying and eliminating toxins, as its energies become focused on addressing the stress reactions.  Stress can even increase the amount of toxins in the body, as it can hamper digestion and other body processes, causing the body to become unbalanced and unable to undertake its regular detoxifying activities.  Engage in stress reduction activities, such as walking, yoga or other exercise, deep breathing, meditation, or reading.  

The next step is to adopt a healthy whole foods diet that will provide the vitamins and minerals that our cells and organs need to engage in a successful detoxification process. If the cells do not receive sufficient nutrients, then they can get sick because they are unable to excrete waste. When the body is not able to clear out toxins effectively, then they circulate and re-circulate through the body before eventually being stored in a fat cell.

The whole foods diet should avoid any processed or refined foods including sugar, concentrated sweeteners, alcohol, and white vinegar.  The focus should be on eating lean, unprocessed proteins, vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds and essential fatty acids.  It is also important not to overburden the digestive system, and to eat smaller, lighter meals composed of whole, alkaline forming foods, rich in nutrients and antioxidants, while eating mindfully and chewing food well. A vital component of the diet at this stage is to ensure the client is consuming sufficient lean, healthy protein to facilitate the detoxification. Protein provides the body with amino acids that are needed to support detoxification.  There are also a number of nutrients that can be consumed as supplements during the detoxification period to facilitate this process – this includes antioxidants: vitamins E, C, A, zinc, and selenium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B complex, probiotics, glutamine, milk thistle and bitter herbs and spices (ginger, dandelion, bitter greens, turmeric) are all beneficial.

During a detoxification, it is important to get the bowels moving well and ensure that the elimination organs are working smoothly.  If the body is not able to eliminate toxins out of the body, then they will keep re-circulating and free radicals will be produced – causing damage to the cells.  Thus, it’s important to focus on eating a fibre-rich diet, and perhaps even taking a fibre supplement, such as ground flax seeds, psyllium seeds, or hemp seeds, if you have been experiencing sluggish elimination.  Whenever we increase our fibre intake, it’s also important to drink sufficient water to ensure the fibre is able to move the wastes out of the body.

A full detoxification would also involve undertaking a week (or more) of simplified eating, in which you gradually reduce the amount of fat and protein in your diet and increase the amount of fruits and vegetables that are consumed.  This pattern would follow until you are eating a diet that is mainly composed of catabolic fruits and vegetables, vegetable juices, soups and vegetable broths for one or two days. The breakdown of macronutrient consumption for this day or days would be 80% carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables), 10% protein and 10% fats. During this time period, it would be best to reduce the amount of vigorous exercise undertaken, so that the body can focus on detoxifying the body and clearing waste.  Coming out of this simplified eating day, it would be best to slowly increase the amount of protein, whole grains and fats in the diet. Start with adding a small amount of whole grains, but wait 2-3 days to introduce concentrated proteins and fats again.

Following this simplified eating cleanse, the focus should be on eating a fibre-rich diet, and increasing the amount of exercise to stimulate the bowels and ensure toxins are being effectively eliminated.  Throughout the detoxification period, it’s important to continue to drink a sufficient amount of water (depending on their weight and activity level) to keep hydrated and help flush the kidneys of toxins. In addition to water, fresh vegetable juices, herbal and green teas are good drink choices, as they provide hydration as well as valuable nutrients.    

While undergoing a detoxification protocol, at the beginning you may feel uncomfortable, and experience headaches, skin breakouts, altered bowel habits and even bad breath as the body experiences a withdrawal from sugar, alcohol and caffeine and as toxins are being moved out of their storage location in your body to be eliminated. 

However, after a few days, these feelings should pass.  As the detoxification process proceeds, your symptoms should alleviate and you should have improved energy levels, stamina and vitality. Your digestive functions will also often improve, and you can also experience improved concentration, mental focus and clarity.  You may also feel calmer, more rested and have a heightened resistance to illness because the immune system has been supported.  

Here’s to continued good health!  Enjoy the process and the results of a lighter, cleaner self.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Resolution - Eating less sugar

Happy New Year!  This is often a time of year when people reflect on their past, look to their future and assess if and how their life is meeting their own expectations.  After a month of meeting with friends, socializing and often eating and drinking too much, many people start the New Year resolving to eat better.  What does that really mean? 

·         Eating less processed foods, such as chips, crackers, processed meats, ice cream, cakes and cookies
·         Eating more fruits and vegetables
·         Eating whole grains more often (whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, millet, whole spelt)
·         Cutting back on refined foods, loaded with white sugar and white flour
·         Focusing on eating whole foods, that are as close to their natural state as possible - this includes fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, whole grains, fresh or frozen fish, eggs, unroasted nuts and seeds, unprocessed meats

After loading our bodies up with sugar in the month of December, one of the key elements to the healthy eating resolution is to cut back on sugar.  However, given how ubiquitous sugar is in our society, this can often be challenging.  But with a few tips, and some keen label reading it is possible and even enjoyable. 

Here’s a list of strategies to help you consume fewer sweeteners: 
·         Eat Protein at every meal – Since protein is digested slowly, consuming it helps regulate blood sugar and reduces cravings for sweets.
·         Eat healthy sources of fats – Have olive and flax seed oil, avocadoes, nuts, seeds, butter, fish. This is important because not eating enough fat can increase sugar cravings.
·         Eat whole foods instead of processed foods with sugars 
o    Have oatmeal with fruit and nuts instead of commercial granola;
o    Have a wrap with protein (hummus, cheese, beans, fish/meat) and vegetables instead of commercial bread/sandwich;
o    Buy plain yogurt and add fruits (stewed apples and pears are amazing);
o    Make your own power balls w/ dried fruits, nuts, coconut and peanut butter instead of having a cookie.
·         Substitute sugary foods with fruits
    • The natural sugar in fruit can satisfy sugar cravings AND fruit can be used as a sweetener.
    • Bananas and dried fruits (dates, apricots) are excellent sweeteners: eg: add banana and a few dates to the last minute of cooking oatmeal instead of a sweetener.
    • Be careful not to overload on fruit sugars or to simply replace all other sweeteners with fruit (fresh or dried), as it can still overload your system with sugar.
·         Try natural sweeteners - Rather than reaching for white sugar to sweeten your foods, try unrefined sweeteners, such as agave nectar, maple syrup or honey.  If you want a calorie-free, but potent sweetener, try stevia rather than using artificial sweeteners.
·         Eat mindfully - Concentrate on what you are eating and enjoy it thoroughly.  Try not to eat in a rushed state.  This helps you think about what you are eating and not grab more of something just because it is there.  This also allows you to savour your food, so that you really enjoy each bite.  By slowing down your eating and concentrating on enjoying the flavours, you often end up eating less.
·         Plan out your meals - If you think about what you are going to be eating on a daily basis, you can be mindful about the amount of sugar you are ingesting.
·         Try adding less sweetener to your foods - Experiment and either don't add any sweetener to your foods, or add less than you normally would and try and enjoy the other flavours in the food. 
    • If you want a real challenge, eliminate all sugar from your diet for at least 3 weeks.  Afterwards you may find that your desire and cravings for sugar and sweet foods actually decrease.
·         Try cinnamon and other spices - Cinnamon has a natural sweetness to it, and when you add it to your meals, you may find that you need less sweetener.
·         Substitute non-sugary condiments - Instead of using ketchup try tomato/pasta sauce or salsa; instead of teriyaki sauce use soy/tamari sauce (without sugar); make your own salad dressing without sugar.
·         Consume foods rich in minerals - Mineral deficiencies can result in cravings
o    Try eating more magnesium rich foods if you crave chocolate: found in dark green vegetables, seeds, black beans, quinoa and salmon.
o    Zinc and chromium can also help reduce cravings.
o    Zinc is high in pumpkin and sesame seeds, peas, yogurt, shrimp; and Chromium is high in pumpkin seeds, onions, romaine lettuce.

Good luck in your quest for better health and nutrition.  I'll be posting some nutritious and delicious sugar free recipes soon...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Eating through the holidays

Eating is definitely one of the great joys of life and enjoying a good meal in the company of friends and family is time to be savoured.  Food is often a central component of any social gathering and it is part of how we interact with each other in social situations.  During the holiday season and other times of celebration, a natural marriage occurs between food and social activities. 

With all of the parties and events that occur during the holiday season, many of us worry about gaining weight during this time.  However, it is still possible to enjoy yourself over the holiday season, savour the food around you, and do so without gaining weight.  This doesn’t mean restricting yourself, but it does mean eating consciously. 

Here’s some tips to help you maintain your weight (or continue to lose weight) over the holidays:
Eating at a Buffet:
  • If you are at a buffet or event with a table full of snack-foods – preview the table before eating anything or putting anything on your plate.  Decide what you want to eat, and assess your hunger.
  • Keep at least ½ of your plate for vegetables and salad, and use the other ½ of your plate for richer/denser foods, such as potatoes, casseroles and meats. 
  • Always use a plate.  This will enable you to assess how much food you are actually consuming.  Otherwise, it’s easy to keep reaching for another item, and not have a good sense of how much you have eaten.  Stop mindless munching. 
  • Fill up your plate with fibre-rich and low-calorie foods, such as vegetables and fruits. 
  • Don’t stand next to the food table.  Take what you want and go stand or sit somewhere out of sight of the table, if possible.  
  • Remember that it is possible to fill-up on snack foods and eat the same amount of calories, as a proper meal – if this is not intended to be your meal, be careful about the amount of snack foods you eat. 
  • Be cognizant about the amount of calorie-dense foods you consume such as chips, dip and sweets.  These won’t easily fill you up, so it’s easy to eat too many.   
  • Only return for seconds if you still feel hungry at least 20 minutes after you have finished eating.  Try drinking water first, before returning for more food.  Thirst often manifests itself as hunger. 
  • Choose a maximum of 2 desserts (this includes cookies, cakes, bars and pies).  
  • Drink water instead of sodas or punch.  Save your calories for quality foods that will fill you up.  
  • Remember that alcohol is not calorie-free.  Watch your consumption of alcoholic beverages, and limit yourself to 2 drinks.  1 beer = 153 calories; 1 glass of wine (dry) = 120 calories; and cocktails range between 110 (daiquiri) and 310 calories (Mai Tai).
     Tips for Cooking and Baking:
  • Use whole wheat or use a combination of whole wheat and white flour to increase your fibre intake, and increase the number of nutrients you are ingesting. 
  • Lessen the amount of sugar you add when baking – usually recipes are too sweet and call for too much sweetener.  The amount of sweetener can easily be lessened without compromising the taste. 
  • Use a combination of applesauce, low-fat yogurt and buttermilk to replace the fat in recipes. This creates moistness, with less fat and calories. 
   Exercise tips: 

  • Be conscious about the amount of exercise you are engaging in.  If you are worried about consuming too many calories, up your exercise.  If you burn more calories, you have room to consume more, without gaining weight. 
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes at a high intensity (your breathing should be heavy, it should be hard to talk, you should be sweating) – and remember to do a warm- up and cool-down of walking or easy, light exercise before and after your session. 
  • Try interval sessions, whereby you push hard for anywhere between 30 seconds and 5 minutes at a time, with rests in between – long enough to bring your breathing back to normal.  
  • Remember that exercise does not have to occur in the gym – try hiking, dancing, swimming, cycling or rollerblading; or join in on drop-in sports (basketball, floor hockey).  Choose an activity that you enjoy, so that you are motivated to be active. 
  • While any exercise is good - lower intensity exercises will burn fewer calories. Eg: walking for 1 hour at 5 km/h burns 224 calories (based on a 150lb person).  The equivalent of one cookie.  Running for 1 hour at 10 km/h burns 782 calories (based on a 150lb person).    
Happy holiday season to all!!  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Enjoying the bounty of local foods

Late summer and early fall is the time of year that many ‘foodies’ wait all year for: harvest season.  Local foods are available in abundance and there’s so much to enjoy: berries, plums, apples, corn, beans, lettuce, cucumber, zucchini and more.  Fresh fruits and veggies are popping up in farmer’s markets, in supermarkets and in our own backyards.  Most of us have had the opportunity to enjoy the splendour of a meal made out of food picked fresh from someone’s garden or purchased fresh from a farmer’s market.  The flavour and texture of the food is exquisite and we wonder why all food can’t taste this good.  Not only does local food taste better, but it is also healthier, containing a higher amount of nutrients than food shipped from far away, which was often picked before it was ripe.

The nutritional value of fruits and vegetables continues to increase, as they grow and ripen.  However, when food is picked prematurely, before it has had the chance to naturally ripen, it will not have the full complement of nutrients, especially valuable phytonutrients, than if it was picked and eaten when fully ripe.  Phytonutrients are biologically active compounds that are found in all plant food, and they develop in plants, as the food ripens.  Phytonutrients are the substances that give plants their colour, flavour and disease resistance and have been found necessary to sustain and promote life in plants.  Some examples of phytonutrients include flavonoids, indoles, phytosterols, carotenoids, lycopene and beta-carotene.  Phytochemicals have been found to be powerful disease fighters, acting as antioxidants and as detoxifying substances, by stimulating our enzyme systems or activating our hormone production.  Some phytonutrients are powerful modifiers, modifying the body’s reactions to various compounds such as allergens, carcinogens, and viruses – thereby acting in anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-viral and anti-carcinogenic ways.

The nutrients in food also begin to diminish after it’s been picked.  This is why fresh produce that sits around begins to shrivel, turn brown, go soft or grow mould.  The more time that passes between when the food is picked and consumed, the fewer nutrients it will have.  This is why eating local foods in season is so important nutritionally.  When food is brought in from further away, several days pass between the time that the food is picked and appears in our supermarkets. There are a number of steps involved to get food from the farmer to our dinner table: first it is stored, packed and then shipped, set up for display and finally purchased and then once we bring it home into our kitchen, it will often sit for a number of more days before we consume it.  Thus, the more we can minimize the amount of time that food sits and waits to be eaten, the more nutritional value we will get from our food.

Finally, foods that are locally produced are also often treated with fewer pesticides and chemicals – as these are unnecessary to artificially ripen the food.  Buying food direct from the farmer also allows the consumer to ask questions about how the food was produced, when it was picked and what types of chemicals or pesticides were used on the food.  This puts more power in the hands of the consumer, as they are given the ability to make truly informed choices.  Local farmers are also more willing to try and meet the needs and desires of their customers and may make changes to the way they produce their food, if there is enough consumer demand. 

Since local fresh food is not as abundant year-round – freezing produce is a great alternative to eating locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables.  Freezing preserves a high level of nutrients in fresh foods, as the low temperatures greatly slow the process whereby foods lose their nutrients.  Most fruits and vegetables can be frozen, although it may slightly alter their texture.  However, frozen berries are fantastic in smoothies and shakes year-round, and corn and most other vegetables can also be frozen, slightly cooked or raw (depending on the vegetable) and then popped into stir-fries, soups or stews during the winter months (frozen kale is also a great addition to smoothies). 

So – go down to your local farmer’s market and enjoy all the bounty that the season has to offer.  As if there weren’t already enough benefits to eating locally – it’s also much better for the environment, cutting down on the greenhouse gases that are emitted in the transportation of food from its source to your kitchen.