Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stress - relief and rationality

I wanted to write a follow-up posting about mental-health issues, before I returned to writing nutrition articles.

As I wrote in my last posting, fear keeps many people from focusing on their goals and desires, trying new things, going on adventures, enjoying life and being happy. Fear is a very strong emotion, and it can be a leading contributor to feelings of stress. While stress is present in all of our lives and is not completely avoidable, we can take steps to lessen its effects.

Stress manifests itself in different ways in different people. People have varying abilities for coping with stressful situations, and are affected by situations differently. Stress is an individual experience and responses are unique to the individual. Sometimes stress can be even be helpful (eg: in competition or meeting a deadline); it makes us more focused on our task at hand. But, generally, when we think of stress, we think of that uncomfortable feeling that results in being unsatisfied, sad, angry or upset. However, we are able to control our responses to situations we find stressful and manage our lives to reduce the events that trigger stressful reactions. Part of managing stress is understanding what causes us to feel stressed and learning how to cope with those situations.

Prolonged stress is detrimental to our health. Being in a state of stress places increased demands on our bodies for energy. If the stress persists, our bodies are not able to continue to meet our elevated needs for energy. This can result in insomnia, inability to concentrate, poor judgement, and changes to our personality. Stress can also produce physical symptoms including headaches, backaches, loss of appetite and amenorrhea (loss of period). Chronic stress has been demonstrated to make us more susceptible to colds and other illnesses, increase the severity of upper respiratory infections, slow the healing of wounds, and decrease the response to vaccines. Stress also impairs our digestion, so even though we may be trying to feed our bodies well, when we are under stress our bodies are less able to absorb the nutrients from our food. Prolonged stress can even cause more serious illnesses, such as heart disease or cancer.

So how do we either avert stress or manage it so that it doesn’t become prolonged? Stress can result from both minor annoyances and major life events (loss of employment, financial concerns and debt, death of a loved one, relationship difficulties, marital tensions). While dealing with minor stressors is easier, we can take similar steps to address both kinds of stressors. One of the easiest and most effective ways to calm down your body is to sit down, relax your body, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths in and out. Clear your mind of the day’s worries and just concentrate on breathing in and out. This only takes a few minutes to do and allows you to bring your body to a calmer state, where it is then able to tackle the situation rationally. Sometimes when minor stressors are irritating us, removing ourselves from the situation, going for a walk or talking with a friend can be beneficial.

If the stressor is more than a minor annoyance, the next step is to examine why the situation is causing you to feel stressed and consider what you can do to address the problem. In order to accomplish this step though, you need to have relaxed yourself enough to be able to think rationally; this is where deep breathing, exercising or talking with a friend can help. Once you feel more relaxed, examine where you can take action. There’s no point in simply mulling over a situation in your head. Take the action that you can, know that you have done everything possible in the situation, and then try to let the rest go. Worrying or thinking about something that you cannot change, that is in the past and that you have no control over is not beneficial. It results in damage to your own health, causes those around you to feel agitated, and does nothing constructive in solving the problem. It is important to focus on the things that you do have control over, and take action where you can. You may need to re-evaluate circumstances from time to time, as the circumstances may have changed, and further action is possible. But mulling over the situation in between these times is not productive, and keeps you from living and enjoying your life. Being productive is helpful in relieving stress, as you are doing something to combat the situation.

Stress can also be caused by fears that are not based on actual probabilities, but that have been blown out of proportion by the media or society. Many people are fearful of events that are not very likely, and based upon which they change their actions, reactions or activities. These fears can limit us from engaging in certain activities, limit our interactions, and cause us stress, anxiety and worry. Here is a list of examples of events that cause people worry and stress, even though the likelihood of them occurring is relatively low: abductions, plane crashes, being mugged, or becoming critically ill from H1N1. Many people worry about these, even though the likelihood of experiencing any one of these incidents is fairly low (in Canada).

Here’s some statistics about influenza and the H1N1 flu:

On April 25, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General declared the H1N1 flu to be a "public health emergency of international concern." On June 11, the WHO raised its Pandemic Alert Level to Phase 6, citing significant transmission of the virus. The declaration of H1N1 as a pandemic simply means that the virus has become widespread around the world, not that the flu is more severe than other types of flu.

Out of every 250,000 individuals who become ill with the H1N1 flu, only one will die. In Canada, between April and October 31, 2009 only 100 people have died from the H1N1 flu. This equates to a national cumulative crude mortality rate of 0.3 per 100,000 people. The national cumulative crude hospitalization rate is higher at 7.3 per 100,000 people. Out of the deaths that have occurred in Canada 75% of people had underlying health conditions and while some children have died from this flu, the median age of death is 49.5.

In the United States, every year between 15-60 million Americans will get the flu. Approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu related complications and 36,000 people die from flu related causes. To compare this to the H1N1 flu - between April and October 2009, it is estimated that approximately 4,000 deaths, associated with H1N1, have occurred in the USA. Although the cases that the Centre for Disease Control in the US have confirmed to have been resulted from H1N1 is lower at 1,000.

Now, this is not meant to make light of the flu – it can cause severe or fatal illness, but the likelihood is low. It is important to be cognizant of the risk factors, and those groups with the highest likelihood of severe or fatal illness are: pregnant women, especially during the third trimester of pregnancy, children younger than 2 years of age, and people with chronic lung disease, including asthma. These groups should take precautions against the flu – but they do not need to be overly fearful of it nor should they completely change their lives because of a possibility of getting severely ill.

I’m going to end with a quote from Richard Schabas, Ontario's former chief medical officer of health who is now the medical officer of health for Ontario's Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit. "I think this is the most overhyped, overblown exercise I've ever been a part of. We continue to lavish resources on a problem that is just not that big." So far the national inoculation program has cost $1.51 billion in Canada.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fear --

I'm going to take a little foray away from the topic of nutrition, and focus on mental health - which I also think is key to staying healthy.

I wanted to discuss fear, which I believe can be an emotion that often limits us from living life and pursuing our goals. Fear can manifest in many ways (worry, stress, unhappiness, depression) and often we may not even realize that we are feeling fear. Fear can keep us from following opportunities, pursuing our passions and taking risks; it can stop us from working on our relationships. It is often linked to the unknown and to something we cannot completely control. We feel uncertain about what the future may hold; going down a certain path may seem scary, so we stick with what we know. Even when an opportunity presents itself, feelings of inadequacy may limit us from grabbing hold of it. We may convince ourselves to avoid taking a chance, perhaps applying for a job, joining a club or making a commitment because we think we don't have the skills or knowledge to succeed or because we fear failure. However, in so doing, we end up limiting ourselves, and denying ourselves experiences or successes.

Sometimes fear can also keep us from realizing something remarkable that is right in front of us; fear can be blinding and keep us focused on our current situation, without striving for the possibilities. Fear can keep us from trusting others and trusting life and can keep us from achieving our true potential. Humans are adaptable creatures, but at the same time we fear change, which can lead us to become creatures of habit, not because there are not other things we may want to pursue, but because we are afraid of how to pursue them, or what the ramifications might be.

Sometimes we are afraid to pursue a certain path because we are afraid of how others will react. Humans are sensitive to how others perceive them, and we don't like to fail, especially if that failure is visible by others. This can lead to embarrassment and shame, and past experiences can keep us from seizing new opportunities. What is important to realize is that what we worry about or think about is often not even noticed by others; and when it is it is usually quickly forgotten.

Humans are also very good at imagining, and thinking up worst-case scenarios. However, the worst case is often not as bad as we imagine, and most often does not materialize. It can be hard to change our mindset, but life should be about seizing those opportunities, taking chances, even if you don't know if you will succeed or how you will reach your end goal. Living in a world of fear can keep a person down, people often begin to convince themselves that certain things are not possible, even without trying them. In taking risks and chances, we often learn about ourselves, realize our capabilities and build confidence.

While setbacks may occur, try to see them as a learning experience and not as impossible obstacles. No one would ever succeed if everyone let failures get in the way, and stopped them from continuing to try and reach their goals. We've all heard stories about famous writers or artists who were rejected numerous times before finally having their work published or exhibited. Setbacks and rejections can be difficult to take, but once we realize that they are part of life, that most people experience them and that they are not a reflection of who we are, we can become more comfortable in taking chances and trying something new. Although we might not be successful, taking a chance could also lead to the most wonderful opportunity or lead us down a path we had not earlier even imagined.

However, taking risks does not mean that we should take actions without thinking. It is important to think about how we want to accomplish our goal and to be logical about our actions. Fear is not completely a negative emotion. It keeps us safe and helps us realize when there is real danger. It can also encourage us to be thoughtful about our future, so that we think through our actions, and don't make rash decisions.

Taking risks means trying and not giving up because the path ahead seems difficult or uncertain. It means making efforts towards reaching your goal. For example if you are interested in making a career change, examine the possibilities in terms of your interests to decide what direction you may want to go. If you already know what area you are interested in, take some courses to obtain the qualifications for the position, or talk to others who are working in your desired profession to learn more about the position and make connections with those working in the field. People are usually more than happy to talk about their careers and how they got to where they are - most people enjoy being helpful, and are willing to assist when they can.

Recently in my own life, I have struggled with fear in two different areas of my life. I have struggled with it on a personal level in terms of my own relationships, and on a more superficial level as I have taken up mountain biking.

In mountain biking, confidence and mindset are two of the most important parts to the sport. Having confidence allows you to be a better biker and to take the necessary risks to enjoy the sport. I, however, seem to have a higher fear level than many other people. What this means is that although the logical side of my brain knows that I can ride a certain obstacle, the fear side of my brain steps in and stops me from even trying. This has been frustrating because sometimes I look at something and know that it's no big deal, but have a hard time conquering it. Other times, I gain confidence and feel strong and ride over obstacles that I have found challenging in the past, realizing that in fact, they are no big deal. A lot of it involves letting go of my fear, trusting in my abilities and realizing that there is nothing to be afraid of. I think this translates well into many other areas as well - as when we can let go of the fear, worry, stress or concern and trust in ourselves, we realize that there is nothing to fear and can step into the world with confidence and overcome obstacles that might have seemed insurmountable in the past.

The fear that I have in regards to my relationships is harder to deal with since I am not the sole controller of the result. Fear often creeps up when we cannot control the outcome. This type of fear can easily lead to stress, which is often counterproductive because the stress can lead to illness and unhappiness. Most times when I begin to either feel fearful or stressed because of something that I cannot control, I try to remember that I have done everything in my power in the situation, and to try and find comfort that things will work out okay. Things may not always go as planned, but the result is usually not disastrous either.

Although we like to control things, we are not always able to control everything, and sometimes it is best to just let go and allow things to evolve. For instance, if you are stuck in traffic and are late for a meeting with someone, getting stressed about the situation does nothing to resolve it and just makes you anxious. Instead it is better to do what you can about the circumstance (eg: give your friend a call, if possible to explain), and to try and not get too worked up about the situation because there is nothing more you can do to change it. When I am not in complete control, I try to focus on what I can do and not to worry about the rest. I try and work on my own mindset to focus on the positive aspects, and to exhibit positivity, love, hope and happiness. While, this may not change the result, drawing from a position of strength within yourself will make it easier for you to deal with the outcome.

If there is something that you are passionate about or are interested in pursuing, seize hold of it, trust in yourself and do what you can to achieve it. Don’t be afraid of what the future might hold and understand that we cannot always be in control. If there is a situation in your life that you fear might happen, take control and do what you can to bring about the result you want. Do what you can to bring positivity to the situation, while remaining realistic, and appreciate the beauty and wonder that already exists in your life.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Recipe Ideas

As promised I wanted to share a few relatively quick and easy recipe ideas that provide healthy amounts of vegetarian proteins. In my diet, I try to vary my protein sources: different types of beans, nuts, dairy, eggs and grains, to keep a balanced diet and not become overly reliant on any one food.

I like to cook my own beans using a slow cooker.  Always soak beans overnight or for 6-8 hours.  Dispose of the soaking liquid, rinse the beans a few times and then add enough fresh water to cover the grains, plus a little bit more.  The beans will cook on the slow setting in about 8 hours, or 4 hours on the fast setting.

One of my favorite grains is quinoa (pronounced keenwa), due to its diversity in terms of use, and because of its high protein and nutrition content.  One cup contains 8 grams of protein, 15 % of daily value of iron, and a good amount of fiber, vitamin B, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus.
Because I don't use exact measurements in my cooking, I'm going to give the ingredients, and leave the quantities to individual preferences. 

Lunch or Dinner

Stir-fried rice or quinoa - with variations
Dice different types of vegetables: broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, onions, peppers, sweet potatoes (yams), cabbage, zucchini, garlic
Grain of choice: rice or quinoa
Cook vegetables in a small amount of water, cooking harder vegetables first, and adding vegetables that cook faster in sequence (in order: sweet potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots).
Once the vegetables are mainly ready, add the cooked grain.  Add some soya sauce to taste, and cayenne pepper if desired.
Now, add the protein: chickpeas, black beans, sunflower seeds, nuts, cheese (grated of your choice or cubed feta) or stir fry a few eggs and add them to the dish.

How to cook quinoa: 
Quinoa needs to be rinsed a few times before cooking, otherwise it will have a slightly bitter flavour.  After rinsing, cook quinoa like rice - use two times as much water as uncooked grain.  Quinoa cooks in about 15 minutes. 

Rice or quinoa with Thai curry
Grain: rice or quinoa, cooked 
Coconut milk, one can  
Sweet potatoes (yams)
Bell peppers
(Other vegetables as desired)
Curry paste (I use red curry paste)
Peanut butter (I use natural, crunchy peanut butter)
Sweetener, if desired

Heat the coconut milk (you can add water if desired to increase the liquid amount)
Add vegetables in order or cooking length (sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, peppers, zucchini)
Once vegetables are nearly ready, add the curry paste and peanut butter.  Make sure to mix the peanut butter to avoid clumps.
Add some salt to taste, and some sweetener if you like a sweeter curry.
Ladle curry over the grain.

Note: Coconut oil and coconut milk have been labelled as being unhealthy due to their high saturated oil content.  However, numerous studies have been completed on coconuts, and in fact, coconut oil has been found to be beneficial for cholesterol, to increase metabolism, and has not been linked with an increased incidence of heart disease.  In fact cultures that have traditionally consumed high amounts of coconut products have actually had lower incidences of heart disease.  Coconut oil, however, does become unhealthy if it is hydrogenated - and hydrogenated coconut oil should be avoided.
In my recipes, I prefer to use either butter or coconut oil to cook or fry foods, as they are more stable in high heats.
I will write another entry specifically on oils, and the health effects of different types of oils.

Huevos Rancheros
This is a quick, easy, tasty dish

Small corn tortillas
Black beans

Lightly fry tortillas in a small amount of oil to slightly crispen (only 1-2 minutes per side)
Heat cooked black beans and slightly mash to reduce the liquid
Slice tomatoes and avocados
Cook eggs over-easy (or as desired)
Grate cheese

To prepare take a small tortilla, add one egg, some beans, tomatoes, avocados, cheese and salsa and repeat.  Corn tortillas may be eaten stacked on top of one another or separately.

Tortilla (whole wheat, corn, spelt or any grain of choice)
Black beans, crushed and heated
Tomatoes, diced
Pickles, diced
Carrots, grated 
Cheese, grated 

Fry the tortilla in a small amount of oil to slightly crispen on both sides.  Then add black beans, diced tomatoes, cheese, pickles (if desired), carrots, salsa, lettuce and avocado.  Roll up and eat.  Simple and tasty. 
I also like to add some flax oil and soy lecithin granules to my tortilla - sometimes I use this instead of cheese.

Hearty Salad 
Bell peppers
Carrots, grated
Sunflower seeds 
Choice of: chickpeas, cooked kamut or spelt kernels, black beans, hard-boiled eggs and cheese, cottage cheese
Dressing - I use lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar, flaxseed oil, salt, and lecithin granules.
Other dressings: garlic, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, flaxseed oil and salt - mix in blender.
Ginger, flax oil, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar - mix in blender.
Miso, peanut butter, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, flax oil - mix in blender.

Note: Kamut and spelt add a wonderful addition to salads. The kernels can be found in health food stores.  It is best to soak them overnight or for a few hours before cooking, to decrease the cooking time.  Otherwise cook like rice: use 2 times as much liquid to uncooked grain.  It takes about 50-60 minutes to cook.

Lunch - Wrap
Whole-wheat, spelt or other grain tortilla.
Spread tahini or sunflower seed butter on the tortilla.
Add the salad ingredients from above, minus the additional grains or beans (add lettuce first).
Add some feta cheese, cottage cheese and/or grated cheese.
For dressing: use balsamic vinegar and flaxseed oil.
Variations: you can also add olives for a greek type of wrap or black beans and salsa for a mexican type wrap.

Breakfast Recipes 

Quinoa porridge
Cooked quinoa
Fruit of choice: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, pears, banana etc.
Sunflower seeds (or walnuts or other nuts)
Milk - almond milk, soy milk, rice milk
Sweetener (I use Agave nectar and stevia)

To prepare - heat on the stovetop: quinoa with milk, add fruits, seeds or nuts, sweetener to taste and a bit of salt (the salt brings out the flavour of the grain and the sweetener).
Alternatively, this can be prepared cold and heated in a microwave.

Steel-cut or Scottish Oatmeal 
Steel-cut oats and scottish oats take longer to cook than regular rolled oats, but have a nice crunchy texture, and I find them more preferable to eat.  Steel-cut oats take about 20 min to cook, while scottish oats take about 10 minutes.  Time varies depending on how soft or crunchy you like it.

Milk - Almond, soy, rice
Fruit: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, pears, banana etc.

Cook oats in water and milk, the amount of water depends on how liquidy you like your oatmeal.  You can add more liquid as it cooks.
Add cut-up walnuts, while the oats are cooking.  Add fruit when the oats are nearly ready, so they don't get too mushy. Add sweetener to taste and a dash of salt.

Cottage Cheese with fruit and nuts 
I use dry cottage cheese.  It's a much more natural form of cottage cheese and does not include the preservatives that are found in regular cottage cheese. However, as it does not contain any salt, and is quite dry, it needs a bit of processing to make it tasty.

Cottage cheese
Flax oil
Yogurt or milk 
Fruit (berries, bananas, pears, peaches etc)
Walnuts or other nuts

Mash the cottage cheese with a little bit of flax oil and salt using a spoon.  You want to break up the cottage cheese pieces so the texture is smoother.  Then add some yogurt or milk, the fruit, nuts, and sweetener to taste.
I would start with about 1/2 cup of cottage cheese per person.

Home-made Granola 
Rolled oats
Sunflower seeds
Pumpkin seeds
Slivered almonds
Sesame seeds
Coconut, shredded (unsweetened)
Water or juice

I use about 5 cups of oats and about 1/2-1 cup of each of the different types of seeds and nuts to create a pretty good size batch of granola.
Mix the oats, seeds and nuts together.  Add liquid sweetener to taste (I use a mixture of molasses, agave nectar, maple syrup and honey). Then add about 1/4-1/2 cup of water, some melted butter (1/2-1 cup) and some salt (3/4 of tsp). The mixture should be somewhat sticky and clumping together.
Place the granola mixture on baking sheets - spread out evenly.  Cook in oven at about 275-300 degrees until crispy.  Make sure to stir the granola every 5-10 minutes to ensure it cooks evenly, and the sides do not burn.  Keep a close eye on the granola, to avoid burning -- it can cook quickly.  Once the pumpkin seeds have popped and the oats are somewhat brown, take it out of the oven to cool.  Add raisins to the cooked granola.

I'll add more recipe ideas in future posts. Happy cooking and healthy eating!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Soy - Health or Hype?

Soy foods have been touted as being both a wonder food and a health risk. Numerous studies and clinical trials have been completed to determine the effects of soy products on health. Organizations, medical professionals and even governments have made health claims about the benefits of soy. However, during recent years, many individuals and groups have expressed concerns about soy products, warning about the 'dangers of soy.'

Soy proponents point to studies that have shown that soy protein reduces the risk of heart disease, lowers the levels of LDL cholesterol, is beneficial for treating hot flashes, reduces bone loss after menopause and decreases the risk of certain types of cancers. Soy opponents cite studies where soy was found to be either harmful or neutral; they argue that soy may promote the development of cancer and thyroid disease, and does not have a beneficial effect for reducing cholesterol, reducing bone loss or decreasing the incidence of hot flashes. So, what is it: do soy foods promote health and protect against disease, cause illnesses or are they neutral?

A review of the studies on soy shows that soy may not be a ‘wonder food’, but it is likely not as harmful as the soy opponents suggest, if eaten in moderation. Overall, the clinical tests do not provide conclusive proof that soy is harmful or extremely beneficial to one’s health.

The initial studies on soy found that consuming soy protein daily had a beneficial effect on reducing cholesterol. Researchers completed a meta-analysis of the studies on this topic and found that soy protein was most effective at reducing cholesterol levels for individuals with very elevated cholesterol levels, and that it was not necessarily linked to the amount of soy protein consumed. Consuming soy protein was found to be somewhat effective for those with moderately elevated cholesterol levels but it was found to have no effect on individuals who had only mildly elevated or normal cholesterol levels. There was also a correlation between diet and the effectiveness of soy protein; soy protein was found to be less effective for individuals who ate a lower-fat and low-cholesterol diet than for those eating a higher-fat and higher-cholesterol diet. Therefore, if soy protein replaces dairy protein and/or animal proteins in a person’s diet, it is more likely to be beneficial for reducing cholesterol levels.

Further research found that it might not be the soy protein itself that has a beneficial effect, but that there is some other compound in soy that reduces cholesterol levels. This was based on a study in which two different soy compounds were used, one which was made up of 50% soy protein, and the other which was made up of 80% soy protein. The higher protein compound was found to be no more effective in reducing cholesterol levels than the lower protein compound.

Soy isoflavones were initially thought to be able to reduce the incidence of certain types of cancers and to have beneficial effects for menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flashes. Isoflavones are organic compounds with a chemical structure similar to estrogen, which bind to estrogen receptors and exhibit weak estrogen-like effects. Researchers postulated that soy isoflavones could be used in the same manner as estrogen-replacement therapy to treat menopausal symptoms. However, the studies have not been able to demonstrate that soy isoflavones are effective at reducing bone loss after menopause or in reducing hot flashes. While direct estrogen replacement therapy has been demonstrated to be effective in increasing both bone mineral content and density and in markedly reducing hot flashes, soy has not been found to reduce the incidence of hot flashes any more than in the placebo group. Nor has soy been demonstrated to have a positive effect on reducing bone loss. It may be that soy isoflavones do not have enough estrogenic effect to provide a huge benefit.

Consuming soy isoflavones has also not been conclusively shown to have a beneficial effect on reducing the incidence of cancer. The studies that have been completed on cancer and soy isoflavones have produced variable results: some have shown protective associations against breast cancer, others have shown no association in reducing the incidence of breast, prostrate or endometrial cancers. Some studies have even shown potential adverse effects, although there has not been a definite or strong link between consuming soy isoflavones and developing cancer.
Various factors could affect the initiation and progression of cancer: variations in isoflavone metabolism, differences in the composition of isoflavones, and the processing of soy foods. Essentially, what the literature showed was that more studies are needed with larger sample sizes and more specific doses. Based on the inconclusiveness of the studies, supplementing with soy isoflavones is not recommended. However, consuming whole soy products, such as tofu, tempeh, soy flour, soy milk could be a beneficial and healthy source of protein, as it contains little saturated fat, high content of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Another warning about soy is that soybeans contain various substances that can block the absorption of certain minerals, including magnesim, calcium, iron and zinc, and that they contain inhibitors that block the uptake of certain enzymes, needed for protein digestion. However, fermenting soybeans (eg: such as in tempeh and miso) reduces or de-activates these inhibitors, and cooking also reduces the amount of these substances. As such, cooked products such as tofu and soy milk, will have reduced levels of these substances.

Soy processors have found another way to eliminate these anti-nutrient compounds from soy foods, which may be potentially harmful. To isolate the soy protein and create soy protein isolate (a key ingredient in most processed soy foods, and used to create textured vegetable protein [TVP]), soy beans are mixed in an alkaline solution to remove fiber, and separated in an acid wash usually made up of hexane, methanol, ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. Hexane is potentially toxic petrochemical solvent made by refining crude oil. While hexane does evaporate, not all of the hexane evaporates before the products are consumed. Tests have found that soy oils contained less than 10 ppm hexane residue, soy grits contained 14 ppm hexane residue, and soy meal contained 21 ppm hexane. The effects of consuming foods containing hexane-extracted ingredients are unknown, but over-consuming products with hexane residues could be harmful. To avoid consuming products that have used hexane in the extraction process, it is best to consume USDA organic soy products, as they prohibit the use of hexane.

The lesson from the literature on soy foods illustrates that consuming soy foods can provide a good source of protein, iron and fiber for one’s diet, but that it is best to eat in moderation. It is also best to eat whole soy foods such as tempeh, tofu and soy milk, as these have been minimally processed, and do not include additional potentially harmful substances. Processed soy products (such as tofu dogs, soy meats and soy burgers) do not provide the benefits of the whole food, are processed in high temperate conditions, which may reduce the healthy nutrients in soy, likely contain residues of potentially harmful substances and may also be laden with unhealthy oils to create a good texture. Eliminating meat products and exchanging them directly for soy products does not promote a balanced diet. Individuals wanting to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet should be careful to ensure that they obtain protein from a variety of sources, and not simply rely on one product. As with all things, eaten in moderation, soy can be a fine addition to one’s diet, but over-consuming soy may not be beneficial to one’s health.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Protein please... How much do we really need?

When I tell people that I am a vegetarian, often the first question I get is “where do you get your protein?" In our meat-focused society, it is often assumed that meat is the only good source of protein. Another misconception is that we need to consume a lot of protein, practically making it the staple of our diet. In actuality, it is not difficult to consume sufficient amounts of protein, and many people consume much more protein than necessary.

Protein is essential for the proper functioning of our bodies. It makes up approximately 16 percent of our total body weight, and is in constant use by our bodies.  Protein is used to repair and build muscle tissue, synthesize hormones, and is the main component of hair, skin, connective tissue, and is important for the healthy functioning of our red blood cells. Also, it is important that we continually consume protein, as our bodies have little capacity to store it; within only a couple of days of not consuming protein, our bodies begin to break down our muscles to compensate for our bodies’ protein needs.

However, this should not frighten people into over-consuming protein. While our bodies do need protein, too much is not better. When our bodies digest protein, acids are released that are usually neutralized by calcium (as well as other buffering agents in the blood).  If too much protein is consumed, calcium might be pulled from the bones to adequately neutralize the protein.  Studies have linked consuming large amounts of protein with a greater propensity to incur broken bones.  In addition, eating too much animal protein has been directly linked to the formation of kidney stones and has been linked to colon and liver cancer.

The recommended amount of protein for adults to consume is 0.8 - 1 gram per kilogram of body weight per day.  This means that a 60 kilogram woman (132 pounds) needs only 48-60 grams of protein per day.  A 80 kilogram male (176 pounds) needs about 64 - 80 grams of protein. Very active adults, such as those engaging in endurance exercise (eg. long distance running or cycling) or in heavy resistance exercise (eg: body building) require more protein.  Endurance athletes need about 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight and strength training athletes need somewhat more, 1.4 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.  However, these enhanced amounts are only necessary for very serious athletes who are constantly breaking down and repairing muscles due to heavy exercise loads.  For most active adults, even those who engage in regular cardio exercise and strength training, the general protein guidelines are sufficient.

In addition, both endurance and strength training athletes need to consume sufficient amounts of carbohydrates and have enough glycogen stores to fuel their workouts.  During exercise, the body uses these sources to provide energy and to fuel the muscles.  Therefore, athletes need to ensure that they consume enough carbohydrates before exercise to provide energy for their workout, and after exercise to restore glycogen levels depleted through exercise.  During longer intensity workouts (longer than 1 or 1.5 hours), athletes need to ensure that they consume easily absorbable sources of carbohydrates to maintain energy (eg: sports drinks, gels or dried fruits).  Protein is also important to consume following exercise, not only to help build and repair muscles, but also to aid in enhancing glycogen replacement after exercise by stimulating insulin, which transports glucose from the blood to the muscles.

When we examine the amount of protein in foods, it shows that we can easily get enough protein from a vegetarian diet.  Protein is readily found in beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy products and whole grains, such as quinoa, kamut, spelt, oats and rice. Recently, I examined how much protein I regularly consume in a day, and found that even without trying, I was consuming enough protein to meet the dietary requirements.

My days usually consisted of:

            Breakfast: oatmeal with fruit and nuts; yogurt, fruit and granola; cottage cheese with fruit and nuts
Lunch: a sandwich (whole-grain rye, spelt or kamut); salad with eggs, spelt, kamut and seeds, beans or chickpeas; a humous wrap; a greek-style wrap, with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, grated carrots, feta cheese, balsamic vinegar, sunflower seeds and cottage cheese; leftovers (soup, a rice or pasta dish etc)
Snacks: peanut butter and jam on crackers or bread, yogurt and fruit, almonds, an apple or other fruit, an energy bar
Dinner: burritos with black beans; potatoes and eggs; tofu and vegetables; stir-fried rice with vegetables and eggs; vegetable soup with bread and cheese; veggie chilli; a pasta dish with chickpeas; curry with rice; lentil soup; rice and lentils

Most foods contain at least a small amount of protein, and if a balanced diet is eaten, getting enough protein is not difficult.  Consuming more non-animal sources of protein is also beneficial, as you get the benefits of protein, as well as other vitamins and minerals, without the added saturated fat that is found in animal sources.

Here’s a sample of high protein foods (all cooked):
Lentils: 1 cup = 18 g protein
Chickpeas: 1 cup = 15 g protein
Black beans: 1 cup = 15 g protein
Kamut pasta: 1 cup = 13 g protein
Cottage cheese: ½ cup = 17 – 22 g protein
Soymilk: 1 cup = 6 g protein
Quinoa: 1 cup = 8 g protein
Kamut: ½ cup = 10 g protein
Eggs: 1 = 6 g protein
Almonds: ¼ cup = 6 g protein

In future blogs, I will provide more recipe ideas for meals high in vegetarian sources of protein.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

How it all got started

Throughout all of my life I have been interested in health, nutrition and fitness. I have been a vegetarian all of my life and have been conscious about how what I put into my body affects how I feel. I have noticed changes in my moods, physical appearance, energy levels and happiness based on how I have fed my body - both nutritionally and emotionally. I spend much time reading labels and recipes and figuring out how to live healthily; however, I also enjoy eating, and am keen on making healthy food without compromising on taste.

My other passion is fitness, especially running and racing. I think the keys to health involve a combination of eating well, knowing how to feed your body and listen to what it needs, and being active -- doing what your body was designed to do: move.

My desire in life is to help people live a healthier life, feel good about their bodies and feed them properly. As part of this, I want to help athlethes ensure that their nutrition is allowing them to perform at the best of their abilities, and their training is not hampered by poor diet.

I decided to start a blog after a visiting my cousin. We were discussing how everyone has a gift to share with the world, and that this gift is evident in whatever you are passionate about. This gift or talent is what brings joy to your person, what gets you excited and what makes you light up when you think or talk about it. For me that passion is nutrition, health and fitness. My cousin and her partner inspired me to share my gift with the world, as I also pursue my calling: becoming a nutritionist. I have spent a lot of time studying, reading and thinking about nutrition, and have knowledge that I would like to share.

In health and happiness,

- Sonja