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.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The importance of hydration

After months of cooler weather, rainy skies and dark nights, summer is upon us, enticing us outside to enjoy the warmth of the sun.  While enjoying all that summer has to offer, one item that we often don’t focus on, but which is fundamental to good health, is our water and fluid consumption.  Adequate hydration is important throughout the year, but especially during the summer, as the weather warms up and more time is spent outside in the sun and engaged in physical activity.  As a result of the heat and the increased physical exertion, we lose more water and electrolytes through our sweat than during other times of the year.  Nature aligns with our higher need for fluids by producing a larger number of watery fruits and vegetables during this time, such as watermelon, cucumber, tomatoes, peaches, nectarines and strawberries.  While these food items help hydrate our bodies, food alone cannot compensate for our need for pure water.  One general estimation is that about 1 litre of fluid is consumed through food each day.  This of course will depend on the types of foods that are consumed, but eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables will generally help with keeping your body hydrated.

Why is water and hydration so important?  Water plays a critical role within our bodies: it helps maintain healthy blood pressure, is necessary for digestive processes to function appropriately, is needed for energy production, and is involved in the elimination of toxins and scavenging of free radicals.  When the body is dehydrated, toxins are not eliminated efficiently, and end up being re-circulated in the body, putting additional pressure on the liver and kidneys to act as detoxifying systems.  Although water does not provide calories, it is vital for the extraction of energy, is involved in the synthesis of protein and facilitates the flow of nutrients into cells, each of which impact our energy levels.  In addition, water is involved in a variety of chemical reactions within the body, is the primary solvent in all bodily fluids (blood, saliva etc), and acts as a lubricant and transport medium.  If the body is not properly hydrated, cells cannot maintain proper structure, chemical reactions that occur within cells are inhibited and the integrity and stability of protein structures inside our bodies are weakened.  Water also maintains the balance of electrolytes in the body, which is especially critical during the summer when we lose extra electrolytes through sweat.  Because of the many important functions water has in our bodies, chronic dehydration will result in decreased energy and can lead to illness and disease since our bodies cannot keep up with processes that help keep our cells strong, and our bodies free from damaging toxins and free radicals.    

There are a number of different calculations and methods to determine water intake needs. A general calculation is based on kilocalorie consumption, and specifies that for every kilocalorie consumed, one millilitre of liquid should be consumed.  So, an intake of between 2,000-2,500 kilocalories per day, would equate to 2 – 2.5 litres of liquid.  The US Institute of Medicine provides general recommendations for adequate water intake based on gender.  The recommendation for women is to consume 2.7 litres of fluid daily through food and drinks, with 80% of that consumed from liquid and 20% from food.  This means that women should consume 2.16 litres of liquid daily.  For men, the recommendation is to consume 3.7 litres of fluid through both food and drinks, with 3 litres (80%) consumed through water and other liquids.  However, this is a very general guideline, and does not take into account weight, exercise level or climate.  Another calculation is based on body weight.  Divide your body weight (in pounds) in half. This equals the number of fluid ounces of pure water that should be consumed daily.  For example, an individual who weighs 130 pounds should aim to consume 65 fluid ounces of water daily (half of 130), which equals 8 cups (2 litres) of water.  While the exact measurements vary, each of the guidelines provides a similar result for fluid consumption.  Pick whichever one works for you.    

During exercise, our bodies have increased hydration needs, as a result of fluid lost through sweat.  Losing as little as two percent of your body weight during exercise can inhibit your performance since it lowers blood volume, causing the heart to work harder to circulate blood throughout our bodies. This can result in muscle cramps, dizziness, fatigue and heat illnesses.

One suggestion is to consume 2 cups of water for every pound of weight lost during exercise through sweat.  However, since it is impractical to weigh ourselves before and after each session that we exercise, another method is to use intensity and duration as a way to calculate fluid replenishment. One recommendation is to drink 500 millilitres of fluid for every 30 minutes of strenuous exercise in warm/hot temperatures and to consume 250 millilitres for every 30 minutes of moderate exercise.  When exercising for periods longer than 60-90 minutes or in extremely hot temperatures, it is important to replenish lost electrolytes in addition to fluid loss.  Electrolytes (sodium chloride, magnesium and calcium) maintain muscle function, and when levels drop too low, this can lead to muscle cramps, fatigue, confusion or mental fogginess.  Because the body loses electrolytes through sweat, these need to be replenished so the body maintains homeostasis/balance.  Electrolytes can be replaced through sports drinks, gels, energy bars or whole foods such as fruits and vegetables.       

Enjoy the summer, relish in the warmth and longer evenings, and remember to stay hydrated!