To Keto or Not to Keto

The ketogenic diet (KD) has gained lots of attention in recent years as a means to lose weight, reduce inflammation and improve metabolic markers. But is it right for you?

 The Facts

The ketogenic diet is a form of a very low carbohydrate diet where you deprive your body of carbohydrate so it learns to burn fat for energy. In this process ketones are formed. Ketones are then used as a source of fuel for the brain, heart and muscles.

There are various forms of the ketogenic diet ranging from the classic which recommends: 90% of diet from fat, 6% protein, 4% carbohydrates of total energy. Others are less restrictive and allow up to 50g of low glycemic load carbohydrates, 20% protein and 50-60% fat. However, even the less restrictive form will still require immense changes to your regular diet.

Why Are People Trying Keto?

The keto diet is not new, it has been around since the 1920s and is often prescribed to patients with specific type of epilepsy as it has been shown to be effective in reducing seizures.

Most people jump on the keto bandwagon in the hopes of reducing body weight. There are a number of studies that have found that following a KD can reduce one’s BMI and improve metabolic markers including increased HDL, decreased LDL, total cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose levels.

The KD or other low-carbohydrate diets may be most effective for those with insulin resistance. The key feature of insulin resistance is an impaired ability of muscle cells to absorb blood sugar (glucose) and convert it to energy. Instead, those with insulin resistance will divert the glucose to the liver to be converted into fat. If dietary carbohydrates are restricted to a level where they are not significantly converted to fat (a level which varies person to person) improvements in insulin resistance have been noted.

Metabolizing fats into ketones has been shown to reduce the generation of reactive oxygen species that increases inflammation and cause oxidative damage to our cells. KD may help reduce pain associated with inflammation and could potentially reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease due to improved metabolic markers and reduction in inflammation. However, read on to see the flip side of the coin.

Emerging Areas:

The Brain

Research is ongoing as to whether the KD has neuroprotective effects that could also help in the treatment of neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even brain trauma. Early studies show some success in reducing the symptoms of these conditions; however, more research is needed to support the early findings.

Acne

Recent studies have shown that some food items can stimulate pathways that develop acne. Food with a high glycemic load and milk are two such culprits. More clinical trials are need to conclude this issue; however, some persuasive evidence exists that point to the benefits of a reduced high-glycemic carbohydrate diet on the severity and progression of acne.

PCOS

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is characterized by obesity, insulin resistance, ovulatory dysfunction and high levels of androgen hormones (male sex hormones). Suggested treatments include those that target insulin resistance, such as, the KD diet. It has been shown that improvements in insulin resistance and a reduction in body weight may also be effective in reducing androgen hormone levels and normalizing ovulation. Results are preliminary but “watch this space” for further clarification in the future.

THE FLIP SIDE

Despite the fact that some early trials show benefits of the KD on various ailments, there is not concordance in the literature about their absolute effectiveness and doubts remain about their safety.

Low Compliance

I tell my clients “don’t start a diet you can’t stick to for the rest of your life”. One of the key downsides to the KD is that compliance is very low as it can be a very challenging pattern of eating to stick to for the long term. Optimizing adherence is the most important factor for long-term weight loss success.

Side-effects

Entering into a ketogenic diet can lead to a variety of symptoms colloquially termed “the keto-flu”. These include: head-aches, dehydration, shivers, foggy brain and nausea. Some people don’t get past this stage before they throw in the towel. Entering into ketosis slowly, that is, reducing carbohydrates and increasing fat intake over a period of time can reduce the symptoms of the keto-flu.

Rebound Weight Gain

The initial weight loss in a KD is due to the loss of water as your body burns through its water-filled carbohydrate (glycogen) stores. Further, as your body is deprived of energy from carbohydrate sources, it will look to, not only fat, but protein reserves to break down and convert to useable energy. It is possible, therefore, to lose lean tissue when following a KD. Preserving muscle mass while aging is key to injury prevention and mobility. Further, reduction in muscle mass can slow the metabolism and lead to rebound weight gain if/when normal eating resumes.

Lack of Nutrients

The KD diet is incredibly restrictive and many of the forbidden foods are colourful plants rich in fibre and phytonutrients. Although low-carb veggies are allowed and encouraged (such as leafy greens) most fruits, all grains and legumes as well as certain higher carb veggies like carrots and beets are prohibited.

The KD can end up being quite low in fibre which can lead to constipation and other lower gastro-intestinal disorders. Supplements are often recommended to those following a KD as deficiencies could occur in any or all of the following: B-vitamins, calcium, sodium, potassium, vitamin D and the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E. Further, there is also an increased risk of developing kidney stones. These are a couple of reasons why those prescribed a ketogenic diet (for example for epilepsy) are also monitored by an experienced nutritional professional.

Photo cred: @tlbvelo

Not For You

Those who should not go on a KD include children, teenagers, women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to get pregnant, those suffering from adrenal fatigue, poor thyroid function or high -level athletes. As athletes know, carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for high intensity training. Without them, athletes will have a marked- reduction in performance and increased levels of perceived exertion, that is, everything will feel very difficult and they won’t go as fast or be as strong.

Bottom Line

You can see there are potential benefits for some people in following a KD but many drawbacks and a fair amount of uncertainty. What is interesting to note is that exercise and fasting can evoke a similar physiological state to that triggered by the KD.

Further, being in the state of ketosis is not a requirement for weight loss or improved metabolic markers. There is ample evidence that those who suffer from metabolic syndrome* would see favourable changes in following a diet that moderately restricts carbohydrates to 26-44% of their daily diet. The emphasis would be to consume low-glycemic, high fibre, phytonutrient rich sources of carbohydrates. This dietary pattern would minimize many of the potential negatives associated with the more restrictive KD.

If you want more information or to discuss a diet that is right for you contact me for a consultation.

 * Metabolic syndrome: is a cluster of conditions that occur together including: high blood pressure, high blood sugar/ insulin resistance, excess abdominal fat and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels that can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Resources 

Dashti HM1, et al. Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients. Exp Clin Cardiol. 2004 Fall;9(3):200-5.

Smyl C1. Ketogenic Diet and Cancer-a Perspective. Recent Results Cancer Res. 2016;207:233-40. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-42118-6_11.

Tinsley GM1, Willoughby DS. Fat-Free Mass Changes During Ketogenic Diets and the Potential Role of Resistance Training. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2016 Feb;26(1):78-92. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2015-0070. Epub 2015 Aug 12.

Tagliabue A1, Ferraris C2, Uggeri F3, Trentani C2, Bertoli S4, de Giorgis V5, Veggiotti P5, Elli M3. Short-term impact of a classical ketogenic diet on gut microbiota in GLUT1 Deficiency Syndrome: A 3-month prospective observational study. Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2017 Feb;17:33-37. doi: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2016.11.003. Epub 2016 Dec 18.

A Paoli1, A Rubini1, J S Volek2 and K A Grimaldi3 Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2013) 67, 789–796; doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.116; published online 26 June 2013

Rietman A1, Schwarz J1, Tomé D2, Kok FJ1, Mensink M1. High dietary protein intake, reducing or eliciting insulin resistance? Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014 Sep;68(9):973-9. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.123. Epub 2014 Jul 2.

Merino J1, Kones R2, Ferré R3, Plana N3, Girona J3, Aragonés G3, Ibarretxe D3, Heras M3, Masana L3. Low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat diet alters small peripheral artery reactivity in metabolic syndrome patients. Clin Investig Arterioscler. 2014 Mar-Apr;26(2):58-65. doi: 10.1016/j.arteri.2013.11.004. Epub 2013 Dec 21.

Liebman M1. When and why carbohydrate restriction can be a viable option. Nutrition. 2014 Jul-Aug;30(7-8):748-54. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2013.11.021. Epub 2013 Dec 4.

Thom G1, Lean M2. Is There an Optimal Diet for Weight Management and Metabolic Health? Gastroenterology. 2017 Feb 15. pii: S0016-5085(17)30158-0. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.01.056. [Epub ahead of print]

Ebbeling CB, Swain JF, Feldman HA, Wong WA, Hachey DL, Garcia-Logo E, and Ludwig DD. “Effects of dietary composition on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance.” JAMA 307: 267-2634 (2012).

Ebbeling CB, Leidig MM, Feldman HA, Lovesky MM, and Ludwig DS. “Effects of a low–glycemic load vs. low-fat diet in obese young adults”. JAMA 297: 2092-2102 (2007).

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Not So Sweet After All

 

The news has spread far and wide that sugar has detrimental effects on our health. In an effort to reduce the amount of sugar consumed many are turning away from their favourite sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) to low or zero-calorie alternatives. But, it’s not that simple. Research has shown that artificially sweetened beverages (ASB) are associated with the same health consequences as SSBs, in particular, weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Approximately 25% of children and 41% of adults consume ASB. They comprise about one quarter of the global sweetened beverages market. However, they are not taxed or regulated to the same extent as SSBs. This is likely due to their perceived harmlessness, according to some researchers.

Weight Loss or Gain?

It was originally surmised that switching from sugar-filled drinks to 0 calories drinks would lead to weight loss. However, there is a paucity of independent research showing that that is indeed the case. There are, however, a number of studies showing the opposite. A 3-can a day habit can double one’s risk of obesity in adults that started at a healthy body weight. Further, a review of 18 separate studies showed that consuming either SSB or ASB led to weight gain in children and teens.

Metabolic Mess

It has been shown that non-nutritive sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and saccharin disrupt the balance and diversity of our gut microbiota. Rich, diverse gut bacteria is associated with a reduced adiposity (body fat), improved insulin sensitivity and triglyceride levels, as well as, decrease in inflammation. Less diverse microbiota results in the opposite, that is, weight gain, inflammation, increased triglycerides and “bad” cholesterol.

The disruption in balance of the microbiome also results in impaired glucose tolerance which is a well-known risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

A number of studies have shown an increased risk in developing metabolic syndrome in those who consume ASB compared to those who do not. Metabolic syndrome is a term used to describe a cluster of risk factors that increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. This may be due to the fact that a breakdown product of aspartame inhibits a gut enzyme (intestinal alkaline phosphatase) that is known to protect against metabolic syndrome.

One study showed that consuming just one ASB or one SSB a day increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes even in participants who maintained a healthy body weight.

Physiological Confusion

Some researchers believe there may be a disconnect between the brain and the gut when we taste something sweet but no calories arrive. Sweetness should evoke numerous physiological responses that help prepare our body to metabolize the sugars into energy for immediate use or to store as glycogen or fat. Consuming sweet drinks or food should also trigger a cascade that ends up signalling to our brain when we are full. However, research on mice has shown that consuming artificial sweeteners may impair the body’s ability to respond and regulate our intake of sweet foods that contain energy (calories). In other words, if one regularly consumes artificial sweeteners and then has a piece of cake with real sugar, he may not metabolize the sugars effectively and, further, he is unlikely to feel satiated which, in turn, could lead to over-eating.

Keep Away from Kids

Artificial sweeteners may have an even more deleterious effect on children. They range from 200-700 times sweeter than regular sucrose (table sugar). When children are exposed to hyper-sweet foods they can develop a preference for them. This preference is hard to dial back and can stay with them through to adulthood. The level of sweetness they then crave cannot be satisfied by a ripe strawberry, a mango or perhaps not even by regular sugar.

What’s the answer?

Non-caloric sweeteners are not the panacea big food companies and sugar-lovers all hoped. They mess up our metabolism, lead to the same health risks as consuming regular sugar-sweetened beverages and reduce diversity in our gut which we only recently realized was an important thing to have.

The only real answer is to train your taste buds to crave less sweet things. Drink water for thirst. Reduce sugar and artificial sweeteners as much as you possibly can. A 3- month weaning process is achievable and may be more successful than cold-turkey attempts.

After all:

References:

Brown, R.J., et al. Artificial Sweeteners: A systematic review of metabolic effects in youth. International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, 2010; 00: 1–8

Gul SS. et al. Inhibition of the gut enzyme intestinal alkaline phosphatase may explain how aspartame promotes glucose intolerance and obesity in mice. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2017 Jan;42(1):77-83. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2016-0346

Fowler SP1, Williams K, Resendez RG, Hunt KJ, Hazuda HP, Stern MP. Fueling the obesity epidemic? Artificially sweetened beverage use and long-term weight gain.  Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008 Aug;16(8):1894-900. doi: 10.1038/oby.2008.284. Epub 2008 Jun 5.

Nettleton JE1, Reimer RA2, Shearer J3. Reshaping the gut microbiota: Impact of low calorie sweeteners and the link to insulin resistance? Physiol Behav. 2016 Oct 1;164(Pt B):488-93. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.04.029. Epub 2016 Apr 15.

Suez J1 et al. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature. 2014 Oct 9;514(7521):181-6. doi: 10.1038/nature13793. Epub 2014 Sep 17.

Susan E. Swithers Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Sep; 24(9): 431–441. Published online 2013 Jul 10. doi:  10.1016/j.tem.2013.05.005 

Sylvetsky AC, Jin Y, Clark EJ, Welsh JA, Rother KI, Talegawkar SA. Consumption of Low-Calorie Sweeteners among Children and Adults in the United States. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017 Mar;117(3):441-448.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2016.11.004. Epub 2017 Jan 10.

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A New Year, A New You? Well….

A new year? A new you? Well, probably not, but maybe!

Research shows that by February most people have reverted to their previous year’s behaviour and resolutions are long forgotten, if not the lingering feeling of defeat. Although one study showed that 19% of resolution-makers were successful in sticking to their resolution after 2 years.

So what makes some of us successful while others fail? It has to do with:

 READINESS, MOTIVATION and SELF-EFFICACY

The first stage in changing a bad habit to a good one is readiness. There is no point putting a resolution on your list if you aren’t ready to tackle it. This is why I ask my clients to fill out a Readiness for Change Questionnaire so that I can ascertain their level of commitment and motivation. Behavioural change does not happen in a day. Psychologist outline between 3-6 discrete stages of change. The simplified version is:

  • pre-contemplation
  • contemplation
  • action

You need to be at the action stage in order to write that resolution down for 2017.

Ask yourself: is this goal truly important to me? You can’t put a resolution on your list because your spouse, mother, children, co-workers want you to do it. It has to resonate with you. Motivation is key and you must value the outcome that you are seeking in order to effectively execute the change. Ask yourself, “on a scale of 1-10 how motivated am I to follow through with this resolution?” Write down the number.

Next, you need to have sufficient self-efficacy to follow through with your resolution. Self-efficacy is simply a belief in yourself that you can execute a task, or simply put “I got this”. In order for you to feel confident about your ability to follow-through, ensure the resolution is not too large or cumbersome. It should be realistic and achievable. Ask yourself, “on a scale of 1-10 how confident am I that I can execute this change in behaviour successfully.”

Your motivation and self-efficacy scores should both be at 7 or higher in order for you to have a realistic chance of following through with your resolution.

Finally, notice I am using resolution in the singular, focus on one behavioural change at a time. A list of 5 resolutions is unlikely to be attainable. Once you have changed behaviour for a number of months so that an old habit has become a new healthy habit, then you can consider resolution number 2 and go through the same steps.

Good luck, Happy New Year and don’t forget:

You got this!. Believe in yourself.

References

Bandura, A., & Locke, E.A. (2003). Negative self-efficacy and goals revisited. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 87-99.

Norcross, J.C., Mrykalo, M.S., & Blagys, M.D. (2002). Auld lang syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397-405.

Norcross, J.C., Ratzin, A.C., & Payne, D. (1989). Ringing in the new year: The change processes and reported outcomes of resolutions. Addictive Behaviors, 14(2), 205-212.

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Which Oil Should I Use & Which Ones Should I Avoid?

 

There are lots of tasty oils on the market but do you know which ones to use and when to use them? Even more importantly, do you know which ones to avoid?

Oils help us absorb specific vitamins and phytonutrients like vitamin A, K, E and D as well as lutein and other carotenoids. They can also add flavour and richness to our meals.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil – The Queen of Oils

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is produced by a mechanical pressing of the olives which is done under a certain temperature (27°C) so that it does not degrade the oil. Use of solvents or chemicals to extract the oil are not permitted. Further, it must taste like olives and be free from defects.

A phenolic compound contained in EVOO, called oleocanthal, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties similar to Ibuprofen that has been shown to reduce symptoms of both joint and neuro-degenerative diseases, as well reduce inflammatory markers in those with heart disease.

Last year a study showed that the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet on reducing the incidence or mortality from certain cancers may be due specifically to the oleocanthal in olive oil. Researchers found that oleocanthal kills cancer cells by rupturing their lysosomal membranes.

If you have ever tried olive oil tasting you will know that certain oils will induce a cough after sipping. That cough is from the oleocanthal and is a sign of a great olive oil.

Should we cook with extra virgin olive oil?

Yes, you can cook with either extra virgin or virgin olive oils. The smoking point for olive oil ranges from 380-410°F which is well above the ideal temperature for sautéing food. The oil will not spoil at these temperatures. Studies have shown that olive oil (including extra virgin) is a stable oil resistant to damage from heat.

It’s important to avoid heating oils beyond their smoking point as this denatures the fats, releases toxic fumes and creates free radicals.

Avocado Oilavocado pic

Avocado oil is worth a mention as it has one of the highest smoking points, making it a stable oil to heat and it has a similar fatty acid profile to olive oil. It does not taste like avocados but has a mild flavour with a nutty undertone; an “almost neutral” oil. Like olive oil, it helps increase the absorption of carotenoids, a group of plant pigments (red, yellow, orange) that have antioxidant properties.

Next time you want to use olive oil but need something with a little less flavour, reach for avocado oil. 

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is 92% saturated fat which is why it is solid at room temperature. Unsurprisingly, coconut oil has a rich and distinctive flavour of coconuts which can enhance many dishes. It’s smoking point (350°F) is similar to butter so this is not the fat you want to use for high temperature cooking.

The majority of the fats contained in coconut oil are called medium chain fatty acids (MCFA). We metabolize these fats differently than long chain fatty acids, for example, those found in butter. MCFA are metabolized in our liver for energy and are less likely to be stored as fat which is why some claim they can help with weight loss. At this stage more scientific research is needed to support these claims. A recent study did show that coconut oil raised total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol to a greater extent than unsaturated plant oils, but to a lesser extent than butter.

Enjoying coconut oil in place of butter can be a tasty change for your palate and may reap some health benefits. But EVOO still wears the yellow jersey in terms of the oil with the most health benefits supported by rigorous scientific evidence. 

Finishing Oils

Walnut, hemp or flax seed oils all have healthy nutritional profiles; however, they are not conducive to heating. You can use them to drizzle on top of prepared dishes to impart an extra hint of flavour.

What About a Neutral Tasting Oils: Canola, Grape Seed, Safflower etc?

Canola oil is a highly processed oil which uses chemical solvents or high speed presses that generate heat. If you use Canola oil try organic cold pressed to ensure you are getting a better quality product.

Grape seed oil is a slightly cleaner oil than Canola and has a higher smoking point (420°F to Canola’s 400°F). Organic cold pressed grape seed oil should also be sought out over conventional methods of production. 

Cheaper refined oils such as soybean oil, safflower and sunflower oils go through intensive mechanical and chemical processing which yield a flavourless oil that is easily oxidized. Oxidation of oils create free radicals which is why these refined oils should be limited.

Cottonseed oil should be avoided at all costs as it contains toxins and is likely high in pesticide residues as cotton is not classified as a food and, therefore, heavier use of pesticides is permitted.

Final Tips

Buy olive and avocado oils in tins or darkened glass to reduce the chance of oxidation from light. Store your oils in a cool, dark place and don’t bulk buy. Follow the old adage: store what you use and use what you store. That is, aim to use your oils within a month or so to ensure optimal freshness.

Check out the world’s best EVOO for 2016 here.

References

Y. Allouche, A. Jiménez, J. J. Gaforio, M. Uceda, G. Beltrán, How heating affects extra virgin olive oil quality indexes and chemical composition, J Agric Food Chem, 2007 Nov 14;55(23):9646-54. Epub 2007 Oct 13, PMID: 17935291

Eyres L1, Eyres MF2, Chisholm A2, Brown RC2.Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans.Nutr Rev. 2016 Apr;74(4):267-80. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuw002. Epub 2016 Mar 5. 

Parkinson L1, Keast R2. Oleocanthal, a phenolic derived from virgin olive oil: a review of the beneficial effects on inflammatory disease. Int J Mol Sci. 2014 Jul 11;15(7):12323-34. doi: 10.3390/ijms150712323.

Verberne L1, Bach-Faig A, Buckland G, Serra-Majem L. Nutr Cancer. 2010;62(7):860-70. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2010.509834. Association between the Mediterranean diet and cancer risk: a review of observational studies. 

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A Better Resolution

 

It’s the end of January when resolution-fatigue often sets in. Wine has reappeared on Monday nights; sweet treats have replaced apples as the afternoon snack; and the 10 day extreme detox didn’t get past day 3 when fatigue and a relentless headache set in.

Some well-intentioned resolutions are just too tough to stick to for the long haul. Ideally, resolutions should be specific, realistic, achievable and, I would add, worth it. They should add some value or benefit to your life.

January is a banger month for detoxes or cleanse programs. But be aware that any program that severely limits caloric intake for a prolonged period of time could end up backfiring. Your body will react by putting the breaks on your metabolism in an effort to conserve energy.

Eliminating entire food groups could also lead to gaping holes in your nutritional intake. In particular, restricting protein while simultaneously reducing calories can lead to the loss of lean muscle, not fat. Reducing muscle mass will further suppress your waning metabolism and when normal eating resumes, fat, not lean tissue, will be gained.

I understand the desire to clean up one’s eating after the excesses of the holidays; however, extreme measures are unnecessary. Reducing sugars, alcohol, refined flours and processed foods while increasing your consumption of whole, fibre-rich vegetables is a realistic and achievable way to start.

It turns out we need to heed this advice as only 40 per cent of Canadians are eating at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, which falls well short of Canada’s Food Guide recommendation of 7-10 servings.

Soup’s the Solution

An easy way to increase your consumption of these super-foods is to get your soup on! Soup is not a trend. It has never been out of food fashion and there are plenty of reasons why. Research has shown that regular soup eaters consume more vegetables, fibre, protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals than those who don’t eat soup.

It’s not just the nutrients in soup that makes it a great go-to choice for those with health-focussed resolutions. Studies show that soup-eaters weigh less, have smaller waists and consume fewer daily calories compared to those who avoid this wonderful, warm meal. Soup induces fullness more quickly than solid food and can help reduce hunger throughout the day.

What I personally like about soup is that it forces you to slow down, sit down and enjoy your meal mindfully. You can’t eat soup on the run, or if you do, you may only do so once. Ouch.

Homemade or Close-To-Home-Made

Not all soups are created equal. Most canned soups are loaded with sodium so it is always better to make your own. Alternatively, choose high-quality, fresh products with a short list of ingredients all of which you would find in your own refrigerator.

Adding wholesome vegetable and fibre-rich soup to your daily diet is a resolution that ticks all the boxes: it’s specific, realistic, utterly achievable and is, most definitely, worth it.

 

ROASTED CARROT & PARSNIP SOUP

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
  • ½ pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock
  • Optional: cilantro

 

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  2. In a large roasting pan, combine the carrots, parsnips, onion, 3 tablespoons of the oil, salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables in an even layer and roast, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden brown, about 45 minutes.
  3. Transfer the vegetables to a blender and purée with 3 cups of vegetable stock.       Blend. Add more stock as needed to achieve the right consistency. Reheat in a pot over medium-low heat.
  4. Serve with a drizzle of good quality olive oil and sprinkle of cilantro

 

Resources:

Clegg ME1, Ranawana V, Shafat A, Henry CJ. Soups increase satiety through delayed gastric emptying yet increased glycaemic response. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Jan;67(1):8-11. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2012.152. Epub 2012 Oct 24.

Flood JE, Rolls BJ. Soup preloads in a variety of forms reduce meal energy intake. Appetite. 2007 Nov;49(3):626-34. Epub 2007 Apr 14.

Statistics Canada. Canadian Consumer Health Survey. Fruit and Vegetable Consumption. 2012. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2013001/article/11837-eng.htm

Zhu Y, Hollis JH. Soup consumption is associated with a reduced risk of overweight and obesity but not metabolic syndrome in US adults: NHANES 2003-2006. PLoS One. 2013 Sep 30;8(9):e75630. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075630. eCollection 2013.

Zhu Y, Hollis JH. Soup consumption is associated with a lower dietary energy density and a better diet quality in US adults. Br J Nutr. 2014 Apr 28;111(8):1474-80. doi: 10.1017/S0007114513003954. Epub 2014 Jan 2.

 

 

 

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My Job? To Put Myself Out of a Job

pic me needs work

My goal is to put myself out of a job for every individual client. I want to empower my clients with knowledge, motivation and tools that they can use to move forward indefinitely with eating the right foods (most of the time), in the right amount, for the right reason. Simply put, to become and live as intuitive eaters.

One of the first things I tell my clients is that “I don’t do diets”. Diets are something you go on and then come off of – a recipe for disaster in my mind. I want each client to establish long-term changes in their eating habits and lifestyle that last a lifetime. There is no on again off again. This is life. Let’s get it right.

Many people suffer from some form of emotional eating. It doesn’t always relate to negative emotions either. Sure, stress, fatigue and anxiety can lead one to the Doritos, but so too can happiness, excitement, new love, and fun. We eat for many reasons, but really we should only eat for one. Any guesses? You got it: eat when you are hungry. Only. Period. Full Stop. The second half to that equation is: stop the moment you are satisfied. “Satisfied” means no longer hungry; not “stuffed to the gills”. Following these two simple maxims is the key to intuitive eating.

Overcoming emotional eating takes practice and perseverance. Recognition is the first step and then developing alternative coping skills away from food is essential. For some, it may require help in the form of professional counselling. However, for many, it can be achieved with a bit of motivation and a lot of mindfulness.

As we are approaching the holidays we will all be faced with multiple temptations throughout the day. Shortbread brought to work, cocktail party canapés, chocolate chocolate everywhere. Before you indulge, take a moment to ask yourself the following questions and guide yourself through the intuitive eating flow chart.

Intuitive eating chart_correctedIf you end up at “eat and enjoy without guilt” do so. However, keep in mind that one or two Purdy’s chocolate will satisfy that craving, but 10 will lead to remorse.

The question “will I be deprived if I don’t eat it?” is a key one. If you stop banning foods and give yourself permission to enjoy the odd treat, the answer to this question will become clear. A tray of store-bought Christmas cookies that has been sitting out on the kitchen table all day may elicit the answer “no, I will not be deprived if I don’t eat this”. However, you may choose to indulge in a piece of your grandma’s famous homemade fudge.

Santas Christmas Cookie Snack

Intuitive eating isn’t about throwing caution to the wind and eating anything you want, whenever you want. It involves mindful choices that allows you to find a balance between eating food you enjoy, when you are hungry, stopping when satisfied and then getting on with the rest of your life.

For more information or to kick-start your own path to intuitive eating contact me at haleybarton@nutritionsavvy.ca

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On the Chopping Block: Bacon, Ham, Hot Dogs & Salami…

If you picked up a paper last week or turned on the news you will have heard that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, published their findings on the carcinogenicity of red and processed meat. This group of 22 international expert concluded that processed meat should be classified as “carcinogenic” (ie causes cancer) to humans (Group 1) based on sufficient evidence from over 800 studies.

They concluded that red meat should be classified “probably carcinogenic” to humans (Group 2A) based on limited evidence that the consumption of meat causes colorectal cancer.

Group 1 classifications show that there is convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer. Group 2A classifications means that the agent is probably carcinogenic to humans. The experts found a positive association between red meat and colorectal cancer; however, other explanations cannot be ruled out.

What is Processed Meat?chopped bacon and salami on a plate

Processed meat is meat that is not fresh and that has been transformed through curing, smoking, salting, fermentation, addition of preservatives or other processes to enhance flavour or prolong preservation. Examples include hot dogs, salami, bologna, ham, corned beef, and jerky.

What is Red Meat?

For the purposes of these studies red meat includes beef, lamb, veal, mutton, horse, goat and, yes, even “the other white meat”, pork.

What’s the Risk?

Researchers found that the risk is dose-dependent, that means, the more you eat, the
higher the risk. Studies showed that for every 50 grams (1.7 ounces) of processed meat eaten daily, it increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18%.

The risk in consuming red meat is more difficult to quantify; however, researchers estimate that the risk of colorectal cancer could increase by 17% for every 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of red meat eaten daily.

These are ballpark figures and every person’s risk will be different as cancer development is due to a multitude of factors, some known, some unknown.

How Does Processed & Red Meat Cause Cancer

There are multiple ways in which red and processed meat may cause cancer although the precise mechanisms are still up for debate. One potentially causative factor is due to the heme iron contained in red meat. Once digested, it may cause damage to the lining of our colon (mucosa). This damage then spurs on cellular replication in order to commence the healing process. This added replication can increase the chance of DNA errors in the new cells which can develop into the early stages of cancer.

Processed red meat will have naturally occurring heme iron as well as added nitrites or nitrates to help the preservation of the products. These nitrites and nitrates are converted in our bodies to form n-nitroso compounds which are the cancer causing agents.

Cooking meat at high temperatures and until well done can cause the formation of another
carcinogen called heterocyclic amines. Barbecuing meat can also cause the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are another type of carcinogen.

What to do:

If you have colorectal cancer in your family you may wish to avoid processed meat as much as possible. For all others, having processed meat as infrequently as you are able is a good first step. Keep the ham, salamis and sausages for very special treats.

The evidence for red meat is not as strong and it bears reminding that red meat does contain important nutrients such as protein, zinc, iron and vitamin B12. However, it does make sense to be mindful of the amount of red meat we are eating. Keeping within the guidelines produced by the Canadian Cancer Society is a good start. They recommend limiting red meat to three 85 gram (3 ounce) servings per week for adults.

When you do enjoy your red meat try not to char, burn or use high temperatures while cooking. Using wet cooking methods like braising or stewing can reduce the formation of carcinogens.

Choose fish over meat and aim to have vegetarian days a couple times a week. Get friendly with lentils, edamame, chickpeas and lots of veg. The die-hard carnivores often enjoy mushrooms for their meaty texture.

Ham-Free Lunch Box Ideas

After this news broke I received numerous queries from parents on what to put in their children’s lunchbox as ham and salami were a mainstay for many families.

Here are some healthy lunchbox alternatives to put between two pieces of bread:

  • Wild Salmon Salad – tinned salmon with squeeze of lemon juice, small spoonful of mayo and chopped cucumber and celery. For adventurous kids green onions and capers give this sandwich a great zing.
  • Grilled Veggies with Hummus – stick to what your kids like, if it’s just red peppers for now, great, if you can add zucchini and eggplant, even better. A thick spread of hummus will provide a source of protein.
  • Bananas & School-Safe Butters – pumpkin seed butter with slices of bananas (I won’t tell if you add a drizzle of honey or jam). I often roll this up in a whole grain tortilla.
  • Blended Veggie Bagel – steam cauliflower and broccoli until soft. Add a dollop of plain or herbed cream cheese and blend together to make a spread. Spread on a whole grain bagel for a healthy twist on plain cream cheese.
  • Coronation Chicken Pitas – chicken is already a popular sandwich filling but try switching up the flavours by making a British classic: coronation chicken.

Coronation Chicken Pitas

  • 2 tbsp natural Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp mild curry powder
  • 1 tsp mango chutney
  • 1/4 ripe mango, peeled and chopped into small 2cm pieces (if available)
  • Small bunch of cilantro leaves (about 5), chopped (optional)
  • 1.5-2 ounces of roast chicken, chopped into 2 cm pieces
  • 1 green leaf lettuce, washed & torn
  • 2 mini whole grain pitas

Add the yogurt, curry powder, chutney together in a bowl and mix to combine. Fold in the chicken, fresh mango and cilantro. Fill two mini whole grain pitas with chicken mixture and a few pieces of fresh green leaf lettuce.

More Information:

  • Cancer Below the Belt: http://nutritionsavvy.ca/cancer-below-the-belt/
  • http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2015/pdfs/pr240_E.pdf
  • http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(15)00444-1/abstract
  • http://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/#
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5 Slimming Summer Salads

Everyone wants to look their best in the summer. But how do you shed those extra pounds that snuck on since Christmas?

It can be hard reducing the amount of food we eat or changing our usual go-to choices.  But here is one quick tip that can help you along your way.

Fuel for the day, lighten at night.

You’ve heard the old adage: eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper? It’s good advice, yet, culturally we tend to do the opposite. We need food to energize us through our busy day. But come evening time, activity levels reduce as we gear down for the night.

If you skip breakfast or eat small amounts through the day, your hunger will build and by the time 5pm rolls around, you are famished. You end up eating more than you would normally if you had a decent breakfast and lunch.

So start your day with a proper breakfast. Enjoy a lunch that satisfies you through the afternoon. If you are hungry at 4pm or so, have a healthy snack that will take the edge off your appetite. Prepare a lighter, vegetable-focussed dinner with a source of protein. When your plate is done, so are you. No second helpings.

Aim to eat about 3 hours before bed time so your body has a chance to digest your dinner and to reduce the chance of heart burn. Wake up hungry and ready to fuel for the next day.

Need some inspiration? Try these 5 Delicious Dinner Salads. One for each day of the work week.

For more info check out my segment on CTV Morning Live on Slimming Summer Salads:  http://bc.ctvnews.ca/recipes/five-healthy-summer-salads-1.2391902

Asian Shredded Chicken SaladIMG_5250

  • 3 ounces rotisserie chicken
  • 1 cup shredded napa cabbage
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • ½ red pepper julienned
  • small handful snow peas, cut on diagonal
  • cilantro – torn
  • 1 tablespoon black and white sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon slivered almonds

Dressing

  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon honey

Combine all ingredients and toss with dressing. Can use pre-cut and washed broccoli slaw to save time! Serves 1.

Fava Bean & Asparagus SaladIMG_5249

  • ½ cup fava beans (about 10 pods), blanched for 1 minute and de-skinned
  • 5 asparagus spears
  • 2 cups arugula
  • 1 tablespoon torn fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon shaved pecorino cheese
  • 1 egg

Dressing:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare fava beans. Steam asparagus for 1 minute. In the meantime poach egg. Combine all ingredients for dressing and whisk together with a fork. Assemble salad by laying down arugula, top with asparagus, fava beans, mint and toss gently with lemon vinaigrette. Top with shaved pecorino cheese and poached egg. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 1.

Grilled Prawns & Corn Summer SaladIMG_5247

  • 3-4 raw prawns, deveined, on skewer.
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cob of corn
  • Small head of butter lettuce
  • Handful of grape tomatoes
  • 1/3 of an avocado

Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe above)

Preheat BBQ and place cob of corn on hot grill. Turn regularly so each side turns golden brown and caramelized. Remove from heat to cool. Combine olive oil, garlic and lemon juice and brush onto prawns. Place prawns on grill and cook about 3 minutes a side depending on size. Continue to brush with garlic marinade.

Assemble salad by laying down butter lettuce, chopped tomatoes and avocadoes. Cut kernels off the cob of corn and sprinkled on top of lettuce. Toss gently with lemon vinaigrette. Add cooked skewered prawns to top. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 1.

 

Spelt Salad with Strawberries, Mint & FetaIMG_5246

  • ½ cup of pre-cooked spelt (option to use quinoa)
  • ½ cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon torn mint
  • 2 radishes sliced
  • 1 ounce crumbled feta
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 2 cups spinach
  • Dressing: 2 teaspoons olive oil + drizzle (1 teaspoon or so) of balsamic vinegar

Combine first 6 ingredients and toss with ½ the amount of dressing. Assemble spinach on plate and place grain salad on top. Drizzle remaining dressing on top and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 1.

Thai Beef SaladIMG_5245

  • 3-4 ounce strip loin steak
  • 1 Thai chili, julienned
  • ¼ red onion, sliced
  • ½ cup cucumber, julienned
  • 2 cups spring mix lettuce
  • 1/3 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half or quarters
  • 4 leafs Thai basil, torn
  • ¼ cup torn cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon

Dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

Grill steak on BBQ until cooked to your liking. Make dressing by combining all ingredients and whisking together. Assemble salad by laying down spring mix lettuce, toping with cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. Lay sliced steak on top and drizzle dressing over top. Garnish with Thai basil, cilantro and peanuts.  Serves 1.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

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Slick Tricks On How To Manage the Halloween Loot Bag

Did you know that one loot bag of Halloween treats can amount to between 3000-7000trick or treat_ns calories? Yikes! What’s a parent to do?

Well, fear not. One day of “over-doing-it” is not going to cause anyone long term harm. As parents, we want to make sure we preserve the joy of Halloween while ensuring our children do not turn into sugar-zombies for weeks afterwards.

Let’s be honest, it’s not just the kids that we have to worry about. Suddenly we have an abundance of  bite size morsels of chocolatey treats hidden in our cupboards with no one taking stock of how many have disappeared by the end of each day.  So the first tip is geared to the grown-ups.

Slick Trick #1: Don’t Stock Temptation

If you haven’t bought your Halloween stash yet, well done! Don’t buy anything until the 30th or even better the 31st. It is hard to resist temptation so make it easy on yourself and keep it out of the house as long as possible. On November 1st, follow-through with a plan to get rid of any leftovers.

Buy items that do not tempt you. If you are a chocoholic, then buy liquorice. If you love all things sugar, then buy chips. If you can’t resist any junk food, then buy non-edible toys.  Bubbles, glow bracelets, stickers, costume jewellery, play-doh are a great alternative to the usual Halloween fare. Kids love little trinkets and toys and your conscience is clear that you have not contributed to the 7000 calories in the neighbourhood children’s loot bags!

Slick Trick #2: Pre-load with a Healthy Dinner Before Trick-or-Treating 

With younger children, trick-or-treating can start early in evening. However, don’t head out until you have pre-loaded your children with a nutritious dinner.  Serving some protein and lots of fibrous veggies will take the edge off their appetite and help keep their blood sugar on an even keel when the inevitable candy onslaught occurs later in the evening.

Slick Trick #3: Consider the Buy-Back Plan or the Switch WitchIMG_1638

The joy of Halloween for children is not simply eating the candy. It is the costumes, the fun of trick-or-treating, the fireworks, the staying up late and being with friends. It is also the looking, the counting, the comparing and the sorting of the candy. In fact, I think this is often the best part for many kids. Let your kids lay out their loot and enjoy sorting their bounty.

If you wish, allow your kids to enjoy a number of their favourite treats when they get home from trick-or-treating.  I then let them choose 3 or so of their favourites to keep and enjoy over the next few days to come. The rest gets put back in the loot bag and is left out by the pumpkin for the Switch Witch. The Switch Witch magically comes at night and whisks the candy bag away and leaves a coupon for the toy store. For older kids, a straight-out buy-back deal may be more appropriate. Parents may wish to buy their children’s candy in exchange for cold-hard cash. Note to parents, the idea behind this plan isn’t that you then eat the stash. Donate it, store it for later, use small amounts in baking or simply throw it out, it’s up to you. But remember: don’t stock temptation.

In order to make this successful, you ideally need the children to be on board with the program. If you can’t convince them to do a buy-back or use the services of the Switch Witch, then simply devise a plan on how to manage the loot.

Slick Trick #4: See Halloween as Learning Opportunity

IMG_3658

Serving size

If your child wishes to keep the stash of treats or perhaps you don’t want to fork out extra money for the buy-back, then simply work toward having your child be able to manage his own stash. Ultimately, we want our kids to be able to self-regulate their eating.  If you have a child that exhibits sufficient self-control that they only eat moderate portions of their treats (for example 1-2) each day, then really you need not do anything.

For most children, some guidance may be necessary. I would make a deal with your children that if you see them managing their loot bag well, then you will not interfere. For example, this could mean enjoying 1-2 treats of their choice for dessert after meals as opposed to bingeing on 10 treats after school on an empty stomach. If your child can follow the rules, they get to keep the stash. If they can’t, then you become the banker and can dole out the odd treat after meals.

The bottom line is not to worry too much about this one sugar-laden day. Come to an agreement with your children before trick-or-treating as to what you will do with the stash. Do they want to do the buy-back, do they want to manage their own loot? Treat it as a learning opportunity to teach your kids about self-regulation and the health consequences of eating too much sugar.  If you need a reminder about the perils of sugar, check out here and here. You may find that after a few days the kids tend to forget about their stash and it can magically disappear.

Happy Halloween!

Festive Halloween Recipe:

Carrot Gingerbread Muffins                                                                                      Gluten-free, kid-friendly, low-sugar, high protein.

  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup butter or coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup black strap molasses
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 3 cups shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk the eggs, butter or coconut oil, vanilla and molasses together in a large bowl. Sift in the coconut flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger. Mix until well combined and fairly smooth. Add the carrots and raisins, if using. Stir well. In a muffin tin, scoop 1/4 cup batter into each lined muffin container and bake for 25-30 minutes until cooked through. Makes 12 muffins.

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BACK TO SCHOOL LUNCHES


Although it is only the end of September, you may be struggling to come up with new lunchbox ideas for your school aged children. It’s the perennial question that eludes mothers and fathers everywhere – how to pack a lunch that:

(a)    is  healthy

(b)   your child will eat and

(c)    is quick to prepare

Let’s first look at what ideally should go into a lunch box. Remember that the contents of the lunch box will contribute about 1/3rd of your child’s daily diet for 5 out of 7 days a week, assuming it is eaten. That’s a lot of food, so it’s important that those lunch boxes pack a nutritional punch.

WHAT WHY HOW
2-3 Fruits & Vegetables Children need a minimum of 5 servings of fruit and veg a day in order to obtain all their nutrient needs, including vitamin C, potassium, folic acid and more.Very few kids are actually obtaining this goal.Fruits and veg are also a fantastic source of fibre. Fibre is filling. It also slows the absorption of the sugars, particularly from fruit. These qualities ensure your child will be comfortably full after recess and avoid a sugar-high and crash that can occur by drinking juice.

 

Keep it simple- raw crunchy veggies:

  • Sugar snap peas
  • Carrots
  •  Bell peppers
  • Radishes
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Raw cauliflower or broccoli
  • Snow peas
  • Zucchini or summer squash

Easy to pack fruits – apples,mandarin oranges, pears, bananas, berries, kiwi, plums, figs, prunes, apricots, chopped melon

1-2 Whole Grains / Starchy Vegetables Choosing whole grain products will not only provide more nutrients, but will keep your children satisfied for longer.Try to avoid sugar-laden refined flour products like store bought muffins, cookies, banana breads which will spike blood sugar and leave your children tired and hungry during afternoon classes
  • Quinoa
  • Brown & wild rice
  • Kamut & spelt whole grain salads
  • Whole grain breads, pitas, tortillas
  • Whole oat cake (Nairns, Walkers)
  • Yams, corn, peas, new potatoes
1 Protein Food Protein is also very satiating. It does not spike blood sugar and will keep your kids going until the 3 o’clock bell.It’s NOT just meat! Plant protein is a wonderful choice as it is high in protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre.Dairy products are also a good source of protein so these two components can overlap. Plant protein: black beans, chick peas, kidney beans, lentils, edamame and soy products.
Fish: canned salmon, skipjack tuna (1x/wk), mackerel, sardines, fresh shrimp.
Animal protein: eggs, turkey, chicken, nitrate-free ham, lean beef, pork tenderloin
1 Calcium Food Children need between 2-4 servings of calcium-rich foods a day depending on age. Drinking cow, soy, or almond milk with meals is an easy way to reach this goal.These products provide calcium and  vitamin D for growing bones
  • This includes dairy and alternatives such as soy, almond or rice milk
  • Choose sugar free options as much as possible:
  • Milk
  • Cottage cheese
  • Hard cheese
  • Natural unsweetened yogurt – sweeten with fresh fruit or ½ tsp of honey or maple syrup
Healthy Fats Healthy fats optimize brain health particularly in children.Healthy fats  have anti-inflammatory properties which are important in preventing heart disease and type-2 diabetes. (see:http://nutritionsavvy.ca/2012/01/)
  • When choosing fats aim for extra virgin olive oil over butter
  • Nuts are not allowed in schools but seeds & their butters are – pumpkin, sunflower, flax and sesame
  • Avocadoes
  • Fatty fish: canned salmon, mackerel & sardines

You can see that I focus a lot on foods that are satiating and slowly absorbed, like whole vegetables, fruits, protein and whole grains. This way, not only will children be meeting their nutritional needs but they will also be able to concentrate through their afternoon classes and stay energized for after school activities.

EQUIPMENT

Luckily, lunch box containers and utensils have come a long way since the time I was taking a packed lunch to school. Freezer packs along with insulated lunch bags keep food cool until lunch time opening up a world of options like sushi for lunch or shrimp salad pitas.

Stainless steel containers with one, two, three or four compartments are also helpful in fostering creativity when packing the lunch, such as filling them up with a colourful trio of red pepper, sugar-snap peas and apricots.

Along with the usual thermos where you pour the contents into the attached mug, they now have thermal food containers which are short and squat. These are great for left-overs from the night before, for example, pastas, chilli, and thick soups. I like these for younger children as they don’t have to attempt pouring out hot liquids into a small mug. They can sip their soup straight out of the wider container opening.

The options are endless. Double-walled tiffin boxes can pack a great hot meal from chicken coconut curry to last night’s lasagne. Bento boxes are not just for sushi. Fill them up with a side of veggies, pinwheels and a hard-boiled egg that won’t get smashed.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER                                       2 weeks of lunch box ideas

LUNCH BOX OPTIONS TIPS
  • Apple slices & blackberries
  • Left over turkey chilli & rice
  • Carrot sticks
  • Skim milk, soy milk or water *

*for all lunches

I’m starting with a left-over as I think people often overlook dinner as a great source of fast, delicious lunchbox fixings.  Always keep lunch in mind when preparing dinner and make a few extra portions. Use a tiffin box or wide thermos container to pack the chilli.
  • Kiwi  & trail mix
  • Salmon salad pita with cucumbers
  • Simple Waldorf salad

 

 

No nut trail mix – mix pumpkin, sunflower and flax seeds with a few raisins. Instead of the usual tuna sandwich, use a tin of canned salmon, add some lemon juice and a tsp of light mayo, mix. Slice cucumbers to add some crunch.Simple Waldorf salad is apple & celery lightly dressed with a light mayo & yogurt dressing (1:1 ratio). Add walnuts for stay-at-home lunches and pumpkin seeds for school lunches. 
  • Mixed berries in natural yogurt
  •  Cheesy Beans
  • Snow peas & sliced raw zucchini

 

 

Use a stainless steel sealed container for the yogurt & berries and place an ice pack at the bottom of your insulated lunch bag. Cheesy Beans: 1/2 tin of black beans, 1 tablespoon of favourite salsa, warm up and then grate cheese on top. Place in thermos. Can also do a cool mixed bean salad with simple vinaigrette.
  • Pineapple chunks in cottage cheese
  • 1-2 Tortilla Cigars
  • Bunch of grapes

 

 

A throw back to the 1970s. Combining a sweet fruit with protein-rich dairy is perfect recess snack. Tortilla cigars: use whole grain tortillas, spread with hummus, place crunchy peppers, cucumbers and dare I suggest jicama in the middle. Roll up like a cigar.
  • Chopped up melon + small “low-sugar” pumpkin muffin
  • Roast chicken slices with cauliflower and cheese
  • Dried apple slices

 

Try to find some time on a Sunday afternoon to prepare some easy muffins for the week. Double the recipe and freeze – a great recess snack.Left over roast chicken slices are an easy source of protein and why not combine with a childhood favourite of cauliflower and cheese kept warm in a wide thermos container.
  • Pear and mini babybel or cheese slices
  • Hummus or tzatziki with broccoli & bell peppers
  • Oatcake sandwich
A snacker’s lunch. For those who are not interested in combined foods (like a chilli), pack an assortment of nibbles for them to enjoy like a mini lunchtime buffet.With reusable snack bags, slicing a couple of pieces of cheese is much more economical than the pre-packaged mini-portions.Oatcake sandwich: 2 Nairns or Walkers oatcakes with pumpkin seed (or other school-safe) butter spread in middle.
  • Celery sticks with sunflower seed butter or herb cream-cheese
  • Greek Salad & half a pita with taramasalata
  • Dried fruit mix (prunes, apricots, mangoes etc)
Spread your child’s favourite seed butter inside the celery will transform a boring veg into a protein & healthy-fat filled treat.You may be surprised, but taramasalata is often very well received by children. It’s tangy and smooth and not at all fishy despite being made with carp or cod roe. It provides a source of unsaturated fatty acids and some vitamin D as well. Dried fruit contain concentrated sugars, yet retain the fibre of the fruit – a sweet treat you can be happy about.
  • A whole sliced orange or 2 mandarins
  • Ugly but Yummy Soup (Lentil & Veggie)*
  • Cottage cheese
  • 1 low-sugar cookie
* recipe below
This soup is not pretty, but it is delicious and has received two thumbs up from my own picky eater. Make a large batch so you can freeze and enjoy again the next week. Lentils provide a nutritional trifecta: protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre. Low-sugar cookies – do they exist? Only if you make them. Follow any regular cookie recipe but reduce the sugar by at least ½ and substitute whole grain flour for white flour.
  • 2 plums
  • Warm ratatouille
  • Pinwheels:
  • ham & spinach 
  • egg salad and watercress 
  • turkey & Swiss cheese or
  • smoked salmon & cream cheese

 

Plums are a very low-sugar fruit, loaded with fibre and easy to eat. If your child likes ratatouille make a bunch for dinner and reheat in morning for a warm serving of veggies on a cold day.Pinwheels – kids love these cute-looking treats. Choose a small whole grain tortilla, spread the contents evenly over the tortilla. Roll up tightly and cut. Lay flat on cut side in snug container so they don’t fall apart or use tooth picks to keep in place.
  • 2 apricots or a peach
  • Quinoa Salad*
  • Yogurt with ½ tsp honey 
Quinoa is a super-grain, filled with antioxidants, fibre and high in protein. Load it up with your child’s favourite veggies and a handful of chickpeas.  

 

Hopefully these ideas will give you something new to try with your little ones. I’d suggest not giving your child a brand new food in their lunchbox without first trying it at home. It’s likely to hit the garbage can without being touched.

Involve your children with the shopping and packing of their own lunch boxes. Let them choose which fruits and veg they would like to buy at the grocery shop and then give them a choice of which two to pack each day. They are more likely to eat them if they feel they had some input in choosing the foods.

If you have a spare hour on a Sunday afternoon, try to whip up a large batch of soup, chilli, curry or bake low-sugar muffins to have on hand for the week ahead.

Stock up your pantry, fridge and freezer with easy go-to options.

Here’s a sample shopping list:

Pantry Items Fridge/ Freezer
  • Seed butters (pumpkin, sunflower, soy butter)- chick peas, black beans, lentils, red kidney beans- oatcakes
  • Canned salmon
  • Skipjack tuna
  • Sardines
  • Honey or jam ( to sweeten yogurt)
  • Pumpkin puree – unsweetened (muffins)
  • Whole wheat pastas
  • Great grains: quinoa, brown rice, whole grain cous cous

 

Fridge:

  • Cheese
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Hummus
  • See fruit & veg list above

Freezer

  • whole grain tortillas
  • whole grain pitas
  • edamame
  • frozen berries

 RECIPE OF THE WEEK

UGLY BUT YUMMY SOUP (LENTIL SOUP)

Yes this was named by my daughter, but she drank it up and asked for it the next day in her lunch box.

INGREDIENTS

2 tsp olive oil

1 medium sized onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 medium carrots, finely chopped

2 ribs celery, finely chopped

½ tsp turmeric

2 cups dried brown lentils, picked over and rinsed

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 cups cold water

Salt & Pepper

(optional: chopped cilantro to top)

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, carrot, celery and turmeric and cook, stirring until vegetables begin to soften, about 2-3 minutes.  Add lentils, stock and water and bring to a boil. Partially cover the saucepan and reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until lentils are soft, about 45 minutes.

Transfer half the soup to a food processor or blender and pulse to lightly blend. Return soup to saucepan, stir to combine with unpureed soup. Season with salt and paper. Top with cilantro, if desired.

Bon Appetit!

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