My name is Lisa Tsakos, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, corporate speaker and author. This blog provides professional advice from a nutrition and weight loss expert (me!) about corporate and family health. Here you'll find recipes and articles that address work-related challenges like eating on-the-go and maximizing your productivity with the right foods. You'll also find out about how you can help your children develop strong immune systems and healthy bodies. As a nutrition instructor, I often found myself thinking, "When I have kids, this is how I will feed them." With two toddlers, I have the opportunity to practice what I have been preaching and to try out my theories. So far, they seem to be working! Follow me on my journey and also on Twitter @NuVitalityHW.

21 Dec 2011

Artificial Colors Where You Least Expect Them

Not long ago my 18 month old (at the time) daughter and I were at a play date. In the middle of my first trimester, I was feeling as bad as I imagined I could possibly feel, so when the treats and desserts (not for me, but for my baby) began parading in front of her, every ounce of energy I could muster was used resisting. After a while, I succumbed. Luckily my daughter refused all the desserts (God bless her): the wheat-based cookies (gluten), the three-layer cake iced with artificial colors (can you believe that this would be offered to a one-year old?), but ultimately, even she couldn’t pass up the strawberry-flavored yogurt-drink. It was a well-known brand that’s heavily marketed to children (and of course, parents) as a ‘health drink’. I quickly looked over the ingredients and didn’t notice any red flags, so she drank a little less than half the bottle before losing interest. Within an hour, my daughters’ whole demeanor changed. Suddenly, the articulate child could not speak clearly, but instead, slurred her words. When my husband came home from work, the first words out of his mouth were, “What’s wrong with Olivia?” She was writhing around on the floor like an animal making incomprehensible sounds. I even caught a minute or two on video. My daughter has ingested sugar, she has had dairy, and yogurt is one of her preferred foods (most often plain yogurt), so I knew there was something in that product that I missed when glancing over the ingredients.
The next day, while Andrea Donsky, http://www.naturallysavvy.com/ co-founder and close friend, and I drove to an appointment, she checked out the ingredients on her smart phone while I drove. Somehow I missed it the day before, but there it was – artificial colors.
Olivia’s behavior was back to normal within an hour or two, but the change that occurred made a real impression on my husband and I. It happened again recently while on vacation when she ingested strawberry ice cream.  

Many parents have observed similar behavioral changes in their children following the ingestion of sugar, various artificial additives (including food dyes), gluten, dairy products, and even fruit. The most frightening part of this story is that the child Olivia was playing with ingests this particular ‘health drink’ daily (her caregivers are convinced that it’s good for her). I wonder how many children are exposed to behavior-altering substances in their food (even in so-called healthy food) on a regular – even daily – basis, ingredients that may impact their learning or behavior that parents are unaware of.
Watch for a future blog for an explanation of a rotation diet that you can use to identify whether or not specific foods or ingredients are affecting your child’s (or even your own) behavior. In the meantime, read all labels carefully and avoid any questionable ingredients.

3 Dec 2011

Unjunk Your Junk Food - Book Release Announcement

At long last, our labour of love, Unjunk Your Junk Food: Healthy Alternatives to Conventional Snacks, is available for purchase.

Unjunk Your Junk Food is a fun, handy supermarket guide to the yummiest junk food made with natural ingredients. The book compares conventional junk foods (such as Doritos and M&Ms) with similar-tasting, healthier alternatives... so you can have your cake and eat it too. It includes a handy pull-out chart listing the most dangerous ingredients to watch out for when grocery shopping, and all throughout the book you'll find useful tips for improving your diet and health - whether you eat junk food or not.

The release date is December 27, 2011 (unfortunately not in time for Christmas). Win a copy at:

Retailers will sell it for between $18 to $20, but on-line prices are ridiculously low. The best price I've found so far is at Barnes & Noble - only $12.10 (USD)!!

Looks like http://www.amazon.com/ just dropped their on-line price to match Barnes & Noble's.

If you're in Canada, here's a link to Chapters.ca: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/Unjunk-Your-Junk-Food-Healthy-Donsky-Boyer-Tsakos/9781451616569-item.html.

Although I've been practicing nutrition professionally for 15 years, I didn't know the information that I learned from researching for this book. It changed the way my family eats and the way we're raising our daughter (in fact, before the book very little junk food was ever found in our home. Now we eat more, but we're aware of and comfortable with every ingredient in the products).

Join the edible (r)evolution!

2 Dec 2011

Decent Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread DOES Exist

After years of spending good money on tasteless loaves of gluten-free bread that ultimately ended up as compost, I finally found one that I - that WE - love. Glutino's Genius Multigrain Sandwich bread is absolutely delicious and looks, tastes, and behaves like 'normal' bread slices. It happened to be on sale for 50 percent off at the health food store, so I took my chances and purchased two loaves. The next day I went back for two more, and now that I've found a $1.00 off coupon on Glutino's website http://www.glutino.com/genius-landing/, we'll be going back for more (yes, it's that good).

Olivia ate her first grilled cheese sandwich this week (made with organic goat cheese) and loved it! Many attempts had been previously made, all unsuccessful because of bread that was too thick, too crumbly, or just too yucky.

The best thing about this bread is that it's made with decent ingredients, not a lot of the junk you find in other gluten-free products. This opens the door to a whole new world of foods for Olivia - sandwiches!

GF foods are becoming a huge part of the food industry world-wide, so it's just a matter of time before dozens of amazing products are available. Already there is such a difference from what was available 15 years ago...

Sept. 27, 2011

A huge turn-around since my last entry... The past few weeks have been insanely busy with book editing. My big plans to work out daily and stay on top of my weight and energy levels have tanked faster than my figure. I had to put Liv in full-time day care for a week to pound through the edits and by the time we got home at 7pm, I had an hour of stamina left for dinner and then it was straight to bed at 8. Every day that week I sympathized with full-time moms who sacrifice exercise - looking after themselves in general - to make sure everyone gets to where they need to be on time. That same week the nausea and fatigue really kicked in, but since then fatigue has been my biggest nemesis, one that I have zero energy to fight. Going to the gym has been a battle. I’ll get there – almost every day, in fact, but often break out into a sweat the moment I sit on a weight machine. In my woman’s gym the temperature isn’t as low as it is in a co-ed gym, so it’s easy for my preggy-body to overheat. It’s much worse during fitness classes. I’ve resorted to attending the low-impact classes, in which I’m frequently the youngest participant, and am worked to exhaustion by activities that barely raised my heart rate two months ago. The worst part, though, is that I feel so beaten up afterwards, it’s even more difficult to function in the afternoon. Consequently, my body is already unrecognizable to my clothes. My rear side has new padding, there are signs that my thighs will soon be rubbing together, and my upper arms are starting to resemble sausages. Sadly, I’m too tired to care. These days, all my efforts are going into finding someone to look after my very energetic daughter in the afternoon, when ALL I want to do is sleep. In fact, I would be perfectly happy never getting out of bed, not for any reason, until the end of this trimester. Only three weeks to go. God help me.

September 2, 2011

Last night some food urges kicked in. They weren’t exactly cravings, but for a couple of weeks now I’ve found that I’ve been feeling full quickly an am hungry more often. Only a couple of hours after a very nice dinner of grilled trout, steamed baby potatoes, and a huge spinach salad (with the works – avocado, diced veggies...) I couldn’t think about anything else but having a huge bowl of cereal (I bought a box of Nature’s Path Acai cereal yesterday. Haven’t had that since my first pregnancy. Here we go...). Finally, at 11:30 pm (really?) I succumbed and had a half-cup of organic plain yogurt with a couple of tablespoons of cereal. That wasn’t enough, so I chased it with half a slice of sunflower-seed bread topped with some almond butter. Could’ve been worse, but it was these little extras that had me blowing up like a blow fish the first time around. I’m convinced that eating so late was a huge error in judgment. By 3 a.m. I was starving and counting the hours before my husband would get up to make me eggs for breakfast (yes, he actually does ;).      
This morning I was looking forward to a relaxing yoga class, but our instructor surprised us with Yoga Boot Camp instead. It was one of the toughest fitness classes I’ve ever done. We had the option to use 1lb, 2lb or 3lb weights – so while thinking to myself “how lame,” I picked up the 3lb’ers. Mistake. You have NO idea how heavy a petty 3 lb weight (in each hand) can feel until you’ve held an unnatural yoga pose for 60 seconds. By the end, I was done. Spent. Even bought a chocolate bar on the way out. The important thing is that I got through it, challenged myself, and had fun.
I’m about 6 weeks now – that’s when the serious nausea kicked in the first time I was pregnant. I am a little concerned about one thing. A huge perk of my first pregnancy was that I didn’t have a single headache or migraine (which I’m prone to) for 9 whole months. This week I’ve already had two mild migraine headaches (probably weather and exercise related). My mother had horrible migraines while pregnant with my younger sister, so I’ll be keeping an eye on this one (patterns, etc.).

August 25, 2011

And so it begins. Earlier today my husband commented on my baby bump. We were in beautiful Minneapolis over the weekend for a family gathering. It was our three year anniversary, so we left Olivia at home and enjoyed a romantic weekend at the W Foshay. Anyway, that’s when the bump first made its appearance (or at least, that’s when I noticed it). I thought I was just bloated from all the food. Today I noticed that my behind looks like it belongs on someone else’s body (a comment I often made to myself when I was pregnant with Olivia). I saw some cellulite on my legs that I swear wasn’t there a week ago. Oy veh.
I exercised several times a week during my first pregnancy (albeit, in the first trimester, just getting out of bed was an achievement). The gym in our building was adequate, but I was only putting in a maximum half an hour at a time. Now I’m exercising for at least 45 minutes a day in a proper gym, attending classes and spending  more time on cardio equipment, so it’ll be interesting to see if there’s a difference in:
·         My energy levels (especially during the first trimester)
·         My appetite (will I crave fruit and bread as much?)
·         My sleep (I had insomnia throughout my entire pregnancy)
·         Restless leg syndrome (worst thing ever)
·         Cellulite and back fat (how gross).
Hitting the gym five days a week after we stopped breast feeding, I was back to my pre-preg body in no time, but it was a battle getting my arms back in shape and getting rid of the back fat. I love how they look now and hope to keep them looking this way all winter.
Everything seems to be on sale right now so I stopped at a couple of clothing stores today to pick up some long tanks and t’s. As my belly (and chest) grew, my long t-shirts and dresses seemed to get shorter and shorter. Now I know to buy them super-long (like, way past my butt). Being pregnant I become hyper-careful about spending money and though I spent an average of only $6 per item (that will probably get worn until they’re faded), the maternal guilt (that $6 could have gone towards a gluten-free meal for the kids) is already going strong.

15 Oct 2011

A Few Not-So-Typical Tips for Boosting Immunity (Article)

Everyone is talking about cold and flu season this year, thanks to the H1N1 media frenzy. While those of us who aren’t giving in to the panic may suggest that it isn’t that different from any other flu, the fact is, H1N1 is affecting age groups and populations that aren’t typically affected by other flu strains. 
Tune into any news program or website nowadays and you’ll learn the standard flu prevention strategies:  wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face (especially nose, mouth and eyes), use a tissue when you cough or sneeze, get enough sleep, take vitamin C, drink plenty of fluids, and of course, stay home (and away from others) at the first sign of symptoms.

There are many other ways to avoid germs and boost immunity, however, and to protect yourself from influenza, including H1N1. Here are a few supplementary recommendations to apply:

Take probiotics. It is said that 80% of our immune system stems from the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics, healthy microorganisms critical to intestinal (and overall) health, boost immunity by optimizing the ratio of ‘healthy’ to ‘unhealthy’ bacteria in your large intestine. To prevent the flu, take a probiotic supplement several times a day.

Alkalizing foods adjust your blood pH to help combat viruses. The fastest way to change pH is to introduce alkalizing foods in an 80:20 ratio (alkalizing to acid-forming). Alkalizing foods include most raw vegetables and fruit, raw almonds, sea salt or Himalayan salt, buckwheat, sprouted beans and seeds, as well as supplements like spirulina, ‘green drinks’ and liquid chlorophyll. Avoid all sources of refined sugar and wheat, and limit meat and other animal proteins.

Many medicinal herbs stimulate immunity, including Echinacea, garlic, oil of oregano, and Astragalus. Research any contraindications associated with these herbs before using, particularly if you’re pregnant or taking medication. 

Herbal baths help relax aching muscles and alleviate nasal congestion. Olbas Therapeutic makes a wonderful therapeutic and soothing herbal bubble bath product that includes a blend of peppermint, eucalyptus, juniper and clove oils. Epsom salt baths are inexpensive, relaxing, and provide the vital and alkalizing mineral magnesium.

Wash or store your toothbrush in tea tree oil, oil of oregano, or other antibacterial or antiviral oil. You can also use a natural mouthwash or hydrogen peroxide.

Wash towels and sheets more often (if not daily). Though it isn’t eco-friendly, the best way to kill germs on linens is to wash them in hot water. Viruses and bacteria can survive a cold-water wash. Add half a teaspoon of a natural antiseptic like tea tree oil for added germ control.

Keep your house clean, especially areas prone to germs like the kitchen, bathroom, and the front entrance of your home. Avoid using chemical cleaners – many contain toxins which can irritate respiratory conditions and weaken immunity. Instead, use vinegar and baking soda, and wipe down counters with tea tree oil.

Clean your computer keyboard! While you may be the only one using your computer, throughout the day your hands touch items that many other potentially-infected people have handled (doorknobs, money, etc.). Viruses and bacteria can live on your keyboard for up to 24 hours. Dip or spray a cotton swab with tea tree oil or other antibacterial herb (or in a pinch, rubbing alcohol) and gently clean across each row of your keyboard. Don’t forget to clean your mouse (and your cell phone and telephone while you’re at it!). 

2 Sep 2011

Pregnant... Again!

Just as I’ve gotten used to being back to a size 0 after having a baby, we’re having another one! Knowing what to expect – knowing that I can get back to my pre-preg body – is a huge relief. In fact, I’m in better shape now than before Olivia came along (thanks to working out five days a week). At least I had this sensational summer to show off a little. In my fantasies, I walk into a board meeting wearing a painted-on dress, tight butt, legs and arms, with only a slight baby bump indicating that I’m expecting. But in reality, a few weeks from now I’ll be back to my diet of fruit, fruit, more fruit and some bread, cellulite will magically appear from the top of my hips to my ankles, my face will appear larger and my nose wider. The worst part is, I’ll be too tired to care.
We welcome you into our lives, beautiful spirit. Can’t wait to meet you!  

22 Apr 2011

Really Good Pet Food – if you can open the can!

At six years young, our cat Lola Granola, is a 5 pound toothless and highly allergic perma-kitty. Because of her we switched to all-natural household cleaners years before we had a baby and searched high and low for food that she isn’t allergic to. As a result, she eats very expensive, organic or at least human-grade cat food (which we jokingly call designer pet food). One of her (and consequently, our) favorite products is Mideast Feast by Weruva. Lola speedily gobbles up the costly stew and rewards us with hugs and pleas for more. Only problem is, the darn cans are near impossible to open. The pull-tab is really tight, and the ring breaks off if you pull it too hard.
I wrote the company and was very pleased to read their warm response. Stacie from Weruva wrote, “I too sometimes have difficulty opening the cans, and we are discussing other options with our factory. The issue we have found is that sourcing other cans proves to be a bit more costly, and the cans we use now are BPA free! We want what is best for our customers, as well as the health of the animals we are feeding... so, we will continue to source! I guess for now, keep eating your spinach ;-) haha!”
LOL, I wrote back that we certainly appreciate the use of BPA-free cans, so if that's the best option, then it's a good one. Weruva’s loyal customers (including us) will continue to buy their products no matter what.
Your cat or dog will drool in anticipation for flavors such as Paw Lickin’ Chicken, Peking Ducken, On the Cat Wok, Asian Fusion, Mack and Jack, and a whole line of meals for dogs (it just doesn’t feel right to call it dog food) made with Kobe beef and Kurobuta pork.
Check out more about Weruva’s “safety first” approach at www.weruva.com.  

Delicious GF Chocolate Chip Cookies... from a mix?

While I prefer to bake cookies from scratch, I haven’t yet mastered gluten-free baking. Not wanting to deprive Olivia (or myself) from the occasional cookie treat, I set out to find a cookie mix made with natural ingredients that actually tastes good; so when I discovered Cherrybrook Kitchen’s Gluten Free Dreams Chocolate Chip Cookie mix, I jumped for joy (I really did. Ask my husband!).
Made with rice flour, brown sugar, non-dairy chocolate chips and very few other natural and safe ingredients that I’m totally comfortable with, you just add butter (the package says margarine, but yuck!), water, vanilla, and the mix. I add extra real chocolate chips (and plenty of them) to create a big gooey mess of deliciousness.
Olivia loves the cookies (which she calls “cookoos”) – or at least the broken off bits of cookies that she can manage (I eat the rest). A box makes a couple dozen one-inch cookies which I freeze in zip-lock bags.
I think I'll have one right now.  

12 Apr 2011

Overindulging During Pregnancy

I gained exactly thirty pounds during my pregnancy, eight of which were put on during the last three weeks (the baby was overdue). My appetite was huge from the second month onwards, and I didn’t hold back on bread and boxed cereal. Most of the urges to eat occurred in the middle of the night. It wasn’t unusual for my husband to find me snacking on hummous and crackers at 4:30 am while watching cheesy reality shows. Thankfully I didn’t succumb to the temptation of chocolate croissants, cookies, or other sweets, despite the steady stream of bad advice from my friends, and most surprisingly, my colleagues (nutritionists and other health care practitioners) who insisted that “this is the time to eat whatever you want”. I was eating for two, after all. It really bothered me that my trusted pals were so insistent. “You’ll lose it afterwards. You know how to,” they said. Having worked with obese women who gained their weight while pregnant and couldn’t lose it afterwards, it was truly disturbing that my own colleagues were so casually providing this negligent advice. 
When you’re pregnant, it’s pretty hard to guess what your body will look like after the baby is born. I decided it was better to be safe than sorry, so while I enjoyed the occasional pecan tart or other treat, bread and cereal were temptation enough for me (and not entirely guilt-free either). Keep in mind that weight gained during the first trimester is “mommy weight” (rather than baby weight) that will probably stay with you afterwards.
Please, pregnant women everywhere, I implore you, do NOT use your pregnancy as an opportunity to eat at will. In fact, this is the most important time of your entire life to eat as optimally as you can. There is a new life growing inside of you, a life that requires not just calories, but vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and omega-3 fats. And you need nutrients too, especially fiber to prevent the constipation that so many pregnant women suffer from.
Pregnant women don’t need encouragement to eat. Eating is easy. Eating healthy, on the other hand, can be tough when you’re dealing with cravings.
As for those eager to dish out bad advice, you aren’t the ones who will have to deal with the post-pregnancy repercussions (not to mention the risk of gestational diabetes), so please stop!
It should go without saying, but dieting is certainly not recommended during pregnancy.

Combating Pregnancy Cravings? Good Luck with That One

To the many pregnant women I counselled over the years, please accept my apologies for presuming that my advice could help you control your cravings. As a nutritionist, I believed there were certain principles that applied to pregnant women to prevent cravings. Frequently I hear from colleagues (and have said myself) that a healthy, balanced body will not crave any unhealthy foods, even during pregnancy. As is the case at any stage of life, cravings are an indication of imbalance or deficiency, right? So being the know-it-all that I am and having what I thought was a healthy, balanced body, upon discovering that I was pregnant, I purchased a fabulous new juicer and planned out my menus for the first trimester.

This is what I learned:  When you’re pregnant, your body wants what it wants. Pregnancy cravings are much more than a hankering for something sweet. My cravings were so powerful I was absolutely helpless against them. Thankfully in my case, it was fruit I hungered after during the first trimester, and I mean, lots of it. A pineapple a day, a pint of blueberries, a snack of four apples... Then it was bread and cereal, and in the third trimester, while there were no cravings, my appetite was huge (and corresponded with the mad growth going on inside my belly).
In my head, I wanted to eat vegetables and drink fresh-pressed juices, but my body wouldn’t have it. The brand new juicer was banished to the back of the closet. The very sight of it turned (and often emptied) my stomach. I tried to eat vegetables – every day, in fact, but minutes later, I was looking for the closest receptacle to vomit in.

One of my nutrition students ate at McDonald’s every single day of her first trimester. She obviously knew better and fought it, at least for a little while, but like I said, the body wants what it wants.
I found it especially amusing when a male colleague gave me his two cents about how to control my cravings. His advice began with, “It’s simple.” Sorry guys, you’ll just never understand the power of pregnancy cravings. They are a force to be reckoned with.
Whether it’s salty or sweet, starchy or meat, no one really knows what causes food cravings during pregnancy. Ladies, do your best to muster up some self control, try not to be too hard on yourself, and don’t feel guilty when the experts tell you that you’re doing something wrong. Eat as well as you can despite the urges, and as soon as your body allows, return to the best diet you could possibly eat during this critical time.