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.

26 Feb 2012

What's Getting Under Your Skin? The hazards of body care products

One of the purchases I most dread buying is body wash (which doubles as shampoo) for Olivia. The popular brands (you know the one's I'm talking about) pretend to be safe and emphasize their 'tear-free' formulas, but that isn't as important to me as the chemicals they contain. 

Unfortunately, because the chemical-free products (or those that include fewer chemicals) are typically much more expensive, my search for a well-priced, clean product starts well before we run out of the bottle we're using. Sounds like a pain, and you're probably wondering why I just don't buy a bunch when they're on sale, but with a young child, repeated exposure to the same ingredients - even natural one's - can lead to allergic reactions, so I buy a different product (or a couple of them to rotate) each time.

What you put on your body – and on your child’s skin and hair – is just as important as what is put into it. If you’re reading food labels, you’re probably reading the labels on skin care product too, but the ingredients are even more confusing than those on food labels!

Adults use about nine personal care products daily - shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, body lotion, shaving products and cosmetics - that expose us to a whopping 126 chemicals every day. And our kids? Wipes, hair and body wash, diaper cream, baby powder, sunscreen, bug repellant… all sorts of chemical-containing products are designed for children, even the one’s labeled ‘natural’. Most people use such products without giving them a second thought because they are believed to be safe. You’ll have to see for yourself.

Synthetic skin care ingredients are Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxins (PBT), which means they build up in the body over time. We absorb them in faster than we process them out. Since human skin absorbs about 25 percent of what we put on it (think smoking cessation patches), be aware that questionable ingredients such as parabens and phthalates are absorbed through the skin, into the bloodstream, and then carried to every tissue and organ in the body.

Here’s a list of some of the main ingredients to avoid. Look for these on skin care, shampoo, and cosmetic labels:

Parabens (sometimes listed as Methyl Paraben, Propyl Paraben, Butyl Paraben and Ethyl Paraben). One of the most commonly used ingredients, parabens are added to inhibit microbial growth and to extend the shelf life of products; however, they are notorious for causing skin rashes and allergic reactions. Worse, studies show they are weakly estrogenic and can mess up your hormones (that means tinkering with your menstrual cycle and efforts to become pregnant, and much more).

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate. This inexpensive foaming agent is very commonly used in shampoos and toothpaste. When applied to the skin, it dissolves natural body oils and leaves the area dry. Often derived from petroleum, SLS is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the phrase "comes from coconuts." (This is why it takes me so long to shop!). It may cause eye irritation, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, skin rashes and other allergic reactions. Studies are showing numerous long term effects from the use of SLS, including damage to the eyes if it isn’t properly rinsed away.

Diethanolamine (DEA), Triethanolamine (TEA)
. These are often used in cosmetics as emulsifiers and/or foaming agents. They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation and dryness of hair and skin. DEA and TEA are "amines" (ammonia compounds) and can form cancer-causing nitrosamines when they come in contact with nitrates (the same thing happens when you eat bacon).  

Diazolidinyl Urea & Imidazolidinyl Urea are widely used preservatives. The American Academy of Dermatology has found them to be a primary cause of contact dermatitis. Two trade names for these chemicals are Germall II and Germall 115. Neither of the Germall chemicals contains a good antifungal agent, so they must be combined with other preservatives. Both these chemicals release formaldehyde, which can be toxic (and of course, which is the ingredient used to embalm dead bodies).

Petrolatum. Also known as petroleum jelly, this mineral oil derivative is used for its emollient properties in cosmetics. It has no nutritional benefit for the skin and can actually interfere with the body's own natural moisturizing mechanism, promoting dryness and chapping. Why do manufacturers use petrolatum? Because it’s cheap.

Propylene Glycol. In food, this ingredient is usually a vegetable glycerin mixed with grain alcohol, both of which are natural, but in skin care products, often a synthetic petrochemical mix is used as a humectant. It has been known to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema. It's sometimes labeled as PEG.

Artificial Colors. You don’t want these in your food, and you don’t want them in your skin care products either. Whether on or under your skin, many synthetic colors can cause allergic reactions and some are carcinogenic. If any product contains them, don't use it.

Synthetic Fragrances. The synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can contain as many as 200 chemical ingredients! There is no way to know what they are, since on the label it will simply read "fragrance." Some problems caused by these chemicals include headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation—the list goes on. Advice: Don't buy a cosmetic that has the word "fragrance" on the ingredients label.

As always, read labels on ALL products carefully, and let me know which great products you've come across. I'd love to try them too. 

14 Feb 2012

Unjunk Your Oscars Party

Kale Chips with Turmeric & Nutritional Yeast
This article was previously posted on Yahoo Shine! in 2012.

Hollywood is poised to honor its finest in film in the biggest celebration of the year, the Annual Academy Awards. Why not celebrate the Oscars by hosting your own party? While elegance is a priority, you can serve up healthy hors d'oeuvres and drinks that are both decadent and good for you.
Dark chocolate is a winner at any party. Pick up several dark chocolate bars with 70 percent or more cocoa, break them into pieces, and serve on doilies. Doilies always look glamorous and can be purchased at your local dollar store. For added flare (and nutrients), include some bars with dried nuts or lemon zest.
Movies and popcorn go hand in hand. Make-ahead caramel popcorn that's fit for the stars is easy to prepare. In a saucepan, melt coconut oil and stir in Sucanat (unrefined sugar) or some brown sugar. Mix well and drizzle over freshly popped corn. The syrup will caramelize on the popcorn as it cools. Another option: Toss warm popcorn with some extra-virgin olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast. The B vitamins will help you cope with the nail-biting anticipation). For an international flare, dust popcorn with a blend of cayenne pepper, turmeric and crushed coriander.

Serve whole-grain bagel chips, plain tortilla chips, and a crudité platter with a decadent dip made by mixing Greek yogurt with caramelized onions or shallots and fresh herbs. You can also make simple hummus, or if you're short on time, buy prepared dips such as Simply Organic Ranch Dip, organic salsa, and guacamole. My go-to dip: avocado mashed with prepared salsa. It's always a winner, looks complicated but couldn't be easier to prep!
All-natural ice cream or coconut ice cream served in a martini glass and topped with fresh fruit is not only fit for the stars but is so stunning that it will likely win Best Picture. A perfect topper is a miniature gingersnap cookie, such as Pamela's Ginger Mini Snapz, or for something more fun, Surf Sweets Gummy Bears.
Bake chocolate cupcakes designed to look like tuxedos made with an all-natural chocolate cake mix and homemade buttercream icing (or if you're short on time, Cherrybrook Kitchen's Vanilla Frosting).
Add glam to your party with your own designer cocktails. Start with a tablespoon of pomegranate seeds in champagne glasses topped with sparkling water and juice (try lychee or pineapple juice, or pear nectar) and fresh mint leaves. You'll feel like a movie star drinking Santa Cruz Lemon Lime Sparkling Beverage or Izze Esque Sparkling Lime Juice.
Turn black picture frames or shadow boxes into stylish serving trays. Display black-and-white photos of your favorite stars, this year's Oscar nominees, or stills from nominated or classic movies. 

A few more Oscar-worthy snack suggestions:
-Mixed olives
-Kale chips (click here for a great recipe)
-Black licorice (try Panda All Natural Soft Licorice)
-Snyder's of Hanover Mini Pretzels
-Calbee Snack Salad Snapea Crisps (one of my favourite snacks)

10 Feb 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Lisa Tsakos, Co-Author of Unjunk Your Junk Food

Many thanks to super-blogger Raychelle Muhammad for interviewing me about Unjunk Your Junk Food.

Raychelle Writes, Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Please tell us about your background and profession. 
After years of struggling with my weight, I discovered the principles of natural nutrition and my life changed overnight. Within a year I lost weight (close to 50 pounds) and returned to school to study holistic nutrition – it was the only eating style I resonated with and could stick to. Since graduating in 1997, I’ve taught nutrition at many different schools and have been in private practice throughout. 

What is Nu-Vitality Health and Wellness? 
Nu-Vitality provides seminars, weight management programs and healthy eating programs to corporations and non-profit organizations. We educate employees about adapting healthier eating habits (for example, eating on the run, managing stress with diet, and coping with stress). The Programs have been presented to over 100 companies across the country.  

What is NaturallySavvy.com? What is your role as a contributor to this site? 
Naturally Savvy is a tremendous web resource for organic, natural, and green living, covering all aspects of one’s lifestyle including nutrition, beauty and personal care, pregnancy and parenting, pet care, fitness, and reducing your carbon footprint (recycling, upcycling, composting, etc.). The website also features product reviews of naturally-made foods and products and offers visitors to the site the opportunity to sample products via our Savvy Sampler Program. Several years ago I partnered with the website’s co-founders, Andrea Donsky and Randy Boyer as their Chief Nutrition Expert.

Describe your journey as an author. What led you to co-write Unjunk Your Junk Food? 
Andrea, Randy, and I wanted to write a book that reflected www.NaturallySavvy.com. Comparing junk food and explaining food additives was Andrea’s idea, and as we worked on our book proposal, the format just started to fall into place. Randy was the `product expert`, determining which products – both the conventional and their naturally-made equivalents – to compare. As the nutrition expert on the book, my task was to scrutinize and define each ingredient and to explain how we came up with our `Savvy Picks`. It was very much a team effort. 

How did you go about getting it published? 
I’ve written text books and have self-published a cookbook, but going through a major publisher was a completely different experience. Andrea and I spent an entire summer writing a book proposal. We hired a literary agent to help shop the book around to various publishers and we were thrilled to be signed by Gallery Books, Simon & Schuster, New York. Once signed, we assembled a solid team of researchers, fact checkers, editors, photographers and graphic designers to help us put the book together. It was a two year project that involved an enormous amount of time, research, and money, but we`re extremely pleased with the outcome. 

What can readers expect to learn from Unjunk Your Junk Food? Where can they buy it? 
Unjunk Your Junk Food is a resource that teaches about the dangers of artificial additives. We like to say that we’re starting an ‘edible (r)evolution’ because our objective is to draw attention to the ingredients list on a food package. The Nutrition Facts panel – the calories, fat, etc., provides important information, of course, but it doesn’t matter if a food is low in fat or calories if it’s full of unhealthy and potentially dangerous ingredients, such as trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors, and preservatives. The book includes a ‘Worst Ingredients’ pull-out list that charts the ‘red flag’ and ‘yellow flag’ ingredients to watch out for when you’re shopping for groceries. It’s also full of useful suggestions – or ‘Savvy Tips’ - for improving diet, health, and energy (for example, “Treats are best eaten early in the day so that you have all day to work off the extra calories. Treats eaten at night are just a recipe for weight gain.”), as well as food trivia and a detailed Glossary that can be used to evaluate the quality of all of the foods in your cupboards. Unjunk Your Junk Food is available from all the major book sellers including Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, and at Indigo in Canada. 

How have you promoted your book? What strategies have been the most effective? 
We sought advice about promoting a book prior to its release and what we heard again and again was that it’s the author who ultimately creates sales, but our publisher is certainly doing its part.  We planned our marketing approach and set aside funds to promote the book well before it came out. We’re promoting Unjunk Your Junk Food a number of ways:  

·Social media has been very effective primarily because Naturally Savvy already had a strong following;

·We hired a public relations company to arrange media appearances across the U.S. and Canada as well as radio and magazine interviews. While on tour, we visit area bookstores to meet the staff and sign books;

·We are three authors with our own professional connections. We made sure to reach out to our industry contacts (and of course, our personal contacts).

It`s still too early to tell which approach has been the most effective.  

What advice would you give to first-time non-fiction authors? 
·Be passionate about your ideas: Writing a book is an enormous undertaking, and the amount of time you’ll devote to the project is far greater than you expect, at least it was for us. If you have other commitments, especially a family, make sure you have their full support - you’ll need it!

·Be firm about your concept: Each publisher we met with liked our general concept but had their own ideas of what the book should look like. Had we gone with another publisher we would have produced a very different book. We were fortunate to find a publisher who loved our idea as much as we did.  

·Hire a literary agent to shop your book around to publishers. An agent can open doors that you may not be able to open yourself.   

What is your definition of success as a writer and entrepreneur?
Obviously we’d love for the book to make its way onto a ‘best sellers’ list, but it’s the reactions we get from readers who are excited about what they’re learning from Unjunk Your Junk Food that is the most satisfying. Having been in business for myself since 1997, the opportunity to be part of a new and exciting project, enhancing my knowledge (about nutrition, publishing, the editing process – all of it), and the doors that are already opening as a result of writing Unjunk – whether the book translates into dollars or not doesn’t even matter.     

What is next for you in 2012? 
My second baby is due in April, and a follow-up book to Unjunk Your Junk Food is already in the works.

9 Feb 2012

Third trimester and feeling It

By feeling 'it' I mean feeling 'biggest'.

First trimester: big; Second trimester: bigger; Third trimester: biggest. To boot, my appetite suddenly doubled and sure enough, I'm eating for two. If you've read any of my earlier blogs (Aug/Sept) you know that I had the best intentions to exercise daily and stay on top of flabby arms, back fat, and jiggly thighs.

That didn't work out as well as I expected. I still get to the gym most days, but while I was able to do up to an hour of cardio when pregnant with my first child, cardiovascular activities are a huge challenge and knocks me out for the rest of the day. Not advantageous when you're chasing a toddler around. My workouts changed with each trimester:

1st trimester: I (reluctantly) spent a lot of time on the elliptical machine and incorporated yoga and pilates a couple of times a week.

Second trimester: After giving up on cardio, yoga and pilates five times a week was extremely beneficial (in fact, so much so, that I didn't experience much back pain like I did during my first pregnancy).

Third trimester: Walking on a treadmill at the bottom-end of my target heart rate and weights (in the same workout session) several times a week feels good. I continued to attend yoga classes until I couldn't anymore. My gym doesn't offer prenatal yoga, and most of the positions involved lying on my ever-expanding belly and extreme twisting or balancing. I ended up spending way too much time in child's pose, and eventually the baby (nicknamed "Thomas" by Olivia) made it clear that he didn't like yoga so I turned to resistance training instead.

To be fair, my thighs aren't rubbing together this time (though they're far from 'toned'); there's very little back fat and cellulite, but the sausage arms are back. (Don't believe me? Check out my tv spot on http://better.tv/view/C465532P234234V1589199 to see what I mean. And while you're watching, play "count the chins.") Definitely wearing long sleeves from here-on-in.

Another ten weeks to go and I'll keep at it. After all, this baby will be born just in time for bathing suit season...

3 Feb 2012

Not Just About Junk Food


What people are saying about Unjunk Your Junk Food!

"Unjunk Your Junk Food looks great - interesting, informative, easy to read, and best of all, fun! I know many people will use your book as their go-to guide when shopping for groceries. You've certainly made me more aware about the food that my children and I eat and the effects it has on our body and mind." -Maria Shriver 

 "Unjunk Your Junk Food is a very attractive and informative book. For anyone embarking on the often daunting path of trying to clean up their diets, this book is a really fine place to start." -Alan and Suzanne Arkin

"It is time to Unjunk Your Junk Food! This handy — and don’t-be-fooled-by-its-small-size masterpiece — of healthy alternatives to conventional snacks is packed with need to know “do’s” and “don’t’s”. If you like to nosh -- and who doesn’t -- it’s a must read!" -Bryce Wylde 

As a nutritionist who had my own battle with weight for many years (until I discovered the oh-so-logical principles of a natural, whole foods diet) junk food was not very welcome in my home and it was especially unwelcome in my body, so when my colleagues at www.naturallysavvy.com first mentioned the idea to write a book about junk food, I was resistant. Sure, I enjoyed the occasional plain tortilla chip with salsa, some dark chocolate or home baked cookies, but bagged, processed, over-salted snacks... no thanks, no chance. The idea of being involved in a project that sounded like it was going to promote junk food eating didn’t sit right with me.

Two things changed my mind.
1.    I was pregnant with my first child. As most nutritionists (and logic) will tell you, one’s emotional connection to food plays a powerful and life-long role in food choices. I could write a whole other book relaying the accounts of adults with horrible eating habits that are a direct result of their restrictive parents. It was just a matter of time before my child would be exposed to MSG-laden chips, bowls of artificially-coloured candy, and sugar, sugar, and more sugar, and knowing I wasn’t far off from being a food-Nazi parent myself, this concerned me.

2.    Like most people concerned about the foods they eat, I avoided packaged foods listing lengthy, unrecognizable ingredients. The thing is, it was easy enough to avoid the chemical-sounding ingredients, but even I – a nutritionist with fifteen years experience – couldn’t explain what many of them actually were.
When we turned our manuscript in to the publisher, Unjunk Your Junk Food wasn’t really about junk food after all, but a reference guide to artificial additives (and nowhere will you find more additives than in junk food) as well as an opportunity to share an assortment of healthy eating and living tips and even some food trivia.

Here is a small sampling of some of the tidbits scattered throughout the book for your amusement and edification:

·         Carbohydrates should always be paired with protein, so top plain crackers with some cheese, tuna, or peanut butter. (pg. 153)

·         Slim-Fast Peanut Butter Crunch Time Snack Bar: Notice that the first two ingredients in the Slim-Fast diet bar are sugar? How is this a diet bar? (pg. 144)

·         Some 50% of women claim to prefer chocolate to sex. (pg. 103)

·         Treats are best eaten early in the day so that you have all day to work off the extra calories. Treats eaten at night are just a recipe for weight gain. (pg. 119)

·         Ninety percent of tooth decay occurs within ten minutes of eating sugary or acidic foods. Drink water while or immediately after you eat candy to neutralize the acids. (pg. 173)

·         The technical term for brain freeze is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. It results when something cold touches the roof of the mouth. (pg. 47)

·         With more electrolytes than leading sports drinks and 15 times the potassium, coconut water keeps your body hydrated and prevents cramping. (pg. 207)

·         If you love to bake chocolate chip cookies, use baking powder rather than baking soda. Baking soda is much more alkaline and increases the pH of cocoa significantly decreasing chocolate's antioxidant activities. (pg. 77)

·         When you’re buying probiotics, the minimum dose you should take is 1 billion colony forming units, or cfu. For therapeutic use, look for a product with 10 billion cfu. (pg. 63)

·         One ounce of dark chocolate contains about 20 milligrams of caffeine. One ounce of milk chocolate has about 6 milligrams of caffeine. In comparison, an average chocolate bar contains about 30 milligrams of caffeine and a cup of coffee has 80 to 155 milligrams. (pg. 95)

·         Why is chocolate poisonous to dogs? Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, members of a class of compounds called methylxanthines. In animals, theobromine can induce cardiac arrhythmias and seizures. The toxic dose for pets is 100 to 200 milligrams per kilogram (2.2 pounds). (pg. 107)

At the heart of Unjunk Your Junk Food is a comparison of unhealthy junk food products versus similar or identical tasting junk food made with ‘clean’ ingredients, along with explanations of what the ingredients are and how they impact human health.

Now a more enlightened parent, I’m food-dictator no more (well, maybe just a little). My two year old is extremely grateful. 

The Unjunk Your Junk Food Team: Lisa, Randy & Andrea