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.

6 Dec 2013

Label Lessons: Battle of the sandwich cookie

Before you "twist, lick & dunk" another Oreo cookie, check out the latest Label Lessons column in December's Tonic Toronto Magazine, where we compare Golden Oreo's with Country Choice Organic's Vanilla Sandwich Cremes. 

If you love Oreo's and are looking for a gluten-free replica, try Kinni-Toos Fudge Sandwich Creme Cookies (about $4.99 a pack). My kids go crazy for them. 

For Olivia's second birthday, I made a gluten-free ice cream cake using ground K-Toos as the crust. 

I'm going to make it for my birthday this weekend and will post the recipe next week. Stay tuned...! 

Click here to read the free e-book, Label Lessons 2: Unjunk Your Kid's Lunchbox

24 Nov 2013

Morning "wake up!" smoothie recipe

This past week has been pretty intense! Last Sunday I had the great privilege of giving the keynote address at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition's graduation ceremony, where I shared some of my 16-year career experience and advice with the newest graduates, followed by full presentation days and biometric screenings at organizations across the GTA - all while trying to wrap up some projects and pack for a happily anticipated family vacation (nine of us are going!). 

So, when I awoke yesterday feeling anything but 100 percent, I could think of only one thing: smoothie (I am NOT getting sick on this vacation).

This recipe serves triple duty: 
1. It provides the 20 grams of protein needed in the morning to 'wake up' your brain; 
2. It provides 1,000 mg of omega-3 oil. DHA is the ultimate brain food;
3. It is filling, nourishing, balances blood sugar and it's immune-boosting.

1 cup raspberries or strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1 scoop vanilla protein powder (whey, hemp or pea protein)
OR 1/2 cup organic Greek yogurt (plain or vanilla. Plain is preferred)
1 tbsp. omega-3 oil 
1/2 banana or 1/2 avocado
1/2 cup water plus 1/2 cup almond milk (you can substitute hemp or coconut milk instead, or skip the milk altogether and instead include 1 cup of water rather than 1/2 cup)
1 tbsp. ground flaxseed or chia seed

Place all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. For extra brain power and energy, you may also add a tablespoon of B-vitamin-rich nutritional yeast or some spirulina powder.  

Now that I feel rejuvenated, it's time to finish packing. Before I go, if you're looking for a list of foods that will boost your brain power and combat stress all day long, below is a brief summary of my "Brain Foods" workshop. See you in a couple of weeks!


The brain is a hungry organ. Though it makes up only 2 percent of total body weight, the brain uses up to 25% of the day's calories. The following nutrients are the key “brain foods”:

In the brain, glucose (sugar) has been found to measurably enhance mental performance, particularly long-term memory. Sustained mental performance depends on what kind of sugar you eat. Eat foods that are loaded with complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and fruit, whole grain breads, brown rice, potatoes, and beans. These keep blood sugar levels steady and brain power high for prolonged periods.

B Vitamins: 
Many carbohydrate foods are loaded with B vitamins - especially whole grains and dark leafy greens. B vitamins help build and maintain a healthy nervous system. They play critical roles in all brain functions, particularly mood and mental performance. Food sources of B complex: Dark leafy green vegetables, whole grains, wheat germ, Brewer’s yeast, beans, peas. Also in beef, chicken, eggs, liver, dairy products, and pork. 

Brain chemicals – neurotransmitters – are made from protein. Brain chemicals which enhance concentration and ‘mental energy’ are made from the amino acid L-tyrosine. Eat protein foods such as fish, chicken, and beef separate from carbohydrates. On the other hand, an important NT that calms the mind is serotonin. This “anti-stress” feel-good brain chemical slows down reaction time (mental downer), imparts satiety after a meal, and induces sleep. Serotonin is produced by the amino acid L-tryptophan. Tryptophan-rich foods include turkey, bread, pasta, rice, potato, pumpkin, milk, cereal, sunflower seeds. 

70% of your brain is fat! Omega-3 fats (fish oils) protect the myelin sheath. Eat fish 3 times each week, and/or take at least 1,000 mg of omega-3 oils daily (capsules or liquid). 

To keep your antioxidant defenses strong, consume at least 7-12 servings of antioxidant-rich foods each day: strawberries, carrots, spinach, cantaloupe and other brightly-colored fresh fruits and vegetables. Blueberries and blackberries are at the top of the list of brain-boosting foods because they are exceptionally rich in chemicals called anthocyanins, which are among the most potent antioxidants.

22 Nov 2013

10 Steps to Healthy Holidays (Article)

Nu-Vitality's "Healthy Holiday Eating" workshop has been completely revamped for 2013! It's jam-packed with practical advice to help ward off the extra 6 pounds typically gained over the holidays and comes with some good suggestions for dealing with the 'morning after' symptoms, too!

The holiday season is a time of excess - overspending, overindulging in unhealthy food and alcohol, more socializing than usual, and more stress on the body, mind, and wallet. Keep your budget and your waistline under control this season with these suggestions:

1. Take B vitamins. Don't skimp on your vitamins during the holidays. The excess calories, most of them empty, create a need for even more nutrients. B vitamins are especially critical during the holidays to manage the added stress. A B-complex supplement taken with meals supplies the vitamins necessary to make brain chemicals. Dark leafy greens, whole grains, beans and lentils provide B vitamins. Ensure that your meals also include protein (which is needed to make neurotransmitters) and magnesium.

2. Load up on green. Green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and broccoli, supply vitamins, minerals, roughage, and enzymes. Eating a raw salad of mixed greens before each meal -- or as a meal -- fills your tummy and promotes good digestion. Steamed greens help to prevent constipation and are an excellent source of minerals.

3. Go raw for a day.
Choose a day each week to eat (and drink) only raw food. There are plenty of foods to enjoy raw: fresh, colorful salads, nuts, seeds, juices, sprouted beans, and even raw chocolate (cacao beans). If you enjoy cooking, experiment with different recipes, such as 'raw apple pie' or 'raw lasagna.' You'll feel lighter and more energized, and your scale will thank you for it come January. If the idea doesn't appeal to you, instead, start each day with a delicious fresh-pressed vegetable cocktail.

4. Keep moving. There's so much to do, so little time. Something has to give, and it's usually exercise. While your routine may be disrupted, sneak in a few minutes of exercise every day. Whether it's sit ups before bed, squats while blow-drying your hair, or picking up the pace while walking through the shopping mall, a few minutes of movement several times a day will result in less time in the gym after the holidays. When you do make it to the gym, maximize your time with interval training -- alternating intense bursts of activity with slower activity.

5. Take probiotics. A daily probiotic supplement, as well as eating probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt and kefir, will help to combat the effects of overindulging in sugar, breads, and other carbs. Keep a container of organic plain and flavored yogurt handy for a healthy mid-meal snack. If you're hankering for a snack before bedtime, half a cup of plain yogurt will satiate your appetite and help you to sleep soundly.

6. Don't eat out. Typical holiday fare served at social gatherings and family dinners provides fewer nutrients and more calories and fat than homemade meals. During the holidays, when you aren't socializing with family or friends, eat all of your meals at home. Make your meals from scratch to save money and calories.

7. Focus on fiber. Beans, lentils, greens, and vegetables are a yummy, low-cal way to fill your belly (which, like Santa, might be shaking like a bowl full of jelly by January if you aren't careful!) and promote healthy bowels.

8. Cut back. During this time of excess, save the bread, potatoes, crackers, alcohol, and all sweets for the holiday parties. Avoid eating them at home or work.

9. Drink water, not calories. Avoid calorie-laden eggnog, alcohol, and juice and drink even more water than usual during the holidays. Water will help to control your appetite as well as hydrate your skin in the harsher weather. A fresh-pressed vegetable juice with some fruit mixed in is a healthy exception.

10. Be grateful. The holidays are stressful, but they're also a time for sharing, giving, and spending time with friends and family. Take a moment before each meal and before drifting off to sleep to give thanks for all your blessings.

Updated Nov. 2013

Published on Canoe.ca and in The New Citizens Press

19 Nov 2013

Green holiday kitchen tips from the EWG

The holidays are quickly approaching (yikes!). As you begin thinking about holiday menus, decorating, gifts and let's not forget baking, baking... and more baking, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reminds us to keep our family's environmental health in mind with some green holiday kitchen tips.

Check them out here: http://bit.ly/18kKsMC

14 Nov 2013

The supplement cupboard must-haves

A walk through a health food store can be pretty intimidating. With thousands of nutritional supplements to choose from, how do you know which ones you need? 

There are many valid reasons to take nutritional supplements. They can help combat the effects of stress, slow the aging process, boost immunity, and deter the progression of many diseases. Where do you begin? A good quality multivitamin is an excellent start, and here are a few others to consider keeping in your medicine cabinet:

A multivitamin: The best time to take a multivitamin/mineral supplement is with breakfast, as long as your meal includes some protein and fat to help deliver the nutrients to their target points. Some products are designed to be taken in divided doses, two to three times a day. Rather than tablets, purchase capsules. They are easier to absorb and contain fewer fillers. Your urine should have a bright yellow hue shortly after taking your multi. 

Vitamin D: Vitamin D3 is the one to buy. The fat-soluble vitamin is being shown to protect us from many health problems ranging from the flu to various forms of cancer. Most experts and physicians now recommend a minimum of 1,000 IU daily, and some recommend up to 10,000 IU! Discuss your vitamin D levels with your doctor to determine how much you need.

Omega 3: Fish oil (or a vegetarian version of omega-3) is essential for healthy immunity, joint protection, and reduces inflammation, thereby protecting us from heart disease and injury. Take at least 1,000 mg daily for overall health, but you can take up to 4,000mg or more if you have an inflammatory condition. In addition, eat least three servings a week of omega-3-rich fish. 

Probiotics: This supplement – live bacterial cultures - is stored in the refrigerator rather than in the supplement cupboard. A probiotic supplement helps build healthy intestinal flora, providing powerful immune system defense. Fermented foods like kefir and kimchi are good natural sources of probiotic cultures, but if such foods aren’t eaten daily, a supplement is crucial. 

Digestive enzymes: You’ll be grateful to have these in stock, especially after a holiday meal or wedding. These supplements help the digestive system break down various nutrients and can help prevent or alleviate gas, bloating, heartburn and acid reflux. Specific enzymes are available for the digestion of protein, fat, starch, beans, dairy products, gluten – you name it; or look for a ‘complete’ enzyme formula that is all-purpose. 

Oil of Oregano: A powerful herb with natural antibiotic and antiviral properties, whether it’s a cold coming on or a toothache, oregano oil can be used at the first sign of infection. A few drops under the tongue should do the trick. Look for a brand with a high carvacrol content. 

Arnica: A homeopathic remedy, arnica is an effective universal treatment for cuts, bruises or other minor injuries. Arnica is available as a topical cream and ointment, and also as a tincture, poultice and compress. 

To ensure you’re getting the best quality products, purchase your supplements directly from a health food store rather than from a department store, supermarket or pharmacy. 

Remember that supplements are in addition to a healthy diet and are not supposed to replace healthy food. 

9 Nov 2013

How Diet Induces Restful Sleep

About a third of our adult life is spent sleeping - or at least it should be. Many (ok, most) of us struggle with getting a good night's sleep. According to an article published in Science Daily, sleep disorders affect 40 percent of Canadians! 

Turning the clock back or forward for Daylight Savings Time can have consequences as your circadian rhythm adjusts. 

A lack of sunlight or change in sleep schedule can interfere with sleep and may even trigger sleep disorders. Sleep deprivation can compromise our mood, work, and especially our health. Studies show that people who sleep less than six hours a night are more prone to obesity and are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research suggests that even just one night of sleep deprivation can raise levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin in normal-weight, healthy men, which, "in the long run may increase weight gain and obesity." 

Other studies show that children who don't receive adequate sleep are more likely to be overweight, and a decade of research has shown sleep deprivation is a risk factor for diabetes. 

While numerous medical issues such as chronic pain or sleep apnea can interfere with a restful slumber, stress and an overactive nervous system is the culprit for most of us. We may not have much control over work schedules or stress levels, but sleep can be positively or negatively influenced by diet.
  • Foods that provide B vitamins promote wakefulness and improve mood throughout the day while encouraging restful sleep at night. Whole grains, dark leafy greens and legumes are the best food sources, but to ensure a deep and consistent slumber (B vitamins help you sleep through that 3 a.m. brain chatter) try a B-complex supplement with breakfast or lunch. 
  • If you're a caffeine user - 90 percent of us are - keep in mind that caffeine is not a stimulant; rather, it blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter that indicates when a snooze is required, and it and releases adrenaline, a stress hormone. Sleep expert, Dr. Charles Samuels, medical director at the Center for Sleep and Human Performance, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, recommends that caffeine should always be consumed with protein to prevent blood sugar fluctuations. Since the half-life of caffeine is five hours (up to 10 if you use oral contraceptives), stop caffeine use four to six hours before you plan to sleep. Though green tea is a source of caffeine, it has only one-third the amount of caffeine of coffee, and it will keep your mind alert without delaying sleep onset.
  • Eat your last meal several hours before going to bed. Digestion involves a great deal of energy and can interrupt your sleep. If you're hungry before bed, have an easy-to-digest snack such as yogurt or a protein shake. Foods rich in the amino acid L-tryptophan-turkey, pasta, potatoes and plain yogurt-stimulate serotonin production, lulling you into sleep. 
  • Avoid high-glycemic foods at dinner and before bed. The simple sugars in sweets, juice, and sodas will reach your bloodstream just as you have fallen asleep and can interfere with a restful sleep (and they contribute to weight gain). 
  • Australian researchers found that a spicy meal before bed can lead to poor sleep by raising body temperature and metabolism, so be sure to eat spicy foods at least five hours of bedtime. Gas-forming foods like onions, corn, green peppers, broccoli, beans, and lentils can also disrupt sleep as they move through your digestive system. 
  • Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it disturbs sleep quality by suppressing the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of sleep-the most restorative sleep phase-and it can worsen sleep apnea. 

Supplement Support for Sound Sleep
Known as the "anti-stress" mineral, magnesium relaxes the body and calms the nervous system. Eat foods rich in magnesium-pumpkin seeds, almonds, and green vegetables-at or after dinner and take a magnesium supplement just before bed (combine with bone-builders calcium and vitamin D for best results). Begin with 150 mg of magnesium and increase if necessary.

The hormone melatonin regulates the circadian rhythm (or sleep cycle). It is also a powerful antioxidant.

Normally released at night as sunlight disappears, melatonin 'informs' the body that it's time to sleep. If you struggle to fall asleep, take oral melatonin (0.5 mg to 6 mg) 30 minutes before bedtime. The right dosage varies from person to person. Experiment with different dosages until you find the amount that works best for you. Sleep in a completely dark room to maximize melatonin production.

Omega-3 fish oil combats inflammation caused by disturbed sleep patterns. It helps also to counter depression sometimes experienced by those suffering from long-term sleep disturbances. Take 1,000 to 2,000 mg of fish oil (EPA/DHA) daily and eat fish three times a week.

Other sleep aids you may want to consider include 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), adrenal extracts, valerian root, and licorice root.

Finally, get to bed by 10 p.m. every night. Between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m., our adrenal glands work the hardest to help the body recover from the effects of stress.  

Published in the Jewish World Review 

2 Nov 2013

Superfoods for Super-Immunity!

Image: Joanne Tsakos Photography
One of my favourite annual events occurred this week - the General Motors Retirees Health Fair in Oshawa. I was thrilled to return for the fifth (or was it the sixth?) time as a guest speaker, and it was wonderful to see so many familiar faces. As always, I was made to feel welcome by the 300+ attendees and hope to return next year for another round! 

This year's topic was Superfoods for Super-Immunity. Here is a synopsis of the 20+ foods reviewed during the presentation:  

What are Superfoods? 

Simply put, superfoods pack the most nutrients into each serving. They are nutrient powerhouses that pack larger amounts of antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals than other foods. Eating superfoods may reduce the risk of chronic disease and prolong life.

Quinoa: Gluten-free quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals. This supergrain seed contains more protein than most cereal grains (22 grams per one cup/250 millilitres uncooked quinoa).

Delicious Arugula Salad

Kale (and other greens): Dark green vegetables such as kale, chard, arugula, collard greens and bok choy, have the highest concentrations of easily digestible nutrients, vitamins and minerals to protect and heal the body. They are packed with vitamins A and C, iron, calcium and phytonutrients.

Dark Chocolate Bark is so easy to make!
Dark chocolate: Packed with more antioxidants than almost any other food, dark chocolate with 60% or more cacao content may lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and improve heart health. Raw cacao nibs offer chocolate's maximum health benefits. 

Turmeric: Curcumin, the active ingredient of the Indian curry spice turmeric, reduces inflammation. It’s well known for its powerful pain-reducing effect on arthritis and is being studied for its potential to fight cancer, improve liver function, lower cholesterol and stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Add a pinch of turmeric to almost any food!

TIP: When turmeric is combined with black pepper, your body absorbes 1000 times more curcumin!
A funky strawberry

Berries: Packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals, berries are also high in potassium and vitamin C. Half a cup of berries daily can lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. They are also anti-inflammatory.

Seaweed: Most nutritionally dense plants on the planet, providing about 70 trace minerals, including thyroid- and weight-balancing iodine. There are many types of seaweed: nori (sushi), dulse, wakame, arame, or kombu can be added to salads, soups, and sushi. The brand I use is Maine Coast Sea Seasonings.

Red wine: Most studies on red wine suggest 1 to 2 daily 4-ounce glasses can lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and even decrease the risk of some forms of cancer thanks to the antioxidants resveratrol and quercetin.

Coconut oil: Coconut oil’s medium-chain triglycerides, including lauric acid, capric acid, caprylic acid and myristic acid, have been shown to improve immunity, having antimicrobial and antifungal properties.

Cinnamon: Diabetics, listen up! Researchers are investigating cinnamon’s role in lowering blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, most likely due to the insulin-like effects of its polyphenols. Studies suggest its effects can be seen with a daily dose of just half a teaspoon.

Green tea: The overall antioxidant power of black tea is the same as green tea, but green tea does have ECGC, Epigallocatechin gallate ,a powerful antioxidant. A recent Japanese study on green tea found that men who drank green tea regularly had lower cholesterol than those who didn't. Researchers in Spain and the United Kingdom have also shown that ECGC can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

TIP: Green tea & lemon: The vitamin C in lemon makes more of green tea’s catechins (a type of antioxidant) available to your body.

Grilled salmon topped with rosemary & garlic
Salmon: The omega-3s in fish lower heart disease risk, help arthritis, and may possibly help with memory loss and Alzheimer's Disease. Salmon also contains astaxanthin, a naturally-occurring carotenoid also found in algae, shrimp, lobster and crab. Well-designed clinical trials have shown that astaxanthin helps diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, eye strain and fatigue and seeing in fine detail.

Greek yogurt (and other fermented foods): Greek yogurt is an excellent source of protein & calcium – more so than regular yogurt. The probiotics in Greek yogurt promote bowel health and are mood and immunity boosters. Top Greek yogurt with fiber and fresh fruit for a balanced breakfast or snack. Other fermented foods that offer probiotics include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kefir and chutneys.

Pomegranate: The pomegranate fruit contain the beneficial antioxidants polyphenols and anthocyanins. Pomegranate juice also contains high levels of antioxidants - higher than most other fruit juices, red wine or tea. Some evidence suggests that drinking concentrated pomegranate juice may reduce LDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure.

Chia seeds: Chia is a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It also provides B vitamins, fiber, and the potent antioxidant quercetin. They help to regulate blood sugar levels.

Flaxseeds: Similar to chia seeds, flaxseeds are also a vegetarian source of omega-fatty acids and an excellent source of soluble fiber. Flaxseeds contain an important fiber called lignans. These help detoxify potentially dangerous hormones and help reduce cholesterol. They may help prevent breast and prostate cancer and heart disease. Add 2 tbsp. of ground flaxseed to oatmeal, salads, smoothies and more. 

Broccoli sprouts: Sulforaphane, a disease-fighting compound in broccoli and broccoli sprouts, has been shown to have anti-diabetic and antimicrobial properties, and has been shown to destroy cancer stem cells. Small amounts of broccoli sprouts have as much sulforaphane as the mature broccoli plant.

Lemon: A great way to start your day is with a glass of water and generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Your body will get a gentle energy boost, as will your immune system. Lemon juice helps detoxify the liver, promotes weight loss and improved digestion and elimination, and better skin. Squeeze fresh lemon juice onto chicken, fish, salads, grain dishes, and vegetables.

Spirulina: Widely used as a nutritional supplement since the 1970’s, spirulina is making a comeback and is being touted as the “food of the future.” A blue-green algae first discovered in natural alkaline lakes in South America and Africa, this swirling, spiral-shaped single-celled organism is a remarkable food source and natural energizer. Add to its combination of over 100 nutrients and an impressive 60% protein content, spirulina is often described as the most complete food source in the world. Spirulina is the only known source of phycocyanin, an antioxidant and natural anti-inflammatory agent. Spirulina is available as a food supplement in tablet or powder form. When feeling physically or mentally fatigued, spirulina provides a quick energy boost.

Walnuts: Walnuts are one of the best plant sources of protein. They are rich in fiber, B vitamins, magnesium and antioxidants such as Vitamin E. Nuts in general are also high in plant sterols and omega-3 fatty acids.
Walnuts, in particular, have significantly higher amounts of omega 3 fatty acids as compared to other nuts. 

TIP: When walnuts and blueberries are combined, they are even more effective at sharpening memory and improving communication between brain cells.

Oatmeal: Oatmeal is an excellent source of soluble fiber. It binds to and removes cholesterol and fat via the bowels. The beta glucans in oatmeal have been shown to reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Combined with an orange (vitamin C), there is a four times greater improvement in cholesterol and heart disease prevention. Oatmeal combined with cinnamon effectively balances blood sugar levels. 

Acai: Pronounced 'ah-sigh-ee', the Brazilian berry has twice as many antioxidants (anthocyanins) as blueberries. It's available frozen, in capsules or powder. Add it to smoothies, desserts and homemade ice cream. 

Tiger nuts: Tiger nuts are not nuts, but tubers! Nutritionally comparable to almonds, research suggests they may help reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). Tiger nuts are a great gluten-free snack and the flour is fantastic for baking. I add it to my favourite Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe.

Hemp seeds: Also known as hemp hearts, hemp seeds are legal to eat and buy, and those who eat them regularly insist they have more energy... but you can't get high on them! The protein and fiber in hemp make it an excellent blood sugar balancer. (They're great for diabetics). Hemp seeds can be added to salads, or smoothies.

7 Oct 2013

Halloween Treat Trade-Off

As Halloween nears, supermarket and department store aisles are lined with boxes of confectionery and salty treats, perfectly sized for little trick-or-treaters. If your house is already decorated with skeletons and cobwebs and you've spent months planning a costume that will impress the kids who stop at your door, then you're probably keen to beat out the neighbourhood competition by purchasing the most coveted products.

The Halloween treats parents love giving (and kids love getting) are so convenient -- wrapped in snack sized (or 'fun' sized) packages and sold in enormous boxes for a great price -- that you might not think twice about what you're scattering around the neighbourhood. Miniature bags of Cheetos, Doritos, Twizzlers and gummy worms... so tiny, they must be harmless, right?

The first ingredient in the vast majority of Halloween treats is tooth-decaying, obesity-causing sugar, and most provide no nutritional value aside from empty calories. Sure, a miniature chocolate bar won't do much damage, but the other ingredients hiding in the package -- artificial colours and flavours, chemical preservatives, trans fats and others -- might. If you're a conscientious parent concerned about your child's diet, it's safe to say that other parents in your neighbourhood are just as interested in what their children bring home on Halloween night.

Unfortunately, in Canada small packages are exempt from listing ingredients. Unless you do your research or go as far as calling the manufacturer (even small packages must list a telephone number), you may never know which scary chemicals lurk in your children's treat bags. This is especially troublesome for children with food allergies, ADD/ADHD and autism.

The ingredients may not be listed on the individually-wrapped packages, but they are listed on the box. Before buying a mega-box of goodies, have a read. You might be astonished to find some of the most frightening ingredients in the most popular products. For example, dreaded trans fats (listed as partially hydrogenated fat on the label) are found in Ritz crackers and Snickers bars. The notorious flavour enhancer, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is one of many, many artificial ingredients in Doritos; and M&Ms are brimming with artificial colours, chemicals suspected to be a reason for hyperactive behaviour in children.

Read the ingredients on a few more boxes, however, and you'll find that not all products contain unsavoury ingredients. Some products, especially plain (unflavoured) potato chips, have 'clean' labels -- meaning, they're free of artificial colours, flavours, and chemical preservatives. You just have to know what you're looking for.

The hands-down favourite candy that kids will dig through their treat bags to find is a chocolate bar. Luckily many candy bars are not as bad as you might think. Some are horrible -- Snickers contains trans fats and M&Ms contain a variety of artificial colours, but most chocolate bars, especially plain chocolate bars, don't contain the scary stuff (unless you're afraid of fat, that is).

Flavoured potato chips and corn chips, including Doritos and Cheetos, often include a host of artificial flavours, many of which include free glutamic acid, a component of MSG and the culprit behind many of the symptoms MSG is known to cause.

Instead, choose plain chips with the simple ingredients, 'potatoes, vegetable oil, and salt.' Lay's Wavy Original Potato Chips and Old Dutch Halloween chips are good choices. They are fried, but they won't send your kids into a tailspin.

Colourful candy, from orange-and-black Halloween candy to Twizzlers and Skittles is chock-full of artificial colours, most of them coal-tar derivatives and all of them implicated in causing changes to behaviour or health.

My favourite brand of candy is YummyEarth. They make organic and naturally coloured lollipops, gummy bears, gummy worms, and other delicious candy, and best of all, they're sold in snack size packages for Halloween. Look for them at Whole Foods, Toys-R-Us, HomeSense, Winners, and at health food stores. They are a little more expensive than other candy, but if you're willing to spend the extra money, neighbourhood parents will appreciate it. Reluctant to dole out additional cash for someone else's kids? Buy it for your own kids and swap the artificially-coloured candy your child brings home with the good stuff.

Of course, you can always opt to give out boxes of raisins, granola bars, and trail mix, but your doorstep might not be so popular next Halloween. Not all treats have to be edible. Stop by your local party shop or dollar store to stock up on knick-knacks kids can play with -- stickers, markers, crayons, glow stick bracelets, and trading cards (sports cards or... why not go with Justin Bieber cards?).

This year Halloween falls on a Thursday. To all the school teachers who will have to deal with exhausted and frenzied kids on Friday morning, I wish you luck.

Happy and safe trick or treating!

20 Aug 2013

Low-Glycemic Mediterranean diet cuts diabetes risk by 20%

A low-glycemic-load diet that also adheres to the principles of the traditional Mediterranean style of eating appears to reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes by about 20%, new prospective research shows.

Read more:
Medscape Article

13 Aug 2013

Label Lessons: Unjunk Your Kid's Lunchbox is live!

Back-to-school time is just around the corner, and grocery stores are already preparing to make our lives easier with specials on pre-packaged snacks, cold cuts, tetra-packs and 'ready-in-5' meals. Schedules are about to change, and time may be tighter, but don't compromise health for the sake of convenience.

The newest edition of Label Lessons reveals the hidden, scary ingredients in back-to-school convenience foods and provides healthier alternatives that taste just as great (if not better) and are just as convenient!

Mott's Flavoured Applesauce - Mango Peach, for example, contains high-fructose corn syrup (called glucose/fructose in Canada) and yellow 6, an artificial dye that is known to cause poor behaviour in some children! Feeding that to a child who is expected to behave in a quiet classroom might be asking for trouble!

Unjunk Your Kid's Lunchbox reviews a range of favourite foods for school-aged kids, including sandwich breads (and gluten-free bread), fruit juices, cereal, cookies, and even provides a recipe for the newest lunchtime trend - bento box lunches.

Download the free e-book on www.NaturallySavvy.com or http://bit.ly/1ckJL9s.

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

31 Jul 2013

Eating junk food during pregnancy can lead to future metabolic problems for the child

Controlling your diet during pregnancy is easier said than done. Aversions to the smell and sight of certain foods, cravings (usually for all things unhealthy), fatigue, changes in blood sugar - with all these (and more) working against her, a pregnant woman might find that the majority of her daily calories are empty. 

I was no different. When I first discovered that I was pregnant with Olivia, every meal was prepared with the question, "What ingredients do I want my baby's body and mind to be built with today?" But then the hormones kicked in, and from months 2 to 4, practically all I could stomach was fruit and bread (and for a couple of weeks, I had the worst cravings for French fries). Vegetables were not welcome in my stomach. I tried - trust me - and I juiced - but even if I was able to get a vegetable down, it made it's way right back up (and out). And boy, did it concern me. 

I recall one of my favourite nutrition students (previously a hard-core vegan) telling me that when she was pregnant, she couldn't (and didn't) eat anything that was not sold at McDonald's. It was shocking to hear that from her (just as shocking as it was to see her 60lb heavier than the last time I saw her). 

Yup, a horrible diet during pregnancy can happen to the best and most knowledgeable of us. 

As soon as I was able to, though, I ate as well as I could, emphasizing organic, non-GMO foods and superfoods.

There are many reasons to eat optimally during pregnancy. After all, you're creating another human being. What you eat now will likely play a big role in their lifelong physical and mental health. For example, prenatal omega-3 leads to smarter babies and children. And now another study has found that eating junk food during pregnancy "alters the development of opiod pathways in offspring, leading to permanently modified brain signalling in response to foods that are high in sugar and fat." (Source: Food-NavigatorUSA.com)

In English? It means that pregnant women who eat a junk food diet comprised of fat & sugar may be predisposing their child to a lifelong battle with cravings and weight. 

As someone who battled weight for almost 2 decades, I can appreciate how important it is to give our kids a fighting chance. 

The study's abstract may be read here: http://www.ssib.org/public/core_routines/view_abstract_no.php?show_close_window=yes&abstractno=227 

29 May 2013

Treat baby acne with coconut oil

About two weeks after bringing baby Benjamin home, little bumps formed all over his face. By four weeks old, those bumps turned red and inflamed - a bad case of baby acne.

Our midwife, and later, our pediatrician, told us to leave it alone. "Do nothing. It will go away on its own." But as it continued to worsen, and especially when I found myself adjusting the lighting to hide the spots before taking a photo of Ben, I couldn't help myself.

Melting a dab of organic, extra-virgin coconut oil between my fingers, I applied it to Ben's face using a cotton ball. Within a few hours, it was significantly better. The very next day, it had all but disappeared! Coincidence? Perhaps. When the spots reappeared a couple of weeks later, I applied some coconut oil again and got the same results. This time, the acne did not return. I'm a believer!

The lauric acid in coconut oil is a known anti-inflammatory. Studies have shown that it's especially useful for skin conditions.

With that said, however, when Ben developed eczema on his belly and legs over the winter, coconut oil didn't work. Instead, I changed his diet (My bad - I was offering 8 month old Ben 1/2 of Olivia's gluten-free cookies now and then. Soooo bad! The tiny bit of sugar caused the eczema, even though Ben was getting - and still gets - probiotics every day.) and gave him omega-3 fish oil (both topically and internally) and that did the trick almost immediately.

Below is an article I wrote for Naturally Savvy. It reviews some of the benefits of coconut oil, particularly the research showing that it is an effective metabolism-booster.

We use coconut oil often in our cooking and baking. It has a high smoke point, so it's much safer to heat than olive oil and is especially safer than other vegetable oils. It's great in cookies, cakes and breads, too. If you like a little bit of a coconut taste, buy organic virgin coconut oil. If you prefer no taste, choose extra-virgin.

Why Coconut Oil is Good for You

Supermodel Miranda Kerr recently credited coconut oil as one of her beauty secrets, sending sales of the healthy oil soaring in the UK. The Victoria’s Secret angel says that she uses it daily in her cooking and applies it topically to her skin and hair.

Her statements have North American doctors in, well, a Kerr-fuffle. You see, coconut oil is a saturated fat (92% saturated), and aren’t sat-fats really bad for us? It seems like everyone dreads them and those ‘in the know’ about health go to great lengths to avoid them.

Saturated fats have long been picked on as a major factor in the development of heart disease. Looking at coconut oil as just another saturated fat, however, is missing the big picture. The difference between coconut oil and other fats is that about 66 percent of coconut oil is comprised of medium-chain triglycerides (or MCTs), whereas most of the other fats we consume – saturated or unsaturated – are composed of long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). The length of the fatty acid chain is important because the physiological effects of MCTs in coconut oil are very different from LCTs. In fact, it is coconut oil’s MCTs that provide the benefits to health it’s now recognized for.

Despite research showing its effects on health, consumers are most interested in its impact on weight.

A study found that consuming MCTs compared with LCTs resulted in an increased metabolic rate (higher calorie burning) and enhanced fat oxidation in obese women after only 27 days, suggesting that substituting MCTs for LCTs may promote weight control and prevent long-term weight gain.

Kerr, among other coconut oil enthusiasts, claims that consumption of the oil helped her regain her model-figure shortly after giving birth to her first child. Coconut oil proponents claim that taking several tablespoons a day promotes weight loss, not weight gain. The reason for this is because MCTs are quickly metabolized into energy, acting more like carbohydrates than other fats. LCTs, on the other hand, are metabolized more slowly and stored for use as a future energy reserve, causing weight gain.

Coconut oil’s MCTs, including lauric acid, capric acid, caprylic acid and myristic acid, have been shown to improve immunity, having antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Lauric acid, the primary MCT in coconut oil, is an important component of breast milk. In fact, it’s been added to infant formulas, as well as to nutrition formulas created for hospitalized patients for decades – which means that the medical community has been well aware of the health-promoting, easy-to-digest fat for a long time.

In 2010, researchers in Thailand found that coconut oil can relieve pain associated with inflammation and has anti-inflammatory properties. This might be useful for those with arthritis, heart disease, and other inflammatory conditions.

Choosing the right coconut oil
The type of coconut oil used in food manufacturing is processed and does not provide benefits to health; actually, the “refined, bleached and deodorized,” or RBD oil can be detrimental and should be avoided. Look for organic extra-virgin or virgin coconut oil at natural product stores and most supermarkets. It’s perfect for cooking and baking, and can be easily slipped into a smoothie... and while you’re cooking, rub some into your skin and hair for super-moisturizing during the cold, dry winter months.

While Miranda Kerr finds that four teaspoons a day in her salads and meals is “personally beneficial,” up to four tablespoons a day have been recommended by health experts – at least by those who have updated their understanding of fats.

St-Onge MP, Bourque C, Jones PJ, Ross R, & Parsons WE., (2003) “Medium- versus long-chain triglycerides for 27 days increases fat oxidation and energy expenditure without resulting in changes in body composition in overweight women” Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 27(1):95-102.
Intahphuak S., Khonsung, P. & Panthong, A. (2010) “Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic activities of virgin coconut oil”Pharmaceutical Biology. 48(2):151-157.

Previously posted on Naturally Savvy

27 May 2013

Organic wine

I love red wine (who doesn't?) and the fact that it's loaded with the super-antioxidants resveratrol and polyphenols (yeah, quercetin, baby!) makes it taste sooo much better. (Organic wines average 32% higher resveratrol levels than non-organic wines!).
organic wines average 32 percent higher resveratrol levels than conventional wines. - See more at: http://www.naturallysavvy.com/healthy-eating/drink-in-the-benefits-of-organic-wine#sthash.msqTndVu.dpuf

Here's some info about the health benefits of red wine from my 'Superfoods' seminar: 

"The wine-loving French suffer 1/3 of the heart attacks North Americans do! Research shows that 1 to 2 servings a day can lower heart attack risk, reduce cholesterol, decrease the risk of some forms of cancer, and may even improve bone density."

What I don't love about red wine, though, is the yeast, the sugar, and the pesticides sprayed on the grapes used to make it. Thankfully, organic wine is widely available. 

A few years ago, I wrote an article called Drink in the Benefits of Organic Wine for Naturally Savvy. The Examiner quoted the article in one of their own (below). 

Pour yourself a glass of wine, take a deep breath, and enjoy the article: 

Understanding Organic Wine. Why to drink it and where to buy it

Green eating is among the most popular food trends today, so it’s no surprise that in our quest to eat “real” we are not only examining what we eat, but also what we drink, particularly in the world of wine. Like most types of farming, the ancient art of grape growing has organic origins, but most vineyards today are so heavily sprayed that grapes comprise some of the most chemical-laden produce available.

According to Lisa Tsakos in her article, "Drink the Benefits of Organics Wine," and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), almost 21 million pounds of pesticides were used on California grapes in the year 2003 alone. Given the tremendous impact this has on human health, as well as the health of the soil, wildlife, and even weather patterns in and around vineyard-populated areas, it’s no wonder more and more wines are cropping up with organic labels.

But how does a conventional wine drinker go about picking out just the right bottle of organic Chardonnay or Cabernet, especially when organic varieties inevitably come with a higher price tag? In terms of flavor, one way is by reading wine reviews before-hand, such as those you’ll find on the Organic Wine Review and Organic Wine Journal.

More important, though, may be understanding what each health label really means. Wine simply labeled organic, for instance, indicates that the wine must be made with organic grapes. These wines are free of pesticides, but may or may not contain added sulfites, or sulfur dioxide, a preservative that causes allergic reactions and breathing problems in some individuals. Those sensitive to sulfites may want to consider looking for wine with a certified USDA organic label, which is different from other organic wine in that it must not contain any added sulfites. Since sulfites occur naturally as a by-product of the fermentation process, no wine is completely sulfite-free, but the sulfite level of USDA organic wine is less than 20 parts per million, as compared to 10 parts per million in other wine.

Humans have been enjoying the bold flavors of wine for millennia, and finding a good organic variety really allows people to receive the most health benefits possible from their beverage of choice. The Organic Consumer Organization cites that organic wine contains an average of 32 percent more resveratrol (the antioxidant found in red wine that helps prevent heart disease and cancer) than conventional wine. This leaves the health conscious population with one last indulgence they can feel really good about, in moderation of course.

Previously posted in The Examiner 

15 May 2013

Banish Bowel Back-Up Naturally

Life tends to get backed up. We get stuck in traffic, fall behind on e-mail, and fret over mounting paperwork, but the bowels are no place for a backup.
Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint in the United States. About 4.5 million Americans report being constipated most or all of the time.

Women, pregnant women, children, and adults age 65 and over most often complain about difficulty eliminating, resulting in around two million visits to the doctor annually.

While experts disagree on what defines constipation, Adina Niemerow, a Sausalito-based holistic chef and author of "Super Cleanse: Detox Your Body for Long-Lasting Health and Beauty" (HarperCollins) believes that a bowel movement after each meal, that's up to three a day, is essential. Surprised? It makes sense. After all, you'd be concerned if your dog didn't poop for a week, wouldn't you?

So why do we have such trouble staying regular? Niemerow suggests that it's all in what we eat.

"Our bodies have a hard time digesting processed flours and refined sugars, oils, and salts, so that food ends up clogging our intestines, severely impairing our bodies' ability to efficiently absorb nutrients and void waste," Niemerow says. "This toxic food weighs down the body in disease."


So it's not surprising that Americans spend $725 million on laxatives annually in an effort to try to 'unclog' our plumbing. Others turn to stool softeners, stimulants, and bulk formers.

While increasing fiber intake from plant foods -- whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit -- to 35 grams or more is critical for regularity, some of us need more help.
Niemerow says that there are "several options out there to help you stay regular." Doing an intestinal cleanse is a great first step.

She also suggests drinking plenty of water and taking your favorite fiber supplement. Stool bulking agents like Benefibre, Metamucil, Fiber-Sure, and FiberSMART are widely available and easy to incorporate. Take caution, however. When introducing a fiber supplement, begin with half the amount recommended on the label and increase your intake of water; otherwise, you may experience a worsening in bloating and abdominal pain.

For a more thorough scrub, Niemerow recommends periodically using an intestinal cleansing formula, such as Cleanse Smart and Cleanse Move from Renew Life or Swiss Kriss, all of which are available at local health food stores.

"At bedtime, take a natural laxative such as magnesium oxide or drink a laxative tea," Niemerow recommends. "Products containing pure aloe, aloe leaf, slippery elm, flax seeds, marshmallow root, triphala, yellow dock, and psyllium husks all help move the bowels."

For stubborn cases, Niemerow suggests a more immediate fix. "Go the enema or colonic route. They're the quickest way to move the toxins out of the body and they can also provide fast relief from detox symptoms, such as headaches, throbbing joints, constipation, and body aches."


"You can find do-it-yourself formulas at your local health food store, or go to a licensed colon hydrotherapist. Ask your physician or naturopath for a referral if you don't know of a therapist in your area."

While these remedies are appropriate during a cleanse, Niemerow cautions against becoming dependent on them to ensure regularity. "On an ongoing basis, a balanced, healthy diet should be what you rely on to avoid constipation."

Previously published in the Chicago Tribune

23 Apr 2013

Label Lessons: Your Guide to a Healthy Shopping Cart

The follow-up to Unjunk Your Junk Food is now available! The free e-Book, "Label Lessons: Your Guide to a Healthy Shopping Cart" can be viewed by going to www.NaturallySavvy.com or here: http://on.fb.me/11z1hx9.

For every person who shares the e-Book, we (Naturally Savvy) are donating $1.00 to the Holistic Moms Network.

Enjoy and healthy shopping (and eating!)

20 Mar 2013

Fermented foods make a comeback

Fermented foods are yet another example of what's old becoming new again. Traditionally, almost every civilization regularly produced and consumed at least one cultured food. While our generation had all but forgotten traditional fermentation practices, now that scientific research is investigating the effect of active bacterial cultures from fermented foods on health, foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, chutneys, kefir, and yogurt are re-appearing in kitchens everywhere.

Cultured dairy products are dairy foods that have been fermented with lactic acid bacteria, known as probiotics. There is evidence of cultured milk products being produced as food as long ago as 10,000 B.C. While many types of cultured milk products can be found around the world, yogurt is by far the most common. Although the benefits of yogurt on digestive health had already been recognized, the microbiologist Ilya Mechnikov popularized its use throughout Europe in the 1900s, believing that lactobacillus bacteria were responsible for the remarkable longevity of Bulgarians.

Fermentation with lactic acid bacteria increases the nutritive value of foods because of improved bioavailability and can enhance the absorption of protein and minerals, particularly calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. Lactic acid bacteria can synthesize the vitamins folic acid, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and vitamin B12, even when they aren't provided in the diet.

Empirical research has identified a long list of health conditions that may be helped by consuming foods containing lactic acid bacteria, including colitis, constipation, diarrhea, gas, gastric reflux, heartburn, Crohn's disease, gum disease and high cholesterol. Recent studies have shown a positive effect of probiotics on autism and obesity.

Probiotic bacteria must be consumed every day to be effective as they cannot implant in the gastrointestinal tract and they do leave the body quite readily. Include a variety of foods fermented with lactic acid bacteria in your diet daily.

The fermentation process increases the shelf life of dairy products. Refrigerated, yogurt has a shelf life of 35-40 days.

Previously posted in the Chicago Tribune

13 Mar 2013

Gluten-free the second time around

Here's a picture of our little Benji-bear munching on celery
The past 12 months have been b-u-s-y! 

In the weeks following the release of Unjunk Your Junk Food, we sold & bought a house and had a baby, and since last fall I've been tied up with my job at Naturally Savvy (where you can read about what I've been up to over the past few months).   

Our son, Benjamin was born in April and, like our 3 year old before him, we've been raising him gluten-free - not because he has a gluten problem, but to prevent future intolerance.

At 10 months of age, his diet consists of breast milk, organic formula, pureed and steamed vegetables and fruit, some potatoes and brown rice (mostly in cereal form, and since the arsenic scare, considerably less than what we fed Olivia) and recently we've introduced some gluten-free bread. Aside from egg yolk, he has not tried any of the common allergens, including tomatoes or strawberries. They will be introduced into his diet slowly and one at a time sometime after his first birthday. His favorite snack - gluten free Nature's Path O's (which look like Cheerios but without the GMOs). So far so good - no sign of allergies.  

A few surprises: -My friends were right: it's hard to be as strict the second (or third, fourth...) time around. While the daycare staff has been educated about his dietary restrictions, I'm not as militant as I was with Olivia. Also, when he sees his older sister eating snacks or bread, he tries to grab some for himself - while we intervene when we see it happening, the only solution is to keep the home as GF as possible.

-In an interview with Dr. Tom O'Bryan, "The Gluten Doctor," I asked about breastfeeding. He explained exactly what I feared: gluten is passed to the baby through breast milk; hence, a gluten-free diet is recommended for breastfeeding mothers; and it's best that pregnant women remain gluten-free, too (yikes, too late!).

-Dr. O'Bryan also explained that 50% of celiacs react to dairy because it locks “into the same docking station” as gluten. So do coffee, oats, yeast. Hmmm.. 

-For on-the-go snacks, we love the new squeeze packs made with organic vegetables and fruit. The blends of greens & pear or kale & apple are awesome! Ben loves them because he can feed himself and they taste great. These didn't exist when Olivia was a baby, but I'm thrilled to have them now. 

Ben has shown signs of having a sweet tooth since food was introduced. Olivia had a 'salt tooth' and preferred salty tasting foods over sweet. It will be interesting to see how these tastes evolve as the kids get older and exposed to different foods and ingredients.