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.

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.