June 24, 2017

Fibre: Too Much of a Good Thing?

A lot of health professionals seem to be pushing supplementary fibre on their IBS patients as a way of managing their symptoms.

Interestingly, when I look at the food journals of clients with IBS they often demonstrate not only plenty of fibre, but too much!

Excess fibre can contribute to any of the following:

  1. More than 3 bowel movements daily
  2. Uncomfortable gas and bloating
  3. Stool is poorly formed (broken pieces)
  4. Undigested food in stool

Fibre consists of the plant material in our foods, and our bodies don’t make the enzymes to break them down; hence, the term ‘roughage’.  Does that word sound comfortable to you?

These are some possible consequences of excess fibre:

  1. Mineral deficiencies. Phytates (found in whole grains) and oxalates (found in all plant-based whole foods) can bind to minerals like calcium and iron and prevent their uptake from the gut into the body.


  1. Over-active bowel. Fibre increases peristalsis—the muscle-contractions that move food and feces through the intestines.  If you’re vulnerable to incontinence, this can increase your chances of having an accident, or at the very least, Nature may call more often than is convenient.  In any case, the cramping that overactive bowel creates is uncomfortable.


  1. Gas and bloating. Since we can’t digest them ourselves, the intestinal microbes eat certain plant fibres and ”burp” gas in the process. The result of excess fibre can therefore liberate this gas at varying rates and of varying odours.

4.  Loose stool.  The more fibre we eat, the faster our intestines move the food and waste through.  This means less of the water contained in the stool has time to be reabsorbed, creating a ‘watery’, or loose stool.


To be clear, fibre has an important role in our diets, and higher consumption is associated with lower cholesterol levels and lower incidence of bowel cancers.  Plus, many vitamins are found in whole grains.  So with the exception of some very specific health conditions, fibre shouldn’t be removed entirely from your diet.  However, if you’re wondering if your digestive symptoms may be related to your fibre intake, a nutritionist can help you determine this. Be sure to keep a food log that includes approximate quantities of each food eaten.  Keep in mind that individual tolerance for type and quantity of fiber differ from person to person.

IBS, IBD, Gluten or Glyphosate: Which is it?

If you’ve been told you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s colitis or ulcerative colitis–or ‘just’ irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may have wondered if gluten was the culprit. Perhaps you’ve been tested for Celiac disease–which is the hallmark sign of gluten allergy—but the results came back negative.  What if there’s another trigger of your bowel pain?

Today’s conventionally grown wheat crop in the U.S.A. and Canada is sprayed with glyphosate. Most easily identified by, but not isolated to the brand name Roundup, glyphosate is a powerful herbicide that kills everything green—except the plants that are genetically modified in a lab to be immune to it.  A lot of attention has been given to the topic of genetically altered foods, and rightly so—but could glyphosate be the scariest culprit here? First, I should qualify that to date, the wheat for sale has not been genetically manipulated like corn, soybeans,  canola and other crops have.  However, farmers have discovered that if they spray their crop with glyphosate at harvest time that it dries standing up, thereby reducing harvest work.   Higher levels of this chemical may actually be found and measured in the urine of people who consume not just wheat, but any conventionally grown (i.e., non-organic) grains and soybeans.  The lab Great Plains Laboratory, as well as the non-for-profit Institute for Responsible Technology both state that there is sufficient data that indicate that glyphosate-containing herbicides are toxic to humans and are associated with gastrointestinal disorders we see so much of today.

Do you react?

Several of my non-Celiac nutrition clients who say they are gluten-intolerant have told me that somehow, they were able to eat glutenous pasta and breads while overseas with no ill effects.  For a while, I attributed this to the fact they were on vacation, and therefore were experiencing a lot less stress in their lives (rest increases tolerance for dietary stressors.)  However, a couple of them were actually on business trips to Europe, where the wheat (if not imported from Canada or the U.S.) is NOT treated with benzoyl peroxide nor glyphosate.  How interesting!

Disclaimer: If you have been diagnosed with Celiac disease you must never consume wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut or triticale in any form or amount.

What Wheat Flour and Acne Medication Have in Common

Gluten has become a household word by now, and many fear it.  Maybe you’ve been tested for gluten allergy and you were shocked when the results came back negative. About half of the clients I consult with have told me that they feel better without wheat in their diet. They report less bloating, better digestion and less weight.   So if it’s not gluten, what’s the culprit here?  Consider this little known fact about the wheat products produced in North America:

  1. Most white wheat flour today is bleached with benzoyl peroxide. If that rings a bell, think back to your teen years. That’s right: it’s a topical acne medication.  Remember white spots on your colourful bathroom towels? Benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria with oxygen, and in the process, it bleaches.  Many people, after years of use of this topical acne medication, have developed skin sensitivity to benzoyl peroxide—creating inflammation, most notably as dryness and itching. Even though the concentration of the ingredient is surely lower than those used in medication, consider that as a rule, people tend to become sensitized to things they are over-exposed to–either by intensity, duration or frequency of exposure.  Could wheat flour be causing the same inflammation in the digestive tract and resulting symptoms?  We don’t know, but it’s something to consider.

Organically Produced Wheat is Safer

Gluten is a group of proteins naturally present in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut and triticale grains, so organically grown grains from this list will have them, too. However, by choosing organically grown wheat products, we are reducing our exposure to harmful glyphosate, benzoyl peroxide and other chemicals used to treat wheat products both in the field and in the factories.

If you suffer from IBS, IBD, or other gastrointestinal symptoms, consider modifying your intake of conventionally grown grains accordingly.

Disclaimer: if you are allergic to gluten (diagnosed with Celiac disease/gluten enteropathy), you must not eat ANY wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut or triticale products of any kind.





3 Estrogenic Foods You Didn’t Know About

Estrogens–a key group of hormones necessary for female health– are feared by many these days. First, there was the famous Nurses Health Study, which was cut short in 2003 when researchers realized that the participants on synthetic hormone replacement medications were experiencing more heart attacks and strokes.   Then in 2006,  Canada banned the use of chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from baby bottles over the concern that BPA is in fact an estrogen-mimicker, with unknown effects on developing infants.  Unfortunately, these very real concerns have lead to a paranoia about soy-based foods, since they naturally contain estrogen-mimickers as well.

So, should we limit our exposure to ALL estrogen-like substances, natural or unnatural? I am asked this question frequently in my nutritional counseling practice.

In fact, there is nothing inherently wrong with phyto-estrogens; many traditional food sources from various cultures around the world have naturally contained components that mimic human estrogen, albeit in a very MILD way.  That is the key. The fact that they are much, much  weaker than our own estrogen means that they are not capable of the nasty potential effects that xeno-estrogens—the chemical estrogen-mimickers–have.

Here are a few foods that naturally contain phyto-estrogens—chemicals that act like weak estrogens:

Beans: Not just soybeans, but black beans, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas,….in fact, if it is a legume (not to be confused with the term “vegetable”), it contains phyto-estrogens such as genistein and daidzein.   Removing these from our diets is a sacrifice because they are an excellent source of fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates. If you do eat soy products, make sure they are organically grown, as over 90% of conventionally grown soybeans are from genetically-modified plants.

Alfalfa: Alfalfa sprouts are found in the salad department of our grocery stores, typically in clam-shell-like containers.  We add them to salads, sushi rolls, and sandwiches. Not only are these sprouts a good source of vitamin K, they are also sources of phyto-estrogens. After all, alfalfa is also a member of the legume family. Once again, look for organically grown sprouts, or grow your own with organic seeds from the health food store.

Flaxseed: This little brown or blonde-coloured seed has been celebrated mainly for its outstanding omega-3 content. However, it’s also a high source of lignans—another phyto-estrogenic plant component.  Flaxmeal and flaxseed oil should both always be stored in the freezer as it can go rancid easily.

These 3 foods are not to be feared.  There is a theory that phyto-estrogens help block xeno-estrogens from our estrogen receptors, protecting us from the strong estrogenic effects of BPA and other plastics. Enjoy these foods as part of a varied diet. They have so much to offer!

The BEST Reason to Log Your Food

Maybe you’ve tried keeping a diet journal, and for a number of reasons, you didn’t Businesswoman Writing In Diarykeep it going.  Here are some common objections and excuses I have heard for avoiding this practice:

“It takes too long.”

“By the end of the day I’m too tired to do it.”

“My day was so hectic that by lunchtime I can’t remember what I had for breakfast.”

“I’m too lazy to do it.”

Then there’s the most honest reason:

“I hate admitting to myself that I ate something I shouldn’t have.”

What if I said that keeping a diet journal is ESSENTIAL to reaching your health and weight goals? That logging your food (and beverage!) consumption is the behaviour that is most important to losing unwanted pounds?

Studies have shown repeatedly that individuals who consistently keep diet journals lose twice as much weight as those who don’t! 

It’s NOT All or Nothing.

Here’s the best news: in these studies, it didn’t matter how ‘perfectly’ the individuals kept their journals. Just the fact that they recorded what they ate and drank on a regular basis lead them to success!

Here are four more great reasons to keep a food diary.

So, if you’ve stopped keeping a journal because you weren’t doing it perfectly or eating perfectly all the time, try again. It could really make the difference in your success!



Are These 4 Bowel Bullies Part of Your Diet?

Foods that you thought were good for you may be wreaking havoc in your intestinal tract. If you’ve been told by a doctor that you have irritable bowel syndrome, it means you have been checked for cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and Celiac disease.  So why do you have symptoms? It could be a food you’re eating more often than your bowel can tolerate. Here are some common culprits:

Wheat ear

Wheat bran: This carbohydrate is indigestible, and consists of a scratchy, insoluble fibre. As it scrapes through your bowel, it can irritate the lining, leading to spasms, gas and an urgency to ‘go’. It’s often an ingredient in ‘whole grain’ cereals, breads, crackers and cookies.


Raw Kale: This leafy green is the poster-child for ‘roughage’.  It is also actually high in oxalates, which are not harmful, but without the right balance of intestinal micro-organisms to break down these natural plant chemicals, gas and bloating have been known to occur.  Pair this with all that insoluble fibre and it can go either way: you may become constipated, or you may experience some urgency.  If you enjoy kale, cooking it  and pureeing  it into a soup is your best bet.

Xylitol and other alcohol sugars:  They’re sweet like sugar, but they have no caloric value. They aren’t alcohol either, so their name is deceiving. However, any sweetener that ends in ‘ol’ is an indigestible carbohydrate that can lead to diarrhea if an excessive amount is consumed.  Look out for alcohol sugars in chewing gum, and diabetic/low-carb snacks.

granola-bowlGranola: This so-called health food can actually be very hard to digest. Baking dried grain at high temperatures with oil and sugar dehydrates the food further to the point it will act like a ‘sponge’ in the digestive tract, sucking up moisture as it scrapes by.  Muesli (an unbaked oat, dried fruit and seed mixture) is a safer bet.

Bottom line: How much you eat and how frequently you eat them will determine your vulnerability to the above bowel bullies.  Keeping  a journal will help you determine links between your diet and your symptoms.


Why I Love Buffets

If your conscience is punishing you about partaking in buffet-style restaurant meals, park that guilt! There are actually many good things about buffets. From a nutritional standpoint, here are a few:https://static2.tripoto.com/media/filter/l/img/256471/TripDocument/1461053991_2014619113333436269.jpg

  1. Variety of flavours.  East Indians, for instance, have known for millennia that a balance of flavours in a meal are good for digestion and satisfaction.
  2. Variety of nutrients. Few menus offer single dishes that have a good balance of protein, carbohydrate, fat, minerals and vitamins.  A good buffet will provide a well-rounded selection of nutrients that you otherwise might not achieve by the end of your day.
  3. You ARE in control of how much is on your plate. The average nutritionist’s attitude on buffets is AVOID them because it’s too easy to overeat.  While I agree that one must exercise some won’t-power at a buffet, I believe it’s actually easier to control your portions when it’s not a set plate.
  4. Try foods you saw in the produce aisle but didn’t know what to do with.
    You’ve heard avocadoes are good for us, but never got around to making or trying guacamole. Or, you’ve seen blue potatoes at the store but wondered if they tasted the same as white ones. Here’s your opportunity to try them without risk!
  5. Be inspired by new-to-you recipes, or ways of preparing ordinary foods.  Even if you’re a ‘foodie’ and have tried many vegetables, you may not have ever thought of preparing them in the way that you find them at a buffet.  Be adventurous!

Here are my recommendations for the best buffets in Ottawa, from a nutritional standpoint:

  • Viva International Buffet: International cuisine, home-cooked style.  Usually there are many options for vegetarians and those with food sensitivities.  Kanata.
  • Mandarin Buffet: An Asian food nirvana. Includes sushi. No MSG added. Orleans and  Riverside+Hunt Club locations.
  • The Green Door: Vegetarian.  Pay by weight.  All items have common allergens identified.  Main St., Old Ottawa south.
  • The Table: Vegetarian cuisine. Pay by weight.  All items have a full disclosure of ingredients.  Wellington Village at Holland Ave.

Enjoy your buffet experience!

Four Reasons To Log Your Food

  1. Increased Awareness.  Recording what you eat and drink will bring an awareness of how often you consume less nutritious foods and their ingredients. Sugar, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, alcohol, salt, and fried oils are just a few of the treats that can add up in a day, a week, and a month.  Journaling will bring to your attention the frequency and quantity of the unhealthful parts of your diet.Businesswoman Writing In Diary

2. Accountability. Once you write it down, you’ve admitted that you’ve consumed it.  Knowing that your nutritionist will be asking to look at your food journal will help you think twice about some of your food choices. So if you ate a second piece of chocolate cake, there’s a good chance you won’t do it again because you know you have to write it down!

3. Accuracy:  Most people have difficulty remembering what they ate yesterday, let alone for the last week.  Plus, many of us have selective memory; that is, we recount what we want to remember, not what we don’t.  Giving your nutritionist a look at your diet over an entire week or more will help him/her help you by making sure you haven’t left out any important details, like the spinach in your smoothie, or the nuts in your salad.

4. It shows your nutritionist what you like to eat.   The last thing we want to do is alienate our clients with weird, foreign and complicated recipes.   Your journal helps me identify recipes that may serve as more nutritious versions of your favourite convenience foods.

Here’s what I like to see in a client’s diet journal:

  • Was it something your prepared yourself, home-made, or was it a restaurant meal? Your nutritionist will want to know because portion sizes tend to be larger in restaurants, and because the food may have been cooked in an unhealthy way (for ex., deep fried).
  • Quantities. You don’t have to weigh your food, but the amount of food eaten is very useful information for your nutritionist—especially if your goal is fat loss. If you ate nuts, about how many? If you had pasta, did you have one helping or two? Was it a super-sized soda or a grande frappuccino?
  • Product Details. I like it when clients write down the brand and version of the cereal or yogurt they’ve eaten. This helps me approximate the amount of sugar or fibre they’ve ingested in the meal.
  • Fluids consumed. Remember to record what you drank with the meal. Was it bottled water? Tap water? Hot? Iced? How much? Did you have red wine or white? Skim milk or 2 percent?
  • How you felt after eating the food.  Reserve a section where you can rate your digestion, your energy and your mood. This will help identify possible connections between what you ate and how you feel so that you can either eat more of it (if it made you feel good) or eat less of it (because it made you feel ill).
  • Clear separation of meals and snacks. Make sure your diary doesn’t look like a grocery list.  When you eat a food and what you eat with it could be important in explaining your energy levels, your blood sugar and more.

Black plate, fork and knife on red napkin. Isolated on white. Square format.All of the above details help me identify excesses, but also what nutrients may be in need of augmentation.  Once considered along with your health challenges and goals,  I will be able to give you appealing , suitable, practical and nutritious meal suggestions that will help you reach those goals.

Don’t have a food journal yet?  Start one today and you will probably automatically begin improving your diet!  You can find a sample one here and get started now.

Why FODMAPs is NOT the solution to your gut problems

The FODMAPS diet purposefully eliminates the consumption of certain fRipe Watermelon isolated on white backgroundruits, grains, legumes and vegetables high in the kinds of carbohydrates that feed intestinal organisms (a.k.a. gut flora). The rationale for the concept is that by removing the foods that feed the gut flora, there will be less gas generated in the intestinal tract, and therefore fewer bothersome symptoms like bloating and cramping.


There are a few problems with this so-called solution:

  • We are assuming that by restricting FODMAPs foods we are starving only the undesirable organisms in our gut. The problem is that beneficial gut organisms like the lactobacilli genus require FODMAP foods to proliferate. The diet cannot selectively starve the bad and allow the good to thrive.
  • By limiting consumption of FODMAPs foods it is more difficult to obtain adequate fibre and the full spectrum of nutrients in the diet.
  • Eliminating FODMAP foods is just a band-aid solution to symptoms like gas, bloating, cramping and IBS.  It doesn’t get to the source of the issue: not enough of the beneficial flora and too many of the undesirable kind.  Since our digestive organs are not equipped with enzymes to break down all food ingredients, the micro-organisms in our gut finish the job.  What the flora do once they digest the FODMAPs in foods depends on what species of flora reside there and the size of their colony. It could result in a bit of odourless gas, or it could result in that foul, rotten egg odour.  In the absence of adequate chewing, adequate enzymestomach_ache hands hearts and/or flora, food will go through to the stool undigested.

Think of a compost container.  Without worms and other decomposers, the food scraps cannot be transformed into soil.   Bring the right organisms back, and the result is a healthy product of their work: topsoil.  Similarly, without FODMAPS foods, we cannot hope to support the gut microbes that finish off our digestion.

Is FODMAPs working for you and your lifestyle? Are you feeling restricted with your food choices? If you would like to enjoy a wider array of foods, a nutritionist can help you with your IBS symptoms.  Find out more about how.

Why I Shop at Farmers’ Markets

Have you ever tRed barn.reated yourself to a visit to a Farmers’ market? If you’ve never been to one, a true farmer’s market is an event where a group of LOCAL food producers sell their products directly to the consumer instead of selling it first to a wholesaler or retail store.

Here are some reasons why I buy from farmer’s markets:

  1. Food is fresher.  Often, produce is picked THE SAME MORNING! Without starting your own farm, you can’t beat that.
  2. Food is more nutrient-dense.  Vitamins eventually disintegrate with time, so buying it and eating it as soon as you can after harvest will maximize the nutritional benefits.
  3. Food tastes better. See #1 and #2, and read The Dorito Effect if you want to know why store-bought tomatoes taste gross.
  4. One can meet the producers, and ask questions you’d have trouble getting answers to when contacting a food corporation. You’ll get immediate answers to your questions like, “what kind of fertilizer do you use for your corn?” and, “what exactly do your pasture-fed animals eat?”  and, “do you deliver?”.
  5. It feels good, ethically. I’m supporting my local economy, not some huge corporation.
  6. There’s much less pollution of the kind generated by long-haul trucks and fancy promotional packaging. See #5.
  7. Food is often grown without pesticides and artificial fertilizers because it’s small-scale farming, not corporate ‘pharming’.
  8. No artificial food additives, because the food is minimally processed.
  9. See no evil, eat no evil. You are more likely to buy the healthy food you see, instead of the treats you would be tempted to buy at the supermarket.
  10. Try before you buy! There’s always sampling going on. Bring an appetite so you can taste the wares, and maybe even have brunch while you’re there.

vegetablesNo, you won’t get points for your purchases, nor can you typically pay by credit card (vendor depending)—but the physical and spiritual feel-good factor is BIG.  Check out the region of Ottawa-Gatineau’s Farmer’s markets here. You’ll find an amazing array of food for sale: vegetables, fruits, breads, desserts, meats, eggs, milk products, and ready-to-eat foods, too.