February 22, 2018

Have You Tried These Non-Dairy Pro-biotic Foods?

Living life dairy-free or sugar-free?  Yes, you can enjoy the health benefits of yogurt without actually eating it.  When popular yogurts can have as much sugar as a small can of cola, looking elsewhere for your pro-biotics is a good idea.

Here are four non-dairy sources of active pro-biotics that don’t come stacked with a ton of sugar:

Sauerkraut:  Not to be confused with coleslaw, sauerkraut is a European-style fermented cabbage side dish or condiment that may be cooked or eaten raw. Note: the real thing has NO VINEGAR added to it.  The sourness comes from the lactic acid created by the bacteria that soften the cabbage to a mildly-crunchy texture. Try it cold on top of a green salad or baked potato. Look for it in the refrigerated section of your grocery or health food store.


Kimchi: This is a Korean style of fermented nappa cabbage. I was told by a Korean woman that there are over 300 different ways to make kimchi!  In contrast to sauerkraut, kimchi usually has garlic and often, sriracha as key ingredients.  Find it in the fridge of better stocked health food stores and use it just like you would sauerkraut.


Kombucha:  This is a fermented green tea beverage that offers pro-biotic cultures as well as anti-oxidant benefits.  Properly produced kombucha is mildly effervescent,  smells reminiscent of beer and should be enjoyed chilled.  However, beware:  there are some varieties that are sweetened.  Drink it any time.


Coconut yogurt:  at first glance, it looks like ordinary yogurt. Simply by adding living bacterial cultures to coconut milk produces this creamy snack.  It tends to be a lot less sour than dairy yogurt, so if sourness is not your thing, this may be your best choice of pro-biotic food! Add a few berries and you are all set.


No matter which pro-biotic food you choose to try, each one will offer up different species of beneficial bacteria.  To get the most from pro-biotic foods, eat them regularly, rotate them, and keep them cool (refrigerated).  Enjoy!



5 Things to Never Buy from a Bulk Bin

Sure, shopping in bulk is usually a more cost-effective way to buy staples.

There are two potential problems with bulk bins, and they both stem from the fact that they are usually not air-tight.

  • Their contents can get contaminated with micro-organisms and insects.
  • Foods become rancid as they sit there, exposed to oxygen.  Not only will you get stale food, the food is no longer as nutritious, and quite possibly, toxic to your body. Stale food has a bitter flavour, and a chemical-like odour.

For these reasons, here are a few items that should NEVER be purchased from a scoop-up style bulk bin:

  • Flax meal
  • Hemp seed
  • Ground chia seed (a.k.a. salba)
  • Whole grain flour
  • Almond meal
  • Granola
  • Dried fruit
  • Lecithin granules

What’s left to purchase from bulk bins?

Generally, foods that will be cooked before consuming are the safest items in the bulk aisle:

  • Dried pasta
  • Beans and lentils
  • Whole grains* (Take a whiff of them first; if they smell like chemicals, they are rancid.)
  • Dried seasonings  (herbs, spices, salt)

Special mention: Not all bulk bins are bad! There is a type of vertical “gravity” style of bulk bin that greatly reduces the risk of contamination and spoilage.  Look for these at better health food stores.


  • Buy smaller quantities more often.
  • Use the foods shortly after purchase.
  • Store oily bulk foods in the freezer are good ways to get only the best from of them.

Remember: whole foods are only good for us if they are FRESH.  The fact that they are more nutrient-dense than processed foods is what makes whole foods more perishable.


How to Replace 3 Unhealthy Breakfast Foods

Sugar suppresses immunity, with no exception.  I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want better immunity against pathogens and cancer cells, so I’m always about reducing simple sugars from the diet.

Here are three foods I see in clients’ food logs that are mistakenly thought to be part of a healthy breakfast:

Flavoured Yogurt. Would you eat ice cream for breakfast? Coming in at around 25 grams of sugar per individual serving, fruity yogurts—as well as vanilla and mocha-flavoured yogurts —contain more added sugar than a small can of Coke and about the same amount as a bowl or ice cream.

The fix: buy plain, organic yogurt (the kind with just two ingredients), add a dash or stevia extract  or one teaspoon of maple syrup (only 5 grams of sugar) plus a few berries. Enjoy!


Fruit Juice. Would you eat 4 oranges in one sitting? Even if you did, the fibre from the pulp would slow the absorption of the sugar from the fresh-pressed OJ.  But when you drink strained OJ from a bottle, it’s like eating 4 oranges minus the pulp. Your body will respond just as it had if you’d eaten granulated sugar.

The fix: Eat an orange—just one, whole orange, with some nuts, cheese or eggs to slow the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream.


Granola.  Not only is it oiled with inappropriately chosen liquid oils and baked at pizza oven temperatures, it usually contains excessive sugar in order to mask the flavour of burnt/spoiled oils.  This is no health food.

The fix: make your own muesli! This contains all the redeeming features of granola—the oat flakes, seeds and dried fruits—but you don’t add oil or bake it, so it’s raw.  Use sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds for some crunch.  Just add your favourite calcium-containing beverage  and enjoy, raw.

The payoff

The lower your concentrated sugar intake, the better your immunity system will work, and the more balanced your mood, weight and energy will be. Need help reducing your total sugar intake? A Registered Nutritional Therapist like myself can assist you in reaching your health goals.

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.

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!

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 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.

How to Get the Most from Omega-3 Oils

While omega-3 oils (a.k.a. alpha linolenic acid) have been touted to have many health benefits, Fish oil scattering on white backgroundthey may be doing you no good IF you don’t change your diet.

IF you continue to indulge in fried foods, foods rich in omega-6 oils and trans fat-laden baked ‘goods’, simply supplementing with fish oil capsules or liquid may not be enough to fan the fires of chronic inflammation—swelling, heat, redness and pain.

What’s this about omega-6s in the same sentence as bad fats? Well, the truth is that omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid) are building blocks for two substances, one of which is viewed as desirable, the other, problematic.  Which pathway the oils take will depend on whether your diet contains adequate amounts of other c0-factors, such as magnesium and B vitamins.   If you eat processed foods made with soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower seed oil, palm kernel oil or cottonseed oil, then you are fueling the production of inflammatory prostaglandin series-2 chemicals.  North Americans eat far too much omega-6 and too little omega-3.

Here’s a sample list of processed foods made with oils that are comprised largely of omega-6s:

Assortment Of Salad Dressing Bottles

  • mayonnaise
  • salad dressings
  • breads (yes, even the store-baked ones)
  • cake mixes
  • crackers
  • cookies
  • frozen entrees
  • frozen pizza
  • tortilla and potato chips
  • restaurant food

The more of these you eat on a regular basis, the more omega-3s it will take to offset the detrimental effects.

It makes more practical sense to limit our intake of omega-6 laden foods. This is easiest to accomplish if you buy whole, minimally processed foods and prepare your own meals instead of store-bought, prepared products.

While you’re at it, consider using more of the omega-3 rich oils, found in:

  • flax seed
  • chia seed
  • wild cold water fish (mackerel, sardine, herring, halibut, WILD salmon)

Flaxseeds (also called linseeds) - rich source of healthy fat, antioxidants, and fiber

Yes, an omega-3 supplement is still a good idea—but taking one doesn’t give you permission to indulge in the processed foods I listed earlier!

Remember, you’ll get better results–i.e. less pain, swelling and redness when you reduce your omega-6 consumption.

Finally, There’s only one type of oil worse than omega-6s and trans fats, and that’s rancid oil!

Follow these guidelines for your safety and benefit:

  1. If you buy liquid fish oil or flax seed oil, keep it in the fridge or freezer to slow down the spoilage.
  2. Be sure to consume it within 6 weeks.
  3. Give it the ‘sniff’ test—if flax seed oil smells like fish or varnish, it’s rancid! Don’t feed it to a pet, either. It should now be regarded as a poison. Discard it safely.

The White Carb You SHOULD eat

White rice, white sugar and white flour products…you’ve heard white carbs are ‘bad’ because:

  1. They lack fibre.
  2. Their naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals have been stripped during processing.
  3.  They contain rapidly-absorbed carbohydrates–which can lead to fat storage and consequent weight gain.

True, true and true.  But are all white foods ‘white death”?

Here’s a nutritious exception to the rule: CAULIFLOWER!cauliflower florets colours

This white cruciferous vegetable is rich in most of the same nutrients that broccoli and kale are famous for:

Folate: a B vitamin used for healthy cell division (it’s not just for making healthy babies!)

Vitamin C: vital for healthy blood vessels (so they don’t tear), and immunity (to fight infectious agents)

Vitamin K: to support blood coagulation (so we don’t hemorrhage when we injure ourselves)

Indoles: sulfur-containing compounds used by the liver to purify our blood by transforming toxins into less harmful, easily excretable compounds

Soluble fiber: This is the gentle, invisible fiber that improves our solid waste elimination experience.  There’s over 9 grams of fibre in just 100 calories-worth of cauliflower!

Low-calorie: Only 29 calories per cup!

Now that you’ve seen how nutritious cauliflower is, here’s a great low-carb recipe I created to use in place of mashed potatoes: