February 22, 2018

Glutinous Rice, Corn Gluten, Buckwheat. Can You Eat Them?

As a clinical nutritionist, I’ve seen a lot of confusion about what’s gluten-free and what isn’t.  If you are new to a gluten-free diet, the words ‘gluten’  or “buckwheat” on a label can mean you’ll avoid it. But do you need to?

These actually contain NO gluten:

Buckwheat. Despite its name, there is no wheat, and no gluten, in buckwheat.  For this reason I prefer to call this grain by its Eastern European name. ‘Kasha’, is toasted buckwheat.  It is delicious in cabbage rolls, and its flour makes nice muffins and pancakes.

Then there is the confusion that we can blame on the grain processors and food industry.  For decades, long before gluten-free diets and Celiac became a household term, the food industry used the word ‘gluten’ to indicate high protein content.  That’s because gluten is essentially a combination of proteins, with a gluey property that lends well to baking.

Corn gluten.  It turns out that corn protein, when isolated from the starchy portions has a sticky property, and that’s why food industry calls it ‘corn gluten’. However, corn gluten is used more in agriculture and lawn care because it acts as a natural herbicide, preventing germination of weed seeds–so the chances of it ending up in your meal are low.

Glutinous rice.  Also known as “sticky rice”, this is a popular variety of rice grown in Southeast Asia. Like its name suggests, this kind of rice naturally possesses an adherent quality, yet no gluten is present nor added.  It’s most commonly used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking.

So whether you’re gluten-allergic or intolerant, rest assured these three suspicious-sounding starches are gluten-free.

Break the Vicious Cycle of Diverticulitis

You’ve just had your first colonoscopy. The doc says there are no polyps, but you’ll need to avoid nuts and seeds for now on because you have DIVERTICULOSIS. What?!

Imagine blowing up a balloon to ‘standard’ size, tying a knot in it, then covering the balloon with plaster of Paris (papier mache). Allow it to dry, then, pop the balloon. What happens? Of course, the balloon is gone, but the shape of it remains permanently intact thanks to the plaster.  That’s what you’ve got in your colon when you have diverticulosis: permanent extra ‘pockets’.  The colon walls don’t bounce back to their normal shape after the waste is cleared.


Enter Unhealthful Organisms

Trillions of bacteria (flora) inhabit our digestive tracts, and the majority needs to be the beneficial kind.  These species protect us from disease, by aiding elimination of toxins.  However, if you’ve ever used a course of antibiotics for an infection somewhere in your body, you’ve shaken up the balance of flora.  Chances are, you are left with more of the unfriendly kind, and probably a larger population of yeasts (which are naturally immune to antibiotics).  This may increase your risk of acute diverticulitis—an infection of one or more pockets.   The bacteria that thrive on indigestible fibres, along with these small fibres themselves, move in and multiply in the pockets.  This can lead to inflammation and infection.


The Vicious Cycle

Diverticular pockets are thought to form most easily in chronically constipated individuals, where impacted feces stretch the walls of the colon over time.  The day comes where you start feeling pain on the left side of your abdomen.  Fever and rigidity of the abdomen ensue, and you are unable to have a bowel movement. You go to the doctor, who sends you to the hospital for medical imagery and ultimately, you are prescribed antibiotics.  You sterilize your intestinal tract in doing so, and your symptoms go away—-for a while.


Stop the Cycle

This approach to managing diverticulosis is a vicious cycle, because there is much more to it.  You’ve been avoiding consumption of seeds and fruits with seeds. So what gives?

You need a strong immune system to prevent and fight off infection, and to create a strong immune system, you need healthy bowel movements and GREAT NUTRITION.  If you feel like you are missing the key to preventing recurring bouts of diverticulitis, look no further. A nutritionist with extensive knowledge of the gastrointestinal tract, its inhabitants and the influences of food on those inhabitants can assist you in your quest for gastrointestinal health by designing a Digestive Rejuvenation Program. It won’t cure diverticulosis, but it will strengthen your resistence to its complications.

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!

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!

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.

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.

Don’t Blame the Cat for Your Allergies

When I was younger I dated a vegetarian who was allergic to cats. M. and I spent our dates away from my family home because we had a long-haired cat in permanent residence—Sparky. Eventually, the time came that my parents wanted to meet M., so they invited him for supper. “I’ll have to take my anti-histamine,” M. said.

Young ginger cat, isolated on a white background
The day came, the evening arrived and M. showed up on time. Warmth and harmony ensued in our living room as my parents and boyfriend got to know each other.

And then trouble started.

As M. started to answer one of my mother’s umpteen questions, he sneezed loudly, paused and reattempted speech. But he sneezed again. And again. And again! I passed him a box of tissues. M’s eyes were red and watering, and he was mouth-breathing loudly as he faught to clear his sinuses. It was obvious he had not taken his anti-histamine!! Then he spotted poor Sparky–who had slunk into the room cautiously, taking cover under the coffee table to check M. out. “I’M GONNA SHOOT THAT CAT!” boomed M. as he pointed accusingly at our favourite feline.

Thankfully, to the relief of my parents no weapons were produced and the cat remained unharmed—but Sparky took the hint she was not appreciated and disappeared from the social scene.

My mother, being the thoughtful person that she is, offered M. some anti-histamines from the medicine cabinet so that the evening could continue. He took them, and the rest of the evening was uneventful in comparison.

Of course, M. thought his lesson here was always take allergy medication before being exposed to cats. Knowing M. well enough to realize he meant no harm, I appreciated his frustration with the cat who he blamed for ‘ruining’ his attempt at making a good first impression on my folks. But was it the cat’s fault? Was it M.’s fault?

Don’t blame the allergen. Blame your immune system! The symptoms that lead to us feeling poorly during an allergic reaction are produced by our body’s defense system. When the allergen comes into contact with certain cells of the immune system in our digestive system, respiratory tract and blood, inflammatory chemicals are released. What follows is swelling, heat, redness, pain, and/or itching. This is our body’s way in protecting us from threats it perceives.

The problem is, an allergy is a case of mistaken identity—a malfunctioning immune system. After all, the majority of people do not have an inflammatory response when they come into contact with cats. For complex reasons, the allergic person’s immune system seems to think of the cat’s hair, dander or saliva as a dangerous substance that must be expelled from the human body.

Diet Influences Allergic Response
What we eat can influence the strength of the inflammatory response. Feed the body too much of the wrong foods and it will become inflamed more easily. Some foods contain histamine; others stimulate our body’s production of it, and others still feed the machine that makes other inflammatory products like PG-2, leukotrienes, kinins, and thromboxin.

Even environmental allergies to dust, pollen, moulds and animals can improve when we clean up the diet. A registered nutritionist can help you plan meals and snacks that both avoid your allergens and reduce the production of symptom-inducing inflammatory chemicals.

Important note: anaphylaxis is a life-threatening, extreme form of allergic reaction. Do not attempt to eat or expose yourself to your known allergens under any circumstances if you have an anaphylactic allergy.

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: