Thursday, 28 June 2012

Time to ReBoot

I knew I was in danger of my hare vs. tortoise behaviour. Last week I felt I was doing really well following through on increasing my total vegetable and fruit intake, choosing healthy protein choices and limiting the sugar/refined carbohydrates. I had more energy and generally felt more positive. A few nights of bad sleep, thank you to my adorable toddler, and I started into the cereal. I have an addiction to boxed cold cereal. I rarely can stop at one bowl. Even if it is Bran Flakes that I buy, one bowl leads to another. I love the combination of cold cereal and milk. Once I started with that I noticed I was craving more grain products. Rather than preparing the whole grain products that fit my real food philosophy (quinoa, brown rice, whole grain couscous, barley etc.), I reached for the whole wheat bagel, whole wheat toast, whole wheat tortilla shell. I know technically these fall under the "whole grain" category. However as one reader pointed out, whole wheat bread has the same glycemic index as white bread, which will still give me that refined carbohydrate spike and drop of blood sugar. These choices were closely followed by delicious homemade pizza on the BBQ (white flour) and white pasta. I'm not going to stop the homemade pizza my husband treats us with, but when I include multiple of these grains in a day it starts to displace my vegetables and fruit and I need to find a balance there.

I know there is a growing movement out there of people who are questioning the role of grains in our diets. I have on my to-do list to read their arguments and come to my own conclusion. All I can say for now is that when I eat whole wheat bread products my vegetable and fruit intake suffers and I have less energy and am more moody (my poor family). I guess I need to follow my personal food philosophy, listen to my body and choose the real food whole grains.

How about you? Do you have a food item that sets you on the slippery slope away from healthy eating? Do you have a strategy to get back on track?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

He Says Gelato, I Say Ice Cream

Source unknown. On pinterest pinned by Miriam Wexler from

It's summer time and I love going out for a walk, especially one that has a stop that includes ice cream! Have you noticed recently that the typical ice cream shops with the large white buckets are being replaced by cafes with sleek stainless steel rectangular trays mounded high with fancy looking gelato? Ever since my over-indulgence in Rome (had gelato 3 different times in one day!) I have started a love affair with the rich tasting ultra smooth dessert. I was curious as to the difference between the two.

Similar to ice cream, gelato does have a dairy base, but it uses more milk than cream, which makes it lower in fat than ice cream as well as total calories. They also whip less air into it, which explains the denser texture and intense flavours. This also leads to more sugar than ice cream. With my genetic pre-disposition to diabetes limiting sugar is one of my top priorities to reduce the work for my fragile pancreas. Does this mean I would pick ice cream over gelato? Nope, I just would make sure to enjoy the kid sized portion, because honestly with the flavour intensity of gelato a couple of small spoonfuls and my taste buds are satisfied.

Some of the fruit flavored gelati (plural for gelato, those Italian lessons did teach me one thing!), do not contain a dairy base and are technically called sorbetto (sorbetti). Due to the elimination of the dairy, these do not contain fat, but are even higher in sugar.

Recently a frozen yogurt shop has opened on the street near me. Their nutritional information is not available on their website. I think that means time for a reconnaissance trip! I'm sure my girls will not complain.

How about you? Do you have a preference for ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt? Do you always have some tucked away in your freezer or do you leave it for special outings?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Visual Food Journal - Fruit Overload!

From last Tuesday. I was hoping to get a full day in, but kept forgetting. This one was the most complete from last week.

Breakfast: Steel-cut oatmeal with blueberries, strawberries, chia seeds, hemp seeds, almonds and pumpkin seeds.

Mid-morning snack: Apple and hard-boiled egg (I usually pre-cook a few hard-boiled eggs and have them on hand in the fridge, for some reason this was calling to me, odd I know)

Lunch: left over grilled vegetables, salmon steamed in parchment paper with cilantro and citrus slices

I rarely drink juice these days, but I had some leftover strawberry mint lemonade I had made for a picnic.

Post-lunch: strawberries and cherries

Post-lunch 2: slice of cheese as an after-thought with the berries

Afternoon snack: trail-mix

Dinner: BBQ pork chop, asparagus, sweet potato fries (apparently I'm on a kick with these), salad with heirloom tomatoes from the market, cucumber, and peppers.

After dinner: Watermelon

What I didn't include:
3 tall glasses water
I went to a friend's for a girl's night and I snacked on a couple fruit kabobs and a brownie.

My assessment: Got my colors in, over-did the fruit at the expense of calcium and whole grains, and I reached my goal for the omega-3s.

Friday, 22 June 2012

My Attempt at Homemade Yogurt

A few years ago I read about a man who saved all his trash for year. He discovered that by far his number one source of waste was food packaging. Although I will never reach the level of The Zero Waste Home, I am interested in reducing some of the food packaging that comes into my house. One item we consume a great deal of per week is yogurt. I have hemmed and hawed over buying a yogurt maker but adding another appliance to my overstuffed kitchen runs counter to my attempts at minimalism. Therefore after recieving encouragement and inspiration from Jo at Simply Being Mum, who writes a great weekly post about reducing food waste, I choose to try the slow cooker method. Thereby using an already underutilized kitchen appliance.

What have I learned?  Two successes out of five and the reason why? Me and my foggy Mommy brain. Please tell me Mommy brain really does exist so I have an excuse for my spaced out behaviour.  I adapted my recipe from this site. Making your own yogurt is not complicated people, remembering that I am in the process of making yogurt and to follow the steps apparently is beyond my current capacity. Here are the steps I followed.

1. Heat 4 cups/1 liter milk to 180F. - in my slow cooker this took about 1.5 hours. Most recipes used 8 cups/ 2 liters, but I suspected I may have trouble and didn't want to waste too much milk.

2. Turn off heat and let milk cool to 110F, this usually takes 3-3.5 hours.

3. Take out 1 cup/250ml and wisk in 1/4 cup/ 75ml skim milk powder and 1/4 cup/ 75ml yogurt.

4. Wisk the mixture back into the crockpot. Cover. I usually put it on low for 10-15min to get it back up to 110F. Then leave it for 8-10 hours. The first few times I covered it with a big towel, then I remembered the insulation bag the crockpot came with and used it.

5. Voila. 1 liter of homemade yogurt. I usually strained some of it overnight in the fridge with a coffee filter or cheesecloth over a strainer and in the morning had delicious yogurt cheese to spread on toast.


Where did I got wrong? It was always the forgetting that I was making yogurt that day. Once in the reheating up to 110F I forgot to set the timer and headed out the door with the girls. When I got home I'd overheated it and killed the bacteria in the starter (yogurt added in). Another time I got home late and forgot all about the yogurt ready and waiting for me to transfer it to the fridge. Finally I didn't calculate out how long it would take me, which resulted in it being ready 2 hours after I go to bed. I took it off early and drained it in the fridge for yogurt it was salvaged. Really not huge fails, more just pains.

I think it is time for me to give my friend's mom a call. I remember her always having a batch of homemade yogurt on the go that we would use to complement the delicious, spicy East Indian food she made. I'm sure her method is less complicated that mine! Maybe I can get her paratha recipe at the same time. Salivating just thinking of it.

Have you ever made homemade yogurt? Do you have an easier method?

My Personal Food Philosophy

Oh the world of nutrition can be a confusing place. Not only is nutrition difficult to research, food is an intensely personal choice fueled by multiple variables such as our culture, life experiences, beliefs, taste preferences and economic situations.

As I've been reading more blogs and news articles to see what people are saying, I find the conviction and sometimes aggressiveness of certain people a little intimidating. They are convinced that their particular diet pattern is the one and only to follow. I find the extreme statements such as avoid all legumes because they are toxic for your gut or avoid all saturated fats one-sided and usually after a little digging these opinions come from cherry picking the research to suit their particular theory or belief.

So rather than taking the time to deconstruct all the latest dietary trends out there I'm going to write out my own personal evolving food philosophy.

1. Eat Real Food. Food that comes from a source you can identify as close to the original source as is realistic. Such as honey rather than table sugar or brown rice rather than white flour.

2. Enjoy your rainbow of colours of vegetables and fruit everyday, with an emphasis on vegetables and low glycemic-index fruit (apples, berries, cherries, plums, grapefruits, peaches)

3. Eat fish at least 1-2 times a week, chose sustainable fish sources.

4. Enjoy nuts and seeds, they make for great snacks eaten mindfully. In other words pour out a portion rather than munching in front of the TV from a giant bag. Those covered in sugar etc. don't count.

5. Chose whole grains 90% of the time over refined (refined grains could fall under #10.)

6. Incorporate beans and legumes often

7. Enjoy small portions of red meat (beef. lamb, bison, pork), just not every day. Don't eat the charred part of BBQ'd meat. If possible preferentially chose pasture-fed meat options.

8. Limit or avoid the processed meats (these don't really fall under my real food motto as it is hard to identify what part of the animal the hotdog comes from).  

9. Listen to your body, eat when you are hungry, drink when you are thirsty. Stop eating before you feel full, wait 20 minutes before taking more. Know your own personal weaknesses and devise a strategy to find balance. Don't bring the cookies on sale home, but enjoy one while at a celebration on the weekend. 

10. Limit the processed nutrient-poor foods (chips, cola, crackers, sugary drinks, bakery items) to special occasions.  As for my daughters, I just plan on not making it available to them everyday. I won't interfere if they are at a social event and these foods are available. My plan is to lead by example. Sally at Real Mom Nutrition wrote an excellent couple of posts about a healthy snack policy for her preschooler's soccer group and the importance of not setting our children up for failure

11. Avoid extremes within real foods (cut out all grains, avoid all fat). Don't be afraid of fat. Better to eat an egg than a bag of "100 calorie portion control cookies".

12. Water is the best liquid to drink.

13. Take advantage of delicious fresh and dried herbs and spices

14. Enjoy fermented foods (yogurt, sourdough whole grain bread..... the occasional beer)

15. Relax and enjoy eating.

In Summary: Take pleasure in mindfully eating simply prepared real food with loved ones.

My philosophy is evolving over time and there are a few areas I am still developing my own opinion on. How about you? Do you have a food philosophy/manifesto/guide? We all want to live our lives in a fulfilling healthy manner and the path to get there can be very different

Sunday, 17 June 2012

My Preschooler Likes Brussels Sprouts

I wish I could take credit for my daughter liking Brussels sprouts, but can not. I have to attribute it to a 2 second clip in a Franklin video we took out of the library one day. In the scene the mother tells Franklin's sister in a friendly voice to, "Eat up your Brussels sprouts, dear.". After this scene my daughter turned to me and told me she wanted to eat some Brussels sprouts, fortunately for us I like Brussels sprouts and always have a bag in the freezer. I happily obliged and she wolfed down 5. Since that time I'd guess she eats them 70-80% of the time I offer them depending on her food jags.
Amazing what an influence media can have on our children's food preferences. Which marketers are well aware of and utilize to their client's benefit.
Now if only Disney would release a book of the Princess's favorite vegetables or Lightning McQueen's dark green leafy vegetable fuel. I am feeling nostalgic for Popeye and his spinach.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Visual Food Journal

The National Weight Control Registry is a database of over 10 000 people who have lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for over a year. The researchers who collect the information from participants hope to find the secrets to successful weight maintenance. One of the factors they found supported long term success was frequent self-monitoring (self-weighing and monitoring of food intake). Although I am not looking to lose weight at this time, except perhaps those mommy love handles! I am hoping to stop yo-yoing with my healthy eating (and lifestyle).

Food journals never work for me - but visuals do. So I am going to start documenting my food intake with pictures. I'll post one day a week here....not as a guide for you to follow (we all have our own food preferences and path to take) but as a way to improve my own mindful eating. Hope you enjoy!

Breakfast part one- Spinach Omelette with Salsa

Breakfast part two - Whole grain toast with homemade yogurt cheese and strawberries

Mid-morning snack - apple with cheese

Mid-morning snack #2 - caught at the hair salon for longer than anticipated, little one fussy and had finished her snack. Ran over to the convenience store next door with wet hair - only options were cookies or chips. Cookies kept the little hands and mouth busy for the rest of the appointment. Normally I would have binged and eaten at least 8 (they are relatively small cookies) but this time read the label and chose four (15 grams carbohydrate...ok sugar)

Lunch - Tuna wrap with salad, quacamole, 5% sour cream, salsa
not pictured - handful of baby carrots

Mid-afternoon snack - blueberries and almonds

Dinner - Grass-fed ground beef cooked in 1Tbsp tomato paste and Berbere ethiopian spice mixture (around 90 grams - most of it is hidden under the salad and tomatoes), green beans, asparagus (snacked on more outside of the plate), sweet potato fries, salsa, sour cream, guac (taco night, I skipped the tortilla but not my family), and green salad

Evening/post dinner snack - plain yogurt, blueberries and chia seeds
Ate a small bowl of my little ones' Raisin Bran cereal when she asked for it then didn't eat any. - not pictured, the temptation to avoid food waste can be my downfall especially with the little ones around!

I also drank 3 x 500ml glasses of water

My verdict - I think I did pretty well with the colours of the rainbow, a little blueberry heavy due to my recent farmer's market haul. Future goal more vegetables than fruit. Met my omega-3 goals with tuna and chia seeds. Drinking the 500ml of water first thing in the morning is helping me get my fluid intake up. Need to remember to pack better snacks and extra for outings. 

How about you? Do you have a strategy that supports mindful eating?

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Strawberry Season - Yummy!

Went to the Jean Talon Market this week. Due to our exceptionally hot March this year the strawberries  have arrived early. Yum.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Coconut Oil - not all saturated fats are equal

One of the universal truths we were taught years ago was that saturated fats are unhealthy and should be avoided/minimized. The first crack in my blind acceptance of this belief was due to a flippant remark by one of my nutrition profs, who specialized in lipid research. He commented that not all saturated fats react the same way in the body and the simplification of the message by certain fellow academics were not beneficial for the profession or the public. Ah the nature of academia.

Nutrition is a notoriously difficult science to research. It isn't like pharmaceutical drugs where you can compare one pill to another. Nutrients interact, work together, and compete with each other in a myriad of different ways. Often findings indicate the reduction of a certain nutrient (such as saturated fat from animal products) is beneficial if it is replaced by a more beneficial one (such as omega-3 fatty acids), but the benefit is lost when the replacement is in the form of an equally or more detrimental nutrient (such as sugar or trans fats). Unfortunately in the simplification of our messaging these nuances may be lost and all we hear is fat is bad and as the expression goes we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Based on our obesity/diabetes epidemic, the low fat, high carbohydrate message from the 1980s/1990s has proven to be ineffective and possibly even harmful. The replacement of saturated fats in our diet with refined carbohydrates (high glycemic index) is actually more detrimental for cardiovascular health

Saturated fat came onto our radar with the 1953 Seven Countries epidemiological study by Ancel Keys that linked a high saturated fat intake with high coronary heart disease. As I mentioned in my post about fish, these types of studies only give us clues (correlations) and not definitive causes. It could be that those countries exercised less, or ate more processed meats etc.

With the popularity of the paleo diet exploding and people beginning to question the black and white stance regarding saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat. I thought I would look at one dietary fat source that appears to be gaining a popular following. Coconut oil.

Virgin coconut oil is high in saturated fat. Just as with polyunsaturated fats (omega-6 and omega-3) there are different saturated fatty acids and they don't all work the same way in our body. The main saturated fatty acid in non-hydrogenated coconut oil is lauric acid, the same we find in breast milk. It is a smaller saturated fatty acid (less carbons) than those found in meat. Shorter fatty acids make up something called medium-chained triglycerides (MCTs). Coconut oil is comprised of over 50% MCTs.

MCTs are digested, absorbed and utilized in a different manner than longer chain fatty acids. They are more readily used as energy rather than fat storage. They also are believed to contribute to a feeling of fullness, although the research at this point is not strong.

Coconut oil does increase cholesterol the most of all oils, but it does so by increasing HDL (high density lipoprotein), the so-called good cholesterol. When looking at the relationship between blood cholesterol and heart disease it is the ratio of the good cholesterol HDL to the less desirable cholesterol LDL or total cholesterol that is important. Therefore an increase in HDL (and resulting change in the ratio) can be viewed as positive.
A small study in women with abdominal obesity found after 12 weeks of supplementation of 2 Tbsp coconut oil vs 2 Tbsp soy oil that there was an increase in HDL (better LDL/HDL ratio) in the coconut group. The study also asked the participants to walk 50 minutes per day and there was weight loss in both groups but only the coconut oil group had a decrease in waist circumference (measure of abdominal fat). This is a small study but if it is replicable it could have important implications as the fat we store in our abdomen is the nasty fat that sends out many inflammatory hormones and messengers that wreck havoc on our bodies.

This obviously is not a doctoral thesis...just a blog. What I have read so far has whet my appetite to dig into the research a little more. How well designed were the studies etc. In the meantime adding a little virgin coconut oil in my baking or on a batch of popcorn in moderation doesn't seem like a bad idea. I won't be using it on my stove top cooking though as it has a relatively low smoke point (similar to extra virgin olive oil).

The refined version (labeled coconut oil rather than virgin coconut oil) has a much higher smoke point. I haven't been able to find the fatty acid breakdown of this one yet - so I will stick with the virgin coconut oil until I am able to read more.

As for the paleo diet. I plan to read more about it in the future, at the moment I won't start eating red meat three times a day, even if it is pasture-fed (better lipid profile). Even if the saturated fatty acids found in animal products earn a reprieve, for me the evidence that a plant-based low-glycemic index diet is a healthy choice continues to dominate.

How about you? What do you think about coconut oil?