Thursday, March 25, 2010 me! The fibre challenge...

This week at work was our employee fibre challenge as part of our ongoing employee wellness program...we challenged everyone to meet their minimum recommended fibre intake (25 grams for women, 38 grams for men) with only whole foods - no fibre supplement bars or metamucil. The average Canadian eats only 14 grams of fibre, generally because we eat too many nasty processed foods...but it can be really easy to get what you need.

I thought I would take a photo log of what I ate this Tuesday. It is a pretty honest "real world" day - I had a terrible selection of food in my fridge and barely any fruit and veg because I needed to go grocery shopping and I spent the last half of the day out (and didn't grocery shop)...but at least I still managed to get my minimum 25 grams of fibre and pull off a not too bad day!

Breakfast: 1 small mango, 3/4 cup of Liberte Apple Pie Yogurt (no artificial sweeteners or stabilizers...good stuff!), 1/3 cup of Kellogg's All Bran Buds with Psyllium. 13 grams fibre total.

Lunch: leftover whole wheat pasta (1/4 box), made with lots of garlic, chili flakes, parmesan, olive oil and butter. A cup of Numi Emperor's Puerh tea. I ate this at 10:00AM because I was starved and didn't want the snack I brought. 8 grams fibre total.

Snack: which I ate at about 12:30....carrots and hummus...I definitely would have brought more to snack on if there was more in my fridge :) About 2 grams of fibre.

On the road...on my way to a meeting at 3:30 and absolutely starving (surprise, surprise!) so stopped at Starbucks for a banana chocolate Vivanno. I feel like this is a slightly healthier bevvie than average because I can actually watch them put in the real milk and whole banana. Also, it is way less sweet than their other varieties. 6 grams of fibre.

Dinner: out with family at Nuba, one of my favourite places! Easy place to eat healthy foods...always a challenge to estimate the fibre, etc in restaurant meals but here is my attempt!
Hummus and pita...maybe 4 pieces and 1/2 cup hummus...4 grams fibre...and one piece of the heavenly fibre...just yummy :)

Next came my fruit and nut salad...and my falafel...roughly 6 grams fibre...mostly from the falafel and dried fruit in the salad.

I also had a couple of bitefuls of the amazing cardamom creme brulee...just a couple as I was stuffed!

Grand total for the day? 39 grams fibre and I also managed to eat my minimum servings of fruit and veg too...If you are wondering how I figure out the fibre in foods, our lovely government provides a database where you can look up detailed nutritional information for almost any food...called the Canadian Nutrient File. Here is the link! 

Happy Spring,

Monday, March 22, 2010

Eat...super snacks!

We are a continent of snackers...the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study this month which reveals that the time between eating occasions has decreased an average of one hour since 1977 and - surprise surprise! - our average caloric intake has increased by almost 450 calories over the same time period. This study also states that caloric intake from beverages has increased by 45.5% to 422 calories! Time to put the breaks on people!

My European friends remark that "Americans are always eating" and its true! We seem to be lost without food or a drink in our hands. However, I don't want to vilify snacks in and of themselves. We all have different eating personalities: some of us feel great on three "squares" a day and others prefer to nibble all day and hate a full stomach. What is really important that no matter how we prefer to eat, we eat enough...but not too much! The worst case scenario is when that constant nibbling turns from nibbles into feasts.

For many of us, snacks are a vital part of the day and they can do a lot to boost your overall health. Snacks can ensure we feel energized when meals are more than 4 hours apart; snacks can also give us more opportunities to get our fruits and veggies in but we need to define what makes a good snack.

More often than not, we reach for "snack foods" at snack time: granola bars, chips, pretzels, candy and chocolate....not the nutrient dense and nourishing foods we should be reaching for. And wasting calories on drinks? Be it a Frappucino, sugary "vitamin" waters or pop...caloric beverages are usually a nutritional zero and set you up for weight gain in a big way. Calories from drinks don't register with our brain the way calories from foods do, so we typically end up eating more at the next meal than we would have if we had had a food based snack.

So what should we snack on? Real food, please!

Here are 15 super snacks that feature fruits, veggies, lean protein and massive nutritional value.

1. 1 apple, quartered, with 2 slices of lean turkey breast
2. 1 pkg of instant unsweetened oatmeal topped with a banana and a bit of honey
3. 1/2 cup of low fat cottage cheese mixed with 1/2 cup frozen cherries and 1 tsp of hemp seed
4. 1 ounce of mozzarella (or a string cheese) with 1/2 cup of cherry tomatoes
5. 2 Ryvita crackers spread with 1 tbsp almond butter
6. 1 apple, sliced, dipped in 1 tbsp natural peanut butter
7. 2 tbsp dried cranberries, 1 tbsp raw almonds & 1 tbsp raw pumpkin seeds
8. 1 cup skim milk warmed with 1 tbsp cocoa & 1/2 tbsp sugar or honey
9. 1 mini can of seasoned tuna with 2 Ryvita crackers
10. 1 cup plain nonfat yogurt with 1/2 cup thawed blueberries & 1/3 cup All Bran or Smart Bran
11. 1/2 or 1 Larabar
12. 1/2 cup baby carrots or sliced celery with 1/4 cup hummus
13. 1 slice sprouted grain bread spread with 1 tbsp part skim ricotta and 1 tbsp honey
14. 1/2 tomato & 1/4 cucumber, chopped, with 1 tbsp feta & 1 tbsp dressing
15. 1/2 cup home roasted chick peas

Happy Nutrition Month everyone,

(PS..The picture is me in front of a big spread (not fully visible...yes, there was more food!) at my grandmother's house 3 years ago. Frequently heard: "Eat, are so skinny!" Gotta love a Portuguese grandmother!)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Be Happy...National Nutrition Month

Let me didn't know that March is National Nutrition Month? This year's theme is "Celebrate food...from field to table". Now that is a message we can all get behind and one that this dietitian is excited to promote. Let's celebrate all of the amazing foods available to us here in Canada and better yet, let's take a moment to give thanks to all of those farmers to work from sun up to sun down to put those foods on our table.

From sea to shining sea, our country's harvest is immense: from the potatoes on PEI to Manitoba's bison, Maritime lobster to BC's blueberries, we have the healthiest foods in the world at our fingertips. So why are we still feeding ourselves dehydrated, processed and lifeless "food"?

With the latest recall of products containing hydrolysed vegetable protein all over the news, we have to stop and ask ourselves, "what has happened to our food?". These recalls are not going to go away as long as we refuse to hold food manufacturers accountable for what they are feeding us. So much of the stuff we consume is barely even food - have you ever seen the ingredients on a container of Crystal Light? Or Doritos? Nutrition Action Newsletter had a great activity in last month's issue: you are given pictures of 10 processed foods and 10 ingredients labels and you had to match them to their food. It was a pretty tough exercise...and I am a dietitian! That is saying something, because these were common food like Ritz crackers and breakfast cereals.

As consumers, our strongest vote is with our food dollar. Manufacturers exist to sell us food - when they see increased demand for food with simple, natural ingredients they will change their products to suit our whims. Remember trans fats? Those horrendously bad-for-us things that were ubiquitous in our food supply until we started to demand change? Trans fats are all but history now in Canada. This is because we voted with our dollar and bought trans fat free foods. We can do the same thing again.

We should choose fresh unprocessed foods first: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy (or non!) and lean proteins like beans, poultry and fish. However, eating a completely unprocessed diet is not necessarily a reality for all of us. Ready made pasta sauce makes weeknight dinner quick and easy; snack bars ensure we always have an emergency meal in our purses. But it is possible to make these things without MSG, HVP or any other source of nutritional crack. It is also possible to make bread, snack foods and cereals without high fructose corn syrup or its "natural" alternative, agave syrup. And we can be trusted to purchase pasta sauce, soup and noodles without a week's supply of salt.

So how can you make a difference? Demand locally grown and produced food at your grocery store. And read ingredients. Not nutrition facts labels. Manufacturers can manipulate food ingredients to make sure foods are low in fat, calories or whatever they think you want but nutrition facts don't tell you a thing about the quality of the food you are about to eat. Ingredients, however, can't lie. If you don't understand what you are reading on the ingredients panel, move on. Yogurt should be milk and cultures. Salad dressing should be oil, vinegar and spices and maybe a bit of real sugar. Peanut butter should have peanuts and maybe a bit of salt. Choose brands that honour traditional recipes and simple ingredients and the rest will follow. Get to know your food....

To your health,

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beer and Bloating...Las Vegas

Las Vegas is one of the most interesting spectacles in the world... rising as if out of nowhere, it crams more glitz, neon and excess into a 2.5 mile long strip than most other cities contain in their entirety (for better or for worse, depending on your inclination). A veritable theme park for adults, anything you want can be had in Vegas no matter what your interests or vices are. Most people come to party but there are other pastimes on hand: from baking by the pool to Broadway shows to embracing your inner anthropologist (via supreme people watching), anyone can find their niche here.

The penchant for better, fancier and more expensive has had an interesting effect on the food scene there. Las Vegas has more top shelf chefs per square mile than anywhere else in the world. But, in grand American style, there is plenty of "food" made from dubiously industrial ingredients: what is in those nasty boozy slushies anyways? And then there is the portions! While  portion size in Canada is already too large, Americans do it bigger. The amount of food on offer is more than any man, woman or child should ever consume and those who excel at the sport of American style eating are on display in abundance. I couldn't help but notice how overweight so many visitors were. Not "I could stand to lose 20 pounds"...but clinically obese. Even people who would probably fall in a "normal" weight spectrum had insanely large guts on them the likes of which I rarely see here at home. But I had better get off the doom and gloom and talk about something, if you should find yourself in Vegas not too hungover, where should you eat? Here is a selection of my picks and pans from my February trip...have some favourites? disagree? Let me know!


Cheesecake Factory You come here for the ridiculously large menu and the ludicrously sized portions.  I tend to avoid chain restaurants while travelling because they don't really give you a sense of place...and American chain restaurants in particular because of the appalling food standards. However, I have to say that I always really enjoy my food at Cheesecake Factory and as we arrived in Las Vegas at lunch time absolutely starving, this place was my first hit. I really enjoy watching what other people order and eat here: at a place where I typically order appetizers for my main, people actually order appetizers, mains and cheesecake. And finish them. It's insane. We had two "small plates" to start: the crispy artichoke hearts with aioli (8 pieces for like 4 bucks...crazy!) and a baked spinach dip. Both were what we would consider appies here in Vancouver. For our mains, I had an appetizer sized salad and my husband struggled through his "lunch sized cobb". Leave full of tasty food.

Aureole Our "nice dinner" out in Vegas, Aureole was in our hotel complex at Mandalay Bay. Aureole is a Las Vegas outpost of the New York Charlie Palmer restaurant which bills itself as progressive American cuisine. As you walk in, you descend a staircase that winds around a 3 story wine case which is ascended by staff on cables. So cool. The room itself is decidedly more austere. We opted for the theatre menu at $55 for 3 courses which was an incredible bargain. There was also a very interesting 4 course tasting menu but it contained too many things that I tend not to eat, like sweetbreads. The food was delicious: each element full of unique and complimentary flavours. I had a gorgeous smoked mozzarella ravioli which was 10 times better than I could have imagined. Again, surprisingly, the portions were pretty large - I couldn't finish everything! My only real complaint was not the friendliness of the staff (which was great) but by how many people serve you over the course of the meal. I think at least 5 different staff come to your table within the first 20 minutes...kind of hard to feel at home.

Border Grill The menu says "real mexican food", which I suppose is up for debate but the food here is amazing. They make everything in house, from salsa to tortillas and then even opt to serve only purified water. The menu also features symbols for all "earth friendly options": items that are at least 80% plant based. Big brownie points in my book! Giant portions, great the Mandalay Bay Complex.

Burger Bar Hubert Keller (of Fleur de Lys fame) does burgers? Yes! Handmade veggie burger with oyster mushrooms, aioli and baby spinach on a whole wheat bun? Hell yes! All the meat is non medicated, there is a portobello or a veggie burger, you choose your burger, your bun, your side (skinny or fat fries?) and your toppings...if it isn't on the menu, it doesn't belong on a burger! Since we tend to eat close to where we sleep, yes...this one was at Mandalay Bay.

McCarran Airport, Concourse D's not a typo! This is where my dietitian side peeks out. The food offerings in American airports can be frightful. I am always a bit depressed to be caught hungry in LAX for example. But at McCarran, you can actually get something decent to eat. At Wolfgang Puck's, they make pizzas fresh to order in a wood fired oven in 8 minutes. You can also get salads, sandwiches and other fresh and healthy food. And yes, there is a Cinnabon...just in case.

Maggiano's Little Italy In the Fashion Show Mall, this is a great American Italian themed restaurant. Packed, just like Cheesecake Factory is, this is comfort food perfected. From gnocchi Vodka sauce to American classics like Beef Braciole, there should be something to satisfy everyone here. They also offer family style service for tables of four or more - so take your brood with you!

Mix My husband was lucky enough to eat here on his last trip to Vegas...Alain Ducasse is a genius...worth going if you can get a table! This time, we just went around the corner to the lounge. Being on the top floor of THE hotel, the view is absolutely amazing and they were the only place we visited that could come up with a non-alcoholic cocktail more interesting than a cranberry soda. Eating at the restaurant will get you into the lounge - on a Friday or Saturday, it might be your only chance!


Enoteca San Marco I have eaten at Mario Batali restaurants before in New York so I had a few expectations here. Great location - in the Venetian, in an indoor piazza... San Marco appears to be this great, authentic Italian restaurant, at least from the menu. We went at lunch so we just decided to have pizzas...big mistake. The crust was thick and bland as were the toppings themselves. I ordered the daily special: broccoli rabe, ricotta salata and chili peppers. Zero flavour. Even the chili peppers had been leached of all spice. It took an ocean of salt to revive it. Ditto my husband's pancetta and onion version. It made me wonder if there is so much bad food in the states that simply using high quality ingredients and slapping them on a plate without any thought equalled great food.  Having eaten at Casa Mono in New York, I know this can't be the case. The service was pretty awkward and uninspired as well. We left without trying the house made gelato. Maybe that was better.