Thursday, March 29, 2012

Forks over Knives

As a dietitian, it should come as no surprise that I believe the power to heal is found at the end of your fork. However, I also understand how easy it can be to underestimate the ability of simple, everyday foods to lead to profound health benefits. And when you have a giant donut or basket of buttermilk-fried chicken in front of you, the immediate reward easily seems to outweigh the distant potential benefit. 

That is why the movie Forks over Knives is so worthy of your time. The movie investigates the healing power of plant-based diets and profiles several individuals who have effectively reversed chronic disease with dietary change. If you haven't seen the movie, rent it or borrow it from your local library. For those of you in the Vancouver area, why not join us on April 5th at the Ridge Theatre for a screening that benefits InspireHealth, Canada's leading integrative cancer centre. That way, you can get some food for thought while supporting a worthy cause. I will be sitting on the panel discussion directly following the movie and I can guarantee that there will be some lively discussion.

To buy tickets, click here

Monday, March 26, 2012

Eat...Faster than Takeout

Like those sunny side up? Yes...eggs on pizza are actually tasty.

There isn't always a picture perfect meal on the table. Sometimes, you just have to get a relatively healthy meal on the table, fast! Today was one of those days. Luckily, I did have some good quality ingredients on hand to whip up a super fast pizza. Now, pizza can be the embodiment of terrible, lifeless food: cheap flour and grease-laden crust, gobs of cheese and way too much processed meat. In this house, pizza is another opportunity to feast on veggies (and a little cheese...). Keep the ingredients for this recipe on hand at all times and the next time you are tempted to call for takeout, save yourself time and money and make this healthier treat instead. The toppings would make a great pasta too with some adjustments. 

This pizza is gluten free and vegetarian; make it vegan using the substitutions provided.


Fennel Pesto Pizza
Serves 4 with a side salad (or two really hungry people)

1 pkg (2 shells) Quejos Pizza Crusts (gluten free) - cheese or non-dairy
1/2 cup Sunflower Kitchen Kale and Oregano Pesto (gluten free and vegan)

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, greens trimmed, thinly sliced into half moons
1 small head of cauliflower, trimmed and thinly sliced into 1/2 cm "steaks"
1 cup shredded pizza mozzarella (or mozza-style Daiya)

Optional: 4 eggs or 1 cup mashed white beans

Quicker-than-takeout Version

Prep the pizza crusts according to package directions, don't skip the pre-crisp stage! Meanwhile, heat oil in large pan and sauté fennel until tender-crisp. Add salt and pepper to taste, remove and set aside. Add cauliflower to pan and sauté until tender-crisp, season to taste. 

When crust is crisped, spread 1/4 pesto on each shell and if desired, mashed white beans for an extra vegan protein boost.

Top pesto with cauliflower, cheese and fennel. Bake according to package directions.

If desired, gently fry eggs over easy and when pizza is done, top each serving with one egg.

Make it a bit fancier...

Toss the fennel and cauliflower with 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste in a medium baking dish and roast until softened, about 30 minutes. Then add to pizza as above.

Note: Both quejos and sunflower kitchen are relatively regional treats. Substitute your best quality gluten free crust and vegan pesto!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Nutrition ABCS...Eggs

There are some nutrition questions that never whether or not eggs are good for you. I am here to set the record straight (well, let's be might find some other opinions and then you will just have to decide for yourself who to believe.). I think eggs, if you are of the animal product eating sort, are fantastic. 

Of all the animal products you could choose, eggs are pretty light on the environment. And if you stop being so stingy and spend a bit more for eggs from a farm with humane animal husbandry practices, you can keep the chickens happy while they are on this earth producing food for you. I can't stress this not buy scary national brand, "where did these eggs come from?" eggs. Factory farming is horrific. Don't add to the demand for these kind of eggs.

So why do I think eggs are good for you? For starters, eggs really got a bad wrap when we decided that dietary cholesterol was the primary kick start to high blood cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. So the nutrition army rallied its troops to get you to stop eating eggs. Times have changed. So if you are still an egg-avoider, time to reconsider this humble breakfast staple.

Eggs are inexpensive and convenient sources of protein; in a world where we rely almost exclusively on inexpensive and convenient sources of white flour and sugar, eggs provide a break (pun intended) from the everyday. A large egg has just 70 calories for 6 grams of protein and a host of nutrients for better health: anti-oxidant lutein and zeaxanthin for your eyes, folate for a healthy nervous system, vitamin A for your skin and immune health and antioxidant selenium. They provide easily assimilated protein and are super versatile.  

Just a few of my favourite egg-eating ways...

- Hard-boiled and stashed in the fridge for meals and snacks on the go
- Tossed with leeks, mushrooms and spinach for a quick dinner fritatta
- Deviled with dijon mustard and a bit of freshly grated horseradish
- In the classic tortilla espanola
- Gently fried and layered on sprouted grain toast with fresh chevre, sliced tomato and a bit of pesto
- Chopped up on a salad for some energy-boosting protein to go with all those glorious greens

So if you are about to embark on an egg-siting new journey, how much is too much? Don't go all Atkins on me; you've gotta keep it balanced. Research suggests that an egg a day won't raise your risk of heart disease. However, another way to look at eggs is through your nutrition "budget". If you don't have heart disease consider eggs a "serving" of saturated fat and cholesterol. If you generally keep all your dairy skim, don't consume too many saturated fats from coconut, meat or butter, you have a bit more room to enjoy eggs as you like them. However, if you drink cream in your coffee and slather butter on your bread as you scarf down steak...well, we should really talk. And you should probably stick to egg white omelets.

I am not one to take chances with your health: if you have heart disease or high cholesterol, you have to keep your dietary cholesterol to under 200 mg a day. A large egg has 180, so there you go. You have to decide if the egg is worth the spend for you because you get your egg or your small piece of steak plus a bit of butter for that potato. You don't get both. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring is in the happy

Little green possibilities...

Just a few more days until spring is officially here; I, for one, can hardly wait. This year marks my first actual growing season, having previously been bankrupt in the sunlit patio department. Drought, no more. You are looking at my first Portuguese kale seedlings. The seeds are from my grandfather, who hauled them with him from Portugal. A colleague at work gave me the tip that you didn't need fancy seedling trays; this is just an egg carton I have repurposed for the job. The setup is lounging in a southwest facing window under a tent of saran wrap and a lamp, to create a bit of a greenhouse effect. I posted a bit of background on these special seeds and their intended fate here. This kale is the first of my patio produce crops; I also bought heirloom carrots, lemon balm, fennel, basil and rosemary. If I can keep this all alive, I may just go crazy next year and try my hand at tomatoes.

If you, like I, have never tried to grow your own food - never fear. I honestly didn't believe these seeds would sprout. I have killed almost every house plant I have ever owned. I have once-beautiful topiaries on my deck, strung out and yellowed from the stress of life with the Nielsens.  I was pretty sure I would somehow mess this up. Miraculously, just a week after I sowed them, these gorgeous little pre-veggies popped up. And equally unbelievable, my little apple tree survived the winter and has little buds. To help my little apple twig along, I bought Mason bees last week and a little Mason bee cottage. Mason bees don't sting; they have a short life cycle where they pollinate everything in sight and then they lay eggs for the following year. Talk about low maintenance beekeeping.

If you are looking for some resources on how to grow your own food, in any kind of space, look no further. Choices Markets is selling West Coast Seeds and I also like Salt Spring Seeds. Both have plenty of heirloom and organic varieties and since they are in our local region, they've got seeds suited to life on the wet coast. For pots, Ikea has plenty of options but if you can make it down to Marine Drive in Burnaby, Garden Works is like gardening wonderland. Life on the Balcony is a blog filled with tips on getting green in a small space; FarmTina has her own little plot, aka backyard, in the midst of bustling NYC while Marie Viljoen has just a shoebox apartment. Amy Pennington's Apartment Gardening book has been my how-to if you try and get it  out from the VPL, you will need to wait! She is from Seattle so it is great to get tips from someone in the same sort of climate. 

Do yourself a favour and grow something this spring. Anything. I promise it will make you smile.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Nutrition ABCs: Vitamin D

Many moons ago, I thought it would be cool to start a little encyclopedia of nutrition terms I wanted you all to know more about. I made it to the letter C. Ahem...onward and upward! I think it is time to pick up this little theme once again. Nutrition is getting no less confusing...and we are still a wee bit unhealthy as a society. Just sayin'.

I started the Nutrition ABCs in 2010. A was for anti-oxidants; b was for broccoli and c was for now we are on to d. Which, of course, means we must chat about vitamin D!

The news on vitamin D seems to have cooled off as of late; just a few years ago you could hardly pick up a magazine or turn on the news without seeing a story on vitamin D. And rightly so: long dismissed as simply the ugly best friend of calcium in the quest for bone health, vitamin D finally got to stand out in the spotlightWhat has changed since my last post on vitamin D? Well, the Institute of Medicine and Health Canada did indeed change their recommendations on vitamin D. What was the cutting edge of the research is becoming accepted nutritional fact: we need more vitamin D. Health Canada now recommends 600IU for those aged 7 - 70. The upper limit, or amount at which there is no foreseen risk of daily use, has been doubled to 4000IU. Again, most vitamin D experts would consider this conservative. 

So what will vitamin D actually do for you? Research is growing in the areas of heart health, cancer prevention, prevention of type 2 diabetes and auto-immune diseases and even weight loss. However, some of the challenges with this research (especially in the initial stages) include ineffective dosing and lack of placebo-controlled, double blind trials. However, the evidence is considered substantial enough for many in the world of health and research to call for a widespread increase in intake. 

While called a vitamin, vitamin D is actually more biologically similar to a steroid hormone once activated by the kidneys. It has an effect on almost every organ and tissue in the body and helps to modulate the immune system. This is one of the most interesting outcomes of vitamin D intake to me; considering all of the attention on chronic inflammation in the progressive health literature, keeping the immune system tuned is important. And most of us have not been getting enough vitamin D. Ideally, your physician would assess your blood levels of vitamin D so you can be dosed accordingly. In the absence of that knowledge, a safe bet for almost all adults would be 2000-3000 IU of vitamin D3 a day. As mentioned in my previous post, you can't really rely on most food sources (except for fatty fish like salmon) for an effective dose. As a dietitian, I don't like people to pop pills unnecessarily; however, I routinely recommend vitamin D to my clients. 

PS. Read my opinion...and then discuss it with your health professional. This post is offered as information only; this article can't take the place of in person consultation with a qualified health professional. And no, I don't have a financial stake in any supplement company. I just want you to be healthier!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Voting with your Fork: Political Trailblazers in Food and Nutrition

Nutrition science (and trend) is a constantly moving target; as more of us become interested in living a healthier life, greater numbers of nutrition "experts" want a piece of the action. Now more than ever, what to eat is a political act. So who really matters and who do you want to invest your hard-earned time and brain power in? 

Dr. Andrew Weil (MD) is the godfather of integrative medicine; in fact, his book Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, kicked my butt in the direction of a life spent in health. He has become a bit of an industry these days, but his guidance is stellar.

Andy Bellatti is a registered dietitian in Seattle, Washington who is not afraid to challenge the status quo - he calls out nutritionism and lack of food democracy when he see it. 

The team at Harvard School of Public Health's Nutrition Source is the leading edge in public health nutrition. They have research cred and the bucks to do something with it. They didn't like the My Pyramid eating model that the government created, so they created their own. 

Continuing the public health vibe, Dr David Katz (MD) is another nutrition rock star. Founder of an integrative medicine centre who dedicates his research life to prevention, Dr Katz believes there are good and bad foods - and he created a nutrition scoring system to prove it.

Marion Nestle PhD is the mother of food politics; she asks questions that governments should be asking. Not afraid to take on the food industry or bio-tech, she will make you think twice about what you put on your fork.

And of course, I cannot create a post like this without mentioning the journalists Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan. It often takes an outsider to sound the morning bell and wake the rest of us up.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Eat...well...with my healthy grocery list!

Oh how the social media landscape is changing. I don't really have time for a new platform. But I signed up for Pinterest anyways. It is so simple to use and then you end up with handy dandy visual lists of everything you love. Since my healthy grocery list is a popular page on the blog (and I have been slow to update), I thought I would try and evolve the list with my new healthy grocery list on Pinterest. Let me know what you think!