Simplifying Nutrition: The Daily Fruit & Veggie Chart

1 04 2014

Sometimes I come across something and I want the entire world to know about it immediately. In my experience, the majority of the population has a hard time getting enough fruits and veggies. There are a thousand reasons behind this, but I think one of the factors is that people don’t know why they should be eating certain types of produce, nor do they know how much they should be consuming.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, for those of you serious about your health, I give you the Fruit & Veggie Colour-Coded Nutrition Infographic (yep, I made that name up just now). This little chart breaks produce down into colours, explains what each category offers your body, and offers suggestions on how to get these foods into your body. Just eat one cup from each section on a daily basis, and you’ll have the beauty of a unicorn and the virility of a centaur… or something like that.



Additionally, here’s a nice little checklist you can use to track your success:


Print these two bad boys out, toss them up on your fridge, and watch your health improve- one day at a time! As always, I’d like to credit Precision Nutrition for creating amazing resources like this for us- things like this make the process of getting healthier exponentially easier.

For more info, your know how to find me!



The Real Heart-Healthy Oils

30 03 2014

As much as I like to believe that we’re making progress in the world of nutrition, sometimes I see something that makes me stop and think otherwise.  The other day Precision Nutrition posted this chart from the great minds at the Cleveland Clinic:


Not all the information on this chart is wrong, but boy do they make some terribly outdated suggestions. It’s doubly disappointing to me, because I sadly love everything Cleveland (Go Browns!), but also because this is one of the top hospitals in the US, and no doubt the world. A while back I wrote a piece on how doctors shouldn’t give nutrition advice if they don’t have a formal education on the subject, and this might just be more of the same.

If you’ve read many of past articles, you already probably have a good idea about what I’m going to criticize about this chart, but here’s the skinny:

 1) “The FDA recognizes cooking sprays as safe”

Um, OK? Is that a suggestion that they should be used? Do we have permission? Seriously people, stay away from cooking sprays. If you need to spray your oils, do what it says on the following line and buy some extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil and put it in a manual spray bottle. Steer clear of the packaged cans that contain nitrous oxide, additives and whatever weird oil they claim to be inside.

 2) Suggesting several times that Canola oil is a good choice.

Canola oil isn’t the worst oil in the world, but it’s far from the best. Canola is a huge American cash crop, which is why I’m sure it gets such praise on this chart. Canola oil is convenient because it has a high smoke point, but there are serious question marks about the manufacturing process (GMOs, etc.) and the majority of canola oil used in food processing is at least partially-hydrogenated.  If you are using natural canola oil it won’t hurt you much, but make sure to avoid anything hydrogenated, as this is closer to an industrial-grade lubricant than it is an oil for human consumption. There are simply many better options out there.

 3a) “Saturated fats cause heart disease”

This is me, banging my head against a wall. Research has shown that saturated fats are not the enemy, but are only a problem when consumed in an unbalanced amount in an unhealthy diet. Saturated fat should be balanced with unsaturated fat to ensure optimal health.


3b) “Steer-clear of tropical-sounding oils like coconut, palm, palm kernel and cottonseed oils. They all contain saturated fats”

As we just covered, saturated fats aren’t evil. As a matter of fat, coconut oil is one of the best oils to cook with and has a plethora of health benefits. Cottonseed oil on the other hand, with it’s 50:1 omega-6:omega-3 ratio should definitely be avoiding. It’s ridiculous that these oils were lumped into the same category.


For cooking, stick to coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil (for when you want to cook with extreme heat). For sauces and dressings, use flaxseed oil, walnut oil, extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil.  If you balance these different saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils, along with a diet containing eggs, lean meats and fish, you’ll have an excellent fatty acid profile and be in the best position to ward off cardiovascular disease.


Organic or Gimmick?

5 12 2013

Photo 63

Hey everyone- check out my latest post on organic food over at the Huffington Post!



Got Milk?

25 10 2013

The truth about MILK

After writing my piece on soy a few days ago, I got a request to elaborate on my comments about milk:

“It’s funny that soy gets hammered for its phytoestrogen content, but another staple in the North American diet- dairy- provides 60-80% of the estrogens in the human diet. Drinking milk every day is far more likely to affect sex hormones than moderate amounts of soy.”

Now, before we get carried away, just remember: I love dairy. Milk is a wonderful blend of protein, fat and carbohydrate, has anabolic effects, is a great source of calcium, and is a much healthier choice (on the surface) than soda or a glass of juice. There have been times in my life when I was drinking a lot of milk, and I have seen friends use milk as a muscle/weight gainer with great success. With that being said, I have taken dairy out of my diet. Despite the macronutrient benefits of milk (which are especially beneficial to someone like myself who is trying to build muscle), this is my personal choice based on the information that I have at hand.

Sidebar: I continue to supplement with whey protein, which comes from milk, because it is arguably the best fuel for building muscle and I wouldn’t be able to get enough protein in my diet otherwise. Additionally, high levels of the amino acid cysteine in whey have demonstrated the ability to prevent the buildup of free radicals in the human body, decreasing cancer risk.

To start, let’s address the estrogen comment above. All milk, no matter the source, contains estrogen (and progesterone), as the milk comes from female cows which are most always pregnant. As I’ve mentioned before, estrogen is bad because it has fat-storing properties, not to mention that elevated levels of estrogen in men have been correlated to the incidence of prostate cancer in men; some studies also show a drop in testosterone in men consuming 2+ glasses of milk daily. These hormones could also affect the sexual maturation of children, delaying the process for boys and accelerating the process for girls. As far as I know, there’s no way to avoid ingesting these hormones in milk; if the milk comes from a cow, it contains these hormones.

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On to the next hot topic: cancer. From what I’ve seen, there are studies linking milk to increased rates of certain cancers, but decreased rates of others. For one, casein (milk protein) has been linked to an increased incidence of cancer. This claim comes from The China Study, which essentially tells us that eating animal protein will kill us. The thing about The China Study is that it was epidemiological in nature and can therefore not conclude cause and effect; the study essentially cherry-picked the results it wanted to find and neglected to write about the other possibilities. I could elaborate more, but if you want to read the details, check out this breakdown. If not, just understand that anything from The China Study should be ignored, as it is not fact.

There are other claims that cancer in humans can be caused by elevated levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) and Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). IGF-1 is a hormone that is important for cell growth. As such, it is important for developing children and for building muscle, but elevated levels increase cancer rates in humans (it accelerates the growth of cancer cells). Cows contain Bovine Growth Hormone naturally, but in the 80s they found a way to create rBGH to increase milk production in cattle. rBGH stimulates increased levels of IGF-1 in milk. This may slightly increase IGF-1 levels in humans, although studies show that ingesting IGF-1 leads to negligible increases in human IGF-1 levels, as it is digested much like other proteins. The bad news? rBGH tends to increase the number of udder infections in cattle, so the animals are given antibiotics, meaning that both pus and antibiotics can sometimes be found in milk. The good news? rBGH is only used in the US and is banned in Canada and other industrialized countries; it’s good to be Canadian!

And rBGH free!

And rBGH free!

Other notes?

  • Some studies link milk consumption in children to the development of type-1 diabetes. Other studies do not. It is however, in my opinion, just another reason to delay or completely prevent giving milk to children.
  • Milk does not necessarily give you strong bones. Adequate levels of vitamin D are far more important, as it is this vitamin that regulates calcium absorption; without vitamin D, calcium will not give you strong bones. Some milk is indeed fortified with vitamin D, but the amount is very, very low. As a matter of fact, the countries with the highest levels of osteoporosis and associated fractures are those that consume the most milk. Not coincidentally, these countries are located in northern countries and receive little-to-no vitamin D from the sun. Additionally, new studies have shown that excessive calcium levels can actually be detrimental to health, leading to heart disease and an increased mortality. Adequate calcium levels can be achieved through other sources like leafy greens and canned fish.

In the end, I’ve made a personal decision to limit dairy, and especially milk, in my diet. In my opinion, there are simply too many better options for things that I can put in my body. Additionally, I feel pretty strongly that children should consume very little milk; it’s certainly not a matter of life or death, but I don’t feel like taking the risk of altering the sexual development of my children… you know, the ones that I might someday have. For those out there who want to keep milk in the diet, it would be prudent to look for 3 things:

  1. rBGH-free – not an issue here in Canada, but Americans beware.
  2. Buy organic. Organic milk ensures that it comes from cows that have access to an open pasture, have not had infections/been treated with antibiotics, and eat organic feed that does not consist of any harmful pesticides, chemicals, fertilizers, or genetically modified ingredients. Organic milk also has more beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins and comes from healthier animals.
  3. Choose raw milk from a local farmer. There are risks associated with drinking raw milk, but it has the best nutritional profile of any milk and poses the least threat to the development of human disease.

As with most things, a bit of dairy here and there likely won’t be an issue for most adults (unless lactose or casein intolerant), but unlike what we’ve been told our entire lives: milk is certainly not a necessary part of a complete diet.

For more information on milk or other nutrition advice, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.


So What’s the Deal with Soy?

18 10 2013

Soy-Bean-Safe-by-Flickr-kattebelletjeFor as long as I can remember, I’ve had a pretty negative image of soy in my head. I’ve heard that it can cause cancer. I’ve heard that it affects hormones in the body. I’ve heard that it can be detrimental to overall protein absorption. For these reasons, I’ve always kept a solid distance from any product containing soy: tofu, soy milk, miso soup; if it contained soy, I wasn’t interested. All because I’ve heard that soy is the devil, but without ever having looked into the matter. Well, I’ve finally looked into it, and this is what I’ve found…

What is soy?

Soy is derived from soybeans, a plant native to eastern Asia, where it was originally grown for use as a fertilizer. Although not introduced to North America until the 18th century, the US now produces roughly half of the world’s soy crops. Originally grown in the US as a source of animal feed, soy became part of the human diet in the early 1900s, mostly because there was a limit to the amount of soy that could be fed to animals (too much soy caused reproductive issues and other diseases in animals), so they started to market the excess soy as human food; sounds legit. Soy production began to boom during the industrial revolution as technologists experimented with cheap meat alternatives; it was marketed as a “health food” to mask its reputation as a cheap animal feed and the soy industry spent millions of dollars to establish the FDA’s cholesterol-lowering campaign. The crop really took off in the 1990s, especially when genetically modified beans were introduced; upwards of 90% of all soy beans are now genetically modified in some way or shape. This has made the export of US soy crops quite difficult, as most other countries have far stricter regulations on genetically modified foods.

From a nutrition point of view, soy contains roughly 42% protein, 35% carbohydrate (mostly fiber and slow-digesting starches) and 23% fat (mostly polyunsaturated). Soy protein is a complete protein, which is why it has been marketed as a great solution for non-meat eaters. The PDCAAS for soy (a measurement of protein quality) is just under 1.0, which is the highest score. Soy protein isolate has a score of 1.0, making it one of highest quality sources of protein. alongside animal sources.

Fermented vs. Nonfermented

Soy foods can be broken down into two categories: fermented and nonfermented. The fermentation process deactivates some of the anti-nutrients (toxic phytates, etc.) in soy that cause digestive distress and inhibit mineral and protein absorption; the highest-quality fermented soy products are also made with organic soybeans. Popular fermented foods include miso, tempeh, natto, tamari/soy sauce, and fermented versions of tofu and soy milk. Popular nonfermented soy foods include soy milk, tofu, soybean oil, edamame, and processed meat alternatives, supplements, drinks and snacks that contain soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, texturized vegetable protein, or other soy additives (soy lethicin is an extremely popular emulsifier and is found in an outrageous number of processed foods. Studies show mixed results, but packaging never indicates if the lecithin has come from a fermented or unfermented source. We have all ingested this product at one point or another, and at such low levels, I don’t imagine it can do much harm, but it’s just another reason to avoid processed food). These nonfermented soy products have been linked to digestive distress, immune system breakdown, reproductive issues, higher risk of heart disease and cancer, and a variety of other issues. Additionally, please do not feed your baby soy-based formulas, as high levels of this low-quality can drastically affect the sexual development and reproductive health of children.

Regarding fermented soy, these foods can be quite beneficial to overall health. Fermented soy products are high in vitamin K, which is one of the most difficult vitamins to get through food, and a vitamin that acts synergistically with vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems.

In a nutshell, fermented soy is healthy and high levels of unfermented soy is detrimental to overall health.

Makes you think...

Makes you think…

Does soy lower testosterone levels?

Soy contains phytoestrogens (such as isoflavones) which are a group of natural estrogen receptor modulators found in various foods; soy is the most potent food source. Now, when soy protein is extracted from the bean, most of these phytoestrogens are lost; the ones that are left however are similar to the estrogen hormone, estradiol, which can potentially affect our human hormones estrogen and testosterone. At low levels (ie, with unexcessive soy consumption), these phytoestrogens are quite unlikely to affect human hormones. However, at high levels, soy consumption has a far greater chance to affect our sex hormones. To back-up the statement that reasonable soy intake is unlikely to affect our sex hormones, there are several studies that demonstrate that soy protein acts much like any other source of protein when it comes to building lean muscle or improving athletic performance. If soy negatively affected testosterone levels, muscle synthesis and athletic performance would suffer. Unless you are crushing back veggie burgers topped with tofu and edamame on a daily basis, you can probably mix in a bit of soy protein every now and then without any detrimental effects.

On that note, it’s funny that soy gets hammered for its phytoestrogen content, but another staple in the North American diet- dairy- provides 60-80% of the estrogens in the human diet. Drinking milk every day is far more likely to affect sex hormones than moderate amounts of soy. Again, low amounts of these foods are unlikely to cause a problem, but it is interesting how some foods get a free pass and others get demonized.

NOTE: I still love dairy, but I rarely consume it anymore because of this issue. In my opinion, there are simply better products to consume.


Should I avoid soy?

Despite the muddy history and bad reputation, a little bit of soy in the diet appears to be harmless, and if you are only consuming fermented sources, it can likely benefit your health. However, excessive consumption of soy could very well lead to health issues. What is excessive? Consuming soy at every meal is definitely excessive. I’d go as far as to recommend limiting soy consumption to a few times a week, just to be safe; I’d definitely be wary of daily soy consumption. As I mentioned earlier, avoiding soy on a daily basis can be difficult for most people as it is a part of nearly all processed foods, but this is just another reason on the long list of why natural unprocessed food sources should make up the majority of the human diet.

In conclusion…

Soy is not the devil. As a matter of fact, fermented soy products can be quite beneficial. Even unfermented soy products don’t appear to be too harmful if consumption is low, so as usual, moderation and balance reign supreme; it’s all about avoiding the extreme. As a general rule of thumb, don’t fear fermented soy sources and do your best to avoid processed foods, as this is your best defense against harmful unfermented soy. After all my research, I’m not going to change my diet to include more soy, and I’m certainly not going to start using a soy protein supplement, but it’s nice to know which soy products can benefit my health and which soy products I should continue to avoid.

That’s it and that’s all for today- happy Friday!



Eggs: Still Awesome

26 07 2013


A quick one for all you egg-lovers or haters out there. Remember when I told you that eggs were awesome? Well, they’re still awesome, according to Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition. And if you’re going to trust any one person in this world about nutrition, it’s Berardi. The major take-home points:

1) In controlled trials (the best kind of research, not cherry-picked data) where people were instructed to eat up to three eggs per day on a weight loss diet, the subjects lost weight, decreased inflammation and either maintained or improved their blood cholesterol levels- and these folks were consuming 555 mg of cholesterol every day from eggs alone, which is almost double the recommended daily allowance by the American Heart Association (again, dietary cholesterol has next-to-nothing to do with blood cholesterol!)

2) Unless you have diabetes or a rare genetic disorder, eating a few eggs every day is not bad for you.

3) Egg yolks (you know, the part that people throw away?) are one of the most nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich and vitamin-laden foods on the planet, containing 90 percent of the calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, B6, folate, pantothenic acid and B12 of the egg, as well as all of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E, the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and the ever-important choline (massively important for pregnant women, and great for anyone as it acts as an anti-inflammatory, and is associated with lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and more).

4) The only reason to throw away yolks is if you want to cut some calories while still getting a high-quality protein from the egg white… but don’t neglect yolks entirely, for the reason stated above.

5) Eggs don’t cause heart disease. Diets high in sugar and refined carbs are the culprit, as I’ve mentioned before.

In the end, don’t over think things. Eggs are a nutrient-rich superfood and almost everyone should eat a few from time to time. As with most things, avoid the extremes (don’t ban eggs from the diet but don’t eat 10 every day), and eggs will surely be a tremendous addition to your life.

For more info on eggs or nutrition plans, you know how to find me!

Happy Friday!


Food vs. Filler; Know the Difference!

17 06 2013


Processed food is taking over the world. As a result, we are getting fatter; in turn, we are getting sick. Brandon Sewall over at MindBodyGreen recently pumped out an article on this topic, explaining how processed foods are killing us. It’s a bit of an extreme angle, but there is no doubt that a mostly-processed diet results in sub-optimal health. Processed foods lack the essential vitamins and minerals necessary to keep the human body functioning at high level, and most such products contain harmful carbohydrates (sugar and white flour), trans fats, and low levels of protein- all factors that contribute to obesity and poor health.

One of the biggest issues is determining the difference between hunger and cravings. Many people confuse the two, which is a double-edged sword; not only are people then eating when they don’t actually require calories, but they’re eating harmful processed “food” devoid of nutritional value. This is the perfect recipe for weight gain and health problems.

In his article, Brandon spells out the issue with processed food in 9 bullet points. Highlights include:

  • Whole foods are cheaper than processed foods! This certainly isn’t always the case, as some organic food can be rather expensive, but if you stop shopping the interior isles at the grocery store and forget the $9 meal deals from McDonalds (since when did cola and fries make something a meal??), you’ll be surprised but the minimal cost of eating fresh!
  • Processed foods are WICKED addictive. This is a major problem with processed foods. Companies use substances like salt and sugar to confuse neurotransmitters and suppress the satiety; as I’ve written before, there is certainly an argument to be made that sugar is a drug. Substances like this confuse the body, leading to cravings and overeating, which in turn contributes to problems like obesity, diabetes and cancer. Are you hungry? Or does your brain simply want sugar?
  • “Junk” foods cause inflammation, one of the leading causes of chronic illness. As I just mentioned, refined sugars, processed flours, vegetable oils, and other artificial ingredients have been shown to increase the odds of developing heart disease, dementia, neurological problems, respiratory failure, cancer and other chronic disease. Stop worrying about eating too much saturated fat and cholesterol from natural sources; it’s the processed carbs that are killing people!
  • Fake foods spoil your mind. Processed foods make you lethargic and leave your hungry. Whole foods keep you satisfied and energetic. Fact.
  • Refined foods ruin your insides, are pumped full of GMOs, and are filled with pesticides. Even nutritious foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are sometimes genetically modified and/or are covered in pesticides, but these can be avoiding by eating local produce and washing everything thoroughly before consumption.  If processed foods have been genetically altered and/or contain carcinogens, there’s no way around the problem… other than putting the item back on the shelf!
  • These foods are not real!  Perhaps the most poignant point of the article: processed foods simply aren’t food at all! Plain and simple:



In our North American culture it’s nearly impossible to avoid processed food altogether; people are busy, and processed food is generally delicious. As always, the key is finding a balance between healthy, fresh food and those addicting processed treats.  The next time you’re feeling “hungry”, think about what you want: food, or filler? If you’re simply craving a processed treat, odds are you aren’t hungry at all. Grab a glass of water or a cup of tea and distract yourself. Over time these cravings will diminish and you’ll retrain your brain to tell the truth about hunger.

For more information about diet and nutrition strategies, you know how to find me!