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!



The Ignorance of our Carbohydrate Culture

22 05 2013

I’m often asked why I hate carbs. Let’s get one thing straight: I love carbs. I live for the post-workout window that allows me to devour sugar without any negative consequences. Chocolate is probably my favourite food in the world. Belgian beer is a close second. With that being said, when I’m not lifting weights or getting exercise, I don’t touch carbs. Why? Because they serve next-to-no purpose. As I’ve mentioned before, carbs have one purpose in the human body: energy.

Let’s recap what happens when we eat carbs:

Blood sugar levels rise and insulin is released; the type of carb and amount consumed will dictate the magnitude of this response (note: consistently elevated levels of insulin will cause cells to acclimatize to this environment and become insulin resistant; untreated insulin resistance leads to type-2 diabetes, which leads to an early death; ipso facto, excessive crappy carbs lead to diabetes). Insulin drives nutrients into the cells of the body. Some nutrients will be shuttled to cells for energy and repair, and to the CNS for metabolic function. However, in the absence of exercise, the majority of these calories will be shuttled to fat cells and stored for later use. Our bodies are designed for survival and will only use what is necessary, while storing the rest for an emergency. This was important for our ancestors, but incredibly inconvenient in today’s carb-saturated society.bad-things-to-carbs

Simply put, carbohydrate consumption should mimic activity level.  If you are sedentary, there is no need to consume more than 100 g of carbs per day. If you are active, increase your carbohydrate intake accordingly. If you are sedentary and eat a lot of carbs, you will be unhealthy, either because you’ll gain a lot of weight from the excessive calories, or because you’ll be malnourished from a lack of important proteins and fats.

The action of carbs in the body is extremely easy to understand, yet the majority of the population consumes a high-carb, low-protein diet. Why?

  1. Carbs are cheap
  2. Due to this, most snacks and convenient food options are carb-based
  3. Carbs are generally delicious and many have literally been engineered to be addictive
  4. Companies that push carb-based “foods” are rich and have great advertising
  5. Due to this advertising, the general population believes that it is acceptable (and even healthy) to consume a mainly carbohydrate-based diet

All of these factors have combined to create our current Carbohydrate Culture. It’s convenient, so I should eat it. It’s delicious, so I’ve got to have it. Ignorance is bliss, right? Well frankly, we’ve known for years that excessive sugar intake causes obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. As is common in our culture however, these facts are hidden by the aforementioned rich, carb-pushing companies and their flashy advertising campaigns.

Yep, this happened.

Yep, this happened.

But that’s just sugar, and not all carbs are created equal right? This is correct. Natural carb sources like true whole grains, quinoa, and potatoes aren’t going to hurt you nearly as bad and should make-up the majority (or entirety) of your carbohydrate intake. However, let’s not forget that carbs remain largely unnecessary unless you are an active person. And even these “good” carbs will raise blood glucose levels and elicit an insulin response.

The Insulin Index on Wikipedia provides us with telling information. The foods that cause the most undesirable blood sugar and insulin responses? Processed/sugar-based carbs. The foods that produce the lowest levels of satiety? Processed/sugar-based carbs. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the foods that fill you up and don’t destroy your blood sugar? Protein-, fat- and fiber-rich foods. Not only will these kinds of food prevent you from developing chronic disease, but they provide the human body with the valuable precursors needed for the creation of hormones, antibodies, neurotransmitters, muscles, tissues, nervous system, etc., in addition to providing energy; silly carbs, a one-trick pony with an unspecialized skill.

In conclusion, sugar isn’t food, processed wheat isn’t food, and carbs should make up the smallest part of your diet. Eat your protein and fats, include veggies at every meal, and complement this diet with natural carb sources as your activity level dictates. If you want to be truly healthy, it’s time to open your eyes, eat what’s necessary instead of what’s desired, and leave the ignorance at the door.

For specific questions on how to lead a healthy lifestyle, don’t hesitate to send me a message!


An Eye-Opener on Liquid Calories

15 04 2013


One of my readers contacted me last week and brought my attention to an article that was recently published over in the UK. Before going any further, let’s remember 2 key points that I’ve mentioned in the past:

  1. If you are trying to lose weight and/or burn fat, you should avoid consuming liquid calories
  2. Sugar is killing us, and is largely responsible for most of the chronic health problems in our society (moreso than saturated fat and other scapegoats)

I’ve touched on these points many times, but in case the message hasn’t hit home, please take a look at the article on The 15 WORST sugary drinks in Britain. The pictures (courtesy of say far more than writing ever could. Here are some of most shocking findings of the article, and some of the most impressive (read: disgusting) pictures:

  • Single serving of white grape juice (1 cup/250 mL) contains the same amount of sugar as four Crispy Cream doughnuts


  • Starbucks venti white chocolate mocha with whipped cream as much sugar as ten bowls of Golden Grahams (and as I mentioned a few days ago, many breakfast cereals contain a crazy amount of sugar)
  • Not a coffee drinker? Starbucks venti soy vanilla spice hot chocolate has as much sugar as five Kellogg’s strawberry Pop Tarts


  • Burger King large chocolate milkshake has over 100 g of sugar, equivalent to an entire strawberry cream pie


  • Bottle of Pret freshly squeezed orange juice (500 mL) has as much sugar as thirteen oatmeal cookies


  • Rockstar punched energy & guava (500 mL) has the same amount of sugar as twenty chocolate chip cookies


I’ll stop there, but I think you get the point. It’s hard enough to try to calculate the number of calories we get from our meals when we eat out; sticking to water at least ensures that we aren’t taking in a gratuitous amount of one of the most harmful “nutrients” on the planet.

Before signing off, I’d just like to take a parting shot at fruit juices. As I pointed out above, both grape juice and orange juice have a crazy amount of sugar (even the “no sugar added” types). Apple juice, grapefruit juice, and almost any other fruit juice will have the same problem.  “Fruit juice” should really be relabeled as “Liquid fruit sugar”, because that is exactly what it is. Whole fruits are extremely healthy and nutritious and should be included in almost all diets. Fruit is indeed full of sugar (which is why even fruit should be limited for those of us looking to lose fat), but it is also full of valuable fibre and nutrients. Fruit juice is sugar, with a few nutrients, but leaves most of the awesomeness behind. Again, and as I’ve been preaching- stick to consuming foods in their natural state. Fruit juice isn’t necessarily a processed food, but it the worst part of fruit and is packaged in a more convenient and easy-to-consume medium (liquid); sounds like a processed food to me! The sooner we all start viewing fruit juice as being equal to soda (it is), the sooner we can get away from the myth that fruit juice is “part of a healthy breakfast” and “a great way to start the day”. False. Morning insulin spikes will ruin your day. And make you fat. And sick. Stick to water, coffee, and tea and you’ll but much better off!

That’s all for now, hope everyone had a great weekend! Happy Monday!


Sugar Kills Us; Omega-3s Save Us

26 03 2013


I came across this very interesting article yesterday while perusing my Twitter feed. It is nothing more than a short blurb but really spells out 2 key messages that I’ve been trying to relay to my readers:

1) Sugar is a killer

2) Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important in the human diet

In summary, the University of California performed a 6-week study (yes I’m aware that it was only one study, and yes I’m aware that it was done with rats, but is interesting nonetheless), where one test group was fed a consistent dose of sugar in the diet and another was fed the same dose of sugar, but with a dose of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the diet as well (if you’ll recall, DHA is an essential fatty acid only obtainable in the human diet through fatty fish, seaweed or fish oil).

After 6 weeks, the sugar-only mice were slow and had poor cognitive function; the mice that had been receiving DHA had no such issues. We know that excessive amounts of sugar lead to insulin resistance, which can lead to other health problems, but it can also make it difficult for insulin to regulate neuron signaling. This study seems to show that omega-3s (or at least DHA) can help delay this negative neural effect by fortifying the protective sheath that covers neurons, allowing information to flow freely between cells in spite of damaging, consistently elevated insulin levels.

Yes, it is only one short study, and by no means can we use this information to conclude that a diet high in omega-3s permits us gorge on sugar, but it is another strike against sugar and another feather in the hat for omega-3s.


I mean, if you really sit back and think about it, isn’t it odd that the obesity epidemic in North America really started to take off in the late 80s/early 90s when the “low-fat” craze got legs? Why did this happen? Because the food industry starting substituting dietary fats for sugar, keeping the calories in foods the same, but by taking out a necessary, nutritious macronutrient in fat (and most often the vilified saturated fat, which really isn’t bad at all) and introducing a harmful, nutrient-poor “macronutrient” in sugar. Another article recently brought to my attention by a friend helps to hammer home this point:

“Sugar – given to children by adults, lacing our breakfast cereals and a major part of our fizzy drinks – is the real villain in the obesity epidemic, and not fat as people used to think, according to a leading US doctor who is taking on governments and the food industry.

Dr Robert Lustig, who was this month in London and Oxford for a series of talks about his research, likens sugar to controlled drugs. Cocaine and heroin are deadly because they are addictive and toxic – and so is sugar, he says. “We need to wean ourselves off. We need to de-sweeten our lives. We need to make sugar a treat, not a diet staple,” he said.

“The food industry has made it into a diet staple because they know when they do you buy more. This is their hook. If some unscrupulous cereal manufacturer went out and laced your breakfast cereal with morphine to get you to buy more, what would you think of that? They do it with sugar instead.”

It’s funny that I just came across this article yesterday, because I’ve essentially all of that before. Sweet, sugary vindication.

Anyway folks, the take home points are pretty standard:

– Make an effort to cut sugar from your diet. It is killing you.

– Eat your salmon, and take your fish oil supplement! It will make you healthier and prolong your life (and quality of life!)

That’s all for today. As always, you know how to reach me!


Reclassifying Sugar… As a Drug

13 03 2013


I came across an interesting quote the other day and it really got me thinking: “If sugar were discovered today, it would unquestionably be listed a controlled substance, and classified as a drug.”  I then came across this paper in my research, which essentially proves my point. Before we begin, I get it, this will never happen. As pointed out in this paper, any evidence concretely determining sugar to have the physical characteristics and negative consequences to be classified as a controlled substance would unquestionably be swept away by major corporations in order to protect the health of their wallets over of the health of people. But I digress. Let’s discuss.

What do we know about sugar?

– Sugar is a carbohydrate and provides energy, but contains no nutrients (empty calories)

– Sugar is extremely sweet and pleasant tasting, and makes many foods far more palatable

– Sugar is also addicting, and people experience withdrawal symptoms when sugar is removed from the diet (headaches, mood swings, lethargy, etc)

– The average American consumes her weight in sugar every year (upwards of 130 pounds… on average… which means some people consume much more).

Face. Palm.

Face. Palm.

What is a drug?

A drug is defined as any absorbed substance that changes or enhances any physical or psychological function in the body. Heroin is a drug. It is a white powder that produces striking changes in the body and mind in small doses and provides no nutrients to the human body. Sound familiar? Heroin is an illegal controlled substance, but sugar is not. Heroin overdose can be deadly. Although it is impossible to overdose on sugar, chronic ingestion of the substance has proven to dramatically alter the physiology of the human body, and is without a doubt a leading cause of obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other deadly afflictions. I’ve said it before and I won’t back off my stance: sugar and processed foods are the real causes of the major health problems in our society:

– Obesity is linked to over 2.5 million deaths every year

– Diabetes kills 4.6 million annually

– Cardiovascular disease? More than 17 million deaths per year

NOTE: I know there are more factors than sugar that come into play, but it is unquestionably a huge factor in many of these fatalities

Heroin appears to be harmful to the human eye and sugar appears to make people happy, but appearances can be deceiving. Sugar unquestionably kills more people every year than does heroin.



Furthermore, ingestion of sugar elicits a spike in insulin. Insulin causes cells in the liver, skeletal muscles, and fat tissue to take up glucose from the blood. In the absence of exercise, this is why excessive sugar intake leads to the storage of fat (and why chronic ingestion of sugar leads to insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus and death). This also explains why sugar as a controlled substance would be abused much like anabolic steroids. Post-exercise, the body will selectively shuttle ingested sugar directly to the muscles and not fat cells, giving athletes using sugar a distinct advantage over the competition. This is, of course, why I recommend drinking a 3:1 carbohydrate:protein supplement immediately post-workout; because sugar is a drug.

BONUS: Read this article if you want way too much information about the history and dangers of sugar.

If the health problems in North American continue to spiral out of control, maybe we will someday reach a point where sugar will be targeted by people much like tobacco has been targeted over the last few decades. In my opinion, our only hope would be for pharmaceutical companies to lead this charge (we would need their big money to go up against the cash of the fast food and beverage industries), because it is these pharma companies that could harness the power of sugar as a drug and turn a profit- which is the only way anything will ever change.

I mean, come on!

I mean, come on!

I’ve consumed my fair share of sugar over the years and continue to abuse the substance post-workout and on special occasions, but this is the mindset that needs to be shared by more people. We need to get over the idea that sugar is fine because it makes things taste so damn good. At the very least, we need to start looking at sugar much like we look at alcohol and tobacco; as an extremely damaging substance to the human body that should be limited as much as possible. Or we can continue to eat whatever is put in front of us and not ask any questions. That’s really worked out for us over the last few decades hasn’t it?

For more information on the horrifying dangers of sugar, or to tell me to calm down and eat a donut (mmmm…. donuts….), you know how to reach me!


Why Artificial Sweeteners Are The Worst

4 03 2013


I came across this article yesterday and became incensed. Here is another take on the subject. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may soon approve the use of aspartame in milk. Not only will it be approved, but it may not even be listed on the label!! It will make the healthy drink more appealing to kids they say. It will be lower in calories and therefore healthier they say. This, my friends, is an abomination. As I mentioned a few days ago, I like dairy products. Milk is arguably the single best form of nutrition in the world. And they now want to reduce the natural carbohydrates and inject it with chemical artificial sweeteners? Words cannot express the disgust I am feeling at this very moment.

I am. So. Very. Angry.

I am. So. Very. Angry.

What do we know about artificial sweeteners?

In general, sweeteners are much stronger than sugar, and therefore much smaller amounts of artificial sweetener is necessary to achieve a comparable level of sweetness. This is about the only positive- that there isn’t much chemical in a single serving of an artificially sweetened food.

More and more scientific studies are finding that consuming artificial sweeteners may actually increase weight gain and lead to obesity and disease. There are several hypotheses behind these findings. For one, studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can actually stimulate cravings for sweet and salty foods (ie, processed foods that make us fat).

Furthermore, since artificial sweeteners are so much more powerful than natural sugar, the glucose receptors in our bodies can become overstimulated by constant use of hyper-intense sweeteners and can limit tolerance for more complex tastes; sweet foods like fruit will become less appealing and things like vegetables will appear disgusting. In turn, more processed food will likely be eaten.



Dieters often irresponsibly rationalize that if they have a diet soda, they can eat another slice of pizza or cake, so they wind up overcompensating and eating too much. Artificial sweeteners have also been found to numb our sense of satiety, or feeling full. Is it a surprise that the prevalence of obesity has increased along with the use of artificial sweeteners? Sweet foods prepare the body for incoming calories, but when false sweetness isn’t followed by these calories, individuals appear to be driven to eat more.

We know that consuming too much sugar leads to health problems, mostly because sugar rapidly turns to glucose in the blood, causes an insulin spike, and is stored as fat unless used immediately for energy (exercise). Too much sugar for too long and people begin to develop insulin resistance, which is a precursor for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc. Artificial sweeteners therefore seem like a great thing, as they do not increase blood glucose levels. The problem, however, is that the human body is smart. We sense these fake sugars through the same mechanisms used to sense natural sugar. Much like our tongues sense the sweetness of the chemical being consumed, the digestive system and pancreas sense the same sweetness, telling the brain and body to get ready for some simple carbohydrates. Sweetness receptors in the pancreas activate insulin secretion. Any sweetener that sets them off, whether real or fake, can affect the development of insulin resistance and ensuing disease. The same receptor (typically set off by sugar) is therefore tripped and the body turns on the mechanism that causes the body to absorb more dietary sugar and potentially convert more of that energy to fat. Blood glucose does not elevate, but the result (insulin spike) remains the same.

This is the strategy being explored by the Dairy Industry.

This is the strategy being explored by the Dairy Industry.

Additionally, several mice studies have shown that non-nutritive sweeteners make mice more efficient at absorbing sugar from their diet; humans have the same setup for this. This basically means that if two identical people ate the same diet with the same number of calories, except one person drank diet soda and the other drank water, the diet soda drinker would take up more glucose from the diet than the water drinker. Have you ever met an overweight person who consumes a lot of diet cola? It is no coincidence. Overweight individuals who make the switch from regular soda to diet soda do not typically see any weight loss, and often gain more weight. (NOTE: This makes me think back to high school. One of my classmates always drank a bottle of diet cola first thing in the morning before class. She was one of the most overweight individuals in our class; this now makes sense. If we think hard enough, I’m sure we can all think of someone we know who fits this profile.)  Several more rat studies have found that rats fed artificial sweeteners gained more weight than rats fed natural simple sugar. The artificial sweetener group also ultimately consumed more calories, had bigger appetites and put on more body fat.

Are all sweeteners the same?

The FDA has approved several artificial sweeteners, including saccharin (Sweet’N Low), aspartame (Equal), neotame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda) and stevia (Truvia). They all have similar metabolic effects, but studies have shown that some react differently in the body than others. Aspartame is a bit of an anomaly, as several studies have shown that it does not induce a severe insulin spike like other sweeteners (despite the fact that the amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid, which make up 90 percent of aspartame, are known to rapidly stimulate the release of insulin), but several other studies have shown that people consuming aspartame are far more likely to gain weight:

Sugar alcohols (polyols) seem to be a middle ground between natural and artificial sweeteners. These include maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, etc., which are most often used to sweeten chewing gum and candy (and protein bars!). Though similar to sugar in some ways, they are not completely absorbed by the body (due to the alcohol part of their chemical structure), so they typically don’t have such a dramatic effect on blood sugar levels and have fewer calories:


Erythritol seems to be a good option, as you only have to use a bit more of the substance to reach the sweetness of sugar, and without any calories or effect on blood sugar. Again though, there has not been much research done on sugar alcohols and long-term health effects, but sugar alcohols are at least found naturally (derived from plants). They definitely appear to be a better option than artificial sweeteners, if you indeed need to go that route.

As you can tell, weight management is not as simple as calories in and calories out, as introducing our bodies to foreign substances like artificial sweeteners changes things dramatically. You may not be consuming as many calories, but you are encouraging your body to store as much fat as possible.

Other implications?

Aspartame has been linked to migraines and cancer. 75% of adverse reactions to food additives ranging from serious seizures to even death are to do with aspartame.  Monsanto, the producer of aspartame, makes significant contributions to the American Diabetes Association. Aspartame clearly seems to be the most dangerous of all artificial sweeteners. Whether or not these facts are 100% true, here is the bottom line: artificial sweeteners are not food. They fool the body and lead to nothing but undesirable results, both physically and physiologically. Since most artificial sweeteners have not been used for very long, we cannot fully know the long-term ramifications of regular ingestion. Simply put, they are unnecessary, and should be avoided. Much like the majority of the “food” on the market, we should not consume something simply because it is readily available and deemed by society to be an acceptable form of nutrition. Think for yourself, weigh your options, and take control over what you put into your body.

My recommendations?

Avoid artificial sweeteners. Limit your sugar intake. Drink lots of water.  If you can do these three things, you’ll have as much control over your weight as possible. It is actually as simple as that!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find out who is trying to pressure the FDA into allowing the use of aspartame in milk, and strike him/her right in the gullet.

Happy Monday!