Monday, September 13, 2010

Laurie's Lunch Tips

It’s back to school time, so it is time to get life back on track.
Even if you don’t have kids, or have kids who don’t go to school, doesn’t September always feel like more of a New Year than January? There have been a lot of articles lately on how to make a lunch that is interesting and nutritious for kids. I would like you to think about your lunch as well. What have you been having for lunch lately? If you go to work every day are you making good choices? If you are at home, are you actually eating lunch?

I find that most people want to buy processed foods for lunch. It seems a bit easier to cook up some chicken, veggies and grains for dinner, but if you don’t want leftovers what do you grab for lunch and snacks?

Here are my top 5 processed food choices to have in your lunch bag this fall.
Natural Selections Meats – These cold cuts from Maple Leaf Foods are good. I must admit I was doubtful, but looking at the ingredient list (Turkey, water, sea salt, vinegar, potato starch, lemon juice concentrate, cane sugar, cultured celery extract, spice, smoke) shows that it’s a pretty good choice for cold cuts. Without any preservatives like nitrites or nitrates, you can make a sandwich in good conscience. You can get these meats pre-packaged, or ask at your deli counter where they will slice them how you like it.

Cracker Barrel Cheese – This cheese is apparently made from milk with no antibiotics, no artificial preservatives and no artificial growth hormones. A little pricier than the other cheese, it is still a little cheaper than Organic cheese. Ideally it would be best to choose an organic cheese, but the cost of organic cheese is unfortunately often prohibitive for families.

Liberte Organic Yogurt – I wrote about yogurt on my blog and there you will find that my favourite brand is Organic Meadow plain yogurt. However, if you like to buy yogurt in a container, I recommend Liberte. It is made with organic milk and they do not add fillers like gelatin.
Sun-Rype Fruit Source Plus Veggie – This is a great snack to carry in your bag. There are many fruit leathers and bars coming onto the market now, but I find that they often contain glucose as well as glazing agents (because we want them to be shiny). The Sun-Rype brand is basic, pureed fruit, fruit and vegetable juices. Eating these with a handful of nuts makes a complete snack, but don’t think these will make up your vegetable content for the day, you still need our veggies.

Baby Carrots and Cherry or Grape Tomatoes – Okay, so they aren’t really processed, but these are great snacks that can be easily be packed into a baggie or small container. They are veggies and kids like them because they are cute! Also to consider packing, green beans, mini cucumbers and slices of red or orange peppers. Are you wondering how Baby Carrots have come to be? We sure didn’t have them when we were kids; click here to learn the True Story of Baby Carrots.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sweet, sweet sugar, making us fat!

We all love sugar. It makes everything taste better. But as we look at the obesity epidemic in North America, more and more research is pointing to sugar consumption as a major contributing factor. In the '80's everyone was convinced that fat was the culprit, after all it makes sense... fat makes us fat. However, that actually isn't true. A healthy fat feeds our brains, increases our immunity and keeps our joints lubed. Our body knows how to use real naturally sourced fat. To help fight obesity, food manufacturers took out all of the fat (& flavour) from our food and replaced everything with sugar. And we ballooned, and ballooned, and ballooned, also helping were large portion sizes and a feeling of entitlement to eat whatever we wanted, whenever we could.

So how does sugar make us fat?

The first thing you need to know is that excess sugar is stored as fat. I always struggle with how to make this complicated bodily process clear but here goes..

Imagine that in your body there is a small cup full of energy. This cup is very useful. When you need to run to the bus or catch your escaping toddler, the cup uses that energy to give your body the get up and go that it needs.

To fill the cup, your body uses sugar from your food. Whenever you eat a piece of cake or a piece of fruit, the sugar from that food goes into the cup.

It doesn't take much to fill the cup, and some things, like refined (white) carbohydrates fill it quickly, while whole grains, whole fruit and vegetables fill it slowly.

If the cup is full, but you are still eating and filling it with refined foods, the cup overflows. Also if you are eating refined foods, the cup fills faster and is more likely to overflow. Not one to waste anything, the body takes this overflow and turns it into fat and stores it for later (on the thighs perhaps?).

It takes about 25 minutes of intense exercise to empty the cup. When the cup is empty your body starts burning fat from other storage places on your body (hopefully your thighs!!!).

If you skip meals and the cup gets empty you might find that you become shaky, unable to concentrate, irritable and you crave something sweet and sugary. And you find if you eat something sweet, you feel much better. These are the symptoms of Hypoglycemia, an early indicator of Type 2 diabetes.

It is important to keep the cup full, but not overfill it. You can do this by eating small meals frequently. Make sure that your carbohydrates choices are from whole grains, real fruit (not juice) and vegetables. Try to avoid refined 'white' food, like white bread, muffins and cookies. Even white rice and white potatoes are culprits.

The moral of this story is that you need energy from whole carbohydrates to give your body the energy it needs. However, if you overeat or eat too many refined, sugary foods the excess sugar is stored as fat. To get rid of this fat you need to eat less and exercise more.

Here are my tips for avoiding excess sugar in your diet
  • Always choose foods that are as close to nature as possible. Once it is put into a box or bag, it loses nutrients. Usually extra sugar and other preservatives are added to make the food last longer.
  • Eat small meals frequently (every 3 hours).
  • Pair a protein with a carbohydrate to slow the absorption of the sugar in the carb.
  • Try and stay away from juice. When juice is made the fiber is removed, which speeds up the sugar absorption.
  • Choose whole grains like whole wheat, brown rice, whole rye and whole spelt.
  • Make sure your portion sizes are appropriate.
  • Remember that things like maple syrup, honey, raw sugar and sucanat are still sugar. They have a higher degree of minerals, but still are sugar and are recognized by the body as such.
  • Look for these words on your food labels... they mean sugar...!!!
  • Corn sweetener, corn syrup, or corn syrup solids, Dehydrated Cane Juice, Dextrose, Fructose, Fruit juice concentrate, Glucose, High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), Honey, Invert sugar, Lactose, Maltodextrin, Malt syrup, Maltose, Maple syrup, Molasses, Raw sugar, Rice Syrup, Sucrose, Syrup, Turbinado Sugar
Hey Doctors, physiologists and nutritionists out there. I know this is an oversimplification of how sugar is stored as fat, but I was hoping this would explain it well enough to make people think about their sugary food habits. I'd love your thoughts!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


There are a lot of 'Superfoods' these days. Everywhere you go you hear about the wonders of Acai, Goji, Carob, Salba; it's a whole new language at the grocery store!

So what are these superfoods? Generally a superfood is a food that is high in nutrients. It tends to be something new to our culture, but common in another culture. I always approach these new foods with caution, it's not that I doubt the efficacy, but I do believe that everything is good in moderation and that includes superfoods. I also find that doing research on these superfoods is difficult because often the only information to be found is from companies marketing the food. These foods almost always claim to be anti-oxidants and anti-aging; I would recommend that eating a diet high in all fruit and vegetables increases energy levels and overall health , resulting in a fresher, younger outlook on life!

So here's the low-down on a few 'new' superfoods...
Acai - (Pronounced "ah-sigh-ee") is a purplish berry, smaller and less pulpy than a grape. The berry is known as a 'drupe'. It is from the Brazilian Amazon where it is a large part of the diet of the Amazon inhabitants. The Acai berry is very high in antioxidants, higher than blueberries, and antioxidants fight the break down of cells, which helps to prevent cancer. It is purported to be anti-aging and energy-boosting.
A Good Source of: anti-oxidants, dietary fiber, iron, potassium, calcium and Vitamin A
Add Acai to your diet by: adding the juice to smoothies, soaking the berries and adding them to muffins or breads, eating the berries dry

Goji - (Pronounced "go-gee") is native to Europe and Asia and is also known as the Wolfberry. It is a bright orange-red berry that has beens tudied extensively in China, because of it's use in Chinese medecine for centuries. According to Chinese medecine the Goji berry is a 'tonic' that helps ease suffering if you have chronic conditions such as, ringing in the ear, dizziness, visual degenration, headaches, insomnia, liver disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, to name a few. It is an anti-oxidant, anti-aging fruit and strengthens your immune system.
A Good Source of: Potassium, Iron, Selenium, Vitamin B2, and Vitamin C
Add Goji to your diet by: eating the berries like raisins, making a tea, soaking the berries and adding them to muffins or breads.

Carob - (Pronouced "car-rub") has been used for centuries; the term "carat" comes from using a carob seed to measure diamonds. a one carat diamond is the equal in size to a carob as a measurement of weight equal to one carob seed. Carob is known as a chocolate substitute because it is free of caffeine and oxalic acid, but still has a chocolatey flavour. It also does not need additional sweetening (like cocoa), becasue carob is naturally sweet. You can find carob flour and carob chips to add to your food, it is also usually raw, so it is good for a raw foods diet.
A Good Source of: Fiber, Vitamin A, B2, B3, B6, Calcium, Magnesium. postassium, zinc and selenium
Add Carob to your diet by: Making my Carob Muffins! (recipe here!)

- (Pronounced "Sal-ba") is the branded name for the Chia seed. You know! CH-CH-CH-Chia! The Chia pet is the result of sprouting chia seeds, but you can eat shia seeds, Salba, before they are sprouted. These tiny seeds are similar to flax seeds; they are an amazing source of essential fatty acids, they can be used as a substitute for eggs in baking and they are great for regularity. Like flax seeds, if you put salba seeds in a glass of water and let them sit, they will form a gelatinous coating. This is great because in your body they absorb all of the bad things and help move them out of your body. This is fiber at it's best.
A Good Source of: dietary fiber, Omega 3, Copper, Magnesium, Managnese & Phosphorus
Add Chia to your diet by: adding ground chia to a smoothie, sprinkling the seeds over cereal, ora dding them to baked goods.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Go Green This St. Pat's!

St. Patrick's Day is on it's way and in the spirit of the 'Green, I'd like to tell you about dark green vegetables!

Visit my blog for my Sham*Rock* Smoothie recipe!

Dark green vegetables are in the superfood category. They are high in nutrients, are known to fight cancer. They protect the heart and bones and prevent birth defects. A great way to get more greens is to add them to tomato sauce, salads, soups or into a stir fry. Studies show that eating 3 or more servings of dark green vegetables a day have been shown to slow the mental decline associated with aging by 40%

Dark greens are a great source of many vitamins and minerals, here are the big ones...
Vitamin A - this nutrient protects against cancer, colds, flu, helps form strong bones and teeth and lowers cholesterol levels
Vitamin C - This enhances the immune system, protecting the body from infection, and produces anti-stress hormones.
Vitamin K - Essential for bone formation and repair, Vitamin K helps to prevent osteoporosis
Calcium - We all know how important Calcium is for strong bones and teeth. IT also lowers blood pressure and supports a healthy nervous system
Iron - The red blood cells produced by iron carries oxygen throughout the body providing energy and strong immunity
Folate - Truly brain food, folate is essential for pregnant women. It is needed for energy and red blood cell formation and prevents depression and anxiety

One serving of dark green vegetables is 1/2 C cooked or 1 C raw

Some of my favourite dark green vegetables are Spinach, Kale, Swiss Chard, Broccoli and Romaine Lettuce. Look up recipes on the net for some interesting ways to serve it up!

If you have a hard time getting your kids to eat greens, don't give up. Try and have it on the menu frequently. Becoming familiar with these vegetables will ensure your child will be happy eating them later, even if for a little while it gets pushed around the plate. Remember that you need to eat them too!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fat! Eat it or Leave it?

In honour of Valentine's Day, I thought I would take a look at heart health. To have a strong heart we have been told to reduce the amounts of 'bad' fats in your diet. This is true, but what constitutes a bad fat? I think this is where the information gets confusing. Thanks to science, many kinds of fat have been identified. Talk about confusing! Without getting too science-y, I will attempt to describe these fats and tell you the pros or cons of each.

Go here for my heart healthy Maple Molasses Cookie recipe!

Monounsaturated & Polyunsaturated Fats:
These fats are stable at room temperature but sensitive to light and temperature. They have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of stroke. Examples include olive oil, sunflower oil, peanut and other nut oils. These fats are generally unstable, so when buying this kind of oil look for cold pressed and oils stored in dark glass bottles. Cooking these fats will also cause them to break down, so cook your oils at low temperatures, but feel free to make salad dressing out of them!

Omega 3 & 6 Fat: Omega 3's are found in few foods: flax seeds, chia seeds (salba), hemp seeds, walnuts and cold-water fish. Omega 6 are found in lots of food: baked goods! To work properly a human needs a ratio of (Omega 3) 1:3 (Omega 6); but thanks to our love of baked goods our standard diet has a ratio of 1:10. Increasing your levels of Omega 3s by adding fish, hemp or flax oils to your diet will decrease your risk of health problems.

Saturated: This fat has gotten a bad rap, but science is showing that saturated fat is not as bad as previously thought. Saturated fat is predominantly found in animal products like meat and dairy. It is also found in coconut and palm oils. Saturated fat is important for cell integrity, increased immunity and calcium absorption. Look for products that are organic or come from grass-fed animals.

Trans Fat: This really is the bad guy. A completely man-altered fat, trans fat is caused by hydrogenation. Hydrogenation was seen as one of the greatest advances in food science because it increased the shelf life of processed food. The first trans fat was Crisco; shortening and margarine are the common trans fat culprits in processed food. I say stick with butter, it's natural. Look carefully at food labels, if you see the word modified or hydrogenated, even if the label says it is Trans Fat Free, it really is not. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, liver dysfunction and infertility have all been proven as 'side effects' of a trans fat diet.

Coconut Oil is something I use in some of my recipes, but I think that many people are confused about my recommendation. And no wonder, we've been told many times that coconut oil is very bad for us.
Is this true? Back in the day, coconut oil was used in a lot of processed food and popcorn at the movie theatre. But here's the thing... this coconut oil was modified. Modifying or hydrogenating coconut oil basically destroys the health benefits of this oil and makes it a trans fat.
Using an organic coconut oil, found in health food or Asian food stores is a great addition to your pantry. Coconut oil helps you burn fat, is antimicrobial and is beneficial to prevent and treat heart disease. For more science-y information on coconut oil, visit The Weston A. Price Organization and read some of Dr. Mary Enig's research.

A final note on Heart Health... The Heart and Stroke Foundation has a strong campaign at your grocery store. You may have seen the Health Check logo on processed food. Companies that want to include this logo on their food need to pay for this logo. They must meet the Foundation's nutrition guidelines, however these guidelines are not that strict. Currently the Foundation is looking into putting this logo on fast food created by McDonald's, Subway and Tim Horton's food. I was quite disappointed to learn about this. I always felt this logo was misleading, because a large corporation could easily afford to pay for this logo, resulting in people passing over potentially healthier food options created by companies who could not afford this kind of marketing. Now that they will be putting this logo on fast food, it shows how 'flexible' their nutritional standards truly are. To learn more about this and to send an e-mail to the Heart and Stroke Foundation protesting this campaign, please visit a new favourite blog of mine:

This picture is from and was taken at the Ottawa General Hospital. See the Heart Check logo? Wow! Who knew Slush Puppies were good for your health (insert sarcasm here please).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

It's a Newer Healthier Year. Right?

I hope that everyone is enjoying 2010. It is mid-January and I wonder how many of your resolutions are still on track? If you have fallen off of the health wagon already, don't be discouraged. While Jan. 1 is a great marker for starting new habits, you can take the steps towards a healthier lifetyle any day, any time! I have been resolving to get more organized since... well perhaps always?

Here are some tips to making 2010 a healthier year

Add variety to your diet - One of the biggest problems we have is our love of consistency. Look at your grocery list, do you buy the same food every week? This is actually a diet downfall. If you are always eating the same thing your body is not getting a variety of nutrition. Change up your bread or pasta. Try spelt bread or kamut pasta once in a while. These are small changes, but you will get a better nutritional bang for your buck. Eery time you eat something different you are getting different vitamins, minerals and increasing your overall health.

Organize your daytime meals - Lunches are sometimes the hardest to get together, and often people do not snack regularly. Make a commitment in the evening to make your lunch & snacks for the next day. Another alternative is to buy some groceries to keep in the fridge at work. It is important to eat every 2 - 3 hours, something small & something nutritious (not cookies!!!). Eating frequently ensures that your metabolism is working, burning off that excess from the holidays.

Store your food properly - After grocery shopping, store your food properly and conveniently. If you buy baby carrots for work, pack them up into baggies right away, so it is easy to grab & go. Wash your lettuce and store it so you can quickly make a salad. Storing your food properly and in the right portion sizes will help you make better choices throughout the week.

Try something new once in a while - A little different from adding variety, I really think that once in a while you should buy something that you have never tried before. If I hadn't taken a risk, I wouldn't know that I do NOT like Granadilla (Columbian fruit) but I really enjoy tomatillos. When cruising the produce aisles pick up something different, look up some preparation ideas on the net and give it a go!

Focus on the positive steps you have taken - We all live busy lives and sometimes our best intentions end up being just intentions, insted of actions. That's okay. Think about what has worked, determine why something may not have worked and try again!

May you, your friends and family have a wonderful 2010!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Happy Holiday Baking!

It's the holidays and I have set aside a day to bake up some goodies for the holidays. I have a few stand-bys that I make and I also try to incorporate some new treats every year. Some of my treats are healthy, but some aren't. This is the only time of the year when I have white flour and white sugar on hand. Perhaps I should make all healthy and wholesome goodies, but it is the holidays after all! Besides, I do have a few tricks I use to increase the health factor of some favourites.

This year I made these Apple Gingerbread Squares! I took two recipes from an old 'Christmas Baking' magazine and made a few changes to make the recipe my own. I encourage you to try the same. Click here for the recipe!

The basics ingredients for baking are flour, sugar and fat. Eggs, milk, spices and others will be added to change the consistency and flavour.

Flour - White flour is one of the worst things you can eat. It contains no nutrition; but it does make pastries and breads light and flaky. Both whole wheat and whole spelt flour is more nutritious than their lighter counterparts as all of the grain is intact. When I am substituting flour, I often use spelt flour. I use light spelt flour and whole spelt. Light spelt flour is refined like white flour, however it does dissolve in the body better as it is water-soluble, so you are more likely to get the little nutrition that is left in the flour. If you want to replace white flour you can use 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 whole spelt or 1/2 light spelt and 1/2 whole spelt. Increase the baking powder content by half if you are using spelt to ensure there is a bit more rise, as spelt does not rise as well as wheat.

Sugar - Sugar has no substitute! Actually we all love our sweets and there are alternatives to using sugar. Maple syrup, Stevia and agave nectar are all sweeteners found in nature and are good substitutes. Some amazing cooks have done terrific things with these sweeteners. If I am not willing to experiment, I will often decrease the amount of sugar by 1/3, or I will use Sucanat. Sucanat is dehydrated cane sugar and you can find it in your natural health store. All other sugars are the same; brown sugar, cane sugar, golden sugar. All sugar, no nutritional difference.

Fat - Oh the dreaded fat. Absolutely necessary for making pastries light and flaky and cookies mouth watering. I do not use shortening or margarine ever. Both are trans fat in a box, no matter what the label says. I recommend using butter or coconut oil. Butter is a natural source of dairy fat and, while it is fat, your body knows what to do with that natural source of fat. Coconut Oil has also gotten a bad name in the past. Research is showing that this all-natural fat, used in warm climates around the world, is actually a fat-burner and makes great pastry!

I wish you the best this holiday season. Eat good food (in moderation!) and enjoy the holidays with your family and friends. May 2010 bring you further happiness and health!