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There are many legitimate reasons to eliminate gluten from one’s diet, whether it’s due to celiac disease, sensitivity to gluten or other health concerns. Some people choose to avoid gluten in an effort to loose weight, although published scientific studies to date have not demonstrated that cutting gluten from the diet leads to weight loss.
Following a gluten-free diet is much easier nowadays than it was a few years ago. Stores are stocked with a multitude of gluten-free packaged food options, restaurants often offer several gluten-free dishes and recipes for gluten-free meals and snacks can be found quickly in books and on-line.
We’re often misled by labels and advertisements to think that just because a food is gluten-free means that it’s healthy. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. The food industry has been quick to respond to the increased demand for gluten-free products with a wide range of packaged foods that are highly processed and rich in calories, fat and sugar. A gluten-free cake, while gluten-free, is still a cake and should be seen not as a health food, but as an occasional indulgence.
Recently I came across a recipe posted on Facebook for Gluten and Carb-Free Pizza. It was touted as a “healthy” pizza. Basically, it was a regular pizza, complete with mounds of cheese and fat-laden toppings like pepperoni, but without the crust. My calculations revealed that one small slice (and who can eat just one?) contained 360 calories, 31 grams of fat, of which half was unhealthy saturated fat, and sodium equivalent to half of the maximum recommended daily intake. Armed with this knowledge, I’d certainly be hard pressed to call this pizza a health food!
If you’re choosing gluten-free foods and trying to loose weight, it’s important not to fall into what I call the Gluten-Free Trap. When considering gluten-free options at the grocery store, on a restaurant menu or in recipes, keep this in mind: it may be gluten-free, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you!
Following a gluten-free diet is often presented as an effective way to lose weight. We’ve all heard about people who have lost weight after going gluten-free.
What is the cause of the weight loss? Let’s take a closer look at what happens when people remove gluten from their diet. Refined wheat flour is a ubiquitous component of processed and packaged foods. So people who avoid gluten, whether by choice or necessity, also end up steering clear of these refined foods and, instead, load up their grocery cart with gluten-free whole grains, legumes, lean protein, fruit and vegetables. There is plenty of scientific evidence showing that people who eat a diet based on these whole foods are less likely to be overweight, but studies have yet to demonstrate that eliminating gluten from the diet leads to weight loss. Whole foods differ from processed and refined foods several important ways: they tend to contain fewer calories and are much richer in nutrients and fibre. High fibre foods quickly fill up the stomach and help us feel full with less food, while the nutrient dense foods also promote a feeling of satiety after eating. In turn, following a gluten-free diet consisting mainly of unrefined whole foods can lead to the consumption of fewer calories and result in weight loss.
Whether you’re looking to pursue a gluten-free diet or simply incorporate more whole foods into your diet, nature offers an enormous variety of ultra-nutritious options that are naturally gluten-free:
· Whole grains and pseudo-grains such as quinoa, brown rice, oats and millet.
· Fruit and vegetables, which are loaded with vitamins and minerals and other beneficial phytonutrients.
· Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans, all rich in protein and filling fibre.
The holiday season tends to be that time of year that we look forward to, yet dread at the same time. One common concern is how we are going to navigate our way through the many festive events and their bounty of tasty, calorie-rich treats -without sacrificing the healthy diet we’ve worked hard to establish throughout the year.
One of the best things we can do is to stay active. Although the cold weather might make it less appealing to venture outdoors, the snow does make for a multitude of fun activities. Great winter pursuits for kids and adults alike include making snowmen, tobogganing and skating. Another option is to boost your post-meal metabolism by taking a stroll with family or friends.
When attending social gatherings, ensure you have had a nutritious snack beforehand, so that you aren’t approaching the buffet with a ravenous appetite. Good choices include plenty of vegetables and lean source of protein, such as raw veggies and hummus or a filling salad with fresh greens and chicken. Secondly, be aware of liquid calories. Drinking calorie-rich beverages such as alcohol or egg nog can quickly add up. Limit your intake of these and fill up on water instead. Lastly, savour your food slowly and listen to your body. This is truly the best strategy to avoid overdoing it. By recognizing when you are no longer hungry and by respecting your tummy’s signals of fullness, you’ll know when it is time to put the fork down.
With the cooler weather upon us, we often crave the warmth and comfort of a nourishing bowl of soup. Making your own soup from scratch can be surprisingly quick and easy. In order to make the most of my time in the kitchen, I always make a large portion and freeze the rest for later use.
Homemade soup provides a wonderful opportunity to get in a few servings of vegetables. Add red lentils, chickpeas or other legumes to create a thicker texture and add a boost of protein and fibre. Some of my favourite options are puréed soups, like the tasty recipe shown below:
Carrot, red lentil and quinoa soup
6-8 large organic carrots, scrubbed
3/4 cup red lentils, rinsed
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground all spice
1 cup cooked quinoa (optional)
Put all ingredients, except for quinoa, in
medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots
are soft. Once cooled, transfer to a blender and
Transfer back to saucepan, add cooked quinoa and rewarm.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve warm with a drizzle of omega-3 rich hemp oil and a dollop of yogurt, if desired.
This recipe can be tailored to suit many taste buds – try experimenting with other spices, such as ginger or turmeric, for a new twist on the flavour.
Once life starts to settle back into a normal groove after busy summer holidays, the fall season provides a wonderful opportunity to get "Back to Health".
The key to success in achieving your autumn goals for healthy living lies in goal-oriented prioritizing and structured planning.
Think carefully about what you spend your time on during the day's 24 hours. At the same time, write down the goals you have for healthier living. This exercise will give you the opportunity to find periods of time that might be better spent on other activities. For example, you might discover that skipping your usual one hour of computer time in the evening frees up an entire 60 minutes to do yoga or prepare healthy lunches to take to work.
What do we do when we don't want to miss an important meeting or forget to drop the kids off at practice? We put it in our calendar. Use this same strategy for making sure you fit in energizing bouts of physical activity. If nothing else, book lunch meetings with yourself at least twice weekly and use that time to go for a brisk walk and enjoy the beautiful fall foilage.
Stock the fridge with nutritious options, so that healthy eating is the most convenient choice. Make your trips to the grocery store count by purchasing plenty of easily prepared vegetables like bell peppers, cucumbers and baby carrots, as well as dark leafy greens for delicious salads.
Employ the tips above and you'll be well on your way Back to Health!
As a holistic nutritionist, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is how to plan and pack healthy snacks for a busy lifestyle.
For those who lead hectic, always on-the-go lives, snacking is crucial for filling in the long gaps between meal breaks. If weight loss is a goal, fitting in nutritious snacks is especially important. We all know what happens when we let ourselves go for too long without eating… a ravenous hunger sets in and when we finally do eat, we tend to make poor food choices and overeat to the point of discomfort.
Arming yourself with a good supply of healthy snacks is the best way to avoid this pitfall. Here are a few tasty ideas that also travel well:
· Visit your local bulk food department and stock up on unsalted soy nuts, dried fruit and unsalted nuts. Try soy nuts with cranberries and pumpkin seeds and carry a small bag with you for a quick protein-rich snack.
· Many fruit and vegetables make a great portable snack. Try veggies like baby carrots, small cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. When packing softer fruits, put them in a hard-sided container to avoid discovering an inedible mushy mess at snack time.
· Mix up a healthy smoothie with plenty of greens and other goodness. Pour into a mason jar with a lid and take it to go.
· Avoid the excess sugar and other unwanted ingredients in most packaged granola bars by trying your hand at whipping up a homemade batch. Store in the freezer for a quick grab and go snack.
There is much buzz these days about the benefits of clean eating. Just what is clean eating, anyway? In short, clean eating involves avoiding junk food, processed and refined foods and treating our bodies to nutritious whole foods.
Read on for three tips on how to clean up your diet!
1. Choose foods in their
natural, whole form.
For example, instead of choosing a fruit flavoured yogurt full of added sugar and lacking in real fruit, pair a plain unflavoured yogurt with fresh berries. Instead of canned tomato sauce, whip up your own delicious pasta sauce with roasted tomatoes, fresh herbs and olive oil. The best place to find foods in their whole form is on the perimeter of the grocery store. The centre aisles tend to be stocked with processed foods.
2. Make fruits or vegetables
a part of every meal and snack.
Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Many vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, are low in calories, yet bursting with antioxidants and other nutrients. By filling up on these clean foods, you’ll have less room in your stomach for poor food choices!
3. When avoiding processed
foods is not possible, choose wisely.
Pick foods with the lowest number of ingredients possible. Avoid foods high in added sugar or with ingredients you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce.
For a great guidebook on how to navigate in today’s processed food world, I highly recommend Food Rules by Michael Pollan.
We’ve all heard that whole grains are good for us, but what is it exactly that they have to offer? Whole grains are a source of vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy fats and fibre – all nutrients that, for the most part, are stripped out of the grain during the refining process that leads to conventional flours. Ever notice how many breads and breakfast cereals are enriched with vitamins? This is an effort to replace the nutrients lost during the refining process. In order to ensure that you get all of the goodness of whole grains, it’s important to choose whole grains over refined flour products.
To reap the benefits of whole grains, experiment with delicious grains like quinoa, millet and brown rice and make the healthy substitutions listed below.
conventional bread for sprouted whole grain bread
Even bread labelled as “whole wheat” is actually made from refined flour. Look for the words “whole grain” or “whole grain flour” on the label. For optimal nutrition, choose sprouted breads (Silver Hills brand is widely available in Calgary).
Swap breakfast cereal for whole grains
Pick up a box of cereal and see what the first ingredients are – sugar is often among the top three. Avoid this added sugar and boost the nutritional punch of your breakfast with a bowl of oats, quinoa, teff or amaranth and top it with plain yogurt, berries and nuts.
Swap regular pasta for brown rice or whole wheat versions
Another tasty option is soba noodles, made from buckwheat.
For more information on whole grains, read the Whole grains = wholesome nutrition post.
Welcome to the third and final article in this series on how to discover your inner veggie-lover.
Tip # 3: TOSS ‘EM!
With spring officially upon us, nothing beats a freshly tossed salad. The wonderful thing about salads is the fact that countless delicious variations are possible!
When choosing greens, keep in mind that a darker color signals a greater nutritional value. Instead of nutrient poor iceberg lettuce, opt for dark leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, arugula or red/green leaf romaine. While raw kale can be bitter in taste and coarse in texture, massaging rinsed leaves with a bit of olive oil and salt until the leaves soften and darken transforms this nutritional hero into a tasty salad green.
· Add fresh herbs like parsley, basil, dill or cilantro.
· Toss in roasted vegetables, such as bell peppers, beets or asparagus.
· Throw in some fruit. Apples, pears, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries all make nutritious additions.
· Make it a meal by including a whole grain, such as cooked quinoa, and a protein source, such as chicken, hardboiled eggs, chickpeas or kidney beans.
· A sprinkle of feta, goat’s cheese, freshly shaved Parmesan or Gorgonzola can take your salad from mediocre to irresistible.
· Mix up your own fresh vinaigrette dressing using healthy oils like olive oil, hemp or flaxseed oil paired with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Add mashed garlic, grainy mustard or chopped fresh herbs for extra flavour. This simple option beats most store-bought dressings, which tend to be high in sugar and unhealthy fats.
Guaranteed crowd pleaser salad
This salad has become my go-to option for large gatherings and is always one of the most popular dishes. Simply toss the following ingredients and enjoy!
· Organic spinach or mixed baby greens
· Chunks of feta or goat’s cheese
· Fresh berries: blueberries, blackberries, strawberries or raspberries
· Chopped avocado
· Vinaigrette dressing made with 1 part balsamic vinegar to 3 parts extra virgin olive oil
· Salt and pepper
In the second part of this series focusing on transforming vegetables from boring to mouth watering, we explore yet another way to awaken your inner veggie-lover!
Tip # 2: DIP ‘EM!
Pairing fresh vegetables with a tasty dip is a great way to trick yourself into eating more veggies!
Store bought products often contain many unnatural and unnecessary ingredients. Creamy dips can be particularly high in fat and calories. Fortunately, whipping up your own dips is easier than you might think! Read on for two base recipes that can be modified in numerous ways to satisfy your taste buds.
1 15 oz. can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Using a small food processor or immersion blender, puree until smooth. If the mixture is too dry, add water, olive oil or plain yogurt in small amounts until the desired consistency is reached.
Hummus can be made in countless variations:
· For extra flavour, add 1-2 cloves minced garlic, roasted red peppers, ground cumin or fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro or rosemary.
· Try other types of beans, such as kidney or navy, or use a can of mixed beans.
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
2 tsp dry herbs or 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh herbs
1 tbsp finely chopped green onion
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
Experiment with different variations of this versatile dip:
· Make it spicy with a few drops of hot sauce, or a sprinkle of paprika or cayenne, added in small amounts to taste.
· Add a pureed avocado for extra creaminess.
· Substitute the green onion for chives, garlic or red onion.
· Try different herbs, like parsley, oregano dill, cilantro, rosemary or basil.
These two tasty dips provide a great excuse to eat plenty of raw vegetables, such as mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, zucchini sticks, radishes, carrots, bell peppers, cauliflower and broccoli. Encourage yourself eat more of this healthy indulgence by following these three recommendations:
· Keep a large portion of washed and cut vegetables handy in the fridge for a ready-to-eat snack.
· Try swapping out the side salad at dinnertime once in a while for a platter of crispy veggies and a homemade dip.
· For a healthy and filling portable lunch, pack a serving of dip, along with a selection of vegetables and a handful of whole grain crackers.
Check out my blog next month to see the third and final tip for boosting vegetable intake. Until then, happy dipping!