Halloween is only a few days away, and because it is my favourite holiday I have decided to write another Halloween related blog. Last week I wrote about candy, chocolate and chips and some strategies to help keep your intake under control. This week I am going to take a different approach and write about one of the most prominent symbols of Halloween. Pumpkin. A pumpkin is more than jack-o-lantern, the head for the headless horseman or a carriage for Cinderella. Pumpkins are nutritious a food….a member of the squash family to be specific. While pumpkins are readily available for purchase, many of us do not include pumpkin in our diets. It is time many of us give eating pumpkin a try. I am not talking about the pumpkin flavouring found in a pumpkin latte or the traces of pumpkin found in some retail muffins and cookies. I am talking about foods where pumpkin is a major ingredient.

Pumpkin is rich in beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A), a source of fibre and vitamin C and is naturally low in fat. Pumpkin in nutrient dense, with less than 50 calories per half cup. Ontario is a major producer of pumpkins and they are generally quite inexpensive at this time of year. Pumpkin is available fresh, where the flesh can be boiled and drained, or canned without any additives.

Pumpkin is a great addition to muffins or cookies, making them soft and nutritious. Try a bowl of warm pumpkin soup on a cool fall day or add pumpkin to casseroles. The mild taste of pumpkin goes well with a number of spices such as nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, allspice or even ginger.

If you are someone who craves crunchy snacks, try roasting pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds are rich in protein and are also a source of fibre and iron. Season the seeds to suit your tastes. If you like spicy, try cayenne pepper and/or chili powder with garlic powder. If you prefer something sweet, try brown sugar and cinnamon on the pumpkin seed.

Canada’s Food Guide recommends Canadians eat at least one orange vegetable per day and also recommends we eat a variety of foods. Consider adding pumpkin to your day and have a Happy Halloween!


Halloween is coming!

Halloween is just over a week away and Halloween candy has been on the store shelves for over a month already.   If you haven’t eaten any yet, you are off to a better start than a lot of people.  Canada’s Food Guide suggests we limit foods high in calories, sugar, fat or salt therefore it is important that we exercise moderation when eating Halloween treats. Toffee, candy, chocolate, chips . . .regardless of the Halloween treat you choose, most are filled with sugar, fat, salt or all three.  Calories from candy, chocolate, or chips are often called empty calories because they provide energy but provide very few vitamins and minerals.  When you are choosing your Halloween treats here are a few tips to help you.

Look for a treat that does not contain trans fat. Trans fat can increase the risk of heart disease.  Be sure to read the label and avoid products with trans fat.

Limit the variety.    Do not buy bags with an assortment of treats.  Research has shown when people are presented with a variety they tend to eat more.  You are more likely to eat one of each.

Decide the number of treats you will have.  Many people believe they will eat less because the Halloween candies or chocolate bars are small, but you can easily lose count and end up eating more than if you had a large chocolate bar or bag of candy.

Keep the package of the Halloween candy out of sight. If the candy is in a bowl on display, you are likely going to eat more candy throughout the day.  Remember out of sight, out of mind.

Look for empty calories you can eliminate in your day. For example, in order to have 20 small jellybeans, consider giving up 3 teaspoons of sugar from your coffee or tea throughout the day or give up ½ can of soft drink.

Have fun this Halloween, but be sure to exercise moderation when it comes to Halloween treats.

The whole grain?

Whole grain?  Whole wheat?  Multigrain?  Do you find yourself asking “What is the difference?” or “Which should I choose?”  If you do, then you are not alone.  To be clear right from the start, choose “whole grain” because neither “whole wheat” nor “multigrain” necessarily mean the product contains whole grains in Canada.  Whole wheat, for example, can have much of the wheat germ removed therefore you can not be sure the whole grain was used.  Multigrain simply means there are parts of multiple types of grains but it does not necessarily mean any or all of the grains are whole grain.  The only way to be sure if what you are eating is whole grain, is to look for “whole grain” on the package.  Ingredients are listed from most to least (by weight), so make sure whole grain (followed by the name of a grain) is the first or second ingredient in the list.

Whole grains are made up of three parts:  the bran, the germ and the endosperm.  The bran is the outer part of the grain that contains most of the fibre along with B vitamins and minerals including iron and magnesium.  The germ is the fatty part of the grain which contains healthy fats, vitamin E and antioxidants.  The endosperm is the largest part of the grain which is rich in carbohydrates and is generally the part of the grain used in refined grain products.   So why choose whole grains?  The whole grain is packed with vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fibre .  Whole grains have been linked with better health including weight control, heart health, and better gastrointestinal health.  So next time you are choosing a grain product, challenge yourself to follow Canada’s Food Guide’s recommendation to “Make at least half of your grain products whole grain each day.”  There are a vast number of grains to choose from.  You can stick with the usual whole grain wheat, whole oats and rye or you can expand you horizons and try quinoa, spelt, bulgur or amaranth.  Just remember to look for the words “whole grain” before the name of the grain on the ingredient list.

If you are looking for more information on whole grains refer to the Health Canada Website http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/whole-grain-entiers-eng.php

Chewing the fat…

Is all fat bad?  We often see products promoted as healthy because they are fat free, despite their high sugar content, high percentage of refined white flour or high sodium content.  This kind of marketing certainly makes fat seem bad, but the fact is, not only is all fat not bad, we actually need fat in our diet.  Without fat we can suffer from a fatty acid deficiency which can include symptoms such as skin lesions, vision problems and neurological problems.   The Dietary Reference Intake Committee recommends that 20-35% of the energy in our diet come from fat.  This means someone who eats approximately 2000 kcalories a day, should include 44 – 78 grams of fat per day.  Someone who eats 3000 kcalories per day should include 67-117 grams of fat per day.

While we do need fat in our diet, the types of fat we include are important.  We should strive to include sources of omega-3 fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats in the diet, while limiting saturated fats and trans fats.  Canada’s Food Guide helps to put this information into practical terms by recommending that we include a “small amount – 30 to 45ml (2 -3 Tbsp) – of unsaturated fat each day”  Canada’s Food guide encourages us to “choose vegetable oils such as canola, olive and soybean” and “limit butter, hard margarine, lard and shortening. “   Canada’s Food Guide also recommends we have two servings of fish per week to help obtain adequate omega 3 fatty acids.  So in summary, it is fine to drizzle some olive oil on your pasta, salad or bread and it is okay to roast your potatoes using a small amount of canola oil and rosemary.  You can even bake your fish using canola oil, lemon juice and dill.  The key is choosing these healthful fats and monitoring the amount you use.

Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.  Health Canada, 2007.

Eating and drinking has a very social element to it and sometimes this may include alcohol. It is important that if you are going to drink alcohol that you do so responsibly. You often hear alcohol in moderation may have heart health benefits, but it is important to also know alcohol in excess is linked to many health problems including alcohol related injuries, liver disease and various types of cancer. Nutritionally speaking, alcohol is not a nutrient and consumption in excess can lead to vitamin deficiencies including folate, thiamin and vitamin D deficiency. Excess alcohol consumption can also damage the liver, limiting and eventually preventing the liver from performing many of its functions.

If you do choose to drink alcohol, aim to minimize the risk. The low risk drinking guidelines by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health suggest that “no more than two standard drinks on any one day.” Furthermore it is recommended that women limit their weekly consumption to 9 standard drinks and men to 12 standard drinks. Of course the size of the drink matters. A standard drink is 5 oz of wine, 12 oz of beer or 1.5 oz of 40% spirits. These low risk guidelines have been endorsed by many organizations including the Ontario Public Health Association and the Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health.

If you are in a social situation where alcohol is served, here are some tips to help control your consumption.

  • Try non-alcoholic substitutes like non-alcoholic beer or virgin drinks.
  • Be sure to have a non-alcoholic drink between alcoholic ones.
  • Mix weak drinks rather than strong ones.
  • Participate in activities like dancing, darts or foosball rather than sitting and drinking
  • Allow at least an hour between alcoholic beverages
  • Be sure to arrange safe transportation to get home

Remember to have fun and drink responsibly.

The low-risk drinking guidelines can be found at the following link http://www.camh.net/About_Addiction_Mental_Health/Drug_and_Addiction_Information/low_risk_drinking_guidelines.html


Sorry for the delay between postings. I completed a video post last week but due to some minor technical challenges, I am not yet able to post it. I will keep working on it but for now I will get back to the written word. Thanks for waiting. Jeffrey

Remembering Balance!

It is hard to believe that summer break is officially over and the school year has started again.  For many, this means no more healthy meals cooked by Mom and Dad and it is now time to fend for yourself.  The many hours of classes and studying can often make it tempting to skip meals or make poor choices with convenience foods.  Don’t let yourself fall into this trap.  Even with a busy schedule it is important that you still make the best nutrition choices you can.  A healthy diet helps to keep your body healthy thereby allowing you to be at your best both at work and in your studies.

One of the easiest ways to help ensure your meals are healthy is to have the right balance of foods on your plate.  A simple trick can easily be applied to your lunches and suppers whether you pack your meals to go, eat them at home or eat at the dinning hall.  The first step to a balanced meal is to fill half of your plate with vegetables. By putting vegetables on your plate first, you can help ensure you meet the recommended daily number of servings of vegetables and fruit according to Canada’s Food Guide.  Filling half your plate with vegetables also helps you to control the portion of meat and starches on your plate.  Next, keep starchy foods to about one quarter of your plate, choosing whole grains frequently.  Lastly, complete your plate with a protein rich food on the remaining quarter.  When selecting your proteins, remember to choose legumes and fish often.  If you are choosing meats or poultry, be sure the cuts are lean and trim off visible fat.  By dividing your plate up this way, you can be sure your meals are balanced.   Even with a balanced meal however, do not forget about variety.  There are a wide array of vegetables, whole grains and protein sources available to us, so be sure to mix it up as often as you can.  To complete your meal have a glass of milk or soy milk, and a piece of fruit for dessert.

If you are having trouble picturing the plate described above, imagine asparagus and carrots covering half a plate, with a piece of salmon on one quarter and wild rice on the remaining quarter.   Try a grilled chicken breast or pork chop with a small baked potato and half a plate of steamed cauliflower and broccoli.   For a simple meal, have tuna salad or chicken on a whole grain pita with half a plate of cut up celery, carrots and cherry tomatoes.  If you are looking for a vegetarian option, a kidney bean dish, paired with quinoa and a spinach and beet salad would be great.   As you can see, the possible food combinations on the plate are endless but the proportions on the plate stay the same.  Be creative!