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The Top 4 Things to Know About Probiotics

If you haven’t already heard about probiotics they’re the tiny, “friendly” bugs that support a balanced and healthy gut. What you may not know is that their benefits go well beyond gut health!  Your body is full of both good and bad bacteria, and when this delicate bacterial balance is out of whack, probiotics may be your most powerful ally to help restore your intestinal ecosystem.

1.    There are multiple sources. Whether through yogurt, fermented foods (e.g., kombucha and kefir), or supplements, there are ways to recolonize your gut with good bacteria. However, it’s important to note that not all these sources are equally reliable. Make sure you choose a probiotic source that is strain-identified with clinically demonstrated benefits.

2.    They contribute to your microbial flora. The microbiome is the genetic material of all microbes—bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses—that live on and inside the human body. The bacteria that contribute to your microbiome are essential to your health, development, immune function, and nutritional status.

3.    70% of the immune system is found in your gut. Oftentimes, a gut imbalance can lead to other kinds of health concerns. Probiotics can help support a healthy immune system.

4.    Probiotics influence more than just gut health. And this list runs long. Good bacteria can positively influence nasal, sinus, and respiratory health; immune system health; gastrointestinal health; your ability to absorb nutrients; digestive comfort; vaginal and urogenital health; and weight management. With all the benefits probiotics have to offer, there are many reasons to consider probiotic supplementation.

Metagenics has a variety of probiotics specifically targeted for particular health conditions.  If you live in the Calgary/Cochrane area and interested in ordering, I will be happy to provide you with information on which probiotic will be best suited for you.     

Top 5 Foods To Help Digestion & Reduce Bloating

1. Ginger
Ginger is your belly’s new best friend. Slice it up and throw it in some hot water, toss it into an iced beverage or simply chew on a piece. Ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory and has been used for centuries as a digestive aid helping to alleviate gas, bloating, nausea and indigestion. Next time you start to feel the bloat coming on, grab some ginger and melt that digestion tension away.

2. Mint
Mint is a classic summer herb. Although it is often used to make summer-time mojitos, this fresh garden herb has medicinal properties. Mint actually has muscle-relaxing abilities and can reduce indigestion and belly spasms. The best use of mint to prevent bloating is to steep it in tea. Unfortunately, drinking it with alcohol may actually exacerbate your stomach pain, so try to decrease your intake those delicious minty drinks.

3. Fennel Seed
Similar to ginger, fennel or anise seed has been used for many, many years to prevent digestive issues like bloating. In India, many people actually chew on fennel seeds after a rich meal to aid digestion. Fennel seed will also freshen up your breath, while eliminating stomach cramping, gas and bloating.

4. Lemon
When your tummy needs aid, make lemonade! Adding ginger, mint or even lavender to lemonade will help to enhance your digestive ability and prevent bloating and pain. Lemons actually stimulate digestive juices in your body, enhancing your body’s ability to digest nutrients. Don’t feel like making this sweet summer drink? Squeeze one quarter of a lemon in a glass of water and drink up!

5. Parsley
Parsley is the most commonly used herb in cooking. It is also a diuretic (helps to increase the loss of water and salt from the body) and excellent for helping to prevent and overcome gas and bloating. Steeping parsley with your tea is the best way to eliminate bloating and reduce excess water weight. For an added bonus, it will also freshen up your breath.

How to Identify “Hidden” Sweeteners

The ingredient list often shows sugar in a variety of forms in processed foods.  Knowing how to read the ingredient list is helpful since ingredients are listed in descending order by weight from most to least.  Make sure that those ingredients you want more of (such as whole grains) are listed first and that those you want less of are toward the end of the list.

Some common names for added sweeteners include:

Brown Sugar                                                      Agave Nectar                                     Maltitol

Can Sugar                                                            Fruit Juice Concentrates               Xylitol

Corn Syrup                                                          Glucose                                              Molasses

Dextrose                                                              High-Fructose Corn Syrup            Maple Syrup

Evaporated Cane Juice                                   Honey                                                   Sucrose

Fructose                                                               Lactose

Body Composition is More Than Just Your Weight

Body weight alone (what the scale says) is not a definitive assessment of body composition.  Even after losing weight, you might still have too much body fat.  Just because you look thin doesn’t mean that you are healthy!

This occurs when the weight you lose comes predominantly from muscle and not from fat – producing an unhealthy body composition.  Having excess fat on the inside but looking normal on the outside may result in disease risks that are similar to those who appear overtly overweight.  Where fat accumulates also impacts the degree of risk.  Excess fat that is concentrated near the waist – a condition generally referred to as central adiposity or an “apple” shape, greatly increases the risk of disease.

There is no single cause of an unhealthy body composition.  Excessive fat accumulation can result from an imbalance between the calories your take in and the calories your burn; lack of physical activity; lifestyle influences such as a high fat, high sugar diet; overeating; excess alcohol intake; chronic use of corticosteroids; hormone imbalance; and other metabolic factors.  The First Line Therapy Program has the clinical evidence of its effectiveness.

We focus on a healthy body composition not just the number on the scale.

Fresh or Frozen Fruit & Veggies – What’s best

This is a question that comes up from time to time. 

Foods with high amounts of vitamins B and C are best fresh because the vitamins are water-soluble, meaning they’re usually dissolved in food processing. In the fresh produce section, go for bell peppers, citrus fruits, cabbage, and berries. 

Studies suggest frozen veggies have just as many nutrients as (if not more than) their fresh counterparts.  Foods that are best frozen are those with high amounts of fat-soluble nutrients, like vitamin A, carotenoids, and vitamin E, because they’re more stable during food processing and storage (like blanching and freezing).

So when hitting the frozen aisle, go for carrots, leafy greens, and broccoli.  Boiling or steaming some veggies (like broccoli and carrots) may actually boost levels of free radical-trapping antioxidants and phytochemicals like carotenoids and polyphenols. 

The best bet for getting the most nutritional value out of cooked veggies is to go easy on the temperature and cooking time.  Ideally cook with little to no water.  

Personally my preferred cooking methods are steaming and sauté.

Processed Foods Containing Artificial Food Colours and Dyes

Did you know that more than 3,000 food additives, preservatives, flavourings, colours and other ingredients are added to  foods?  Based on research showing the hazardous impact on health especially regarding negative effects on children’s behaviour, many of these have been banned in other countries.  For example, as reported in the featured article:

“Boxed Mac-n-Cheese, cheddar flavoured crackers, Jell-O and many kids’ cereals contain red 40, yellow 5, yellow 6 and/or blue 2, the most popular used dyes in the United States. Research has shown this rainbow of additives can cause behavioural problems as well as cancer, birth defects and other health problems in laboratory animals. Red 40 and yellow 6 are also suspected of causing an allergy-like hypersensitivity reaction in children. The Centre for Science in the Public Interest reports that some dyes are also “contaminated with known carcinogens.”

In countries where these food colours and dyes are banned, food companies like Kraft employ natural colourings instead, such as paprika extract, beetroot, and annatto.  Where it’s banned: Norway and Austria. In 2009, the British government advised companies to stop using food dyes by the end of that year. The European Union also requires a warning notice on most foods containing dyes.

The grocery stores are full of processed and refined foods that have chemical preservatives and offer very little nutritional value.  If you can’t pronounce the ingredient you shouldn’t consume it.  Keep it simple, nourish your body with a whole food based diet.

Importance of Plant-Based Nutrition

Did you know that chronic disease has been attributed in part due to a diet dominated by processed foods and animal based foods? Overconsumption of meat, oils, dairy, soda, eggs, sugar, salt and refined grains. Researchers have shown that a plant-based diet may help prevent, treat or even reverse some of our leading causes of death. This includes heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Following a plant-based diet can also improve digestion, increase energy, improve sleep, significant improvement in physical functioning, general health, vitality and mental health. Studies have shown plant-based eating can not only improve body weight, blood sugar levels, and ability to control cholesterol, but also emotional states, including depression, anxiety, fatigue, sense of well-being and daily functioning. Only one way of eating has ever been proven to reverse heart disease in the majority of patients: a diet centered around whole plant foods and eliminating oils/fats. If that’s all a whole-food, plant-based diet could do—reverse our number-one killer—shouldn’t that be the default diet until proven otherwise? The fact it may also be effective in preventing, treating, and arresting other leading killers seems to make the case for plant-based eating simply overwhelming.

Excess Sugar, Dairy & Alcohol

What you put in your body has a direct impact on your health.

Most of us are aware that sugar in all forms can lead to health problems like: weight gain, lowered immunity, blood sugar problems, diabetes, acidic blood, adrenal fatigue and candida. Too much sugar, dairy and alcohol not only contributes to a number of health conditions but also affects our skin.  Excess sugar in the bloodstream causes the formation of harmful molecules that bind with protein and selectively target collagen.  This leads to wrinkles, sagging skin and even acne.

With regards to dairy, many people lose the enzyme that breaks down lactose as they age.  This can cause inflammation which manifests as redness and saggy skin.  Dairy is highly acidic, despite it containing calcium that acts as an alkaline agent by nature. Milk is rich in natural acids that can cause calcium deposits to build up and potentially cause arthritis and long-term inflammation. It also doesn’t necessarily keep our bones strong as we once believed. Most plant-based foods do a much better job (such as chard, kale, almonds, figs) and don’t contribute to chronic inflammation.

And last but not least, alcohol… Too much alcohol, just like too much sugar, affects our kidneys, liver, stomach and small intestines, which explains some of what is happening in your body. Dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal disturbances and disruption of sleep are some of the results. Excess alcohol also results in dehydration and can accentuate wrinkles.  It causes enlarged blood vessels as well as dilated capillaries, making the face look red and flushed.  Remember, the key is moderation!

Skipping Meals

In order to lose weight, we must cut calories from our diet. Does this mean that skipping meals and cutting even more calories can help us lose weight even faster?

Consistently skipping meals will lead to a low metabolism and will cause you to gain fat. In many cases you’ll be famished and end up overeating at the next meal.
Your metabolism is the process that’s responsible for burning fuel and keeping the body in proper working order. When your body gets food it typically digests it quickly. This time is desired by people who are trying to lose weight because the body is using fat stores to burn the food that has been digested. However, after the food has been digested, the metabolism goes into a kind of “sleep mode.” This means that the body is not burning as many calories. The longer you wait between meals the more time your body will be in this sleep mode and the fewer calories you will burn. Eventually, if you chronically skip meals, your body will get used to being inactive, and it will slow to a crawl, resulting in significant weight gain.

Focus on eating high quality whole foods that will keep your blood sugar stable. Space your meals and snacks approximately 3 hours apart. This will have a positive effect on your hormones which will lead to a consistently strong metabolism. Your body will burn fat more efficiently and you will maintain lean muscles. Remember, you can’t starve a fat cell.

Preparation and always being ready no matter what the situation is the key to eating enough food to sustain a healthy metabolic rate and shrink your fat cells. The key to avoiding skipping meals is planning, preparation, and an excellent program!

Weight Loss Motivation Tip

I’ve been specializing in weight loss and nutrition in Calgary and Cochrane for almost 10 years. At times it can be very difficult for people to stay on track with their goals. First and foremost be please be patient. One of the biggest motivation busters is the dreaded weight loss plateau. You’ve been doing everything right, exercising and eating well, and the numbers on the scale have been steadily dropping. Then suddenly nothing and the scale doesn’t move for several days in a row. Please understand that this is perfectly normal so no need to be discouraged. Congratulate yourself on the success you’ve had so far.

A plateau at… some point is a natural part of the weight loss process. When you hit a plateau, you may try something slightly different to jump-start things. Commit yourself to expending an extra 100 calories a day with walking or some other form of physical activity. Keep a food log to ensure you’re staying on track with your eating. You may want to cut out dairy or grains for a week. You’ll be surprised with how effective a couple of small changes will make and soon you’ll be back on course!