Child-Feeding Expert and Victoria BC Dietitian (Dietician Nutritionist) Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD Shares The Potential Of Food to Benefit Physical Health and Mental Health.Read More
OK, so you’ve heard me (and others) talking about how beans and lentils are super healthy. And you’d love to eat them more often. There’s only one thing holding you back – the aftereffects. Gas. Bloating. Beans ‘musicality” if you will. You’re not alone. Read on to get how to make beans and lentils less gassy.
Adding lentils and beans to your diet is a great way to provide your body with protein, fibre, and micronutrients such as iron, folate, and other B vitamins, all at a minimal cost. They are versatile ingredients, fitting into many different dishes, are gluten-free, and have a low glycemic index to boot.
What’s not so great is later in the day when that hearty chili turns into uncomfortable gas or bloating. While an undesirable consequence of a delicious meal, it’s important to keep in mind that this is actually a sign that your digestive tract is healthy and functioning as it should!
The gas is caused by the good bacteria found in our gut. Beans and lentils contain specific types of carbohydrates, and particularly fibre, that our body doesn’t have the ability to digest. As a result, it passes through our digestive tract until it reaches the bacteria in our large intestine, which happily eat up what our bodies couldn’t, and in doing so produce gases. These gases build up until our body has to deal with it and, well, you know the rest. So while passing wind is a good indication of healthy gut bacteria, it’s not so good when Aunt Ruth is sitting beside you at the dinner table.
So to help you continue to cook without worry:
Tips to Make Beans and Lentils Less Gassy:
- Rinse before cooking. Rinsing canned beans and lentils helps reduce the amount of those indigestible carbohydrates, which are released into the water. As an added bonus, it also helps remove any excess sodium. Rinse your beans and lentils under cold water for at least 1 minute to reap these benefits.
- Even better, soak them overnight. If you’re using dried beans or lentils, soaking them in cold water does the same thing that rinsing does, but because they are dry and uncooked, it takes a little longer to get the same effect. Aim to soak your beans or lentils for at least 4 hours, and preferably overnight. Dump the soaking water (i.e. don’t use it to cook the beans). Then be sure to give your beans/lentils a good rinse before cooking to wash away those gas-producing carbohydrates.
- Introduce them slowly. This can be particularly helpful if you’re introducing beans or lentils to your kiddos, but it’s also helpful if you find they tend to make you particularly gassy. By using beans and lentils in small amounts first, it gives your gut bacteria time to adjust to their increase in food supply, instead of overwhelming them with the feast of their lives. Then slowly increase your consumption and you’ll find your body has a better time dealing with it, which means less flatulence for you!
- Call in the reinforcements. If all else seems to fail and you’re still struggling with an uncomfortable amount of gas, digestive enzymes can be called in to help. Sold over-the-counter, look for supplements that contain the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, which breaks up the indigestible carbohydrates and helps ease the digestive process. One brand name is Beano. All of us can use a little extra help from time to time.
Try these tips the next time you’re cooking with beans or lentils and see how they work for you. Happy bean and lentil eating!
Ready to give beans and lentils a try? Check out my recipes.
A BIG THANK YOU to guest co-author (and student) Tanya Ruscheinski!
I’m often asked my opinion about what vegetable is the healthiest. I also hear the “best-Mommy” contest that happens on the playground where each parent tries to one-up each other bragging about what weird & healthy veggie their child loves. It goes something like this:
“My Johnny loves carrots.”
“MY Suzie loves broccoli.”
“WELL, MY Nicolas loves kale.”
“Guess what. MY Olivia loves Brussels sprouts. Eats them like candy. Can’t get enough of them.”
You get the picture.
I understand why people ask me about veggies. And why parents feel pressured. The amazing powers of specific vegetables often are the subjects of headlines. It makes a great sound-bite. It’s a great way to sell newspapers & magazines.
But as is often the case, that which makes a great sound-bite isn’t always what’s true. Because it’s been pulled out of context, the sound-bite ends up being only partly-true.
Science’s understanding of exactly what it is in veggies that’s so good for us is crude. We’re constantly learning of new healthy nutrients. For example, when I was studying human nutrition as an undergraduate in the late 1990’s, I was taught that white veggies didn’t have any healthful substances. They may provide flavor and crunch, but they were nutritional zeros. However, we now know that onions, garlic, and their other cousins such as leeks, have healthful nutrients like antioxidants.
While science is constantly discovering new nutrients, what’s found again and again (and again) is that the people who eat the most veggies are the healthiest. Period.
I also like to balance current science with the tried-and-true. And, when I look at traditional diets around the world, I see that human beings have survived and thrived eating all sorts of plant foods.
Let me be clear. I’m not denying that dark green veggies (like kale) and brightly-coloured veggies (like carrots and purple cabbage) are really healthy. They’re fantastic choices! What I’m saying is to not consider veggies such as cucumber and celery as empty junk. While they’re today’s zeros, who knows if they will be tomorrow’s super-stars. And, they’re healthier than most processed foods which kids typically eat if they’re not eating veggies.
So don’t stress if your picky eater doesn’t like today’s super-star veggies.
When it comes to veggies, it’s about quantity. And, variety.
Instead of relying on the magic of any one vegetable (and trying to force your picky eater to eat it), enjoy a wide variety of veggies. Introduce your little one to many different veggies (and repeat those introductions, and repeat, and repeat…). Be a veggie variety role model yourself. Encourage your little one to enjoy the wide, wide world of veggies in all colours of the rainbow. Together explore all the different tastes and textures.
And celebrate when your little one eats ANY veggies - whether it’s kale chips or that French Breakfast radish that the Farmer convinced him to try at Saturday’s Farmers Market, or…
So, what’s my answer when I’m asked what’s the healthiest vegetable? Answer: The one that you’ll eat (because it doesn’t matter how healthy any veggie is – if you won’t eat it – it can’t do you any good).
Photo credit: Keenan Loo on Unsplash
This is a delicious way to include lentils in your diet. I mean, who doesn't like pizza?!
Note that if you have picky kids, don't call this pizza. Because while the crust is delicious, it does taste different than regular pizza crust. So, use a different term than "pizza". Such as "flatbreads". This way picky kiddos won't expect pizza and they'll be open to this new dish that's called "flatbread".
Also, note that you need to soak the lentils the night before you plan to make this dish.
Lentil Crust Flatbread (Pizza) - Crust Ingredients
2 cups of soaked red lentils (24hr then pureed)
1/2 cup water
1-3 garlic cloves (as per your taste preference)
1 TBSP dried basil
1 TBSP dried oregano
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 TBSP olive oil
Lentil Crust Flatbread (Pizza) - Toppings
1 can of tomato puree/sauce
1/2 cup of shredded white mozzarella cheese or feta
Vegetables/protein of your choice
Lentil Crust Flatbread (Pizza) - Directions
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Rinse and drain lentils and transfer into the food processor.
- Add 3 garlic cloves, dried basil, dried oregano, sea salt, baking powder and ½ cup of water for consistency.
- Puree all the ingredients until smooth.
- Heat a heavy-bottom frying pan over medium heat. Use ~1 tbsp of olive oil to grease the pre-heated pan and pour in the batter. Smooth the batter out with a spoon, it will look like a mini pancake. Make sure the batter is THIN.
- Repeat this step (should make about 8 mini crusts)
- Cook 2-3 minutes on each side. Then, transfer your flatbreads to a baking tray covered with parchment paper.
- Add your tomato sauce, cheese and toppings.
- Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until cheese is bubbling and brown.
Do you have problems with your digestion?
These days it seems like everyone has digestion problems. And, most people jump to the assumption that they must have a sensitivity to a food. So, they start eliminating this food and that food to try to get to the bottom of it. Usually eliminating favourite foods and driving yourself crazy as you try to figure it out.
If this is you, I have some actions that I want you to take before you go investigating food sensitivities. They are super easy things that I want you to do first. Because sometimes I have really, really good news. Some people don’t actually have food sensitivities. Yes – you can continue eating all of your favourite foods, without causing gut distress. Even if you do end up having food sensitivities, you want to rule out these simple steps first. They help your digestion of all foods. And, they are healthy habits for everyone.
5 Super Simple Digestion Solutions:
- Chew Your Food. It seems ridiculous that I need to tell you to chew your food. But if you gulp your food down, you’re missing an important first step in digestion. In chewing, you break down food into smaller pieces so that your digestive enzymes can have lots of surface area to work on to digest the food, and then absorb it. There’s also digestive enzymes in your saliva that start breaking food down. With less chewing there’s more undigested food moving through your intestines. The result is that your gut bacteria has more food to ferment, creating gas. If gas and bloating is your problem, this tip is for you.
- Don’t Chew Gum. When you chew gum, you swallow a lot of air. That air has to come out in one direction or the other. Let me speak plainly for a moment: burping or farting. When all that air is stuck in the middle before finding it’s way out – that’s bloating. So, if you get bloated or gassy, stop chewing gum. I can speak to this one personally. I used to be a big gum-chewer. And, I frequently had gas and bloating. Removed the gum. Removed the gas. Amazing!
- Eat Mindfully. Really, this tip is a method to prevent the poor digestion causes I’ve already mentioned above. When we eat mindlessly, we don’t take the time to really chew our food. We also are more likely to swallow a lot of air. Eating mindfully will slow you down, help you chew your food well, and swallow less air. The result – better digestion, less bloating, less gas.
- Drink Water. Water helps lubricate everything – including your digestive tract. We all know what lubrication does – it helps things glide. If constipation is your digestion problem, make sure that you’re drinking those 9 glasses of fluids (for women) and 12 glasses of fluids (for men).
- Things move along your digestive tract through the actions of muscles. Being physically active helps get muscles moving – including in yout gut. If constipation is your digestion issue, be sure to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day (or more).
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Usually I write my blogs with tips and advice for parents. But I know that there are a lot of Early Childhood Educators, daycare providers, nannies, and other important caregivers in our community. Today’s message is for you.
The other day, I received an email from a parent who has influenced her children to be good eaters by using the techniques that I share here. Her email was simply entitled “rant”. Here’s what this frustrated mama said about her experience with her daughter’s first month in kindergarten:
“Petunia’s* old daycare would always dictate what she was allowed to eat out of her lunch kit and in what order. Fruit/veggies, then sandwich, then yogurt… don’t send cookies.
AND NOW I’M HAVING ISSUES WITH HER AT KINDERGARTEN
So of course, she’s not eating any of her multiple fruit/veggie options. Not even when I cut the peel off the apple and provide caramel (cream cheese) dip for them after she’s agreed that that is how she would like to eat them.
I asked daycare over and over again to stop dictating her lunch choices. Petunia has declared kindergarten awesome because she can eat whatever she wants.”
* Name changed for privacy.
I wish that this was an isolated incident. But it’s by far not the only time that a parent has expressed their frustration with me. I knew that I needed to share it with you, so you could see the unintended consequence of your actions.
It’s only with good intentions that early childhood caregivers ask kids to eat their veggies first. You care about kids – otherwise this wouldn’t be your profession. You want kids to get the nutrition from the veggies.
Unfortunately, you’re having the opposite effect than you intended.
Forcing kids to eat veggies first only reinforces that veggies are something awful. Something that you need to get over with so that you can get to the shiny prize of the treats. The consequence is that when kids no longer have a gatekeeper around, and they can make their own food choices, they go after the forbidden foods and ignore the forced foods.
That’s what’s happening with Petunia now. At Kindergarten there is no adult gatekeeper making her eat her veggies and fruit. So she isn’t.
I know that you’re choosing your actions because you want kids to eat their veggies. But you’re actually teaching them to NOT choose to eat veggies. Oops.
For those of you working in licenced facilities here in BC, I have another reason for you to re-consider your actions. The regulations state:
48. (4) “A licensee must ensure that children are not
(b) forced to consume any food or drink,”
By dictating in what order kids must eat their meal, you are forcing kids; therefore, you are breaking the regulations.
What to do instead?
- Allow kids to eat whatever they want, in whatever order they want, from the foods that were packed for them.
- Incorporate vegetables and fruit into your curriculum.
- Organize activities that involve veggies and fruit.
- Eat with children at meals and snacks. Role model eating your veggies.
Communicate with parent about what veggies/ fruits were eaten each day so that parents can plan meals and snacks at home to create balanced nutrition throughout the day.
Get more successful tips for teaching kids nutrition. Sign-up for my e-newsletter today.
Love the flavour of pumpkin spice and pumpkin pie? But looking for a healthy way to enjoy it? Look no further. This mousse is seriously delicious.
I admit that I'm lazy so I make it without the crust. And it's still fantastic! I find that the pumpkin mousse tastes best when refrigerated overnight.
This recipe is a great way to include some more veggies (for picky kids and us adults who can use to eat more veggies too). Pumpkin rocks the vitamin A and has good fibre too.
Baby Food Version: Make this recipe without the crust and omit the maple syrup.
Healthy Pumpkin Mousse Ingredients:
1 cup of full fat coconut milk (put in fridge overnight)
1 can of pumpkin puree
1/4 cup of black chia seeds
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 3 dates
- 1 cup of raw nuts (e.g. walnuts and pecans)
- 1/4 cup of oats
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
Healthy Pumpkin Mousse Directions:
- In a food processor, mixer or blender, add all the ingredients. Start with low speed and work your way up to high speed.
- Once all the coconut chunks are pureed set aside in a bowl.
- For the “crust”, mix together dates, raw nuts, cinnamon, oats, and nutmeg in a food processor until the dates have broken down.
- Take a spoonful of the “crust” into a parfait cup and add the pumpkin mousse.
It’s the second week of September. You made it through all the back-to-school craziness. You bought new clothes, school supplies, even figured out the family schedule for pick-up and drop-off. You likely browsed Pinterest, Instagram and Google for healthy, fun packed lunch ideas and dutifully engaged your inner food stylist so that your child had lunches that they loved.
Many clients have told me the stories of being in the dreaded line-up of parents doing school pick-up. Giving their child a quick hug and then opening the lunchbox to see what was eaten. Or, to be more accurate, to see what wasn’t eaten. This lunchbox check isn’t just a simple status update on what food your child digested that day. It’s a measure of your parenting skills, done in-front of a firing squad of your judgmental peers.
Or, at least that’s how it feels.
The purpose of my message today isn’t to jump on the judgment bandwagon. Quite the opposite in fact. I’m here today to let you know that whether or not your child ate their lunch isn’t a measure of your parenting skills. It isn’t about you at all. So drop the mommy-guilt and daddy-guilt. Let’s re-focus on your child. Because, this situation is actually about your child.
Why Kids Don’t Eat Packed Lunch
The ability to eat lunch in the highly distracting school environment is a life skill. And like any life skill, some kids pick it up easily and some find it more challenging. How quickly kids pick up on this new skill isn’t a measure of how “good” or “bad” a kid they are. And, it isn’t a measure of how “good” or “bad” a parent you are. I’ve helped thousands of families over my career. In my experience the kids who find eating lunch at school more challenging tend to be:
- Very social,
- Easily distracted, or
- Sensitive souls
How to Help Kids Eat Packed Lunch
In time, your child will pick up the important life skill of successfully eating a meal in a distracting environment. Here are some actions that you can take to support your child in learning this life skill. And, actions you can take to make sure that they are meeting their nutrition needs throughout the day.
- Make sure containers are easy to open. Have your child practice at home so you can determine if they can do it without help.
- Cut food into small pieces. Yes, this means cutting foods into smaller pieces than kiddos can handle at home. Because a smaller piece requires a shorter attention span. For example, cut sandwiches into 4 pieces, cut wraps into sushi-like round bites, or pack apple slices instead of a whole apple.
- Plan an extra big breakfast and after-school snack to make up for a missed lunch. This isn’t the time to restrict afternoon snacks to smaller amounts of food. Allow kids to have as much to eat at snack-time as they are hungry for. Serve healthy foods from a variety of food groups. An easy way to do this is to allow kids to open up their lunchboxes and eat their lunch leftovers (i.e. the majority of their lunch) as their snack. If you packed it as a lunch meal, it’ll be a healthy choice for an afternoon snack. With one caveat – make sure that foods are still safe – i.e. foods that need to be refrigerated haven’t been at room temperature too long.
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Looking for a healthy snack?
Need something kid-friendly?
This recipe is nut-free, dairy-free, vegan, gluten-free, and no-sugar-added.
It contains fibre-packed, protein-packed lentils and pumpkin seeds.
Oh, and it's delicious!
They're perfect for packed-lunches for kids. And, as an afternoon snack for us adults too.
Need a finger-food version for your baby? Simply cut them into smaller pieces. Easy.
Lentil Coconut Energy Bites Ingredients:
- ½ cup cooked green lentils (or lentils from a can)
- ½ cup of pureed pumpkin seeds
- ⅓ cup of dry oats
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 4 dates
- ¼ cup of chocolate chips (optional)
- ¼ cup of coconut flakes unsweetened (to roll in)
Lentil Coconut Energy Bites Steps:
- Cook the lentils in a pot with water for ~25-30 minutes on medium heat
- In the meantime, puree ½ cup of pumpkin seeds in a food processor until smooth
- Add in fresh dates and continue to puree
- Once you reach a paste-like consistency, add in dry oats, cinnamon, vanilla extract and cooked lentils.
- Transfer into a bowl and add chocolate chips
- Roll into small balls (should make about 9-10)
- On some parchment paper, sprinkle ¼ cup of coconut flakes and roll in the lentil coconut bites
At a workshop that I led last week, I was asked whether it was worth eating lettuce because it doesn’t have any nutrient value. I knew that this would be a great so-called nutrition “truth” that I can bust for you too.
All over the internet, in books, even in grocery stores, you’ll see vegetables ranked based on a score of nutrient value. But just because these scores are popular, doesn’t mean that you should believe in them.
You see, I am a true scientist. A true scientist understands what we know, and acknowledges what we don’t know. The real truth is that the scientific understanding is in its infancy regarding exactly what it is in each and every vegetable that is healthy. We know of many vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. But there are likely tens, hundreds, thousands more that we haven’t yet discovered. And that’s just the nutrients that are healthy for our bodies. We’re also discovering more and more about the many roles that our gut microbiome has on our health. Science has even more of a rudimentary understanding of what it is in vegetables that makes our gut bacteria happy.
Let me share a few examples to illustrate my position. When I did my undergraduate degree in nutrition from arguably the best nutrition school in in Canada during the mid-90’s, I was taught:
- There is no nutritional value in onions and garlic. Their only role was to provide taste. Now we know that there are health-promoting phytochemicals in onions and garlic. Onions and garlic certainly do count in your daily servings of vegetables.
- Nothing about phytochemicals. That’s because the whole class of phytochemicals had not yet been discovered. All that science knew at the time was vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- That the gut microbiome simply helped digest food. It didn’t play any other role in human health. Now we’re learning that it may be linked to depression, heart health, obesity, food allergies, and a wide range of other health conditions.
Now I want to be really clear here. I’m not telling you that vegetables aren’t healthy. Vegetables certainly are healthy. In fact, I want about half of what you eat to be vegetables. I just don’t want you to buy into these various rankings of the “best” vegetables. Also, I don’t want you to buy in to the idea that certain vegetables have no nutrient value. Yes, even iceberg lettuce.
Instead of thinking that a vegetable has no nutrient value. I recommend thinking that science has not yet discovered what’s healthy about this vegetable.
So how do you apply my message? Eat lots of vegetables. Make vegetables be about half of what you eat. As wide a variety of vegetables as you can get. Eat any and all the vegetables that you enjoy. And, try new veggies often. Eat them raw sometimes. Eat them cooked sometimes. Because our bodies better absorb some nutrients when the veggies are raw. And, our bodies better absorb some nutrients when the veggies are cooked.
Photo credit: Petra Cigale on Unsplash
Each year, UBC dietetics students have a class project where they practice writing nutrition articles for the public. This year, I asked students Mei Ho and May Hasegawa to research are food dyes safe for kids. Here's what they found ~ Kristen
When you are shopping for snacks for your child, do the bright colours make you think twice about about adding it to your basket? Many foods we come across in our everyday lives have colour added in order to make it appear more appetizing. It is very common to see vivid colours in foods and beverages marketed towards children, such as candies, desserts and chewing gums. Foods can be coloured by natural food dyes like caramel colouring, or artificial food dyes, which are colours made from petroleum1. Today we will be looking at food dyes in the context of artificial food dyes, which have been used more commonly in foods in recent years.
Are Artificial Food Dyes Safe for Kids?
As early as the 80’s, researchers began to study the effects of artificial food dyes on children’s health. The results of their studies have been controversial, and has stirred concern amongst consumers. Some have suggested a possible link between artificial food dyes and hypersensitivity in children3. Others have researched possible risks of organ damage, cancer, birth defects and allergic reactions1. While no study findings have been conclusive, countries in Europe such as the U.K. have banned artificial food dyes altogether for safety measures1.
What Are the Safety Regulations of Food Dyes in Canada?
Regulations in North America state that there is not enough scientific evidence to say artificial food dyes cause negative effects on children’s health3. Canada permits the use of food dyes in everyday foods from bread, butter, milk to cheese. All food dyes must first be approved by our federal regulatory body, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). At this time, Canada has approved ten dye colours for use in food and beverages.
However, it has not been ruled out that food dyes may affect children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and behavioural problems differently3. Researchers agree that more research on artificial food dyes is required.
Food Dyes Across the Globe
In 2009, the U.K. imposed strict regulations to remove certain food dyes from foods and beverages. This prompts us to think, why hasn’t North America followed along? It is interesting to note the different approaches used by North America and the U.K. when it comes to ensuring public safety through foods.4
- North America: tries to find the strongest evidence available before implementing new regulations.
- UK: uses a more precautionary approach, meaning that it will take action to protect the public even if the evidence is not entirely conclusive.
Moving Forward: What Can You Do?
With all this information, it can be confusing to decide whether you want your children to be consuming artificial food dyes. It may first be helpful to understand how to identify whether something contains artificial food dyes. By law, companies are required to list the name of the dye on the ingredient label. It may be tricky for shoppers to recognize the commercial names of artificial food dyes. Here are the names of 10 common artificial food dyes in Canada:5
- Allura red
- Brilliant blue FCF
- Citrus Red No.2
- Sunset yellow FCF
- Fast green FCF
- Erythrosine Red
- Amaranth Red
- Ponceau SX
There are also ways to add colour into your cooking at home without using food dyes! Kids are drawn to bright colours, and baking at home can be more fun if your child has the chance to make their own colours. This can be done by boiling, blending, and/or pureeing vegetables or fruits for their natural colours.6
- Raspberries, pomegranate and beets - pink/purple
- Carrots – orange
- Turmeric powder – yellow
- Blueberry – blue
- Spinach – green
- Red cabbage – purple and blue
- For purple, boil cabbage in hot water until water is dark purple colour
- For blue, slowly add some baking soda to purple water
Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids - May’s Opinion:
While there is not enough evidence to conclude that artificial food dyes are harmful to our body, I feel that more research is needed to fully understand their effects on our health. I like to refrain from using artificial food colouring in my own baking, and opt for more natural options like using juice from fruits or vegetables.
Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids - Mei’s Opinion:
As the research is inconclusive, it is ultimately up to the consumers to make an informed decision. New food labelling requirements in Canada will now include the commercial names of synthetic food dyes in the ingredient list, but it is questionable whether or not consumers will recognize these names or be able to associate them with food dyes.
Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids - Kristen's Opinion:
Call me conservative, but I am suspicious of foods that are highly processed. My motto is "foods closest to the way nature made them are the healthiest choice". Artificial food dyes are about as far from nature-made as you can get. So, I would recommend steering clear of artificial food dyes for day-to-day eating. But I'm also practical. Our bodies are amazingly adaptive. Eating foods with artificial dyes once in a while is likely not going to cause harm. So if your child is invited to a birthday party where they serve cake with bright green icing, let your child enjoy the cake right along with the other kiddos.
If your child has behaviour concerns, such as ADD/ ADHD, I think it's worth doing a food trial where you eliminate all food dyes and see how your child's behaviour responds. There may be no effect. Or, your child may be a member of the sub-set of kids who have a link between behaviour and food dyes.
Want more science-based nutrition tips for kids? Sign-up today for my e-newsletter.
1Kobylewski, Sarah, et al. “Food Dyes a Rainbow of Risks”. Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2010.
2Stevenson J, Sonuga-Barke E, McCann D, et al. “The Role of Histamine Degradation Gene Polymorphisms in Moderating the Effects of Food Additives on Children's ADHD Symptoms.” American Journal of Psychiatry. 2010; 167:1108-1115.
3 “FDA panel concludes food coloring isn't associated with hyperactivity in children.” Nutrition Today. 2011; 46:104.
4Banned in Europe, Safe in the U.S. http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/banned-europe-safe-us/
5Food Colours - Permitted Synthetic Colours in Canada and Corresponding United States and European Names.
68 Ways to Make Organic DIY Food Colouring. http://www.networx.com/article/8-ways-to-make-organic-diy-food-coloring
This post is inspired from some recent experiences with clients and workshop participants. At first glance, these people looked very different. But they had one thing in common. While they had hired me/ came out to listen to me speak, they both completely refused to take in what I had to share. They hired me for my expertise, then subsequently refused to take it.
Did I take it personally? No. Human behaviour is fascinating. We’re always a little bit of two minds about change – there’s a part of us who wants to change. And, a part of us who doesn’t. In both of these cases, the part of them that didn’t want to change won.
Why am I sharing this with you? I mean, it doesn’t make much business sense to share my failures with you. I’m sharing it with you because there’s a lesson to be learned. A lesson that you can apply to any aspect of your health, but especially for those of us 40+ folks who are looking to have a healthy weight.
The first step to making any change in life is letting go of our past habits and beliefs.
Elsa from Frozen has it right – let it go! Even Oprah is talking about letting it go in her O Magazine this month.
Letting go of past habits, no matter how much evidence we have that they aren’t working for us, is difficult. This is especially true when you want to lose weight and you’ve been on diets in the past that haven’t worked. It’s amazing how often clients hire me because they’re at their heaviest ever, yet they’re still doing habits from past diets. Diets that obviously haven’t worked (at least long-term). Or, the diets worked when young, but they don’t work for us 40+ folks.
The most difficult step in losing weight in middle-age is letting go of past habits. Giving up things like:
- Weighing yourself daily.
- Counting calories.
- Writing down every morsel that you eat.
- Eating zero carbs.
- Aiming for a magical number on the scale from your 20’s – pre-busy life, pre-kids, etc.
- Denying yourself the pleasure of favourite foods.
- Nutrition mis-information that you’ve accepted as fact.
You see, when people come to me they are hardly blank slates. What I’ve found is that once people let go of these past habits, weight loss follows. I’d call it magic if I wasn’t so science-based.
So I leave you with an important question: what do you need to let go of in order to achieve your happy weight?
You asked me to cover probiotics. And sure, I know about probiotics. But instead of listening to me, I decided to reach out to a true, leading expert in probiotics. I'm proud to call Desiree Nielsen a friend. And, I can tell you that probiotics and gut health are her jams. She's who I turn to for keeping up on this topic that the scientific community is rapidly learning about. So, I wanted to share her directly with you. Just like me, she gives you the real goods. Enjoy this interview! And, if you want more of Desiree, check out her show Urban Vegetarian playing on Gusto TV!
Should Parents Be Giving Kids Probiotics?
If a child was born naturally and breastfed, eats a healthy diet and has no health issues, they may not need a probiotic daily. Of course, probiotics are a great choice when the time is right: the literature shows that probiotics may be helpful during cold and flu season to prevent respiratory infection or to prevent traveller’s diarrhea.
In addition, there are certain health concerns that are a clear indication for the use of probiotics daily such as colic, infectious diarrhea or tummy troubles like reflux or irritable bowel syndrome.
Should Us Adults Take Probiotics?
I always tend to err on the light side of supplementation but as adults, there are many reasons why a probiotic may be an excellent idea. Any chronic digestive or inflammatory concern, from IBS to eczema, is worth a three month trial of a clinical strength probiotic to assess improvement. If a probiotic works, you will feel it. I cannot tell you how often I have talked to someone who has been taking a probiotic for years with no result and when they make the right switch, they are shocked by how much better they feel. They can be taken therapeutically and discontinued when you improve…but for those with chronic concerns, I recommend continuing daily as part of lifestyle management.
Probiotics are also helpful on an 'as needed' basis for everything from recovering from food poisoning, prevention of side effects from antibiotics use and as a boost during cold and flu season. They are a great, natural remedy in the wellness toolkit.
For those who tend towards an ‘insurance’ mindset in supplementation, a small daily dose of an effective probiotic certainly doesn’t hurt and you may find an improvement in your day-to-day wellbeing.
What is the Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are part of the natural human microflora…and prebiotics help them thrive. Not too long ago, we would have said that prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates such as inulin. The low FODMAP diet for IBS works by drastically reducing these prebiotic compounds to alter fermentation in the gut.
However, the definition of a prebiotic is changing and it is thought that a whole host of compounds, from plant polyphenols to even the diabetes medication metformin, may help boost the growth of beneficial microbes.
Can We Get Probiotics from Fermented Foods, e.g. Yogurt? Or, Do We Need to Take Them as a Supplement?
Fermented foods are produced thanks to beneficial microbes…but not all fermented foods may contain truly probiotic microbes. This takes a bit of explanation: the definition of a probiotic is ‘a live microorganism, which when administered in adequate amounts, confers a health benefit on the host.”
So the issue with fermented foods is that in the fermentation, many of the microbes may die or there might not be sufficient amounts to actually have an effect. The research on fermented foods is surprisingly spotty, with kimchi and yogurt being two of the standouts. But the average yogurt contains about 1 billion live bacteria at manufacture (which may not be alive when you eat them) whereas most supplemental probiotics are in the tens of billions.
Eat fermented foods daily as part of a healthy diet…take a supplement when you need extra help.
What Should Someone Look for in a Supplement? There Are so Many Available, How Do You Choose?
It’s a tough call; in my mind, the only probiotics that someone should consider are those with high level evidence to support their use. They are very few in number and you can find them on a very helpful website called www.probioticchart.ca - choose one of the brands with level 1 or 2 evidence. Then, the decision becomes a lot easier. We can spend so much money on supplements but if they aren’t effective, we are better off spending our money on healthy food!
In general, good quality probiotics have enteric coated capsules (with a couple of exceptions for fresh or powdered formulas) with a minimum of 10 billion live active cells, guaranteed to a clearly marked expiry date.
Who is Desiree Nielsen? Bio:
Desiree Nielsen is a dietitian based in Vancouver, Canada. She is the author of Un-Junk Your Diet: How to shop, cook and eat to fight inflammation and feel better, forever! and the host of Urban Vegetarian, a cooking show on Gusto TV. Passionate about integrative therapeutic approaches to nutrition, Desiree maintains a nutrition practice, with a focus on digestive health, plant-based diets and anti-inflammatory nutrition. Her new app, MyHealthyGut is an evidence-based resource for those looking to improve their digestive health.
My favourite topics to write about are the topics that you, community members, ask me to address. Today’s topic comes from a community member. She asked: “Is there any truth to the idea that we should be soaking our nuts and grains to make these foods more digestible, more nutritious or to avoid so called ‘anti-nutrients’?”
Ah, the internet, such a double-edged sword. I love it – after all, it’s how I’m communicating with you today. And, I hate it. In my 23 years of experience in nutrition, I’ve never seen so many people so confused about nutrition.
This question is yet another example of how people are confused about nutrition. Both because of the powerful nutrition fear-mongering that unscrupulous people use to make money. And, because of well-intentioned people taking a fact so out of context that it no longer makes any sense.
In a nutshell (pun intended): no, you don’t need to soak nuts and grains.
Let’s get down into the details – because I know that’s what you like to get from me – the detailed story.
Anti-nutrients sure are a hot topic in the media (on-line and off-line). People are making a mountain out of a mole-hill. While the community member didn’t mention beans/ lentils in her question, I’m going to add them to the conversation because others of you have been asking me about the “poison” they’ve heard about in beans/ lentils.
Yes, it’s true that nuts, seeds, whole grains, bean and lentils have molecules called phytates in them. Phytates bind to nutrients, such as iron, making us humans less able to absorb the nutrients. Hence the term “anti-nutrients”. Note that the phytates make us absorb less of the nutrients – not zero. So their presence doesn’t render the foods devoid of nutrition. Also, these phytates aren’t poisonous – they don’t harm us.
Quite the opposite of being bad for us, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils are a key part of the foundation for a healthy diet. Combine these with vegetables and fruit and you’ve got a gold star in the eating habits department.
Whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils have been eaten by human beings for generations. If they were poisonous, we would have stopped eating them a long, long time ago. Humans have figured out many ways to reduce the phytates in these foods:
- Roasting nuts
- Leavening bread made from whole grains
- Soaking beans before cooking
- Fermenting foods (e.g. making miso from soybeans)
- Sprouting of grains, seeds, beans
So while you don’t need to soak these foods before eating them. Soaking, roasting, sprouting, fermenting is a great idea because it frees up more of the nutrients for us to absorb. In other words, it’s the concept of “need” with which I take issue.
Great choices to increase your nutrient-absorption:
- Try new recipes that involve soaking, roasting, sprouting, and fermenting.
- If you have a choice of sprouted whole grain bread or un-sprouted, choose the sprouted bread. But if un-sprouted is your only choice, it’s still a healthy choice.
- Soak beans before you cook them (and throw away the soaking water) because it makes them less “musical”.
- Many of the nuts that you find in the store are roasted, e.g. cashews, macadamia nuts.
- If you find that you have a hard time digesting some of these foods in their un-processed state, give them a try soaked/ sprouted/ fermented and see if your digestion improves.
Note: Raw sprouts aren’t recommended for children under 5 years due to the risk of microbes (e.g. salmonella, e. coli) causing food-poisoning.
Photo credit: chuttersnap on Unsplash
Reducing food waste is the ultimate win-win. It reduces our environmental impact by allowing less to go to waste. And, by using more of what we buy, it saves us money. So, I've been exploring recipes that use ingredients that normally you'd throw away. Today, student Hanna has perfected a pesto recipe made from the green leaves and stems of carrots instead of the commonly-used basil. Voila - carrot-top pesto! Perfect timing before our local carrots start to pop up in farmers' markets and produce stores. Thanks Hanna! That's Hanna's handiwork with the camera too :)
Carrot-Top Pesto Ingredients
4-5 carrot top leaves
1/2 cup of olive oil
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp toasted pinenuts (or walnuts or macadamias or almonds)
1/4 tsp salt
Dash of pepper
Carrot-Top Pesto Directions
- To toast pine nuts: Lay out pine nuts on a baking sheet or aluminum foil for 200C for 5 minutes, watching them so they don't burn. This can also work with a nonstick pan constantly stirring the pine nuts.
- In a food processor, combine carrot tops, garlic, salt and pepper until smooth. Begin to add the olive oil until desired consistency is reached.
Check out more healthy recipes.
P.S. This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and vegan.
Hay fever. I have it. Do you? Did you know that what you eat could be making your hay fever worse? In my previous post I shared about oral allergy syndrome. Today I’m talking about food and histamine.
All human bodies contain histamine. And most of us, most of the time, aren’t bothered by it one bit. However, our bodies have a threshold for histamine. And when the level of histamine in our bodies goes above that threshold, we experience symptoms. They are the symptoms that us hay fever sufferers know all too well – itchy eyes, watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, etc.
Histamine in the Body
Where do the histamines in our bodies come from? They are released as a part of the allergic response. In the case of hay fever, they are released in response to breathing in that pollen. That’s why hay fever medications are called anti-histamines. Our gut bacteria also naturally produce histamine.
A number of foods contain histamine. When we eat these foods, the histamine enters our bodies.
The trick to getting rid of the symptoms of high histamine (i.e. hay fever symptoms) is to get the level of histamine in our body back below our threshold. Trees and grasses will produce pollen for as long as they are programmed by nature to do so – there’s nothing you can do about that. Even healthy gut bacteria produce histamine so there’s nothing that you can do about that.
Which leaves you with one factor that you have the ability to change – how much histamine-containing foods you eat. Let me be clear, this isn’t like a food allergy where you need to remove 100% of histamine from food. You don’t need to avoid all of these foods. But you can reduce the amount of these foods that you eat when your hay fever is acting up.
Food and Histamine
These foods contain histamine:
- Alcohol and non-alcohol versions of alcoholic drinks (e.g. near-beer)
- Coffee and tea
- Vinegar and foods made with vinegar (e.g. pickles)
- Chocolate, cocoa, cola
- Fermented vegetables and soy (e.g. sauerkraut, soy sauce)
- Processed meats/ charcuterie
- Fish and shellfish – unless you cook them immediately after catching/harvesting them
- Red beans
- Soy beans
- Pumpkin/ squash
- Citrus fruit
- Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries
- Many dried fruits such as dates, raisins, prunes
- Some spices such as cinnamon, chili powder, nutmeg
Photo credit: Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash
I have good news. People are hearing that babies should have iron-rich foods as first foods. I’ve been talking this up for almost 10 years now and I’m super happy that the message is starting to be commonplace.
Yes, we recommend offering your baby iron-rich foods twice a day. From the very start. Then introduce a wide range of other healthy foods.
Why? Because iron is needed for growth and development. Iron is also needed during this critical time for brain development. This critical period extends from infancy through to about 5 years old.
That bad news is that people have misunderstandings of what foods are good sources of iron. So, they think that they are feeding their babies iron-rich foods. But they aren’t.
Avocado, broccoli, sweet potato, and quinoa are all foods that people commonly think are good source of iron. Incorrect. Myth.
Foods that are Good Sources of Iron:
- Poultry (e.g. chicken, turkey)
- Beans and lentils. Particularly the lentils.
- Nuts and seeds. Particularly the seeds.
- Iron-fortified baby cereal.
*While liver is a very high source of iron, it also contains extremely high amounts of vitamin A. So much vitamin A that it’s not recommended that you offer liver as a first food, and only offer it on rare occasions to toddlers and preschoolers.
Not All Iron is Equal
Iron comes in two different forms in food – heme and non-heme. Heme iron is better absorbed by our bodies and is found in meat, poultry and seafood. Non-heme iron isn’t as well absorbed by our bodies. So, when looking at lists of foods with iron that just list the number of milligrams, you need to recognize that you’re comparing apples and oranges.
There’s a great hack for increasing the body’s absorption of non-heme iron. It’s to eat a food with vitamin C at the same time. May fruits and some veggies are good sources of vitamin C. So serve your lentils in a tomato sauce and stir some strawberries into that baby cereal.
Here’s a more extensive list of iron-rich foods (from a trusted source): https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/iron-foods
Low Iron Foods
You’ll notice that a number of foods that are commonly thought of as containing iron aren’t on my list above. Certainly there are a number of other foods that have a little bit iron. Some vegetables and fruit do contain a small amount. But I wouldn’t consider them good sources of iron. You’re likely surprised that spinach isn’t on the “high-iron” list. That’s because while spinach does contain a decent amount of iron, most of that iron is bound to another molecule, called oxalate, that prevents us humans from absorbing it. While most of the anti-nutrient content on the internet is making a mountain out of a mole hill, the oxalates in leafy greens are noteworthy enough to not count these foods as a source of iron.
Dairy foods aren’t a source of iron. In addition, they can prevent the absorption of iron from other foods. This is why we recommend delaying the introduction of cow’s milk until 9 – 12 months of age. And, once you have introduced cow’s milk, limiting it to 2 – 3 cups per day.
Grains aren’t a source of iron. Yes, even quinoa. That’s why iron is added to infant cereal and breakfast cereals (that’s what the word “fortified” means in “iron-fortified infant cereal).
Check out my Youtube channel for videos on how to prepare baby food versions of iron rich foods (puree and finger foods- Baby Led Weaning).
Photo credit: James Sutton