How to Survive the Holidays

holidaysWith the holiday season just around the corner, many people will struggle to maintain their health and manage stress during this most important time of the year.

While the holidays are supposed to be a time for rest and relaxation, reconnecting with family, and reevaluating what is truly important in life, for many people the holidays are the exact opposite experience.

With the added stress to complete work projects, holiday parties, excess alcohol and refined sugars, lack of sleep, and lack of exercise, is it any wonder why this most stressful time of the year is often called “cold and flu season?”

The fact is, when people are stressed-out and busy, the last thing on their minds is health and wellness.

Asked anyone in the fitness industry what their slowest time of the year is and they’ll unequivocally tell you it’s the two months before New Year’s.

Why? Is often very difficult for busy people to fit fitness and healthy living into an already jam-packed schedule. Now, throw in some visiting family members, some Christmas shopping, and vacationing kids into the mix and it’s easy to see how personal health and fitness become less and less of a priority during this time of year.

On the other hand, for some people maintaining a healthy lifestyle over the holidays is not difficult and is as much a part of their regular routine as going to work and spending time with family.

You’ll see them in the gym over holidays: The diehards. The regulars. These are the ones who never miss a work out, eat well, and manage their stress, even when they are busy.

For these people the old saying is true: “Right now, someone busier than you is working out.”

What is so different about these people? Are they superhuman? Crazy? Obsessed? No. They simply have developed better habits, better scheduling, and have made healthy living a priority in life. For them, health and wellness are not afterthoughts, they as essentials.Bittersweet_InfoGraphic_1

Healthy lifestyle is the invisible shield that allows them to not only survive the holidays, but to thrive during the holidays. They can still experience stress, have fun and celebrate like everyone else, and yet they won’t suffer the consequences for weeks and months afterwards.

Here are some simple steps you can take to help minimize the effects of holiday stress:

  • Take time everyday to exercise everyday. It doesn’t take much, only 20 minutes a day, even if tit is just walking at a brisk pace.
  • Reduce refined sugars and alcohol, try to resist overindulging this year.
  • Pack a healthy lunch instead of eating out.
  • Supplement wisely with Vitamin D.
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep.

With a little planning and commitment, healthy lifestyles can be maintained even during the busiest times of the year.

FAT: Separating Fact From Fiction (Part 2)

fatIn part 1 of this series, we discussed how fat got its bad reputation. Experts have long touted low fat diets as the epitome of good nutrition, yet heart disease and obesity remain at an all-time high. Misinformation, politics and bad science seem to be the culprits in an ever increasing smear campaign against fat, particularly saturated fat.

In the past, health care providers and nutrition experts would rarely mention the benefits of fat intake or even make the distinction between good and bad fat. The party line was: All fat was bad. It clogs your arteries and makes you overweight. Period.

Let’s set the record straight: Fat is a basic building block of life. Every cell in your body has an outer layer made up of 50% fat. Fat is also the main component of hormones. Of particular importance in fat metabolism are the hormones ghrelin and leptin. These help your body burn or store fat as needed. In other words, the fat you eat fuels the hormones that help you metabolize fat.

Fat is the preferential fuel used to run many of your internal organs, like the kidneys and the liver. That is why our bodies store it for future use.

Fat is essential for a newborn’s survival. From day one, if you were breastfed as a baby, your diet consisted of around 80% saturated fat. Saturated doesn’t stop being an important nutrient as we age.

Saturated fat, particularly animal fat, is a great source of vitamins A, D and K2. These are heart healthy vitamins that have been shown to protect us against heart disease. Clearly our bodies are designed to thrive of this very important fuel.

If you chose to start adding more fat to your diet, it is important to be able to distinguish between good and bad fat.

Simply put: Good fat is from a natural plant or animal source that has not been over-processed or over-heated. Once you heat a fat beyond its “smoke point” it become rancid and can have negative effects on your health. Trans fats are a good example of heated, bad fats.

Good fats can be added to foods after cooking or used in the cooking process itself, provided they are not heated beyond their smoke points.

Good cooking fats include: coconut oil, palm oil, grapeseed oil, pastured butter, lard or rendered animal fat for higher heat applications. Olive oils and other cold pressed oils such as nut or avocado oils should not be used for cooking but should be drizzled on top of foods instead.

Beware of certain “heart healthy” seed oils that claim to be high in omega 3’s. These are heat extracted in their production and are rancid before ever being bottled and sold. Avoid consuming seed oils altogether for this reason.

Food sources of good fat include: wild caught, oily fish, grass-fed or pastured beef and bison, pastured dairy products (where available), omega-3 eggs, coconut and hemp products, to name a few.

You’ll find that adding good fat to your diet can be an essential part of a healthy nutrition plan at any age. As with any major changes to your diet, do your research, consult with experts and be open to new ideas. Always monitor your progress and make changes as appropriate.

Fat: Separating Fact from Fiction (Part 1)

FatFat has gotten a bad reputation over the years. Since the early 1970s fat, specifically saturated fat, has been demonized as the root cause of obesity and heart disease, and low fat diets have been touted as the solution. Initially based on a single flawed study of seven countries, which correlated fat intake and heart disease, the “lipid hypothesis” was born.

After studying the eating habits of each country’s inhabitants the author of the study, Ancel Keys, observed a problem related to fat intake – the more saturated fat one ate, the greater the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, for some strange reason, Keys omitted the results from the 15 other countries he studied that showed no increased in heart disease related to fat intake.

He also ignored the findings of a fellow researcher at the time, John Yudkin, which found an even greater relationship between sugar consumption in these countries and heart disease. History is also rife with examples of pre-industrial societies that consumed diets as high as 80% saturated fat in which there are almost zero cases of heart disease, yet supporters of the lipid hypothesis often ignore these well-established facts.

Despite the misinformation, the damage was already done. Keys made the cover of Time magazine and it was decreed that eating fat would clog your arteries and lead to heart disease. As a result, low fat diets have been prescribed by healthcare providers and recommended by diet gurus ever since as the epitome of “good” nutrition and the solution to society’s health woes.

So how did these low-fat recommendations work out for us? Over the last 40 years, heart disease has sky-rocketed and remains one of the top disease killers worldwide. Also, obesity rates have jumped to previously unheard of levels, despite the recommendations of the Canada Food Guide and increased consumption of low fat foods.

You may be surprised to hear that fat is not only good for you, but an essential nutrient that your body can’t live without. Fat is the main component of your brain and nervous system. It is the preferred energy source of your internal organs. Fat is essential for creating hormones. Also, good fat in heart healthy and can also help your body burn stored body fat for fuel.

In Part 2, we will cover the benefits of eating fat and how to incorporate more good fat into a healthy diet.

Is Organic Food More Nutritious?

organic foodRecently, a group of Stanford researchers concluded that organic food was just as nutritious for you than conventionally grown produce. This caused quite a stir in the natural health community and had many people rethinking their choice to go organic in the first place.

For years, many people thought they were eating a more nutritious diet if they consumed exclusively organic produce.

While, there has been a lot of debate as to whether the more expensive, harder to find, organic fruits and vegetables are really worth it. Concerned natural health consumers are now unsure if they are really getting the biggest bang for their buck.

The results of this study are not new, in fact there have been several studies that have shown mixed results for nutritional value of organic produce. However, some perspective is needed when it comes to the term “organic.”

While the public’s perception of organic farms may be sprawling landscapes, rickety old barns and hand-picked vegetables, the reality of organic farming is quite different.

If you were to visit a large organic farm in Canada, it would probably look the same as a conventional farm. In fact, organic agriculture uses many of the same tools and practices as conventional agriculture. They are typically large-scale productions that use heavy machinery, with very little consideration for soil quality and biodiversity.

However, the Stanford study did point out one very important difference between organic and non-organic produce: There were significantly less pesticide residues found on organic produce compared with conventionally produced fruits and vegetables.

This is important because I believe this is the main reason people purchase organic produce in the first place. Nutritional quality may vary from farm to farm, or year to year, but because of strong regulation, organic food always contains fewer chemicals.

Considering these chemicals have been linked to neurological disorders, cancers and hormone disruption, it is far more important to purchase organic foods for this reason, rather than any perceived nutritional benefit.

While this may not prove to be the definitive study on the matter, there is still a heath benefit to consuming organic produce on a regular basis.

Don’t Believe the Hype: Facts About the Flu

FluWith summer coming to a rapid end, the kids will soon head back to school and thoughts will turn to the long cold days of winter. Of course, along with winter comes flu season and for many Canadians, the flu can be either a mild annoyance or a serious illness.

Influenza is a virus that takes many forms. Prevailing strains of flu virus will differ from season to season and no two flu viruses are alike.

While there is a lot media attention paid to the dangers of the flu, the reality is most cases of the flu are relatively mild and tend to resolve themselves over time.

The flu virus is an opportunistic organism and tends to produce symptoms mainly in those with weak immune systems such as the sick and elderly.

One important fact that is often missed by the media is that healthy people can also be carriers of the flu without actually being sick or showing symptoms.

Its well known that in the young or old, healthy or sick, flu shot or not, the actual flu virus can live on hands, under fingernails, and within the respiratory tract of healthy people.

While the flu shot is often touted as the most effective way to prevent the flu, vaccination does not prevent an individual person from carrying the virus on their person and transferring it to someone else. Consequently, the flu virus can be spread by sneezing or through touch, with or without active infection.

Also, vaccination may not be the most effective way to prevent the flu in the first place. According to independent research conducted by the Cochrane Database Review: “At best, vaccines might be effective against only influenza A and B, which represent about 10 percent of all circulating viruses.”

While there is some evidence showing the effectiveness of vitamin D and other natural supplements, the single most effective way to prevent the flu or any virus, is through good hygiene.

The Mayo clinic has recommended a proper hand washing technique of 30 seconds of vigorous scrubbing with warm water. Antibacterial soaps are not necessary to achieve this effect. Alcohol based hand sanitizers are somewhat less effective but still good when hand washing is not available.

When it comes to preventing the flu, it can sometimes be difficult to separate fact from fiction. Hand washing, proper hygiene, staying home when you get sick, and trying to keep your immune system strong throughout the winter months are time tested methods to prevent the spread of the flu. As always, your best defence against the flu is a good offence.

You Are Probably Deficient in Vitamin D

Bring me to lifeHow important is Vitamin D? Vitamin D is essential for development, growth, optimal health and function. It is involved in proper muscle, immune and nerve function. However, studies have linked a deficiency in this important vitamin to cardiovascular disease, cancer, blood disorders, skin diseases and neurological conditions.

Vitamin D is actually a series of vitamins that act more like hormones. The most important forms of the vitamin for humans are D2 (mostly synthesized from plants) and D3 (synthesized in the skin when exposed to sunlight). D3 is the most usable form in humans.

Unfortunately, over 90% of Canadians will be deficient in at some point in the year. This is mostly due to our lack of sun exposure in the winter months. The amount of daily sun exposure required to synthesized adequate amounts of Vitamin D is equivalent to 15 minutes of midday sun exposure over 50% of your skin.

To put that in perspective: You need to be standing outside, in shorts and a T-shirt at lunch time for at least fifteen minute every day in order to get adequate sun exposure. Obviously, this would be very uncomfortable in Winnipeg from October to April.

So what’s the solution? While some vitamin D is available from foods like dairy, meats and fatty fish, food sources will not provide enough Vitamin D. For proper function, a healthy human body utilizes around 3,000-5,000 IU of vitamin D per day. As a result, you will need to supplement with Vitamin D3 over the winter months.

The Vitamin D Council of Canada makes the following recommendations:

• Healthy children under the age of 1 years – 1,000 IU.
• Healthy children over the age of 1 years – 1,000 IU per every 25 lbs of body weight.
• Healthy adults and adolescents – at least 5,000 IU.
• Pregnant and lactating mothers – at least 6,000 IU.

These values are much higher that the current recommended daily intake of 800-1000IU and you should always consult with your primary health care provider before supplementing. Vitamin D tests are readily available and are the best way to determine if you are

Top Foods That Cause Inflammation

Inflammation

Inflammation is rapidly becoming one of the most studied topics in mainstream health care and with good reason.

Chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer. Alzheimer’s and fibromyalgia, to name a few. In fact, inflammation is rapidly becoming the most widespread illness of the 21st century.

Inflammation was even featured on the cover of the Feb 2004 edition of Time Magazine where it was dubbed “The Secret Killer.” Secret, because where once, chronic inflammation was seen as the effect of these conditions, many in healthcare are now looking to inflammation as potentially the primary cause of these chronic degenerative conditions.

Unlike acute inflammation from trauma, infections, allergies, burns, or cuts which can heal within a short period of time, chronic inflammation is more systemic in nature and can become a repeating cycle of flare ups over the years.

The problem with inflammation is that it is almost entirely due to lifestyle and environmental factors. A toxic environment, poor of sleep, stress, lack of movement will all contribute to inflammation. However, poor nutrition may be the biggest culprit.

Many of the foods we consume on a regular basis, promote the spread of inflammation throughout the body. For example:

Sugar – Diets high in refined sugars tend to produce a large rate of inflammation throughout the body due to their acidic load. Refined sugars are found in almost all packaged foods especially in concentrated forms like high fructose corn syrup.

Vegetable Oils – Industrial fats and vegetable oils produce trans fatty acids that can increase inflammation and damage blood vessels. Polyunsaturated fats such as corn, soy, safflower and cottonseed oils are also found primarily in packaged foods and restaurant applications.

Grains – Most grains eaten today, including their whole grain varieties, are refined, processed and treated with pesticides and other chemicals. More importantly, wheat, rice, corn, etc. contain gut-irritating proteins that cause inflammation along the digestive tract. Gluten intolerance is an example of this process.

Food additives – Often used as flavor enhancers and preservatives. There is some speculation that these additives, such as MSG and colorings found in processed meats and packaged foods, will trigger an inflammatory response in people already suffering from chronic inflammation.

Reducing inflammation form food sources is potentially a simple solution to a number of different illnesses and chronic degenerative conditions.

By eating a clean, nutritionally dense, whole food based diet consisting of vegetables, lean organic meats, low sugar fruits, nuts and seeds, we can begin to gain control over a condition that has limited the lives of so many.

Is Sugar Toxic?

Sugar toxicRecently, a popular Canadian news program investigated the dangers of consuming too much sugar. What they found was disturbing: Sugar, in all its forms, can be toxic to human health.

While it is well-established that over-consumption of refined sugar has been linked to chronic health problems such as obesity and diabetes, some researchers are now suggesting that sugar may also be the toxic trigger for cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

While, Canadians have often been warned against the dangers of consuming too much saturated fat, calories and salt, there have been few recommendations made for sugar. In fact, our consumption of refined carbohydrates in the form of sugar may be the biggest nutritional detriment to Canadians’ health.

The average person will consume 26 tablespoons teaspoons of sugar each day. Most will be in the form of non-sweet substances and package foods. This works out to approximately 40 kg of sugar per person, per year.

“The fat’s going down, the sugar’s going up and we’re all getting sick,” says Dr. Lustig, a pediatrician, medical professor and one of the leaders of the anti-sugar campaign. “This is not a hyperbole, this is the real deal. Everyone thinks that the bad effects of sugar are because sugar has empty calories. What I’m saying is no, actually there are lots of things that do have empty calories that are not necessarily poisonous.”

According to Dr. Lustig, the toxic effects of dietary sugar now put it on par with MSG, food additives and other chemical preservatives.

In fact, upon further investigation, the food industry (particularly the sugar industry) may have purposely withheld information about the dangerous effects of sugar over the years. This has lead some to accuse the sugar industry of utilizing the same unethical tactics in the past as the tobacco industry.

So why is sugar so dangerous? Whether it is table sugar, brown sugar, molasses organic cane sugar, or other sugar derivatives, sugar has a toxic effect on the cells of the body.

Insulin resistance, the method by which sugar causes an individual to gain weight and eventually become diabetic, has been observed to damage every organ in the body, including the brain.

It is believed that insulin resistance may be the initiating factor behind many diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The over consumption of sugar and subsequent changes in the way sugar is absorbed and utilized by the body, can cause hormonal changes over time, making it difficult to bounce back.

Unfortunately, because of the food industry’s reluctance to provide clear labeling information about the hidden sugar content of packaged foods, it is up to the consumer to educate themselves on how to identify the different sugars and sugar-derivatives found in packaged foods.

The words: Syrup, ingredients ending in “ose,” such as maltose and dextrose, and corn derivatives are the most common hidden sources of sugar. Also, don’t be fooled by “organic” sugars such as cane, agave and molasses: They are still considered a refined sugar.

It will be a long time before the true impact of sugar’s toxicity is fully understood. In the meantime, it is easy for Canadians to begin reducing their sugar intake by carefully choosing the right products to buy.

Eat Smart During Pregnancy

pregnancyGood nutrition before and during pregnancy, provide essential building blocks for mom and baby alike. While most moms-to-be are reminded not to drink alcohol or eat canned fish while pregnant, additional nutritional advice is still lacking.

A mother’s nutritional requirements during pregnancy are not much different than normal. Other than an increased need for calories, the same basic nutritional principles of high nutrient density, whole foods, still apply.

It is generally recommend that during pregnancy, women eat a diet high in green leafy vegetables, good starches, organic proteins, fruit, nuts and seeds. Chemically processed junk foods should reduce to a minimum or be eliminated completely.

A mother needs the right building blocks to ensure a healthy pregnancy as well as a healthy baby later on. The foods mom eats will go on to create baby’s skin, hair, muscles, organs and other tissues.

One of the problems many expecting mothers encounter is morning sickness. Morning sickness usually occurs in the first trimester, as the baby feeds throughout the night and borrows vital nutrients from mom.

You might be surprised to know that for some mothers, morning sickness may just be a sign of nutritional deficiency.

One of the best solutions for morning sickness is simply ensuring you have consumed a good amount of healthy carbohydrates the night before. For example: A dinner consisting of lean proteins and starchy carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes will absorb slowly and can give your baby sustenance throughout the long night.

Another common mistake made during pregnancy, is to begin a low-fat diet. Good fats during this time are critical for baby’s brain and nervous system development. A woman’s body is composed of 60% fat when you remove all the water, so eating healthy saturated fats such as cold-pressed oils, organic, lean meats, and nuts are always a great idea.

In addition to eating whole, natural foods, expecting mothers may want to consider the following supplements as well:

  • Folate – This is the active form of folic acid, which has been shown to prevent birth defects.
  • Fish oil – A good quality source of omega 3 essential fatty acid is critical for brain development, especially during the third trimester.
  • Vitamin C – Is a powerful antioxidant and helps build collagen. It can also help fight off illness during pregnancy.
  • Vitamin D – The “sunshine vitamin” is essential for brain and immune system development, especially during the winter months.
  • Multivitamin – In some cases, where whole foods may be hard to come by, a good quality multi can be used.

Finally, pregnancy is never the time to diet or calorie restrict. Focus on the quality of your food and eat until you are full. Supplement wisely and stop consuming processed foods and sugary drinks, which are of limited nutritional value. Proper nutrition before, during and after pregnancy while breastfeeding, will give your baby a healthy, head start.

How To Get 8 Hours Of Sleep Without Drugs

sleepGetting 8 hours of restful sleep can be quite difficult for some people.

Early on in my career, I remember meeting a patient who came to my clinic with a variety of health concerns: digestive troubles, migraines, pain and other inflammatory symptoms.

Having recently moved to Winnipeg for work, she could not figure out what had gone wrong since, according to her, she was doing everything right when it came to her health.

Her nutritional profile looked good – a strict, no refined sugar, no refined carbohydrates, no toxin diet. She exercised daily (sometimes twice a day) and would proudly state how important it was for her to take care of her body with regular chiropractic care.

Stumped, I was preparing myself for a “tough case.” As we began our case history, the topic of sleep came up. Me: “How many hours of sleep do you get a night?” Her: “Sleep? Who has time for that?”

Sleep deprivation is a common problem and most people do not achieve eight hours of quality sleep each night. Without proper sleep, all systems of the body are thrown out of balance: The immune system is depressed, hormones are disrupted, digestion is compromised and the effects of sleep deprivation can mimic many elements of the aging process itself.

In her book: “Lights Out! Sleep, Sugar and Survival”, T.S. Wiley points out that sleep deprivation is also on the CDCs list of known carcinogens. Sleep deprivation has also been known to contribute to weight gain, depression and anxiety.

The primary purpose of sleep is repair and recovery. Unfortunately my high stress, very active patient was driving her body hard during the day with very little recovery at night. This is a recipe for disaster.

Contrary to popular belief, the brain is extremely active at night. The Central Nervous System actually speeds up at night to facilitate healing and repair. The brain will cycle through three phases of sleep (REM, light and deep sleep). It’s during deep sleep that the body will restore itself.

As a result, the quality of sleep is equally important as the amount. Here are three tips for achieving a deep, restful sleep:

  1. Sleep in a cave – A dark, quiet, cool room is essential for a good night’s sleep. Make sure all light is blacked out (including TVs and alarm clocks) and its not too hot in the bedroom.

  1. Minimum 8 hours – Get at least 8 hours of sleep, 9 would be better. Early riser? Try going to bed sooner.

  1. Stimulants – Alcohol, caffeine computer screens and TVs are all stimulants and should not be used at least 2 hours before bed.

Finally, after 3 weeks, my patient who claimed to be “too busy to sleep” was symptom free and on her way back to optimal health. After an honest reassessment of her time, she realized that her 3 hours of late-night TV watching before bed was stealing her sleep time.

While there are many factors involved in getting a good night’s sleep, often it is the simple changes that have the greatest benefit.