Month: August 2018
Our digestive system is a huge portal into our bodies. Lots of things can get in there that aren’t always good for us. And because the system is so complex (knowing which tiny molecules to absorb, and which keep out), lots can go wrong. And that’s one reason why 70% of our immune system lives in and around our digestive system.
This makes food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances a huge contribution to an array of symptoms all over our bodies. Things like autoimmune issues, inflammation, and even our moods can be affected by what we eat. If you have digestive issues or any other unexplained symptoms, you may consider trying an elimination diet.
An elimination diet is one where you strategically eliminate certain foods to see if you react to them. It can help immensely when trying to figure out if a particular food is causing symptoms because you’re sensitive to it.
You generally start out by eliminating the most common food allergens for a few weeks. Then you slowly add them back one at a time and note any symptoms (better or worse).
Let’s go over the pros and cons of this diet.
Pros of elimination diets
The main benefit is that, by tuning into your body’s reactions to certain foods, you can pinpoint sensitivities and intolerances that you may not otherwise know of. Experiencing results first-hand can be very motivating when it comes to sticking to eliminating a certain food.
Elimination diets can be less expensive, and in some cases more reliable, than standard allergy testing.
It can also be very empowering to be in control of what you eat, learn about food and the compounds they contain, and try new recipes that exclude eliminated foods. Having a good plan makes things much easier (even exciting). If you love grocery shopping, cooking from scratch, and trying new recipes, you’re going to draw on all these skills.
These diets can be customizable, which is a great pro (see first con below).
Cons of elimination diets
You may not figure out everything you’re sensitive to. Your plan should be strategically created to ensure that the most common food allergens are eliminated. This will give you the highest likelihood of success. It can become complicated if you let it.
t’s a commitment for around 4-6 weeks, if not longer (which can be difficult for some people).
If you’re not used to tracking all foods and all symptoms every day, you’re going to have to start doing it.
You may find that you’re intolerant to one of your favourite foods, or even an entire group of your favorite foods.
When you’re eliminating certain foods (or parts of foods, like gluten), it can be HARD! You almost need to prepare all of your foods, snacks and drinks yourself from scratch. If you don’t take full control like this, it can be so easy to accidentally ingest something that you’re cutting out. And at that point, you might need to start all over again.
Elimination diets can be a very useful tool to identify food sensitivities. They can be empowering and customized.
However, they can be difficult to adhere to and, sadly, you may find out that you’re sensitive to your favorite foods.
Have you done an elimination diet? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments below.
Recipe (Elimination diet friendly): Steamed Salmon and Vegetables
2 medium zucchini, sliced thinly
½ pint mushrooms, sliced
2 tsp olive oil
4 tsp water
2 boneless, skinless salmon fillets, no more than 1 ¼ “ thick
½ clove garlic, diced
2 dashes salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 450F.
Toss vegetables with olive oil.Tear two sheets of parchment paper and fold in half. Open the sheets and place half of the vegetables onto each sheet on one side of the fold.
Add 2 teaspoons of water and place a fillet on top. Top with garlic, salt, and pepper.
Fold the other half of each sheet over the fish, and tightly crimp the edges.
Put packets flat on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes.
Remove from oven and check to ensure fish flakes easily with a fork (be careful the steam is hot).
Open each pack and place onto plates.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can mix up the vegetables or herbs, following your elimination diet protocol.
Broccoli and kale are often touted to be “superfoods.” And, yes, they really are amazingly healthy for you.
If you’re wondering what exactly is in these green powerhouses that makes them so “super,” I’ve dived into the research to give you some nerdy reasons to make these a staple in your diet.
To start, they’re both considered cruciferous vegetables related to each other in the Brassica family. This family of super plants also includes cauliflower, cabbage, mustard greens, and Brussels sprouts.
These superfoods have a tonne of nutrition, and other health-promoting compounds, they’re relatively inexpensive and easy to cook too!
Broccoli and kale are full of nutrition: vitamins, minerals, fibre, etc. They’re both considered to be nutrient dense which is a measure of nutrients per calorie – and these both have a lot!
100 grams of broccoli (about 1 cup, chopped) contains:
- 34 calories
- 8 g protein, 0.4 g fat, 6.6 g carbohydrates, and 2.6 g fibre.
- Good source of B vitamins (when eaten raw)
- >100% of your daily vitamin C
- Almost 100% of your vitamin K
- Good source of manganese
- Traces of all the other vitamins and minerals
One cup of loosely packed kale contains:
- 8 calories
- 7 g protein, 0.2 g fat (including omega-3), 1.4 g carbohydrates, and 0.6 g fibre.
- Contains pre-vitamin A (beta-carotene).
- Several B vitamins, including B1, B3, B5, B6, and folate (B9)
- Rich in vitamins C and K
- Lots of minerals including manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium, sulfur, copper, phosphorus, and calcium
As you can see, these two foods contain a lot of nutrients.
NOTE: Too much vitamin K may interact with certain blood-thinning medications. If you’re taking one of these medications, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before incorporating too much of these superfoods into your diet.
Broccoli and kale also contain other health-promoting compounds.
Super health-promoting compounds
Broccoli and kale tend to taste a bit bitter – but that bitterness equals healthfulness!
This bitter flavour is from some of the health-promoting compounds in these super plant foods. Things like glucosinolates (e.g., sulforaphane and isothiocyanates) and polyphenol flavonols.
There are a few different types of kale – from curly kale, to dinosaur kale, to red/purple kale. The different colours result from slight differences in the amounts of the compounds these plants contain.
One of the main active ingredients in cruciferous vegetables are glucosinolates. These antioxidant compounds are very useful to help detoxify and protect against cancer.
FUN FACT: It’s the precursors to glucosinolates that are in cruciferous vegetables, not the compounds themselves. When fresh broccoli and kale are eaten (or even chopped/blended) raw the active compounds are produced. *This fact is incorporated into a trick I use in this week’s recipe*
NOTE: Glucosinolates may affect iodine absorption and thyroid health, particularly in people prone to thyroid disease. In this case, you may not have to ditch these superfoods altogether – just cook them first.
These superfoods also contain flavonols like kaempferol and quercetin. Flavonols have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and they decrease your risk of cancer.
Kale also contains carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids are known for promoting eye health and are protective against many cancers.
When cooked, kale contains another anti-cancer compound called indole.
Broccoli and kale are cruciferous superfoods. They are packed with nutrition and have a whole array of health-promoting compounds.
Almost everyone should be eating these regularly. Just be cautious if you’re taking blood-thinning medications; and, if you have thyroid issues, cook them first.
Do you, or anyone you know, absolutely love (or hate) these superfoods? Do you have a favourite recipe to share? Let me know in the comments below.
Recipe (Broccoli & Kale): Superfood Soup
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp garlic, chopped
2 large handfuls kale
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 stalks broccoli chopped
8 cups broth
½ cup tahini
2 tsp sea salt
Sautee garlic in olive oil in a large soup pot. At the same time do steps #2 and #3.
Add half of the raw kale, celery, and broccoli to your high-speed blender (in that order). Cover with up to 4 cups of broth and blend.
Pour soup into the pot with the sauteed garlic. Do the same for the other half of the veggies and broth.
Heat soup and simmer for up to 5 minutes.
Remove from heat. Add tahini and sea salt. Stir well.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: If you want the soup to be extra creamy, you can re-blend after it’s heated.
The world of food can be so confusing at times. There was a time when it was clear what food was – it came directly from nature – whether foraging, hunting, or farming.
Now there are so many things we eat that don’t resemble a natural food.
Michael Pollan has a famous quote, he said:
- Eat Food – Not too much – Mostly Plants
And in his famous book, In Defense of Food, he defines what food should be. He says, “Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
And, we can all agree that some things are obviously not recognizable by our great-great-grandmothers: candy bars, fast food, and sports drinks.
We can also say that many of the common health issues we face today: heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, cavities, etc. didn’t exist at anywhere near the rates before industrially processed foods became available.
But, where do we draw the line? How do we define processed? How processed is processed? And what the heck is ultra-processed?
Allow me to let you in on the internationally recognized classification system. And we’re going to go through it step-by-step with an apple.
According to NOVA, the official definition of unprocessed or natural foods is:
“The edible parts of plants (seeds, fruits, leaves, stems, roots) or of animals(muscle, offal, eggs, milk), and also fungi, algae, and water, after separation from nature.”
This is like eating a whole apple right off the tree – clearly unprocessed.
Minimally processed foods are:
“natural foods altered by processes such as removal of inedible or unwanted parts, drying, crushing, grinding, fractioning, filtering, roasting, boiling, pasteurization, refrigeration, freezing, placing in containers, vacuum packaging, or nonalcoholic fermentation. None of these processes adds substances such as salt, sugar, oils or fats to the original food.”
So, with our apple example, once you cut the apple’s core out and put the slices into a container to bring with you for your afternoon snack, you are processing it – minimally. You can even peel and boil that chopped apple to make applesauce. And, as long as you don’t add anything else (like cinnamon), it’s still considered minimally processed.
Processed foods, on the other hand, are relatively simple products made by adding sugar, oil, salt or other processed ingredients to unprocessed foods.
“Most processed foods have two or three ingredients. Processes include various preservation or cooking methods, and, in the case of bread and cheese, non-alcoholic fermentation. The main purpose of the manufacture of processed foods is to increase the durability of unprocessed foods, or to modify or enhance their sensory qualities.”
So, if you take that applesauce, add cinnamon, and/or use it in a recipe, you technically have processed the apple.
This can still be a healthy choice, as you’ll see in the next definition of ultra-processed.
Here’s where things get interesting and scary!
Ultra-processed foods are:
“Industrial formulations typically with five or more and usually many ingredients. Such ingredients often include those also used in processed foods, such as sugar, oils, fats, salt, anti-oxidants, stabilizers, and preservatives. Ingredients only found in ultra-processed products include substances not commonly used in culinary preparations, and additives whose purpose is to imitate sensory qualities of [unprocessed] foods … or to disguise undesirable sensory qualities of the final product. [Unprocessed] foods are a small proportion of or are even absent from ultra-processed products.”
So, pre-packaged apple strudel with a long shelf life is very much an ultra-processed food. If you took a look at the ingredient list of pre-packaged apple strudel (one with a long shelf life), you would see added sugars, oils, preservatives, and flavour enhancers. And we can argue that the healthy apple is a small (very small) proportion of the strudel.
There is a clear delineation between unprocessed (the apple) and ultra-processed (the pre-packaged strudel with a long shelf life) foods. An apple is nowhere near what a mass produced apple strudel is. But, there are a couple of different categories in between these – namely minimally processed and processed.
It’s clear that unprocessed (apple) and minimally processed (plain applesauce) foods are almost always quite healthy and nutritious. It’s also clear that ultra-processed food is not so healthy.
Now that you know the definitions of these foods, I think you’ll agree with me that the commonly used term processed is often referring to the industrial ultra-processing of foods.
I’d love to hear your thought on these definitions. Let me know in the comments below.
Recipe (minimally processed): Slow-Cooker Applesauce
4 lbs apples, washed and chopped
¾ cup water
Place apples and water in a large pot.
Bring to a boil and simmer until apples are soft about 20 minutes.
Blend or mash the apples into desired consistency.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Add some cinnamon for extra flavour, and use the applesauce to make overnight oats.
Thickeners are one of many ingredients added to processed foods. And they do just that: thicken. They absorb water and form a gel-like consistency. They’re often used to make foods thick and creamy, without having to add a lot of fat.
Thickeners also tend to emulsify and stabilize foods they’re added to. Emulsification allows fats and water to mix better and prevents them from separating (i.e., oil/vinegar salad dressing versus a thicker or creamier emulsified dressing). And “stabilizing” helps the product have a longer shelf-life before the “best before” date.
Thickeners are often found in canned dairy-free milk and any milk that comes in a carton, baked goods, soups/sauces/gravies, puddings/ice cream, etc. Some are even added to dietary supplements!
These thickeners are polysaccharides, which means they’re long chains of many (poly) saccharides (sugars). They’re typically difficult to digest, which makes them similar to dietary fibre. And this also means they can help you feel fuller longer without providing many calories or any nutrients.
They’re naturally-derived but are heavily processed to extract the compound. (Did I say “heavily?”)
FUN FACT: food additives are considered anti-nutrients because they reduce the absorption of dietary minerals like calcium.
Overall, for the general healthy population, in small doses, these thickeners don’t seem to create massive health concerns. But, even though they’re extracted from whole foods, they’re far from it. Plus, there are lots of reasons to avoid them altogether.
Let’s briefly dive into five of the common ones.
Xanthan gum is made by a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. This bacteria can cause diseases in plants (e.g., leaf spot). The xanthan gum is created when the bacteria ferment sugar. Xanthan gum is extracted from the liquid, dried, and ground.
Because it’s like dietary fibre, xanthan gum has been shown to help reduce blood sugar spikes. Its thickening properties can help slow the absorption of sugar, therefore slowing the speed sugar can get into the bloodstream.
In high doses, xanthan gum can act as a laxative and can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. It also may act as a prebiotic (food for our friendly gut microbes), but more research is needed.
Xanthan gum should be avoided by infants and people with severe wheat, corn, soy, or dairy allergies.
Guar gum is made from legumes called guar beans. These beans are split, and the endosperm is ground to get the guar gum.
Like xanthan gum, guar gum may reduce blood sugar spikes, act as a laxative, and possibly a prebiotic.
In rodents, guar gum has been shown to increase intestinal permeability (i.e., leaky gut).
Cellulose gum is made from wood pulp and cotton. To extract the cellulose gum, the pulp is processed with several chemicals, which are then removed.
Cellulose gum can cause bacterial overgrowth and inflammation in animals who eat large amounts of it. It’s been suspected to be linked with IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease).
Carrageenan is made from red seaweed that’s dried, ground, chemically treated, filtered, and dehydrated.
Carrageenan can increase intestinal permeability (i.e., leaky gut). It has been linked to gastrointestinal inflammation, ulcers, and colitis-like conditions in animals. It has also been used in high doses to cause tumors in animals for cancer research.
Unlike other thickeners, some rodent studies have shown that carrageenan can worsen blood sugar control issues.
Lecithin most often comes from soybeans, but can also come from eggs, canola, or sunflower seeds. It’s heavily processed with chemicals and then purified.
Lecithin also contains phospholipids, triglycerides, sterols, free fatty acids, and carotenoids.
One of lecithin’s metabolites (what your body metabolizes lecithin into once it’s absorbed) is linked to heart disease. On the other hand, it does lower serum cholesterol. Overall, the jury seems to be out on its heart health effects.
Thickeners are highly processed food additives derived from nature. They are found in many processed foods because they thicken, reducing the amount of fat needed.
In the body, they can act as a dietary fibre, and may have some of the health benefits of that. But, they can also contribute to gastrointestinal issues, especially in higher doses. They can also be allergenic in small doses.
Do you read your labels to see which thickeners are in your foods? Are you going to look out for these additives? Let me know in the comments below.
Recipe (Thickener-free): Creamy Salad Dressing
1 avocado, ripe½ cup coconut milk – use one without added thickeners or make your own (you may need more to thin)
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp dill, dried
1 tsp chives, dried
1 tsp parsley, dried
½ tsp basil, dried
4 dashes salt
4 dashes pepper
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until creamy.
Add more coconut milk or herbs/spices to reach desired consistency and flavour.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Add cilantro for additional flavour.