Month: August 2018
5 steps to changing your body. Struggling to stay on track?
Losing weight can get complicated with so much info out there but it really comes down to these 5 things. Before getting started on that there is something that you’ll need that isn’t on the list that is going to make the biggest difference and that’s getting in the right headspace to take on the following steps. Defining what success looks like and then taking the appropriate steps to move forward. Yes, it will be uncomfortable but change is necessary if you want to hit your goals.
- Are you eating whole foods that have nutritional value and density instead of processed food? Things like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, wild caught fish, organic chicken, grass fed beef, eggs, lentils, nuts instead of most of the food we generally gravitate to that’s salty and sweet. The easiest way to ensure you get the proper food is to prepare your meals ahead of time. If you can’t do that I’d recommend a meal prep service but those can get expensive. Eating whole foods is where we start with our members,
with the goal of making small changes towards a more nutritionally dense menu.
- Calories and energy expenditure. This is why we exercise and need activity, so we can sneak in some extra foods we enjoy, pizza, beer chips without paying the price of putting on weight. If you’re highly active, you have a little more margin to enjoy some of these especially if you’re consistent with your meals 5 days a week. To lose weight you need to create a deficit of 3500 calories to burn a 1lb. of fat. Think about this for a second. If you need to lose 15lbs that’s 52,500 calories. So creating a daily deficit of 250 calories adds up to 1750 calories a week. SO you will burn a pound of fat in 2 weeks. Now add some activity to that 4-5 days a week and you’re speeding up the process and well on your way. Think about that infomercial that promises you’ll lose 6-10 lbs. in 4-6weeks. Not easy but doable IF your nutrition is on point. Exercise alone will not get those results.
Now, I don’t like counting calories because it is tedious but I highly recommend keeping a food log so you can at least guesstimate what you have to adjust if you’re not seeing the results you want. Keeping a food journal is an underrated tool but something that I highly recommend if your progress has stalled so you have a ballpark of calories going in and creating an overall weekly deficit. A note to add as well that not all calories are created equal which is why we want to eat whole nutritious foods.
- Minimizing sugar intake. This goes well with the number one and two. If you have a sweet tooth you’ll have to find alternative. Dark chocolate or certain fruits can curb a sweet tooth without adding too many calories. Worst case there are protein bars now that taste better than ever that help with that. My favorite is Quest S’mores when I’m craving something sweet. Figure out what you need to substitute is you have sugar cravings. Chances are you’re sneaking in calories and sabotaging your weight loss goals.
- Sleeping 7-8 hours. You can eat well exercise 5 days a week or more and then blow it all up by getting 6 hours of sleep or less. This is the sneaky one that most people don’t realize they are missing out on and sabotaging their progress. Lack of sleep can affect hormones such as cortisol. One bad night of sleep can increase your cravings for junk food. Sleep is necessary for recovery, productivity, reducing inflammation and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re trying to lose weight or increase muscle you must prioritize sleep.
- This one is the hardest to do for many people and it is a more advanced technique but once you get over the hump it can be great tool for helping you reset if you’ve had too much too eat over a weekend. Intermittent fasting is another tool in which you have an 8 hour window to get a certain amount of your daily calories in followed by a 12-16hour fast. I would start with 14-16 hour fast and work up to a 24hour fast. The frequency can vary for the 24 hour fast. Some can do once a week while others once a month. Just remember if you intermittently fast daily, to keep your calories in check. Most people will go off hunger and eat more than they normally do.
We tend to overcomplicate this but if you can hit at least 3-4 of these you’re doing great. The process is simple but not easy. Taking action every day or even doing 1% more every day will add up. If you like setting smaller goals this approach works well.
If you’re focused on the bigger picture and can handle doing 2-3 things per week, prioritize getting sleep with consistent meal prep/ appropriate portions, sprinkling in some activity and that combo will take you closer to the getting the results you want.
Ingredients: (Serves One)
– 1 1/2 cups seedless watermelon cubes
– 3 tbsp. water
– 1 tbsp. chia seeds
– 1 slice lime, for garnish
– Sprig of mint, or strawberries, for garnish
1. In a blender, puree watermelon and water until smooth.
2. Stir in chia seeds and let them sit for about 5 minutes (to thicken up).
3. Stir again, and let it thicken for as long as you’d like!
4. Pour into a glass over ice and garnish with lime and sprig of mint or strawberries.
Constipation is the opposite of diarrhea – it’s when stool tends to stick around longer than necessary. Often it’s drier, lumpier, and harder than normal, and may be difficult to pass.
Constipation often comes along with abdominal pain and bloating. And can be common in people with certain gut issues, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
About 14-24% of adults experience constipation. Constipation becomes chronic when it happens at least three times per week for three months.
Constipation can be caused by diet or stress, and even changes to our daily routine. Sometimes the culprit is a medical condition or medications. And sometimes there can be a structural problem with the gut. Many times the cause is unknown.
Whether you know why or not, there are some things you can do if you get constipated.
1 – Eat more fibre
You’ve probably heard to eat more prunes (and figs and dates) if you get constipated.
Why is that?
It comes down to fibre.
Dietary fibre is a type of plant-based carbohydrate that we can’t digest and absorb. Unlike cows, humans don’t have the digestive enzymes to break it down. And that’s a good thing!
Even though we can’t digest it ourselves, fibre is very important for our gut health for two reasons.
First, fibre helps to push things through our system (and out the other end).
Second, fibre is an important food for feeding the friendly microbes in our gut.
There are two kinds of fibre: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water to make a gel-like consistency. It can soften and bulk up the stool; this is the kind of fibre that you want to focus on for helping with constipation. Soluble fibre is found in legumes (beans, peas, lentils), fruit (apples, bananas, berries, citrus, pears, etc.), vegetables (broccoli, carrots, spinach, etc.), and grains like oats.
Psyllium is a soluble non-fermenting fibre from corn husks. It’s been shown to help soften stools and produce a laxative effect.
Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, holds onto water and can help to push things through the gut and get things moving. It’s the kind found in the skins and seeds of fruits and vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, celery, zucchini, as well as the skins of apples, pears, and potatoes.
It’s recommended that adults consume between 20-35 grams of fibre per day.
If you are going to increase your fibre intake, make sure to do it gradually. Radically canging your diet can make things worse!
And, it’s also very important to combine increased fibre intake with my next point to drink more fluids.
NOTE: There is conflicting evidence on how fibre affects constipation. In some cases, less insoluble fibre may be better, especially if you have certain digestive issues. So, make sure you’re monitoring how your diet affects your gut health and act accordingly. And don’t be afraid to see your healthcare provider when necessary.
2 – Drink more fluids
Since constipated stools are hard and dry, drinking more fluids can help keep everything hydrated and moist. This is especially true when trying to maintain a healthy gut every day, rather than when trying to deal with the problem of constipation after it has started.
And it doesn’t only have to be water – watery foods like soups, and some fruits and vegetables can also contribute to your fluid intake.
Always ensure you’re well hydrated, and drinking according to thirst; this is recommended for gut health as well as overall health.
3 – Probiotics
Probiotics are beneficial microbes that come in fermented foods and supplements. They have a number of effects on gut health and constipation. They affect gut transit time (how fast food goes through us), increase the number of bowel movements per week, and help to soften stools to make them easier to pass.
Probiotic foods (and drinks) include fermented vegetables (like sauerkraut and kimchi), miso, kefir, and kombucha.
More research is needed when it comes to recommending a specific probiotic supplement or strain. If you’re going to take supplements, make sure to read the label to ensure that it’s safe for you. And take it as directed.
4 – Lifestyle
Some studies show a gut benefit from regular exercise.
Ideally, aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes most days.
In terms of stress, when we’re stressed, it often affects our digestive system. The connection between our gut and our brain is so strong, researchers have coined the term “gut-brain axis.”
By better managing stress, we can help to reduce emotional and physical issues (like gut issues) that may result from stress. Try things like meditation, deep breathing, and exercise.
And last but not least – make sure to go when you need to go! Don’t hold it in because that can make things worse.
Optimal digestion is so important for overall health. Constipation is a common problem.
Increasing our fibre and water intake and boosting our friendly gut microbes are key things we can do to help things move along.
And don’t forget how lifestyle habits can affect our physical health! Exercise, stress management, and going to the bathroom regularly can also help us maintain great gut health.
Have you found that fibre, water, or probiotics affect your gut health? What about exercise, stress, and regular bathroom trips? I’d love to know in the comments below!
Recipe (high soluble fibre): Steel Cut Oats with Pears
1 cup steel cut oats, gluten-free
2 cups water
2 cups almond milk, unsweetened
2 medium pears, sliced
4 tsp maple syrup
4 dashes cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Toast oats by placing them in a large saucepan over medium-high heat for 2-4 minutes. Make sure to stir them frequently to prevent burning.
Add salt, water, and almond milk to the saucepan of toasted oats.
Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20-30 minutes, or until desired tenderness is reached.
Divide into four bowls and top with pears, walnuts, maple syrup, and cinnamon.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: If you want to roast your pears first, place them in a baking dish at 375F for about 10 minutes while you’re cooking the oats.
- 1 lb. beets, washed, peeled and diced
- 1/2 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and diced
- 1 sweet onion, diced
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
- Beet greens (from 6 beets), chopped
- 5-6 kale leaves, ribs removed, chopped
- 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
- Handful fresh parsley
- 3-4 fried eggs
- In a fry pan, put in diced raw beets and potatoes with plus enough water to cover them (about 3 cups). Season with salt and bring to a boil and cook for about 7 minutes.
- Drain and set aside the beets and potatoes.
- In the same pan, add olive oil, onion and garlic and sauté for a few minutes.
- Add in kale and beet greens, and cook until wilted (2- 3 mins). Set aside.
- Heat oil in the fry pan over med-high heat. Add back potatoes and beets and press firmly into a layer, and allow the veggies to brown. Once crispy, flip to the other side.
- Add kale and beet greens, stirring to combine. Let the entire mixture crisp up for another few minutes.
- Top with 3-4 fried eggs and parsley. Serve immediately and enjoy!!
I’ve been reading Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way, and it got me thinking about obstacles, how we deal with them and tips to overcome them.
Chances are if you’ve set goals to accomplish something challenging, it could be anything, let’s say weight loss for example, that you have or will hit obstacles on your way.
Heck, life is full of them. If you’ve played sports, it comes up there too.
It’s never a straight line to success and things come up. If you’re trying to improve your health or lose weight, maybe it’s a business trip that your boss needs you to go on. Or maybe your schedule has changed or something has popped up that is making it harder to stay on track. Any of this sound familiar? What would you do? Make sure you still did what you had to do to move forward towards your goals. Or something else?
Maybe your son or daughter got sick and or couldn’t sleep. Maybe your boss slammed you with some extra work or another project. Usually when things come up our default response is to get frustrated, or complain or give up or make an excuse as to why we can’t do something. Guess what?? It’s not meant to be easy. It’s simple but no one said it would be easy. This is the part most people miss on their journey. I think secretly they hope it will be smooth, easy without bumps on the road.
If you’re thinking this is great, but man you have no idea what it’s like to stay up all night because you don’t have kids. You’re right, I might not know what that’s like yet but I can relate going through my own challenges and can at least empathize that the feelings might be similar.
After all, I’m working on overcoming obstacles myself. We all are.
So want to know the secret sauce?? Are you ready?? Reframe the problem. That’s right…change your perspective. This gives you a chance to see the opportunity to improve or move forward vs dwelling in the negative frustrated state. Have you ever given advice to a friend who was just mired or troubled by an obstacle and you could see the answer so clearly but they couldn’t. Well, it’s because you were seeing it from a different lens minus all the frustration and emotion. By the end of it much of all that stuff is out of your control but you can control how you choose to think about something and how you will respond.
Here are a few other tips to help you after you’ve reframed the obstacle.
- TAKE ACTION
- Learn from Failure
- Practice Persistence
Once you reframe your obstacle you need to do something about it. By taking action you are now moving forward towards your goal and taking the obstacle head on. This is empowering and it changes the game from being a victim of your feelings to tackling the obstacle.
When we take action sometimes our actions don’t always lead to the result we are looking for. This is when we need to listen and learn from our failure. If you aren’t making mistakes you can’t learn what you need to do to overcome what’s holding you back. In the case of losing weight or getting healthier, maybe you need to change up some foods or try intermittent fasting. Maybe you need to prep your meals so you make sure you don’t eat foods that will sabotage your goals.
Either way, taking action will lead to a result. Either it worked or it didn’t and that’s an opportunity to figure out what to change if it didn’t.
This leads to persistence. At this point you can either quit or be persistent and take action until you figure it out.
I like this quote from Ryan Holiday, “Genuis is really just persistence in disguise.”
Epictetus said, “Persist and Resist.” Persist in your efforts. Resist giving in to distraction, discouragement, or disorder. (Holiday, 2014)
If you find yourself feeling like the obstacle is too much. I’m here to tell you that there is another way. Make your choice. One will empower to find something positive out of the challenge and figure out a way to take it on. One will just lead to a lot of wasted energy. If you need to vent or let it out do it and then move forward.
The choice is yours.
Leave a comment below if you found this article helpful.
Have a great day!
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.