In 2007 the American Institute for Cancer Research published the most comprehensive review on diet and cancer that had ever been undertaken. Nine independent research teams went through half a million studies on the subject and created a scientific consensus report. This was then reviewed by 21 of the top cancer researchers in the world.
Based on this study, one of their cancer prevention recommendations was that people should be eating whole grains and / or legumes with every meal. Yes, you read it correctly - every meal, not every day or every week. Eating beans for breakfast is not common in North America although it is in countries such as Japan and India in the forms of miso soup and lentil cakes respectively.
Dr Michael Greger recommends three servings a day from this group. One serving is a quarter of a cup of hummus or bean dip which is very easy to do as an afternoon snack with carrots and celery or sliced peppers. Half a cup of cooked beans, split peas, lentils, tofu or tempeh also comprises one serve. Again, very easy to do with just a bowl of vegetable soup with lentils, beans or split peas in the recipe. Finally, one cup of fresh peas or sprouted lentils is a serve too.
The soy milk you have on your breakfast cereal or in a smoothie can count towards your daily serves. Remember though, it is a processed food, as is tofu. About half of the nutrients that are associated with legumes - fibre, iron, magnesium, potassium, protein and zinc are lost when soybeans are made into tofu. Even with this loss of nutrients however, tofu is still a very healthy food, especially if you choose brands that are made with calcium. Tempeh is a better choice than tofu as it is a type of fermented soy bean patty made with whole soybeans. It is something you will have to experiment with in order to find ways of cooking it that you will enjoy.
Miso is another fermented whole soy food. It is a thick paste which is easy to make into a delicious soup with the addition of vegetables such as scallions, or whatever you have in the fridge. Concerns about the relatively high salt content were allayed after a four year study in Japan that showed people who were eating two or more bowls of miso soup a day had five times lower risk of getting high blood pressure than those who had less.
If you are short on time, canned beans can be a useful addition to your pantry. They are quick and easy to use, and are only about 20 cents per serving more expensive than cooking your own beans from scratch. That’s a price most busy working parents would be quite happy to pay. Lentils are the exception to this rule for me. They cook incredibly quickly and I usually add a cup of dry red lentils to soups such as my favourite cauliflower-curry soup and they just cook as the soup simmers.
Now I know many of you reading this are concerned about gas! Researchers have shown that adding a half a cup of beans a day to peoples’ diets made no difference to their level of flatulence in most people. In those who did notice a difference, the symptoms usually settled within two to three weeks. More common causes of gas are chewing gum, eating too fast, talking while you eat, sucking on hard candies and smoking cigarettes. So maybe have a look at all of those before you give up on the health benefits of beans!
The next few weeks I will be discussing how to make sure you are having a balanced and healthy diet based on the “Daily Dozen” from Dr Michael Greger’s book: How Not to Die. He is an amazing physician who, as I have done, started educating himself on what really healthy eating looks like. Of course, with all the information available it was quite a task. His family, again, like mine, had to go through every step with him. Every time I made a new discovery about a food that the industry is promoting as healthy it would lead to frustration and the refrain - “What can’t we eat now?” or, “Why do we have to have spinach in everything now?!”
Following a whole food plant based diet provides incredible health benefits, reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer amongst other diseases. Trials have shown that going completely plant-based with no added oils in your diet can somewhat reverse blockages in your coronary arteries. Many people with type 2 diabetes have been able to get rid of most of their medications, and in some cases, all of their medications, simply by changing to a whole food plant based life.
So how to do this? Remember not all plant foods are created equal. It is possible to call yourself a Vegan (although I prefer not to use this word due to the many negative connotations surrounding it) - and eat Oreo cookies, potato chips and candy all day long. Of course this is not a healthy way of eating. When people tell you to eat the rainbow, this can also be confusing. Dr Greger’s research led him to the conclusion that there are specific types of foods, which although they are all good choices, are not actually interchangeable in terms of specific health benefits.
For example, sulforaphane, a liver-enzyme detox-boosting compound is found almost solely in cruciferous vegetables. Even if you have eaten lots of other greens on that day you could still have missed out on the benefits of sulforaphanes. The same is true for flaxseeds and the anticancer lignan compounds. Mushrooms technically, are not plants and may contain nutrients that are not available from any other foods.
After much research, Dr Greger drew up a list called the Daily Dozen. He has made this available as a free app which gives details about serving sizes and what fits into each group. For families with smart phones it can be fun to check the lists each day and make a game of getting their daily nutrition needs fulfilled.
For those of you that prefer old fashioned reading, I am going to go through it in depth over the next few weeks. Just to get you started though, the Daily Dozen comprises beans, berries, other fruits, cruciferous vegetables, greens, other vegetables, flaxseeds, nuts, spices, whole grains, beverages and exercise. If you have no interest in cutting out animal products from your diet, just following this list will ensure you are still getting loads of useful disease fighting plant-based compounds.
Everyone seems to be complaining about the cost of food these days, and certainly prices are going up on a regular basis. There are a lot of news stories about the “average” cost of groceries for different size families across Canada. I always think these pretty much do everyone an injustice, since the average means half of Canadians spend more and half spend less.
This is also determined by peoples’ budgets. People with excellent incomes don’t tend to shop by price, and will often choose way more expensive items, feeling, rightly or not, that the quality is reflected in the price. I also think that most people really have no idea at all what they are spending on groceries. When is the last time you went through your credit card statements and tallied up all the entries for your local grocery store? What about all those extra trips for milk or an item you ran out of, and paid for with cash?
Many people say it is impossible to eat healthily due to the rising price of fresh produce. For people on very low incomes of course this will impact them the most. There are still many ways to eat healthfully and for less and you could lose some unhealthy weight in the process.
The first thing is to get rid of processed foods or what I like to call “Food-Like Products”. The processing strips foods of its nutrients and adds many unwanted chemicals and substances such as high fructose corn syrup, which as we have learned from an earlier column, just stimulates cravings. This attribute is relied on heavily by the food industry to make you come back for more of their product. The next time you can’t put down that bag of sweet and salty popcorn or similar junk food, have a read of the ingredients and you will see why! When people ask me what to look out for on food labels, I usually respond that if you are reading the label, put it down and go buy some real food that doesn’t need a label. There are some exceptions to my rule, such as spaghetti sauce which is a staple in my kitchen. In this case, you want to see as few ingredients as possible on the label, and you should be able to pronounce them all!
Stats Canada tells us that 25% of Canadians’ food bills goes on things like soda, candy bars and TV dinners. Start drinking water and make nutritious and extremely economical dinners such as vegetable based soups and stews and you will be amazed at how much further your money will go. I am not buying the excuse that so many people use of not having time to cook. How much time are you spending watching TV every night? Or binge watching Netflix on the weekends? Get the family involved. My daughter was helping me chop veggies when she was five. Teenagers should be enlisted to cook one meal a week. You will be doing them a favour sending them out into the world with a valuable skill!
Another 20% of the average Canadian’s food budget is spent on red meat and chicken. You know my feelings about those from a health perspective. Replace meat in your stews and soups with incredibly cheap lentils or beans and you will save a fortune, save your arteries and decrease your risk of cancer on a daily basis!
Now that the holiday season is over, I know many people are resolving to go on a diet and lose some of those holiday pounds. I would like you to consider making over the way you eat, so that it can be a sustainable and healthy way of life, rather than a short lived weight loss plan, that you know you will stray from pretty soon.
So what foods are “good for you”? What foods are “bad for you”? A simple question? Well not really. The reply is “compared to what?” For example, we are still being told that eggs are good for us. Well, compared to the greasy sausages next to them - they are. But if you really want to choose a healthy breakfast option, oatmeal is far better for you, and if you add some sliced bananas and blueberries you are about to have a great meal.
Potatoes are better for you than french fries, so they are a better option if you are eating out. But if you are at home, sweet potato is a more nutritious choice. The way I look at it, is to imagine you have 2000 calories in the bank at the start of every day. Then work out how you would like to “spend” those calories.
For example, after dinner, if you are craving something sweet, you might head for the freezer and serve yourself up a bowl of ice-cream. This will often be eaten, more or less unconsciously, in front of the TV. In just 2 scoops you will have eaten nearly 300 calories, 16g of saturated fat, 33g of added sugars and IGF-1, a known promoter of certain types of cancers present in all dairy foods.
Or if you had cut up a bunch of strawberries, in one cup you would have had way less calories (only 50) and no fat or added sugars. To make it more like ice cream if you are really craving that sensation, it is easy to freeze cut up fruit and then blend it. My favourite is frozen bananas. The secret is to wait until they are overripe, then peel them and freeze them. Blending frozen bananas gives a wonderfully satisfying dessert. You can even add a teaspoon of cocoa powder for a chocolatey taste. Sometimes I also add a half a teaspoon of instant coffee for a mocha flavour. Another alternative is to use the same ingredients but add soy milk for a delicious smoothie treat.
The foundation of the field of modern nutrition was looking into diseases of nutrient deficiency. Unfortunately many nutritionists are still focused on what nutrients we may be lacking, but most of our chronic diseases now are due to what we are getting too much of. Look at heart disease, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. I bet you know a lot of people suffering from these, if you are not yourself! These all strongly linked to too much fat, too much animal products, too much processed foods. Do you know anyone suffering from kwashiorkor, scurvy or pellagra - the deficiency diseases of the past (or of poorer countries)? Probably not!
“It’s the day after Christmas and all through the house, not a creature is stirring not even a mouse…” (apologies to Clement Clarke Moore :)
How are you feeling this morning, dear reader? Content in the company of visiting family? Bloated from stuffing yourself with too much turkey? Maybe stressed due to lifelong family feuds being replayed on yet another Christmas day? Or possibly you are sad and lonely, not having anyone close by, or experiencing Christmas without a loved one for the first time this year?
My heart and thoughts go out to all the family and friends of our cancer patients who lost their struggle this year. I know that the first Christmas can be excruciatingly painful for those left behind. Be gentle with yourself at this time. If you have a friend who has lost someone this year, please make an effort to stay in touch. Often the weeks and months after the funeral are the loneliest as everyone goes on with their lives. Small gestures such as popping by for a coffee, bringing a pretty plant or inviting them over even for a simple meal of soup and a sandwich can be very welcome. Don’t worry about what to say - just asking how they are doing is often enough.
If you have had a stressful time with family this Christmas, maybe now is a good time to reassess how you would like to do things next year. Many people feel helpless and trapped by family obligations, but really, the choice is yours. If certain family members consistently behave in a toxic manner, maybe it is time to distance yourself from them. Remember, we cannot change how others behave, all we can change is our own responses. Continuing to invite obnoxious family members to Christmas dinners can be likened to banging your head against the wall - it is so good when you stop!
Since today is Boxing Day it is interesting to consider the origins of the name. An early attribution was that in England in the 1800’s people in service industries were given a box with a small amount of money for services rendered during the year. In Europe the tradition dated back even further to the “Alms Box” where money for the poor would be collected. I remember growing up in South Africa and having the milkman (yes in the days when fresh milk was delivered to your door daily!) and the newspaper delivery man, knocking on the door humbly asking for “Christmas box please”. Most people would be happy to give them a small amount as a Christmas present to supplement their meagre incomes.
As always, looking outwards to see what we can do to help others, to make their lives a little happier, and their emotional burdens a little lighter, is often the best present we end up giving ourselves. I like to use this time between Christmas and New Year to review which charities I will continue to support in the New Year and decide if there are any new ones I would like to add. Best wishes to all of you and talk again in 2018!
It’s 2018! There is so much promise and excitement with the advent of the new year. A chance to do things better, to achieve some goals and to just generally get closer to that perfect life we are chasing.
It is such a tired old story that is played out year after year. We resolve to lose weight after a month long of overeating. We join the gym, we throw out the last of the Christmas shortbread in a frenzy of good intentions and high hopes. By mid-February our gym bag is languishing in a corner somewhere and we have bought new cookies to replace the old.
While contemplating this New Year’s column I gained inspiration from a modern era genius - Tim Ferriss. At the age of 40 he has already written four books that have made the New York Times Bestseller list: The Four Hour Workweek, The Four Hour Body, the Four Hour Chef and Tools of Titans. He is a self-professed human guinea pig and was one of “Fortunes” Top 40 under 40. He advises companies such as Uber, Facebook and the bestselling language App, Duolingo (which this writer is currently using to learn Spanish).
I love to learn from highly successful people and follow Tim Ferriss on a daily basis. His thoughts on New Year’s Resolutions really resonated with me. He no longer makes resolutions although he did so for years. He now has two main approaches to planning for the New Year.
The first is that he gets together with close friends to give each other resolutions including deadlines. He has found this to be really successful. This could be as simple as sitting down with your partner or a close friend who really knows you (and “gets” you) and drawing up a few goals with timelines attached.
The other thing he has found most useful is conducting a “Past Year Review” rather than blindly setting resolutions for the New Year. What you do is grab a notepad and pen and draw two columns, one with the heading “Positive” and one with the heading “Negative”. Then flick through your past year’s dayplanner and note all the events you went to and people you saw and the activities you did that give you a positive feeling and all of those that give you a negative feeling. Even if you don’t have a dayplanner I am sure you can remember some good and bad times. An example I mentioned in the Boxing Day column is unpleasant gatherings over Christmas which you attended due to obligation rather than pleasure. Conversely, you might happily remember a hike you went on with friends, or a crafting night that was most enjoyable.
Now look at your columns and think about all the happy times and immediately schedule more of these for the next month. Call your outdoorsy friends and see if they want to go snowshoeing this weekend. Buy tickets to that concert you would like to see or invite good friends over for a potluck dinner and cards evening.
The second thing is to take all the things and people that give you negative feelings and put them on your NOT TO DO list” Stop saying yes to things out of obligation, FOMO (fear of missing out), guilt or any other silly reason.
Give it a go and let me know in a few months how it is working out. Hopefully you will be enjoying a happier more relaxed, truer version of the real you.
So many of us find it very hard to get rid of anything. Sometimes it is because we spent so much on the item. Sometimes the problem is that we worry we may find a use for the item one day, but honestly, if it hasn’t been used in six months it probably never will be. Exceptions to this rule are seasonal items like skis and snow shoes. However, even with these, be realistic. If you haven’t used them in two or three years, how is this year going to be any different?
The last container for the declutter process we started last week is a big garbage bag for things that just need to go into the bin. Be ruthless. Get rid of junk, old sports mugs, worn out t-shirts and ancient magazines (the latter can be put in the recycling bin!).
Over the festive season, many people hang out in the kitchen, often because that is where the drinks and snacks are, or ostensibly to help the host and hostess. Run a critical eye over your kitchen counters to see what can be tidied away. I am particularly guilty of cluttering every flat space with paperwork, mail, receipts etc. Stash these in a drawer before your guests start arriving. Also, put dishwashing liquid and sponges under the sink and maybe store away some of those appliances that are adding clutter to the counters. A clear expanse of space may give you renewed enjoyment for all that money you spent on expensive counters that are buried under “stuff” for so much of the year.
Most of us living in Penticton have far more things than we need, and many of these we will never use. Why not find some of these and donate them on to a good cause. I know many women who have multiple items in their closets that they never wear, either because they do not fit, or generally just make the wearer feel uncomfortable. What is amazing too, is how many of these still have the price tags on!
The Care Closet in Penticton is owned jointly by the SOS Medical Foundation, The Penticton & District Hospice Society and the Penticton Hospital Auxilliary, Situated at 547 Main Street for over 25 years, the Care Closet volunteers take good, gently used clothes, pictures and household goods. Dropping off is easy as there is access via the rear lane and you can get help carrying in your donations. I find it very satisfying knowing the proceeds all go to local charities in our own town. Please do not donate things that are dirty, battered, or generally just anything grotty!
The annual Cover with Kindness blanket drive organized by Greg Litwin’s office ended December 8th and they also accept toques, sleeping bags, gloves, scarves and socks. If you missed this years drive, you can also contact the South Okanagan Women in Need Society (SOWINS) which has stated that the need for warm clothing is up again this year. Wouldn’t it be good to know that your last season’s gently used coat is keeping someone else warm this winter, instead of languishing in an overstuffed closet
So many people decide in the New Year that they are going to tidy up their house or apartment, sort through a cupboard or go through old photos. With the Christmas season upon us, the last thing that we feel we have time for is starting a decluttering process. But wouldn’t it be great to feel more comfortable in your home before people start coming over?
In another article early in the New Year I will be discussing a whole new way of decluttering your house, based on Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying”. Her philosophy, briefly, is to really attack the decluttering process, rather than doing a little bit at a time. However, for our purposes now, just before Christmas, I am going to advocate a somewhat gentler approach.
Grab a few cardboard boxes which are easy to find at your local supermarket. My favourite boxes for the job are actually stationery boxes from work. These are the ones that the reams of paper for the printer and photocopier come in. I love these as they have little built-in handles and lids. Once you are organised, put some happy music on and zoom around all the entertaining areas of your house. Have one box for items that need to be relocated, such as clothes lying around that need to go back into the closet or be thrown in the washing machine. Kid’s toys tend to spread all over the house too and these should be collected up and returned to the appropriate spot in the house. Once you have done your zoom around, immediately put all of these things back where they belong.
Have a second box for items that can be donated, and a third for items to be recycled, such as old cell phones, electronics, cables that you are never going to use and printer cartridges. So many people have drawers and shelves full of unidentifiable electronic equipment. If your TV has been set up and in use for more than a few minutes, you probably have used all the cables you are ever going to need.
Unless you are under thirty, you will likely not be able to recognize which of the mystery cables you are going to need to connect your camera to your TV. If you are this young you more likely have new equipment that is all wireless and wi-fi will do the job. Just get rid of all those cables - you are never going to use them!
With regard to items to donate - one thing I do is look for things that come in multiples. A really quick and easy area to sort out is the kitchen pots and pans. Do you really use all five frying pans, or three dutch ovens? I thought not! If you have four vases that you keep on top of the kitchen cupboard, you probably find you always use one or two that are favourites. Just scoop up the other two and put them into the donate box. Don’t worry that Aunt Millie gave them to you…
Another way in which the “single” high fat splurge meal can do harm is in its effect on our arteries. The phenomenon of postprandial angina was recognized more than 200 years ago when doctors described patients having chest pain some time after a meal, even when the patient was just sitting resting.
In 1955 researchers found that they could induce angina in people with heart disease just by having them drink fat. The attacks of angina were found to occur four and a half to five hours after the fatty meal, which coincided with when the patients blood was most milky looking with fat. After non-fat meals with the same bulk and calories, no angina was elicited in any of the patients.
In order to understand how fat in the blood can affect blood flow to the heart, we need to understand the endothelium or inner lining of our blood vessels. The arteries are not just rigid hose pipes carrying blood around. They are responsive organs that dilate or constrict, thinning and thickening blood and releasing hormones, depending on what the body needs at the time. The endothelium controls all of this.
Researchers have showed that low-fat meals improve endothelial function and high fat meals worsen this. This is not just true for animal fats, but also for isolated plant fats such as sunflower oil. Hours after a high fat meal, the arteries stiffen, thus severely affecting their ability to relax and dilate normally, which probably explains the occurrence of after-meal angina in patients with known heart disease.
Dr Dean Ornish showed in some ground breaking studies that patients with proven narrowing of their coronary arteries actually had reversal of their coronary artery disease after following a strict low-fat plant based diet. In his earliest studies, as little as 10 days of a fully supervised, low-fat plant based diet resulted in some measurable opening up of the narrowing of the coronary arteries. These results were documented by doing angiograms before and after the lifestyle intervention.
His world-famous Ornish Reversal Program is a nine week intensive course with physicians, nutritionists, psychologists, stress management experts and exercise physiologists. One year after the program more than 90% of attendees are still following the plan. In comparison, only 30-50% of people who are started on cholesterol drugs remain on them at the six month mark.
One of the reasons for the success of lifestyle interventions, is that the participants feel so well with their new way of life, and start to truly experience the joy of living. Many people on cholesterol drugs take them just because they fear dying. They are usually not making any lifestyle changes and rely on the drugs to do all of the work. They often never feel truly well on the drugs, and frequently have unwanted side effects, the most common one being aching muscles which further deters them from taking any healthy exercise.
Most people truly believe that they eat healthily overall and feel quite happy and justified to have an “occasional” splurge meal. When their food diaries are reviewed, however, often that “occasional” splurge is more frequent than they like to think.
A new study has shown that eating even one high fat meal immediately affects your liver function. Who hasn’t wolfed down a cheeseburger and fries or several slices of pepperoni pizza, thoroughly enjoying it, and feeling safe and secure that their ‘usual’ diet is healthy? Researchers found that the high levels of saturated fat in these meals immediately altered the way the liver functioned, and it took several days to go back to normal.
Professor of Medicine at the University of Helsinki, Finland, Dr Hannele Yki-Jarvinen states that we know that diets high in saturated fat make the liver fatty. Saturated fats such as butter, cheeses, and those found in meat, chicken and pork are the worst things to eat from your livers perspective.
The study conducted showed that “fat loading” in one meal caused the liver to produce 70% more glucose which can elevate blood sugar levels over time, changing insulin sensitivity and ultimately leading to type 2 diabetes.
Fat loading also makes the liver cells work harder, which stresses them and leads to liver disease. The liver plays a very important role in processing the fats and carbohydrates that we eat. In people who regularly eat fatty foods, these fats accumulate and cause a condition known as nonalcoholic fatty liver. This condition is increasingly common in Canada in line with the ballooning obesity epidemic. It can progress to cirrhosis, which is a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition marked by scarring of the liver. It is almost impossible to reverse cirrhosis, but most people can improve the health of their liver by decreasing the amount of saturated fat in their diet.
In Canada, more than 50% of adults are considered to be overweight. A staggering 75% of obese individuals are likely to develop fatty liver disease. Other conditions that accompany and may contribute to fatty liver disease are diabetes, elevated lipids in the blood, insulin resistance and high blood pressure.
Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) represents the more severe end of the range of fatty liver disease. It means fatty liver with inflammation and is as bad as liver disease in alcoholics. Up to 20% of adults with NASH will develop cirrhosis of the liver and up to 11% may experience liver-related deaths.
Early on people with fatty liver have no symptoms, but as the condition progresses it is common to feel just generally tired and unwell with some vague abdominal discomfort. Ultrasound of the liver will often show fatty liver even in asymptomatic patients who were being investigated for something else.
Even more alarming, is that fatty liver disease is now the most common cause of liver disease in children, largely due to the huge increase in childhood obesity in Canada. At least one in ten Canadian children is estimated to be overweight, a number that seems low when you look around a school playground or mall. Fatty liver disease has been found in children as young as 4 years of age!