Tomato: a power house food!


I thoroughly enjoyed the Total Health show this past weekend; I listened to some excellent speakers, learned about some new Canadian Natural Health products and ate some pretty delicious food from the healthy venders at the show. Aside from the show, I have been so busy with work this past week that I still haven’t been able to enjoy the amazing weather we’ve been having- hopefully that will change this coming week! My leg and ankle is also feeling better than I imagined it would feel. I guess between all the yoga, leg workouts and walking I’ve been doing, I’ve been doing something right! Hopefully, with my leg feeling so good and all of the gorgeous weather, I’ll be able to get outdoors to climb within the next few days! Speaking of outdoors, I am seriously contemplating spending the month of May in Kentucky again Smile.

Here’s a picture of me enjoying a good book (Game of Thrones number 1- who’s watching the new season?!), beautiful weather and my favourite lookout in Lions Head!


Lycopene, the major carotenoid in tomatoes, is an up-and-coming power house nutrient with an impressive spectrum of health benefits. Evidence is accumulating on lycopene’s protective effects on many chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer; it is currently a hot area for modern nutritional research. Want to know more about why tomatoes and tomato products are such a great addition to your diet?

What is Lycopene?

Lycopene is a fat-soluble red pigment carotenoid that is found in many plants, primarily tomatoes but also (to a lesser degree) in guava, pink grapefruit, watermelon, and papaya. The small structural variations in lycopene compared to other carotenoids give it both its incredible antioxidant activity (higher than other carotenoids) and its associated deep red color. Lycopene readily absorbed to make it the most predominant carotenoid in human blood among the other most common carotenoids, including zeaxanthin, lutein, b-cryptoxanthin, and b-carotene.  

What are the health benefits of Lycopene?

High concentrations of blood lycopene levels have been linked with lower risks for age-related macular degeneration, lower cancer risks, lower risks for heart disease, and reduced inflammation. The consumption of 30 mg of lycopene per day, through processed tomato products like juice or spaghetti sauce, has been demonstrated to significantly enhance blood lycopene levels and total antioxidant capacities as well as diminish oxidative stress. The most exciting research on lycopene surrounds its cancer fighting actions. Lycopene has been demonstrated to prevent cancer cell growth in a dose-dependent manner for a number of tissue locations including the mammary gland, endometrium, lungs, and blood. It seems to be particularly strong at preventing sex hormone-dependent cancers, perhaps due to the accumulation of lycopene in sex related tissues. 

What makes lycopene such a powerhouse nutrient?

The cancer fighting potential of lycopene can be partially explained by its antioxidant capacity which exceeds other carotenoids and may be based on its chemical structure. Antioxidants effectively quench free radicals that may otherwise cause oxidative damage by reacting with other molecules. Free radicals are important components of the development of chronic diseases, inflammation, and cancer. Research has also demonstrated that lycopene may promote the regeneration of other non-enzymatic dietary antioxidants (vitamin E and C) as well as boost our internal detoxification systems (phase 2 metabolism enzymes).

How can we get the most from tomatoes in terms of lycopene?

Like other carotenoids, the ones in tomatoes (lycopene, phytoene, and phytofluene) are located in the food matrix and are more efficiently absorbed after processing and cooking, which breaks down the food matrix. Since lycopene is lipophilic, it is also best absorbed when it is consumed with fat (e.g. olive oil). Take home point: cook or blend your tomatoes with an oil to get the most bang for your buck in terms of lycopene.

Since lycopene has such great health benefits, should you consider supplementing?

Unlike other carotenoids, lycopene at supplemental doses has not been associated with a pro-oxidant effect at an increased oxidative stress level (e.g. from smoking or drinking). Therefore it would likely be a safe option for a supplement. There is convincing evidence that lycopene alone, in either a synthetic or natural form, can prevent cancer. However, when consumed in a food complex with other phytonutrients, lycopene has significantly improved health benefits, likely through a synergistic modulation of transcription. Benefits can therefore be gained by simply adding more tomato or tomato products to your diet, but particularly by cooking tomatoes with oil. If you still want to supplement, make sure that the tomato extract is in an oil suspension.

Tomatoes are not only a nutritious addition to your diet, but they are also delicious! What gets better than sides of salsa, tomato sauce, or one of my favourites’, bruschetta? Here are some delicious recipes that include this powerful super food!





Kelkel M, Schumacher M, Dicato M, Dederich M. (2011) Antioxidant and anti-proliferative properties of lycopene. Free Rad Research 45(8): 925–940

Sharoni Y, Linnewiel-Hermoni K, Zango G, Khanin M, Salman H, Veprik A, Danilenko M, Levy J. (2012) The role of lycopene and its derivatives in the regulation of transcription systems: implications for cancer prevention. Am J Clin Nutr 96(suppl):1173S–8S.

Wang X. (2012) Lycopene metabolism and its biological significance. Am J Clin Nutr 96(suppl):1214S–22S.

4 reasons exercise is holistic medicine!

This past week has been a busy one: now that I have a (relatively) functional leg, I have been able to work more hours and return to some of my favourite activities. I started yoga again on Monday and have noticed some serious progress each class in the strength, flexibility and balance of my right leg. While I am still unable to fit my own climbing shoe on (downsized a wee bit too much for a swollen ankle) I have been using a rental shoe from my gym. It  feels amazing to finally start using my right leg again while climbing! I’m also starting up a few other exercise regimes this week and am very optimistic that I will be back to my old self sooner rather than later. If all goes to plan, I’ll be able to compete in a regional competition Easter weekend and be able to head back outdoors shortly after!

Aside from the progress of my recovery, I am also very excited about attending the Total  Health Show in Toronto tomorrow- one of the biggest natural health shows in Canada! There are loads of interesting talks and exhibits that I am really looking forward to checking out. If you live in Ontario and are interested, the show runs until tomorrow night (

Here’s a picture of me climbing in Lionshead! Can’t wait to go back!


With the steep rise in chronic diseases today, many of us have turned to a quick fix drug without realizing how powerful a clean diet and exercise can be at managing and preventing many of our most common ailments. While the American College of Sports Medicine and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, less than half of Americans regularly exercise. These numbers are even lower among elderly individuals who are often discouraged about exercise programs. Only about 15% of Canadians and 30% of Americans have reported to meet the 150 minute time recommendations and about 36% of Americans have reported to have sedentary lifestyles. The lack of both a clean diet and active lifestyle can be pinpointed as the major benefactor for the increase in the chronic diseases present today. Exercise can be a powerful tool for good health and should be more recognized as the holistic medicine that it truly is. How can a new exercise program help you achieve outstanding health?

1. Exercise increases your metabolism!

Regular exercise effectively increases an enzyme called hormone sensitive lipase as well as the mitochondrial content of fat cells. The combination of these two increase your body’s ability to burn both fat (up to 4-fold!) and calories! Exercise also enhances your ability to conserve amino acids and produce proteins, refining your muscle building skills. More muscle will also not only help amp up your metabolism but also help you trim up to achieve that beach body status.

2. Exercise reduces your risks for disease!

The most striking example of disease prevention through exercise can be seen in people with diabetes. Exercise increases the rate that sugar is taken up by our cells by stimulating more glucose transporters to their membranes. As a result, exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity and is both great for the treatment and prevention of diabetes. By exercising just 150 minutes per week, diabetes risks have been demonstrated to be reduced by 58%! Exercise is also effective at drastically reducing the risks for just about any chronic disease, including cancer, arthritis and heart disease. It effectively reduces inflammation and excess body fat, making it a powerful tool to improve your all around health!

3. Exercise helps you age with grace!

While inactivity increases the progression of muscle loss and weakness as we age, predisposing us for higher fall risks and reduced function later in life, exercise is an excellent way to keep your youth, both mentally and physically. A combination of both strength and endurance exercise is seen to effectively counteract the function declines associated with old age. Regular exercise is an excellent way to maintain a healthy body weight, improve balance, reduce reductions in bone mineral mass while aging, reduce inflammation and improve overall flexibility. As a result, exercise would be a smart addition at any age and it’s never too late to start! Side note, if you have any medical conditions, be sure to check with your doctor before starting up a new exercise program.

4. Exercise boosts your mental health!

While depression is becoming increasingly common, especially among older individuals where it is predicted to be the most prominent disease by 2020, exercise is also a great way to enhance mental health. It has been demonstrated to improve mood, slow the cognitive decline associated with aging, reduce dementia risks, improve sleep, reduce stress and increase self-confidence. Studies consistently show that active individuals are less likely to have mental health problems. Exercise isn’t only great for staying in shape but is also a drug free way to elevate your mental state.

New to exercise and don’t know where to start?

Getting started exercising can be a daunting task, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve hit the gym or been on that high school sports team. Rest assured, achieving that 150 minutes isn’t as hard as it seems, and once you get going you’ll only be happy with the improvements you see. A little exercise can be easily incorporated into your daily life without too much of a hassle. For example, try taking the stairs more often or maybe take a walk on your breaks at work. The best way to go is to find something that you enjoy so you’ll stick to it! Intermurals are a great way to reconnect with your inner child, have fun and meet new people. Interested in some group classes? Most colleges and gyms offer some pretty stellar fitness classes that will have you fit in no time. Like the water? Aquafit is a great option; my mom has been doing it for years and has only raved about how much fun it is while being not too hard on her body. Looking for a new sport? There are so many adult leagues available to get you started; it’s never too late to find a new passion (rock climbing anyone?)!

Whether you’re new to exercise or have been on board for a while, there’s really no reason not to take advantage of the health benefits associated with active lifestyles. Exercise is a powerful and free holistic medicine that can go a long way in terms of your quest to a healthy, vibrant and happy life.

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Your guide to fresh herbs!

Long week on my end! Being free of a cast, although I am very very grateful of it, has been  a wee bit more difficult than I had anticipated. It has certainly been a challenge to start walking again, with my biggest limitation being flexibility in my ankle. I am almost able to walk without a limp and I can already do some one legged balancing! Standing and walking all day at work has been especially tough but seems to be getting a bit easier each day. While I can’t stick a climbing shoe on my foot just yet (still a bit swollen and sore), I can now also put some weight on my foot while climbing which has made things SO much easier. I’m hopeful that all of my hard work rehabilitating my leg will pay off and I’ll be back to normal sooner rather than later. I made it a goal of mine to be good to go for April 19th, which is both my birthday and Ontario regionals for sport climbing (after which I would really like to be able to head back outdoors granted I can handle the hike in). Finger’s crossed!

Here’s a picture of me climbing in Lionshead this past season! Smile 


Herbs have been used worldwide throughout history to improve flavour and preserve foods however many of their health benefits have slipped under the radar. Recent research has demonstrated that fresh herbs are a rich source of biologically active polyphenols and essential oils, largely responsible for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, digestion supporting, toxin eliminating and cancer fighting activities. They are also rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, making them no-brainers to add to your diet. The use of herbs dates back to as far as 500,000 years ago, with herbal seeds found in pre-historic caves. North America’s discovery by early explorers was linked to their conquest for easier access to spices and herbs. Egypt used herbs medicinally by 3500BC, with recipes of herb infused oil found in the tombs of Ancient Egyptians such as Cleopatra. To chefs, they’re basic ingredients, but to many of us novices in the kitchen, they can be an intimidating ingredient that we’re unsure of how to use. This article will be a brief herbal guide, answering questions about the health benefits of a few popular herbs, how to cook with them, store them, choose them in a grocery store and grow your very own!

Fresh herbs can be grouped into either tender (e.g. cilantro, basil, and peppermint) or robust (rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage). Typically robust herbs can withstand longer cooking times whereas tender herbs should be added right before the dish is done cooking. Moreover, tender herbs can also be eaten raw and make excellent additions to salads and sandwiches. Although there a few times that dried herbs are recommended, fresh herbs should be a preference in the kitchen since are packed with both flavour and nutrients. Dried herbs typically have a stronger flavour (keep that in mind if substituting for fresh herbs) however they lose a lot of their nutrients during the drying process. With that aside, what are some of the health benefits of these tasty plants?

Coriander (AKA cilantro)

Coriander is a popular Mediterranean herb with a distinct and bright taste that people either love or hate; some describe the taste as a little soapy. It’s rich in a number of healthy essential oils, such as borneol, linalool and cineole, and a number of anti-oxidant flavonoids, such as quercetin and kaempferol. It has been used in traditional medicine to reduce pain, help with weight loss, stimulate sexual desire, deodorize and to help with digestion, with research demonstrating its pain reducing, anti-allergic, anti-septic and anti-cancer activities. Cilantro dried seeds are often used in curries while the fresh leaves are perfect for salsa, guacamole and chutneys, commonly found in Asian and Mexican cuisines. Coarsely chop both the delicate leaves and stems (don’t throw out! These bad boys are packed with flavour!) and toss this herb in your dish towards the end of cooking in order to keep the taste and fragrance intact.

South Western Bean Salad!




Rosemary is a robust herb with a nice pine and lemony aroma. It has been used medicinally to as an anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, astringent, decongestant, pain reliever, an antiseptic gargle, a liver detoxifier and circulation promoter, especially to the brain. Exciting emerging research has also demonstrated this herb’s superior ability to fight inflammation and reduce risks for cancer, making it a no-brainer in the kitchen. To use rosemary, pull the needles from the sprig opposite to the way they grow, using them either whole or chopped. Since this is a more robust herb, rosemary can withstand longer cooking times.

Lemon Rosemary Coconut Oil Roasted Vegetables!



This robust herb has been used in traditional European and Chinese medicine, with its biological activities thought to be derived from its essential oil (containing α-thujone, and β-thujone). It also contains bitter substances (such as cornsole), chlorogenic and nicotinic acids, flavones and estrogen like substances. As a result, sage stimulates the central nervous system and digestive tract and has been used to alleviate menopausal/low-estrogen symptoms. Sage has been demonstrated to have anti-fungal, anti-allergic, astringent, anti-septic, relaxant and anti-inflammatory effects. Sage oil can also be used topically to relieve pain (muscle stiffness and rheumatism) or as aromatherapy to relieve anxiety. It has also been used to enhance mental health and concentration and is commonly recognized in infusions as a “thinker’s tea”. Sage can be used whole or chopped, discarding the stems, with a little going a long way to give an earthy and pungent flavour. It’s commonly found in holiday dinners (e.g. stuffing) and makes a delicious addition to roasts (e.g. sweet potato, cauliflower, squash as vegetarian options). A word of caution, sage should not be used by people who suffer from epilepsy (large amounts can cause convulsions) or by pregnant women (thujone may cause uterine stimulation and abortion).

Butternut Squash with Garlic, Sage and Pine Nuts!



This tender herb contains many flavonoids and essential oils (e.g. eugenol, citronellol) that have been demonstrated to be anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-cancer and effective at managing blood sugar. Basil tea (hot water over basil) is thought to relieve nausea and growing a pot of basil in the kitchen is thought to keep flies and mosquitoes away (and also smells amazing!). Basil has a fragrant and somewhat sweet taste and makes an excellent addition to soups, salads, pesto and tomato dishes. This herb should is generally added at the last moment while cooking to keep the flavour and aroma intact; prolonged cooking results in the essential oils to evaporate (also reduce health benefits). Since its leaves are easily bruised, gently tear the leaves with your hands or use whole leaves.

Basil and Kale Pesto!



This herb is native to southern Europe and Mediterranean regions and has a fragrant minty lemony aroma. Thymol, one of thymes essential oils, has significant antiseptic and antifungal actions. Thyme also has one of the highest antioxidant levels out of all of the herbs, with a total ORAC value of 27426-µmol TE/100 g. This herb is commonly used to reduce gas, fevers, headaches, mucus and cholesterol as well as relieve respiratory ailments. Gargling or sipping on thyme tea or infused water may help with sore throats, bronchitis and coughs as well as manage caries and gingivitis (sometimes used in pharmaceutical anti-septic mouthwashes). When preparing thyme, pull the leaves from the sprig opposite to the direction they grow or use the whole sprig and add sparingly to recipes since it has quite an intense flavour. Since prolonged cooking evaporates its essential oils (reduced flavour and health benefits), thyme is generally added at the last moment in recipes.

Lemon and Thyme Quinoa with Cauliflower!



This herb gets its notorious cool and refreshing taste from it’s essential oil menthol, which effects cold receptors in the skin, mouth and throat. Menthol has been shown to relieve cough and cold symptoms as well as reduce pain and irritation. It has been suggested to also help relax intestine walls, making it possibly effective at reducing symptoms from irritable bowel syndrome and other colon problems. It is also commonly used in oral hygiene products. Lastly, mint leaves are thought to help deter ants as well, providing a natural solution to a very pesky problem. Peppermint leaves can be used either whole or torn and go great in deserts, fruit dishes, drinks, salads, garnishes, sauces and soups. Note-people with GERD are advised to limit peppermint because of the muscle relaxation in oesophagus and sphincters which may aggravate reflux condition.

Chocolate Mint Smoothie!



“Delight of the mountains”, the Greek definition of Oregano, is native to the Mediterranean region and has a pungent and somewhat peppery taste. This herb contains a number of health promoting essential oils including carvacol and thymol, with demonstrated anti-septic, anti-spasmodic, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, expectorant properties. In traditional medicine, oregano is used to reduce pain, improve digestion, relieve stomach upsets and painful menstruation, deodorize reduce gas and treat colds, influenza and mild fevers. This herb is a staple in Italian dishes and goes great in pizzas, tomato sauces, soups, omelettes and salads. The leaves can either be used whole or chopped and should be added at the final stages of cooking to keep the essential oils (flavour and health benefits) intact.

Garlic and Oregano Roasted Tomatoes!


Other creative ways to use herbs include herb infused water, syrups and oils!


Growing, purchasing and storing herbs

While many plants are difficult to grow, herbs are very easy and can often thrive in poor soil, drought and high heat. Some can even make it through the winter. The aromas of certain herbs (e.g. mint) tend to repel pests and bunnies and make a great addition to your garden or window sill. Growing your own herbs allows you to cut sprigs just moments before you use them; maximizing flavour and nutrition and minimizing waste since you only cut what you need.

Here’s a nice guide on how to grow your own herbs:


If you opt for purchasing herbs from the store, look for the ones that look fresh and watch out for any discolorations or wilting and take a whiff to check out their aroma. Hold off purchasing herbs as close to your cooking time as possible. When you get home, leave the bunch in a glass with a few inches of water if the roots are still attached and leave them on your countertop or, better yet, on top of your refrigerator, often the warmest area, covered loosely with a plastic bag, and wait to wash them just prior to using them. Another great idea is to freeze your herbs; while the quality of herbs is reduced, freezing herbs are an excellent way to avoid waste and is best used in cooked dishes. Chop leaves or use whole leaves and stick them in ice trays (try freezing them with olive oil!), freezing them for up to a month.

Fresh herbs are flavourful and have some pretty impressive health benefits; they’re easy to grow and, with some basic information, easy to use in your day to day meals. Don’t wait Head over to your nearest farmers market or grocery store to start reaping the benefits of these aromatic and delicious plants!

Esiyok D, et al.(2004) Herbs as a Food Source in Turkey. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention 5:334-339.

Ngo S, et al. (2011) Rosemary and Cancer Prevention: Preclinical Perspectives. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 51:946–954.

Tang E. (2013) Antioxidant activity of Coriandrum sativum and protection against DNA damage and cancer cell migration. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 13:347.

Vallverdú-Queralt A, et al. (2014) A comprehensive study on the phenolic profile of widely used culinary herbs and spices: Rosemary, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, cumin and bay. Food Chemistry 154: 299–307.

An insomniacs guide to falling asleep: a women’s addition.

My cast is finally off and I feel absolutely amazing to be free of it! It was removed this Thursday, just in time for my boyfriends sisters wedding (very much enjoyed wearing a dress and two pairs of shoes).  I’ve been making some serious progress in my recovery over the last few days. From my first VERY uneasy steps out of a cast to my now, almost comical, hobble, I am very happy that I can finally start getting my independence back.  The satisfaction of scrubbing away all of the (heaps of) dead skin and moisturizing was almost indescribable. I am also really enjoying being able to carry things from room to room- 2 months of not being able to carry things with my hands has certainly made me realize how amazing it is to have two functioning legs!

Here’s some picture of me climbing before my cast came off!




While insomnia, a condition that involves a difficulty in falling and/or staying asleep, is an increasingly common burden, females are taking the biggest toll. In an American survey, 27% of the female participants suffered with insomnia verses the 19% of males. In fact, women are 41% more likely to experience insomnia than males, and even more so during menopause, when over 50% of women reporting significant insomnia symptoms. Sleep loss is a major hit to our overall health and wellbeing, directly contributing to a lower blood sugar control, weight gain, memory impairment, whole body inflammation, increased appetite, anxiety and a higher risk for chronic disease. While sleep is influenced by a number of factors, such as light and melatonin, diet, and stress, it’s becoming increasingly clear that sex hormones can play a significant role in our ability to fall asleep.

As many of you know, melatonin is an important sleep hormone that is produced later in the day by our pineal gland to make us sleepy at night. Dysregulation of this sleep hormone is thought to be a common cause of insomnia, brought on by brighter lights, higher activity levels and more stress close to bedtime. Due to an age related degradation of the pineal gland, melatonin is also significantly lower in elderly individuals, contributing to insomnia in old age. As a result, melatonin supplements are promising for managing insomnia in individuals with a dysregulation of melatonin, especially in elderly individuals. Furthermore, they have a high safety profile and do not have the addictive potential or hangovers seen in pharmacological agents. Unfortunately for many of us women, insomnia can also be brought on by the hormonal changes throughout our lifetime, making its treatment far from straight forward. For example, lower estrogen during menopause, nighttime elevations in luteinizing hormone pulses in postmenopausal women and low estradiol levels across the menstrual cycle are all associated with less sleep. With the complexity of insomnia in women aside, what can you do to get better night’s sleep?

1) Adjust your bedtime routine!

Often the first step doctors take (or should take) while treating insomnia is taking a look at your bedtime routines. Strategies to manage insomnia are complex but typically begin with establishing a sleep and sex only rule for the bedroom, only going to bed when tired, leaving if unable to fall asleep within 20 minutes and keeping a set wake-up time. This strategy is effective at promoting an association with the bed and sleep. If you tend to exercise, eat heavy meals, drink coffee or smoke close to bedtime, think about moving those activities earlier in the day to avoid arousal or discomfort when you try to sleep. Since light stimulation is associated with melatonin production, avoiding bright lights (e.g. TV, cellphones, and computers) close to bedtime, and even dimming your house lights if possible, can be an effective way at promoting sleep. As someone who has struggled with insomnia first hand, I know all about the worry and expectations for sleep that comes with it close to bedtime. This worrying and frustration only makes things worse so try to be positive about whether you sleep or not, which I know, is a very difficult task. Reading can be an effective way at turning off your brain enough to stop thinking about not sleeping. Finally, finding a relaxation method can be a useful step for getting sleepy and keeping positive. Good options for this final step can include progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing techniques and meditation.

2) Take a look at your diet!

Healthy diets with regular meals, fewer refined carbohydrates and saturated fats, and more fruits (growing studies on tart cherries and kiwifruit), vegetables, nuts, and legumes have been demonstrated to promote a good night’s sleep. These diets provide adequate magnesium, calcium, tryptophan and B vitamins, which have all been seen to improve sleep by enhancing the production of both serotonin and melatonin. If you’re vegetarian and not taking a B12 supplement, seriously consider taking one since it is typically missing from plant-based diets (primarily found in animal products) and is associated with sleep loss if missing (as well as a slew of other health issues). A low level of blood tryptophan has been shown to be another important factor for insomnia and is influenced by a number of factors. For example, carbohydrates help your brain use tryptophan. As a result, a lack of tryptophan use in the brain can be a problem in people who are eating a carbohydrate restricted diet. Tryptophan rich foods include sesame seeds, lentils, beans, sunflower seeds and miso. Consuming these foods with complex carbohydrates, especially when having bedtime snacks, is a good way to promote sleep.

Lower estrogen levels, seen in both in women going through menopause or struggling with amenorrhea (lack of menses), are also associated with lower tryptophan levels and sleep loss. Because of this fact, estrogen supplementation has been demonstrated to be effective at elevating tryptophan levels and improving sleep in these individuals. Since there are a few concerns with hormone replacement, specifically higher risks for heart disease, food sources of phytoestrogens can be a safer alternative, with growing research demonstrating their efficacy. Phytoestrogens, non-steroidal plant derived compounds that have estrogenic activity, are mostly put into three main classes: isoflavones (in legumes, particularly in soy), lignans (rich in high fiber foods, especially flax) or coumestans (e.g. alfalfa, clover sprouts, pinto beans, split peas). Although research is limited, these food items have been shown to have some clinical effectiveness, especially isoflavones. Increasing these food items, especially in women with low estrogen levels, can be another safe way to improve sleep.

3) Address your mental health!

Stress is seen to activate the sympathetic nervous system and is a major contributor to a hyper-arousal around bedtime, resulting in a racing mind that’s hard to shut off at bed time. Furthermore, women tend to experience higher levels of anxiety disorders (1 in 4 women) which frequently results in depression, also more common in women. About 60% of women who experience depression complain about sleep loss. What makes matters worse is that sleep loss alone increases the likelihood of developing a major depressive disorder by fourfold, creating a vicious and frustrating cycle. Making lifestyle changes that promote mental health can have a significant and positive impact on your ability to sleep and can include things such as meditation and positive thinking. Simply practising compassion, smiling more frequently, helping other people and avoiding negative thoughts can do wonder for your mental health. Exercise is another important and effective part of enhancing both mental wellbeing and our overall health. New to exercise and don’t know where to start? Working exercise into your routine doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal and can include simply taking walks during your breaks of using the stairs when possible. Finding a fun activity can be an excellent way to get those good endorphins going; community colleges offer a wide selection of fitness classes that can be a great way to get active. Maybe join a recreational sports league or find a new hobby (rock climbing anyone?). Finding something that you enjoy is a good way to motivate you to stick with it.

Clearly insomnia is a very complex issue, especially for us women. Hopefully this information will help set you on your way to a better night’s sleep!

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Eating for strong bones!

Busy week for me! Starting to get more hours at work now that my leg is starting to feel better- feels good to be so productive again! I’ve been doing lots of cooking also; I’ve successfully made breaded oyster mushrooms, pad Thai, pizza (my boyfriend did all of the work on that one Smile with tongue out) and tom yum soup… stay tuned for when I start posting up recipes! I’m feeling quite a bit stronger climbing lately and am feeling more and more confident with one legged climbing and training. It will be interesting to see how all of this arms mostly climbing with one leg will translate after my cast comes off. Probably my biggest news is that I’m finally approaching the date that my cast comes off, this coming Thursday!! Although I may just be promoted to a walking cast, it will be amazing to be able to take showers without a bag, sleep comfortably,have my hands while I’m walking (I’ll finally be able to carry my cup of coffee to the next room over!), navigate the ice easier, drive a vehicle AND exfoliate all of that dead skin that I’m sure will be abundant after 6 weeks in a cast! I foresee a serious life improvement in 4 days time- CANNOT WAIT!!

Here’s another picture of me climbing in Kentucky back in November Smile


As many of you may know, I had a bit of an accident at the beginning of February and found myself with a broken leg and torn ligaments. While my recovery has had its ups and downs, I’m now on the mend and am looking at switching out of my current cast this coming Thursday. During this phase of bone rebuilding, I thought it would be fitting to write an article on how we can use our diet to support strong bones. Enjoy!

Bone is a dynamic organ, constantly being renewed and remodelled by degradation and formation. It plays many roles in the body, including structure, mobility and calcium storage. While there are many influences on bone density, for example strength training, smoking and overall activity level, what we eat plays a significant role on our bone health. Furthermore, how much bone mass we are able to establish before about age 30, at about our peak bone mass, determines our likelihood of osteoporosis as we age. When we think about bone building foods, we tend to think about calcium rich foods (1000-1200 mg daily is the current recommendations), which is not only rich in many dairy products (Questionable bone effects, but let’s leave that for another post), it is widely present in the foods we eat and rarely lacking in our diet. Instead of focussing on getting more calcium for stronger bones, nutrients that allow us to better absorb and utilize this mineral could be a better route. With that said, how can we eat to support our overall bone health?

1) Eat more fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds!

Fruit, vegetable, nut and seed consumption enhance bone health in a number of ways and have been consistently associated with greater bone density. They are rich in antioxidants (e.g. vitamin A, vitamin E, Vitamin C, carotenoids, etc.) and help protect our bones against reactive oxygen species, which directly contributes to bone loss. Phytochemicals (e.g. flavonoids), which often act as antioxidants, are chemicals in plants that have biological significance. In the case of bone health, they have been demonstrated to both indirectly and directly reduce bone degradation and support bone growth and are associated with a greater bone density. Another bone building component of plant-based foods, particularly in leafy greens, nuts, seeds and bananas, is magnesium, a vital nutrient in calcium homeostasis. In fact, about 60% of the magnesium present in the human body lies within our bones. In order for calcium to be assimilated to our bones, a balance of both vitamin D and magnesium is essential and when either is missing, calcium intake (especially in the supplemental form) can actually result in some pretty severe health risks. For example, aside from a higher risk of osteoporosis, calcium without vitamin D (or with too much) and magnesium can result in a calcification of our blood vessels, putting us at a higher risk of heart disease. In conjunction with daily vitamin D3, we should be aiming for approximately 400mg of magnesium daily (RDA is 420mg/day in men and 320mg/day for women), which is an easy feat with more fruit, veggie, nut and seed consumption. Plant based foods also contain a wide spectrum of water soluble B vitamins, which have been reported to have skeletal benefits via their action on homocysteine. Low serum B vitamin concentrations, particularly folate, have been demonstrated to be a risk factor for decreased bone health. Aside from vitamin B12 (typically derived from animal products but can also be found in certain yeasts and fortified foods), B vitamins are also widely available in diets rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

2) Eat foods rich in vitamin K!

Vitamin K is best known for its function in the blood coagulation pathway, but it also plays a role in bone metabolism and has been associated with greater bone densities. The major forms of this fat soluble vitamin are phylloquinone (vitamin K1), found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and menaquinone (vitamin K2), produced by bacteria and found in fermented foods such as yoghurt and natto (fermented soy). Vitamin K allows our bones to integrate calcium, in turn preventing vessel calcification (a factor for chronic disease), reduces bone degradation and may support collagen production. The AI for vitamin K1 is 120mg/day for men and 90mg/day for women, which can be achieved by incorporating more leafy greens. While K2 may be more biologically active, there is currently not enough data to provide a dietary recommendation. Either way, incorporating more fermented foods into your diet would be a good way of getting more K2. One last note; since vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin, consuming vitamin K rich foods with a bit of fat may optimize their absorption. Take home point; eat more fermented foods and leafy greens and consume them with healthy fats (e.g. fat from fish, nuts, coconut oil, olive oil, etc.).

3) Drink less cola!

Cola consumption has been associated with lower bone density, particularly in women. While these bone influences could be derived from a number of factors, including their caffeine and sugar content or maybe even acidity, some evidence has pointed the finger at phosphoric acid. Phosphorus itself is an important bone mineral and plays a pivotal role in energy metabolism. Problems typically arise when we get too much compared to calcium via an interference with calcium absorption and excretion. In order to maintain blood calcium, tightly regulated because of to its importance in things like nerve function and muscle contraction, calcium will be stolen from our bone to keep blood levels in check, resulting in bone loss. For example, in a recent study of Brazilian men and women, an increase in phosphorus intake was related to higher fracture rates (9 % increase in fracture per 100 mg intake of phosphorus in the diet). Researchers at Tufts University, found that women who regularly drank cola-based sodas (3 drinks daily) had almost 4% lower bone mineral density in the hip, even with controlled levels of calcium and vitamin D intake (not found in non-cola soft drinkers). The darker the soda, the higher the phosphorous composition, with approximately 41mg in 240mL of coca-cola, helping achieve that tangy cola taste. Something to consider is that cola phosphorus composition is quite low compared to dairy and meats (e.g. milk has roughly 200mg in 240 mL), adding some confusion to the phosphorous hypothesis. In any case, avoiding soda, particularly cola’s, would be a good and easy step to help maintain healthy bones.

4) Catch some rays!

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in calcium metabolism. While it can be found in two forms, D2 (ergocalceiferol) from plants and D3 (cholecalciferol) from animals, vitamin D3 is the only form used in the human body. While we can get some vitamin D from our diets, in fortified foods, dairy, mushrooms and some meat products, sunshine is our most reliable source to prevent deficiencies. Vitamin D can be produced by our skin following sun exposure and ultimately, like vitamin D derived from our diet, produce calcitriol, a metabolite that acts like a hormone to regulate blood calcium and phosphate, promoting bone growth, calcium absorption in our intestines, and sufficient blood calcium. Adequate vitamin D can be achieved in the summer by spending about 8 minutes outside with exposed skin. This time frame can increase to up to 50 minutes during the winter time, particularly in the northern hemisphere. Since time in the cold with bare skin would be uncomfortable to say the least, supplementation with about 1000 IU/day through winter months would be a good option to ensure adequate intakes. In a recent study in a Boston hospital, about 42% of the adolescent patients that were examined had a deficiency and an estimated 1 billion people world-wide aren’t getting enough, highlighting the importance of supplementation throughout the winter time.

Bone health is an important part of our wellbeing, especially as we age. It’s never too late to start eating to support strong and healthy bones!

Calvo M, Uribarri J. (2013) Public health impact of dietary phosphorus excess on bone and cardiovascular health in the general population. Am J Clin Nutr.98(1):6-15.

Hamidi M et. Al. (2013) Vitamin K and Bone Health. J Clinl Densi 16 (4):413.

Hanley D, Whiting S (2013) Does a High Dietary Acid Content Cause Bone Loss, and Can Bone Loss Be Prevented With an Alkaline Diet? J Clin Dens 16(4):425.

Nieves J. (2013) Skeletal effects of nutrients and nutraceuticals, beyond calcium and vitamin D. Osteoporos Int 24:771–786.

Shen C et. Al. (2012) Fruits and dietary phytochemicals in bone protection. Nutr Research 32:897-910.

Getting the most out of garlic!

Another great week on my end. I’ve been continuing to climb every other day and have been feeling pretty strong lately- I’m back up to being able to do 15 pull ups and am feeling much more confident on the campus board. I began lead climbing this past week also, which feels amazing! I have really missed being able to competently sport climb since my leg, and of course, all of my time in the Red River Gorge. Speaking of Kentucky, Miguel’s Pizza (my place of residence from April-November) is back open for the season! While there’s apparently still snow on the ground there, I’m feeling very anxious to get my cast off and head back there. There are so many people I’m desperate to reconnect with and so many routes that I left over the winter for me to come back stronger this season. I’m pretty optimistic that all of this essentially arms only climbing and training will translate really well when I finally have my leg back in order. I’m feeling much more powerful, which was exactly what I needed to work on over the winter. Other than that, I have been continuing to enjoy my new job and am in the process of making a big life decision… Come Monday I will be re-enrolled for academia! 

Here’s another picture of some cold weather climbing in Kentucky!

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Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, is a member of the onion genus (Allium) with relatives including leeks, shallots and onions. It has been used world-wide for just about everything; from asthma to toothaches and baldness to cancer. While some of its historical uses are questionable (e.g. vampire repellent), many of the claimed health benefits are actually gaining recognition in modern nutritional research. Garlic’s story was first thought to start around 300 BC, when Charak, the father of Aryurvedic medicine, reported garlics ability to improve heart health. Similar recognitions also arose in Egypt around 3500 years ago, which lead to the plant being stored in the tombs of pharaohs and given to slaves to allow them to have the endurance to build our ancient pyramids. Ancient Greek and Roman athletes and soldiers ate garlic for strength and, eventually, garlics use therapeutically was ingrained in many cultures. On top of being today’s most popular herbal remedy, garlic is a beloved plant in the kitchen of many cultures, being a fundamental component of most Asian, North African, Southern European and South and Central American dishes. So, how do these historical health benefits hold up to the analysis of modern science and how can we prepare garlic meals that provide maximal health benefits?

Garlic is a top-notch super food!

While garlic is an excellent source of minerals and vitamins, including B vitamins, vitamin C, phosphorous, copper, calcium and selenium, most of the exciting health benefits are derived from its sulfur compounds (allicin, alliin and ajoene). The best studied of these is allicin, a strong smelling and unstable sulphide that is produced by the garlic enzyme allinase from allin. Allicin has been demonstrated to be a potent antiplatelet, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral and anti-fungal chemical (e.g. demonstrated efficacy against candida). With these biological capacities in mind, higher consumption of garlic is associated with reduced physical and mental stress, reduced risks of cancer (via inhibition of cell proliferation and metastasis), lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improved antioxidant activity, improved insulin sensitivity and blood glucose, lower risks of infection, improved immune response and a lower risk of heart disease. These outstanding health benefits are even greater in aged garlic extracts (e.g. better immune supporting properties), produced by long-term extraction from garlic in alcohol. For example, animal studies reported a statistically significant reduction in atheromatous lesions, particularly in the aorta, that averaged approximately 50%. In humans, aged garlic extract has been shown to reduce the progression of heart disease and have been deemed safe in preclinical studies. While many people opt to supplement, either for a higher potency or for a distaste of the pungency and odor of garlic, people who are on anticoagulants or are scheduled for surgery should be very cautious since garlic supplements are very effect blood thinners and can increase bleeding times. Furthermore, high doses of garlic can complicate diabetes and cause intestinal damage in some cases. By adding about 2-5g of fresh garlic daily, you can negate these risks and still obtain this vegetables health benefits.

How should you store and prepare garlic?

To get the most bang for your buck in terms of health and flavor, opt for fresh garlic, which should be stored in a cool and dark place (refrigeration or freezing is unnecessary and may be detrimental) to maintain its freshness and prevent it from sprouting. Whole bulbs will stay fresh for about a month, but once you break a bulb, its shelf life is shortened to just days, so be sure to use it quickly. When it comes to actually using garlic, the first step is to separate the individual cloves (easily done with the palm of your hand), followed by peeling the skin and removing any sprouts. Chopping or crushing the root successfully stimulates garlic to release allinase, which converts alliin to the biologically active allicin. After this step, wait at least 5 minutes before eating, cooking or adding anything acidic (e.g. lemon juice) to garlic to prevent the deactivation of allinase (i.e. less allicin).Cooking uncrushed garlic in a whole clove form results in less allicin, so try to crush or chop the cloves instead in your recipes. Lastly, be sure not to cook garlic for too long or with too much heat as it will reduce the amount of allicin in your final dish and will also make the garlic go bitter. In any case, fresh garlic may be the most realistic way to get the most allicin because cooking garlic for more than 15 minutes at temperatures over 250F will reduce its allicin content. After you make your meal, be sure to eat it within 2 days, which is the duration that allicin will stay viable in food.

The flavor of garlic varies depending on how you prepare and cook it and is a classic in many dishes including onions, tomatoes and ginger. My boyfriend, James, has an amazing garlicy guacamole that impressed me early on. The following recipes include his as well as a few of my favorites that highlight this pungent vegetable!

Garlic Guacamole

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3-4 large cloves of crushed garlic

2 ripe avocados                                                        

1 large ripe tomato

1 small onion

2-3 small Cilantro bunches

1.5 tsp. cumin

2 fresh chili peppers (or hot sauce but fresh peppers are preferable)

Juice of 1-2 limes

Salt and pepper to taste

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1) Crush garlic and leave it to the side of the cutting board. Finely dice onion, chilli’s (leave the seeds in if you like it HOT) and tomato together, be sure to combine them on the board to “let the flavors get happy together” (says James). Roll and chop your cilantro into tiny bits and then lightly salt the contents of the board. Scrape everything on the board into a bowl and continue to step two!

Feel free to make a vegetable face on your cutting board while your letting your garlic sit!

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2) Peel and pit the avocados into the bowl and cover with half of the lime juice. Mash everything up (mashing technique is up to you but we like to use a fork) but leave it chunky (don’t go overboard by turning it into a puree!).

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3) Final step; stir in your cumin as well as salt and pepper to taste for a guacamole that will knock your socks off! Serves well with just about anything! (E.g. with veggies or chips, on toast, in a burrito, in a rice dish, etc.) Enjoy 🙂 –Side note, leave the pits in your guacamole to keep it fresh longer!

Mock Garlic Mashed ‘Potatoes’ –an ingenious and lower calorie take on the traditionally high calorie dish, made with cauliflower instead of potatoes :). Opt for coconut or olive oil for an even healthier and vegan alternative.


Garlic Hummus– one of my favorite dishes, packed with nutrients and plant-based protein and is excellent for dipping vegetables in. If you’re like me and like a little bit of spice, the addition of hot peppers will perfect this dish! 🙂


Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai– Anyone who eats with me frequently can attest that I’m a HUGE fan of spaghetti squash pad Thai. Spicy peanut sauce is unbelievably easy, packed with flavor and successfully incorporates garlic at its finest.

pad thai

Khatu T, Adela R, Banerjee S. (2013) Garlic and cardioprotection: insights into the molecular mechanisms. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 91(6):448-58.

Li L et. Al. (2013) Garlic in Clinical Practice: An Evidence-Based Overview. Critical Rev Food Scie Nutr, 53:7, 670-681.

Mikaili P et. Al. (2013) Therapeutic Uses and Pharmacological Properties of Garlic, Shallot, and Their Biologically Active Compounds. Iran J Basic Med Sci.16(10):1031-1048.

How can we eat to support a healthy gut microflora?

Another productive week on my end! I started the new job on Monday and am so far loving it; really great environment with excellent management. They have been very patient with me while my leg is broken and have allowed me to start every other day until the cast comes off. While my opposite hip starts to really hurt by the end of my shifts, I’m really glad that I have that day off in between shifts to recover! I am also starting to feel strong again climbing and have gotten used to doing it without my right leg. It’s amazing how much harder it is on your upper body when you’re missing a leg. A few more weeks of this definitely will help my power and strength by the time my cast comes off (3 more weeks to go!). I am very excited to have my independence back when it comes off, good timing for the spring climbing season as well :).

Here’s a picture of me a few weeks before the broken leg at a ‘boulder night’ at my old climbing gym. Photo credit to my friend Will 🙂 (find more of his photography on his website
boulder night
It’s becoming very clear that our health is not only controlled by our genes, but also our environment and, interestingly, the communities of organisms that inhabit us. The human body can be viewed as an ever changing ecosystem made up of approximately 100 trillion microbes that are collectively referred to as our microbiota. While these inhabitants are present throughout the body, they are concentrated in our gastrointestinal tract where they play a significant role in our overall health, nutritional uptake, behaviour, mental well-being and risk for disease. Varying species compositions have been demonstrated to be key contributors to just about every disease (e.g. allergy, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, inflammatory bowel syndrome) in developed countries, making our gut microbiota a key factor in health promotion and disease prevention. With our gut microbiota being such a pivotal component of our overall health, why are they so important and how do we achieve a healthy microbiota?

What is the significance of a healthy gut microbiota?

Bacteria begin colonizing the human body immediately after birth and play an important role in the early development of our gut, brain, endocrine and immune system. Their diversity is shaped by a number of factors including genetics, transmission of bacteria from our mother (e.g. natural vs caesarian birth), diet, infection, antibiotics, stress and exposure to unsterile environments throughout childhood. By adulthood, microbial cells exceed around 10-fold the number of human cells, with the majority found in the gastrointestinal tract. Our gut microbiota influence our health in a number of ways. They protects us from harmful pathogens, they determine how we absorb, store and metabolize fats, sugars, calories and other nutrients, they help control inflammation, they elevate our mental health and they help establish a healthy gastrointestinal tract. Our microbiota are also vital for the breakdown of fiber and complex carbohydrates (those that aren’t broken down in our small intestine) by using added enzymes that the human body can’t produce. The fermentation of these hardier carbohydrates provides energy for both us and our microbial residents, allowing healthy bacterial growth and the production of sugar and short-chain fatty acids, which have health promoting effects. For example, these fatty acids have been demonstrated to reduce cancer production (tumor necrosis factor), improve our immune response, reduce our body fat, stimulate a healthy colon, increase food intake control, and reduce inflammation.
How can we achieve a health microbiota?

1) Eat more fiber!

Fiber is the most important nutritional factor on the health of our microbiome and their ability to product short chain fatty acids. While westernized diets, typically high in processed foods, saturated fat and low in fiber, result in a microflora that produces less short chain fatty acids and typically promotes inflammation, high fiber and low fat diets have been demonstrated to do just the opposite. High fiber diets reduce inflammation, protect against cancer and feed our gut bacteria, allowing good bacteria to thrive. In fact, fiber consumption is associated with lower levels of e.coli, salmonella and listeria bacteria. Fiber can be easily incorporated into your diet simply by eating more plant based foods. Serve up some veggies, fruit or nuts for your next snack and you’ll be on your way to a healthier microbiota.

2) Watch your fat and calorie consumption!

Calorie and fat consumption also contributes to different compositions of bacteria. For example, high-fat calorie restricted diets produce less of the health promoting short chain fatty acids compared to high-carb, low fat diets. While overall fat intake is important, the type of fat can make a big difference on the health of your microbiota. Saturated fat, found in animal products, is associated with unhealthy microbiota, a lower production of short-chain fatty acids, as well as inflammation and higher risks for disease. Omega-3 fats on the other hand, rich in fish (DHA and EPA omega 3), aquatic plants (DHA and EPA omega-3) and land plants (ALA omega-3), promotes healthier bacteria compositions as well as reduces inflammation. Calorie consumption is another factor for healthy microbiotas. Too much calories, even just short term, will rapidly change our microbiome to be able to store energy and fat better as well as stimulate inflammation, contributing to the development of obesity and chronic disease. Reduce your intake of meat and fried foods and incorporate more fish and plant-based foods and try not to overeat frequently. The added fiber from more plants in your diet will also help you manage your appetite, making it easier to keep your calorie consumption in check.

3) Lower your stress load!

Under stress, the brain can influence our gut microbiota (via cortisol) to initiate an immune response (pain, inflammation, heat). While this immune response is normal, if it persists long term it will lead to chronic inflammation and heightened risks for infection and disease. Aside from this immune response, stress related cortisol production can have serious impacts on the diversity of our microbiome, further contributing to elevated inflammation and disease risks. Good management strategies include exercise, laughter and reducing your workload, all demonstrated to do leaps and bounds for your stress levels. Head on over to your local gym for some hard cardio- classes, relax at a new yoga studio or maybe try a new fun sport (rock climbing anyone?). Hang out with funny people or, if you’re short on those, catch a comedy at the show or check out a stand-up comedy club. By managing your stress, you can not only help alleviate all of the anxiety that comes with it, you can also support a healthy microbiota (also associated with better mental health… win win!).

4) Eat a probiotic rich diet!

A probiotic can be defined as a live microbe that helps promote a healthy gut microbiota; their benefits have been shown in both animal and human models. For example, the have been demonstrated to improve our ability to absorb nutrients, better gastro-intestinal health (e.g. symptom relief in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, Crohns, lactose intolerance), lower inflammation, reduce disease risks, elevate mental well-being (e.g. mood, anxiety) and improve overall health. The strains of probiotics with well-documented health promoting effects are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Probiotics can be easily incorporated into your diet and are available in both vegan and animal based forms. Excellent sources of probiotics include fermented dairy products, including yogurt and kefir. Fermented soy (tempeh), fermented plant items (e.g. cabbage, ginger), kombucha tea and kimchi are great sources for vegans looking to up their probiotic intake. It’s important to note that different strains of probiotics have different clinical effects and that supplementation, while it has its place, comes with a risk of bactermia, fungemia and sepsis. Consult a health professional if you choose to supplement, especially if you have are immune-compromised or pregnant.

Aziz Q et al. (2013) Gut microbiota and gastrointestinal health: current concepts and future directions. Neurogastroenterol Motil 25, 4–15.
Chen X, D’Souza R, Hong S. (2013) The role of gut microbiota in the gut-brain axis: current challenges and perspectives. Protein Cell 4(6): 403–414
Flight M.(2014) Neurodevelopmental disorders: The gut-microbiome-brain connection. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 13(2):104.
Rajpal D, Brown J. (2013) Modulating the human gut microbiome as an emerging therapeutic paradigm. Scie Prog 96(3): 224–236.
Shen W, Gaskin R, McIntosh M. (2014) Influence of dietary fat on intestinal microbes, inflammation, barrier function and metabolic outcomes. J Nutri Biochem 25:270-280.
Vieira A, Teixeira M, Martins F. (2013) The role of probiotics and prebiotics in inducing gut immunity. Front. Immunol. 4:445.
Zeng H, Lazarova D, Bordonaro M. (2014) Mechanisms linking dietary fiber, gut microbiota and colon cancer prevention. World J Gastrointest Oncol 6(2): 41-51.

How can we create a sustainable and healthy future? Part 1: Chronic Disease.

After a relaxing weekend in Lions Head, I returned to Kitchener on Sunday to have a very productive week. Early in the week, my boyfriend and I headed out to buy seeds from a local farmer as well as plants for our windowsill. We are in the processing of sprouting beans, alfalfa, red clove and a few other seeds as well as growing wheat grass, basil, mint, chives and rosemary. I’m pretty impressed with how quickly and easily this stuff grows! In only about a week we’re going to hopefully have tons of sprouted seeds to stick in just about everything we eat. Very excited about our in-apartment gardening we have going. I went to the hospital on Thursday to check up on my recovery, remove some staples and get a swanky new hot pink cast. The cast is a huge improvement from my last one- so much lighter and more durable. I was also informed by my doctor that I can safely resume training. I was very happy to do some three limb climbing and workouts shortly after and am in the process of putting together a training program for the 4 weeks until (if all goes to plan) I get my cast off. While it was bitter-sweet, I also went to watch a regional bouldering competition at my local gym yesterday. Although I really wish I could have competed myself, I was very happy to see all of my climbing friends from Ontario. Wish me luck on my first day of work tomorrow and continue sending me positive healing vibes :).

More winter climbing in Kentucky!
Our windowsill plants! 🙂
Look at all of those alfalfa sprouts after only 2 days in!

After the leaps of the 20th century in medicine that lead to the prevention of virtually all transmissible diseases, the 21st century has been an age with a new and growing concern, paralleling our obesity epidemic. Since the 1950s, non-transmissible, chronic diseases have increased by as much as 400% in many regions, including diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, lung diseases and allergies. They are estimated by the World Health Organization to cause 36 million deaths around the world each year, accounting for 63% of mortality world-wide. In Canada, three out of five people over the age of twenty live with one of these diseases, and four out of five are at risk. Furthermore, chronic diseases cost over $90 billion annually for the combination of treatment and loss of productivity. In part one of this series, I discussed obesity and how properly addressing it can help pave the way to a healthier and more sustainable future. Building on obesity, this article will be about chronic diseases in the western world. Since obesity, inactivity and the overconsumption of unhealthy food are at the root of chronic diseases, addressing them with initiatives for early prevention could not only create a healthier future, but also one that is both more ecologically and economically-friendly. In future articles I will delve more into sustainability, the power of compassion and positive psychology and why we are currently unable to feed everyone. Am I missing anything that you think is important? Please share your opinions below!

Starting during the agricultural revolution and continuing through the industrial revolution, the foods we eat and lifestyles we lead have changed tremendously. Instead of transporting ourselves on-foot, we can sit in the comfort of a car. Instead of eating locally, a diet free of chemicals and hormones, our food is now brought to us from all over the world, with added sugar, salt and fat to create a tastier end-product. We spend our down-time plugged in and push our stress-limits at work. In an era with everything available at our fingertips, tucked away from the natural world, we’ve forgotten that we are in fact, still a component of the earth’s biodiversity. Our societal advances are not only destroying our environment, but also resulting in declining life-expectancies, quality of life and to generations more at risk to chronic disease. While inflammation is a normal and protective response from the immune system, unhealthy lifestyles can lead to excess inflammation that ultimately leads to tissue change and poorly functioning organs. These changes are the start points for a complex path of eventually irreversible damage that encapsulate disease. Since there are common risk factors for chronic disease, specifically the inflammation that is derived from our lifestyles, common solutions with an emphasis on prevention early in life are pivotal on our fight against chronic disease.

“Well”, you might say, “aren’t we just genetically inclined to certain diseases?” While genetics can have a small part in the development of disease, the bigger factor is our lifestyle and environment, the only explanation for the surge of chronic disease in the last century. In fact, only about 5% of the diseases of our industrial world are primarily attributed to genetics. Lifestyle and environmental influences can be demonstrated as early as in a new born in the form of allergy. A pregnant mother can have significant effects on her unborn baby’s susceptibility towards disease from the moment of conception to breast feeding patterns throughout the early life of her newborn. For example, the foods that the mother eats during pregnancy will influence the health of her child in the future. Diets high in fat or sugar, for example, have been demonstrated to result in a higher risk of obesity and diabetes for the unborn baby, ultimately enhancing the child’s risk of chronic disease. Breast feeding shapes the development of the baby’s immune system and reduces risks of obesity and disease with longer periods of breast-feeding up to around 7 months. As that child grows up, microbial exposure through non-sterile environments helps establish a healthy immunity and time spent playing outside provides ample vitamin D, a vitamin that is both commonly deficient and associated with inflammation and disease. Establishing healthy eating and lifestyle patterns (adequate sleep, exercise and healthy stress levels) early in life and maintaining those patterns through adulthood are pivotal in the prevention of chronic disease.

How do the foods we eat influence our risks for disease? Diets rich in refined foods, sugar, saturated fats, red-meat, excess calories and low in fiber and antioxidants will almost immediately result in systemic inflammation, and as a result, a lower immune function, blood sugar control, and internal antioxidant function, putting us at a heightened risk for disease. Our diets typically also have too high levels of omega-6 fats and too low levels of omega-3 fats (found in fish and many plant items). The skewed ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, sometimes reaching ratios of 30:1 in western diets, are another major factor for inflammation and disease (healthier ratios would be closer to 1:1). On the flip side, plant-rich and mostly unrefined diets result in just the opposite. Despite the health promoting effects of fruits and vegetables, less than half of Canadian adults and about 70% of children don’t consume enough. As mentioned in part one of this series, these devastating statistics can be attributed to the high cost and lack of accessibility of fresh foods to many individuals. By providing initiatives for the consumption of locally derived foods, by choosing to walk or bike instead of hopping in the car or by spending more time in nature and less time plugged in, we can not only reduce our carbon footprint but also enhance our overall health and well-being.

What steps can we take for a healthier and more sustainable tomorrow? Eat more fruits and vegetables and consider a more plant-based diet! Purchasing your food from local farmers can be an excellent way to support their farms as well as reduce the environmental impact of transporting foods from abroad. More and more farmers markets are popping up, making it easier to eat locally sourced foods. These options are often times more affordable when purchased directly from the farmer, making them better for both your wallet and local economy. Gardening is another way to reduce your carbon footprint and enhance your accessibility to fresh food. It’s easy, fun and helps you reconnect with nature. In an apartment? Try growing indoors! Sprouting seeds as well as growing herbs and certain vegetables can be done right on your windowsill (stay tuned for an article about my current sprouting and herb growing endeavours). Plant-based diets are both more ecologically friendly, consuming 11 times less fossil fuel, 7 times less land and 100 times less fresh water, and provide some significant disease preventing benefits. For example, processed meat consumption was associated with a 42% increase in heart disease risk for each 50g/day increase in consumption, whereas plant-based diets are consistently associated with better health. A pooled analysis of several cohort studies involving about 76,000 individuals over a decade reported that vegetarians had a 24% reduction in death from heart disease when compared to regular meat eaters. Epidemiological data also suggests that cancer and diabetes rates are also lower in vegetarians. A plant-based and locally derived diet can be an excellent tool for building a more sustainable and healthier future. Spending less time in the car or indoors and more time outside, opting for biking or walking whenever possible, is another strategy to boost activity levels, reduce our risks for disease and lead eco-friendly lifestyles.

That was my thoughts, now it’s your turn. How do you think we can create a healthier and more sustainable future and reduce our toll of chronic disease?

Boeing H et. Al. (2012) Critical review: vegetables and fruit in the prevention of chronic diseases. Eur J Nutr 51:637–663.

McEvoy C, Temple N, Woodside J. (2012) Vegetarian diets, low-meat diets and health: a review. PubHealth Nutri., 15:12.

Prescott S. (2013) Early-life environmental determinants of allergic diseases and the wider pandemic of inflammatory noncommunicable diseases. J Allergy Clin Immunol 131:23-30.

Renz H et. Al. (2011) Gene-environment interaction in chronic disease: A European Science Foundation Forward Look. J Allergy Clin Immunol 128(6 Suppl):S27-49

Ruiz-Nunez B et. Al. (2013) Lifestyle and nutritional imbalances associated with Western diseases: causes and consequences of chronic systemic low-grade inflammation in an evolutionary context. J Nutr Biochem 24:1183–1201.

How can we create a sustainable and healthy future? Part 1: Obesity.

And a big apology to all of my followers for taking such a long break from putting up posts. I took some time away from writing to reboot but I’m back on board and ready to start up again! A lot has happened during the last few months for me. I returned to Kentucky for the remainder of the fall season, making a short trip to New River Gorge in West Virginia. I had probably the best time of all of my Red River experience during my last month there. While temperatures got frigid and wet bouts were not uncommon, the need to keep warm and motivated had a way of bringing all of the people who were living on the campground together. In the last months there I made some of the best and most meaningful friendships with others who were crazy enough to endure climbing on literally freezing days and (never) sleeping in tents when temperatures dropped to -10 Celsius at nights. The harsh reality of outdoor life in November has done a number on my sense of willpower, perseverance and pure stubbornness to stick it out. I left Kentucky to return to Canada in December to a new born baby niece (who is absolutely adorable!), a spark to train and get stronger and a desire to get my career in nutrition going.

I have been living in Ontario for two months now and I am finally back to the swing of city life. The first few weeks were a serious adjustment period for me. While I found myself getting stressed about public transit, upset about the materialism and sometimes downright unkindness of civilization, and the cost of living in the city, I have to admit… a bed, warm room, walls and bathroom is AMAZING after 7 months of sleeping on the ground in a tent. Long hot showers, a kitchen to cook, a fridge instead of a small cooler, kettles, stoves, blenders… I could go on and on… I had no idea how much I missed them until I came home. I remember thinking, while I was in Kentucky, that I couldn’t remember the last time I was actually indoors. I look back on that fondly and hope to have the opportunity to get back outside and desperately miss all of the friends that felt like family during my stay down south.
Training over the last few months indoors has done wonders on my climbing. I saw serious improvements in all aspects of my climbing performance within just a week of training. I also was lucky enough to find myself practising yoga every day at an amazing studio right downtown and found myself loving yoga almost as much as rock climbing! It has done a lot for not only my climbing, but in keeping my shoulders and rotator cuffs healthy. I have been volunteering my piano skills at a nursing home and am now trying to get going with doing professional gigs again now that I’m back in the city (hopefully I’ll have a web page with music samples up in the next short while). I’ve also found myself spending large amounts of time at a cute little vegetarian café, Café Pyrus, which I highly recommend to anyone visiting Kitchener, Ontario. Lastly, I finally managed to get a job that will hopefully be a great starting point for me in the field of nutrition.

With all of that said, I have some sad news for both my climbing and yoga front. Last week I took a nasty fall, landing between two mats in the climbing gym. While I was apparently lucky to not have broken my neck, I did however break my tibia as well as tear a slew of ligament in my ankle. I was promptly treated in a hospital and had surgery to realign my bone and repair the torn ligaments. I may be a wee bit bitter that I spent so much time climbing full time outdoors injury free to come indoors and find myself with one of my most serious injuries to date. I guess at least it wasn’t my arm, shoulder or back so I still have a chance that I’ll be able to train. Another positive is that I now have quite a bit of time that is now freed up for writing :). I am currently in my first cast of a few, waiting until a follow up appointment next week to check in on my recovery and to switch to a different cast. I have begun doing pull ups again and am very hopeful that I will be able to resume training (arms only) following my appointment. Wish me luck! A big shout out to the Grand River Rocks climbing gym, who’s staff did an outstanding job helping me and getting me to the hospital, as well as my amazing boyfriend, who has been taking care of me since the accident.

Here’s a picture of me doing some cold weather climbing!

My home during my stay down south!

Here’s a picture of a great lookout in the Red 🙂

Here’s a shot of my leg before my surgury… I’ll post more pictures of my (hopefully) road to recovery
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While American culture puts skinniness, youthfulness and beauty on a pedestal, the nation is the fattest in the world, with about 68% of the population classified as overweight (about a BMI of 25kg/m2). On the flip side to the chronic diseases and obesity that plague richer countries, poorer ones go hungry and are stricken with malnourishment. This century we are faced with, in the first time in human history, an equal number of overweight people as undernourished. When food production is so high that the bulk of what is brought to stores in western countries ends up in the garbage, why are so many of the world’s citizens going hungry, leaving the rich to become obese? Why can’t this food reach poorer countries? As it stands, our current agricultural practises are highly unsustainable and the idea that we need to make more food to feed more mouths would be a solution that would not only be ineffective, but also further destroy the fragile ecosystems that we have left. One of our biggest challenges for this century is to sustainably feed the billions of people on earth while reducing our environmental impact. While there are clearly different problems from developed to undeveloped countries, by defining what those problems are and learning from them I believe that we can pave a path for a healthier and more sustainable future. In this article I will begin to explore problems of developed countries with a focus on obesity. In future articles I will delve more into chronic disease in developed countries, sustainability, the power of compassion and positive psychology and why we are currently unable to feed everyone. Am I missing anything that you think is important? Please share your opinions below! 🙂

Obesity, a disease reaching pandemic proportions in western cultures, seems to be one of the primary problems of modern times in developed countries. The notion of willpower being the root of the problem has led to a culture of discrimination against fatness that reinforces the idea that obesity is simply a problem of eating too much and moving too little. These ideas are even common among physicians which may contribute to the fact that less than half of overweight participants in a recent national survey of Canadians had asked their physicians about weight loss. A culture that demeans overweight people, making them feel embarrassed to seek help, is certainly not a solution. Not only are we intensifying the issue of obesity, eating disorders are on the rise for even males nowadays. It’s quickly becoming clearer that obesity is contributed by complex interactions of our environment, neurohormonal system and transgenerational affects that should be considered when making both judgements and addressing an unhealthy weight. Properly addressing obesity would be a good start on the path to a healthier and more sustainable future.

Environmental influences are vast and far between. These influences include our consumer driven culture that uses commercialism and materialism, ideas at the forefront of our society, to target the most receptive populations (children are currently the hot target for big companies). Commercialism is so entrenched in the shaping of developed countries that, without it, we would have quite the hard time. American success has largely depended on convincing American citizens to buy. There’s always something new and trendy, including food, to advertise to the public that their happiness depends on its purchase. They also include the easy accessibility of highly palatable (more palatable through higher calorie, sugar, salt and fat contents), bringing rise to our westernized diets (High in unhealthy fats, sugar and calories and low in fruits and vegetables). Unlike earlier times, we are now also more stationary and find ourselves spending most our time sitting (in cars transporting ourselves, at work in a desk and at home in front of the TV). Our societal advances (e.g. agricultural, industrial, commercial and technologic) are making it harder and harder for us to be healthy and active individuals. The rise in lights (from light bulbs to digital screens) is another factor for obesity. For, example, the disruption of circadian (daily) rhythm genes (regulated by light) in our brains (hypothalamus) has been demonstrated to increase risks for obesity and chronic diseases as well as reduce our ability to feel satisfied after a meal and maintain blood sugar. For example, mice with mutations in these circadian rhythm genes became obese compared to the wild-type control mice, a speed which was intensified while eating high-fat diets similar to our western diet. Mice housed in 20h light-dark cycles (10:10) had significant weight gain, metabolic dysfunction (e.g. leptin and insulin levels) and a worsened blood sugar towards diabetes.

Like our environmental influences, neurohormonal and transgenerational influences are complex and variable. Neurohormonal systems in animals are important to regulate food intake and calorie expenditure. They include sugar and insulin (which rises in proportion to sugar to lower blood glucose, a molecule that’s concentrations must be tightly regulated in order to maintain physiologic functions) receptors, ghrelin (“the hunger hormone” that will increase both body fat and food intake) and leptin (“the satiety hormone” that increases in proportion with body fat and food intake). Leptin and insulin allows lean individuals to maintain their weight by resisting highly palatable foods after they have eaten sufficient amounts. While leptin and insulin levels are typically higher in obese individuals, leptin and insulin resistance is common via chronically elevated body fat and unhealthy fat and sugar intake, making their actions less effective. Here is an example of the devastating effects of our westernized diet. Examples of transgenerational effects can be demonstrated in a number of animal studies. In rodents, males with prenatal dietary restrictions (fewer calories consumed by the mother) reproduce offspring with lower birth weights and sugar tolerance and increased risks of developing obesity and chronic disease. Similar results can be seen with a mother who consumes a high fat diet (from preconception to weaning) on both her child and grandchild. Aside from these biochemical changes during reproduction, individuals who have been raised in an unhealthy household, without proper access to fruits and vegetables, without family support to exercise and without nutritional and health related education, are more likely to develop obesity.

Obesity and chronic diseases are intensified by the current cost of living. About half of Canadians say that they do not eat fresh and healthy foods because they’re too expensive. On average, healthier diets are approximately $1.50/day more expensive then unhealthy, westernized diets. Costs for a full household are simply devastating for the majority of Americans in today’s struggling economy (an issue amplified in America by the high cost of medical interventions). There are also startling variation for the cost and availability of basic healthy food from not just state (or province) to state but also city to city. In Kitchener, Ontario for example, the town that I am currently residing, peanut butter can be found for $4. Just down the road in St. Catharines you’ll find that same products price to be much steeper, at $7, almost double the price. 6 apples in Edmonton can be purchased for approximately $1.71 and in Calgary for $5.02. Brown rice was $2.19 in Toronto, $7.76 in Winnipeg and $11.99 in Rankin Inlet. These price variations have contributed to the resulting half of Canadian adults and about 70% of children who don’t consume minimum daily fruit and vegetable recommendations (even higher in remote communities such as our First Nation and Inuit people). When faced with the choice of buying a lot of something cheap but unhealthy that can fill your stomach, or buying less of a healthier option that is more expensive, won’t last as long and won’t have the same caloric value, many of us would opt for the first option. In Ontario, 92% of the average single person’s income goes to rent, leaving only 8% to cover food and other expenses. Unfortunately, the cost of eating a diet set out by the Canadian Food Guide would use about 32% of the average Canadian’s income. A price reduction should be an important goal of health and policy efforts since the consequence of not properly addressing this problem is overall higher health-care costs and low-income individuals who are sicker and less able to be productive in our society.

As it stands, it’s clear that obesity is a problem that is not fair to be addressed with the discrimination and blame obese individuals commonly are faced with. It is a complex issue that is not a simple matter of eating too much and exercising too little. For me the first steps for a brighter future include compassion, understanding and an end to the victim blaming that is common in our culture. We need to figure out sustainable ways to make healthy foods more accessible to everyone and we need to provide enough education and outreach so that people are able to make informed decisions about the foods that they eat. Properly addressing obesity can not only lead to a healthier population, but also one that has a more ecologically-friendly lifestyle. By reducing the purchase, waste and production of certain foods, maybe we could not only reduce the carbon footprint of feeding the developed world, but also spread our wealth to poorer countries. Thus concludes my thoughts on our obesity pandemic, now it’s your turn. Share your opinions below!

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