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.