The Real Deal About Artificial Flavours

Let me ask you this: Have you looked at the ingredients on a food label lately? How about a “processed” food label; like famous brands of cookies, cereals, or junky snack foods?

Do you have those ingredients in your house? Do you even know what all of those ingredients are?

There are a ton of artificial, chemical, “junky” ingredients in foods these days. If you see an ingredient called “artificial flavour”, what exactly is it?

For the most part, it’s a secret! Seriously! Big food companies don’t want their proprietary flavours to be known, so they’re allowed to say “artificial flavour” and leave the details out.

That alone gets me upset.

But what makes me more upset is what artificial flavours represent when they’re in your food.

I’m going to give you the real deal below.

Why use “artificial flavours” in a product?

When you make an apple muffin at home, what gives it the apple flavour?

Apples of course! Like real, whole, chopped or shredded apples or applesauce.

But, let’s say you’re a big food company and you’re making thousands of apple muffins every day. In a factory. On an assembly line.

How would you process the huge amount of apples that are to be chopped, grated or made into applesauce? Would you have a separate “Apple Room” where all the apple processing happens? What if one batch is slightly riper, or tastes slightly different from the rest? Will your customers notice a different taste?

Apples are perishable – they go bad. So how would you guarantee the apples won’t go bad? (Remember the saying “it only takes one bad apple to ruin the whole bunch?”).

And what if you can have an apple flavour that tastes better than using real apples? Something that makes people want to keep buying them every week. It’s true – some of the artificial flavours are engineered to give an even better taste than the real food.

Companies will often opt for the easier and more profitable option like artificial flavours.

Artificial flavours last longer and will be virtually identical batch after batch. In our apple muffin example, artificial flavours used to make an apple muffin are ready to go, so you don’t need to peel, cut, or worry about apples going brown, or that they’re not tasting “appley” enough.

Oh, and it’s way cheaper than using real, whole apples.

Pro Tip: If the package says “flavoured” in the description, then the flavour is artificial. For example, “apple muffin” contains at least some apple. But, “apple flavoured muffin” contains artificial flavour and no apple.

Safety of artificial flavours

While there are some flavours banned for use in many countries, other countries allow them.

There is an approved list of flavours that are accepted to be safe, and are used by the food industry. They are considered GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe.”

Even if they are 100% safe to ingest, the mere fact that an artificial flavour is in food makes it an artificial food. It’s not a real, whole food. Having an artificial flavour as an ingredient almost defines that food to be a processed, “food-like product”. Sometimes referred to as “junk”.

Artificial flavours in food indicate that the food, regardless of the marketing, or health claims, is not a healthy choice.

Conclusion

Big food companies use artificial flavours to reduce costs, make the manufacturing process simpler, reduce waste and even enhance flavour way beyond what the natural ingredient would taste like.

They are not added to improve the “healthfulness” or nutrition of the food.

Artificial flavours in the ingredient list indicate that the food is not going to optimize your health. These processed foods are most certainly “junk”.

Don’t buy them. Make this recipe instead.

Recipe (All-natural): Apple Muffins

Serves 12

1 cup quick oats, uncooked
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup cooked quinoa
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 cup chopped apples
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, mix the quick oats and cinnamon. Add the quinoa and mix again. Now add maple syrup, apples and eggs, and mix until just combined.

Place 12 muffin liners into a muffin pan. Fill each muffin cup about ⅔ of the way

Place in oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Before baking, sprinkle each muffin with a touch of cinnamon for extra (natural) flavour.

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/9-ways-that-processed-foods-are-killing-people/

https://authoritynutrition.com/junk-foods-chemical-engineers/

http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/labelling/food-labelling-for-industry/common-name/snack-foods/eng/1348251469504/1394902794643

https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/121-a126/

What is the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load?

Glycemic this and glycemic that. Does it matter?

You’ll notice that they both begin with “glycemic”. That’s one tip that they have to do with sugars and carbs. Not only how much sugar is in foods, but more importantly, how it affects your blood sugar levels.

In general, diets that are high on the glycemic index (GI) and high in glycemic load (GL), tend to increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

FUN FACT: Starches like those in potatoes and grains are digested into sugar; this is because starch is just a bunch of sugars linked together. Digestive enzymes break those bonds so that the sugars become free. Then those sugars affect your body the same way that eating sugary foods do.

Glycemic Index (“how fast”)

The most common of the two terms is the “glycemic index” (GI).

5455

As the name suggests, it “indexes” (or compares) the effect that different foods have on your blood sugar level. Then each food is given a score from 0 (no effect on blood sugar) to 100 (big effect on blood sugar). Foods that cause a fast increase in blood sugar have a high GI. That is because the sugar in them is quickly processed by your digestive system and absorbed into your blood. They cause a “spike” in your blood sugar.

So, you can probably guess that pure glucose is given a GI rating of 100. On the other hand, chickpeas are right down there at a GI of 10.

Regarding GI: low is anything under 55; moderate is 56-69, and 70+ is considered a high GI food.

Remember, this is a measure of how fast a carbohydrate-containing food is digested and raised your blood sugar. It’s not a measure of the sugar content of the food.

How the carbohydrates in food affect your blood sugar level depend on other components of the food. Things like fiber and protein can slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream, and this can make even a high-sugar food, low on the GI scale.

So, lower GI foods are better at keeping your blood sugar levels stable because they don’t increase your blood sugar level as fast.

FUN FACT: Can you guess which food has a GI of higher than 100? (Think of something super-starchy) White potatoes! They have a GI of 111.

Glycemic Load (“how much”)

The glycemic load is different.

Glycemic load (GL) doesn’t take into account how quickly your blood sugar “spikes”, but it looks at how high that spike is. Basically, how much the food increases your blood sugar.

GL depends on two things. First, how much sugar is actually in the food. Second, how much of the food is typically eaten.

Low GL would be 0-10,  moderate GL would be 10-20, and high GL would 20+.

Example of GL and GI

So, let’s compare average (120 g) servings of bananas and oranges:

Food GI Serving size (g) GL per serving
Banana, average 48 120 11
Oranges, average 45 120 5

Excerpt from: Harvard Health Publications, Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods

As you can see, the banana and orange have almost the same glycemic index.; this means they both raise your blood sugar in about the same amount of time.

But, the average banana raises the blood sugar twice as high (11) as the orange does (5). So, it contains more overall sugar than the same amount (120 g) of orange.

Of course, this is all relative. A GL of 11 is not high at all. Please keep eating whole fruits. 🙂

 

What does this all mean for your health?

Certain people should be aware of the effects that foods have on their blood sugar. People who have diabetes or pre-diabetes conditions like insulin resistance need to be aware of the glycemic index and glycemic load of foods they are eating regularly.

The GI and GL are just two factors to consider when it comes to blood sugar. Some high GI foods are pretty good for you but if you want to reduce the impact on your blood sugar, have them with a high-fiber or high-protein food.

Conclusion

If you have blood sugar imbalances or diabetes, you should probably be aware of the GI and GL of your food.

If you are at risk of diabetes or heart disease, you might try swapping out some higher GI/GL foods and replacing with lower GI/GL foods.

Oh, and try this low GI recipe I have for you.

Recipe (low GI): Mediterranean Salad

Serves 2

1 cucumber, chopped

½ cup chickpeas drained and rinsed

½ cup black olives

¼ red onion, diced

½ cup cherry tomatoes halved

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp garlic

1 tsp basil

½ tsp oregano

1 dash sea salt

1 dash black pepper

Place first five ingredients together in a bowl.

Add remaining ingredients to a jar (to make the dressing) with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously.

Add dressing to salad and gently toss.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Add chopped avocado for even more fiber and healthy fat.

References:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods
http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/food-beverages/glycemic-index-glycemic-load

The Stress Mess: How It Messes With Your Health

The Stress Mess: How It Messes With Your Health

We all have some level of stress, right?

It may be temporary (acute), or long-term (chronic).

Acute stress usually won’t mess with your health too much. It is your body’s natural reaction to circumstances, and can even be life-saving.

Then, when the “threat” (a.k.a. “stressor”) is gone, the reaction subsides, and all is well.

It’s the chronic stress that’s a problem. You see, your body has specific stress reactions. If these stress reactions are triggered every day or many times a day that can mess with your health.

Stress (and stress hormones) can have a huge impact on your health.

Let’s dive into the “stress mess”.

Mess #1 – Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes

Why save the best for last? Anything that increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes (both serious, chronic conditions) needs to be discussed.

Stress increased the risk for heart disease and diabetes by promoting chronic inflammation, affecting your blood “thickness”, as well as how well your cells respond to insulin.

Mess #2 – Immunity

Did you notice that you get sick more often when you’re stressed? Maybe you get colds, cold sores, or even the flu more frequently when you are stressed?

Well, that’s because stress hormones affect the chemical messengers (cytokines) secreted by immune cells consequently, they are less able to do their jobs effectively.

Mess #3 – “Leaky Gut”

Stress can contribute to leaky gut, otherwise known as “intestinal permeability”. These “leaks” can then allow partially digested food, bacteria or other things to be absorbed into your body.

The stress hormone cortisol can open up tiny holes by loosening the grip your digestive cells have to each other.

Picture this: Have you ever played “red rover”? It’s where a row of children hold hands while one runs at them to try to break through. Think of those hands as the junctions between cells. When they get loose, they allow things to get in that should be passing right through.  Cortisol (produced in excess in chronic stress) is a strong player in red rover!

Mess #4 – Sleep Disruption

Stress and sleep go hand-in-hand, wouldn’t you agree? It’s often difficult to sleep when you have very important (and stressful) things on your mind.

And when you don’t get enough sleep, it affects your energy level, memory, ability to think, and mood.

More and more research is showing just how important sleep is for your health.  Not enough sleep (and too much stress) aren’t doing you any favours.

Stress-busting tips

Reducing stressors in your life is an obvious first step.

Can you:

  • Put less pressure on yourself?
  • Ask for help?
  • Say “no”?
  • Delegate to someone else?
  • Finally, make that decision?

No matter how hard you try, you won’t eliminate stress altogether. So, here are a few things you can try to help reduce its effect on you:

  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation
  • Walk in nature
  • Unplug (read a book, take a bath)
  • Exercise (yoga, tai chi, etc.)
  • Connect with loved ones

Conclusion

Stress is a huge and often underappreciated factor in our health. It can impact your physical body much more than you might realize.

Stress has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, affect your immune system, digestion, and sleep.

There are things you can do to both reduce stressors and also to improve your response to it.

You can ditch that stress mess!

Recipe (relaxing chamomile): Chamomile Peach Iced Tea

Serves 1

1 cup steeped chamomile tea, cooled

1 peach, diced

Place both ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Add ice if desired.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can use fresh or frozen peaches.

References:

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/stress

https://www.thepaleomom.com/stress-undermines-health/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/good-stress-bad-stress

https://www.thepaleomom.com/managing-stress/

,

Reduce Inflammation With These Key Foods

Inflammation. It’s not just for health headlines.

It’s a fact.

Scientists are measuring levels of inflammation in our bodies and finding that it can be pretty bad for our health; this is especially true when it’s chronic (i.e. lasts a long time).

Inflammation has been linked to obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes, just to name a few.

But, instead of writing all about what it is, how it’s measured, and where it comes from; why don’t I focus on some foods packed with anti-inflammatory antioxidants that are proven to help reduce it?

Here are my top anti-inflammatory food recommendations:

Anti-inflammatory Food #1: Berries, Grapes, and Cherries

Why save the best for last? Perhaps the most amazingly delicious anti-inflammatory foods are a sweet favourite of yours?

Berries, grapes, and cherries are packed with fiber, and antioxidant vitamins (e.g. vitamin C) and minerals (e.g. manganese).

Oh, and did I forget to mention their phytochemicals (phyto=plant)? Yes, many antioxidants such as “anthocyanins” and “resveratrol”  are found in these small and delicious fruits.

In fact, berries, grapes, and cherries may be the best dietary sources of these amazingly healthy compounds.

Anti-inflammatory Food #2: Broccoli and Peppers

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that contains the antioxidant “sulforaphane.” This anti-inflammatory compound is associated with reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.

Bell peppers, on the other hand, are one of the best sources of the antioxidants vitamin C and quercetin.

Just make sure to choose red peppers over the other colours.  Peppers that are any other colour are not fully ripe and won’t have the same anti-inflammatory effect.

I pack these two super-healthy vegetables together in this week’s recipe (see below).

Anti-inflammatory Food #3: Healthy Fats (avocado, olive oil, fatty fish)

Fat can be terribly inflammatory (hello: “trans” fats), neutral (hello: saturated fats), or anti-inflammatory (hello: “omega-3s), this is why choosing the right fats is so important for your health.

The best anti-inflammatory fats are the unsaturated ones, including omega-3s. These are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

Opt for fresh avocados, extra virgin olive oil, small fish (e.g. sardines and mackerel), and wild fish (e.g. salmon). Oh and don’t forget the omega-3 seeds like chia, hemp, and flax.

Anti-inflammatory Food #4: Green Tea

Green tea contains the anti-inflammatory compound called “epigallocatechin-3-gallate”, otherwise known as EGCG.

EGCG is linked to reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, and Alzheimer’s.

Drinking steeped green tea is great, but have you tried matcha green tea? It’s thought to contain even higher levels of antioxidants than regular green tea.

Anti-inflammatory Food #5 – Turmeric

Would a list of anti-inflammatory foods be complete without the amazing spice turmeric?

Turmeric contains the antioxidant curcumin.

This compound has been shown to reduce the pain of arthritis, as well as have anti-cancer and anti-diabetes properties.

I’ve added it to the broccoli and pepper recipe below for a 1-2-3 punch, to kick that inflammation.

Anti-inflammatory Food #6: Dark Chocolate

Ok, ok. This *may* be slightly more decadent than my #1 pick of berries, grapes, and cherries.

Dark chocolate, with at least 70% cocoa is packed with anti-inflammatory antioxidants (namely “flavonols”). These reduce the risk of heart disease by keeping your arteries healthy. They’ve even been shown to prevent “neuroinflammation” (inflammation of the brain and nerves). Reducing neuro-inflammation may help with long-term memory, and reduce the risk of dementia and stroke.

Make sure you avoid the sugary “candy bars.” You already know those aren’t going to be anti-inflammatory!

Conclusion

There are just so many amazingly delicious and nutritious anti-inflammatory foods you can choose. They range from colourful berries, vegetables, and spices, to healthy fats, and even cocoa.

You have so many reasons to add anti-inflammatory foods to your diet to get your daily dose of “anti-inflammation.”

Recipe (Broccoli, Pepper, Turmeric): Anti-inflammatory Quinoa

Serves 2

¾ cup dry quinoa (pre-rinsed)

2 tbsp coconut oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 dash salt

½ tbsp turmeric1 dash black pepper

2 cups broccoli, chopped

In a saucepan place 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add the quinoa and simmer until the water is absorbed (about 10-15 minutes).

Melt coconut oil in a skillet. Add diced onions, turmeric, pepper and salt, and lightly sauté for a few minutes.

Add broccoli and lightly sauté for 5-6 minutes, until it becomes softened.

Add the cooked quinoa and stir everything together.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Add some cayenne pepper or curry spice for an extra spicy kick.

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/13-anti-inflammatory-foods/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4717884/
https://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-green-tea/
https://authoritynutrition.com/matcha-green-tea/
http://neurotrition.ca/blog/brain-food-essentials-cacao
http://leesaklich.com/foods-vs-supps/foods-vs-supplements-the-turmeric-edition/

Phytic Acid, The Mineral Reducer

Do you soak or sprout your nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes?

Is it to help improve their digestibility? To help increase their nutrition?

Perhaps, it’s to reduce phytic acid?

Phytic acid is naturally present in most nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes; it is the plant’s storage form of the mineral phosphorus and is used as energy when the plant starts to grow.

The highest levels of phytic acid are found in rice bran, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, and walnuts.

Phytic acid and minerals

Have you heard of phytic acid being referred to as an “anti-nutrient”?

Phytic acid binds to the minerals iron, zinc, and calcium preventing them from being fully absorbed when eaten; this is why phytic acid is known as a “mineral reducer”.

FUN FACT: Phytic acid’s effects only apply to mineral-containing foods in the current meal. Once digested, there is no mineral reduction in any future meals and there is no impact to the minerals your body has already absorbed.

Phytic acid’s health benefits

Phytic acid isn’t all bad – it has some health benefits too.

It can act as an antioxidant. It can also help reduce your risk of kidney stones, heart disease, and even some cancers.

Because it loves minerals (which are metals), phytic acid in your gut can also bind to any heavy metals (the metals we don’t want too much of) that may have hitched a ride with your food.

How to reduce phytic acid

As you can see, phytic acid shouldn’t be a huge concern, unless your main foods at most meals are nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Because many of these are nutritious foods, you probably don’t want to cut all of them completely out of your diet.

Considering both the good and bad properties of phytic acid, you may still want to reduce how much you consume. Maybe you want to increase your mineral intake. If so, here are two popular methods to naturally reduce phytic acid:

  • Soaking – Place nuts, seeds, grains or legumes in a bowl, cover with water and leave overnight. Then drain the water and rinse before eating or preparing.
  • Sprouting – After soaking, draining, and rinsing, place damp nuts, seeds, grains or legumes into a container that’s exposed to the air (like a mason jar with a mesh lid). Every 8 hours or so, re-rinse them and drain the water. Continue doing this for a few days until you see sprouts peeking out.

Why do soaking and sprouting help reduce phytic acid in certain foods? It is because being wet is a “sign” to leave their dormant (dry) state and start a new life.  Enzymes activated during soaking and sprouting deactivate phytic acid to use its energy and stored minerals for the plant as it begins to grow.

Conclusion

Phytic acid has a bad rap as a mineral reducer. It’s found in nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Yes, it most definitely prevents absorption of critical minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium, if they’re in your gut at the same time. Phytic acid in food can become a health concern if you are deficient in these minerals, or if your diet is largely based on nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes.

But, if you eat a varied diet, then phytic acid shouldn’t be as much of a concern. In fact, phytic acid does have some health benefits.

If you want to reduce it in your food, you can soak or sprout your nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes.

Recipe (soaked almonds): Almond Vanilla Latte Smoothie

Serves 1
¼ cup almonds, soaked overnight & rinsed
½ cup coconut milk
½ cup strong coffee, cold (or chai tea if you prefer)
½ banana, frozen
1 tsp vanilla extract

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend on high until almonds are smooth.

Add ice, if desired.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: By using soaked almonds, they tend to blend up smoother than hard and crunchy dry almonds do.

References:
https://authoritynutrition.com/phytic-acid-101/
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-phytates-phytic-acid
https://authoritynutrition.com/how-to-reduce-antinutrients/