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Lisa Borden
April 25, 2010
Lisa Borden
Colourful Food
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What shades are in your shopping cart? What is the actual colour of your food?

In the kitchen and on your plate, everything looks better in colour. I’m thinking field greens, delicious tomatoes, yellow peppers, blueberries, raspberries, cantaloupe and so on. I am not referring to neon-coloured food products and beverages like blue power drinks, though. As you reach for coloured foods, consider how they artificially colour and flavour that stuff.

For decades, there have been studies about food dyes and their link to cancers, allergies, and behavioural issues in children, not to mention their affect on our world in production alone. The results and linkages are astounding, and regardless of the ability for companies to claim that they are safe, you are still taking a risk on your body and on your kids’ bodies that you might not want to take.

In the EU and UK, the big companies have already started phasing dyes and other toxins out of their products…because their population has demanded it. Remember, we might expect to find toxic stuff in junk food (candy, cakes, cocktails), but it’s important that you read up on your yogurt, cheeses, vitamins, and even crackers…be your own best advocate and read the label every time. You will surprise yourself!

These are the colourings that I deem acceptable for my family:

  • Beet and carrot juice
  • Annatto (plant-derived)
  • Turmeric (actually good for you—an antioxidant)

These are the absolute “not in my shopping cart” ingredients:

  • Anything with a dreaded numbered colour (i.e. Red 40)
  • Any “lakes” in an ingredient name
  • Tartrazine (even in conventional mac & cheese!)
  • Sneaky ingredient names—stuff I cannot pronounce and/or understand

Although I encourage you to be colourful, don’t paint your plate by number, use your own palette.

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Introducing Baby to Solids
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When it’s time to introduce your baby to solids, there is no need to feel overwhelmed. Regardless of whether it’s your first or your fourth time, you can make it fun, and it doesn’t hurt to review these simple steps.

What to Feed?
This tends to be the biggest question of all, and recommendations vary widely on what to start with. Iron-fortified rice cereal is the most common recommendation, because it is least likely to cause allergic reactions.

Where to Feed?
This is much more important than you think. You are teaching good eating habits which begin with structure in a common ‘eating’ area. Babies and children like to know what to expect. When they are at the kitchen table, they will learn what to expect and what is expected from them.

When to Feed?
Pediatricians now recommend introducing solids at six months. This is to encourage breast-feeding for longer periods, and research shows that it’s not necessary to introduce solids earlier. Speak with your family doctor, pediatrician or a dietitian if you need some guidance.

How to Make?
Make your own, buy jarred or frozen baby food as you feel comfortable. Give your baby a spoon, too, so they feel they are a part of the experience. Think calm, quiet and consistent:

  • Calm—this means you. Your energy will affect what and how well your baby eats. Try not to get frustrated when your baby won’t eat what you’ve prepared. Freeze leftover food in small portions and keep trying to reintroduce it. You may have to introduce a new food up to 15 times before you have success.
  • Quiet—this means the setting. Loud noises (TV, music, other children playing) can be very distracting. Even though your baby may be hungry, the entertainment may be more exciting.
  • Consistent—this means time and place. Babies are not dependent on the nutritional content in food until they are closer to one year (breastfeeding and formula provide them with the key nutritional items they need), so at this stage, they are really just learning how to eat.

Introducing solids definitely has its challenges, but by setting proper expectations for both yourself and your baby, you will have more success in the long run.


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Key Nutrients for Toddlers
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Regardless of whether your child is a picky eater or an over-eater, there are key nutrients that your child needs on a daily basis. These include Protein, Carbohydrates and Good Fats.

In an ideal world, each meal and snack should consist of the following:


  1. Protein: Meat, chicken, fish, nuts and seeds (or peanut butter), milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese (or dairy alternatives), eggs, tofu, soy beans, and legumes (kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, lentils). Protein should be ¼ of the meal or snack.

  3. Carbohydrates: Try to make ½ of the meal/snack a fruit or vegetable (yes, these are carbohydrates) and ¼ of it whole grain choices of starchy carbohydrates (breads, cereals, rice, pasta, crackers, potatoes, quinoa, couscous). Aim to be as colourful as possible in your fruit and vegetable selections—every colour reflects different physical molecules and different nutrients. A colourful diet can be fun and is an easy way to make sure your kids are getting all of their vitamins and minerals. In addition to Vitamins C, B (particularly foliate) and A, fruit and vegetables are important sources of potassium, iron (particularly in vegetables) and fibre. The bright colours in your fruits and vegetables are shown through phytochemicals (including beta carotene, lycopene, lutein, and many more). These phytochemicals act as antixoidants which help with disease prevention and general well-being.

  5. Fat: Don’t be afraid of good fats in all your meals and snacks with nuts and seeds, ground flaxseed, canola, olive oil and fish (particularly salmon).

By following these nutritional guidelines right from the start, you can create healthy eating habits for your child that last their lifetime.


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Planning meals during back-to-school time
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“What’s for breakfast?” “What’s for lunch?” “What’s for dinner?”

Sometimes you can’t believe yet another meal for the kids is just minutes away. ‘Back to reality’ brings enough to-do’s on our list while we’re worrying about the next healthy meal that even ‘ants on a log’ (read: cream cheese with raisins on celery sticks) seems ambitious when you’re looking for new sneakers, signing forms and registering for soccer.

Some strategies to help you are:

  • Get the kids to help. Even the littlest ones can put out the plates, the spoons, the napkins. If the table is too high, bring down the playroom table. If the shelves are too high, put supplies in a low drawer. Put the milk in smaller pitchers, let them grate the cheese and wash the salad.
  • Think of ‘food as fuel.’ At this stage of your life (and your children’s lives), repetition is good. If it reduces the stress on you, your kids will be happier and might even enjoy the food more.
  • Get in a weekly routine. Mondays can be chicken night, Tuesdays can be pasta, etc. It makes the grocery shopping easier and the family knows what to expect (and you don’t have to think as much).  Plan leftovers when mealtimes are staggered due to extracurricular activities.
  • Serve fruit frozen. If your kids don’t like fruit, try cutting frozen fruit into bite-sized pieces. This works well even for peas.

How do you plan your meals?


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Alyson Schafer
October 17, 2010
Alyson Schafer
Alyson Schafer shares her tips on dealing with picky eaters
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Do you have a picky eater you’re trying to feed? Do you worry they’re either going to die of malnutrition, or from choking as you force food down their resisting throat?
Here are 10 tips that should help:

  1. Make doctor’s appointments. If you are truly worried about your child’s health, increase your check-ups with the doctor. Between check-ups, stop worrying! You’ll have better success in expanding their eating repertoire if you are not anxious about it. This could take years. My advice? Your kid takes a vitamin pill, you take a chill pill.
  2. Stop labeling. ‘Picky eater’ is a negative label. If we toss it around too frequently, and spend too much time discussing the eating habits of our kids, they’ll start to wear this label proudly and permanently. In fact, they’ll live up to your expectations. It’s as if they are saying “I can’t try that! I’m a picky eater!” If you must refer to their eating habits, how about the more positive approach: “You have such a discriminating palate—perhaps you’ll be a chef or food critic one day!”
  3. Honour diversity. We now know that children are born with variations in their tastebud density and sensitivity, as well as having different enzymes that are responsible for the perception of flavours in food. So we don’t all experience the same thing when we take a bite of broccoli. Children with texture issues may not like eating tomatoes and bananas, but they also could have other sensory issues, like troubles with waistbands, and the ribbing on socks. Be empathetic to these issues. Life will be tougher for these guys, but let them know you believe they can manage!
  4. Diversity is no excuse for being uncooperative. Our heredity determines how our kids are wired, but it doesn’t determine how they act socially. Does your child fight to get their preferred meal choice and demand special service? Does your child think their food preferences make them ‘special’ because they always require separate consideration? Or does your child work to adapt and deal with the needs of the situation without unduly leaning on or disturbing others? THAT is our goal.
  5. Maximize exposure. You must be adamant about exposure to foods, even if they don’t eat them. Let them leave it on their plate politely. That is teaching them good manners.
  6. Get creative. Try preparing food different ways. A frozen corn kernel tastes different from a canned corn kernel or corn on the cob.
  7. Timing counts. Children seem hungriest late afternoon. Snacks during this time should be comprised of items they may be less likely to eat. Plus, snacks are usually eaten without an audience. They maybe more likely to try a bite behind your back.
  8. Get them involved. Have your child participate in both meal planning and preparation. They’ll feel empowered and will be more interested in eating what they have ownership over.
  9. Try communal serving bowls. Each meal should have one item you know your child will eat. Put all the food on the table in serving dishes and let the children serve themselves. That way, if all they eat is the rice, you didn’t give them a special separate meal. They simply are deciding for themselves. They’re in control but also being cooperative. Bingo!
  10. Avoid the fights. Serve and enjoy good food while making dinner time happy. Don’t talk about what your children are eating.  They can eat what is prepared or be excused.


Comments | Tagged under kids, food, health, parenting
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Topic —  Parenting Solutions Ages & Stages — Toddlers,

Are My Kids Eating Enough?

Daina Kalnins & Joanne Saab
November 07, 2010
Daina Kalnins & Joanne Saab
Experts Daina Kalnin & Joanne Saab share eating tips
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Many mothers worry that their children are not eating enough. While this is a concern for many moms throughout the growing years, it is particularly true during the toddler and preschool years—sometimes referred to as the ‘picky eating’ years. It is important to remember that what may seem like a little bit of food to an adult is often quite a lot of food for a toddler.

When placing meals or snacks on your toddler’s plate, try serving a smaller portion than you would typically have, then if they would like more to eat they can always ask for seconds. Some appropriate serving sizes for young children include:

  • ¼ of a cup of diced fruit or sliced veggies
  • ½ cup of soup or chili or other entrée
  • ½ cup of milk to drink is appropriate
  • If serving fresh fruit, a half a banana or apple or orange is often plenty for a snack

Keep in mind that toddlers like to graze, and what may seem like a very small amount of food actually adds up over the course of the day.  In Better Food for Kids we give examples of a ‘picky eating’ day and you can see the calories really add up.

Sample Menu for a Picky 3 Year-Old


  • ¼ cup O-shaped oat cereal
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ¼ banana


  • Unsalted soda cracker
  • ½ banana


  • ½ slice bread with 1 Tbsp peanut butter
  • ¼ raw carrot
  • 1 cup whole milk


  • Unsalted soda cracker
  • 1 oz cheddar cheese


  • Fish sticks
  • ¼ baked potato
  • 1 Tbsp sour cream


  • ½ cup whole milk
  • Oatmeal cookie

This provides approximately 1000 calories and 44 grams of protein and meets more than 50% of iron requirements.

Source: Better Food for Kids, page 25

Always remember that growth is the best indicator for whether or not your child is getting enough. Ask to see your child’s growth chart at your next visit to the family doctor to see the pattern of your child’s weight gain. 


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How much is too much food for kids?
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Obesity in children is an ongoing concern today. There are many contributors to this, but the main reasons include too much food and calories, and not enough activity or exercise.  This creates an imbalance where energy input exceeds energy output, even in a growing child. Excess calories are stored as fat, resulting in overweight or obese children. Poor food choices (ie processed foods high in salt, fat and calories) and less activity due to more screen time (TV, computers and electronic devices) are responsible for this energy imbalance.

But how do parents know if they are over-feeding their kids? First, it is important to make sure you are offering kids healthy meals and snacks that are well-timed throughout the day.  Generally, young children should be eating every few hours (about 3 meals and 2 snacks daily). Try to ensure that snacks do not fall too close to meal times or else kids may not be hungry for dinner. 

Consider portion size—an appropriate serving size for a young child is half to a whole small apple or banana, ½  cup of berries, 1 cup or less of milk, ¼ cup of crackers, dry cereal, unsalted nuts or 1 to 2 small cookies. Limit the amount of snacks that provide little nutritional value such as foods that are highly processed with lots of added sugar, salt and empty calories. Something to remember—hunger may actually be mistaken for thirst—offer water as a thirst quencher versus sugary beverages or juices. Water and milk are recommended as beverages of choice for younger and older children.

Next, don’t force your kids to eat. Forcing a child to finish their plate rather than listening to their own hunger and fullness cues can create a pattern of over-eating. If children have been offered healthy meals and snacks in age-appropriate portion sizes, then we need to listen as parents when they say they have had enough to eat. Better to offer small quantities of food and let them ask for seconds if they wish.

Growth is always the best indication for whether or not your child is getting too much or not enough. Ask your doctor at the next appointment to see your child’s growth chart and ensure that your child is growing at an appropriate rate.

In terms of exercise and activity, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recently released new guidelines for the amount of activity kids should get every day. They suggest a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily. Examples include biking, skating, running and rollerblading.

Healthy eating with appropriate portion sizes, and daily activity and exercise should be a family affair.

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Which condiments are good and which are bad?
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It’s barbecue season and what could be faster, tastier and healthier than a little something grilled? From tofu and veggies, to burgers and dogs, anything on a bun is beloved by our backyard and cottage culture.  You carefully choose the leanest meat and whole grain bun, but what you top it with could be a slather of unsuspecting empty calories. Here is your condiment guide in order of worst to best: choose wisely and slip back into your skinny jeans come the fall. Heed not and risk looking like the sausage yourself.

Worst to Best Burger Toppers

Mayonnaise (or anything made with mayonnaise)
All commercial mayos are made by thickening some kind of liquid fat into a solid. Either the traditional whipping of oil into eggs is used, or the lower fat treatment of using a corn or seaweed derived thickener, the concept is still the same: fat. Delicious, creamy fat that will cost you about 100 calories per tablespoon, no matter which brand you buy. Tartar sauces and ‘sandwich spreads’ are no better; they deliver no nutrients and too many calories. If you simply must have your mayo, opt for President’s Choice Blue Menu mayo or Hellmann’s Half the Fat because either will cut your calories down to half.  Heed this, though, even then, they are more caloric than the next worst spoonful. (Yogurt makes for a decent substitute.)

Barbecue Sauce
This bold bounce to your bun packs a punch, but most formulations begin with sugar and water. Mixing in a proprietary blend of tomato sauce and spices makes each version a flavour all its own and everyone has their favourite. Offering almost no nutritional value for its 300–400 mg of sodium (almost 1/3 of a healthy day’s dose) in one tablespoon is a crime before you even consider the 30–40 calories. There is one on the shelf that provides the taste without all the calories, and that’s Kraft Calorie Wise at a decent 10 calories per tablespoon. It uses more water and corn-thickeners to reduce the load but keep the consistency. You don’t get a break on the salt, though.

Treasured by children and loved by all as the condiment of choice for just about everything, ketchup takes the middle spot for the fact that it relies upon one of earth’s healthiest vegetables. Albeit, this is a high-salt, high-sugar way to get that vegetable, but still. Most formulations do start with tomatoes or tomato paste that is thinned down with vinegar and water and seasoned up with salt, spices and sugar.  The top few brands weigh in at about 20–25 calories per tablespoon delivering about 10–15 % of your healthy day’s amount of salt. The No Name brand is a little lower, though the formulation looks about the same, so expect it to be a little thinner (higher in water). Heinz has a low-sodium version that will save about half the sodium and PC Blue Menu has one that uses sucralose to reduce the sugar (and that has its downsides too!). Even with the ‘improvements’, this red spoonful is still middling at best.

Now we are moving to the better side of the bun. Not all relish is created equal; you can still stumble if you choose sweet green, zucchini or chili. All offer little nutritional benefit and about 15–25 calories per tablespoon, which is about the same as ketchup. But there is a rising star here that can deliver huge taste for a mere four calories per tablespoon: Bick’s Dill Relish is the pick of pack. It does dose with the same kind of sodium found above, but for much fewer calories in the end.

Mustard – Best in Class!
All you have to do is avoid the honey mustards and mustard blends and you can’t go wrong. Each and every mustard on the shelf is lower in calories than anything else you are going to squeeze on your dog. And they are little superheroes packing much more than they seem—made from mustard seed, which is a high antioxidant spice that has anti-inflammatory properties. If it is colored at all, it is usually with trace amounts of turmeric which is another potent anti-cancer spice. Rarely made with sugar (thus the ‘avoid the honeyed versions’ note) and only mixed with vinegar, and very little salt, it offers a zing for a caloric pittance. There are some outstanding gourmet formulations on the market that are truly worth trying, but even the cheapest brand of yellow ballpark mustard is worth adding.

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Learn how leftovers can be a mom's best friend when prepped correctly
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In my house THEY ARE NOT CALLED LEFTOVERS! Cooked food that is ready to be re-purposed is a gift to our hungry tummies and our overstuffed schedule. They are planned for, warmly welcomed and used wisely.

There are some rules to be followed to make sure that second suppers happen safely. They are:

Meat, chicken, fish, eggs:

  • Must be properly cooked in the first place
  • Stored in the fridge as quickly as possible after dinner and in under two hours
  • Kept cold until ready to eat or reheated thoroughly (cold chicken sandwich is good; half-heated microwaved chicken sandwich is not so good)
  • Can be kept in the fridge for up to three days max (fully cooked eggs five days)

Soups and stews:

  • Allow to cool on the counter until it stops steaming and then put directly into the fridge away from other perishables
  • Must be reheated completely to steaming
  • Shallow, rectangular containers work best—they cool quickly and fit in the fridge/freezer better
  • Nothing should ever be re-heated more than once

Now that we have that out of the way, the possibilities are endless.


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Which pre-packaged snacks are better than the rest?
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It’s an age old question with no clear cut answer. For some, having 3 square meals is their preferred route but for many, smaller meals eaten and a couple of smart snacks help keep energy levels strong and blood sugar levels even. Simple enough, right?

But what snack and for how many calories? How do you assess a snack? It is always best to grab a piece of fruit or a handful of veggies, no doubt! That way, you are not creating landfill waste, and no matter which you choose, you are sure to come out ahead with nutrients. But, we are an on-the-go nation who loves our packaged convenience. So here’s a rundown of the best healthy habits options that are low cal, still feel like a treat, and won’t do damage to the bottom, er, bottom line.

Carb craving?

  • Popchips! Because the potatoes are hot-air popped and not baked or fried, they are deliciously low in calories and high in flavour. Coming in all of the traditional chip flavours and satisfying 100 calorie single serving sizes makes them a fantastic “I’m peckish but I don’t want to ruin my dinner” snack.

Protein starved?

  • Try Blue Diamond almonds single serving 100 calorie packets. They are tiny and it would be easy to eat two, but let the pouch be your guide and stop there. There are four grams of protein in any one of the flavoured packets from Teriyaki to lightly salted.

Need refreshing?

  • You could always pack a piece of fruit, that’d be your best bet, but, if you are worried about the bruises, here’s an option. Motts has delicious, unsweetened fruit cups in delicious fruit blends. Try the Country Berry flavour and pop it in the freezer overnight. It’s fabulous frozen and great as it thaws. The best part is, you get two of the containers for a measly 100 calories. That ought to wake you up!

Time for a dip?

  • There is nothing like hummus and crackers but what a pain to pack! Luckily Summer Fresh has done it for you with their Snack and Go product. Best bet is the Red Pepper hummus to get the most nutrients out of your 160 calorie snack.

Super Sweet?

  • Dark Chocolate is the way to go, no doubt about it. Look for formulations that say how much cocoa is used—you are looking for 70% or more for the most antioxidant power. If you find it hard to stop at just two thin squares (which is what 100 calories looks like!), both Cadbury and Hershey have new bars that wrap it up for you.

Full disclosure: I like Popchips so much that I became their nutritional spokesperson.


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What truths are missing from grocery nutrition labels? Find out.
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But the government regulates the information on the label, right? I mean, they can’t put it on there if it isn’t true?

There are things you need to know about what’s missing or misleading on a food label that could be affecting your health. Knowing what to look for and carefully comparing products that look similar, but are very different, will stand you in good stead.

  1. The serving size. Be sure you know the serving size is not the recommended amount that you should eat, but that it is a reference number upon which everything else rests.
  2. Percentage of Daily Value. The number chosen is for a 2000 calorie per-day diet which represents an average. And you are not average. So much can affect how many calories are right for you. Be sure that you know how many calories are right for you, as your number could be higher or lower.
  3. The word ‘colour’ Currently, in Canada, a label only needs to say the word ‘colour’ to disclose any number of ingredients that may be affecting your health. Certain artificial food colours have shown to cause hyperactive behaviour in some children, and allergic reactions as well as asthma. If it’s in there, you have a right to know which one it is so you can track reactions and be sure to avoid the ingredient. This stipulation is currently under review, but even if it is overturned, don’t expect the makers of packages to be asked to move quickly to change, it will likely be voluntary for a while. If you or someone in your family has allergies and or hyperactivity issues, it may be best to avoid anything containing colour.
  4. Slippery sodium. Health Canada estimates that 88% of our salt intake comes from packaged foods, so simply putting away the salt shaker isn’t the solution. Packages contain a “Percentage Daily Value” amount that is too high so it obscures the facts. Most health-care professionals recommend around 1500 mg per day as a maximum. Nutrition labels allow 2400 mg per day (because the Canadian average is around 3300). Be sure that this is a percentage that you stay well below. There are ways to reduce your sodium, but in the meantime, read every package, add up your sources for a day and do not go above 75% of the “% DV”.
  5. There are only 13 important nutrients that must be listed on a label. But of course, a healthy diet contains much, much more. If a piece of fruit listed all of its nutrients, the label would wrap around it many times over. Most of your nutrients will actually be coming from whole foods… Be sure that this is also where most of your calories come from and you will be right on track.


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Theresa Albert
October 24, 2011
Theresa Albert
Good Behaviour Lunchboxes
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What goes into the belly at lunch predicts the afternoon’s behaviour and focus. It is just that simple. The wrong lunch can make the blood sugar soar and then plummet which means mood swings. Nutrition aside (I mean, everyone knows to avoid sweets and stock up on veggies, right?) there is a whole bunch of in-between that you can do to be sure each day is productive. Not just for the kids (and their teacher’s sanity) but for you too.

A good breakfast that contains protein and fibre [] will set up a blood sugar level that is sustainable. By lunch, the body wants fuel or it will get sleepy. Sleepy kids turn into either crabby kids or hyper kids, you know which was yours is (could be both). Lunch needs to focus on two things in order to prevent that

  1. Slow burning protein as fuel
  2. The avoidance of sugar and food colour

Protein provides calories that burn slowly and sustain energy levels. It will also help slow down the body’s uptake of other foods like bread, treats, juice that can cause a blood sugar spike. Here are some good choices:

  • Cooked whole wheat tortellini (meat or cheese)
  • Roasted chicken or cooked chicken breast in place of lunch meats
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese strings
  • Thermos of soup/stew/chili

The rush obtained from a cookie or juice will quickly dissipate and behaviour won’t be far behind. I am always surprised to hear parents say that they never made the connection. A blood sugar crash is biologically present to turn the body into a bear on the prowl. It is intended to increase the desire to hunt/search/pick food above all other tasks. The trouble is that we don’t cognitively know that’s what we are supposed to do so we just get randomly nasty.

To avoid the crash:

  • Avoid packages that contain excessive amounts of sugar, glucose-fructose, liquid invert sugar, corn syrup, etc.
  • Bake a few banana loaves, zucchini bread or sweet potato muffins [] on the weekend and freeze them to be packed throughout the week. This ensures that you can control the amount of sugar plus use whole-grain flour which is higher in fibre. The fibre, like protein, also slows down the sugar’s march into the blood stream.

If your child is sensitive, or has behaviour issues at all think about avoiding food colour. Well, really, there is no need to be consuming it at all for any of us but the studies do show that these substances may negatively affect behaviour in specific people.

Avoid any label that contains the word ‘colour’.

In Canada that could mean any one of a number of natural or artificial food colours that have been linked to hyperactivity in children, asthma, skin rashes, and migraines and have been banned in Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and France. Tartrazine is
one of the specific ingredients that you want to avoid and it may not be listed as such. It is often used to create that yellow or orange tinge in many baked goods.

In other countries including the US, each specific dye that is used needs to be named but right now. In Canada, the legislation does allow just the category ‘colour’ to be listed.

Do you have any success stories to share (or nightmares!) about how a change in diet has affected your child’s behaviour?

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Theresa Albert
December 26, 2011
Theresa Albert
How clean is your liver?
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Your poor liver never gets any attention; it is a total wallflower who just quietly takes what you have to dish out. Overlooking this gem is a big mistake because it supports you in more than 500 ways. You can’t live without it and living with a clean liver gives you more energy, helps control your weight and cholesterol levels plus makes you look and feel better. On top of that, it regulates sex, thyroid and stress hormones. Fear not, some of the things that you can do to protect this critical organ are already things you are doing to protect your heart. That said,
some of the ‘don’ts’ may surprise you, but they are as easy as pie (or, for clarity, easy as avoiding pie).

The liver acts like a filter in a fish tank. Have you ever seen a fish tank that has been neglected? The water is murky, filled with detritus and it smells. Everything that you eat, every medication that you take, every breath of toxic air and, yes, sip of alcohol you take has to go through the liver to be processed and eliminated.

Here are the top do’s and don’ts to keep your liver working at peak performance.

What to Avoid:

  • Let’s start with the one you already know: alcohol. Any amount of alcohol can damage your liver. Yes, there is evidence that it can protect your heart but the down side is that it is putting a strain on your liver.
  • To make matters worse, if say, you overindulge and take an acetaminophen to try and prevent the headache, you are asking for trouble. The combination of this pain reliever and booze creates a toxic soup that the liver has a hard time dealing with.
  • Fatty foods all have to be processed by the liver and when this organ gets overwhelmed, it accumulates fat itself (think foie gras). Fatty liver disease can lead to liver inflammation (and therefore malfunction) and cirrhosis that looks just like the alcoholic sort.
  • Sugared soft drinks, cakes, pastries, candy bars etc “…contain table sugar which contains fructose, and the effect of fructose on the liver cells is similar to alcohol: fat accumulation and oxidation. The current epidemic of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is because we eat too much table sugar!” says Dr Eric Yoshida, Medical Advisor, Canadian Liver Foundation.
  • Foods that can carry Hepatitis may surprise you: raw oysters and under-cooked shellfish or pork. Dr Yoshida says that pork raised in Canada or the US is likely safe, but pork grown in other countries like China or Italy have had problems.

Scared yet?

There is good news about beautiful food that can protect and prevent liver damage. It’s not all about avoid, avoid, avoid…

What to Enjoy:

  • Brazil nuts, brewer’s yeast, kelp, brown rice, garlic, onions and molasses are high in selenium which is required for enzyme activity
  • Eggs, fish, legumes and seeds are high in methionine which aids in detoxification pathways
  • Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are high in sulphur compounds with aid in detoxification pathways
  • Whole grains, chicken, wheat bran and nuts contain vitamin B5 which speeds up detoxification of acetaldehyde after alcohol consumption
  • Wheat germ, dried peas and soybeans contain vitamin B1 which reduce the toxic effects of alcohol, smoking and lead

When you take a step back and look at it, these tips make good old common sense and good eating. The difference is that now you know what they are doing for you in addition to making dinner more pleasurable.

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Theresa Albert
January 30, 2012
Theresa Albert
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Who knew common sense was just the thing to cure ADHD? A study done at the Children’s Memorial Hospital found just that as reported in MedPage Today. There is much debate about how to help these kids with their behaviour though behaviour modification techniques, supplementation, medication and diet. I will admit that my opinions on the subject are formed at a professional distance as I did not have a child with attention issues. I have, however seen the impact of this diagnoses on children I love as well as on many classrooms the children I love have been in. I know it is not easy.

But I also know for a fact that every cell in a body is made from the fuel (food) that goes in to it. If we accept that ADHD is a founded affliction of the cells in the brain that can be modified by drugs, it follows that they can be modified (for better or worse) and/or supported by food. Since I am willing and able to make dietary modification for each and every person in my home, it makes sense to me that one would start there.

And sure enough, it is known that diet is an established contributor and that the “development of ADHD was significantly associated with Western diets.” I am just surprised that this is news. Is it really? Do people still not know that food can affect your mood and energy level? Why would it be any different for a child?

“Simple diets low in fats, high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables are the best alternative to medication for ADHD”. How is food an “alternative”? Isn’t it the foundation? It is understandable that a parent would want to help their child as quickly and fully as possible. ADHD can affect every facet of childhood going well beyond the obvious of socialization and learning. But shortcuts almost always net shortcomings.

To boot, the above “diet” is also controlling for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, hypertension… Why wouldn’t it be the thing to start with to control ADHD symptoms? I have seen behaviour issues rise and fall with blood sugar. It turns out that these studies confirm that the issue isn’t the “sugar” itself. Avoiding blood sugar spikes with simple, healthy snacks ought to be standard to get the best out of the brain’s ability to focus. Study away if we must but teachers have been telling us for decades that well fed kids do better and are easier to handle.

For the record, three other findings were mentioned:

  • Supplementation with Omega 3′s and 6′s showed some promise
  • Feingold type diets which included the removal of salicylates was found to be helpful in some “sensitive children”. Salicylates are found in artificial food colour and foods like: Almonds, Apples, Apricots, Aspirin, Berries, Cherries, Cloves, Coffee, Cucumbers, Currants, Grapes, Nectarines, Oil of wintergreen, Oranges, Peaches, Peppers (bell & chilli), Pickles, Plums, Prunes, Raisins, Rose hips, Tangelos, Tangerines, Tea, Tomatoes
  • Elimination diets (removal of wheat, dairy and other potential allergens) showed some promise but was considered “difficult to follow”


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Topic —  Health

Nitrate Debate

Theresa Albert
February 13, 2012
Theresa Albert
Nitrates: Good or Bad?
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The ‘earth is flat’ food battle of our time is being fought and it’s called ‘nitrates are bad for you’. On the one side is the 10 year-old theory that nitrates in food mix with the bacteria in your gut to create nitrosamines which can lead to cancer. The new science refutes that claim and posits that more than 90% of the nitrates consumed come from otherwise healthy plants (leafy greens are a particularly rich source). If the old theory is true, the new science says it means that the very things meant to protect us from cancer are capable of causing it. But that can’t be right. It’s a head scratcher.

Professor Andrew Jones presented his findings at a food science conference about a year ago. This exercise physiologist explained how nitrate from beetroot juice widens blood vessels, reduces blood pressure and allows more blood flow. (It was verified, by the way, by isolating the nitrate in the juice and retesting. The nitrate-free juice did not have the same effect). They are now studying the effects of this isolated nitrate as a—get this—performance-enhancing drug. Well, that’s a game changer. What about the link to cancer?

The problem with science is that it doesn’t jive with human nature. The scientific method poses a theory and tests it. The conclusions must be retested by other scientists to either prove or disprove the findings, but once a theory is entrenched in the human lexicon, it is almost impossible to remove. The layperson just throws up his hands and says “First you said this, now you say that?! Forget it. I don’t want to listen anymore”. But we have to keep listening and keep letting the new information in if we are going to move ahead. (Just like any other effective relationship.)

The studies on nitrates and their link to cancer are in that process right now. The story is moving in slow-motion, but the questions being raised make enough sense for us to hit pause and listen. If nitrates exist in soil and plants, then why don’t we all have stomach and colorectal cancer? The epidemiological studies based on self-reported diet history indicating that high levels of processed meat consumption and colon cancer cannot prove cause and effect. (The self reporting alone is a terribly flawed way to assess data. It’s that human confounder again.) Epidemiological studies can only raise enough questions that need to be further investigated.

What heats the whole debate up is the use of said nitrites, and nitrates are in deli meats. And no one wants to listen to the producers of ‘Big Food’; we are certainly not going to get our health news from THEM, but they should get a voice in the conversation too. Know that nitrites, as a preservative, are mandated for use in deli meats. In other words, if you make and sell deli meats in Canada, the government says you must use them in your product to prevent other, more pressing problems like deadly bacteria. They can choose from a synthetic source or from a natural source like the vegetables stated above.

As a follower of the story, you want to find the best course of action. It’s more about what you DO in the meantime that matters. Vitamin C in plants helps to prevent the conversion of nitrates to the risky and suspect nitrosamines. Smoked and cured meats have been consumed for millennia and they taste good, nitrites/nitrates and all. So, if you are going to continue enjoying these meats, do so wisely. Choose the best one you can find that has managed the other factors that such a food comes with. Specifically, find the leanest, lowest sodium option made with the highest quality ingredients you can find. Enjoy it in moderation, and eat it with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables (and keep reading to figure out whether the earth is round or flat…again).

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