Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Healthy Snacking: Is There Really Such a Thing?

Welcome back! Ever found yourself migrating to the fridge midday for no apparent reason, reaching out for a snack? Or how about having a grumbly stomach at 10 o'clock? Dietitians of Canada collected statistics about snacking habits and they’ve found that 30% of Canadians eat snacks every day, with 20% of Canadians eating multiple snacks per day, making it hard for them to have full meals. Finally, women and people that tend to eat alone are more prone to skipping lunch and relying on snacks rather than proper meals. The fact of the matter is that snacking is basically a way of life around here. So now that we’ve seen what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner in previous articles, let’s see what we should be eating BETWEEN meals! 

But first, CAN we even eat between meals?

Snacking Between Meals, Yay or Nay?
There isn’t a straight answer to this question. The right answer is that it depends. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: listen to your body. Are you physically hungry or are you just bored? We’re all guilty of eating when we’re bored, myself included. Asking ourselves if we're actually hungry is a difficult exercise to do every time we want to nibble on something, but it’s a good way to become in touch with our body and learn to listen to its signals.

Some people might need a snack in the morning, while some might need one in the afternoon. It all depends on what time we eat our meals and if our meals were well balanced (refer to my previous article on the balanced plate). Beyond that, it depends on the activities you partake in that day. This means that there are some days where you will need 2 snacks, and some where you won’t need any. Your life is not identical every day, so your diet shouldn’t be either, as your needs will constantly be varying. Bottom line: if you’re truly physically hungry between meals, a snack is a good option.

What to Eat as a Snack
Health Canada has a good guideline for healthy snacking that I like very much. They say that a snack should include two food groups. I like this idea because it makes for varied snacks that are quite substantial, and it excludes food items that are not in any food groups (yes, I’m talking about ice cream and cake!). This way, a snack is just enough to control your hunger until the next mealtime comes around.

Beyond having two food groups, I would also add that it’s important to have a source of carbohydrates and protein. The carbs give you quick energy that you need NOW, while the protein will help you refrain from constantly nibbling on something until the next meal.

Snack Ideas
v  Yogurt is a simple snack that includes both carbs and protein in the same item. If you pair it with a piece of fruit, you get two food groups! Add some hemp seeds on top and you have healthy fats and fiber too!
v  Peanut butter includes carbs and protein, so adding it on toast, crackers, apple slices or even celery can make for a good snack.  Add a few raisins to your celery and peanut butter or cream cheese and you’ve got yourself ants on a log! Yummy!
v  A bowl of cereal with milk includes carbs and protein, and can even be a good source of fiber depending on the cereal you choose!
v  Hummus and veggies or pita are also a good alternative for carbs AND protein AND fiber.
v  One of my personal favorites is tuna salad on crackers, which includes carbs, protein, healthy fats and a good source of omega-3. I even have this in a bigger quantity as part of a meal!
v  Crackers and cheese for protein, fat and carbs.
v  Trail mix with a variety of nuts and dried fruits is a good option for snacks on the go.

And the list goes on and on. There’s a plethora of ideas on the internet of fun healthy snacks for kids, on the go, school safe, etc.

Final tip: Make sure that you have these snacks readily available. It’s much harder to think clearly and opt for healthier alternatives when our tummy is growling, so cut up veggies ahead of time and prepare containers that are easy to grab and go, or small bags of trail mix, etc.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Vitamin D - The Sunshine Vitamin

The sun came out for a few days, finally, which inspired me to talk about vitamin Sunny-D. Fun fact: vitamin D is technically a hormone, not a vitamin. But it’s a crucial nutrient nonetheless. Most of you already know that vitamin D comes from the sun… and from dairy products. However, did you also know that 40% of Canadians are deficient in vitamin D during our long, cold winter season?

Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is naturally made by the body when sun rays hit your skin. Without getting into too many details, sun rays hit your skin, your body makes an inactive form of vitamin D, and your kidneys will activate it. However, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have much skin showing in the winter time. I tend to be bundled up with a coat, hat, scarf, and gloves. It’s easy to imagine how quickly we can get vitamin D deficient under these circumstances. Even during summer days, I lather myself with sunscreen, which blocks the rays from ever reaching my skin. Vitamin D can also be found naturally in fatty fish and a couple other food items, but not at high enough levels to meet our needs. This is why our milk is fortified with vitamin D in North America. Since we couldn’t get enough naturally, we added it to a common food item. However, despite that, 40% of Canadians are still deficient in the winter, one third overall. Surprisingly, Statistics Canada have found that the age group with the highest amount of deficiency are the 20-39 year olds.

The Role of Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays so many roles in your body, it would take pages and pages to describe all of them, so here’s a few examples to assure your of just how important this topic is.

Vitamin D helps your body absorb more calcium and utilize it for bone growth and it blocks parathyroid hormone from resorbing (reducing) the calcium in your bones.

This nutrient is also used to regulate immune responses. Vitamin D receptors work with your immune cells, so less sun leads to less immune response, which can lead to more colds, flus, etc. Sounds familiar? Winter seems to always bring that upon us. Maybe it’s not just because we didn’t put our tuque and gloves before going outside. Plus, it’s also an anti-inflammatory nutrient, which helps your body’s overall function and promotes health.

A byproduct of vitamin D breakdown (after usage) goes into your muscle cells’ nucleus and improves its contraction ability. Since muscles work by contraction and relaxation, vitamin D plays an important role in this function.

Vitamin D also affects your mood. A lack of vitamin D can lead to the blues, which also sounds familiar when winter rolls in. And finally, vitamin D interferes with the leptin function, a hormone that tells your brain when you’re full. This means that by not having enough vitamin D, you will always feel hungry, which can lead to excess food consumption and weight gain.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how important vitamin D is.

So Now What?
Because so many people are deficient, Health Canada recommends that anybody over 50 takes a vitamin D supplement of 800-1000IU, which can be found over-the-counter at any pharmacy. Vitamin D3 is the active form and will be more beneficial. It might also already be part of your multivitamin, so check it out! Regularly including fatty fish in your diet is also a good addition, 1-2 times per week would be best. Stay tuned for a whole blog article about fish and all its health benefits and mercury risks.

I would also recommend for everybody to enjoy the sun with the warm weather coming up. Unfortunately, sunscreen blocks the sun rays from hitting you, thus blocking your production of vitamin D. Now, I’m not telling you to go get a sunburn, but spending a small amount of time daily without sun block can be beneficial. If you are someone that crisps easily (as I do), then reduce that time to how much your body can take. Always listen to your body.


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