Particularly with the additional stress of COVID, many of us are feeling a bit dragged out and not at our usual energy level. While there are many causes and contributors to low energy, nutritional factors should be considered in any chronic lack of energy. Please note that this is in no way meant to replace a thorough medical review, which is appropriate in any case where there is a change in energy or stamina. Here are a few possibilities if you are lagging…
- Iron deficiency – by far the most common reason for low energy in women of child-bearing age, also found in individuals of both genders with IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and in long distance runners, among others. Iron deficiency should be suspected in any chronic tiredness, and should be confirmed by blood tests before iron supplementation is started. While it is possible to maintain good iron stores with a diet adequate in iron, it is extremely difficult to replete low iron stores with food alone, due to the poor absorption of iron in the gut, as well as lack of enthusiasm for some of the higher iron foods (can you say “liver”?)
- Vitamin B12 deficiency – although less common that iron deficiency, a deficiency of B12 affects the formation of healthy red blood cells and can affect your overall wellbeing and energy, as well as possibly contributing to numbness and tingling in the extremities. Those most at risk for B12 deficiency are vegans, individuals on medications to treat ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)and those lacking intrinsic factor(IF) which is needed to absorb B12. As with iron, a B12 deficiency should be confirmed by a blood test; if you have a low B12 inspite of a good intake of B12-rich foods and/or oral B12 supplement, you may require B12 injections.
- Inadequate calorie intake – simplistically put, our bodies are machines which require food as fuel to work properly. If you are chronically short on calories, which are units of energy, you will have a hard time keeping your energy at its optimal level. Very low calorie diets, done either deliberately to lose weight, or by accident due to poor appetite, or a too-busy schedule, can translate into lack of pep as well as mood changes as your body attempts to continue to function without adequate fuel. Make sure you are listening to your body and fueling it appropriately. Contact me if you need help figuring out what that means for you!
- Poor timing of meals and snacks – it makes sense to eat to fuel peak activity, which for most people is mornings through early afternoon. Many people have a habit of eating very little early in the day then taking in most of their food after 3 PM. As well as missing the opportunity to provide your body and brain with the varied nutritional components needed for health, this later eating usually involved foods that are lower in fibre, vitamins and minerals and higher in fat and refined carbohydrates. While there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to eating, if you are finding your energy is less than what you want with the eat-more-later pattern, you may want to experiment with eating smaller meals starting earlier in the day.
- Poor food choices – a diet heavy in caffeine, refined sugar and simple carbs tends to give quick energy which is not well sustained as these substances are metabolized quickly. Excessive caffeine throughout the day can also contribute to poor-quality sleep which leads to daytime fatigue and poor energy. Emphasis on lean and plant-based protein sources, complex carbohydrates and fruits and vegetables leads to more sustained energy, overall better wellbeing and increased mental acuity. In the long term, a diet in the basic building blocks for health can lead to deficiencies and chronic health issues.
If you are struggling with poor energy and suspect dietary causes, contact me through my website and set up an introductory call to see if I can help you get a bit more pep in your step!
In the season of parties and baking, it is easy to become detached from your health goals and to react to the many stressors – family, finances, time – by making less healthy food choices, drinking too much and sleeping too little. Then, as the holidays draw to a close, there is a compulsion to react to one’s own relaxed behaviour by restricting, making unrealistic “resolutions” and wanting to wave a magic wand to be one’s “best self.” Avoid this tendency; it is rare that a person can maintain dramatic lifestyle changes over a short period of time, and the usual response by self is to feel a lack of confidence and hope as real life interferes with these goals. Before you do anything to attain the “new you”, follow these few tips:
1. Set up a consistent routine. As much as possible, go to bed and get up at the same time, eat meals at regular times, and avoid disruption by extra entertaining and holiday events, or by regular life as the holidays end and work life resumes. Establishing routines is important when you are making lifestyle changes; routine will make change easier by making the change a habit.
2. Get enough sleep. This is the key to energy, a happy outlook and a healthy immune system. Put focus on protecting bedtime from excess screen time, intense discussions and last-minute chores. Adequate rest is essential for setting and reaching health and other goals.
3. Schedule regular exercise. Like sleep, physical activity is essential for a positive mindset, energy and stamina. It will also help you sleep more deeply, if not done too close to bedtime.
4. Take time for yourself. Plan to have a bit of quiet time every day, whether for meditating, going for a walk, or just sitting quietly listening to music or reading (not watching TV or reading your FB posts). This time allows you to refresh your mind, gives you opportunity for creative planning, and helps you to defray the effects of stress.
Once you have worked on these four protective practices, then it’s perhaps the time to consider one change you want to make in 2019 to improve your health. Happy New Year!
There is a lot of news these days around the benefits of a plant-based diet. The latest from the World Health Organization (WHO) states that for optimal health outcomes, no more than ten percent of our calories should come from saturated fats, which are found in most animal products (meat, dairy) and trans fats, which are found mainly in processed foods. The WHO further states no more than one percent of our calories should come from trans fats. For those of you who, like myself, grew up in a time where a steak with a blob of butter on it was considered the height of good dining, this is quite a shift in thinking. So what are some changes you can make to improve your diet without completely switching over to veganism (which is a great choice for some people, but not for the majority of people firmly ensconced in a traditional North American diet)? Here are some tips for moving gently toward a more plant-based diet:
- Add one more fruit and one more vegetable serving to your current daily menu; this could mean taking an apple and some carrot sticks for a snack, or having berries on your cereal and a salad with your lunch. Most of us tend to eat more vegetables at our main meal, and often none at the other two meals.
- Try a vegan recipe once a week. There are many good websites with plant-based recipes, encompassing most cuisines including African, Thai, Indian, and even Greek and Italian.
- Add chickpeas, black beans and lentils to stirfries, salads and even smoothies for a protein punch with plenty of fibre and other nutrients.
- Substitute tofu or smoked tofu for meat in spicy foods such as Thai curries or chili; tofu takes on the taste of whatever is cooked with it, so these are good ways to ease into tofu if you have not enjoyed it previously.
- Try non-dairy milk alternatives such as cashew, almond or rice milk. Look for “fortified with calcium and vitamin D” to ensure you are getting some of the essential nutrients found in milk.
Check out the Good Sense Nutrition FB page for links to recipes and other info!
As Nutrition Month draws to a close, here’s a post about how a dietitian can help you achieve your health and nutrition goals. As a registered professional who must follow evidence-based guidelines of care, and demonstrate competence in his or her field of practice, a dietitian can be an essential part of your health care team.
- A dietitian can help you separate the good from the bad in nutrition information. Many people want to eat healthy, but feel completely overwhelmed by the amount of information available, much of which contradicts itself. A dietitian can interpret studies and critique media reports with a background of extensive nutritional study, helping you make the best decisions about your diet.
- A dietitian can help you translate nutrition into food. If you have heard that the Mediterranean diet can help prevent onset of Alzheimer’s disease, and you want to follow that way of eating, a dietitian can not only explain the details to you, but also help you make changes in your current diet that will fit into your life. Sustainability is essential in making any lifestyle changes – extreme changes in the way you eat are unlikely to be long-lasting. A study done a few years ago found that the best diet is the one we can stay on the longest. This makes sense, as changes in health, good or bad, do not develop overnight.
- A dietitian is qualified to help you manage chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and kidney disease, by optimizing your diet for the best possible outcomes. Often people have a fear of seeing a dietitian, thinking they will hear that they can’t eat their favourite foods anymore. A good dietitian recognizes that he or she is part of your collaborative health team, and will makes suggestion based on what you are currently doing, rather than making recommendations without consideration of your own preferences and habits; what you put into your body is ultimately your choice, no one else’s. Which brings me to the last point…
- A dietitian can help you improve your relationship with food, while recognizing the emotional and cultural significance of food in your life. Identifying triggers to problem eating and barriers to achieving your health and nutrition goals are essential to making positive diet changes, and a dietitian is the best professional to help you do this.
If you have a food question, are trying to figure out if the latest diet is for you, or have a health condition which would improve with diet changes, make sure you connect with a dietitian, whether through your local health authority, or in private practice. If you have extended health benefits, you may have coverage for a private-practice dietitian and be able to see one without any wait. Have a great week and happy Easter!
March is Dietitian of Canada’s Nutrition Month, and the slogan this year is “Unlock the Potential of Food.” How can you unlock the potential of food to bring people together?
- Focus on family meals. Everyone these days seems to be busy, but family meals give everyone time to catch up. Family meals are also a time where you can teach your children table manners/ how to enjoy food/eat balanced varied meals/try new dishes and foods. If after-school is a crazy time with practices, or you and your spouse/partner work different shifts, work around schedules and make breakfast or lunch the meal where you sit down together and connect. According to a number of studies, including reports issued by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University(CASA), family meals are associated with numerous benefits to children including better academic success, less chance of obesity and substance abuse issues, and better eating habits.
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen or get a group of colleagues or family members together to serve breakfast to the homeless. Doing good work together is a great bonding opportunity, and reaching out to those less fortunate also helps us count our own blessings.
- Organize a potluck with a focus on one region’s or country’s food; have everyone bring a dish associated with that cuisine, along with copies of the recipe. Besides a good excuse for a party, this might give you ideas on how to spice up your own meals.
- Have a salad day at work where each staff member brings one ingredient and you all get a big and delicious salad for lunch.
- Get your garden ready for spring, and make it a family affair. Take a weekend together to shop for seeds, schedule planting, prepare the soil outside, and clear out any leaves or debris that have piled up in your garden. Check out westcoastseeds.com for information on when to plant. Numerous studies have shown that children are more willing to eat a variety of vegetables when they have helped grow them, so this is a great way to encourage healthy food choices.
Make March more social and renew your excitement in creating delicious and nutritious meals! Happy Nutrition Month
Now that the January hustle has died down and the days are getting longer, thank goodness, many of us are feeling that it’s time to get more active, if not more fresh air, depending on where you live and how much you like the cold. For those who have not incorporated physical activity into their life before, or for a while, it can be hard to know where to begin. Here are some tips to start:
- Just do it! Although there is always a disclaimer on this that you should check with your doctor, most doctors will jump with joy if their patients mention a desire to get more physically active. Just pick a thing, and get at it. It could be walking on your lunch break, going to try a Jazzercise class – which can for some people be positively addictive – or joining a recreational sports team. Getting started is the main thing.
- Some is better than none; as a recently published study showed, even low levels of physical activity are associated with a healthier you, especially as you age. According to a 2018 study published in the journal Clinical Epidemiology ( Karolinska Institutet. “Everyday exercise has surprisingly positive health benefits.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 January 2018. sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180125110030.htm) replacing half an hour’s sedentariness a day with everyday activity reduces the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease by 24 per cent. No need to try for a marathon if you are new to exercise; a vigorous walk or vacuuming for half an hour are better than sitting on the sofa.
- Consistent is better than constant. Making a routine that includes physical activity on a few days a week, and sticking with it for several months, will yield more benefits in terms of improved mood, more energy and better overall function than going gung-ho every day for two weeks until you burn out or injure yourself. Start slow and work up.
- Make it social. Having a fitness buddy or belonging to a team where you are expected to show up can make exercise more fun and also promote more consistency of effort.
With inactivity considered the new smoking, physical activity is an essential part of maintaining cardiovascular health, as well as being a valuable tool in mood stabilization, bone health, overall function and stamina. February, Heart and Stroke month, is coming to an end, so kick off March with some plans to get more active and spring into spring!
It’s started already … the flu has already shown itself in many areas, and we are heading into the chill of fall-to-winter weather, when it can be hard to know what to wear to be warm, but not too warm, and dry, should the weather turn wet. As well, we are working through the winter holidays – Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, and all the parties and frantic shopping and other preparations we do for these. No one wants to get sick, especially not when there is so much to do and enjoy. Her are some tips for staying healthy through this busy time of year:
- Get enough sleep. While most of us know that we function better on a good night’s sleep, it is very tempting to watch one more episode of that Netflix series, or spend a few more minutes – or hours – on Facebook catching up after a long day at work. We don’t all need the same amount of sleep, but once you know how much is optimal for you, schedule that time for just sleep. Stop the screen time at least two hours before you go to bed, and use that time for reading, journaling, family, or meditating/yoga. Don’t exercise too close to bedtime, as that can make going to sleep more difficult, but do make sure you are getting regular exercise, as this helps to make you more physically tired as well as relieving stress. Which brings me to the next tip…
- Get regular exercise. As the weather gets colder, and in some places rainier, as well as the days getting darker earlier, it can be hard to keep up the daily walk or bike that you did in the summer. Regular exercise helps you to stay healthy, sleep well, and support your overall wellbeing, all of which help your immune system. Figure out some alternatives to outdoor activities, unless you love winter, in which case this is your season! Go to a gym, a pool, a climbing gym, or an indoor track (even a shopping mall can be a good place for a brisk walk) and plan to get at least three good sessions a week. It’s hard to get up earlier or go for a workout when it is already dark after work, but you will feel more energetic and cheerful, which can help to counter the dark-day blues.
- Wash your hands!! Washing your hands is essential to prevent disease transmission. Wash your hands before and after eating and using the toilet, as well as when you come home, and whenever you are touching objects in a public place – for example shopping, or using equipment at a gym. Germs get to your vulnerable organs – your nose, mouth and eyes – via your hands, so stopping them in their tracks before they get there is key.
- Eat well. Particularly for those working shifts and for people living on their own, it can be hard to make good food choices and maintain a healthy meal pattern, but this is important for maintaining health during flu season and year-round. Make sure you are getting at least two servings daily of good-quality protein foods – lean meat, fish, tofu, legumes, eggs or dairy – prepared without added fat or salty seasonings. Also focus on eating at least one serving of fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack. Besides avoiding the winter weight gain which plagues so many of us, this will also help you get the variety of nutrients your body needs to boost immunity and fight off infections.
- Find leisure activities to help you manage holiday stress. Do a craft, journal, or take an evening class in something you enjoy doing. Chronic unmanaged stress affects our hormone levels, making us more susceptible to illness.
Whatever you do, try to focus on the enjoyable aspects of the holidays – family time, time off work, fun activities to do inside and out – and avoid over-spending, over-eating and over-drinking, all of which cause stress and unpleasant consequences long after December has come and gone.
Our three-day tour of QC is zipping by. To our relief and surprise, it has not been difficult to find good vegetarian choices even in a place where restaurants heavily feature steak frites and it can be a challenge to find any entrée that doesn’t contain cheese or other animal protein. Baguette et Chocolat, just a short walk from our airBNB, on rue de la Fabrique, serves soy lattes, something I don’t take for granted since arriving in Québec. We took the ferry to Lévis for a sight of the old city from the water, and stopped at the Corsaire Pub on rue St Laurent. Surprisingly, along with a good beer selection, there was a vegetarian tapas plate featuring deep fried tofu, two kinds of hummous, baba ganouche, vegetarian pâté, raw vegetables and olives, eaten with toasted French bread. For dinner, we went to the Buffet de l’Antiquaire, a diner where the food and style of service reminds me of eating out in the ’70’s; they had a vegetarian black bean burger served with very hot and fresh fries and homemade coleslaw. Dinner for our last evening here was at the Restaurant Maison Marocaine; if you want to eat well as a vegan, the tabbouleh and the couscous with vegetables will leave you very satisfied – we couldn’t finish our meals. After a walk around and a listen to live music, we were ready for dessert – mango and raspberry sorbet at one of the many gelato places on rue St Jean. Even for vegetarians and vegans, Québec can be a culinary delight, living up to its good-food reputation. Not to mention that I have walked 22,000 steps a day while here, so am meeting my healthy-living activity goal hands-down!
Visiting Montreal is a culinary delight, even on a budget, even with a vegan (my daughter)when I am not. So much ethnic food, with options for vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal and many other choices to fit any desire. After a trip to the nearest Metro grocery store, in NDG, where we picked up hummous, tortilla chips, pasta sauce, wine (a joy not yet experienced by me in Victoria, buying wine at the grocery store), and an assortment of fruits and veggies, we took a trip to vieux Montreal. In Cesar’s, we found a choice of “Healthy Meals”, aptly named, where we opted for a delicious salad of chickpea, avocado, falafel, sesame seeds, (with feta for me, without for Theresa)with a tangy vinaigrette. The server told us the concept came from feedback from customers that they would like to have healthy options, not just fried and rich food when touring the old city. Even at Brutopia, a three-level brewpub on the lively rue Crescent, we were able to choose from edamame beans and hummous and pita appies, as well as a vegetarian quesadilla – not vegan but lacto-vegetarian. We rounded off our day at Weinstein & Gavino’s with white port and the best tiramisu I have ever eaten. Again, not vegan but vegetarian. On our next field trip, we will work on vegan-specific menus, but after all we are on vacation.
Most of us have experienced this; the feeling of extremely wanting a certain food, a certain taste, a certain texture, which feels like physical hunger but which can happen when we are quite full and our bodies are not wanting food at all. This feeling is what we refer to as a craving. It can be a strong force, which compels a determined quest for the food we are craving. Many people describe these cravings as “uncontrollable” emotional eating, and indeed feel that they are not in charge of what they eat at those times.
There is a prevalent belief that these cravings are caused by some deficiency of diet, “my body needs what I am craving”, but this is not backed by evidence. Cravings are physical hunger, or sometimes not even physical hunger but an emotional discomfort, filtered through our complicated filter of food preferences, food associations and life experiences. Changing hormones, such as during pregnancy, or as a part of pre-menstrual syndrome, can also cause cravings, due to variable blood sugars as well as changes in taste and smell, exacerbated by emotional changes created by hormone shifts.
There are a few strategies to help you manage these cravings:
1. Don’t let yourself get too hungry. When you are starving, everything looks more delicious, and it can be very difficult to restrain the impulse to buy a chocolate bar when it is within easy access.
2. Eat high-protein meals and snacks. Protein helps to stabilize blood sugars and increase satiety, which can reduce if not eradicate cravings for less healthy foods. Space meals 4-5 hours apart and identify problem times, such as after work or while shopping for/preparing dinner, so you can plan a healthy high-protein snack for those times.
3. Work to identify what if any emotions contribute to feelings of cravings and loss of control around food. Once you can anticipate which situations trigger those emotions, you can work on developing proactive strategies to manage the situations and emotions in a more positive way.
4. Get active! Having an active lifestyle can help diffuse emotions that lead to cravings, and exercise promotes the production of feel-good hormones, as well as distracting you from the craving.