Thursday, 12 April 2012


Last week, I briefly touched on the importance of nutritional literacy--and how, in a world like the one we live in today, consumers are constantly bombarded with nutritional information that is often contradictory and that which leads to ‘nutritional confusion’. And, as I pointed out, it is important for individuals to educate themselves about health and nutrition in order to lessen the confusion. That’s possible, right? Ultimately, to be nutritionally literate is to self-educate, to learn about and to understand health and nutrition information, including the sources that are providing this information, and finally, to recognize that there is no absolute. Nutritional information is in constant flux. And, what works for one person might not (probably won’t) work for another. As I mentioned in my previous post, health and nutrition is personal.

(warning: this is a long one)

Lately, my friend W has been asking me a lot of questions about her own health and nutrition. She, like so many of us, is looking to tone up and get beach body ready for the coming (warmer) months. And, like so many of us, W is confused. Out of all the people I’ve met who are either really into nutrition and/or fitness, W has read a lot about either topic and while I consider this a good thing (educate yourself, right!?), it can also be a cause for concern when you’re led astray. How many calories am I supposed to consume in a day? Should I be exercising more or less? And, the big question that W has: if I am eating healthy and exercising regularly, why aren't I seeing results?

With W's permission, I wanted to share some of the concerns that she has been having in terms of diet and nutrition. When it comes to being nutritionally literate, W is not uninformed about certain foods and products--in fact, I would argue quite the opposite--however, because of her vast knowledge about various diets and meal plans, she is confused about what to eat (and when). W leads a very active lifestyle--she loves to run and practice Pilates, she often joins me for boot camp and boxing classes every week. But she just doesn’t know what to consume in order to sustain her energy levels, burn fat, and develop lean muscles in the process. Recently, she described a day of meals to me. And, we’ve talked about different recipes and things we like to eat. She’s no stranger to healthy foods (like real, whole foods). She strays away from ‘bad’ sugars and ‘bad’ fats. But, W still claims that she isn’t seeing results in terms of her physical appearance (personally, I think she looks great--but everyone is their own worst critic, right?). So, she’s supposedly eating really healthy (oatmeal for breakfast, salads for lunch, eggs and cheese for snacks, etc.) and working out lots, but nothing’s happening?
Well, I have a few pieces of advice that I can offer, take 'em or leave 'em. Based on personal experience, I can tell you that if you’re working out consistently and the workouts are difficult (whatever that may be to you), you need to make sure that what you are putting into your body is going support what you are putting out. The boot camp classes that W and I have been doing recently are not easy. I consider myself a fairly fit person, particularly when it comes to high intensity workouts such as boxing and HIIT (high-intensity interval training), but even I find these classes challenging. If you are doing some form of exercise that requires a ton of energy, you need to be replenishing whatever energy is being used. I think a huge problem for a lot of women who exercise and who are looking to burn fat and gain lean muscle is that they don’t eat enough. They often need more calories than they are consuming in order to support their workouts and then see results. That said, for some people who are looking to lose weight, a low-calorie diet might be an option. It really depends on what results you are looking for and your body composition. Remember, every body is different.

For W's diet, my main piece of advice was to include lean protein with every meal. For whatever reason, I think a lot of people--at least in my experience--dismiss protein whenever consuming a meal or snack. But protein is what helps you feel full over a long period of time. True, the right fats (healthy, unsaturated fats) and dietary fibre (from whole grains and produce) can also help to slow down digestion and keep you full for a lot longer than say, saturated fats or simple sugars found in processed foods. But, if you include lean protein with every meal, you can avoid excess calories and ward off hunger. Some of my favourite sources for lean protein include:

Eggs and/or egg whites
Raw nuts
Almond or soy milk
Whey protein
Plain, low-fat yoghurt
Canned tuna
Beans, such as garbanzo or black beans
Chicken breast or thighs
Pork tenderloin
Beef flank steak
Salmon or basa filets

What's your favourite source of lean protein?
Something else that W isn't sure about is consuming carbohydrates (what I will refer to as ‘bready carbs’, because let’s face it, carbohydrates are basically in, when I say carbohydrates, I mean grains and starches). First of all, anyone who tells you that they don’t like carbohydrates is lying. I love carbohydrates, and if you’re going to support hard sessions at the gym (even if you’re just going to do yoga!), you need this super nutrient. I think that a common mistake is that people consume these ‘bready carbs’ covered in unhealthy fat, salt, and sugar or that their portion sizes are too large, and this is why they do not see results at the gym or they try to cut carbohydrates all together and find their body later craves them. This is not to say that you cannot follow a low-carbohydrate diet--for some, this actually benefits weight loss. It also depends on your activity level. If you're really unsure about your carbohydrate consumption, talk to a nutritionist. Otherwise, join me with some of my favourite 'bready carbs' carbohydrates:

Brown rice
Steel cut oats
Sweet and/or regular potatoes
Soba noodles
Brown rice pasta
Rice noodles
Whole corn tortillas

I now follow a gluten-free diet, but for anyone who is not gluten-free, I would recommend consuming whole grains. Check the package, especially for pastas and breads--manufacturers are good at sneaking in unhealthy ingredients like 'enriched wheat flour'.

Since W was a little unsure about introducing more carbohydrates into her diet in order to support her increased workout--as she has been following a fairly low-carb diet for a while, but at the same time feels that she isn't seeing results--I recommended that she start the day with a ‘bready carb’ like oatmeal, include another carb like brown rice or sweet potato with her lunch, and then taper off the end of the day with lean protein and vegetables for dinner sans 'bready carbs'. But again, do what works for you. I often eat brown rice or potatoes with my dinner as well--everything in moderation, right?

Then, there’s fruit. W has heard from numerous sources that fruit should be eliminated from one’s diet when trying to lose weight and tone up. Me? I couldn’t imagine cutting fruit from my diet. First, my mum’s side of the family are fruit farmers—my grandparents, and now my uncle have maintained a beautiful fruit orchard in the B.C. Okanagan. I spent summers there as a child, getting lost amongst the trees, picking cherries, and playing baseball with rotten apples. Okay, the last memory is not so admirable. The point is, I love fruit. Since eliminating refined sugars from my diet, I’ve become a firm believer in the whole “fruit, Mother Nature’s candy”. It really is. Have you ever eaten pineapple in Jamaica? I don't really know if pineapple has any super food-worthy health benefits, but it's certainly tasty. That said, there are tons of fruit that do have health benefits, and so I think everyone should include a little fruit in their lives. Now, I know the issue with fruit is that some may think it is high in sugar. True, if you’re diabetic, you might have to watch your intake of too much fruit. For everyone else, though, there are a lot worse things that you could be consuming (ahem, refined sugar). Eat an apple.

In the end, though, W and I both agree that in order to be healthy, happy, and see results, the most important thing is to have a positive attitude. If you are eating healthy and you maintain an active lifestyle, then know that you're doing all that is required and you'll quickly start to feel and look good (trust me on this one).
This blog post simply shares one example of some common assumptions that individuals make when considering health and nutrition. Only after trying the whole 'low-calorie, low-fat' fad years ago myself and then struggling for years after to find the appropriate balance that now exists in my diet today, I am able to comment and critique the 'nutritional confusion' in which so many people find themselves. 

I, in no way, intend for readers to follow any of the advice given. We are all unique and we all have different nutritional requirements. Educate yourself and discover what works for you as an individual.

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