The Low-Carb vs. Low-Fat debate

I hear a lot about the benefits of low-carb diets these days.  Years ago it was all about low-fat.  I decided to explore this debate in a recent Nutrition 101 column.  Enjoy!

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The Low-carb vs. Low-fat debate

It’s one of the age-old debates in nutrition – what diet is healthier and/or helps you lose more weight, low-carbohydrate or low-fat?  It seems almost everyone has an opinion, with fervent supporters of both approaches, but let’s take a look at what the science says.

Low-carb vs. Low-fat

For the purpose of this discussion we should probably first try to define what we mean by low-carb and low-fat diets.  Lending to the confusion there isn’t a consensus definition, but generally speaking with low-carb diets, carbohydrates make up < 10% (very low-carb) or < 45% (low-carb) of the total calories.  In low-carb diets fat can make up as much as 50-60% of the total calories. In terms of food, low-carb diets tend to limit or eliminate grain products, dairy, fruit and legumes.  Conversely, in low-fat diets, carbohydrates make up 45-65% of the total calories, whereas fats make up 20%-35%.  Low-fat diets suggest avoiding foods like butter/oils, fatty meats and full-fat dairy.

Low-fat diets first made their appearance in the 1960’s after research showed that fat intake was associated with higher cholesterol levels, a major predictor of cardiovascular disease.  Over the subsequent years low-fat diets were touted not only for heart patients, but for weight loss and general health as well.  By the 1980’s low-fat was all the rage in the burgeoning nutrition industry.  It was around this time that Dr. Robert Atkins catalyzed a movement against low-fat with his self-titled, low-carb Atkins Diet.  Part of the appeal of The Atkins Diet was that it featured many foods low-fat dieters were expected to avoid. Since then low-carb and low-fat diets have been re-packaged numerous times to varying degrees of success.

Over the past 30 years there have literally been thousands of studies that looked at the benefits/effectiveness of both diets, using many different health indicators including weight loss, various metabolic risk factors and others.  Unfortunately, there is no clear consensus on the best diet overall, but a few interesting truths have emerged.  1) Low-carb diets do not appear to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease as originally feared  2) Weight loss can be achieved with both calorie-restricted low-carb and low-fat diets  3) Low-carb diets seem to provide a greater degree of weight loss in the short-term, however neither diet is particularly effective in doing so in the long-term.  4) Poorer outcomes, including the ability to follow the diet, are associated with more extreme versions of low-carb and low-fat dieting.

What does this mean for you?

Rather than focusing on the percentages of carbohydrates and fats in your diet, it’s probably better to focus on the quality of fat and carbohydrate that you’re eating.  What do I mean by this?  Whenever possible, eat real food that has been prepared using unprocessed ingredients and avoid foods with unnecessary added fats and sugars (aka. carbs).  If weight loss is your goal, overall calories are much more important than the relative amounts of carbohydrates and fat in your diet.

If you’re set on trying to go low-carb or low-fat, make sure you do your research. Avoid diets that appear overly restrictive and only choose plans than you can envision sticking with indefinitely.  At the end of the day, both low-carb and low-fat diets have their merits, but as with most things in life, balance is key.

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Canada, travel, ultimate & marathons

Yikes!  It’s even longer than I realized since my last entry.  I’ve had a few interesting things happen in the past 6 weeks, so I’d thought I’d use this post to catch people up on what’s new.

The first is that my wife and I have officially made the choice to return to Canada after the school year.

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There are a lot of factors that played to our decision, but the one of the biggest is my wife’s teaching job.  These past 3 years she’s been fortunate to be on leave from her position in Canada.  That would likely not continue if we chose to stay abroad for another year.  While we both love the international experience, neither of us are sure we want to give up the security and benefits her Canadian job provides – especially given the recent downturn in the economy.  We figure if we return and don’t like it, we can always go abroad again. Also, we’ve come to the realization that we’re the type of people who need a change of scenery every few years, and now seems like the right time to move on.

We’ve started letting people in Egypt know we’re moving back, which as anyone who’s experienced a pending major move knows, comes with mixed emotions. I hope to blog a little more about what I’ll miss (and won’t miss!) about our life here in the near future, but the people we’ll be leaving behind is certainly one of the most difficult things about returning.  We’ve both made some really great friends here.

What else?

Well, we spent 8 days in Israel in mid-March.  It was a much needed break for both of us. The excuse for the trip was the Jerusalem Marathon on March 17, where I ran the half-marathon and my wife participated in the 10K.  We both really enjoyed the country.  It was a nice mix between Europe and the Middle East.  We visited the cities of Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv.  Jerusalem was our favorite.  I loved the contrasts – old vs. new, religious vs. secular and traditional vs. modern.  Here are just a few of the highlights from the trip.

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Approaching the finish line of the Half Marathon in Jerusalem

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The Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount in Jerusalem

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On the streets of the Old City, Jerusalem

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Jewish pilgrims praying at the Western Wall, Jerusalem

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Relaxing on the beach in Tel Aviv

Baha’i Gardens in Haifa

These next couple of weeks we’ve also got a few other big events that we’ll be participating in.  The first is an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Alexandria next week.  It will be a quick trip, but likely the last time we’ll get to visit before we go back to Canada, so it’ll be worth it.  I’m looking forward to a big seafood meal after a long day of Ultimate. We’ve been thankful to find the Ultimate community in Cairo.  It has been a lot of fun being able to get out once/week to play, as well as see the sport here grow.

The second event is the Cairo Runners Half Marathon on April 15th.  I was very excited to hear that this year’s offering would be taking place in our neighborhood of Maadi, so I won’t even have to worry about taking a taxi out to the race site.  In true Egyptian fashion registration only opened last week and some of the race details haven’t yet been provided (ie. a route map), but it will be fun either way.  And thousands of people will show up.  Plus, since I’m already “trained” from the previous Jerusalem race, it’s really just a matter of maintaining my fitness for the next couple of weeks (and not injuring myself in the process!).

I promise it won’t take another 6 weeks for the next update!

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Women’s Nutrition Q & A

Thought I’d share a Q & A I recently put together for the upcoming issue of OASIS magazine about some common nutrition questions for women.  Enjoy!

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nutrition-for-womenIn honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, I thought I’d use this month’s column to address some female-centric nutrition questions.

Does Soy Cause Breast Cancer?

The link between soy and breast cancer stems from the fact that some breast cancers are estrogen-sensitive.  Soy is rich in isoflavones, a class of compounds which are chemically similar to estrogen and actually have the ability to mimic estrogen’s action within the body.

The good news for soy lovers is that it doesn’t appear that a diet high in soy products increases the risk for developing breast cancer.  In fact, a recent study out of China showed that women with high soy intakes actually had lower rates of breast cancer.

That said, a potential area of concern may be soy protein supplements.  It was recently shown that a protein in soy called genistein may accelerate the growth of human breast cancer cells in vitro.   However it’s important to note that this has yet to be demonstrated at the population level.

Bottom line: If you enjoy soy as a regular part of your diet you can continue to do so, but speak with your doctor before you begin taking soy protein supplements to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks.

How Important Is Dietary Calcium After Menopause?

Fairly important.  After menopause women produce significantly less estrogen than they used to.  One of estrogen’s many functions is to help to maintain bone density (men actually have the same issue too with testosterone, but the decline in testosterone production occurs more gradually and at a later age).  Making sure you get enough calcium in your diet helps to minimize the amount of bone that you lose, decreasing your risk of developing osteoporosis.

The daily recommended amounts of calcium for women (>51 years) is 1200mg/day.  Some common calcium-rich foods include cow’s milk (1cup – 300mg), yogurt (3/4cup – 300mg), cooked spinach (½cup – 140mg), canned salmon with bones (2.5oz – 200mg), tahini (2 tbsp – 130mg) and semi-hard cheeses including cheddar and gouda (1.5oz – 300mg).  If you’re not eating many of these foods, a supplement may be warranted, however you should not exceed 2000mg/day from all sources.  Supplements should also contain vitamin D, which enhances calcium absorption.

Bottom line: After menopause it is especially important to consume adequate amounts of calcium in your diet to prevent bone loss.

 When You’re Pregnant Are You Really “Eating for Two”?

It’s actually more like eating for one plus a little bit extra.  During the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy women should only be consuming an additional 300 calories/day.  The appropriate amount of weight gain during pregnancy is something to be discussed with your doctor, but generally speaking women who start their pregnancy at a healthy weight should gain on average 11-16kg over the course of their pregnancy.  Women who are underweight should aim for the high end of this range, whereas women who are overweight should aim for the low end.  Gaining much more than the recommended amount could put you at risk for certain pregnancy problems including gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, pre-term birth and caesarian sections.  Also, babies born to overweight mothers are also at higher risk of childhood obesity.

Bottom Line: Yes, calorie requirements during the 2nd & 3rd trimesters are a little higher than normal, but it’s important not to go overboard by gaining an unhealthy amount of weight during pregnancy.

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Dietitians of Canada calls for “soda-tax”

sugary-drinks-soda-obesityEarlier this week Dietitians of Canada (DC) put out a press release calling for a 10-20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.  For those of you who complain that this would just be another example of the government sticking it’s nose where it doesn’t belong, here is my counterargument.

We eat too much sugar

The World Health Organization recommends that free sugars should not make up more than 10% of a person’s daily caloric intake.  As mentioned in the DC press release, Canadians are exceeding this by a fair margin (~15%).  Diets high in free sugars put individuals at risk for overweight and obesity, as well as dental caries. Given the fact that roughly 66% of Canadians are overweight or obese, the government needs to look for ways to reduce the amount of free sugars we consume.

A significant portion of free sugar in our diet comes from sugar-sweetened beverages

Are soft-drinks the only problem?  No, but they’re one of the biggest contributors to free sugars in our diets. It has been estimated that 7-8% of the daily caloric intake of Canadian adolescents is from sugar-sweetened beverages.  If we want to reduce the amount of free sugars we consume, sugar-sweetened beverages seems like a logical target.

Taxes have an impact on purchasing decisions

As someone who just got stuck with a bill from Egyptian Customs of 100 USD (a tax rate of nearly 200%!) on a recent purchase of running shoes I had shipped from the US, I understand as good as anyone that taxes affect purchasing decisions.  If something costs more, we buy less of it.  That’s economics 101.

We happen to have a real life example of a soda-tax working to reduce the public’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. In 2014 Mexico implemented a 1 peso per litre tax, essentially raising the prices of sugar-sweetened beverages by 10%.  You know what happened?  In the first year, Mexican’s reduced their purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages by 6%. That may not sound like a lot, but as far as other health policy initiatives go, it’s significant. No one is arguing that this alone will solve the obesity epidemic, but it certainly appears to be part of the solution.

I have no doubt that the food industry will provide major push-back on such a tax, but I would hope that government could stand up to them in the interest of public health.

We already tax other products deemed unhealthy to deter use

It’s not like a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would be unprecedented.  We already tax things like tobacco and alcohol.  The taxes are built into the price, just like they would be for sugar-sweetened beverages. One might debate the government’s motives for such taxes (revenue generation vs. public health), but I would argue, does it really matter? If you’re making certain unhealthy choices less desirable, regardless of the motivation, the outcome is still the same – less consumption.

Sugar-sweetened beverages won’t cease to exist

What annoys me most about this debate are those who cry that a soda-tax takes away our freedom of choice.  They make it seem as though under such a plan we would no longer have access to our beloved Coca Cola, etc.  Similar arguments were made years ago when New York passed legislation banning the use of large soda cup sizes (which have unfortunately since been repealed).  It’s an absurd position.  No one would be preventing you from purchasing your favorite sugar-sweetened beverage.  It just might mean that the next time you head to the convenient store, because of the added cost of sugar-sweetened beverages, perhaps you’ll chose them less often..  That’s all.

As far as public health initiatives go, a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages seems like no real no-brainer to me.  Have I convinced you?

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“What is your profession?”

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I’ve been in the fortunate position of being able to do a lot of traveling in the last few years.  My wife and I have visited a variety of countries ranging from those that are completely modern and developed to others that would traditionally be considered “third world”.  When meeting people from all these different places, you tend to get asked a handful of very similar questions.  “What is your name?”  “Where are you from?”  “How do you like our country?” And of course “What is your profession?”

Depending on where you come from this last question about what I do for a living might seem like an easy answer.  However, the more I travel, the more I realize this is not really the case at all.

In Canada and other similarly developed countries dietitians are like any other healthcare professional.  While there still may be confusion about the differences between dietitians and nutritionists, the general public is quite familiar with the term and have a decent understanding that a dietitian is an expert on diet and nutrition.  Not so, in less developed countries.  It’s something I’ve encountered elsewhere, but I’m not sure it was highlighted ever more so than our recent trip to Ethiopia.  It seemed that very few people I met had any idea what I was talking about.

Of course language is part of the issue.  Most people that even speak a little English are rarely familiar with the term dietitian and honestly I can’t really blame them for that.  If you only speak enough English to get by, learning the word “dietitian” is probably pretty low on your priority list.  Overall I tend to have a little better luck with “nutritionist”, but usually I’ll just describe my job as “teaching people how to eat healthy”.

However, after moving to Egypt something I found out that honestly surprised me a bit was that many languages don’t even have a term for dietitians or nutritionists.  In Arabic for example (at least in Egypt), the profession is sometimes referred to by a term that translates to “food doctor” (which almost certainly contributes to the notion that nutritionists are more qualified than they actually are, but that’s another issue for another blog).  But when you think about it, it totally makes sense why.

For much of the world’s population all food is in a sense healthy.

Aside from the past 50-100 years, at no point in human history would making optimal dietary choices been a priority to anyone because most people didn’t have the luxury of making “healthy choices”.  Food was simply something that nourished us and kept us alive.  It’s tough to get more healthy than that.

Unfortunately in Ethiopia (and many other places in the world) this is still true.  For the most part people there literally still need to eat whatever is food available to them just to survive.  It may not always be what we in Canada consider healthy, but it’s all they’ve got. It stands to reason that in such a place you would never need a word for a profession for someone who tells what you should be eating?  It was a humbling revelation to say the least.

Just another example of how travel and exposure to different people and cultures can really flip your preconceptions on their head…

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Ugh… Cairo’s “Chocolate Run”

Cairo Runners Snickers2

There are some types of partnerships that shouldn’t exist.  You know the type I’m talking about.  The kind that make you cringe because it’s clear to everyone from the outside that the two entities involved have objectives that just don’t jive.

Cairo Runners’ recent Chocolate Run, sponsored by Snickers is exactly that.  And while it may not be on the same level as something like Pepsico sponsoring the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the American body representing dietitians) or Coca Cola sponsoring the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s clearly another example of the food industry attempting to create corporate goodwill and market their products (while coincidentally co-opting the public’s health) by linking up with otherwise health-minded organizations.  Admittedly Cairo Runners doesn’t have the same moral obligation to act in the public’s best interest as the aforementioned organizations, but as an entity founded out of a desire “to change Egyptian’s lifestyle to a healthier one where it would be a normal thing for people to hit the streets of Cairo and exercise which was never a familiar thought before“, it seems curious to choose a partner whose product possesses little nutritional value, 250 calories and nearly 7 teaspoons of sugar (27g)*.

*Based on the normal size version.  From the photos I’ve seen from the event the bars being handed out were smaller (124 calories), but as evidenced by the photo below, it appears you could take as many as you wanted.

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What’s the big deal you say?  It’s just a chocolate bar.  People aren’t naive enough to think that a Snickers is healthy.  Everyone knows its just a treat.

Sure, that may be true, but it’s the other things that are reinforced by this partnership that worry me.

The first is the message that obesity is dictated primarily by how active one is, not by what one eats.  Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary (as an example, here’s a recent report by the World Health Organization that concluded the major driver of the world’s obesity epidemic is increased food energy supply), junk food companies continually stress the importance of exercise in a healthy lifestyle, while minimizing the role that diet plays.  It comes as no surprise when you hear that a company like Coca Cola spent $1.5 million on the recently disbanded Global Energy Balance Network, whose goal was to focus its message on the “need for people to increase their physical activity as the key to achieving a healthy weight”.

The other issue I have is the idea that most people tend to grossly overestimate the calories they burn during exercise and underestimate the calories they consume.  Providing people a venue for a short 4 km run, then giving them a chocolate bar as a reward (assuming they take and eat just one) basically negates any of the caloric benefit they just achieved.  Again, I understand Cairo Runners’ never promised anyone to help them with their weight loss goals, it just sends the wrong message.

The final problem I have with this particular event is the more overt forms of marketing that occurred.  On the event’s Facebook page Cairo Runner’s included the following text:

We want to start a new year with an energy boost and having lot of fun with Snickers Chocolate!  If you are going to Sweat. Sweat Sweetly!

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Heck, they even gave away certificates of participation that proclaim “You’ve completed 4 KM, and now it’s time to treat yourself”

Cairo Runners Snickers

Now I know I’ve heaped a ton of criticism on Cairo Runners (and justifiably in this particular case) but what they’ve accomplished here in Egypt is nothing short of remarkable.  In a culture that traditionally eschews all forms of non-football related activity they’ve created a community of literally thousands of people who come together to run the streets of Cairo every week.  They organize regular running trips all around the country and host Cairo’s only annual half marathon race.  It’s safe to say they are a major contributor to the recent rise in running culture in Egypt. I mean they’ve only been around for 3 years and their Facebook page has nearly 400,000 likes!  That’s pretty impressive.

But to quote my favorite superhero – “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  It’s time to recognize that as the biggest player in the Cairo running scene, with all the influence that this provides, these types of partnerships no longer make sense.  Regardless of how much money they take in it’s not worth the hit to their credibility.  Here’s hoping this is the last we see of Cairo’s Chocolate Run.

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A new “diet” resolution this year – Self-Monitoring

Here’s another piece I’ve already written!  This is my Nutrition 101 article that appeared in the December-January issue of Oasis magazine discussing the strategy of self-monitoring to facilitate weight loss.

Enjoy!

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The New Year is right around the corner, which for many means resolutions.  Among the more popular promises people make to themselves this time of year are quitting smoking, reducing stress, spending more time with their family and of course exercising more or losing weight.

If weight loss is your goal this upcoming year, I’d suggest skipping the fad diets and trying a strategy that’s been shown to be incredibly effective for people looking to shed pounds and keep them off: Self-Monitoring.

What is Self-Monitoring?

Self-monitoring refers to the practice of observing and recording your thoughts and actions, and subsequently using this information to provide on feedback on your behaviors. When we talk about using self-monitoring as a strategy for weight loss, this usually means food and/or activity logs, as well as weekly weighing.

Why does it work?

To put it simply, self-monitoring increases awareness.  It is a lot more difficult to justify eating two McDonald’s cheeseburgers plus fries and a Coke, when you see it staring right back at you in your food log.

Food & Activity Logs

The most common method of self-monitoring for weight loss is maintaining a food and/or activity log.  Of course you can do this the old-fashioned way with a pen and paper, but today there’s so many resources available (apps, books, online nutrient databases, etc.) it’s easier than ever to keep track of your diet and exercise using your computer, phone or tablet.  Whatever method you choose to track your diet make sure to at least record the type of food, amount and calorie information.  Most people tend to underestimate their portions, so it’s not a bad idea to invest in a food scale and set of measuring cups.  If you’re tracking your activity, ideally you should record the exercise type, intensity and duration.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive online nutrient database, the one from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is my preferred option.  Fitday and MyFitnessPal are a couple of the more popular free websites that have accompanying apps to track your diet and exercise.

Weekly Weighing

As someone who often touts that health is not measured by a number on a scale, it may seem strange for me to be advocating that people who want to lose weight make sure they weigh themselves weekly and keep a record of it.  Weekly weighing is not a strategy intended to pass judgement on your health (or self-worth), rather as a tool in which to inform. If your goal is to lose weight, it can be empowering being able to see the direct consequences of your diet and exercise choices.  Weekly weighing increases awareness and influences behaviour, which is ultimately what we’re going for here.  For maximal accuracy pick up a good quality scale (or use the one at your gym) and make sure to always weigh yourself at the same time each day.

The Bottom Line

People who self-monitor are more likely to lose weight and keep it off compared to other dieters who don’t.  Having to be so meticulous in recording your food, activity or weight may seem onerous at first (and it probably will be), BUT it does get easier.  By the time you get good at it, it shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes/day.  Seems like a small price to pay if you’re able to keep the weight off for good this time, doesn’t it?

Antioxidants – Hype vs. Reality

Since I’m on the road right now, for the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing a few articles I’ve previously written for Oasis magazine.  This one in particular is about the topic of antioxidants.

Enjoy!

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antioxidants

Antioxidants entered the public consciousness in the 1990s when researchers began to understand that damage caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS), also referred to as free radicals, was linked to various chronic diseases including clogged arteries (atherosclerosis), vision loss and some types of cancer.  This led to a rush of products featuring antioxidants, as well as antioxidant supplements hitting the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies.  But with all the hype it can be difficult to know, how much do they actually help?  Let’s try to tease apart hype from reality when it comes to antioxidants.

How antioxidants work

First, a quick lesson on how antioxidants work.  ROS are compounds that steal electrons from others compounds in the body.  They are natural by-products of metabolism or exposure to sunlight, and can also be found in the food we eat, as well as the air we breathe.  The problem with ROS is that stealing electrons from other compounds not only results in damage to DNA, cell membranes and basically anything else they come in contact with, but the compounds they’ve stolen electrons from become ROS themselves in a sort of chain-like reaction.

Antioxidants are the defense against ROS.  They neutralize ROS by giving up an electron without turning into ROS themselves.  They’re basically the body’s version of using water to put out a fire.

Antioxidants in your diet

Our body naturally produces a whole host of antioxidants to deal with ROS, but we can also obtain them from food.  The best sources of antioxidants are fruits and vegetables (generally the brighter the color, the better), coffee, tea, nuts, whole grains, wine and, yes, even chocolate (but only the dark kind!).  Diets high in antioxidant containing foods are consistently associated with lower rates of chronic disease as well as longer lifespans, but it’s difficult to determine how much of these benefits can be directly tied to the antioxidants themselves.

To supplement or not

So, antioxidants from our diet are probably a good thing, but are you getting enough?  Should you consider supplementing just to be sure?  Some common antioxidant supplements include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, manganese, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, flavonoids, phenols, polyphenols and phytoestrogens.

Unfortunately outside of very particular situations there is little evidence to suggest that, supplementing with antioxidants staves off many of the diseases they are often claimed to and in some cases may actually be harmful.  For example, beta-carotene supplementation appears to reduce help prevent the development of macular degeneration (a form of blindness), but had no benefit in terms of heart disease or stroke, and actually increased the chances of developing lung cancer in smokers.

The Bottom Line

Antioxidants play an important role in protecting the body from damage caused by ROS.  Your primary source of antioxidants should be food, ideally from varied sources, including fruits and vegetables.  Most people do not benefit from taking antioxidant supplements, however if you are considering doing so, you should first discuss with your physician or dietitian to minimize the risks of any potential negative side-effects.

Tips for keeping an eye on health this holiday season

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As an expat living in Egypt, the holiday season isn’t all that much different than it is back in Canada.  Besides the relatively balmy weather we still experience many of the same things we do back home (albeit admittedly it’s a little more subdued), including workplace gift exchanges, holiday-themed decorations in malls and stores, Christmas trees for sale on the street, and of course parties.  This week alone I had 3 different holiday parties to attend.  And with all the celebrations going on, it can be pretty easy to let your health slide.

Here are a few tips that will allow you to keep your health at the forefront this holiday season, whether you’re at home, abroad or even on the road…

1. Refocus on fitness. Don’t wait until the New Year to make this resolution.  Life during the holidays can get busy for us all but that doesn’t mean your exercise schedule should fall by the wayside.  Make a plan to continue being active during the break, and most importantly, make it non-negotiable.

2. And don’t use your exercise as an excuse to overindulge later in the day. We tend to give ourselves permission to overindulge with food after a big workout.  I get it, I’ve done it myself.  The problem with this logic is that unfortunately most people overestimate the amount of calories they burn during exercise and underestimate the calories the consume.  This is a recipe for disaster and can really sabotage your health goals, particularly if weight is a concern.

3.  Avoid mindless eating.  Don’t park yourself next to the appetizer platter at a party or get-together.  Try carrying a glass/bottle of water around to keep your hands busy and less likely to grab food that just happens to be in close proximity.  It only natural to eat food that’s sitting right in front of us, so don’t put yourself in a situation where that’s likely to occur.

4.  Don’t treat the buffet like a buffet.  Buffet meals are plentiful during this time of year, and don’t get me wrong, they can be great.  But just because you encounter a buffet doesn’t mean you need to eat like you’re breaking a fast.  Sample only the dishes you really love or want to try and keep the portions reasonable.  Piling your plate so that the food is as high as the plate is wide or going up for seconds is one of the surest ways to pack on the pounds.

5.  Be moderate with your alcohol intake.  It can be easy to overlook but alcoholic beverages have calories too.  And over the course of a day/evening, they can really start to add up if you’re not careful.  Alcohol also has the potential to lower your self control regarding other dietary choices.  It’s a good idea to limit yourself to no more than a couple of drinks per day.  If nothing else you may want to try alternating an alcoholic drink with a glass of water.

6.  Pre-eat for parties.  One of the most important ways to prevent overeating is to make sure you’re never feeling really hungry.  The worst thing you can do is show up to a party feeling ravenous, where food (usually mostly unhealthy options) is virtually unlimited.  Instead, have a small meal or snack before you show up and chances are you won’t be as tempted to eat everything in front of you the moment you arrive.

BUT with all that said,

7.  There’s no need to be a Nazi about it.  After all, the holidays are a time of traditions with family and friends.  A big part of those traditions is often food and drink.  Rather than avoiding, what you need to do is find a balance between being able to indulge at times without going overboard.   It can be a tough thing to do.  Doing so takes a degree of honesty and awareness with oneself that most people aren’t able to consistently demonstrate.  I suggest that when you’re faced with an unhealthy choice, whether it be skipping a workout or going for second helpings of grandma’s famous candied yams, ask yourself if it’s worth it.  Often it won’t be, but sometimes it will.  And that’s okay too.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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Spreading the word about Weight Bias & Diabetes

It’s been a busy month.  Between my nutrition counselling, writing articles, editing a magazine and a big Ultimate Frisbee tourney it feels like I’ve hardly had time to breathe. Something else eating into my routine were two seminars I was asked to provide this month; one on Weight Bias to the students of New Cairo British International School (NCBIS), the other on Diabetes Awareness & Management to the CSA community.  Both seminars went over really well and I hope I have the opportunity to provide others in the future.

Weight bias is a topic I’m passionate about and something I’ve written on often in the past.  It sadly occurs all too regularly here in Egypt (and everywhere).  When I was invited to NCBIS to speak with their Year 7-9 students on a topic about “nutrition, eating disorders, sports & exercise, and/or body image”, I knew that the issue of weight bias and stigma was a perfect fit.

Unlike typical seminars for adults, my weight bias talk needed to be a little more interactive to keep the students engaged.  Fortunately, I’m married to a teacher of kids of the same age so she was able to give me awesome input for engaging them throughout the presentation.  Among other things we created a brainstorming activity of various obesity stereotypes, as well as a group exercise to get the kids thinking about how you can determine how healthy someone is (ie. body weight not necessarily being a good measure of health).

Overall I was thrilled with the participation from the students.  Perhaps it’s because I remember being that age and rarely being the one to raise my hand, but it surprised me how there was never a time I asked asked questions that I didn’t have multiple volunteers.  There were even a few times I had to cut the discussion short, just so we could stay on time.

Here are a few pics of the presentation.  Thank you to Disna Wijemuni, the Secondary School Librarian at NCBIS for the invitation and Heba Khamis for the photos.

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Activity to determine who is the healthiest of group

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Amazing student participation!

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Brainstorming obesity stereotypes

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Post-seminar autograph session. NCBIS put together a booklet of my articles and for some reason some of the students wanted me to sign it…

The second seminar of the month was for CSA on the topic of raising diabetes awareness.  Ideally it would’ve taken place on World Diabetes Day (November 14), but by the time the idea came up it was too late to coordinate so we settled on November 22 instead.  I was asked to give an overview of the disease and discuss how diabetes is typically managed, including diet.  Joining me would be Dr Ghaly, a physician and CSA sponsor, as well as Amina Young, a pharmacist from Canada.

Despite some confusion regarding the order of the speakers, the presentation itself went quite well.  Again I had plenty of audience participation, which always makes things easier. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to do future CSA nutrition seminars.  As long as there’s enough time to prepare and advertise, they’re honestly something I don’t mind being busy for.

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Raising Diabetes Awareness at CSA

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