My 5 favorite beaches…

After a few “heavier” posts the last couple of weeks, I decided to go with something a little lighter for this one.  In a couple of weeks my wife and I will be heading to Dahab in the South Sinai Peninsula for the first time for a much needed break during Easter.  Dahab isn’t necessarily known for it’s amazing beaches (it’s much more of a diving mecca), but at this point I’ll take whatever I can get.  Either way, it got me thinking – what are the favorite beaches from my travels?

Honorable Mention – The black sand beaches of Guanacaste Province in Costa Rica.  Admittedly this is a bit of a sentimental pick as my wife and I were married here.

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5. Tulum, Yucatan, Mexico

Tulum may be best known for its Mayan ruins, but the beach there is truly spectacular.  We stayed for a couple of days in a small hotel about 500m from the beach and despite being a destination for boatloads of daytrippers from nearby resorts, it didn’t feel crowded.

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4. Sandbank Island, Zanzibar, Tanzania

If you’re looking for picturesque beaches, the combination of white sand and turquiose waters in Zanzibar are difficult to beat.  On a snorkeling daytrip we visited Sandbank Island, which is little more than a sandbar just off the main island, but it’s it made for one of the coolest beach experiences we’ve ever had.

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3. Agia Roumeli, Crete, Greece

Maybe it was the remoteness?  Maybe it was the 40C weather? Maybe it was the fact that we had just finished an 11km hike?  Whatever it was, the beach at Agia Roumeli located at the endpoint of the Samaria Gorge Trail in Southern Crete was one of the coolest beaches I ever visited.

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2. Koh Wai, Thailand

This is the exact vision I had in mind of the beaches of Thailand before we traveled there.  Remote.  White Sand.  Protected cove.  It was truly amazing.  We visited Koh Wai on a snorkeling daytrip from Koh Chang. If we ever return to Thailand, we’ve vowed to spend a week living in Koh Wai’s beach huts.

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1. Palolem Beach, Goa, India

It might’ve had to do with the fact that we had just experienced an exhausting 2.5 weeks backpacking across Northern India, but Palolem beach in Goa was the PERFECT end to our trip. We stayed in an amazing little beach hut resort just off the beach and thoroughly enjoyed every minute we spent at this locale.  It really is a magical place.

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The Role of the Editor: How much is too much?

I wanted to do something a little different with this post and I need your help.  Basically I wanted my reader’s opinion on a situation that occurred to me the other day.

As many of you know, in addition to writing nutrition articles for my own magazine, Oasis, I also do semi-regular freelance work for another publication in the city called Cairo West.  While I was preparing an invoice earlier this week for my last few submissions, I thought it would be good to confirm they’d been published.  When I looked at my article in their January issue, I noticed that some text was missing.  Here’s an excerpt of what was published.

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This may not cause the average person’s eyebrows to raise, but I couldn’t help but notice some text that was conspicuously absent.  Below is the text I submitted (with yellow highlights around the missing text.

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Without getting too critical in how I decided to convey my message in the original text (in retrospect, I probably could’ve written that a bit better), has not the elimination of the highlighted text COMPLETELY changed the overall message?  In the article I wanted to acknowledge that certain beliefs exist regarding eating seasonal, local produce, but that there is no scientific consensus on the validity of these beliefs.  Removing that qualification on the statement above implies that I endorse these claims.

Part of my annoyance with the situation is that Cairo West editors are big proponents of dubious dietary practices and have run numerous articles alongside mine extolling the virtues of “natural health cures” for various ailments.  Basically I feel like their own beliefs have influenced their edits to my article.

I also come at the whole situation from a bit of a different perspective, because as a magazine editor myself, I regularly modify text submitted by my contributors.  I’ve never had formal training in what is appropriate to cut/add,etc., but I always do my best to keep the essence of our writer’s messages intact.  And if I feel like I might have changed anything significantly, I will send back the edits to the authors to review and approve the changes.

BUT… maybe I’m overreacting???

Have any other dietitians out there experienced this sort of thing before?  If so, how did you handle it?

What about from the editing perspective?  Would editors consider this type of edit fair game?  Or did it go too far?

Leave your feedback in the comments section.  I’m really curious what others think. Thanks!

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Thank god for dietetic regulation…

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As I sat down yesterday to complete my annual registration with the College of Dietitians of Alberta, I couldn’t help think how lucky I was to be doing this.  Don’t get me wrong I could certainly do without the annual dues and tedious online registration process, but if that’s  the trade off for living in a jurisdiction where the profession is regulated, I’d take it every day of the week.

Egypt has no such regulation.  It really is pretty scary.  While there’s no shortage of people claiming to be or acting as nutrition professionals, VERY few actually are.  A quick Google search for ‘dietitians’ in Cairo provides many websites listing people working in the field of dietetics, but most have ZERO legitimate dietetic training or credentials.  The majority are MD’s or people with Master’s degrees in the medical field, with some sort of specialization in natural health or weight loss.  Here’s an example of a Cairo dietitian’s profile I found.on one such website, Doctor Una:

Using modern approaches to treat obesity Dr.X* offers various options including the “Blood Type Diet” where a unique diet is planned according to your blood type. Not only is Dr.X an experienced clinical dietitian but she also offers accupuncture for treatment of obesity. Her scope of work includes nutritional planing for hypertension and diabetes patients as well. Dr.X believes in changing one’s lifestyle not just temporary diet plans.

The ‘Blood Type Diet’ and Acupuncture for weight loss?  Really???  It’s absurd.

(*dietitian’s in Egypt tend to use the title “Dr.”, which only further complicates the situation)

Think that one’s just an anomaly?  Here’s the profile of the next “dietitian” in their list.

At Natural Health Center, Dr.Y strives to achieve the weight loss dream of her patients. Using case-specific diet planning, in addition to the aid of modern devices that help in the weight loss process such as cold laser,LPG, cryo-lipolysis, radio frequency, cavitation ultrasound and infrared sauna.

Not only does Dr.Y offer treatment to obese and underweight patients, she also offers consultation for childhood obesity, diet planning for hypertension, diabetes,  pregnancy and nursing and a special plan for athletes. Dr.Y offers also different beauty treatments such as hair removal, filler, botox, skin rejuvenation, body contouring and treatment of stretch marks and dark halos by derma roller as well as treatment of acne, skin pigmentation.

I don’t know about you, but a dietitian that focuses a large part of her practice on dubious cosmetic treatments isn’t exactly what I’d be looking for.

In terms of the education of these “dietitian’s”, it varies tremendously.  Many list a Diploma of Clinical Nutrition from the National Nutrition Institute in Egypt,  This institution’s website is entirely in Arabic, so it’s difficult to determine the quality of the education they provide, but if the bio’s of their graduates are any indication, my expectations are quite low.  Here are just a few of the other highest nutrition-related education listed in people’s profiles.

  • Master of Nutrition, Qasr AlAini University, Egypt (this is better than most, but a graduate degree in nutrition doesn’t automatically qualify someone to practice dietetics)
  • Masters Diploma in Physiotherapy, National Institute for Laser Science, Egypt (this guy doesn’t even bother to list nutrition training – I’m assuming it’s because he’s had none) .
  • Master of Science in Nutritional Therapy, Middlesex University, United Kingdom (which sounds good until you realize that Middlesex University also grants degrees in things like Homeopathy and Osteopathy)
  • High Educational of Nutrition, Spain University, Austria (this university doesn’t appear to even exist!)

The whole situation is an absolute joke.  That’s not even to mention the fact, not unlike in North America, there is far too little regulation on food companies, restaurants and other enterprising individuals that prevents them from using nutrition/health claims to push their products or services.  In such an environment how on earth do we expect the public to be able to distinguish good advice from bad?  In a country with soaring rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes and malnutrition it’s a recipe for disaster.

So for those of my colleagues from Canada, the US, Europe and elsewhere that sometimes lament the rigorous registration/certification process they must undergo to maintain their qualifications, I remind you to think of Egypt.  I’ve seen the alternative, and it’s not pretty.

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All About Carbs

Life at work these last few weeks has without a doubt revolved around the annual CSA fundraiser, the Green & Gold Gala.  Leading up to the event understandably many of the women that I work with expressed a desire to look good in their gala dresses.  As such it seemed like every time I walked into the lunchroom, some one was either talking or joking about “cutting out carbs”.  As a dietitian, I realize I live in a bit of a bubble when it comes to this sort of thing, but I couldn’t believe some of the misinformation that was being spread.  It prompted me to tackle the topic carbohydrates in my upcoming Nutrition 101 article for Oasis magazine.

I hope you enjoy it!

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All About Carbs

What do sugar, fiber, glucose, saccharides, dextrose, starch, and high-fructose corn syrup have in common?  As you might have already guessed, they are all examples of carbohydrates (aka “carbs”).  A lot has been said about carbs in popular media in recent years, but in my experience most people have a poor understanding about what carbs actually are and the important role they play in one’s diet.

What are carbs?

Carbohydrates are compounds consisting of carbon and water (H20) – ie. a “hydrated carbon”.  The simplest forms of carbohydrates are called monosaccharides, which cannot be broken down to smaller carbohydrates.  Common examples of monosaccharides are glucose and fructose.  Next we have disaccharides, which contain two monosaccharides that are bound together.  Lactose and sucrose (table sugar) are two common types of disaccharides found in our diets.  Finally we have complex carbohydrates, or polysaccharides, which are long chains of monosaccharides.  Polysaccharides include starches, which we can digest, and fibre, which we can’t.

Why do we need them?

Carbohydrates are one of the body’s main sources of fuel, with fat being the other.  However, unlike fat, which human’s store in abundance, the body has relatively small reserves of carbohydrates.  That means if you completely cut-out carbs from your diet or engage in intense physical activity for an extended period of time you can actually deplete your carbohydrate stores.  Big deal, you say?  If your body has an ample supply of fat why can’t it just use that for energy instead?  The simple reason is that our bodies function better when they’re able to burn a mix of carbs and fat for energy.  When you force your body to rely exclusively on fat for energy you’re likely to experience a myriad of side effects including headaches, weakness, physical and mental fatigue, constipation or diarrhea, and bad breath.

What foods contain carbohydrates?

A common misconception is that grains and grain products are the only source of carbohydrates in people’s diets.  The truth is that carbs are found in most of the foods we eat including fruits, vegetables, dairy products (mostly in the form of lactose), legumes, nuts and seeds.

Are there good carbs and bad carbs?

From a metabolic perspective there is no such thing as a good or bad carbohydrate*.  For example, our bodies digest, store and utilize the sugar from a cookie the same way as the sugar found in an apple.  The difference between these foods isn’t the carbs but rather the fact that an apple is low calorie and contains many other vitamins, minerals and fibre, whereas cookies do not.

*Fructose may be the exception.  It is metabolized a bit differently than other monosaccharides and there is emerging evidence that diets high in fructose may lead to elevated triglyceride levels, insulin resistance, poor appetite regulation and obesity.

What about low-carb diets for weight loss?

Despite the potential for the side effects listed above, low-carb diets can work for some people provided they are low calorie.  The biggest problem with low-carb diets is that they are notoriously difficult to stick with long term and diets that are especially strict may cause deficiencies in certain nutrients.  Ultimately the goal for most people shouldn’t be to avoid carbohydrates, but instead try to limit the consumption of high calorie, carbohydrate-rich foods that are otherwise nutritionally void (ie. high-carb processed foods).

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