Your move Justin…

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For those of you who may not have heard, Canada elected a new federal government this week.  After nearly 10 years of Conservative reign, the Liberals, and their charismatic leader Justin Trudeau, will have their crack at guiding the country for the next 4 years.

As someone who’s never been a big fan of Stephen Harper and his controlling/divisive nature, I’m pretty optimistic about this shift.  Not only do I think Trudeau will help to re-establish Canada’s reputation among the international community, his election promises to pursue electoral reform, revise our tax structure and be a leader on climate change are all moves in the right direction.

A few of the more under-reported commitments Trudeau made during the campaign that really excited me were summarized by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest in a press release on October 20, 2015.

  • introduce new restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, similar to those now in place in Quebec;
  • bring in tougher regulations to eliminate trans fats, similar to those in the U.S., and to reduce salt in processed foods;
  • improve food labels to give more information on added sugars and artificial dyes in processed foods; and
  • additional investments of $40 million for Nutrition North and $80 million for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The new Government also advocates a set of reforms that could really help breathe life into informed decision-making and, more importantly, into the health of Canadians by proposing to:

  • establish a Chief Science Officer and Advertising Commissioner for the Auditor General,
  • enhance the independence of Parliamentary committees and Statistics Canada, and
  • strengthen access-to-information laws.

Liberal plans to help charities and non-profits to be more independent of government may even help ensure that public interest groups play a more robust role in informing future election debates.

As a dietitian, I especially LOVE their promises regarding junk food marketing to children and regulations for trans fats and sodium.  Now if we just get to revising our existing nutrition guidelines (Canada’s Food Guide) we’ll really be on a roll.

Of course, these are all just promises at this point, and as we all know the track record of politicians keeping their campaign promises isn’t great.

It’s your move Justin.  Please justify my optimism.

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5 “secrets” to living longer

This November the theme of our Oasis is Forever Young, so I thought I’d write a piece on some tried and true methods to living longer.  If you can’t wait until the magazine comes out in a couple of weeks, check it out below.

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active seniors

5 “secrets” to living longer

Ok, the word secret might be a bit of a stretch. It’s not like they’re things we all haven’t heard before. But I think one thing that often gets lost is by how much these simple strategies contribute to ones longevity. The truth is if we dismissed 95% of the advice we hear about the latest anti-aging gimmick and focused on these 5 simple tips, we’d all significantly increase our odds of living a long and healthy life.

Don’t smoke

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) the life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years less than that of non-smokers. Not only does smoking increase the obvious risk of lung cancer and chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), but it also leads to heart disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and many other types of cancers, including oral, stomach, colon, liver and pancreatic. If you want to live longer and can only follow one piece of advice in this article, this should be it.

Get active

In case you needed more incentive to get up off that couch a recent study that tracked participants for 14 years found that individuals who engage in just 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week (that’s 30 minutes/ day, 5 times/week) have a 31% less chance of dying compared to those who are physically inactive. When you combine this with the fact that exercise demonstrably makes your skin appear decades younger in as little as 12 weeks (unfortunately it isn’t able to counteract damage from the sun though), you’d be a fool not to get moving more.

If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation

People who drink alcohol in excess have elevated rates of death from accidents, suicides, homicides, liver disease, and some cancers. There is even some evidence that people who drink alcohol in moderation live longer than nondrinkers. What exactly do we mean by moderation? Well women should have no more than 1 drink/day and men should stick to a maximum of 2 drinks/ day. In terms of your beverage of choice it appears that red wine might offer additional cardio-protective benefits over other options.

Get enough sleep

Often overlooked, sleep can be an important factor for determining ones longevity. Studies show that insufficient sleep can lead to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and reduced immunity, which all can lead to premature death. In fact research suggests that getting less than seven hours of sleep per night can increase the risk of death by any cause by as much as 12%.

Eat well

You didn’t think I forget to actually talk about diet, did you? Easily the most confusing of all the tips listed in this article, there is a lot of information (and misinformation!) out there about the best diet for living longer. First off, skip the latest fad about the newest longevity-inducing superfood. There’s little evidence that most play anything more than a minor role in increasing lifespan. Around the world, cultures that tend to live longer and have less rates of disease follow diets built around plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. It’s really that simple. If you’re looking for something a little more specific, the Mediterranean diet, with its reliance on vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and peas, unrefined grains, olive oil and fish, has garnered a lot of press in recent years for its ability to reduce the risk of heart disease and preserve telomere length (a component of DNA that naturally shortens as we age).

So, despite all the amazing claims you see on TV, read on the internet or hear from your friend, the truth is that we already have a pretty good idea how best to live longer. And we’ve known for long time. It’s really just a matter to doing it.

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I don’t do (generic) menus…

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For anyone that’s lived in Egypt for any length of time it will come as no surprise that the quality of the professionals giving dietary advice can vary tremendously.  I’ve written before about the lack of oversight of the profession and the fact that most people working as nutritionists/dietitians have little formal training (at least nothing close to what would be considered standard in more developed countries).

As such, it is equally unsurprising that many common practices of nutrition professionals in Egypt are riddled with flaws.  One such practice that I find particularly problematic is providing clients with menus of certain calorie levels.  On the surface this may not seem like such a terrible idea (and perhaps that’s true in the right context), but the way the practice is being implemented is frankly archaic and largely ineffective.

What I’ve gleaned is that typically most appointments with nutritionists consist of little more than a 30 minute meeting where an appropriate calorie level for the client is determined.  Clients are then provided a menu that they are expected to follow.  There is little discussion about preference, food knowledge, allergies/intolerances, etc.  Basically if you want to achieve your goals, be that weight loss/gain, or to eat healthier, just follow the menu.  What’s also concerning is that if upon their return visit clients haven’t met their predetermined targets, the nutritionist blames the client for not following the menu properly.

Here’s a few reasons why you’ll never see me provide my clients with a generic menu to follow.

  1. Sustainable change is made through small, incremental adjustments.  It’s been demonstrated time and again that diets don’t work because people are unable to stick with them for the long term.  Part of this is because most diets are a huge deviation from what people are currently eating.  I would much rather start with the patient’s existing diet/eating pattern and make adjustments from there instead of basically telling them to scrap everything and start fresh.
  2. Diets need to be customized to the individual.  And by customized, I mean much more than just figuring out what an appropriate level of calories is for someone. What about that person’s food preferences?  Do they have allergies/intolerances?  Are they even familiar with the foods that are included on the menu?  Without taking these factors into account, you’re just asking for failure.
  3. Portion distortion.  Individuals consistently underestimate their portion sizes.  Even if the menus include exact quantities, unless there have been instructions for weighing/measuring all foods (which can be incredibly tedious), chances are the clients will serve themselves more than they should.  This is not necessarily the fault of the client as societal norms and food marketing have distorted how big portions should really be.
  4. Life happens.  Another reason why diets fail is that they are often too rigid.  Life doesn’t follow a menu.  It can be demoralizing when you’re expected to follow a menu diligently and for various reasons, it’s just not possible (ie. family/social gatherings, celebrations, etc.).  Unfortunately life happens and strict adherence to a menu is not always going to be your top priority.  And that’s okay.  I’d much rather teach my clients how to make the best choices they can, instead of expecting them to be perfect all the time.

At the end of the day, I want my clients to be successful.  Expecting them to strictly adhere to a menu that hasn’t been customized to meet their needs is far from the best way to do this.  If menus like this worked, there’d be no need for people like me to provide dietary counselling at all – just hop online and find the right menu for you.  Unfortunately, things are a little more complicated than that, and the faster my fellow Egyptian colleagues recognize this, the healthier (and more successful) their clients will be.

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I’m back…

I’m back from another unanticipated break from the blogosphere.  There been a few things that have keep me away this time, not the least of which has been that my Nutrition Consulting business at CSA has taken off a lot quicker than expected.  It’s definitely a good thing, but unfortunately it leaves me with little time to write.

Anyways, this week I wanted to dive into an AWESOME video I came across discussing healthy eating and weight loss entitled “What’s the Best Diet? Healthy Eating 101” by Dr. Mike Evans.  With all the misinformation out there about this stuff, it’s frankly something that everyone should watch.  Make sure you’ve got some time before starting – it’s a little over 15 minutes long.

Below are a few of the things mentioned in the video that are worth discussing in a little bit more depth.

  • We live in an obesogenic environment.  In the industrialized world it is way too easy to have high caloric intakes and low energy expenditures.  I have often argued that while this doesn’t absolve people of their own responsibility for their health, it is important to recognize that where/how we live does not always make it very easy to be healthy.
  • Diet success is a product of its sustainability.  If you’ll be unable to stick with a diet over the long-term (ie. indefinitely) don’t waste your time starting with it. Because even if you lose weight while on it, as soon as you revert back to your old habits, so too will your weight.
  • Often with diets people tend to focus on very particular macronutrient compositions (low carb, low fat, high protein, etc), however what seems to be much more important is the quality of the macronutrients you’re consuming rather than the exact percentages.  Great quote from Dr. Brain Wansink “Think more about what’s healthy to eat, rather than what not to eat”.
  • The Brazilian dietary guidelines are mentioned.  I’ve previously written about how much I love these.  What’s so great about these guidelines are how they shift the focus away from specific nutrients and onto overall eating patterns (sitting down for family meals, eating unprocessed foods, minimizing restaurant meals, etc…)
  • Choice architecture (or redesigning your environments) is important for successful healthy eating.  This requires self-knowledge about what might trigger unhealthy habits for you.  For example, some easy solutions might be not having “problem foods” in the house or even buying smaller plates.
  • Having social support is critical.  If you’re trying to improve the way you eat but have people in your life who aren’t supportive (spouses, children, friends, employers), it will be much more difficult.  Identify potential barriers and do whatever you can to get them on board.
  • Finally, healthy eating is not about perfection but rather consistency.  One bad choice/bad meal doesn’t need to sabotage your overall goals.  Remember to take a step back and look at the whole picture, because that’s what’s most important.

….The other reason I’ve been away for a bit was that my wife and I spent 8 days in South Africa.  What an incredible country!  We’ve traveled to quite a few amazing places the past couple of years, but this trip is one we won’t soon forget.  It will be difficult to top the great food, beaches, mountains and wildlife anytime soon. And the bungee jumping, shark cage diving, cheetah walking and ostrich riding were pretty cool too!

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On the summit of Table Mountain

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on our sunset cheetah walk at Tenikwa in Plettenberg Bay

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Bungee Jumping from Bloukrans Bridge (216m)

Great White Shark Cage Diving

Great White Shark Cage Diving

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Ostrich riding at Highgate Ostrich Farm in Oudtshoorn