Last week Naturally Savvy hosted a fantastic Twitter Party to teach strategies for reading food labels and ingredient lists! We had the pleasure of gate-crashing and offering our two cents to this incredibly informed and well-run chat. We came away inspired to promote label literacy here on the Thrive Health blog.
While there were plenty of label-savvy participants at the party (and some very qualified, awesome hosts and sponsors!) some of the parents present admitted that they don’t really know what to look for when reading food labels, or often neglect to read labels at all. This is very normal. Firstly, we’re all incredibly busy, and nobody wants to double their grocery store time by reading the finely printed ingredient lists on everything they pick up. Secondly, many parents don’t skip the ingredient list out of a willful negligence of nutrition- they are led to trust a product by many other factors that make an impression on shoppers long before the label. Food packaging can trick us into thinking we’re making an informed, “good” choice.
Here are some of the packaging ploys that lead us to believe something is healthy without reading its ingredient list.
Just because a product is fat-free or sugar-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. At all. In fact many products that have been chemically engineered to be free of fats and sugar have other unhealthy modifications. These products may still contain synthetic flavours, artificial colours, artificial sweeteners, thickeners and more. Additionally, foods that boast a “fat free” claim uphold a societal misconception about fats- that they are all dangerous, unhealthy, or contribute to being overweight. In reality, healthy fats are vital to a balanced diet, and for maintaining a healthy weight.
Made with real…
If a food product is bragging that it’s made with real fruit, vegetables or any other ingredient, beware. This is a clever way of getting around the fact that it’s also made with many other ingredients that are not real. Made “with” is not the same as “made up solely of…” By this tactic, a fruit punch containing only 25% real fruit juice can still claim “Made with real fruit!” Unless you see a “100%” check your label to see how much of a product is indeed “real.”
Lots of food products contain claims about their nutritional quality right in their name. But just because something claims to be “smart” “healthy” “light” or “natural” doesn’t mean it’s a nutritionally balanced or beneficial choice. The worthiness of a product can’t be found in its name- it can only be found on that food label.
So what are the top food label culprits?
High-fructose corn syrup: This is a widely used sweetener that appears in many packaged foods especially sweet treats for children. It boosts calorie content, functions as a thick, concentrated sugar substance, and offers no nutritional value to a food product. Avoid low / no calorie alternatives especially if they contain artificial sweeteners. Natural sweeteners like stevia and honey are a better choice.
Artificial flavours: Naturally Savvy makes a great point about artificial flavours: they could contain anywhere from one to fifty different chemical ingredients. Our thought? Why combine dozens of synthetic chemicals to mimic a real, natural flavour? There are so many delicious flavours and colours found in natural foods that there’s no reason to chemically manipulate our tastes.
Nitrates/Nitrites: Typically written as sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite, these are most commonly found in processed and packaged meats. The alternative to using these products is buying fresh chicken or turkey, cooking it in whatever manner you prefer and slicing it up to use in salad form (ie. Chicken salad) or in sandwiches over the following few days.
MSG: Monosodium glutamate is a commonly-used additive in many packaged foods, especially soups, sauces, prepared meals, and frozen foods. As with many of our food culprits, the easiest way to avoid MSG is to try and limit your consumption of pre-packaged foods. If you can’t avoid buying prepared foods, buy them fresh rather than frozen.
If you have any food label questions, drop us a line here, or on our Facebook page –we love to help families make informed choices. Happy (and healthy) grocery shopping to you!
The health industry has definitely gone digital –and now it’s getting mobile and personal too.
In the age of user-centric apps, mobile technology and Google-fueled self-diagnosing, people feel empowered to take their health conveniently (if sometimes problematically) into their own hands. While we definitely advocate for caution and discretion when relying on the vast world of digital health information, there are undeniable ways in which digital and mobile technology have revolutionized personal health.
One of the most fascinating (and fun!) developments we’ve seen is the proliferation of creative mobile apps to help with natural tracking, charting, dieting and motivating. Digital health apps provide a convenient and accurate way to do a variety of health-related behaviours like count calories, take medication on time, record your heart rate, and even time your contractions during labour!
Here are some of the coolest health apps catching our attention right now:
iPeriod: for much more than simply counting out those 28 days. This is an incredibly detailed app which lets women digitally monitor a wide spectrum of menstrual health factors. Its features allow for the tracking of flow density, identifying peak fertility dates, and making notes every time an unwanted menstrual symptom is encountered. There’s even an icon to remind you to get your regular breast exam!
Another nice bonus: there’s a community forum that lets you chat with other women and compare notes. We think this app would be beneficial for any woman, but particularly those who are constantly busy, experiencing unwanted menstrual symptoms, or trying to conceive.
mySymptoms: This is a food diary app for tracking and identifying food symptoms and reactions. While it shouldn’t replace a real diagnosis, it’s a great way to start looking for patterns in your eating habits that trigger unwanted side effects. This gives you a place to start when you’re ready to meet with a holistic health practitioner, nutritionist or allergy specialist. In addition to tracking your diet, you can simply and efficiently record anything from sleep quality to bloating to mood swings. What we love about this app is that it gives patients a great place to record information that they’d otherwise forget. Often when patients come for an initial assessment it can be hard to remember what they’ve been eating and on which dates they experienced recent symptoms. With an app like this, the data recording will already be done by your first appointment –getting you and your health practitioner one step closer to a diagnosis.
HealingFoods: Based on the print encyclopaedia, this app is a useful reference guide for diet therapy. You can enter foods to see a full explanation of their natural healing properties, to better tailor a diet that will optimize your health. There are also tips for how to serve, store and prep each food. Amazing that you can carry so much information with you wherever you eat or grocery shop! This app can help you to shop smart, order wisely at restaurants, and fix a nutrient-dense dinner for your family.
Thanks to Sara Showalter for drawing our attention to such an interesting list of mobile health applications! Check them all out here and choose your favourites.
Do you use any holistic health apps? What features would be most beneficial to you?
When we champion chiropractic care, we consistently mention the central nervous system. For many new patients, this might not mean much (or make any sense). Many people associate chiropractic with bones, rather than nerves, joints, muscles and the brain. We encourage you to learn the basics about the central nervous system, and how it functions to keep our bodies running optimally.
Why is the Central Nervous System Important?
We liked the way this article from Natural News describes the central nervous system’s critical role in the human body’s everyday participation in a fight for survival. Your body is working each day to confront a barrage of assaults –free radical damage to your cells, environmental stressors, chemically reactive molecules, and other toxins. The body’s incredible ability to communicate within itself, protect itself, and heal itself keeps us healthy and thriving in spite of these everyday onslaughts of harmful contaminants. The central nervous system is like a governing body that controls all of the channels by which that healing occurs.
As Natural News points out, the movement of energy from your brain to your nerve systems is fueled by information collected from receptors throughout your body. The brain relies on a process called “proprioception” –the effective movement of information from those receptors in your muscles or joints all the way to your brain. As you can imagine, we want to pave the way for a fast and healthy flow of information.
But this brain-body information exchange can be compromised by nerve stress caused by misalignment and trauma. The accumulation of damage resulting from poor posture, minor injuries and an unhealthy lifestyle can all affect your nerves and stress hormones. As a result, there’s a slight breakdown in communication between your receptors and your brain, and your body’s healing time slows down.
A chiropractor’s aim is to restore your central nervous system so that your body is well-tuned to keep healing itself effectually. By re-aligning the spine and reducing nerve pressure, chiropractic care plays a useful role in decreasing your body’s stress. In this way, chiropractic care shouldn’t be conceived of as a treatment. It’s an important therapy that frees your body to take better care of itself. Too often we overlook the body’s innate ability to heal. When our bodies aren’t functioning optimally or healing properly, we see the symptoms rather than the cause. Chiropractic isn’t just treating your symptoms –it’s adjusting your body’s natural systems and structures so they can do their job.
To learn more about your central nervous system and how chiropractic can benefit you, book an appointment with Dr. Jennifer Wise!
The sunny days between all of the cloudy, rainy ones are giving us some hope for brighter days. Many families are making plans for the summer, and it’s exciting to finally be anticipating more time spent outdoors. We want our clients and community to enjoy a safe and healthy season, so we thought we’d share some basic and natural tips. High temperatures and sunny days can mean adjusted dietary and health requirements for the whole family.
1. Fluid replacement: During day trips, team sports, active play and afternoons at the beach, be sure to drink plenty of water and encourage your children to do the same. But skip the sports drinks-Children don’t often sweat excessively, especially during moderate play. Any fluids your child may lose are easily replaced with plain fresh water. Sports drinks contain unhealthily high doses of sugar, artificial colors and flavors, and chemical additives –so be careful what you reach for to replenish fluids and quench thirst.
2. Choose healthy frozen treats: Popsicles and other frozen snacks are a family favourite during the summer –and they can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. Skip the artificially flavoured freezies and sugary ice cream, and make your own snacks instead. Opt for frozen bananas, smoothies, or homemade popsicles that use natural sugars and flavours.
3. Be sun-smart. Choose a high SPF sunscreen and remember to re-apply every 1-2 hours that your family is in the sun. When possible, take refuge in the shade and minimize direct sun exposure to your skin. Have your children wear brimmed hats and light, cool clothing. You may want to avoid sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, a chemical that is thought to affect hormone levels and cellular health. And it goes without saying- children of all skin types and tones need sunscreen. For fair-skinned children, choose an SPF of 30 or higher.
4. Support your immune system, particularly before big day trips or family vacations. Eat a vitamin-rich diet that features lots of vegetables and probiotics, and be sure to get plenty of vitamin C, even during warm weather. If you know your children are picky eaters during travel, plan ahead when you pack. Take multi-vitamins and easy-to-grab nutritious snacks. Front-load their diet on busy days by sneaking some extra fruit and veggies into a breakfast smoothie.
Wishing you and your family a safe and healthy start to summer!
Sara Vartanian, founder of Green Moms Collective, recently hosted a Twitter chat about the benefits of shopping at local farmer’s markets. While her #GreenMom chats are always interesting and informative, we thought we’d take the opportunity to expand on the fun and relevant topic of buying local, especially as farmer’s market season kicks off.
Why buy local?
Shopping at a local market is a great way to be more involved and informed as you set an example for your family’s food choices. As the #GreenMom discussion demonstrated, simply visiting or discussing local food market vendors encourages us to think more critically about our food sources.
Local, Organic & In Season
For many people the decision to shop at a local market has a lot to do with the integrity of the produce and meat they want to buy. But as Sara Vartanian points out, it’s easy to assume what you’re buying is organic, when in fact it may not be. Just because you shop locally doesn’t mean you’re shopping organically. This is why it’s important to chat with the vendors you buy from. Ask them about their farming practices to ensure your purchases meet your personal standards. Questions that you may want to ask include:
- Does the vendor use chemical pesticides?
- How many different crops does the vendor grow?
- Are the farm animals given antibiotics or hormones? What are they fed?
Inspiration and Food Literacy
Shopping at a local farmer’s market can also help you get out of a food rut because so many different fresh choices are laid out before you. Aviva Allen, Registered Nutritionist, recommends leaving your list and recipes at home, and seeing where inspiration leads you! You might end up basing a meal or a dish around whatever item looked the freshest or was offered at a great price.
The experience of shopping at a farmer’s market with your family also helps to instill positive habits in children. Let them smell, touch and sample the food you buy, and learn about how it is farmed or raised. This establishes the practice of thinking about our food sources and quality, and being an active participant in food shopping.
Clean, Green Family Fun
Let’s not forget to advocate for the richly enjoyable experience of visiting your favourite market on a regular basis! Shopping locally, chatting with vendors and getting out in the open air of the market can be a really rewarding way to connect with your children and community. The sunshine, exercise, music and snacks all help to make food shopping an overwhelmingly positive experience, rather than an errand or a chore. Without the resource-demands of the supermarket (scanners, electric lights, and checkouts), the market also provides a greener way to shop. Bring your re-usable bags and your good old-fashioned cash for a simpler exchange and a fun family experience.
Do you shop at a farmer’s market? What’s your favourite thing about buying local?
A juicy burger. Salty fries. A cold, sugary soda.
Have we sparked a craving? Food cravings are unfortunate road blocks in many people’s diet plans. While some cravings are circumstantial and easier to resist (like salivating at the smell of a bakery) others can be persistent, frequent and much more physical by nature (like craving a cup of coffee in the morning). For those who eat a balanced, nutrient-dense diet, cravings should be minimal and controllable, but of course this isn’t always the case. Here are a few common cravings, what they mean for your body, and how you can deal with them.
Your body requires a very small amount of salt each day. As an electrolyte that helps your body maintain regular, consistent fluid levels, salt is an important ingredient in your biological balance and health. Often we crave salty snacks, or foods that have an exorbitant sodium content that we may not even be aware of (check your canned soups as an example!)
Why do we crave it? Cravings for salt are often the result of your body’s conditioning. A high-sodium diet makes your body accustomed to lots of salt. When you try to cut back, your body reminds you. Excessive perspiration and dehydration can also trigger salt cravings, since our bodies lose sodium and other minerals when we sweat. It is also possible that salt cravings can be an indicator of more severe consitions associated with our endocrine / hormonal system so make sure to speak with a Health Care Professional if symptoms are unexplained or persistant.
How to manage the craving: Drink an electrolyte beverage after heavy exercise. Learning about proper endurance exercise hydration and electrolyte protocols are helpful for routine exercise. If your salt craving isn’t related to sweat, try something crunchy and flavourful like seasoned rice crackers, a small handful of nuts, an algae product or dill pickle. Follow up your snack with a big glass of water.
Sugar is another ingredient that hides in many foods and habits. Minimizing your sugar intake isn’t just about avoiding sweets like pastries and candy. It means being mindful of the sugar content in everything that you eat-from granola to peanut butter to juice.
Why do we crave it? When we consume a lot of sugar it causes a spike in blood glucose levels. You’ve likely experienced this- you eat something sweet and immediately feel good. Your energy rises and peaks and you may even feel happier. But shortly afterwards, your blood sugar dips again. This is the unfortunate reality of refined sugar; it sends your body on a roller coaster. When your blood sugar drops, your brain starts thinking it needs more refined sugar. Your craving returns. The cycle continues.
How to manage the craving: Read your labels! Avoid products that have sugar added. Choose natural sweeteners like stevia or a touch of honey. You may also try satisfying cravings for sweetness with flavours. Add a pinch of cinnamon to your coffee instead of a sweetening agent. Use vanilla or nutmeg in oatmeal instead of brown sugar. And if you need a sweet fix, choose a tasty fruit like strawberries or watermelon. Remember to always balance out sweet fixes, even healthy ones, with some protein or healthy fat. This helps keep your blood sugar more stable and avoid the rollercoaster effect.
For you coffee-addicts, you may find that your caffeine intake requires much more willpower to control than those cravings for sugar and salt. In truth, a single caffeinated drink triggers a significant reaction in your body, producing for many people a “rollercoaster effect” similar to that of sugar.
Why do we crave it? Caffeine triggers neural activity that stimulates the release of hormones. These stimulate your adrenal glands to produce that burst of energy you might experience after a dose of caffeine. When the “high” ends however, you may experience lethargy, restlessness, and an inability to concentrate. It’s a combination of taste and effect that brings most of us back to caffeinated beverages on a regular basis. With enough consumption however, your body will reach a state of adrenal exhaustion. It will require more caffeine to reproduce that desired high.
How to manage the craving: Ensure that you are getting enough sleep so that you aren’t depending on caffeine as a major source of energy. Try alternatives like herbal tea and natural coffee alternatives such as chicory. Any caffeinated beverage should be taken in moderation, to avoid putting your body through the unnecessary stress responses that caffeine can produce. Speaking to a Naturopath is a good way to identify if your adrenal glands need support and the best way to use herbs and lifestyle modification to help get your energy levels back up…sans caffeine!
We’re all familiar with phrases like “gut feeling” and “go with your gut.” As every ND knows, patients really should listen to their gut, because its symptoms are important indicators of overall health, and the functioning of the digestive system. If you’re experiencing symptoms like bloating, gas, cramps and irregularity, it’s time to take a look at what’s causing your digestive distress.
The Traveling Naturopath has some helpful advice about the natural, preventative health factors that may be affecting your gut health. Here are three important behaviours for keeping a balanced, healthy digestive system.
1. Practising good food hygiene. This is an essential practice for every meal. Practising good food hygiene requires many things. Most obviously, ensure that your food is safe and kept free from avoidable contaminants. Store and prepare food with careful attention paid to temperature, sealing of containers, shelf life, and the cleanliness of your storage environment. Rinse all produce thoroughly and be sure to keep an extremely sanitary food prep area. As the Traveling Naturopath emphasizes, good food hygiene also includes chewing your food thoroughly and carefully, and taking time to eat slowly.
2. Cultivating gut flora. Antibiotics strip the intestinal tract of healthy gut flora, which are necessary to facilitate digestion, avoid stomach upset and boost immunity. These probiotics or “good bacteria” are multi-functional. They secrete substances that aid cell function and protect your digestive system from harmful bacteria. They also suppress the attachment of disease-causing bacteria to the walls of the intestines. Talk to a naturopathic doctor to determine which probiotics would benefit your diet, as there are a number of different types, each with their own specific health functions.
Image source: http://ow.ly/lxKod
3. Identifying food intolerances: Food intolerances and sensitivities exist in varying degrees. A sensitivity to a certain food (or group of foods) can often go ignored however, because it doesn’t produce symptoms severe enough to be immediately identified as an allergy or dietary problem. Just because you don’t break into hives or have a violent reaction, doesn’t mean that you are immune to food sensitivities. Many of your mild but unpleasant symptoms like digestive distress may be attributed to a certain food or ingredient. An elimination diet is an easy first step at figuring out which foods may be causing you those unwanted symptoms. Food sensitivity testing is also commonly used, via a blood prick test, to easily determine problem foods. A consultation with a naturopathic doctor can help you better understand the biological causes for your intolerance, and how you can continue meeting your nutrition needs while limiting or eliminating the problem foods from your diet.
So if you’re experiencing unwanted health-related symptoms, take that familiar advice: listen to your gut!
There are many seemingly insignificant, overlooked lifestyle factors that can affect your alignment and physiological wellness. We’ve already mentioned the potential outcomes of practicing poor pillow posture, but what about poor purse posture?
Many of us are guilty of it: we wear a purse, bag or computer case without giving proper consideration to its weight and positioning on the body. Over time, an overpacked bag can affect your gait, posture and comfort. A heavy purse could also be the root cause of ongoing unidentified neck and shoulder pain.
This helpful article from Prevention.com offers some advice about what your purse could be doing for your posture and muscle health- and how you can correct it. Read on for some simple strategies to avoid shoulder bag strain.
1. Switch sides: Chances are you habitually sling your purse over the same arm (likely your dominant side). This is part of the problem- by only wearing your purse on one shoulder, you’re constantly overworking those muscles. Depending on how heavy your bag is, you’re also forcing one side of your upper body to be the load-bearing side, which can affect your gait and mobility.
2. Avoid the crook of your arm: You’ve probably done this one too –stuck your purse strap right in the inside of your elbow. This can cause injury, including tendonitis. It also forces you to hold your arm at a right angle, resulting in more muscle strain and poor circulation.
For more information check out this article: “Are you hurting your health in the name of fashion?” http://ow.ly/lr8UW
3. Wear your strap diagonally. Rather than pulling your laptop carrier, bag or purse over one arm, pull it over your head so that the strap is stretched diagonally across your chest. This will distribute the weight of the bag more effectively and result in less of a heavy downward pull on one side- sparing your shoulder and lower back and engaging more of your torso muscles instead.
4. Choose an appropriate carrier or bag. This is an important consideration we’d add to the list. Consider what accessory might better suit you and save you from neck, shoulder and back strain. If you have a lot to pack for a walk to the gym, try a backpack and be sure to wear both straps. For your computer, consider a briefcase or bag on wheels. For an evening out, swap your carry-all for a small clutch.
5. Lighten your load! The last and most obvious solution we offer is to simply take stock of your purse before leaving the house- particularly if you plan to be walking with it for any extended period of time. What can you reasonably leave behind? Remove spare change and roll it at home to exchange for bills. Take out chargers, extra keys and any other heavy objects that you can do without for a few hours. And every few days clean out your purse – you’d be surprised at how much weight accumulates from simple garbage, junk and forgotten items that could be left at home.
Fess up: How heavy is your purse?
Embracing Health produced an interesting blog post titled “Deadly Legal Addictions,” discussing a recent publicized death that occurred as the result of an extremely unhealthy diet. It raises an interesting suggestion that instead of thinking of unhealthy foods and habits as indulgences, we should take them to be much more serious and dangerous dependencies that have real consequences for our long-term health.
While you may not be surprised by the culprit soft drink named in the article, the characterization of familiar vices like Coca Cola as “addictions” is perhaps jarring. Yet to a large degree, that’s what they are. In fact, a recent study mentioned in Time suggests that as we increase our consumption of unhealthy, high-fat, high-sugar foods, our “reward-threshold” decreases. Much like the pattern we see among drug users, repeated ingestion of these substances makes it more difficult to get the same satisfaction that the “user” or consumer initially enjoyed. In other words: over time, eating addictive, unhealthy foods becomes similar to chasing a high.
Our consciousness regarding portion size or guilt can be affected in a similar way as well. While we may initially feel like a small serving of a “cheat food” is a luxury, treat, or even something to feel guilty about, eventually those sensibilities erode. If we don’t feel the same rush or satiety that junk food once brought us, it’s easy to lose sight of how much of it we’re consuming. Eventually a large allowance for junk food begins to feel like the new “normal.”
It’s certainly a dangerous trajectory. One way to address common food “addictions” mentioned by Embracing Health is to include warning labels on certain junk foods. Ultimately however, resistance to food addiction and its prevention have much more to do with a holistic dialogue with our bodies. The article stresses the importance of listening to our physiological messages by paying close attention to how we feel, look, and react to our diet. The body gives so many signs when something is wrong that there’s no reason to leave them ignored.
If your diet is leaving you with constant cravings for sugar and salt, uncontrollable appetite, or physical symptoms like headaches and nausea, it’s time to tune in more closely. A health care practitioner can help you refine your diet and avoid experiencing that all-too-common cycle of a diminishing reward threshold. Food should always be satisfying, rewarding and nourishing!
What do you think: Should warning labels be printed on certain unhealthy foods?
There are many reasons to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Chronic inflammation has been identified as a contributing factor for a number of diseases, as well as chronic pain. Additionally, the most inflammatory foods are those that carry the highest risk for allergic reactions. So how can you reduce inflammation without reaching for over-the-counter medications? A preventative diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods is a start.
The Conscious Life offers a great list of top anti-inflammatory foods. Here are some of the best natural ingredients for your diet:
Seaweed: Kelp is rich in the complex-carbohydrate fucoidan. Fucoidan has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s also high in fibre, meaning that seaweed can help optimize digestion and fat absorption for the maintenance of a healthy weight.
Wild salmon: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA, salmon is an anti-inflammatory and may also prevent heart disease and certain cancers. Studies suggest omega-3’s may also reduce symptoms of autoimmune disease. This is a definite powerhouse food, so try to include salmon in your weekly meal plan. If you find it too “fishy” try dressing it up with powerful flavours like lemon and dill.
Green tea: Choc-full of anti-inflammatory flavonoids, green tea is great for reducing risk of heart disease and cancer. It’s also the perfect guilt-free hot beverage if you’re trying to lose weight, because the polyphenol found in green tea helps to boost metabolism and fat oxidation.
Broccoli: This green veggie contains the phytonutrient sulforaphane, which helps the body kick potentially cancer-causing compounds. Broccoli is also rich in magnesium and calcium to regulate blood pressure, and its high potassium content helps maintain the functioning of a healthy nervous system.
Sweet potato: This is a powerful potato! Versatile and mild-flavoured, sweet potatoes are becoming a nutritious favourite with many people. They contain a whole host of nutrients, including fibre, vitamin C and B6, and beta-carotene. Together, all of these powerful components work to reduce inflammation and purify the body.
While there are many anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant foods, without thoughtful meal planning you’d be surprised at how easy they are to overlook. Challenge yourself by including one anti-inflammatory food in all of your major meals!