How to Lose the “Quarantine 15”

I get it, it’s been a tough year and a half. When we first went into what was supposed to be a three week lockdown (“to flatten the curve”), I thought, what’s the harm if my patients self-soothe with an extra snack here, a glass of wine there, a little extra sugar for comfort. In fact, I was advocating being gentle with oneself.  After all, it’s not everyday we are in the middle of a global pandemic, right? 

Now it’s been sixteen months and counting…and most people are starting to feel the effects of all of those extras.  If the pandemic has taught us only one thing, it is that being overweight worsens  health outcomes – not only for infectious disease, but for chronic disease in general.

There are a number of reasons that may have contributed to weight gain – the added stress, the lack of routine, lack of movement, increased snacking or simply turning to food for comfort. No matter the reason, here are some tried and true ways to get your metabolism back on track.

1.Manage your stress. During periods of elevated stress, your body makes a hormone called cortisol, to signal the impending danger to your body’s organs to prepare for the fight or flight response. If you are more apple-shaped than pear shaped, you can be sure your stress levels are impacting your middle. Effective ways to reduce cortisol levels include going for a walk outside, taking a bath, connecting with a loved one or meditating. Take care with high intensity exercise, as it can actually heighten your stress response and make things worse. Refer to this great list from The American Institute of Stress to find an activity that resonates with you (though you might want to skip the suggestion to stress bake, unless you plan to give away the result of your efforts ?).

2. Increase your protein intake. Protein is a weight loss hero. It is undoubtedly the most important single nutrient to support your weight loss efforts. It boosts your metabolism, it increases satiety levels and it impacts several of your body’s weight-regulating hormones.¹ It also helps to reduce appetite, decrease sugar cravings and helps to maintain your lean body mass (which in turns helps to further increase your metabolic rate).²

One study showed that simply increasing protein to 30% of total caloric intake, without changing or restricting any other parameter, led to an average loss of 11 lbs in 12 weeks.³

Need I say more? For best results, aim to get a minimum of 1g per kg of body weight, more if you are an athlete or heavy exerciser.

3. Get into a routine. It’s important to maintain a regular schedule, not only for eating, but for optimal health in general. Our body follows its own rhythm and works better when we follow its rhythm (as opposed to the other way around). It is important to go to sleep and rise everyday at the same time. By the same token, it is important to have periods of the day when you eat, and other periods of the day when you don’t. Working and studying from home means you are never very far from your kitchen and may lead to grazing all day long. Frequent feedings puts your body into a constant state of digestion and calorie storage. It is much easier and better for your metabolism to have distinct meals throughout the day. Some people do well with intermittent fasting, i.e consuming all of the day’s calories during an 8 or 10 hour eating window. Otherwise, aim to consume 2-3 meals/day (depending on your hunger) with periods of no eating in between.

4. Eat real food. Skip the takeout and cook at home, from scratch, whenever possible. Ultra processed foods are not real foods, but rather food-like products. They are defined as multi-ingredient industrial formulations and include sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs), packaged breads, cookies, savory snacks, candy, ice cream, breakfast cereal, and pre-prepared frozen meals.⁴⁵ They aren’t eaten for health, but rather for pleasure or convenience. Their consumption leads to higher rates of obesity, elevated blood lipids and metabolic syndrome. In high income countries like Canada and the US, about 50-60% of all calories are comprised of ultra-processed foods and beverages.⁵  A good rule of thumb is to buy the majority of your foods from the circumference of the grocery store and skip the middle aisles, where all of the processed foods are located.

5. Be carb conscious. Carbs are not the diet villains they are made out to be.  In fact, they are a good source of energy and nutrients.  It is more how much and when they are eaten that wreaks metabolic havoc for many.  Blood sugar levels rise in response to any foods, but it is most pronounced with the intake of starch and sugars. When your blood sugar rises, your body produces insulin – a hormone that facilitates the (excess) sugar to move from the bloodstream into the cells. In the absence of physical activity, that sugar then gets converted to fat for later use.

When there is continuous insulin in the bloodstream, the receptors become less sensitive to it and it can cause insulin resistance. The Standard American Diet (SAD) lends itself to an overconsumption of carbohydrates. Starchy foods, because they are so filling, often replace other more nutrient dense foods. For optimal weight loss, reduce your starch intake to one serving per day (as a maximum, this is optional) and consume it after you eat your protein and veggies. Start your day with a a savory meal, not a sweet one.  Pair starch with protein, fat or fibre, to help mitigate the insulin secretion that will follow. If you are going to eat dessert, always have it at the end of a meal (not on an empty stomach).

Of course, this article would not be complete without mentioning the importance of physical activity. However, when it comes to weight loss, it really does boil down to 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. Exercise alone is an ineffective strategy for weight loss. Exercising as penance for eating is sure to backfire, and can lead to unhealthy relationships to both food and exercise. Exercise not only helps to support a healthy metabolism, it also impacts almost every other system in your body including your cardiovascular system, your bone density, your sleep quality, your mood, your self-image, your sex drive, your ability to detox, your hormonal health and your strength. Exercise benefits nearly every aspect of your health from the inside out. So I encourage you to choose an activity or activities that you enjoy and can incorporate into your life as part of your routine.

Hopefully, one, or some, of these strategies will empower you to take charge of your weight and your health and that before long, you start to feel more energetic, more optimistic, leaner and lighter.   Have a happy, healthy summer.


1.Weigle DS, Breen PA, Matthys CC, et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(1):41-48. doi:10.1093/ajcn.82.1.41Copy

2. Astrup A, Raben A, Geiker N. The role of higher protein diets in weight control and obesity-related comorbidities. Int J Obes (Lond). 2015;39(5):721-726. doi:10.1038/ijo.2014.216

3. Weigle DS, Breen PA, Matthys CC, et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(1):41-48. doi:10.1093/ajcn.82.1.41

4. Poti JM, Braga B, Qin B. Ultra-processed Food Intake and Obesity: What Really Matters for Health-Processing or Nutrient Content?. Curr Obes Rep. 2017;6(4):420-431. doi:10.1007/s13679-017-0285-4

5.Poti JM, Braga B, Qin B. Ultra-processed Food Intake and Obesity: What Really Matters for Health-Processing or Nutrient Content?. Curr Obes Rep. 2017;6(4):420-431. doi:10.1007/s13679-017-0285-4

Five Easy Ways to put some Spring in your step

Ahhh – spring is in the air. It heralds an exciting energy of growth, renewal, and change – not just in nature, but also for us. I expect that this holds especially true for this past year of unprecedented stress and uncertainty.

Your body may already signalling you that it is overloaded. Some signs that your system is not working efficiently include:

  • bloating and digestive issues such as cramping, constipation or nausea
  • skin rashes or complexion issues
  • fatigue
  • weight gain
  • nasal or sinus congestion
  • headaches
  • allergies

Whether you are looking for some relief from any of the above symptoms, or you simply want to kickstart your metabolism, here are some gentle and effective changes you can incorporate to starting feeling lighter and healthier.

1. Breathe. It sounds so simple, but it is so critical. We simply don’t oxygenate our cells like we should. Deep breathing helps to rebalance your nervous system and energizes your cells. In order to breathe in fully, you need to exhale fully. This video explains a favourite technique to breathe well. I recommend doing it before meals to aid in digestion, as well as before bed to facilitate sleep. It is also important to breathe outside in the fresh air, as the outdoor air quality is cleaner and ionized compared to indoor air. Spend a minimum of 30 minutes outside daily to get this important nutrient into your daily routine.

2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Most of us are chronically dehydrated. Life gets busy, and we forget to drink. Water is the universal solvent in our systems. The easiest way to re-activate a thirst reflex is to simply start the day with a large glass of warm water (a squeeze of fresh lime juice optional). If you start your day with water early, you will tend to drink more all day long. Aim to drink (in oz) half of your body weight (in lbs – eg. if you weigh 150 lbs, then try to get in 75 oz of water, about 9 glasses per day). If you are not used to drinking that much, or that most of your fluid intake are caffeinated drinks like coffee, cola or tea, then increase your water intake by 1/2 cup every week until you reach your goal. Take it low and slow.

3. Move. Our bodies were designed to move, every day. Movement helps to support our circulation and move our lymphatic fluid which in turn facilitates detoxification. Not only does it facilitate physical detoxification, exercise is also important for emotional health. Physical activity actually stimulates the growth of nerve cells in the region of the brain that controls mood, which helps to relieve depression.¹

4. Skin brushing. Cheap and cheerful, this daily task helps to clean your blood by moving the fluid that is stuck in your lymphatic system back into your circulation. Simply use an exfoliating mitt or washcloth and gently make small strokes in the direction of your heart, before you turn on the shower. It only takes a few minutes and is oh so invigorating.

5. Eliminate! Your body only has four exits – your lungs, your skin, your kidneys and your bowels. All of these exits need to be purged daily. If you do the deep breathing in step 1, drink water in step 2, brush your skin daily (or every second day) in step 4, then the last remaining exit are your intestines. Your bowels need to move 2-3x/day. Anything less and your body is resorbing toxins from your intestine – ugh. For sluggish bowels, try increasing your water and/or fibre intake. Fibre can be easily added using ground flax or chia seeds or cleansing vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. Another option is to supplement magnesium citrate , or take an epsom salt bath (with 2 cups of bath salts) to help get things more regular.

Incorporate one or more of these strategies into your daily routine and it will only be a matter of days before you begin feeling the surge of more energy, more optimism and a healthy body that feels (and looks) great. Spring into action and spring-clean both your body and your life. Radiant health can be yours this season. Don’t do it as a chore, but rather an act of self-care and self-love. You deserve it.



Ginger Soy Honey Glazed Salmon

2 salmon fillets
2 Tbps honey (or liquid stevia glycerite to taste for low carb option)
2 tsp ginger powder (or grated fresh ginger if you have it)
4 Tbps soy sauce, or gluten free Tamari for gluten-free option
juice of one lemon or lime, freshly squeezed
1. Mix all ingredients except salmon in a small bowl and mix with a whisk.
2. Line baking sheet with parchment paper
3. Add sauce ingredients to both sides of salmon fillet, place salmon skin side down on baking sheet.
4. Bake at 450F for about 8-10 minutes, until cooked through. Allow four to six minutes per half-inch of thickness based on each individual fillet.

Clever Ways to Eat Well on a Budget

Eating healthfully can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.  If there ever was a time to eat well, now would be it.  A lack of time and/or income can hinder making nutritious choices. The most effective way to eat healthier on a budget is to cook at home – this is perhaps one advantage of our current situation. Here are some budget-friendly shopping and cooking tips to cut food costs without compromising your health.

  1. Take inventory. Check in the back of your cupboards and refrigerator to see what you already have on hand.

2. Plan your meals. This step has probably become essential as trips to grocery store are already weekly ventures. Plan your meals for the upcoming week and then, make a grocery list of what you need. Stick to your list and only buy what you know you will eat, so you don’t end up throwing out food.

3. Make the best food choices you can. Make your food choices count, focus on variety, amount and nutrition. This is probably not the best time to adopt a highly restrictive or specialized diet plan. Healthy but inexpensive food options include canned meats, whole grains, frozen fruits & vegetables (almost as nutritious as fresh), and canned/dried legumes.

4. Cook larger portions and use your leftovers. Use inexpensive ingredients to make larger portions and either freeze your leftovers or use them on subsequent days when you might be feeling more pinched for time. A big pot of lentil soup can go a long way. Having prepared foods in the freezer for busy days also reduces the frequency of needing to order in food, which can add up quickly.

5. Ditch processed foods and buy whole foods instead. Though it might not seem always obvious, processed food costs you more than food you cook and make yourself. Use real ingredients to make your own dips, sauces, marinades, salad dressings, soups and spreads. There are numerous resources online for do-it-yourself seasoning mixes and dressings from basic ingredients. Save yourself unhealthy additives, calories and food costs while reducing food waste for better and fresher tasting food.

6. Buy cheaper cuts of meat or substitute meat with other vegetarian protein options. Beans, legumes and eggs are very good protein sources and a lot cheaper than meat or fish. Stretch one pot dishes by adding in legumes as an additional protein source. Canned meat/fish also serve as an inexpensive source of protein. Cheaper cuts of beef like beef brisket or skirt steak can take longer to cook but can be prepared to be equally nutritious and delicious.

7. Buy staples in bulk. It is a lot cheaper to buy a large bag of rice or beans, than it is to buy them in smaller quantities. Use this to your advantage where it makes sense for your household.

Five Hacks for a Longer & Happier Life

Five Hacks for a Healthier and Longer Life

For the first time in a century, life expectancy at birth has stopped increasing in parts of the Western world.  While the US has seen this decline for the last three consecutive years, ¹ the UK has also noted a similar trend in 2019. ²

Longevity is a balance of lifespan (living longer) and healthspan (living better). Though I am personally not a fan of resolutions, the New Year does provide us an opportunity to reflect on one’s life and goals. While most value quality over quantity, I don’t think any one of us would voluntarily choose to shorten our lifespans.

Improve your longevity by incorporating these five  lifestyle hacks.  Changing old habits can prove to be a challenge. Set yourself up for success by implementing small discreet changes until it becomes second nature before tackling the next. 

Move more. “The bad news is that sitting continuously for more than nine hours a day increases your chances of an early death; the good news is that doing anything at all reduces that risk dramatically.“³ Sitting is cited as the new smoking, and has been implicated in rising incidence of both physical diseases (like cancer and diabetes) and neuropsychological ones (like Alzheimer’s and anxiety). ⁴ Physical activity doesn’t need to be fancy, require any special equipment or expensive gym memberships. Even standing while you work, doing dishes, cooking or going for a stroll make an impact. If your work does require you to sit for long periods, don’t forget to set an alarm and walk for a few minutes every hour.

Eat less. Excess calories are aging… moderating your caloric intake (without reducing your nutrient intake) is good for you, no matter how you do it.⁵,⁶ Some people advocate stopping when you are 80% full. Others advocate eating during limited eating windows, also known as intermittent fasting.⁷ If you experience any kind of middle age spread, chances are you are insulin resistant (this does not necessarily imply that thin folks can’t or don’t suffer from insulin resistance too) Insulin is a hormone that allows the sugar in your bloodstream to enter your cells. When you lose the sensitivity, your body will compensate by producing more insulin, which is a very aging hormone. Curbing your appetite, eating fewer starchy foods and fasting especially, helps to restore insulin sensitivity.

Call a friend or family member. Interpersonal connections are associated with reduced levels of stress hormones, improved sleep, lesser risk of cardiovascular disease, slower cognitive decline and heightened immunity. ⁸ Social media use, both in quantity of time spent and number of platforms used, has been associated with increased risk for both depression and anxiety among young adults. ⁹ According to a 2010 study, mortality risks associated with loneliness exceeded those associated with obesity and physical inactivity and were similar to those associated with smoking. ¹⁰

Drink more water. We can survive without food far longer than we can without water. Our bodies are comprised of an estimated 60-70% water content. It regulates our body temperature, acts a transporter for nutrients and lubricate our tissues and joints. It is our universal solvent, which makes it essential for detoxification. Even mild dehydration (1-2%) can impair cognition. Nearly all of the major systems in your body depend on water. A general rule of thumb is to consume 1 cup per 20 lb of body weight.

Eat real food. If it comes out of a package, or has an ingredient list of more than five things, it isn’t food, it is a manufactured food product. I believe you should eat birthday cake (if you want it) on your actual birthday. But routinely eating dessert for breakfast, considering sugar laden ketchup a vegetable (potatoes and ketchup are the top two “vegetables” consumed in North America) or consuming a 700 calorie milkshakes made of huge quantities of fruit, coffee and whipped cream as “snacks” cannot be a logical approach to reasonable nutrition. Keep it simple by making small changes. Start with meal planning and packing lunch. Consuming home-cooked meals as a family leads to healthier and happier kids, and teens who are less likely to use alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes.¹² It creates a daily routine of social interaction, costs less money, and leaves less of a carbon footprint, which by extension, makes all of us healthier. ¹³


  1. Woolf SH, Schoomaker H. Life Expectancy and Mortality Rates in the United States, 1959-2017. JAMA. 2019;322(20):1996–2016. doi:
  3. Ekelund Ulf, Tarp Jakob, Steene-Johannessen Jostein, Hansen Bjørge H, Jefferis Barbara, Fagerland Morten W et al. Dose-response associations between accelerometry measured physical activity and sedentary time and all cause mortality: systematic review and harmonised meta-analysis BMJ 2019; 366 :l4570. doi: doi: 
  4. Lakerveld J, et al. Sitting too much: A hierarchy of socio-demographic correlates. Preventive Medicine. 2017;101:77.
  5. Leanne M. Redman, Steven R. Smith, Jeffrey H. Burton, Corby K. Martin, Dora Il’yasova, Eric Ravussin. Metabolic Slowing and Reduced Oxidative Damage with Sustained Caloric Restriction Support the Rate of Living and Oxidative Damage Theories of AgingCell Metabolism, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2018.02.019
  8. Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLOS Medicine 7(7): e1000316.
  9. Ariel Shensa, MA, Jaime E. Sidani, MPH, PhD, […], and Brian A. Primack, MD, PhD Social Media Use and Depression and Anxiety Symptoms: A Cluster Analysis. Am J Health Behav. 2018 Mar 1;42(2):116-128. doi: 10.5993/AJHB.42.2.11.
  10. Vannucci A, Flannery KM, Ohannessian CM. Social media use and anxiety in emerging adults. J Affect Disord. 2017;207:163–166.
  11. Riebl SK, Davy BM. The Hydration Equation: Update on Water Balance and Cognitive Performance. ACSMs Health Fit J. 2013 Nov;17(6):21-28. doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e3182a9570f. PMID: 25346594; PMCID: PMC4207053.

What Does Sugar Do to Your Brain?

No one really thinks of sugar as a health food, do they? Most of us are quite aware that it plays a role in weight management, tooth decay and the development of Type 2 diabetes. For the last forty years, we have been sold the myth that a calorie is a calorie and that sugar is pretty harmless, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Dietary fat has been demonized and sugar was supposed to be our salvation. Coca-cola, amongst other processed food companies, markets its products as part of an “active, healthy lifestyle.”

Perhaps there has never been a better time to remember the saying: “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” The illusory truth effect is the tendency to believe information to be correct after repeated exposure. In this day and age of social media and “alternative facts,” I cringe at times at the information that circulates, especially in the area of nutrition. 

Mortality rates in the developed world are not affected like they once were, by infection and lack of sanitation.  Today’s health woes are instead conditions that are chronic, degenerative and metabolic in nature. One of the biggest underlying factors is the change in our dietary intake, most notably with regards to sugar consumption.

Glucose – a type of sugar – is the main energy source for every cell in the body, the brain is no exception.  Studies show the brain accounts for 60% of the body’s glucose utilization. Thinking, memory and learning are all dependent on the amount of glucose available for brain function. Although the brain needs glucose, it wreaks havoc when available in excess.

To gain a better idea of amounts, the average Canadian aged 19 and older consumes 85 grams of added sugar per day. What is more remarkable is that it is less than the 100-115 g/day in children under the age of 8! The World Health Organization’s recommends a daily maximum or no more than 50 grams, and encourages an intake of only of 25 grams for added health benefits.2

Let’s examine some of key ways that sugar impacts your brain.

  1. Addiction and overeating. Science tells us sugar is more addictive than cocaine. When we eat sugar, a neurotransmitter called dopamine is released. Not only does dopamine make us feel good, it also controls mood, behavior, learning, and memory. Consuming excess sugar long term influences both the gene expression and availability of dopamine receptors and dopamine transporter proteins. 3,4 That means it takes more and more of the substance to create the same dopamine release. In situations where sugar is not available, people experience the same withdrawal symptoms as seen in other addictions, such as nervous tremors, teeth chattering and anxiety. Additionally, chronic sugar consumption blunts the brain’s ability to trigger feelings of satiety, which leads to overeating. 5
  2. Cognitive learning and memory. A diet high in added sugar reduces the production of a brain chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is a protein produced by nerve cells that is needed by our brains to learn and create new memories. This critically vital protein is lower in people with already impaired glucose metabolism (diabetics and pre-diabetics) and the more it declines, the more sugar metabolism deteriorates, causing insulin resistance. 6 Insulin resistance is like the boy who cried wolf – your body’s receptors no longer respond to the presence of insulin, because it is always in the bloodstream. Insulin resistance is the first step to a whole host of other serious health problems. A reduction in BDNF levels are seen after only two months of adopting a high fat, high sugar diet. 7
  3. Depression and anxiety. Sugar consumption contributes to feelings of depression in numerous ways. Firstly, it affects what intestinal microbes grow, where 90% of your serotonin is produced. Secondly, it competes for B vitamins and folic acid, both of which are needed to produce serotonin. Thirdly, it reduces the production of BDNF, which can result in depressive mood, increased anxiety, cognitive deficiencies as well as accelerated brain aging. 8
  4. Dementia and Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s has been recently described as a side effect of the Western high sugar diet. 9 In one study that tracked over 5000 people over ten years conclusively showed that they had a greater rate of cognitive decline than their normal blood sugar counterparts. 10 A person with Type 2 Diabetes is twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s. 11 Another study that investigated dietary intake of more than 1000 people. Those with the highest carbohydrate intake has 80% greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s. 12,13 Diabetes also weakens blood vessels, which can lead to multiple ministrokes in the brain, resulting in dementia. There are currently around 50 million people in the world with Alzheimer’s disease and the figure is predicted to rise to more than 125 million by 2050. 14

Sugar is bad news for brain health, period. When you do eat sugar, choose to do so, consciously and (very) occasionally. The rest of the time, reach for an apple instead a candy bar. Your brain (and the rest of your body) will thank you for it.


  3. Siresha Bathina and Undurti N. Das. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and its clinical implications.Arch Med Sci.2015 Dec 10; 11(6): 1164–1178.
  4. Spangler R, Wittkowski KM, Goddard NL, Avena NM, Hoebel BG, Leibowitz SF. Opiate-like effects of sugar on gene expression in reward areas of the rat brain. Brain Res Mol Brain Res. 2004 May 19;124(2):134-42.
  5. Anaya Mitra,Blake A. Gosnell, Helgi B. Schiöth, Martha K. Grace, Anica Klockars, Pawel K. Olszewski, and Allen S. Levine  Chronic sugar intake dampens feeding-related activity of neurons synthesizing a satiety mediator, oxytocin. Peptides. 2010 Jul; 31(7): 1346–1352.
  6. Krabbe KS, Nielsen AR, Krogh-Madsen R, Plomgaard P, Rasmussen P, Erikstrup C, Fischer CP, Lindegaard B, Petersen AM, Taudorf S, Secher NH, Pilegaard H, Bruunsgaard H, Pedersen BK. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia. 2007 Feb;50(2):431-8. Epub 2006 Dec 7.
  7. Neuroscience. 2002;112(4):803-14.
  8.  Molteni R, Barnard RJ, Ying Z, Roberts CK, Gómez-Pinilla F.A high-fat, refined sugar diet reduces hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor, neuronal plasticity, and learning. Neuroscience. 2002;112(4):803-14.
  10. Fanfan Zheng, Li Yan, Zhenchun Yang, Baoliang Zhong, Wuxiang Xie. HbA1c, diabetes and cognitive decline: the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Diabetologia April 2018, Volume 61, Issue 4, pp 839–848
  12. T. Ohara, Y. Doi, T. Ninomiya, Y. Hirakawa, J. Hata, T. Iwaki, S. Kanba, Y. Kiyohara. Glucose tolerance status and risk of dementia in the community: The Hisayama Study. Neurology, 2011; 77 (12): 1126
  14. 14.

Ten Easy Food Swaps for Weight Loss

What would the holidays be without a little overindulgence? Let’s face it, food takes centre stage during times of celebration. Holiday weight gain can take up to five months to lose, and most people just carry it over into the next season. Over time, this leads to adult onset weight gain and the decline in metabolic rate as we get older doesn’t help. Slow and steady wins the race – successful weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint.

There is mounting evidence to suggest that it is sugar, more than dietary fat, that is the most likely culprit for packing on the pounds.  Dietary fat, when eaten on its own, doesn’t trigger weight gain.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for sugar. The problem with low-fat diets is that fat is often replaced by sugar, which makes the “low-fat” offerings in the food aisle unkind to the waistline.

Changing dietary habits for most people can be quite challenging.  We, after all, are creatures of habit.  It is much easier to make small changes than it is to make drastic changes.  Every food choice does make a difference, especially when it is repeated.  Food is so much more than just nourishment and achieving a good balance is the key.  Following these easy food swaps will not only help to trim those extra inches, but also improve your health.

1. Eat at home. Cooking at home is good for you.  Food prepared at home is more nutritious and has fewer calories, fewer sugars, fewer carbohydrates and less fat.  It also has been shown to contain more fibre, calcium and iron.  A typical restaurant salad main course will average 1000 calories!  Be kind to your waistline and your wallet by eating in and packing your homemade lunch.

2. When it comes to coffee, keep it simple.  Drink coffee instead of the hyped-up coffee-like drinks (or should I say desserts? which can stack up to 900 calories) you find at the specialty coffee shops. Black coffee has no calories, so even with a tablespoon of heavy cream and sugar, you will save yourself up to 800 calories.

3. Be fruit-wise. Have a whole piece of fruit, instead of dried fruit, fruit juice or a fruit smoothie.  For example, you can choose between eight dried apricots or four whole peaches for 100 calories.  Juice (with no sugar added) concentrates the sugars at the expense of fibre – it takes two to four oranges to make one cup of juice.  Fruit smoothies are even worse, usually have 300 to 400 calories and average around 70 g of sugar.

4. Drink smart.  When it comes to alcohol, it is better to drink hard liquor (rye, gin or vodka – all of which have zero sugar) with a low calorie/sugar mixer or a  5 oz glass of wine (which range from 0.9g to 1.5g of sugar, depending on the variety, not including dessert wines) over sugary cocktails (which can range from 1-68 g of sugar per drink and up to 600 calories) or beer (while low in sugar, contains 12 g of carbohydrates up to 600 calories, depending on the kind).

5. Go a little nutty.  Choose nuts over croutons (processed carbs) on your salad for that satisfying crunch as well as appetite-curbing essential fatty acids.  Instead of snacking on a granola bar, reach for a handful of nuts.  While the calorie count is the same, the latter has no sugar, added protein and fibre as well as a variety of health benefits including weight loss and increased longevity.

6. Choose the best chocolate.  Dark chocolate is truly a superfood. One of the best sources of dietary antioxidants, it is loaded with nutrients that have numerous health benefits such as improved heart heath, better cognition and cancer prevention.  Dark chocolate contains fibre as well as a number of minerals necessary for good health and its reduced sugar content makes it much harder to overindulge than its milk chocolate counterpart.  The higher the cocoa content, the greater the health benefits – aim to eat chocolate that is at least 85% cocoa.

7. Be condiment-conscious.  Make your own homemade vinaigrette with lemon juice or vinegar and oil and heart healthy olive or avocado oil and use a mister to spray your salad, or alternatively dip your fork in the dressing (on the side) before piercing your salad vegetables. Readymade dressings are not only high in calories, but often contain questionable ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils.  Other swaps in the condiment category include choosing mustard or flavored hummus over mayo in sandwiches and low fat plain yogurt over sour cream for dips.  When eating pasta or soups, always choose ones with a tomato base over ones made with cream.

8. Switch starchy grains for vegetables instead.  Grated cauliflower is a great substitute for rice, and mashed cauliflower (or other lower carb veggies like rutabaga and turnips) makes a great stand in for mashed potatoes.  You can also use either to thicken soups without the cream.  Spiralize zucchini or carrots for colorful noodles for your pastas and stirfries. 

9. Always buy unsweetened whenever possible.  Whether it is almond/cashew milk or yogurt, forego the presweetened varieties and instead buy the unsweetened version.  Sweeten to your taste with stevia (I prefer the stevia glycerite which even comes in flavors), xylitol or low sugar fruits (like berries).

10. Snack smart.  You can choose between nine potato chips (do you know of anyone who can eat just nine?), three cups of air popped (not microwave) organic popcorn, ½ cup of roasted chickpeas or two cups of cut up veggies like cucumbers, carrots and bell peppers.  All of these are about 100 calories as snack options, and the last three contain fibre which helps keep you satisfied.

Seven Surprising Facts About Sugar

Considering sugar is one of the most addictive, yet incredibly delicious substances on the planet, you have likely asked yourself – is it really that BAD for you?

Since 1989, WHO (World Health Organization) has been encouraging people to reduce intake of added sugars to less than 10% of daily calories and preferably only 5%, which translates to 6-12 teaspoons per day.  According to data from the most recent Canadian Community Health Survey, kids consume 33 teaspoons of sugar a day.

Sugar consumption has become a way of life, not only in the Western world, but worldwide.  Sugar is our celebration food, in good times and in bad, starting in early childhood and for most people, over the course of whole lifetimes.  I hope the following information helps you to make the best choices you can with regards to your long term health.

1.You’ve been duped. In the late 1960s, the sugar industry has aggressively campaigned that dietary fat is the primary causative factor of heart disease, diabetes and excess weight.  Their tactics have often been compared to those of Big Tobacco.  Since that time, sugar consumption has dramatically increased as low fat foods were introduced in the market to cater to newly adopted dietary guidelines that influence public demand.  As these policies have been implemented, that obesity and diabetes have risen to epidemic levels.  It is sad to realize that the overall health of people in the last forty to fifty years have been compromised due to dubious marketing strategies.

2. It is a serious addiction. Like other addictive substances, consuming sugar causes the brain to release opiods and dopamine into the bloodstream.  That is what makes it so difficult to have “just a little bit” of sugar.  Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found the substance lights up the brain’s pleasure system in a way other foods do not, increasing the urge to overindulge.  When compared to cocaine, sugar (specifically Oreos) has been shown to be more addictive.  And just like humans, rats eat the filling first.

3. Sugar hides in many everyday “non-sugar” foods.  The sugar content of ice cream or candy might not surprise you, but what about pasta sauce, bread, yogurt or salad dressing?  Sugar is almost impossible to avoid, given the amounts that are added to all processed foods.  Of the 60,000 grocery items available to North Americans, 80% or more contain added sugar.  It is even worse in any foods labelled “low-fat,” as those fat calories are usually replaced with sugar to maintain the food’s appeal on the palate.  For example, a single cup (245 grams) of low-fat yogurt can contain up to 47 grams of sugar, which is 12 teaspoons.  Even foods we think of as healthy like coconut water or a green smoothie (depending on how fruit content)  can range from 20-45 grams of sugar.  Aside from the taste, sugar also acts as a preservative of processed foods and is a cheap substitute for other flavour enhancers like herbs and spices.  Possibly the worst offender are sweetened beverages, whether in the form of energy drinks, fruit juice, or fancy coffees, comprises 36 percent of the added sugars consumed.  Click here for a detailed infographic

4. Fruit counts towards your overall sugar intake. People are surprised to learn that fruit isn’t a free for all.  Fruit contains fructose which when consumed in moderation (I suggest to limit intake to 2 pieces/day), it doesn’t pose health issues. Optimal choices are low sugar fruits such as avocado, olives, tomatoes and berries. However, there are instances where fructose is overconsumed.  One example is in fruit smoothies (a Green smoothie from Jamba Juice contains 45 g of sugar), or fruit juice (a glass of orange juice contains 21 g of sugar), where numerous pieces of fruit are used to make a single serving.  Another example is the use of high fructose corn syrup (HCFS) in processed foods.

High-fructose diets  have been shown to cause free radical damage in the body, increase blood pressure, and impair the body’s ability to use and store glucose. ¹,²,³  Fructose confuses your hunger signals, so that you never feel full.  There are also significant detrimental effects on the brain which affects memory, learning ability and has been implicated in the occurrence of Alzheimer’s. ⁴

5. Sugar feeds cancer cells.  Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study that showed that over half of mice fed a sucrose-rich diet developed breast cancer.⁵  In an editorial in Nutrition, Dr. Undurti N. Das highlighted the fact that fructose, a constituent of table sugar, or sucrose, changes cell metabolism and raises the activity of cancer-promoting proteins.⁶ A study done in 2017 studied the process by which cancer cells generate energy.  Instead of burning sugar, cancer cells ferment it, which is not very efficient at energy production (which would not favor tumor growth). In this study, it was discovered that during the process of fermentation, there is an intermediate substance produced that is a potent activator of proto-oncogenes – which then get turned on and stimulate cell proliferation.⁷

6. Sugar causes aging. When there is excess sugar in the bloodstream, it will attach to other proteins in the body.  When it attaches to the collagen in your skin, it causes wrinkles.  When it binds to the connective tissue in your legs, it causes cellulite.  It is the same process that is involved in multi-organ breakdown seen in diabetics. A recent study linked blood sugar spiking foods to acne formation.⁸ It literally ages every cell of your body.  One study showed that one sugary canned drink per day changes cellular DNA similar to those you would see in a smoker.⁹

7. Sugar affects your hormones.  When you eat sugar, your pancreas produces insulin, which allows your cells to store that sugar as fat.  Insulin is closely connected to all of the other hormones in your body, including estrogen and testosterone. High insulin levels lead to elevated estrogen and testosterone. It also increases the production of testosterone, which is then converted into even more estrogen by fat tissue in the belly. This is true for men and women alike.

This, unfortunately, is the cold hard truth.  Tough to swallow, I know.  Breaking up with sugar is hard, I have been in those shoes.  On the up side, I didn’t expect to feel so good minimizing my sugar intake.  I hope that one day you get to feel that way too.


1. Katrien Lowette, et al.   Effects of High-Fructose Diets on Central Appetite Signaling and Cognitive Function. Frontiers in Nutrition (2015) 2: 5.
2. Walker RW, Dumke KA, Goran MI. Fructose content in popular beverages made with and without high-fructose corn syrup. Nutrition (2014) 30:928–35.10.1016/j.nut.2014.04.003
3. Douard V, Ferraris RP. Regulation of the fructose transporter GLUT5 in health and disease. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab (2008) 295:E227–37.10.1152/ajpendo.90245.2008
4. Lindqvist A, Baelemans A, Erlanson-Albertsson C. Effects of sucrose, glucose and fructose on peripheral and central appetite signals. Regul Pept (2008) 150:26–32.10.1016/j.regpep.2008.06.008
5. Yang, Peiying et al. A Sucrose-Enriched Diet Promotes Tumorigenesis in Mammary Gland in Part through the 12-Lipoxygenase Pathway. Cancer Research (2016) 76:1
6. Undurti N.DasM.D., F.A.M.S., F.R.S.C.Sucrose, fructose, glucose, and their link to metabolic syndrome and cancer. Nutrition (2015) 31:1:249-55
7. Ken Peeters, et al .  Fructose-1,6-bisphosphate couples glycolytic flux to activation of Ras.  NATURE COMMUNICATIONS (2017) 8: 922
8. Smith, RN et al.A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial.  Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jul;86(1):107-15.
9. Leung, Cindy W et al. Soda and Cell Aging: Associations Between Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption and Leukocyte Telomere Length in Healthy Adults From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. American Journal of Public Health (ajph) (Dec 2014)

Mini Chocolate Pies

Chocolate Coconut Cookie Crust:

1/2 cup almonds or nut of choice
1 cup unsweetened dried coconut shreds
3 1/2 Tbs raw cacao powder
3 Tbs maple syrup*
3 Tbs coconut oil**
1/4 tsp Himalayan pink salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Water if needed to help blend

Chocolate Filling:

1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (Enjoy Life brand is dairy-free, use Lily’s for sugar free option)
1 1/4 cup canned coconut milk shaken
3.5 Tbs maple syrup to taste*
2.5 Tbs coconut oil melted**
1 tsp vanilla extract

Coconut Whipped Cream:

1 13.6 oz coconut milk solid cream only (Thai Kitchen brand)
1 Tbs maple syrup*
1 tsp vanilla extract

*maple syrup can be substituted for sugar-free maple syrup for sugar free option
** use refined coconut oil if you don’t like the coconut flavor

To make the crust:

Pulse all ingredients together in a food processor until sticky crumbles form.
Press into a silicone muffin pan OR use parchment liners. Set in the freezer while you prepare the filling.

To make the filling:

Place chocolate chips in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan on the stove (or glass bowl in the microwave), heat coconut milk to just boiling.
Pour hot coconut milk over the chocolate chips and let it sit for about 5 minutes to melt the chocolate. Whisk smooth.
Add in the remaining ingredients and stir until well-combined. Taste and adjust for sweetness.
Pour chocolate mixture over crust and freeze for 2 hours or until solid. Remove from muffin pan.

To make the whipped cream:

Refrigerate a can of coconut milk overnight. Scoop out the solid cream into a mixing bowl. Add maple syrup and vanilla.
Whip with a hand mixer for about 1 minute until light and fluffy.
Spread whipped cream on top of each pie. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

This recipe is from: