Fake meat may be getting a lot of play, but is it healthy?

Fake meat or the real thing? This soy-based product can be made to "bleed" red just like animal flesh. Image source: Anthony Lindsay Photography/Impossible Foods
Fake meat or the real thing? This soy-based product can be made to "bleed" red just like animal flesh. Image source: Anthony Lindsay Photography/Impossible Foods

Fake meat may be getting a lot of play, but is it healthy?

This summer, fake meat went mainstream. It felt like every restaurant chain was boasting meat-free versions of their menu options. Products like The Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat moved confidently to the frozen food section. Even the most committed carnivores tried meat replacement burgers, chick’n fillets, and kale sausages. When products advertised themselves as reputable substitutes to meat, they emphasized their texture and taste. Like the Pepsi challenge of the 1980s, meat eaters were being fooled into accidentally eating vegan — and they weren’t complaining.

Veggie burgers have come a long way. Once constructed from peas, corn, and some sort of sawdust-like binding agent, it was rare to find a vegetarian option that didn’t need to be smothered in sauces to become edible. As soy products evolved with a societal demand, and we learned that being meat-free didn’t mean we were relegated to soft tofu, vegetarian brands became supermarket staples. For many people, the flexitarian lifestyle (eating a mostly vegetarian diet, occasionally including meat) is a healthy solution.

It’s rare that your vegan best friend will complain that they miss the taste and texture of beef or the crackle of chicken skin. When you think about it, meat replacement products that boast these attributes are geared towards the occasional meat eater. So if you love the taste of a burger, but find the sustainability of raising cattle hard to stomach, beefless alternatives are worth a try. Plant-based burgers use less water and generate less greenhouse gases.  

But, let’s not lie to ourselves. A burger is a burger. And a burger, impossible or not, is not healthy. They contain mostly soy or wheat protein, as well as added preservatives, salt, flavourings, and fillers to enhance its taste, shelf life, and texture. The Impossible Burger has more sodium with 370 milligrams, or about 16 percent of the recommended daily ceiling versus 82 milligrams in a beef burger

Would I recommend switching to these new meatless products for health? The simple answer is no. If you are sensitive to soy, salt, or wheat, these new burgers should be avoided. There are other alternatives, though they have not received the benefit of the buzz media cycle, that contain whole grains and legumes that would be a considerable alternative. They are the more traditional veggie burgers and contain less genetically modified and processed ingredients. 

There’s nothing wrong with the occasional burger — be it beef, turkey, chicken, soy, or bean. While increasing options to suit all dietary restrictions is a positive step, we have to educate ourselves about our choices. We also have to be truthful and ask ourselves why are we deciding to eat something — is it for ethical reasons, or because we think it is better for us? By questioning the hype cycle, and becoming informed consumers, we can make better choices for ourselves and for the welfare of the planet.  

Don’t take bad habits on holiday: Three tips to keep vacations good for your health

Holidays can be a chance to enjoy exotic dishes -- better than overindulging familiar not-so-healthy fare.
Holidays can be a chance to enjoy exotic dishes -- better than overindulging familiar not-so-healthy fare.

Don't take bad habits on holiday: Three tips to keep vacations good for your health

This post originally appeared March 18, 2019.

I remember being at an airport a couple of years ago and seeing a sign that made me laugh and think. “Vacation calories don’t count!” it exclaimed. For so many of us, vacations are a break from the routine. This doesn’t just include work but can extend to diet and exercise. We can see vacations as a free-for-all, a magical time period where calories don’t count and exercise is an inconvenience.

I get it. When on vacation, you want to indulge in the things that you normally wouldn’t touch when you’re at home. So how can you find a healthy balance? Here are three things you can do to make the most of your holiday while staying committed to maintaining your health goals:

Avoid the buffet — if possible

Whether you’re at an all-inclusive, on a cruise, or at a hotel, the lure of the buffet is an on-going temptation. Because of the choices on offer, it can be easy to go back and overindulge. But the days of the 99-cent buffet are long gone.  Today, buffets can be just as expensive as eating in a proper restaurant.

If a buffet is your only option, use smaller plates and focus on the foods you will really enjoy. Don’t look at a buffet as a FOMO experience — much of the same food will be available the following day. While there may be slight variations, by day two or three, you will know your buffet’s offerings by heart. Also, take advantage of the chefs to prepare fresh choices.

Eat local

As our world becomes increasingly commercial, it’s not surprising to see a familiar restaurant chain on the main street of your vacation destination. Instead of gravitating towards what you know, a holiday can be the opportunity to try something different and local. Find those little restaurants and eat like a local. This may require venturing off the resort, so get a recommendation from your hotel. People are eager to share their regional cuisine and culture. One of the best Chinese meals I ever had was in Cuba.

Eating local also means eating at different times of day. When in Spain, head out for dinner at 10 PM and don’t be afraid to ask questions as you peruse the menu. Eating is an adventure and while you might not like everything, you’ll definitely come home with one or two unexpected new dishes that you’ll be excited to incorporate into your routine.

Keep active

While you may not want to spend 30 minutes a day of your holiday on the treadmill at the hotel fitness centre, there are many ways to stay active on vacations. If you’re on a city break, walk as much as you can. You’ll see more and uncover hidden gems that you never thought you would experience. Walking immerses you in a new place and slows you down to take in your surroundings.

The same goes for exploring nature. Hiking, rock-climbing, zip-lining, discovering ruins, or paddling a canoe lets you experience different environments and landscapes — and reminds us all why we need to protect these places.

If you’re on a beach vacation, swimming can get your heart rate up. We’re not talking about mindless laps in the pool while dodging an unruly game of Marco Polo. Snorkelling can introduce you to a beautiful undersea world and the strange creatures that live there. Even walking along the beach provides resistance which can turn a leisurely stroll into an activity that raises your heart rate.

A vacation can be a break but it’s not an excuse to return to bad habits and destroy all your good work. By making sure that each indulgence is deliberate and taking the time to get some well-needed rest, you can come back home reinvigorated and ready to commit to yourself.  

They’re berry good for you: Acai and goji and bil, oh my!

Goji berries / Image source: blog.nekterjuicebar.com
Handful of acai berries / Image source: Mayo Clinic News Network

They're berry good for you: Acai and goji and bil, oh my!

Raspberries? Blueberries? Strawberries? Pffft. Been there, ate that.

I kid. I’m not really slagging them. Whatever your preference, berries typically deliver high amounts of Vitamin C, dietary fibre, and antioxidants. You see them in a wide variety of dishes from jams to juices to pancakes, where they add colour and a wide spectrum of flavours ranging from sweet to sour and beyond. Today we look at three lesser-known but ultra-healthy members of the berry family.

Acai berries and power / Image source: evolution-slimming.comAcai berries

Among the best known exotic berries, acai berries are native to the Brazilian Amazon region and are popular for their high  antioxidant content. In fact, they may contain up to ten times as much antioxidant polyphenols as blueberries. Acai berries have been linked to reductions in cholesterol levels and post-exercise oxidative stress.

Acai berry fans tout many other possible health benefits for these Brazilian berries, including heart and skin health, weight loss, energy boost, anti-aging properties, and more. And no list of possible health claims would be complete, of course, without references to the male libido; acai berries are said to help in this regard by promoting increased blood circulation. 

Acai berries are perishable, and thus are usually shipped frozen. They can be used in juices and powders and eaten with yogurt, cereals, and desserts.

Goji berries / Image source: blog.nekterjuicebar.comGoji berries

Traditionally used as a medicinal food in China, goji berries have a sweet taste tinged with a little sour and are often marketed in dried form. In addition to being potent sources of Vitamin A and copper, goji berries are high in  zeaxanthin, making them a powerful supplement to eye health. They also contain antioxidant polyphenols, which can protect against ultraviolet light. Other possible benefits include boosting the immune system and reducing the risk of cancer.

Some research draws links between goji berries and sexual performance, and even suggests that they can function as an alternative to medications such as Viagra.

Goji berries can be used in smoothies, yogurt, cereal, salads, and more. You can also enjoy them by the handful like raisins.

Fresh bilberries / Image source: linnea.chBilberries

Bilberries are similar to blueberries but are smaller, softer, and darker. They are good sources of fibre and Vitamin C, and are said to help reduce inflammation, blood sugar, and cholesterol. One study tied them to weight loss and reduced waist circumference. Other potential benefits include stronger blood vessels and better circulation, prevention of cell damage, possible reduction in blood glucose levels, and treating diarrhea and nausea. 

Like the other berries, bilberries are a good source of dietary antioxidants, manganese, zinc, and iron. Bilberry extract has been cited as an effective defense against a number of eye problems, including some tied to aging. The fruit is also said to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.

Bilberries can be used in preserves, pies, jams, and tarts. The juice can be enjoyed straight or used as the basis for liqueurs and syrups. Even the leaves can be used to brew tea!

Bottom line

Like their better-known cousins, today’s berries pack a healthy punch. They’re low in calories but high in fibre, and excellent sources of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. And their lively flavours can help reduce cravings for sugary snacks. In short, there are berry good reasons to make them part of your daily diet!

Disclaimer: this site is not offering professional medical or nutritional advice. If you have questions about these foods and your health, ask your family doctor or a qualified nutritionist.

Focus on supplements: collagen can help with many things, but is it right for you?

Collagen powder / Image source: Clear Medicine
Collagen powder / Image source: Clear Medicine

Focus on supplements: collagen can help with many things, but is it right for you?

I’ve had many clients ask me about the health benefits of collagen. They want to know what it is, what it does, how it helps…and if it actually works.

Collagen is a protein, made up of long chains of linked amino acids, and plays a key role in the connective tissue throughout our entire body — contributing to the function of skin, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. However, as we age, the production of this protein slows down.

Besides from improvements to the text of skin and hair, people are turning to collagen for relief from joint pain and stiffness, as well as help with digestive issues. Collagen supplements are available as tablets, capsules, and powders. To be effective, collagen supplements must be hydrolyzed. Hydrolyzation breaks the collagen down into peptides, making it easier for the body to absorb and use.

If you are interested in adding collagen to your diet, look for companies that get their bones and tissues from cage-free, pasture-raised, free-range, and antibiotic-free sources. Animal sources of collagen who have been treated humanely are more likely to be free from hormones, pesticides, and heavy metals. With marine collagen, you also need to read labels carefully to refrain from supporting fish farms.

While collagen powder dissolves in most hot liquids, marine collagen can clump together and require more stirring. It is also has no flavour so is easily added to coffee, tea, or oatmeal without compromising taste.

There are currently not many known risks associated with collagen supplemented. However, if you have an allergy to fish or shellfish, you should avoid marine collagen to prevent allergic reactions. Some people have experience digestive side effects like a feeling of fullness or heartburn.

Like any new supplement, it’s best to start off slow. Add a teaspoon to your morning coffee or tea and see if collagen is for you.

Do you really want to change?

Change often comes one droplet at a time / image source: medium.com
Change often comes one droplet at a time / image source: medium.com

Do you really want to change?

One of the biggest reasons why people start working with a personal trainer is that they want to change. There has been a moment of realization when change becomes essential. Whether incited by a past or upcoming doctor’s visit or the inability to get into your favourite pair of jeans, you are propelled to take charge of your health. And the change will begin.

We all embark on change with the best intentions. But the reality is that change is hard. We say we want to commit ourselves to transformation — but this is often a slow process. One of the reasons why people have embraced the keto diet is that it works quickly. Making those adjustments results in significant and quick weight loss. When we see the effects of change and want to continue. When it looks like we’re putting in effort and don’t see results … well, it’s hard to keep on track.

Additionally, it’s easy to say we want to change but when it comes down to putting in the work…that’s a lot harder. It pushes us out of comfort zone and makes us feel vulnerable. We don’t ever want to appear weak or in need of help. It’s the daily armour we put up that allows us to move through a world that is often complicated and cruel.

If you’ve settled changing something in your life, how can you make it last? Well, change has two parts. There is the thought and there is the action. You can say you want to start running three times a week, and you can really want to start running three times a week, but if you aren’t actually running three times a week, then you need to put those runs in your schedule. Do you need to wake up a little earlier to accomplish this? Can you run home from work? If you aren’t looking for solutions and ways to make change part of your daily life, then it isn’t important enough.

With lifestyle changes, the journey is the focus. The results are surprises. They creep up on you when you least expect it. It’s being able to cycle up a hill without feeling winded or sustaining a 5KM run without walking. It’s choosing a salad because you just want a salad, and not because any diet plan tells you to eat salad. It’s prioritizing yourself and your workouts without feeling guilty.

Change happens in tiny increments, so don’t get discouraged. Allow yourself to appreciate the journey and reject quick fixes. In the end, it’s the change that is earned that is the change that lasts forever.


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How Relative Fat Mass Index improves on Body Mass Index as a measure of health

Relative fat mass index is supplanting body mass index as an indicator of health.
Relative fat mass index is supplanting body mass index as an indicator of health.

How Relative Fat Mass Index improves on Body Mass Index as a measure of health

Underweight. Normal weight. Overweight. Obese. These are the four categories the Body Mass Index (BMI) has used in its health assessment.

BMI calculation is based on two metrics: height and weight. Use one of many online BMI calculators and you will receive a number that is meant to indicate your general health. Below 18 and you are underweight. You are of normal weight if your BMI is between 18.5 and 25, overweight if it is between 25 and 30. Anybody with a BMI of 30 or more is obese.

However, more reports and studies are finding fault with BMI as a measure of health. Basing a calculation of health on height and weight alone, BMI doesn’t take into account bone, muscle, or fat proportions. This means that a person with exceptional muscle tone and low fat is more likely to have a higher BMI compared to someone with higher fat and lower muscle tone — because muscle can be four times as dense as fat.

If the BMI is defective, why are we still using it? Is there an easy alternative to the BMI? Yes, and it’s the relative fat mass index (RFM).

Studies have determined that your waist circumference provides a more accurate reading of your abdominal fat and risk for disease than BMI. Based on data from 3,456 patients in the United States, the RFM measurements closely matched those taken by a high-tech DXA body scan, widely considered the gold standard for measuring body tissue, bone, muscle and fat.

To get your new RFM measurement, measure your height and waist circumference, then plug the figures into this formula:
MEN: 64 – (20 x height/waist circumference) = RFM
WOMEN: 76 – (20 x height/waist circumference) = RFM
What’s interesting about the RFM is that weight is not even part of the overall equation. Additionally, there are no strict categories for simple classification.

As doctors and organizations like the American Society for Nutrition and the American Diabetes Association promote waist-circumference measurements as a supplement to, or replacement for, the body mass index, we are starting to rethink the relationship between weight and overall health. So, let’s say goodbye to the BMI and embrace the change that comes with new information that will hopefully lead us towards a more holistic view of wellness.

Diets come and go, but how do you decide which one works for you? Listen to your body​

Post-workout meal / image source: Healthline
Post-workout meal / image source: Healthline

Diets come and go, but how do you decide which one works for you? Listen to your body

A new diet is introduced and it’s hailed as a fast way to lose weight and get healthy. The culture embraces this diet and celebrates it. Celebrities post before and after photographs and articles citing scientific evidence are published in journals.

Then, everything changes. The backlash begins as the truth comes out. This diet isn’t healthy, it’s too restrictive, it harms your body, or causes severe side effects. Lines are drawn and the information becomes increasingly confusing. For every positive, there’s a negative ready to address each specific claim.

Recently, the keto diet has been in the news because celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels has come out strongly against it. She describes its negative effect on the body. And maybe Michaels is right. However, she is also someone who recommended that people who were gaining weight from antidepressants go off their medication and that it’s okay for pregnant women to occasionally have a drink.

But the truth is that regardless of Michaels’ feelings about the keto diet, the backlash against popular ways of eating is inevitable. Remember Atkins, South Beach, the Master Cleanse, Whole 30, Eat Right for Your Blood Type, fasting, the Mediterranean diet, juice cleanses, paleo, clean eating, weight loss tea, apple cider vinegar, intermittent fasting, coffee enemas…and on and on. Every single one of these diets swept through our culture and was hailed as the new hope of quick and easy weight loss. And only months later, these diet cookbooks fight for space in the bargain bin.

Despite the different rules of diets, they are all aimed at the same basic formula: ingest fewer calories and burn more calories. Eat less, move more. How you trick your body into eating fewer calories is really at the diet’s heart. Whether it’s a deliberate feeding time, constantly drinking liquid, or ingesting protein that sends your body the satiety signals, each diet works the same way.

For some people, having a restricted diet helps them feel in control of their relationship with food. It prohibits feelings of bingeing and stops them from reaching for sugar-filled, high carb snacks. For others, the set of laws that govern diets is enough to shake them out of the misconception that they are eating healthy. These extreme diets can be the wake-up call that you need to assess your habits and help examine your relationship with food.

Where diets become dangerous is when they aren’t actually good for you. And the you is not general, it’s very specific and individual. While your friend may find the keto diet the best way to make healthy changes in her life, you might find yourself struggling. I remember when I was drinking bulletproof coffee in the morning and I felt extreme pains in my side that sent me to the hospital. The ingestion of this type fat was not right for me — and I had to stop immediately. However, I have several clients that put the exact same oil in their coffee and swear by it.

There is no overarching diet that is good for everyone. If you want to try cutting out carbs or trading in a smoothie for a meal, I think you should. But if you are in pain or suffering from weakness and lack of energy, you need to supplement what you are doing with different foods. And your body will actually tell you what you are missing. Those hunger pangs, and I’m not talking about cravings for peanut M&Ms, are your body telling you what it needs. From meat to more vegetables, listening to your body will help you navigate the complicated waters of eating.

Diets may come and go. You might find one that works for you, or you might laugh at the time you ate cabbage soup for a week and spent more time in the bathroom than at your desk. What isn’t negotiable is listening to what your body needs and not being afraid to break from an extreme eating routine.

Is it authentic, or just a manufactured influencer? Be wary of ‘advice’ contrived via social media

social media influencers / Image source: appinstitute.com
social media influencers / Image source: appinstitute.com

Is it authentic, or just a manufactured influencer? Be wary of ads contrived via social media

If you are engaged in social media, and especially Instagram, you are probably familiar with the power of influencers. These are ordinary people, just like you and me, who lovingly curate their feeds with inspirational photos of their meals, exercise routines, glorious sunrises, and breathtaking sunsets. They tag their posts with #blessed, #fitspo, and #empowered — and offer us all a slice of a more perfect life. It can be fun to thumb through the feeds of people of all shapes and sizes living their best lives and offering us that push that we can do it too.

Influencers can be found in all corners of the online fitness social communities. From trainers to fit-at-any-size marathoners to mothers entering their first weightlifting competitions, social media has given voice to those who might not fit the stereotype of a typical fitness devotee.

Recently, high levels of Instagram user engagement have given companies an opportunity to capitalize on users with thousands of followers.These Instagram ads, for which influencers can be paid an estimated $1,000 per 100,000 followers, are selling not just a product but an entire lifestyle. They also might be selling bad fitness and diet-related advice.

9 out of 10 patients look to influencers and online communities when making health and wellness decisions. 94% of people share influencer-driven health information with others.

But let’s think about the reality of these influencers. Are they qualified to provide wellness advice? Or are they motivated by a desire to promote certain products or simply to further their personal brands? Because sponcon (sponsored content) can be positioned alongside other posts, it can be difficult to separate the paid ads from the personal stories.

As you scroll through different feeds, keep an eye out for these paid promotions masquerading as solid lifestyle advice. Because influencers are more likely to be ordinary people and not celebrities, they are more valuable to sponsors and appear more trustworthy. Having 100,000 followers does not make you a fitness expert. It does not make you a qualified trainer or a nutritionist. What it makes you is a person with beautiful photos and a performance of authenticity that appeals to your followers.

Before you take advice from anyone you follow on social media, take a moment to evaluate this advice. Is there a prominent brand name dominating the caption? Could these before and after photos be altered in any way? Are you taking advice from influencers you would never even consider if it came from your best friend, a neighbour, or a casual acquaintance?

If you said answered “yes” to any of these questions, maybe it’s time to click “unfollow”.

Chaga mushrooms: the newest superfood?

Chaga mushroom / Image source: Medical News Today
Chaga mushroom / Image source: Medical News Today

Chaga mushrooms: the newest superfood?

It feels like a new superfood is celebrated every three months. From Acai berries to celery juice, superfoods come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges. It can be hard to keep track of the benefits of these exalted products — and separating the hype from the healing benefits.

Chaga, a type of mushroom, feels like 2019’s new entry into the superfood cycle. It  is believed to open blood vessels, lower blood pressure, enhance healing, and reduce diabetic blood-sugar levels. Chaga is naturally anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-Candida, which helps to keep foreign bacteria and microorganisms in check while promoting healthy flora and intestinal health. Increasingly, researchers are examining the possibility that chaga mushrooms may be able to prevent cancer and slow its growth.

Although chaga consumption does not commonly produce adverse side effects, there are still some precautions you should take. There is some uncertainty in how it interacts with prescription medication. Chaga may affect blood-thinning drugs (such as aspirin) due to its unique properties — slowing down blood clotting due to its blood-thinning characteristics. Another drug that can react negatively with chaga is insulin. Because chaga lowers blood sugar, it can be dangerous for people taking insulin and other blood-sugar-lowering medications.

Chaga mushroom is available as a supplement and in herbal teas. We always recommend moderation when introducing any new food into your diet — even one with so many healthy properties. You just don’t know how you will react, and everyone has different sensitivities.

If you are curious, you can purchase chaga from your trusted health food store or online retailer. Just make sure that you are using a reliable source. A buying guide to chaga is available here:  https://chaga101.com/chaga-buying-guide/.

Jesus and the Apostles didn’t binge at the Last Supper, and neither should you

Repeat after me: Jesus did not binge. / Image source: glittergraphics.org
Repeat after me: Jesus did not binge. / Image source: glittergraphics.org

Jesus and the Apostles didn't binge at the Last Supper, and neither should you

Have you ever decided to start a diet on a Monday and spent the entire weekend indulging in everything that you will not be able to eat once the diet begins? It’s not surprising that if you are about to embark on a restrictive diet, you want to eat all the foods that will be off limits. From a string of chocolate bars to stuffing ourselves at a family gathering, we promise once the diet begins we will say goodbye to the sugar, fats, carbs, and processed treats that we love so much.

But this sabotages our diets before they begin.

Last Supper Syndrome is part of the vicious dieting cycle. If you are going to experience famine, why wouldn’t you feast? This knowledge drives you to eat as if you will never be able to eat these special treats again. And we begin our new diet with feelings of guilt, punishment, and fear.

We know we shouldn’t feel that eating healthy is something negative. But if we focus on deprivation and dividing food up into positives and negatives, we are stuck in a constant cycle:

  1. Start the diet feeling unhappy and scared, focusing on forbidden foods
  2. Break down and eat something that isn’t permitted by the diet
  3. Feeling guilty about failing
  4. Make a plan to diet even harder the next time.
  5. Go back to step 1.

By falsely associating the foods we love with relaxation and happiness (and associating diet with the hard work and effort), we fool ourselves on a regular basis. If we are going to succeed, we need to create a healthy relationship with food.

Foods aren’t good or bad — those are just the labels that we put on them. By making your special forbidden foods part of your regular diet, they will lose their appeal. After all, how many times do you swear off pasta and find yourself thinking of pasta…all the time? These associations that come with deprivation only build a bigger mystique and entice us to break our commitment to clean eating.

Developing a healthy relationship with food can be a lifelong challenge. From comfort to reward to a signifier of celebration and companionship, detangling nourishment from emotions is a difficult process. By thinking about how we view food and examining its hold on our emotions, we can start one meal (or even one snack) at a time to evaluate this relationship.

Being healthy isn’t about consuming as much as possible before an arbitrary start date. It’s about being kind to your body and your mind and untangling ourselves from the constant diet cycle.