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.

Top 5 things to look for in food tracking apps

food tracking app / image source: damnripped.com
food tracking app / image source: damnripped.com

Top 5 things to look for in a food-tracking app

There are countless fitness apps that promise to make tracking your diet and exercise fast and easy. Some boast five star reviews and testimonials while others appear with nothing less than a brief description. Like many of you, I’ve downloaded an app or two (or twelve…) only to find it unsuited to my needs. Lack of instructions, a small food database, unintuitive interfaces, and ads can all turn your new fitness companion into something that is quickly uploaded to the cloud and forgotten.

The goal of any fitness app should be that it is something you want to actually use. Tracking a meal should take no more than five minutes. Otherwise, it’s a hindrance and not a help.

Here are five things to look for when deciding which app is right for you:

  1. It is has scanning functionality. This is probably the most important element you want in your tracking app. By allowing the app to connect with your camera, it can quickly scan and input nutritional information directly from labels. You won’t have to complete the fields of calories, fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Scanning makes it simple to enter your meal.
  2. It’s been around for a while. A more established app will have a greater database of food to choose from. Many popular apps allow users to add new items to an aggregated database so there’s more chance a barcode or restaurant item is recognized in the future.
  3. It remembers your favourite and previous meals. When we start making more conscious diet choices, there’s a strong chance we are going to be eating the same things more frequently. Apps that allow you to save your favourite foods, recognize previous meals, or allow you group commonly used items will save you time.
  4. It fits your goals. Whether you’re calories counting or just tracking to figure out what food gives you heartburn, there’s an app for that. With so many specific dietary choices, you want to find the right app for you. This means there’s no point downloading a keto-specific app if you are practicing intuitive eating. If you like to share and get support from a community, many apps highlight this. Others will never prompt you to share with virtual friends. Do your research about the features of different apps to understand what makes them special.
  5. It is clear about its payment structure. It may say “free” in the little bubble next to the download button but does that mean you’ll be bombarded with ads that will prevent you from getting to the next screen? Some apps will give you initial access to a full version of the app for a limited time before it locks you into a monthly payment plan or a lite free version. There are plenty of free apps that may fit your needs but there are also paid upgrades that are more aligned with your goals. This decision is yours to make so don’t be fooled into paying for automatic fees or subscriptions if it’s not valuable.

It may take a while to sift through the many food tracking apps out there but there is one out there that’s perfect for you.

What food tracking apps have you benefited from—and which ones would you recommend against? Let us know so we can compile a list and get others on the right tracking track!

Hello 2019: a realistic approach to New Year’s resolutions

Best take a realistic approach to New Year's resolutions. / Image credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
Best take a realistic approach to New Year's resolutions. / Image credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Hello 2019: a realistic approach to New Year's resolutions

New year … new you! Do you plan a complete life overhaul the moment the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve? In 2019, you are going to lose weight, read more, eat healthier, be more present, take up a new hobby, learn a musical instrument, enrol in a cooking class, stop online shopping … and the list of self-improvement measures that click into place as of January 1st goes on and on.

But the truth is that few of us are still keeping our resolutions by February 1st. We start off strong out but quickly bad habits and life get in the way. Shame and fear take over and we become disappointed that we’ve failed to keep yet another resolution.

So how can you make a new year’s resolution stick? How can you emerge triumphant and build a new sustainable habit?

  1. Focus on one thing at a time. Changing a lot of things at once is difficult. Focus on what you really want and the one goal you believe you can accomplish. What is the one thing you can do for yourself this year that will improve your life? Pick this as your resolution and go for it.
  2. Start small. Starting off small will help you stay on track. Instead of revamping your entire life, find a small change that you can make every day to work towards a larger goal. Add in a high protein breakfast or cut one teaspoon of sugar out of your coffee. Add one cardio day to your schedule instead of going in for five.
  3. Be realistic. 2019 might be the year that you run that marathon. Or it might be the year you complete a 5K without walking. Both are good resolutions but which one sounds more like you? In fact, running that 5K or 10K might be the perfect stepping stone to 2020’s run a marathon resolution. Being realistic will help you achieve your resolutions.
  4. Be patient. Experts say it takes 21 days for something to become a habit…and six months of it to be become part of your lifestyle. If you are committing to something, you have to know that you will need to be patient and persistent. Nothing happens overnight— and not automatically when the date immediately switches to 2019.
  5. Chart your progress and reward yourself along the way. Break down your resolution into smaller pieces and set deadlines. These deadlines are for motivation and not to discourage you. If you want to lose 40 pounds this year, start by losing five and keeping it off for three weeks. Then move on to another five. And once you’ve accomplished it… celebrate!
  6. Work in small time increments. Recommit to yourself for 24 hours. You can do anything for 24 hours. The 24-hour increments will build on each other and help you focus on your resolution.

Keeping your resolution is about prioritization and planning. It’s up to you to make the change and stick to it. These achievements are under your control but it’s your actions which need to change to see the results you want.