Monthly Archives: September 2014

This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about the importance of sleep, simplified nutrition advice, pumpkin-spice bread recipe, and more.

More Organizations Recognizing the Importance of Sleep 

Woman SleepingThe quality and quantity of our sleep can profoundly affect our mental, physical, and emotional health. Unfortunately, many of us sacrifice the sleep we so desperately need to squeeze more into each day. Others may have the best intentions, but aren’t able to get a good night’s sleep. Many of us have experienced the effects of lack of sleep on mental functioning: research confirms that sleep deprivation can lead to impaired memory, difficulty concentrating, and decreased ability to learn.

Sleep is also crucial for your physical functioning. It gives your body a chance to restore and repair itself, and is essential to keep your immune system in top form. A sleep deficit hinders coordination, reflexes, and the ability to learn a new skill. Sleep deprivation can affect the ability to process carbohydrates, manage stress, fight infection, and regulate hormones. Headaches and depression are also associated with lack of sleep.

Two new articles this week show that organizations are recognizing the importance of sleep for health.  In this publication in the Journal Learning, Media and Technology, the authors examine the negative consequences of early school starts for adolescents, and propose later start times to improve learning and reduce health risks. 

Another article looks at sleep deprivation in the workplace, and reports on a Conference Board of Canada survey showing that 78% of employees got to work tired at least some days in a week.

Sleep is an emerging area of research. It’s refreshing to see the results of this new research recognized and calls for action that might turn into policies for better health.

Simplified Nutrition Advice

If you are confused by nutrition headlines, you’ll find simplified research-based nutrition advice in the graphic below (from this well-written article, by Barbara Moran for the Harvard School of Public Health).


Pumpkin Spice Bread_Evan_smallHealthy Pumpkin Spice Bread

Here’s a great new recipe that I’ve added to my recipe collection that is perfect for Fall (or anytime, really!).

In this recipe, I’ve used as much pumpkin as possible to produce a tasty and moist bread without the loads of oil or other fat that most recipes call for.  More pumpkin also means you’ll get more of this healthful vegetable in every bite.

More links of interest this week:

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Healthy Pumpkin Spice Bread

I love pumpkin bread.  In the Fall, Starbuck’s features a pumpkin bread that is very popular, and quite tasty.  But after checking out this nutrition info (over 400 calories and almost 10 teaspoons of sugar), I realized it was quite the indulgence, and figured I could create something equally delicious that was more nutritious.

In this recipe, I’ve used as much pumpkin as possible to produce a tasty and moist bread without the loads of oil or other fat that most recipes call for (which quickly adds to the calorie count without adding many nutrients).  More pumpkin also means you’ll get more of this healthful vegetable in every bite.

Pumpkin is an exceptional source of carotenoids, pigments that act as antioxidants and are being studied for their disease-prevention potential.  Pumpkin is also a good source of dietary fiber and other important vitamins and minerals. A half cup of sugar is all you need to sweeten this loaf, and a good proportion of whole wheat flour delivers more fiber and other nutrients than using all white flour.


  • 1     cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2  cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2  cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2  tsp. baking soda
  • 2      tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2  tsp. salt
  • 2      large eggs
  • 1.5   cups pumpkin (canned is fine)
  • 1/4   cup canola oil (or melted butter or trans-free margarine)
  • 1       tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2   tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2    cup raisins (or other dried fruit)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat an 8 ½ x 4-inch loaf pan with cooking spray, butter, or margarine.
  2. In large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. In separate bowl, lightly beat eggs. Whisk in pumpkin, canola oil, cinnamon and ginger. Stir in raisins.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, mixing until all dry ingredients are incorporated into batter. Do not beat or over-mix. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  5. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until wooden toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove bread from pan and continue cooling on rack.

Makes 1 loaf (12 slices).

Using Fresh Pumpkin

pumpkinsCanned pumpkin works well in this recipe, but you may want to use fresh pumpkin when they are in season. It’s generally not a good idea to use large pumpkins for cooking, since they don’t have as much flesh and it tends to be more watery, stringy, and have less flavour.  Small pumpkins (about 10-12 inches in diameter) are best for cooking.

Motivated to cook your own? Check my tips for How to Cut and Cook Squash.

Nutrition Per Slice
  • 170 Calories
  • 32 g Carbohydrate
  • 3.5 g Protein
  • 6 g Fat (1 g saturated)
  • 2.5 g Fiber
  • 31 mg Cholesterol
  • 300 mg Sodium
  • 17 g Sugars

Just for fun, contrast this with the Starbuck’s version. . .

  • 410 Calories
  • 63 g Carbohydrate 
  • 6 g Protein
  • 15 g Fat (3 g saturated)
  • 2 g Fiber
  • 55 mg Cholesterol
  • 500 mg Sodium
  • 39 g Sugars 

More SWEET Recipes . . .

Flourless Chocolate Cake2 (640x396)Cakes

double chocolate energy bites bowl with textCookies, Bars and Workout Snacks

Fabulous Fruit Tart (640x427)Pies and Tarts

Banana Walnut BreadQuick Breads




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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about how diet soda affects gut microbes, staying fast as we age, why we love repetition in music, losing weight without willpower, and more.

Diet Soda May Alter Gut Microbes and Increase Risk of Diabetes

diet soda photoThe microbiome is a fascinating and popular research area. New studies are leading to an emerging understanding of how our diet affects gut microbes, and how this can lead to changes in our bodies and influence our health.

A new analysis in mice suggest that non-caloric artificial sweeteners (saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame) alter the microbes in our gut in a way that might increase risk for diabetes and promote obesity. Mice fed artificial sweeteners for 11 weeks had a much higher blood sugar level compared to a control group; also, when researchers transplanted their gut bacteria into normal mice, these mice developed glucose intolerance.

The researchers also looked at the influence of artificial sweeteners in humans:  7 people drank beverages with large amounts of artificial sweeteners for a week, and 4 developed glucose intolerance. Further, they found marked differences in the microbiome of artificial sweetener users compared to those who didn’t. (NPR/Nature, September 2014)

This is preliminary research that is helping contribute to our knowledge of the microbome-diet interactions, but larger and more studies needed to draw relevant conclusions for human consumption of artificial sweeteners.  Note that the doses of artificial sweetener were quite high, and the most rigorous aspect of the study conducted in mice. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for the most healthful way to quench your thirst, water is usually the best option.

Interested in learning more about the microbiome and health? This free Coursera course looks excellent.

How Repetition Enchants the Brain and the Psychology of Why We Love It in Music

Here is a terrific video based on the research of cognitive scientist Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, director of the Music Cognition Lab at the University of Arkansas via Maria Popova’s excellent Brain Pickings Blog.

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Diet Soda Photo by globochem3x1minus1

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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about how being active helps your body deal with simple carbs, the importance of physical activity for academic achievement, soup’s on, and more.

Being Active Helps Your Body Deal with Simple Carbohydrates

woman mountain bike_msGretchen Reynolds (New York Times) reported this week about a new study showing that walking 12,000 steps a day (about 6 miles/10 km) mitigated the negative impact of ingesting fructose.

This may have to do with how the body uses carbohydrates. In exercising muscles, glycogen (stored carbohydrates) is an important source of fuel. Longer duration activity and more intense exercise depletes muscle glycogen: the body senses lower glycogen and prioritizes replenishing it. When active people eat carbohydrates, the carbohydrates are more likely to be converted to glycogen to fuel muscles (and if athletes neglect to eat enough carbohydrates, they won’t be at their prime for the next training session).  In a sedentary person, carbohydrates aren’t needed as much to fuel muscles and are more likely to be stored as fat.

Exercise also improves insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance: bodies that move are much better equipped to handle sugars. When diabetics exercise, they require less insulin to control their blood sugar. A study conducted last year showed that taking a short walk after meals can stabilize blood sugar and help prevent diabetes, suggesting that the timing of activity relative to eating might be important.

Elite endurance athletes rely on carbohydrates to fuel their performance, and manipulate the type and amount of carbohydrates they eat to match demands of training and racing. Sweet/simple carbohydrates are often the body’s preferred source of fuel during activity. For an extreme example,  look at the sugars a world record marathoner would ingest during an event.

The impact of physical activity on carbohydrate needs is not new,  but isn’t always considered in studies looking at the benefits of various types of diets.  Last week a study showed weight loss and potential cardiovascular benefits to a lower carbohydrate diet, but this was conducted in a sedentary population.

I am not suggesting that we use exercise to compensate for overeating sugars and simple carbohydrates, but wondering if activity is an often-ignored but important variable to examine when looking at the influence of carbohydrates on health.  Is the problem carbohydrates, or simply that people aren’t moving enough?

Physical Activity Improves Academic Achievement, Especially For Boys

walk to school
Boys who walked or cycled to school were better readers than those who used non-active transport.

Another study adds to the growing body of research that physical activity during school is important for academic achievement. This was one of the first studies to investigate different kinds of physical activity on cognitive skills. Finnish researchers found that in Grades 1-3, children who were more physically active during school recess were better readers than less active children. They also found that boys who walked or cycled to school were better readers than those who used non-active transport.

This study reinforces the accumulating evidence showing that what’s good for the body is good for the brain, and targeting the school environment to increase physical activity in youth should be a key strategy in health promotion.  (Plos One, September 10, 2014).

Active transportation is an ideal opportunity for kids to get exercise on their way to and from school. Unfortunately the number of kids walking or cycling to school has decreased dramatically  (in Canada 58% of parents report walking to school as kids, compared to only 28% of their children; in the US 48% of children walked or cycled to school in 1969 compared to only 13% children today).   Recognizing the value of active transportation for health and academics, there are initiatives in place to increase active transport to school. For example Ottawa’s new Active Transportation Charter is piloting a Walking School Bus for kids to walk to school together with adult supervision.  For more information, here’s an excellent summary on promoting active transportation in youth in Canada.

Cooler Weather Means Soup’s On!

Pumpkin soupIt’s no secret that I love Winter, and having Fall temperatures dramatically appear this week made me very happy.  It also means that it’s finally time to start enjoying hot nutritious meals like soups and stews again. Here’s a simple Curried Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger soup that will make you as happy as I am that winter is coming.

More links of interest this week:

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Walk to School Photo by Elizabeth/Table4Five


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