Monthly Archives: January 2015

This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about event time and athletic performance, Isagenix under the microscope, urban design and health, coffee horror, how strength training helps weight loss, the limits of precision medicine, why your workouts should be high intensity, and more.

clock of the human mindEvent Timing Can Affect
an Athlete’s Performance

Are you a late-riser who hates early morning races? Seems your biological clock might be affecting your performance.  Although earlier research suggested that all athletes are their fastest in the evening, researchers from the University of Birmingham conducted a small study that suggested that performance varies by an athlete’s “circadian phenotype.” They classified athletes by their wake times as follows: early risers = 7 a.m.  weekdays / 7:30 weekends; intermediate risers = 8 a.m. weekdays / 9:10 on weekends; and late risers = 9:30 weekdays / 11 weekends).

Here are the best times for performance based on your typical wake time:

  • Early risers=midday
  • Intermediate risers=afternoon
  • Late risers=evening.
  • Early morning (7 a.m.) was bad for all groups.

(Gina Kolata, New York Times) reporting on Current Biology, 2015).

This is preliminary research, but suggests that athletes might want to use strategies to coax their biological clocks to perform best at race time.  Adjusting light, activity, and meal times in the days before important races might shift your clock and help you achieve a better performance.

Isagenix Under the Microscope

Isagenix is an expensive diet program involving shakes, bars, and herbal supplements that claims its products will help you lose weight, have more energy, and make money (the money part comes if you decide to sell it – Isagenix uses a multilevel marketing distribution,  with encouraged promotion via social media or email).  The marketing relies a lot on personal testimonials like “I used Isagenix and lost weight,” before and after pictures, and you may recognize some of the media from this Isagenix Social Media Gallery,  available to help marketers sell the product.  The products boasts “nutritional cleansing,” “detox,” and “fat burning,” and the weight loss program is essentially a low-calorie diet that might promote short-term weight loss (like any low calorie diet would). This week Australia’s CHOICE Magazine reviewed isagenix claims, and concluded that the product is big on hype but slim on evidence.  You’ll find another evidence-based review of Isagenix here.

Research has repeatedly shown that weight loss that relies on meal replacements and low calorie diets can be difficult to maintain, one reason being that it doesn’t develop sustainable habits. Also, why spend a whole lot of money on processed low-calorie shakes and questionable supplements when you can choose delicious real foods that are inexpensive, unprocessed, fit into regular daily habits, and have evidence-based health benefits?

Curious about a particular diet? Check out my diet reviews page here.

Coffee Horror

Here is a funny mock horror film produced by Egg studios of Nova Scotia to get people thinking about the environmental impact of K-Cups (in 2014, Keurig Green Mountain produced 9.8 billion K-Cups). (NPR)

More Links of Interest this Week:

Better urban design could add years to your life. Urban activists say cities need to design more walkable neighbourhoods, which would lead to health benefits. Many suburbs are designed to move automobiles, and are not a nice environment for walking or cycling: some experts describe such neighbourhoods as “obesogenic.”  There is evidence that more walkable neighbourhoods can decrease child obesity. (CBC)

You can prevent age-related slowing of V˙O2 kinetics.  Researchers at the University of Western, Ontario looked at  V˙O2 kinetics profiles of young, middle-age, and older endurance-trained and untrained men. This is the first study to show that endurance training can prevent the declines in V˙O2 kinetics normally associated with aging.  (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: February 2015.)

Sheila_sprint (400x600)Why Your Workout Should Be High-Intensity (even if you aren’t an athlete). A look at the health benefits of high intensity interval training for nonathletes and patients with various conditions including stroke, diabetes, and Parkinsons’.   (Jane Brody, New York Times).

Is Walmart Making Us Fat? A new paper argues that food distribution methods that support cheap, widely available junk food has contributed to obesity epidemic. Looking at the economic variables related to calorie intake, the authors found that restaurant and supercenter/warehouse club densities were important factors.  (Washington Post, reporting on  NBER Working Paper No. 20892; January 2015)

Americans Believe in Science, but are at odds with scientists on major Issues.   The “debate” over issues like climate change and vaccination puzzles many. Can evidence change people’s minds?  A Pew Research Center report examined the opinions of the US public and scientists, and found that although many Americans (79%) are positive about science’s impact, they are at odds with scientists on major issues. (Scientific American reports on PEW Research Center report).

It seems like people believe in science, but some susceptible people just aren’t equiped to evaluate the entirety of the research.  These days, it’s easy to find “experts” that support your side of the argument with some seemingly “convincing” science:  the problem is – often these studies are cherry picked, out of context, and don’t take into account the body of research that doesn’t support the view –  Wheat Belly, anyone?

The limits of precision medicine: ‘Moonshot’ Medicine Will Let Us Down.  Personalized medicine seems promising,  but as Micheal Joyner puts it “we almost certainly have more control over how much we exercise, eat, drink and smoke than we do over our genomes”. Seems money geared toward changing these behaviors in people would yield better public health, but isn’t as attractive. (Micheal Joyner, New York Times)

The science behind being cold. Hand & feet temps dictate comfort, and women’s hands are 3 degrees colder than men’s.  (Time)

People Think Expensive Drugs Work Better. Study in Parkinson’s patients shows that when participants told drugs cost more (even it was a placebo), they performed better. (Time, reporting on Journal of Neurology, Jan 2015.)

women weights3How Weight Training Can Help You Keep the Weight Off. A study in women shows that women who exercise (especially strength training) tend to move more throughout the day, which burns more calories and promotes weight loss.  (Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, reporting on Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 Jan 20).

Food science students write an open letter to the Food Babe. This is excellent – looks like the next generation of food scientists is on the right track, and will hopefully help communication between scientists and the public.

How to Navigate the Maze of Temptation That Is Your Local Grocery Store. Good advice by Brad Stulberg (Outside).

Read this before you ever believe another guest on the Dr. Oz Show. Why is this show still on the air? (Julia Beluz,

New Recipe

Flourless Chocolate Cake2 (640x396)Flourless Chocolate Cake. Secret healthy ingredient – you’ll never guess!

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Flourless Chocolate Cake


Here’s a rich-tasting chocolate cake with a short and mostly wholesome ingredient list that will satisfy your chocolate craving. This cake is made without refined flour and is much lower in calories and fat than traditional cakes, but trust me, it is really quite delicious.  Chickpeas are a curious cake ingredient,  but they work wonderfully, and I doubt anyone could guess that this legume is responsible for the fudgy dense texture.  For an extra chocolaty cake, add 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips to the batter.


  • 1. 5 cups cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas) (one 15-oz. can, rinsed and drained)
  • 1 orange (zest and 1/3 cup juice)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease an 8- or 9-inch cake pan and set aside. (I had bad luck last time I made this and it stuck to the pan, so you might want to add parchment paper to the bottom of the pan, or try this tip).
  2. Wash and zest the orange (see these tips), and cut in half to extract 1/3 cup juice (grip the orange half tightly and squeeze it by hand, you can use a fork to coax more juice out).
  3. In a food processor, process chickpeas, orange zest, and orange juice. Add eggs, one at a time, pulsing after each addition.
  4. Add the sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and pulse until just blended. The batter will be very liquid.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and let cool on a rack for 15 minutes.  (Trouble getting cake out of the pan? Try this). Serve warm or at room temperature.
Serving Suggestion

Serve with orange slices on the side, and consider topping with berries or yogurt. You can also drizzle the cake with a simple chocolate glaze.

Nutrition Notes

  • chickpeasChickpeas are a great source of fiber and protein and B-vitamins. They are also rich in important minerals, including iron, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, calcium, and zinc.
  • orange slice no background2Orange zest adds great taste, but the benefits of citrus peel go beyond flavour: zest is loaded with d-limonene, which might protect against a variety of cancers. Laboratory studies suggest that d-limonene reduces not only the incidence and size of tumors at several sites, but also the growth of various tumor cells. Consuming citrus peel may reduce the risk of skin cancer by 30%, according to other research.

Makes 12 servings.

Nutrition Per Serving

  • 150 calories
  • 5 g protein
  • 27 g carbohydrate
  • 3 g fat (1 g sat)
  • 70 mg cholesterol
  • 2 g fiber
  • 160 mg sodium
  • 170 mg potassium
  • 50 mg calcium
  • 30 mg magnesium

This recipe was adapted from our cookbook Food for Thought: Healing Foods to Savor.

More SWEET Recipes . . .

Flourless Chocolate Cake2 (640x396)Cakes

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Fabulous Fruit Tart (640x427)Pies and Tarts

Pumpkin Spice Bread_Evan_smallQuick Breads









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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about pizza, screen time, coffee, inflammation (saturated fats might promote; whole grain wheat might lower), measles, e-cigarettes, how to build muscle, walnuts and memory, ketogenic diets for athletes, and more.

Pizza takes a slice out of kids’ health

Look familiar? Pizza is a popular workplace food.
Look familiar? Pizza is a popular workplace food.

Kids love pizza, and the most recent data shows they’re eating a lot of it! A study published this week showed that on days kids and teens eat pizza, it accounts for 20% of their daily calories, contributing mostly unhealthy ingredients. The authors stress the importance of finding ways to make pizza healthier. Here are some ideas:

Top your pizza with plenty of vegetables. Not only will this make your pizza look spectacular, but it will ensure that you’re getting a variety of disease-fighting compounds. And if those veggies are sitting on tomato sauce, you’ll benefit from one of the most potent sources of lycopene, an antioxidant that several studies have linked with a reduced risk of several types of cancer.

a4fcef931d653ca97561cd70_640_pizza1Pizza can be high in unhealthy fats and calories, especially when topped with generous amounts of cheese and traditional meat toppings such as pepperoni.  If you’re making your own pizza, use small amounts of part-skim mozzarella, or simply add less cheese combined with small amounts of a strong cheese such as Parmesan or asiago. You can omit the meat, or opt for lower fat alternatives such as grilled chicken or ground turkey.

 More tips for making and ordering a healthy pizza. 

The Surprising Amount of Time Kids Spend Looking at Screens

kids_videogamesPediatricians recommend a 2-hour daily limit of screen time for kids and youth. A new study shows that children are far exceeding this time, and questions the guideline given how such technology is commonplace in the everyday lives of children and adolescents. (The Atlantic, reporting on BMC Public Health 2015, 15:5).

But there are real concerns with too much screen time for youth. Earlier this year, Finnish researchers linked low levels of physical activity combined with heavy use of electronic media and sedentary behaviour to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and vascular diseases in 6- to 8-year-old children. Another study in the journal noted significant correlations between parent and child screen time.   Getting away from the screens and playing more could benefit both adults and kids. (International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, May 2014). 

More links of interest this week:

coffee_© Vincent Mo_LatteCoffee drinking linked to lower risk of skin cancer. Earlier research has shown that coffee consumption might protect against non-melanoma skin cancers. This study examined how coffee drinking affects melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer). Overall, the highest coffee intake was inversely linked with risk of skin cancer, with a 20% lower risk for those who consumed 4 cups per day or more. (Medical News Today, reporting on J Natl Cancer Inst, published online January 2015).

Other research has associated coffee drinking with health benefits, including  reduced risk of death from liver cirrhosis, lower risk of type 2 diabetes and a reduced risk of tinnitus.

Researchers build case against diet high in saturated fatty acids.  New study (in rodents) suggests saturated fats (particularly palmitic acid, found palm oil, pork fat, beef tallow, butterfat, cocoa butter and other common foods) promote brain inflammation and might impair appetite regulation. (Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, forthcoming).

Varied bread displayWhole-grain wheat consumption reduces inflammation. Though some fad diets single out wheat as “unhealthy” for all, there is no good science to support this. In fact, whole grains have many health benefits and much feared gluten-containing grains are an integral component of some of the best-studied and healthiest diets in the World.  New research published this week reinforces that whole grain wheat can have health benefits. A randomized controlled trial in overweight and obese participants showed that whole-grain wheat consumption might reduce inflammation. In the study, participants who replaced refined wheat (e.g., white flour) with whole wheat (e.g., whole grain flour), had increased blood levels of potentially anti-inflammatory compounds. (Am J Clinical Nutrition, February 2015).

The New Measles. One of the most infectious viruses on the planet is making a comeback in the United States. It’s frightening what can happen with a lack of science literacy . . .  (The Atlantic)

Vegetarian diet might help weight loss. A meta-analysis/systematic review of 15 studies conducted in 755 participants found that those adopting a vegetarian diets lost, on average, about 3.5 kg/8 lbs. (Medical News Today reporting on J Academy Nutrition Dietetics Published Online: January 21, 2015)

E-cigarettes may be more toxic than tobacco. E-cigarettes expose users to levels of formaldehyde that could be 5-15 times higher than from smoking cigarettes, according to a study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.  As e-cigarettes are relatively new, so is the research, and there is much that we don’t know about their safety and health effects. Unfortunately,  many wrongly assume that they are a safe alternative to smoking. Researchers speculate that it may take 10-15 years to assess the health risks in chronic users. (NBC News, reporting on New England Journal of Medicine, January 22, 2015).

Partners in Health. People are much more likely to achieve their fitness goals with their spouse than alone.  (The Atlantic, reporting on JAMA Intern Med. Published online January 19, 2015).

Chipotle objects to the great New York Times feature on images of 2,000 calories’ worth of food. Read this great response! (David Leonhardt, New York Times)

Your workouts may not mean a lot if you sit too much. University of Toronto researchers find that if you spend most of  your day sitting, you decrease the benefits of any exercise you do.  (Time,  Annals of Internal Medicine, 20 Jan, 2015).

walnutinshellEating walnuts might improve memory, concentration and information processing speed. UCLA researchers used National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES) survey data to study how eating walnuts affects cognitive performance. They found that study participants with higher walnut consumption (13 g, about a small handful) performed significantly better on a series of six cognitive tests.  (Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, December 2014).

How to build muscle. Do  you need protein supplements? Overall the research shows that the most important thing is strength training. As McMaster University’s Stuart Phillips puts it “Actually getting to the gym and working out is what gives you the gains. Protein powders just help, but only a little.” (Julia Beluz,

The 5 (new) pillars of workout wisdom. Alex Hutchinson reviews 5 hot topics in exercise science research for 2015, and predicts where they’re headed. Included are (1) pain vs effort; (2) gut microbes; (3) relevant research participants; (4) data overload; and (5) simplicity. (Globe and Mail)

Stressing your brain during exercise can help improve performance.  Research into the brain-performance connection continues to evolve. (Brad Stulberg, Outside Magazine)

The science beside behind Jonny Bowden’s nutrition advice. Ironic that Bowden calls himself “the nutrition myth buster!” (Mike Gibney, PhD).

Are ketogenic diets effective for athletes? A look at the limited evidence (Jill Parnell, No Baloney).

Pseudoscience meets pop culture.  Excellent article, relaying a talk by Tim Caulfield, a health policy researcher from the University of Alberta. Caulfield’s new book investigates why the pseudoscientific claims of celebrities carry so much weight with the public.  (Malone Mullin, The Varsity)

Check out my new soup recipe!  It’s quick and healthy, and uses just 5 ingredients.

broccoli soup ingredients2


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5-Ingredient Broccoli Soup

This quick and healthy soup combines a small number fresh ingredients with pantry staples, so it is easy to prepare. Exact measurements aren’t important (if the soup is too thick, thin out with more broth or milk; too thin, add more vegetables). Adding spinach to this soup before blending is highly recommended – it will boost the nutrients, and give the soup a vibrant green colour.


  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups chopped)
  • 2 medium regular or red-skinned potatoes, diced (about 3 cups cubed)
  • 1 large bunch broccoli, chopped (flowers and stalks; about 6 cups, chopped)
  • 5 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)

5 ingredient soup


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened (3 to 5 minutes). Add the potatoes and broccoli and saute for 2 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender (about 15 to 20 minutes).
  2. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. You can also use a food processor fitted with the metal blade, or a hand blender, but your soup won’t be as smooth.
  3. Taste, and season with pepper (definitely!) add salt (maybe not, depending on your broth).

Variations and Serving Ideas

  • Stir in fresh (or frozen, thawed) spinach before blending
  • Use a sweet potato instead of regular potato
  • Top with sharp cheddar cheese or parmesan cheese
  • Swirl in a bit of plain yogurt, and top with fresh herbs (cilantro or parsley) or finely chopped chives or green onions.

Nutrition Notes

  • Onions contain sulfur compounds that are thought to help cells detoxify potential carcinogens, and are a good source of the dietary flavenoid quercetin, which is associated with reduced chronic inflammation.
  • broccoliBroccoli is a champion when it comes to disease-fighting potential. Broccoli’s long list of protective phytochemicals includes brassinin and sulforaphane, substances that interfere with tumor growth and help the body detoxify potential carcinogens. Broccoli also contains indoles, which favor the production of a less biologically active form of estrogen that seems to replace the more biologically active form of estrogen implicated in breast cancer. Broccoli (especially the florets) is also a good source of carotenoids. Other important nutrients provided by broccoli include fiber, vitamin C, and calcium.  (adapted from Healing Foods to Savor).
  • Did you know that eating soups has potential health benefits?


Makes about 8 cups, or 6 servings

Nutrition per serving

  • 140 calories
  • 4 g protein
  • 26 g carbohydrates
  • 3 g fat (<1 g sat),
  • 0 mg cholesterol
  • 5 g fiber
  • 610 mg sodium
  • 605 mg potassium
More Soup Recipes . . . 

Recipe Index

More Healthy Eating Articles . . .







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