Monthly Archives: April 2015

This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about recipes for runners,  healthy snacks predicting grocery shopping purchases, why you should listen to your coach, diet and cancer risk, the importance of distributing protein intake, pros and cons of marathons vs 5k’s, the myth of endurance training causing loss of speed, food sources of iron, how runners can overcome carbophobia,  and more.

Swap your diet, swap your cancer risk, new study finds

A dramatic change in diet can have a marked influence on health, according to this new study.  Researchers asked 20 African Americans and 20 South Africans to adopt the typical diet of the other country.  The diets could be broadly categorized as follows: the American diet was higher animal protein and fat and low in fiber, and the South African diet was lower animal protein and fat and high in fiber (about 4 times the fiber of the American diet).  Adopting these diets for 2 weeks produced marked changes in gut microbes: microbes of those eating the American diet  had characteristics known to increase colon cancer risk. This study adds to a growing body of research showing that our gut microbes influence our health, and that what we eat influences our gut microbes.  (Forbes, reporting on Nature Communications, April 28, 2015).

This finding supports other studies showing that diet can play an important role in colon cancer risk. The evidence shows that high-fiber foods lower risk, while red and processed meats increase risk.  Summaries of research estimate that 50% of US colorectal cancers could be prevented by healthy eating, being physical active, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Another recent study showed fiber’s benefits for weight loss. Most high-fiber diets are based on plant foods (vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes, and whole grains).  These foods are naturally low in fat and sugar. As with other healthful foods, the health benefit may not be because of some special nutrient the food contains, but the entire package of nutrients in the food (vitamins, minerals, protective phytochemicals).   This diagram shows you healthy ways to increase our fiber much fiber NEW

More Links of Interest This Week

red applesA good reason to have a healthy snack before grocery shopping A new paper by Cornell Food and Brand Lab researchers found that what you eat before grocery shopping can influence your food choices. In a series of studies, they found that eating something healthy (an apple slice) before grocery shopping  primed shoppers to make healthier food choices, but eating something unhealthy (cookies) encouraged unhealthy food choices. (Psychology & Marketing, April 2015). Something to think about when food sampling while grocery shopping!

Why You Should Listen to Your Coach The great storytelling and usual excellent advice  of runner Lauren Fleshman. (Runner’s World)

This pastry chef wants you to eat fewer sweets. Is that treat really #dessertworthy? This is a healthy eating philosophy – you don’t have to banish desserts or sugar, just eat them in appropriate portions and savour them. Emily Luchetti, an esteemed pastry chef, launched #dessertworthy, a social media campaign on twitter and instagram “to remind people that sweets should be savored, appreciated, and eaten with care.”   (Time)

how much proteinThe health benefits of balancing protein intake throughout the day.  A review of the studies on protein intake and health adds to the evidence showing that distributing protein intake throughout the day benefits health.  (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 29, 2015)

Are you getting enough protein? And do you know how much you need for your weight and activity level?  Check out my article How Much Protein Do You Need.

Pros & con’s of running marathons vs 5k’s.  5k’s look pretty good to me! The article links to some pretty good-looking 5 k workouts. (Lauren Fleshman)

Saturated fatty acids might directly damage heart. Saturated fatty acids are predominant in animal fats (meat, full fat dairy), while most plant-based fats are polyunsaturated fatty acids. This study examined the influence of both types of fatty acids on heart cells, and found that unsaturated fatty acids were protective, while saturated fatty acids were toxic to cells. Saturated fat is implicated in heart disease, and this study might help explain some of the mechanisms involved. (Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress in Diseases, March 2015)

The myth of losing speed.  Running coach Steve Magness talks about the delicate balance speed vs endurance training. (The Science of Running)

How I got converted to GMO Food. Interesting perspective from a former anti-GMO activist. (New York Times)

food sources of ironAre you trying to add more iron to your diet?  Studies show that many teens and women don’t consume enough iron-containing foods, and this is an important contributor to iron deficiency.  Knowing which foods contain iron and the best ways to absorb the iron can make a big difference. This article will let you know how much iron you need, and the best ways to get iron from your diet.

For teenagers, potassium may matter more than salt A new study published this week shows that a potassium-rich diet protected teens from high blood pressure compared to a low-salt diet.  Good sources of potassium include fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, and dairy. (New York Times, reporting on JAMA Pediatrics, April 27, 2015)

How runners can overcome ‘carbophobia’.  This is a great article explaining that you can’t lump all carbohydrates into one category and call them evil (i.e., jelly beans aren’t the same as steel-cut oats).  You don’t need to avoid carbohydrates,  just choose your sources carefully. (Matt Fitzgerald)

People don’t know what’s healthy. Many companies are changing their ingredients based on consumer anxieties that aren’t backed by science.  Too bad consumers aren’t spending more time pressuring food companies to do things that would improve health. As Olga Khazan of the Atlantic writes:

 If consumers really wanted to make packaged food healthier, they could pressure snack companies to produce smaller portions, or to not market so aggressively to children. (The Atlantic)

Beet Cake SheilaLet them eat cake: recipes for runners.
I made my Chocolate Beet Cake for an Ottawa Citizen feature on recipes for runners for the upcoming Ottawa Race Weekend. In the video I discuss the research on dietary nitrates, sports performance, and health, and other sources of nitrates in addition to beets.

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What Foods Are Good Sources of Iron?

Are you trying to add more iron to your diet? Studies show that many teens and women don’t consume enough iron-containing foods, and this is an important contributor to iron deficiency.  Knowing which foods contain iron and the best ways to absorb the iron can make a big difference.

Iron is essential for life – every cell in your body needs iron to function. Iron is part of hemoglobin in blood and myoglobin in muscles, helping deliver oxygen to cells. The following information will let you know how much iron you need, and the best ways to get iron from your diet.  (If you are an athlete concerned about iron intake, this article contains additional information pertinent to athletes, and information about supplements.)

How Much Iron Do I Need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowances for daily iron intake are as follows:

  • Females 14-18 yrs: 15 mg
  • Females 19-50 yrs: 18 mg
  • Females 51+ yrs: 8 mg
  • Males 14-18 yrs: 11 mg
  • Males 19+ yrs: 8 mg

Who Needs More? Vegetarians and vegans should try to consume more iron (up to 1.8 times more), as these recommended intakes are based on the assumption that at least 10% of iron intake is from heme iron; female athletes engaging in weight bearing activities (i.e., runners) should also try to consume more iron to account for iron losses due to foot strike; pregnancy increases demands to 27 mg.

READ  What Foods Are Good Sources of Protein?

Getting Enough Iron with
a Healthy Diet

TO INCREASE YOUR IRON STORES, you should consume a healthy diet that includes a wide variety of iron-containing foods. Foods contain two types of iron: heme iron is found in red meats, fish, and poultry, and non-heme iron is mostly from plant sources (enriched and whole grains, beans, nuts and some vegetables and fruit) as well as eggs and dairy products. About 60% of the iron in meat is non-heme.

The following charts lists FOOD SOURCES OF HEME AND NON-HEME IRON.

Food Sources of Heme Iron

Food Sources of Non Heme Iron

How to Figure Out the Iron Content
Based on Food Labels

food label ironFiguring out the iron content of foods based on food labels is tricky.  Although iron requirements vary by age and gender (and pregnancy, athletic, and vegetarian status), the Nutrition Facts Table for foods only has one value for iron.  You need to look at the  % daily value panel, and know what value it is based on:

  • In Canada, this is based on 14 mg iron (so 50% daily value means 1 serving contains 7 mg iron);
  • In the US this is based on 18 mg iron (so 50% daily value means 1 serving contains 9 mg iron).

Iron Absorption

How well you absorb iron might be as important as the amount that you consume. But iron absorption is a complex phenomenon: your body only absorbs about 10-15% of the iron you eat, and the amount of iron you absorb from a food is influenced by (1) your body iron status; (2) the type of iron (heme iron is better absorbed than non-heme iron); (3) iron inhibitors; and (4) iron enhancers.

Iron Inhibitors are substances in foods that interfere with iron absorption (especially non-heme sources of iron). These include

  • Calcium, dairy products, and eggs.
  • Oxalates found in spinach, kale, beets, nuts, chocolate, tea, wheat bran, rhubarb, strawberries, and some herbs.
  • Polyphenols – antioxidants found in some cereals and legumes, most fruits and vegetables, cocoa, coffee, tea (black, green, and herbal), some spices, and wine.
  • Phytates – antioxidant compounds found in nuts, seeds, grains, soy proteins, and legumes.

You’ll notice that this list includes many healthful foods, and the health consequences of limiting or avoiding these foods (not to mention meal-planning headaches) likely outweigh the possible iron boosting benefits of avoiding them. My advice? Focus on Iron Enhancers. 

Iron Enhancers

  • Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron, and overcomes the negative influence of iron inhibitors. Some studies estimate that Vitamin C can increase iron absorption as much as four times. Try to include a vitamin-C rich food with meals and snacks. A bonus is that most vitamin-C rich foods are full of other protective nutrients important for health.

This chart lists FOODS RICH IN VITAMIN C.

Food Sources of Vitamin C

  • Eating heme iron-rich foods with non-heme-iron rich foods helps increase iron absorption (for example, adding a small amount of meat to chili will help you absorb more iron from the beans).
  • Carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin – found in brightly-colored fruits and vegetables like carrots, greens, sweet potatoes, red peppers, cherries, cantaloupe, oranges) improve iron uptake and help overcome the effects of iron inhibitors.
  • Old cast iron cauldron with scoop , isolatedCooking in cast iron can increase the iron content of food, especially acidic foods (i.e., tomato sauce). Studies have found that the iron content of cast-iron cooked foods was 2 to 12 times higher than foods cooked in other types of pots: more acidic, high moisture foods and longer cooking times results in more iron leaching into foods. One study estimated an increased daily iron intake of 14.5 mg for adults and 7.5 mg for children eating foods cooked in cast iron pots. (Cast iron is great for other reasons too!).

Designing Meals and Snacks
to Maximize Iron Absorption

A main focus should be to include vitamin-C rich foods with your meals and snacks. Here are some other tips and meal ideas:

  • A burrito or Mexican-inspired meal containing beans and rice with salsa and sweet peppers is a delicious iron-rich vitamin C combination. Add a little lean beef or chicken to increase the iron content even further.
  • molassesBake with Blackstrap Molasses – it’s full of all the good stuff that’s left behind after processing sugar cane into sugar, including lots of iron and other minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium.  Some people add 1 tbsp. to water or milk. A little can add a rich flavor to baked goods like yeast breads, quickbreads and muffins (I use 3-4 tbsp. for baking a large loaf of whole wheat bread). The flavor is intense – so experiment with just a little at first.
  • For a pre- or after-workout snack, try trail mix with iron fortified cereal (shreddies/oat squares), dark chocolate, and dried fruit with vitamin C (mango, papaya, apricot) to increase iron absorption.
  • Enjoy an iron-fortified breakfast cereal with fresh berries and milk or yogurt. This is a great post-workout snack too because it includes carbs and a bit of protein.  Low-sugar/whole grain varieties are your best bet.
  • Top a spinach salad with vitamin-C sources, like strawberries, or mandarin oranges, and peppers (all rich in Vitamin C).
  • Fabulous Fruit Tart (640x427)Finish off a meal with a vitamin-C rich fruit tart (try my recipe!) to improve the iron absorption of your meal.
  • Add red peppers to any meal – they are the leading source of vitamin C to help iron absorption and full of other nutrients. Eat raw as a snack, add slices to sandwiches and wraps, dip into hummus, or cook into omelets, soups, and stews.
  • Here are 28 iron-rich recipes from my favourite cooking magazine Eating Well.

Including iron-rich foods in your meals and snacks along with healthful foods that help iron absorption should help you get enough of this important mineral.  If dietary efforts aren’t sufficient, consult your physician about iron supplementation. If your iron stores are normal, there is little robust evidence to suggest that taking iron supplements will improve aerobic capacity or reduce fatigue. In fact, this practice is risky because excess iron is associated with health problems.

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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about misleading wellness gurus, carbs to fuel a fast marathon, running into old age, music for sprint intervals, microwaving and nutrient loss, coffee for cancer prevention, and more.

Pseudoscience and strawberries: ‘wellness’ gurus should carry a health warning

Hadley Freeman writes an excellent article about the proliferation and popularity of “wellness” bloggers promoting nutrition and health advice that isn’t backed by science.  Does this sound familiar?

“They write blogs about healthy living, which invariably means randomly cutting out various food groups and gluten  . . . They usually have a story about how they fell ill and cured themselves through their diet. They often claim that the modern food industry is killing us all . . . ”

Gwyneth Paltrow and Vani Hari (the Food Babe) are some of the more popular examples, but unfortunately there are many more. (The Guardian)

I am constantly amazed (and discouraged) at the large number of food and health blogs with misleading nutrition and health information.  In fact, that was my motivation for starting this website!  It’s easy to be confused . . .

In the name of health, should you drink only almond milk? Use coconut oil for fat and agave for sweetener in your cooking? Ditch gluten and grains? Check out my Myths and Misconceptions about Healthy Eating, and here are 10 Ways to Spot Health Quackery.

More Links of Interest This Week

Haile_Gebrselassie_Dubai_Marathon_2010What we can learn about carbs from star runner Haile Gebrselassie.  Dietitian and National Post columnist Jennifer Sygo reports on a talk by exercise physiologist and sports nutrition expert Trent Stellingworth showing his work with the world famous distance runner Haile Gebrselassie. He highlighted the high amount of carbs that fueled Gebrselassie’s record setting Berlin marathon in the form of gels and sports drink –  about 1 cup of sports drink every 5km – about 15 minutes at his fast pace – including a sports gel every 5km after the 20km mark – that’s 80-100 g carbs and 900 ml water per hour. With a trend to shun carbohydrates, this is an important reminder (supported by much research) that carbs are the fuel for fast performances (Jennifer Sygo).

It’s important to recognize that there’s a BIG difference between sports nutrition for endurance athletes to support training and racing, and “everyday” healthy eating, which shouldn’t include too many simple sugars. You can read more about that here.

Cheat on your diet (or else!). David Despain looks at the potential pitfalls that “clean eating” can have for some athletes (and others), and encourages flexibility in eating plans.  (Outside)

The Dietary Guidelines expert panel recommends eating less meat. Is science on their side? Industry lobbyist are working hard to poke holes in this recommendation. Seems experts in the field and science provide good evidence to back reducing our consumption of less meat for health. (Washington Post) Often the arguments focus on heart health, but meat intake and cancer is also important to consider. You can read more about the upcoming Dietary Guidelines report here.

Master Runner Luciano_Acquarone_CCRunning into old age. More and more older adults are competing in marathons and triathlons, providing insight into how exercise affects aging bodies.  Starting late in life is better than never, and exceeding recommendations likely best for health.
(The Atlantic)

How do treadmill desks impact job performance? A growing body of research is linking sitting too much to chronic diseases. Treadmill desks are one solution, but how do they impact work performance? This study found that treadmill workers do experience a slight drop in productivity for tasks that require fine motor skills or heavy concentration, but the health benefits of such desks outweigh this small decriment. (PLOS One, April 2015)

Why are we so obsessed with fat burning?  “Fat burning” can be a confusing concept. Exercise physiologist Asker Jeukendrup does a great job explaining fat burning, and how it might relate to health and athletic performance. (

Great coaches are more than results, they’re magic. An excellent article that questions the benefits of centralized training centers for all athletes. (Outside)

musicMusic enhances performance and perceived enjoyment of sprint Intervals.  When study participants completed a high intensity interval session with self-selected music, they performed better and enjoyed the exercise more than when they did the same session without music. (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, May 2015).

The answer to soreness this spring might just be another workout. The most powerful remedy for delayed onset muscle soreness is exercise. (Even exercising one arm or one leg protects the opposite limb from subsequent soreness!).  (Alex Hutchinson, Globe and Mail).

Do microwaves degrade food nutrients? Plenty of confusion surrounds microwaves. Generally any method of cooking can degrade certain nutrients (e.g., Vitamin C), but can enhance other nutrients (e.g., carotenoids). Some experts believe cooking in a microwave can be healthier as cooking times are shorter than other methods, which can preserve some vitamins and minerals, as long as the food is evenly heated.  (New York Times Health)

Sugary drinks boost risk factors for heart disease. This short study is the first to show a dose-response relationship between sugary drinks and risk factors for heart disease (the more you drink, the greater your risk).  Over only 15 days, researchers observed increases in markers for heart disease (lipoproteins, triglycerides and uric acid ) related to the amount of sugary drinks participants consumed. Unless you are fueling an intense or long workout, best to stick to unsweetened beverages. (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2015).

coffee_© Vincent Mo_LatteCoffee protects against breast cancer recurrence. Women treated with tamoxifen who had a moderate or high coffee consumption had half the likelihood of breast cancer recurrence compared to women who drank little or no coffee.  (Clinical Cancer Research, April 2015)

The real side effect of a gluten-free diet: scientific illiteracy. Good interview and interesting perspective on the popularity of avoiding gluten. (

New Recipe: Fabulous Fruit Tart with Walnut Crust

Fabulous Fruit Tart (640x427)I love fruit tarts, and have been collecting recipes for various tarts for as long as I can remember.  The only part that I was ever satisfied with was the fruit topping . . . but how can you go wrong with those vibrant colours and fabulous flavours? So, I set out to make the perfect tart. Of course,  perfect means I want the tart to taste great, but also be nutritious.

I think I”ve succeeded! This crust features two nutrition all-stars  – walnuts and oats; the filling is protein-rich Greek yogurt; and the topping, nature’s bounty of colourful fruits full of health-promoting compounds. Just one piece has a whopping 1715 mg of potassium, a mineral many people don’t get enough of in their diet.


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Fabulous Fruit Tart in a Walnut Crust

I love fruit tarts, and have been collecting recipes for various tarts for as long as I can remember.  The only part that I was ever satisfied with was the fruit topping . . . but how can you go wrong with those vibrant colours and fabulous flavours?

I set out to make the perfect tart. Of course,  perfect means I wanted the tart to taste great, be relatively easy to make,  and also nutritious.

I think I”ve succeeded! This crust features two nutrition all-stars  – walnuts and oats; the filling is protein-rich Greek yogurt; and the topping, nature’s bounty of colourful fruits full of health-promoting compounds. Just one piece has a whopping 1,715 mg of potassium, a mineral many people don’t get enough of in their diet.

Healthy enough for breakfast, flavourful enough for dessert!


Walnuts isolatedWalnut Crust
  • 1 1/3 cup oats
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
Yogurt Filling
  • 1 carton (500 g/about 2 cups) Greek Yogurt (I used nonfat vanilla)
  • 3 tbsp. cold water
  • 1 package unflavored gelatin (2.5 tsp.)
Fabulous Fruit Tart (640x427)Fresh Fruit
  • A variety (about 4 cups) of bite-sized colourful fresh fruit – anything goes! I typically include some sort of berry. Cut larger fruit into small pieces as necessary.


Walnut Crust
  1. Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Place the oats, walnuts, sugar, and salt, in food processor and process. Add the egg and process until well mixed.
  2. Press mixture into a 9 or 10 inch tart dish lightly greased with butter (consider lining bottom with circle of parchment paper – sometimes the crust sticks without it). Use your fingers to spread the dough and press it evenly all over the inside of the tart pan (it helps if you wet your fingers with water).  Poke the crust in a few places with a fork.
  3. Bake for 10-15 minutes (until lightly browned) and cool on a wire rack.
Yogurt Filling and Fruit Topping
  1. Put cold water in a 2-cup microwavable measuring cup. Sprinkle with gelatin; stir and let stand for 2 minutes (gelatin will expand and solidify).
  2. Microwave on High for 30 seconds (gelatin will become liquid).
  3. Add gelatin mixture to yogurt, stir or whisk well, pour into baked crust, and let set in refrigerator for about 1 hour.
  4. This the the fun part: top with fresh fruit  – use patterns of colours, or just throw it all on – you can’t go wrong!

Cooking Tips

  • Don’t have a tart pan? Neither did I (until recently – I”m pretty happy with the purchase, and delighted with the fluted edges and removable bottom!)  You can also make this in a glass pie plate.
  • Yogurt filling.  If you don’t want to use gelatin, you can omit it. Everything looks great and Nakkertok Fruit Tart (640x428)works fine until you cut the crust (the yogurt spills out, so instead of pretty slices you have mounds of yogurt, crust, and fruit). Not a problem if you don’t mind the appearance! (Let me know if you come up with another thickening/gelling agent that works).
  • Fruit topping. You can be creative with the fruit patterns – and it’s an opportunity to get others involved (kids love to do this, so do most adults). Here’s one I just made for a potluck with the logo of Nakkertok Nordic (where I coach cross country skiing) outlined in kiwis (I won’t take credit for this design – my son made it).
  • Sweet dessert or healthy breakfast. If you want something more decadent, use a higher fat yogurt and add a little maple syrup or other sweetener to it before adding the gelatin (this will be higher in calories and fat, but will still be much healthier than most tarts and pies). If you want a breakfast tart, you can use plain yogurt instead of vanilla, which has much less sugar.

Nutrition Notes

  • walnutinshellWalnuts are a good source of healthy fats, and contain more of the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) than other nuts. Eating walnuts has been associated with lowering cholesterol, reducing breast cancer risk (in mice), helping control blood sugar, and reducing the risk of diabetes.
  • Falling strawberries. Isolated on a white background.Berries are one of the most nutritious fruit: they are rich in vitamin C, fiber, folate, and potassium. They also rank higher in antioxidant power than most fruits and vegetables. Berries also contain anthocyanin, a phytochemical that helps fight oxidative cell damage that can lead to chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • Greek yogurt is exceptionally rich in protein and a good source of calcium, so if you have this tart for breakfast, it’s a great way to start the day (most people don’t eat enough protein in the morning).  High yogurt Oats (with Path)consumption (> 7 servings/week) is linked to lower weight (especially in people who eat more fruit), and lower risk of diabetes.
  • Oats are well-know for their cholesterol lowering properties, and recent research shows that they contain antioxidant compounds called avenanthramides that help decrease chronic inflammation that can lead to disease.

fruit tart with words

Nutrition Per Serving

1 serving = 1/8 tart

  • 255 calories
  • 11 g protein
  • 49 g carbohydrate
  • 12 g fat
  • 23 mg cholesterol
  • 5 g fiber
  • 72 mg sodium
  • 1715 mg potassium

More recipes with OATS

More recipes with WALNUTS

You’ll find more healthy recipes here.

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