I just got back from a week of racing at XC Ski Nationals at the Canmore Nordic Center. As the host site of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games Nordic events, the fantastic venue, spectacular scenery, and challenging courses impress everyone. Along with the impeccable organization, I’d have to say it’s one of the best xc ski racing events that I have ever attended.
It was a terrific week of racing, with some of the best Canadian nordic skiers vying for national titles. As an athlete I raced 5 events (team ski cross with my XC Ottawa teammate Kyla, 5k skate, 10km classic, classic sprint, and 30km skate), and was proud to watch athletes I coach at Nakkertok Nordic lay down many inspiring races and win the overall all Club Aggregate title for the 8th year in a row.
Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers of the event and Doug Ranahan capturing the beauty of Canmore and nordic ski racing in his many great photos!
Beyond the event organizers, tremendous support crews of coaches and volunteers from clubs all over Canada help make this trip possible for a great number of athletes. Thanks to the crew from Nakkertok Nordic for taking care of my skis and making the experience a memorable one for all Nakkertok athletes.
I also had a chance to explore a bit more of Canmore beyond the Nordic Center with friends, and couldn’t believe the incredible outdoor opportunities this community offers.
Beyond racing, the week included events such as Fast & Female, and in the last few years has included a session to promote post-secondary options to encourage athletes to keep skiing . Unfortunately few options exist for skiers, and many leave the sport (over 80% of athletes stop competing after high school).
As a health promotion specialist, I recognize the far reaching benefits for students to stay active and engaged in sport, and as a coach and athlete know that for Canada to achieve excellence in the sport of Cross Country skiing, providing multiple options and pathways for athletes to stay involved beyond high school and University is critical.
I love muffins. They pair so well with coffee or tea, are a terrific pre- or post- workout snack, or a quick grab-and-go breakfast. But I try to keep in mind that most versions are really cleverly disguised cupcakes.
A sprinkling of oats on top and clever marketing claims create a health halo effect, and many people believe that the standard muffin is a healthy choice. But most muffins are made with refined flour, plenty of sugar, and don’t provide much nutrition. Oversized muffins and large amounts of fat also mean hefty calorie counts (some large muffins have almost 500 calories). And low-fat labelled muffins often aren’t a healthy choice either.
Making your own muffins is a good way control the ingredients. This recipe is a healthier version of “Morning Glory” muffins, attributed to Chef Pam McKinstry of the Morning Glory Cafe on Nantucket island. You can tailor the recipe to the fruit, dried fruit, and nuts that you have on hand.
Ingredient swaps for better nutrition (& flavour!)
A generous amount of fruits and grated carrots add moistness and great flavours while providing many important nutrients; the nuts add healthy fats; and whole grain flour has the minerals and fiber that have been stripped out of refined white flour (and you likely don’t need to worry about the gluten . . . ).
These ingredients also improve the fiber content, something that is lacking in most diets. I’ve cut down on the sugar, but these muffins are still sweet thanks to the fresh fruit, dried fruit, and brown sugar. You may be tempted to use a “more healthful” sweetener than sugar, but don’t be fooled: although some believe that “natural” sweeteners are better for you, sugar is sugar. The overall calorie count is lower than traditional muffins as well, which is good for those who don’t need the excess calories.
You’ll find some other good tips for adapting your favourite muffin recipes here.
Are muffins a healthy breakfast?
Traditional muffins definitely aren’t a good breakfast, since they provide few nutrients and should really be considered as dessert or a treat. Although this recipe is much more nutritious, it would be best paired with other foods for breakfast (e.g., nonfat yogurt, nuts, fresh fruit) for added protein and nutrition.
I would consider these a perfect pre or post workout snack . . . rich in carbohydrates that you need for exercise, and your body will use the sugar in the muffins for a good purpose!
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk (dairy or plain soymilk)
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup canola oil or melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1.5 cups grated carrots
1.5 cups chopped fruit (apple, pear, or canned drained pineapple are all delicious)
½ cup dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries, chopped dates)
¼ cup walnuts or pecans
GARNISH (Optional – but highly recommended!)
Pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Preheat oven to 400 deg F, and prepare 12-cup muffin tin with butter and flour (or line with paper muffin cup liners).
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
In another bowl, combine egg, milk, brown sugar, oil, and vanilla. Stir in carrots, chopped fruit, dried fruit, and nuts.
Stir wet ingredients into dry, mixing just until combined.
Dividing batter into muffin tins and top with oats/nuts/seeds for garnish if using.
Bake for about 20 minutes (or until tester comes out clean).
Turmeric seems to be everywhere these days. This signature spice that lends curries and mustards their distinct colour is now popping up in unlikely foods and beverages like golden spice lattes, hot chocolate, and even sodas.
And you can count on more foods adopting turmeric’s characteristic yellow-orange hue, as the turmeric food trend is a strong one. A recent Google food trend analysis ranks turmeric as the number 1 rising star, as interest in turmeric has grown significantly in a short period.
The Internet is a go-to source for information about food and health. But teasing out the evidence-based information from the hype is becoming increasingly more difficult. Is the turmeric trend supported by the body of scientific evidence?
What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric comes from the thick root of the turmeric plant: it looks a bit like a small ginger root, and cooks prepare it in a similar way to add a subtle earthy flavour and bright colour to dishes. If you are new to cooking with turmeric, be aware that turmeric can stain hands, clothes, and even cooking utensils bright yellow orange (historically turmeric was a popular dye, and some use it as a dye today). Most people are more familiar with turmeric ground to a golden powder, which is available in the spice isle of most grocery stores.
Recognized as an ancient home remedy in Asia, and commonplace in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, many believe that turmeric has medicinal properties. A quick search reveals turmeric as a “cure-all.” The claims for turmeric’s healing properties are wide ranging — from improving cognitive function, cardiovascular function, and weight loss to fighting cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, arthritis, headaches, depression, digestive diseases, the common cold, and many more health conditions. No wonder people are sprinkling turmeric on everything. . . (whether it tastes good or not). Does this sound too good to be true?
A large body of research has looked into turmeric and health, focusing on curcumin, a polyphenol compound thought to be responsible for turmeric’s potential therapeutic effects. Curcumin makes up only about 3-5% of turmeric.
Preclinical studies suggested that curcumin’s anti-inflammatory action might help prevent or treat various chronic diseases. Though promising, it is important to categorize this research as preliminary or hypothesis generating, as much of it is “in vitro” (conducted in test tubes) or in animals. Researchers have studied curcumin in humans, but results have been inconclusive. Also, best to interpret this research with caution as most studies had a small number of participants, short durations, and many did not compare curcumin to a placebo. Though we shouldn’t generalize conclusions from these small-scale studies, their findings can inform larger scale trials.
Another issue with research in humans is that the body doesn’t absorb regular curcumin very well: you can consume a lot of it, but very little reaches the blood or tissues where it can have a clinical effect. Research shows that rodents absorb little (<1%) of the curcumin they consume. However, one line of research is investigating ways to improve absorption: for example, some studies suggest that black pepper boosts the bioavailability of curcumin.
So, turmeric contains <5% of curcumin, and most of this tiny amount isn’t bioavailable . . . why are so many stretching the culinary uses of this standard curry spice to desserts and convincing themselves that turmeric flavoured smoothies “taste good,” or are even “good for you?”
It’s too easy to be persuaded of turmeric’s potential healing powers. Those championing turmeric’s benefits are citing individual studies without proper scientific context. Critically evaluating the available research is a challenge and requires substantial expertise. Luckily, a new comprehensive review published in January 2017 has done just that. Investigators at the University of Minnesota reviewed the evidence for curcumin, which included thousands of studies and over 120 clinical trials. The authors raise important questions about the research and comment that curcumin’s health benefits are “much ado about nothing.”
There is no rigorous human study (double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial) showing benefit to turmeric. Another serious problem overlooked by many is that curcumin’s chemical structure is unstable and can produce “false hits” in studies – i.e., showing that it is acting on a disease-causing protein, when it really isn’t.
Although many studies have investigated turmeric/curcumin, and some have shown promise, at this point these findings aren’t good enough evidence to suggest that consuming turmeric improves any health condition. It’s important to consider the preliminary nature of the research and recent review questioning of curcumin’s biological activity. Turmeric is certainly not a cure-all panacea as some have touted. More research may help uncover specific benefits to curcumin or other compounds in turmeric.
But cooking with spices like turmeric is a great idea. These plant-based seasonings can flavour food deliciously without the need for excess salt or fat. And looking for recipes featuring turmeric may help you cook more and inspire you to prepare healthful dishes. But even if effective, turmeric is a small-player for promoting health and preventing disease: better to focus efforts on eating a good diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting enough physical activity, measures that have proven benefits for health and well-being.
I was lucky enough to spend a week with family and friends at Silver Star Mountain Resort in south-central BC. This is truly a paradise for cross country skiers, with one of the largest groomed trail network in the country.
Part of the magic of Silver Star, beyond the Dr Seuss Whoville-like trees, is that you can ski from your door: just step out and put your skis on. Groomed “skiways” lead to trails that can take you up and over the mountain! This was our sixth year staying with friends at the Silberne Spitzen house, a perfect place for cross country skiers that seems to have a new addition every year (this year it’s a a sauna . . .unfortunately it wasn’t operational yet!).
Here is the view from the Silberne Spitzen window
Checking out a new trail at the top of the mountain. . .
Sovereign Lake Nordic Center
Over the mountain (an amazing ski or 5-minute drive) is the adjoining Sovereign Lake Nordic Center — which boasts another superb network of trails with race courses that have hosted many NorAm races and several World Cup events.
Our last few days in Silver Star I raced the NorAm/USSA SuperTour events at Sovereign Lake: a classic sprint on Saturday, and 10km skate race on Sunday. Typically the Sovereign Lake event and NorAm circuit attracts the best Canadian skiers not competing on the World Cup. Combining the event with a USSA Supertour raised the level of competition tremendously, with Americans dominating the top 10 in both races. With the altitude and hard course these early season races are typically a challenge, but still fun to do! (results here).