A GUT-HEALTHY PERSPECTIVE ON THE NEW CANADA'S FOOD GUIDE

Last month the Government of Canada came out with a new Canada’s Food Guide that is radically different from the old one. This new guide was formed with a lot of public input, whereas previous versions were influenced heavily by industry input, which was evident in the strong focus on dairy, meat and grains. In this blog I’d like to summarize some of the good and bad in the new guide (in case you haven’t perused it yet), and give you some tips on how the guide can be easily modified for gut-health.

Canada’s Food Guide suggests filling half your plate with Vegetables and Fruit, 1/4 of your plate with protein from sources such as legumes, dairy and animal proteins, and 1/4 of your plate with whole grains. In addition, it suggests drinking water as your drink of choice. Check out the pie chart below for my Gut-Healthy version.

Canada’s Food Guide suggests filling half your plate with Vegetables and Fruit, 1/4 of your plate with protein from sources such as legumes, dairy and animal proteins, and 1/4 of your plate with whole grains. In addition, it suggests drinking water as your drink of choice. Check out the pie chart below for my Gut-Healthy version.

A SUMMARY OF CANADA’S FOOD GUIDE

Here are some of the great things about the new guide that you’ll want to include:
- choose healthy fats: healthy fats are incredibly important, but the Food Guide missed the mark with healthy fat recommendations (see below). Recommended fats that you can keep are olive oil, avocado, fatty fish, and nuts and seeds.
- water as your main drink
- limit processed foods
- be aware of food marketing
- mindful eating
- cook
- eat with others
For more information on these recommendations go to Canada’s Food Guide and click on Food Choices and Eating Habits.

Here are some of the NOT so great things - make sure to avoid these:
- breakfast recipes included with the guide are very carb/grain heavy. Eating the suggested breakfasts can set you up for blood sugar imbalances for the rest of the day.
- corn, canola, peanut, soybean, safflower and sunflower oils are listed as healthy fats, and saturated fats are still considered bad. Butter/ ghee and coconut oil, and saturated fats from pasture raised animals are fats that have many health benefits. Butter is a good source of butyrate, which is important for colon and brain health, and vitamin A (retinol), which supports repair of the gut lining and other epithelial tissues. Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides, which rapidly convert to ketones in the body and provide energy. Ketones can benefit the brain, and improve biomarkers associated with heart disease (1).
- the grains and legumes recommended in the Food Guide can be okay for some individuals when they are prepared using traditional methods of preparation that include soaking and sprouting, but these foods are problematic for so many people, and in most cases they are not prepared using traditional cooking methods.

A GUT-HEALTHY PERSPECTIVE

It’s pretty easy to fit a Gut-Healthy model into Canada’s Food Guide. I’ve kept the same basic framework of dividing your plate into 1/2 - 1/4 - 1/4, but have switched the contents up a little bit. I’ve included some images of my recent meals, so have a look!
- Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, rutabaga and cabbage, or colourful veggies such as beets, carrots, asparagus and squashes.
- Fill 1/4 of your plate with animal protein that includes pasture-raised meats, free-range poultry and eggs, and wild fatty fish. Meat stocks and bone broths would fit into this category as an important part of a gut-healthy diet.
- Fill 1/4 of your plate with gut-healthy carbohydrates. These will vary depending on what protocol you are on. Fruit fits into this category, and tubors such as sweet potatoes and yams are good if you are on an autoimmune or paleo protocol. If you are on an SCD or GAPS diet, then tubors aren’t normally a part of these protocols, but you may be able to tolerate them cooked and cooled (like a cold potato salad). If you have IBS or SIBO, then tubors are out for now. Honey is well tolerated by most people, and fits into this category.
- Add healthy fat to all your meals. Olive oil drizzled over salads or into soups and stews is great. Cooking vegetables in coconut oil or fat rendered from a pastured animal is yummy, and healthy too!

Remember that this is a framework to start from. We all have different needs, and you have to listen to your body. If you are thriving on a ketogenic diet, then filling 1/4 of your plate with carbs doesn’t work. If you are struggling with hormonal issues or hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal dysfunction, then you may need a few more carbs. If you have SIBO, then initially you won’t have any carbs, and will then slowly build the amount up as you undergo treatment with a qualified practitioner.

FOR KIDS!: These recommendations are for adults! Children often need higher amounts of protein and carbohydrates, so you can add more fruit, tubors or animal proteins. If you have a picky eater, then don’t worry about specific quantities - just stick with gut-healthy foods.

A Gut-Healthy version of the Food Guide changes the sections to Vegetables (1/2 plate), Carbohydrates that include tubors (sweet potatoes, yams etc.) and Fruit (1/4 plate), and Animal Proteins (1/4 plate). The Whole Grain section from Canada’s guide has been changed to Carbohydrates, with fruit and tubors being removed from the Canada’s Vegetable section and put into their own category. Proteins are limited to animal varieties. Water should still be your drink of choice, but I’ve included adding Healthy Fats to your meals.

A Gut-Healthy version of the Food Guide changes the sections to Vegetables (1/2 plate), Carbohydrates that include tubors (sweet potatoes, yams etc.) and Fruit (1/4 plate), and Animal Proteins (1/4 plate). The Whole Grain section from Canada’s guide has been changed to Carbohydrates, with fruit and tubors being removed from the Canada’s Vegetable section and put into their own category. Proteins are limited to animal varieties. Water should still be your drink of choice, but I’ve included adding Healthy Fats to your meals.

Here’s an example of an AIP or Paleo meal. 1/2 plate filled with Red Cabbage-Carrot-Pea Shoot salad with olive oil, 1/4 plate with a piece of pasture-raised, traditionally cured ham, and a 1/4 plate with a mix of sweet potato and yams roasted in bacon fat.

Here’s an example of an AIP or Paleo meal. 1/2 plate filled with Red Cabbage-Carrot-Pea Shoot salad with olive oil, 1/4 plate with a piece of pasture-raised, traditionally cured ham, and a 1/4 plate with a mix of sweet potato and yams roasted in bacon fat.

This meal is GAPS and SCD compliant. I have some Sunworks sausage, a Tomato and Basil salad with olive oil, a piece of broccoli, and a bowl of cauliflower soup. Not many carbs here.

This meal is GAPS and SCD compliant. I have some Sunworks sausage, a Tomato and Basil salad with olive oil, a piece of broccoli, and a bowl of cauliflower soup. Not many carbs here.

Had a lot of leftover steamed broccoli! Filled half my plate with broccoli and topped it with an Olive Bruschetta made from olives, capers, garlic and olive oil. The Salmon Patties contain salmon and yam, so are a source of animal protein and carbs.

Had a lot of leftover steamed broccoli! Filled half my plate with broccoli and topped it with an Olive Bruschetta made from olives, capers, garlic and olive oil. The Salmon Patties contain salmon and yam, so are a source of animal protein and carbs.

Here’s an example of ingredients for a Blueberry Avocado Smoothie that fit my Gut-Healthy criteria for the new Canada’s Food Guide. 1/2 the plate is filled with leafy greens and avocado (technically a fruit, but since it’s low carb, I include it in my Vegetable section), 1/4 plate with blueberries, and I’ve added a scoop of collagen powder for my protein. The avocado also provides the healthy fat, and makes this smoothie rich and creamy. I just blend the vegetables and fruit up with water, and then add the collagen at the end.

Here’s an example of ingredients for a Blueberry Avocado Smoothie that fit my Gut-Healthy criteria for the new Canada’s Food Guide. 1/2 the plate is filled with leafy greens and avocado (technically a fruit, but since it’s low carb, I include it in my Vegetable section), 1/4 plate with blueberries, and I’ve added a scoop of collagen powder for my protein. The avocado also provides the healthy fat, and makes this smoothie rich and creamy. I just blend the vegetables and fruit up with water, and then add the collagen at the end.

As you can see from some of my meals, I end up roughly following the guidelines, but am not a stickler about it. While many of my meals don’t contain carbs, I put honey in my tea everyday, so get some extra carbs there, and I like to indulge in homemade chocolate and coconut or almond flour muffins that are also sweetened with honey. In the summer I eat more fruit than I do in the winter, but in the winter I have more root vegetables, so my sources of carbs vary depending on the time of year.

Do you agree with my Gut-Healthy version of Canada’s Food Guide? Let me know if you find it helpful to think of your meals using the 1/2 - 1/4 - 1/4 breakdown as a guideline.

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey

BECAUSE YOUR BRAIN MATTERS: THE 9 POINT BRAIN PLASTICITY CHECKLIST

You know your brain is important, but do you know how to take care of it?

There are some simple steps you can take to ensure your brain stays healthy and to make sure your brain plasticity isn’t compromised.

WHAT IS BRAIN PLASTICITY?

Plasticity is defined as changes in neural (brain) pathways and synapses due to changes in the environment, which allows for changes in mental and motor function to occur.  A simple definition of plasticity is that it is the brain's ability to change itself.  Whether you know it or not, you want good plasticity, and there is a lot you can do to support it.

WHY YOUR BRAIN MATTERS?

If you want to develop a new skill, prevent mental decline as you age, or keep learning throughout your life, then you want a plastic brain.  Learning requires brain plasticity.

Brain plasticity has far reaching implications.  There are a growing number of fascinating therapies that utilize brain plasticity.  These therapies challenge the brain in areas where there are weaknesses, such as with learning disorders, or developmental delays.  There are therapies to help stroke victims regain the function lost in the damaged area of the brain such as movement, vision or speech.  People with Alzheimer’s can gain lost cognitive function using specialized computer games.  Plasticity is being utilized increasingly in neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis where movement may be compromised, and there are even applications for regaining movement after a spinal cord injury. 

If you want to find out more about some of the therapies that can help your brain regain lost or missing skills, then I would highly recommend Norman Doidge’s books The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing.

WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW!

Here’s a 9 point checklist you can use to make sure your brain has everything it needs to be primed for learning or to get the most out of rehab therapies.

1.  Vitamin D:  Make sure your vitamin D levels are good.  Ask your doctor to do a blood test to check your levels.  Supplement if your levels are low.  Get plenty of sunshine too – when the sunshine hits your skin, your body makes vitamin D.

2.  Omega 3:  Like vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids are an important nutrient for brain plasticity.  Eat wild, cold-water fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines regularly, or supplement with a fish oil.  My favorite is cod liver oil, because it contains vitamin D as well.

3.  Biomarkers:  Go to your doctor and request blood tests for homocysteine, fasting insulin and CRP (c-reactive protein).  If these aren’t in the normal range it could be affecting your brain.  Diet, exercise and supplementation can help improve these biomarkers.

4.  Hormones:  Hormonal balance is important to brain health, so while you are getting other biomarkers tested, you might as well ask your doc for a full hormone panel that includes estradiol and testosterone. There are different ways to bring your hormones back into balance.  If you have eliminated toxins, are eating organic food, managing your stress and exercising (see below) and your hormones are still out of balance you can talk to your doctor or naturopathic doctor about options.

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5.  Exercise:  Do whatever you enjoy to get yourself moving.  Exercise promotes BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which is a necessary protein in the body that stimulates brain growth, and is necessary to support plasticity.

6.  Sleep: Most people don’t get adequate sleep. If you don’t wake up feeling refreshed then it could be a sign that you are getting too little sleep or your sleep is interrupted.  Your brain takes a “bath” when you are asleep to clear out metabolic debris and detox itself.

7.  Stress:  Finding ways to reduce or manage stress can be challenging for many people, but it is extremely important.  Ask yourself if you have enough time to do the things you love, spend time with the people who make you happy or to just be lazy.  If not, then it’s time to simplify life or start implementing some strategies to manage stress such as restorative exercise such as yoga, deep breathing or whatever works to calm you.  Sometimes counseling or additional support may be needed.

8.  Toxins:  Your brain is very susceptible to toxins, so take a look at some of the toxins you expose yourself to daily and try to reduce them.  Start with your body care products (shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant etc) and look for a natural ingredient list free of chemicals.  Do the same thing for your household cleaners and laundry products.  Health food stores are great places to find natural body care and cleaning products.  Is the air you are breathing clean?  If not get an air filter.  Is the food you eat clean or is it sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides?  Start eating more organically grown foods.

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9.  Good nutrition:  Eating to support your brain goes a little deeper than just healthy eating.  If your biomarkers showed problems with homocysteine, blood sugar levels or inflammation, then diet can be customized to help bring test results back into a healthy range.  Eating to support plasticity also involves getting the nutrients the brain needs, as well as providing the building blocks for nerves and neurotransmitter production.  Eating to feed your gut microbiome is also important.  The organisms that live in your gut communicate a lot of information to your brain via the microbiota-gut-brain axis.

Wondering how your brain is doing?  Visit  Food For the Brain  and do their Cognitive Function Test.  Whether your score isn't as high as you'd like, or you just want to do everything you can to keep your brain at its best, then follow these 9 points.
Start by scheduling a doctor's appointment to get biomarkers tested, including vitamin D and hormones.  Then decide what your next step will be.

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey

 

LOSING HAIR? 3 STEPS TO STOPPING HAIR LOSS

Is a brush full of hair familiar?  Do you feel like handfuls of hair come out when you wash your hair?

Is a brush full of hair familiar?  Do you feel like handfuls of hair come out when you wash your hair?

Are you suffering from hair loss?  Do you wish you had a bit more hair on your head?

Hair loss can be traumatic for people, especially for woman.  Most people tend to associate hair loss with aging, so it can be particularly difficult for people to deal with when it begins early in life.  On the surface, hair loss seems like an aesthetic concern, but it can be indicative of deeper underlying health issues.

HEALTH ISSUE ASSOCIATED WITH HAIR LOSS

Nutrient deficiencies are one of the areas that has been researched in the area of hair loss.  Some commonly seen deficiencies include having low levels of iron, vitamin D, biotin (vitamin B7) and vitamin C.  One study found a correlation between low iron and vitamin D levels in relation to female hair loss (Source).

Androgenic alopecia, also known as male and female pattern baldness, results from high levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT).  DHT is converted from testosterone, and then binds to cell receptors on hair follicles, which results in the follicles shrinking.  Regardless of whether you are male or female, DHT can be problematic for your hair follicles.  In men it typically shows up as a receding hairline and follows male baldness patterns, but in women it shows up differently.  In women androgenic alopecia can cause either thinning or patterns that resemble male baldness.  Hormonal health is dependent on a balance of hormones, not necessarily on the amount of one or two hormones.  This means that levels of DHT can be low, but still contribute to hair loss if other hormones aren't balanced with the amount of DHT present.  Control of DHT levels is largely regulated by the amounts of testosterone and other hormones present in the body.

Low thyroid function, also known as hypothyroidism, can be another hormonal reason for hair loss.  When thyroid hormones are low it is not uncommon to have thinning hair.  Stress plays a significant role in reducing thyroid function, as does low levels of selenium in the body.  Gut health plays a role as well, as organisms in your gut are responsible for converted about 20% of T4 to T3, the active form of the hormone.  Other indications that you might have a low thyroid condition include fatigue, weight gain, dry skin and hair, and cold hands and feet.

STEPS TO REVERSE HAIR LOSS

1.  Eat a Nutrient Dense Diet

Ensuring you are getting nutrients associated with reduced hair loss is an important first step.  Foods rich in iron include liver, beef, lamb, and nuts and seeds, with pumpkin seeds coming out on top.  Vitamin D is difficult to get from food sources, but some good sources are cod liver oil, oily fish such as trout and salmon, mushrooms and egg yolk.  Exposing your skin to sunlight is one of the best sources of ensuring we get vitamin D, though you want to ensure you don't burn.  High levels of vitamin C can be found in bell peppers, broccoli, dark leafy greens, citrus fruit and berries.  To find biotin, look to eggs, nuts, liver, meat and oily fish.
Luckily some of these foods have more than one of the nutrients you need.  Make sure you regularly consume liver, meat, oily fish, nuts and seeds and a variety of vegetables and fruit.
You can also add a good quality multivitamin that includes a B Complex to ensure that deficiencies get corrected.

2.  Block DHT

Drink green tea.  Green tea contains EGCG, which has been shown to be protective against the effects of DHT (Source).  If you are a coffee drinker, try replacing your coffee with green tea.
Consume pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil.  Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil block the effects of DHT (Source).  Not only will these help block DHT, but they are rich in iron, as well as zinc.  Try a salad with a dressing made with pumpkin seed oil, or sprinkle seeds on salads, soups or just eat on them on their own.

3.  Get your hormones tested

If dietary changes in the first two steps aren't working, then visit your naturopathic or functional doctor to get hormone testing done.  Both of these types of doctors are well equipped to look at how well your hormones are balanced.  For a comprehensive look you should consider testing for sex hormones, thyroid hormones, and even cortisol (stress hormone).  A variety of treatment options will be available to you.  For a look at some herbal options click here.

Further reading:  

Happy, Healthy Eating!

Tracey