Archives for category: Nutrition basics

open lateWhen it comes to losing weight, many people believe that what matters isn’t the time of day you eat, but rather the total number of calories you eat throughout the day.

However, recent evidence shows that this may not necessarily be true. Two studies published in 2013 found that eating the majority of calories earlier in the day may actually help to improve weight loss results.

Study 1:

Researchers divided 74 overweight and obese women into two weight loss groups, each consuming 1400 calories per day: a breakfast group and a dinner group. The breakfast group ate a larger breakfast, consuming 700 calories at breakfast, 500 calories at lunch, and 200 calories at dinner. The dinner group consumed 200 calories at breakfast, 500 calories at lunch, and 700 calories at dinner.

The results: after 12 weeks, the breakfast group lost more weight (2.5 times more) and had a greater reduction in waist circumference than the dinner group. Interestingly, the breakfast group also had greater feelings of fullness than the dinner group.

Study 2:

The second study was performed in Spain, where people eat their main meal at lunch. In this study, the researchers studied 420 obese women on a weight loss program. Participants were grouped into early eaters or late eaters, depending on when they ate their main meal. The early eaters ate lunch before 1 PM and late eaters ate lunch after 1 PM.

The results: after 20 weeks, the early eaters lost more weight and lost it quicker than the late eaters, even though energy intake and expenditure were similar between the two groups.

Why is this happening?

The reasons behind why this phenomenon occurs are still unknown, however researchers have found that gene expression in adipose tissue (fat storage tissue) may follow a circadian rhythm. This means that the storage and mobilization of fat may occur at different rates depending on the time of day.



Jakubowicz, D., Barnea, M., Wainstean, J. & Froy, D. (2013). High caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Obesity, 21(12), 204-2512.

Garaulet, M. Gomez-Abellan, P., Alburquerque-Bejar, J., Lee, Y., Ordovas, J. & Scheer, F. (2013). Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness. International Journal of Obesity, 37, 604-611.

carb511The question I probably get the most about nutrition is: “What type of diet do you recommend?” When people ask this question they are expecting a simple answer such as Paleo, gluten-free, or vegan.

The truth is that there is no one best diet for everyone.

Here are some of the factors that contribute to my definition of a healthy diet:

1. Adequacy

Your diet should provide adequate nutrients to meet your individual needs. Quite often a diet that eliminates an entire food group will put a person at risk of nutrient deficiency. For example, the Paleo diet eliminates dairy products. If other calcium-rich foods are not included to replace dairy, it puts one at risk of a calcium deficiency. Remember, osteoporosis is an old age disease. Cave men didn’t live long enough have to worry about it.

2. Variety

The diet should include a variety of choices. Not only does this prevent boredom, but it also limits the chance of over- or under-consuming nutrients.

3. Moderation

No food should be eaten in excess and no food needs to be completely eliminated (except in the case of allergies, religion, or ethics). Nutrient excess can be as dangerous as nutrient inadequacy.

4. Calorie control

A diet should provide the appropriate number of calories to meet your individual needs. Diets higher in calories are required to fuel physical activity and growth. If weight loss is the goal, calories should be low enough to promote fat loss, but high enough to provide adequate energy and to prevent metabolism disruption.

5. Enjoyable

The food you are eating should be enjoyable to eat and enjoyable to prepare. Quite simply, if you don’t like the food you are eating it will not be sustainable long-term.

6. Affordable

Your grocery bill should fit within you budget. For example, a diet that calls for multiple servings of meat or expensive powders and supplements is likely not financially sustainable.

The bottom line:

There are many factors involved in the makeup of a healthy diet. Eating healthy should not be viewed as a temporary fix, but as a long-term solution.

SONY DSCWhen deciding to make positive changes in your diet and health, you don’t need to do a complete overhaul. In fact, changing too much at once can be overwhelming and cause you to be more likely to give up. Instead, try making one simple change in your diet per week. Here are a few examples of very easy changes that can make a big impact on your health:

  1. Swap out a sugary snack for an apple. This change will add 4 g of fibre to your day and 14% of your daily intake of vitamin C.
  2. Cook brown rice instead of white. Brown rice contains 4 times the fibre and much higher levels of vitamins and minerals than white rice.
  3. Instead of a muffin for a snack, try a serving of yogurt. This will add  30% of your daily intake of calcium and save you at least 200 calories.
  4. Switch potato chips for hard pretzels. Pretzels are salty and crunchy, but 50 g of pretzels contains 190 calories and 2 grams of fat, compared to 275 calories and 18 grams of fat in potato chips.

With a variety of work schedules, it can sometimes be a long stretch between lunch and dinner.  However, the right choice of snack will give you the energy you need to make it through that seemingly endless length of time. Choose a snack that contains fibre and protein to help slow the release of sugar into your blood and keep hunger from setting in. I would recommend storing some food in the fridge or cupboard at work so you are prepared when you feel like it’s snack time. The vending machine, corner store, or coffee shop often won’t offer the healthiest choices, and let’s face it, when you are hungry, convenience almost always wins over health.

Here are a few of my favourite snacks that keep me from ripping the fridge door off when I get home from work:

         1. Whole grain crackers with a slice of cheese

         2. Sliced apple with peanut or almond butter

         3. Yogurt with fruit or granola

         4. Veggie sticks with hummus

         5. Almonds with dried cranberries or raisins


Fat is a nutrient that many people are afraid of. However, fat is essential to health as it provides energy for physical activity, is necessary for transport of fat-soluble vitamins, helps maintain proper cell function, provides cushioning and protection for the body and helps us to feel full. Not only that, fat gives food a pleasant taste and texture. What is important to understand is that not all fats are equal and that the type of fat you consume can drastically affect your health and longevity. 

What is fat?

Fat is made up of long chains of carbon atoms connected by hydrogen bonds. Both the presence of double or single hydrogen bonds and the position of the double bonds determine the type of fat.

If the chain of carbon consists of all single hydrogen bonds, then it is considered a saturated fat.  A fat molecule with one double bond is called monounsaturated fat and two or more double bonds creates a polyunsaturated fat. Two types of polyunsaturated fats that are essential (i.e. we must obtain them through our diet) are omega-3 and omega-6. Double bonds create kinks in the fat molecule, and the more double bonds the fat contains, the less tightly together it can pack, and the more fluid the fat. Saturated fats are the least fluid (they are solid at room temperature, such as lard) and polyunsaturated fats are the most fluid (liquid at room temperature, such as canola oil). Trans fat contains double bonds, but instead of the double bond creating a kink in the carbon chain, the chain remains straight. This allows the carbon chains to pack tightly together, similar to saturated fat. Trans fats exist naturally in small amounts in cow’s milk, beef and lamb, but the majority of trans fats in our food are added during the process of hydrogenation (ex. hydrogenated margarine).

Oils are made up of a combination of types of fat:

What types of fat are healthier?

Diets high in saturated fat can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease because high intakes of saturated fat can raise LDL levels. LDL, often referred to as “bad cholesterol,” is a molecule that carries cholesterol around in your blood. High levels of LDL increase the chances that cholesterol will deposit on arterial walls (thus narrowing arteries and restricting blood flow).

High dietary intakes of trans fat can raise LDL and lower HDL. HDL, referred to as “good cholesterol,” is a molecule that removes cholesterol from your blood and delivers it to the liver for uses such as the production of bile.  High levels of HDL reduce the chance of cholesterol being deposited on arterial walls, which lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease.

High intakes of omega-3 fat and monounsaturated fat are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.  There is some evidence that a diet high in omega-3 can increase HDL levels. Monounsaturated fat reduces LDL levels.

Adequate intakes of omega-3 and omega-6 are important for many processes, including blood clotting, inflammation, and development of the eyes and brain. An imbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 intakes (not enough omega-3 and too much omega-6) is suspected to be associated with many diseases. For more information on omega-3 and omega-6 fats, read my post on omega-3 and disease.

Generally accepted recommendations for fat are: Eat more: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (especially omega-3). Eat less: saturated fat. Avoid: trans fat.

Written by Deanna Ibbitson, M.Sc., CPT

Summary of the nutrition and appropriate uses for common cooking oils and fats:

Type of oil/fat Nutrition Appropriate uses
Almond oil High in monounsaturated fat and omega-6 Salad dressing, baking, medium temperature frying
Avocado oil High in monounsaturated fat Salad dressing, baking, high temperature frying
Butter High saturated fat and cholesterol Baking, medium temperature frying
Canola oil High in monounsaturated fat, omega-6, and omega-3 Baking, medium temperature frying, salad dressing
Coconut oil High in saturated fat Baking, high temperature frying
Corn oil High in omega-6 Baking, high temperature frying
Flax seed oil High in omega-3 Salad dressing – keep in the refrigerator and do not heat this oil (it turns rancid easily)
Grapeseed oil High in omega-6 Salad dressing, baking, medium temperature frying
Lard High in saturated, monounsaturated fat and cholesterol Baking, medium temperature frying
Olive oil High in monounsaturated fat Salad dressing, medium temperature frying
Palm oil High in saturated and monounsaturated fat High temperature frying
Peanut oil High in monounsaturated and omega-6 High temperature frying, sauces
Safflower oil High in monounsaturated fat and omega-6 High temperature frying
Sesame oil High in monounsaturated fat and omega-6 High temperature frying, salad dressing, sauces
Soybean oil High in omega-6 High temperature frying
Sunflower oil High in omega-6 High temperature frying, salad dressing
Walnut oil High in omega-6 and omega-3 Salad dressing, baking, medium temperature frying

A diet high in fibre improves intestinal health and bowel regularity (prevents constipation), keeps you full longer (so you eat less), lowers cholesterol, and slows the release of sugar into your blood. As a bonus, foods rich in fibre are usually rich in other essential vitamins and minerals.

Fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and seeds are all great sources of fibre.  Adults should consume 25-38 grams of fibre per day. Recommendations for children are 19 grams/day for 1-3 year olds and 25 grams/day for 4-8 year olds.

Tip: when introducing fibre into your diet, do it slowly to avoid intestinal discomfort (gas and bloating) and make sure to drink plenty of water.

5 easy ways to increase fibre in your diet:

1. Eat fruits and vegetables. Whole fruits and vegetables (not juice) are a great source of fibre, as well as a wide array of vitamins and minerals. Sliced apples with peanut butter or cheese makes a great snack (One medium-sized apple contains 4 grams of fibre).

2. Replace white pasta with whole grain. Whole-wheat pasta contains 6 grams of fibre compared to 3 grams in white pasta. You can also try mixing half white and half whole grain for a more familiar taste.  Note: Whole grain takes a bit longer to cook than white pasta (about 10 minutes).

3. Eat your beans! Legumes are an excellent source of fibre. Just ½ cup of lentils contains 8 grams of fibre. Canned beans or dried lentils can be added to soups and stews and you can top salads with cooked beans or lentils. Hummus also makes a great dip for veggies.

4. Try eating trail mix (nuts, seeds and dried fruit such as raisins) as a healthy sweet snack.  Nuts and seeds are rich in healthy fats and dried fruit provides a source of iron.

5. Try cooking barley instead of white rice. It is tasty, inexpensive and a great source of fibre. One cup of barley contains 6 grams of fibre, whereas white rice only has 1 gram.


To cook barley: first rinse it in a strainer. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add 1 cup of barley. Cover with a lid and reduce heat to low. Cook about 35-40 minutes, or until the barley is tender and all of the water has been absorbed. If the barley has been soaked over night, the cooking time is only 15 minutes.

I haven’t tried this yet, but it looks good! Slowcooker barley risotto

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