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Ironing-Out Your Plant Based Diet

Guest Post By Renee Kong & Jacqueline Guo

Iron deficiency the most common nutrient deficiency in North America, with young children and premenopausal women most likely to be effected. Twelve percent of women aged 20-49 show symptoms of iron deficiency. Despite so many recent nutrition and technological advancements, why is iron deficiency still so prevalent?

The abundance of food all around us has potentially affected how we prioritize food choices - balancing the allure of convenience foods with nutrition is a challenge, and oftentimes the culprit is simply a lack of evidence-based nutritional knowledge.

Lower socioeconomic status is the number one predictor of iron deficiency. Food insecurity may lead to decreased dietary diversity, resulting in lower intake of iron overall. Additionally, those who suffer from intestinal diseases such as IBS, Crohn’s, or Celiac Disease, etc., are prone to having gastrointestinal complications which poses a higher risk for deficiency.

The rising trend of plant-based diets may also reduce variety in diets, including rich sources of dietary iron. For individuals following a plant-based diet, the lower bioavailability of non-heme iron is a well-established concern. However, it may be less known that commonly consumed foods such as whole grains, legumes, milk, coffee, and tea, can jeopardize iron absorption in the body. Such foods contain biological compounds such as phytates, most significantly calcium and tannins, that reduce the amount of iron absorbed from food.

It is then recommended to limit consuming these foods with iron-rich foods to maximize iron absorption. But since plant-based diets rely heavily on phytate foods for adequate nutritional intake, this can be a tough recommendation to follow. To address this challenge, non-meat eaters are recommended to consume nearly double the amount of iron to achieve adequate absorption levels for a healthy diet.

Fortunately, there are also ways to enhance iron absorption. Foods rich in vitamin C, as well as malic or citric acid (mainly found in fruits and vegetables), increase the amount of iron absorbed when eaten with iron-rich foods.

While those of us with iron-deficiency may be tempted to turn immediately to iron supplementation, incorporating whole foods rather than supplements will have a greater impact on increasing our dietary diversity and subsequently, overall health and wellness. Foods fortified with iron (such as wheat flour in Canada), can also be incorporated as they have been shown to contribute substantially to nutrient intake in plant-based diet.

Decreasing iron deficiency may be achieved by following the new Canada’s Food Guide (CFG) recommendations on both what and how to eat to maintain a balanced, diverse diet. The CFG recommends choosing plant-based proteins to provide more fibre, increase vitamin and mineral sources, and decrease saturated fatty acid intake.

Besides nutritional recommendations, the new CFG advocates developing healthier dietary habits by cooking more often, eating with family and friends, and being mindful of one’s eating habits. It also provides resources for reading food and nutrition labels and increasing awareness of food marketing to make informed decisions made in the grocery store.

Incorporating these recommendations into your daily routines can promote well-informed dietary decisions and habits accumulated over time, which in turn can reduce the likelihood of developing nutritional deficiencies.

Renee Kong & Jacqueline Guo are 3rd Year Dietetics Students at the University of British Columbia. 

Keeping our Food Allergic and Anaphylactic Community Safe

By Nicole Fetterly, RD & Leanne Halligey, RD 

A stock-Epinephrine program is considered best practice in managing anaphylaxis and saving lives. An anaphylactic reaction can be fatal very quickly due to respiratory distress and drops in blood pressure. This can occur in minutes, before an ambulance can arrive. The one medication that can reverse this severe reaction is epinephrine. It is highly recommended that those with anaphylactic allergies to food, insects or medications carry their own Epi-pen®, but unfortunately this doesn’t always happen. Epi-pens® get forgotten, they expire yearly and also someone may have never experienced this severe a reaction prior so may not know they need to carry an Epi-pen®. Stock epinephrine is then the best practice to save a life in the event someone doesn’t have their own Epi-pen® or they possibly need a second dose.

If someone is having a suspected or known anaphylactic reaction:

  • Call 911 and Campus Security (7599).
  • Have the person remain sitting or lying down to prevent the reaction worsening.
  • If they have their own Epi-pen® or other epinephrine auto-injector, encourage them to administer it (they may need some support).
  • If they don’t have their own, Campus Security team members can provide a dose of stock-Epinephrine. Stock-Epinephrine means that it is not specific to that person, anyone can use it.
  • There are very few side effects from administration of epinephrine, even if done in the absence of anaphylaxis. This is why it is best practice to give it.
  • Anti-histamines are no longer considered an effective medication to treat anaphylaxis and can make symptoms worse.
  • Food Allergy Canada gives more information on identifying an anaphylactic reaction and tips for using epinephrine.

Since June 2018, trained UVic Campus Security first-responders have access to stock Epinephrine in both adult and child doses to be able to respond to anaphylaxis on our campus. There have been numerous incidents of anaphylaxis on our campus in the past as food allergy can affect up to 7% of our population. Luckily none of these incidents on our campus have been fatal but a student died at Queens in 2015 from a reaction like this and a lack of epinephrine to treat it quickly. This death is what initiated the new guidance document from Food Allergy Canada.

Stock-Epinephrine is becoming more common in community centres, shopping malls, schools, summer camps, ski resorts and other public places across the country but until now, there has been no record of stock-epinephrine being available at a public place or institution here in British Columbia. UVic will be a leader in taking this step to treat this potentially fatal reaction and save lives on our campus, as can be further explained in this news piece.

This program at UVic is a partnership with University Food Services, Student Health and Campus Security. Food Services initiated the program due to its integral role in serving food and managing allergens, Student Health has been involved in helping to train Campus Security and their first responders will be the ones to encourage epinephrine use in the event of an anaphylactic reaction.
For further questions or support, contact

Nicole Fetterly, RD & Leanne Halligey, RD are responsible for the labeling of allergens for all of the menu items for UNFS and for counseling students on navigating their allergy safely. They also initiated a menu in September 2017 for the Cadboro Commons dining hall that is free of the top 7 allergens to make it easier and safer for our students with allergies and intolerances. For this work in supporting the Food Allergic and Anaphylactic community, Nicole was awarded the 2018 Robyn Allen Memorial Leadership award from Food Allergy Canada.

Being Vegan at UVic

By Nicole Fetterly, RD & Leanne Halligey, RD 

Over the last decade, many more Canadians, and especially those at UVic, identify as vegan or try to choose plant-based meals more often. At Food Services, we always try to meet our customer demand, not to mention provide healthier options for our community and the planet. Here are some tips for eating vegan on campus:

Breakfast at Commons Kitchen | 7:30am-10:30am

You can always find Steel-cut Oats, a great stick-to-your-ribs hearty breakfast. Or alternately choose a Fruit & Granola (honey-free) Parfait. For both of these, you can substitute almond or soy milk tetra paks for the yogurt or milk. Our toast and English muffins are vegan, but not the gluten-free bread/buns, croissant, bagels or brioche buns. We provide peanut butter and avocado that you can put on it. Plus, we have lots of other whole and cut fruit options. Hashbrowns are an option as well if you’re looking for a treat—as dietitians, we don’t recommend them daily! 

Baked Goods at Various Campus Outlets

Find a handful of vegan baked goods like our Cranberry Oat, Mountain Flax, Raspberry Streusel, Blueberry Crumble or Peanut Butter Crunch Bars, as well as the Vegan “The Works” Cookie, Glazed or Jelly Doughnuts and Apple Fritters. These are all sourced from local bakeries that use dairy-free margarine in place of butter. 

Village Greens | Mon-Thurs, Lunch & Dinner

More than 95% of Village Greens options are vegan. Avoid the perogies, unless you eat dairy. We have a different entrée each lunch and dinner with choices like a Sriracha Chickpea Noodle Bowl, Black Bean & Yam Burger or Kung Pao Cauliflower Rice Bowl. There’s also a curry special each day, custom stir-fries and other treats like Tofu Dogs. A dietitian favourite is the VG’s 4 Bean Chili which has loads of plant-based protein and fibre to fill you up for studying all afternoon.

Mystic Market

Some vegan favourites include Chopbox Curries or Pad Thai served with marinated tofu, the Flamin’ Grill Quinoa Burger, and Fresco Taco Bar’s Bean Tacos/Burritos or Rice Bowls (just ask for no sour cream and sub Daiya cheez). In the General Store find the Veggie & Hummus Sandwich, Veggie California Roll in the sushi case and our Veggie Samosas and Rolls are vegan. We’re also excited to be launching a new salad bar in the coming months!

Late Nights at Cap's Bistro | Until 11:30pm

Enjoy vegan dishes like a California Rice Bowl, Deconstructed Quesadilla (basically beans & rice—ask for no sour cream and sub Daiya cheez), fries and, another dietitian favourite, the Not-cho Average Cheez Sauce that comes with chips and salsa. This is a cheez sauce packed with veggies like carrots and potatoes plus nutritional yeast and spices—it’s awesome!

Weekends at Commons Kitchen

Other options besides the Vegan Curry or Pasta specials are the delicious Quinoa Burgerfrom the hot grill (ask for no mayonnaise) which we source from a local supplier in Vancouver called Kan’s Gourmet. It’s got a great Indian flavour! We also have a Veggie & Hummus Sandwich and Veggie California Roll in the sushi case and they always make a vegan soup which you could have with the salad bar. And again, avocado toast could be another option that might go well with the soup.

Helpful Resources:

If you’d like further support navigating our menus or ensuring you have a healthy plant-based diet that meets your nutrient needs, book a free nutrition appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians (for students only). Email to book an appointment today!

Digest Your Best

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

Our digestive system is one of the most overworked organ systems in the human body. The proper digestion and absorption of food depends on a healthy gut environment, which we can help foster with a diet abundant in fibre and fermented foods. Fermented foods contain various strains of probiotics (healthy bacteria) which live in our large intestine and help protect the intestinal environment, enabling our bodies to absorb nutrients efficiently and to fend off any infection-causing bad bacteria.

Intestinal flora imbalance (dysbiosis) can lead to bowel problems such as diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and abdominal gas. The long-term accumulation of toxins caused by an imbalance of harmful bacteria in our gut can also increase the risk of colitis, polyps, or even colorectal cancer.

It is also important to include enough fibre in the diet, from fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds and legumes. Dietary fibre is a non-digestible component of food that serves as an energy source for beneficial bacteria (probiotics). Dietary fibre, when ingested along with adequate amounts of fluid, also helps with the prevention of constipation.

Fermented foods are consumed by many cultures every day for optimum health. Here are a few traditional fermented probiotic foods enjoyed by people around the world:

Yogurt and kefir are made from milk through a fermentation process with healthy bacteria and in some cases, yeast. Lactose intolerance or trouble digesting lactose, the type of sugar found in milk, is highly prevalent in the Asian population. However, many people with lactose intolerance find it easier to digest yogurt or kefir than milk as the lactose has been broken down by the healthy bacteria. Yogurt and kefir are not only a good source of probiotics but also a good source of protein and calcium.

Miso is produced by fermenting soybean, barley, brown rice, or other grains with a type of edible fungus known as Aspergillus oryzae. Depending on the ingredients used, you can produce red, white or dark brown coloured miso with a buttery texture and salty or umami flavour. As a general guideline: the darker the colour of the miso, the saltier and stronger the flavour. Miso can be dissolved in hot water to make soup, added to stir-fries, or used to pickle vegetables.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made from pickling cabbage and other vegetables with salt and special flavorings such as hot pepper flakes, radish, carrot, garlic, parsley, and fish sauce. Traditional Korean kimchi is very rich in lactic acid bacteria, which contributes to maintaining a healthy intestinal flora. However, when cooking with kimchi, it is recommended that you add it last in the cooking process in order to preserve any beneficial enzymes and bacteria that are easily lost with over-heating.

To digest your best and prevent uncomfortable digestive symptoms, eat 25-35 grams of fibre every day along with 6-8 cups of water or herbal tea as well as 1 or 2 servings of fermented foods. To learn more about digestive health and these beneficial foods, contact Nicole or Leanne!

Sugar…Ah Honey, Honey

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

Is it evil? Is it killing us all through obesity, diabetes and other metabolic diseases? Is it depressing our immune systems and increasing inflammation in our bodies? The answer is, yes quite possibly. Especially if you’re consuming the amount that the average Canadian does—26 teaspoons (130 grams) a day!

But before we all jump on the I Hate Sugar bandwagon, let us recollect the I Hate Fat bandwagon of the eighties and nineties. Where did that lead us? Down a path of taking natural foods and products and trying to reduce or substitute the fat by adding carbohydrates, binders and chemicals that we truly didn’t need. The easiest example of this is fat-free yogurt—what would have had two ingredients, milk and bacterial culture, now has to have pectin or gelatin, modified corn starch, carrageenan, and the list goes on, to replace the fat.

If we remove sugar from all of our common packaged foods, you can bet that something else will take its place—artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame, or supposedly more natural ones like stevia or xylitol (still processed white powders). Although these sweeteners do not contribute calories or raise your blood sugar, that doesn’t mean they are benign. They still affect your hormones, to what extent is still unknown, and your taste buds. We do know that there is a correlation between diet soda consumption and being overweight or obese.

Alternately food companies just use other ingredients that confuse the consumer but are still essentially turning into straight sugar in your body, namely modified starch, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, barley malt, brown rice syrup, cane juice, caramel, dextrose, galactose…I could go on and on.

So what’s the message? Skip the packaged food! If you eat close to nature—vegetables, fruit, whole and ideally fermented grains and dairy, lean and mostly plant-based proteins—you don’t need to fuss. You won’t be consuming a lot of sugar.

It’s all about keeping things simple—plain over flavoured yogurt (saves yourself 1 tablespoon of sugar per serving!), fresh salsa over ketchup, homemade salad dressing over store bought (it takes 2 minutes to make), Easy Overnight Oats instead of boxed cereal, and saving treats for celebrations, not every day.

For the afternoon or after dinner sweet tooth, try a couple of dates –known as nature’s candy! Or a square or two of dark (>70% cocoa) chocolate, fruit with nut butter or frozen grapes or blueberries. Bake a pear or apple stuffed with raisins and cinnamon. This warm spice gives the sense of sweetness and has the added benefit of lowering your blood sugar. Use it in coffee or tea too! Or make homemade sorbet—blend frozen fruit with your favourite milk. Drizzle in some honey or real maple syrup if you must.

Ah, honey. A truly natural source of sugar. Yes, it raises your blood sugar and you need to use it moderately, but it’s not an industrialized processed food. Does that mean bake every week and just swap in honey or real maple syrup for sugar? No, but if you make a carrot cake for your dad’s special birthday request, consider using honey instead of refined white sugar.

Need more sweet nuggets of information? Email Nicole or Leanne!

Tips to Triumph: The Top 10 Food Tricks to Tackle Each Day

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

There is a lot of information out there when it comes to nutrition (some of which isn’t always helpful) and trying to figure out where to begin can be a challenge. At first glance, eating healthy might seem overwhelming but if you start small by choosing one or two of these ten tips, you can gradually work your way up the list. Remember, building habits takes time and small changes add up.

1. Half Your Plate Veggies
Vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre to keep your immune and digestive system strong. Eating more vegetables doesn’t mean you can only eat salads! Roast a batch of root vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes with a drizzle of olive oil. Frozen vegetables can be just as nutritious and are a great addition to pasta, stir-fries and soup—they can make your canned or instant soup healthy.

2. Eat Protein With Each Meal
Protein is important for growth, maintenance, and repair of the cells in your body and helps you feel full for longer. Plant-based proteins such as legumes (beans, peas and lentils), or even eggs are a great budget-friendly option. Add chickpeas or boiled eggs to your salad, pasta or rice bowl for a boost of protein.

3. Don’t Skip Breakfast
Kick-start your energy and concentration for the day with breakfast. Smoothies and overnight oats are easy-to-prepare, especially for those busy days when you need your breakfast to be ‘grab and go’ style.

4. Stock Up On Healthy Snacks
Instead of waiting until you’re ravenous for food, incorporate healthy snacks throughout the day. Try veggies and hummus, an apple with nut butter or a handful of pumpkin seeds and dried fruit. If you’re choosing a snack bar, look for simple ingredients without much sugar and minimum 5 grams of protein and 5 grams of fibre.

5. Think Ahead
Choose one day a week to plan, shop and prepare your meals (or ingredients) for the week. Cook grains, chop up some veggies, and prepare sauces. You can even multi-task by cooking beans or pasta while doing homework, catching up on Netflix or calling a friend. Pack your lunch the night before so that it’s ready to go when you leave the house.

6. Incorporate Healthy Fats
Unsaturated fats from olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds are important for helping your body absorb certain vitamins and play a key role in brain and heart health. Sprinkle chia or ground flax seeds on cereal or yogurt and eat salmon twice a week for your dose of omega-3 fatty acids.

7. Fermented Fun
Did you know that there are hundreds of species of ‘good bacteria’ living in your large intestine that synthesize certain vitamins, support healthy digestion, boost your immune system and potentially prevent weight gain? Cultivate a healthy microbe population with foods like probiotic yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut!

8. Go For Whole Carbs
Limit added sugar (sauces, flavoured yogurt, sodas, sweets) and refined carbohydrates (white flour, white rice, mashed potatoes, fries) which spike your blood sugar and insulin causing inflammation and weight gain. Instead, go for whole grains like brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley and whole or sprouted grain pasta or bread and other complex carbs like sweet potatoes.

9. Drink Up
Water is involved in nearly all processes in our body. Stay hydrated whether it’s sipping on herbal or green tea throughout the day and making sure to pack a water bottle. Women need 9 cups and men up to 12 cups per day.

10. Eat Together
Make your mealtimes a family (or friend) affair. Cook food with your friends or organize a potluck. After all, doesn’t food taste so much better when enjoyed together.

Plants are the New Protein

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

For decades, the North American meal has revolved around meat and that’s how most menus are created…Beef on Wednesday, Chicken on Thursday, Fish on Friday. Bacon at breakfast, ham at lunch, roast beef for dinner—you get the idea. This focus has left us with problems on many levels—for one, a health crisis with obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes running rampant in our population. And secondly, an environmental crisis, with carbon emissions accelerating climate change and droughts causing extreme water shortages.

Raising livestock for meat uses huge amounts of water. An estimated 1800-2500 gallons of water is needed to produce a single pound of beef (or 29 gallons per gram of protein). Compared to legumes or pulses which require about 5 gallons per gram of protein, beef is clearly costing us a lot of precious water. Nuts do need to be mentioned with all of the California almond news stories lately—they are close to beef in their water usage. But other nuts, like walnuts, hazelnuts and pistachios are significantly less. But we also need to consider carbon emissions—almonds still don’t produce methane like cows do!

In fact, the UN estimates that the meat industry is responsible for one fifth of the world’s man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Research has shown that forgoing red meat just one day per week is equivalent to reducing driving by 1800 kilometres a year! So if you can’t prioritize that hybrid car or find a carpool, simply swap your protein to plants more often.

There are many forms this can take that don’t necessarily involve going completely vegetarian or vegan. The flexitarian approach is one of semi-vegetarianism where you mostly consume plant proteins but have some meat on a special occasion or to allow some old favourites. Renowned food writer, Mark Bittman, coined the VB6 (Vegan Before 6pm) approach as a response to typical North American health conditions (heart disease, pre-diabetes) that he was developing. This allows him to still review the foie gras at a fine dining restaurant but keeps it all in balance as the rest of his day he follows a vegan diet.

For those new to plant proteins, simply joining the Meatless Monday movement, of forgoing meat only one day per week, will still make a big difference to your carbon footprint and health. And hopefully, once you develop a love of legumes, going meatless can happen more often. So at breakfast, if you’re getting protein from eggs, there is no need for the bacon or ham, which the United Nations now considers a carcinogen. Instead round out your meal with veggies—toss a handful of spinach into a scramble or top your toast with avocado. At lunch, instead of deli meat in a sandwich, try smoked tofu or hummus and lots of veggies. If you tend to go for a lunch time salad, add protein with a sprinkling of hemp hearts or sunflower seeds or some sprouted beans or chickpeas. At dinner, find a new centre to your plate with a stuffed squash perhaps or choose a vegetarian entrée, like a thai curry with tofu, a veggie burger or a bean burrito.

For more ideas on how to eat meatless or to hear about ways to eat veggie on campus, contact Nicole or Leanne!

Preventing Your Produce from Perishing

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

It’s common knowledge that the majority of Canadians do not meet their fruit and vegetable needs every day, but why do we have such a hard time when we know how important they are to our health? Well it all starts with buying them because if they’re not at home, you certainly can’t eat them.

Many of us are scared to buy enough to last through the week because of the chance of it going to waste. And if you actually do the math, we have to buy a lot: for 1 person, you need at least 14 servings of fruit and 42 servings of veggies to meet your weekly needs.

Here are some tips for what to buy to last through the week, which produce items should be used up first and how to keep some back-up produce servings in the freezer:

  • Bananas, berries and melons—these tend to ripen quickly. Eat them in the first 3 days of bringing them home. Or freeze berries in a single layer to add to smoothies and yogurt.
  • Apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit—these last much longer in the fridge and can be saved until the end of the week. Don’t store your apples and pears with any other fruit or veggie as they give off a gas called ethylene which causes other produce to ripen faster.
  • Lettuce—bunches and clamshells. We’ve all had the experience of opening a clamshell of greens and discovering the slime! Use these up at the beginning of the week. If spinach seems to be approaching its end point, steam it all and squeeze out the excess water. Then it can be kept in the fridge longer and added to eggs, sauces, soups and salads.
  • Fresh herbs—the best way to add flavour and chlorophyll to your food! But they often go slimy. Keep basil in a jar of water on the windowsill for weeks—the fridge can turn it black. Other herbs can be kept in a jar of water in the fridge covered in a plastic bag with a few air holes punched in.
  • Broccoli—this needs to get used in a few days to prevent it turning yellowish brown. If you’ve bought too much, blanch it for one minute in boiling water, dry then freeze.
  • Leafy greens (kale, chard, collards)—chard will be the first green to go so it should be used first within 3 days. Collards have the most longevity and can keep through the week. Kale is somewhere in the middle. If you’re sitting on too much, pack it tightly in a freezer bag then pull out and crumble into shakes, soups and pasta.
  • Avocadoes—buy green and allow to ripen on the counter. Once they are just black and softening, put them in the fridge where they will keep for a week.
  • Root veggies and winter squash—keep them cool and dark in a cupboard and they’ll easily last two weeks or more.
  • Cabbage—a most affordable and underappreciated veggie. It has great longevity so use up the lettuce for your early in the week salads and save the cabbage for Thursday night coleslaw.

For more tips on getting the most important food group into your diet, email Nicole or Leanne

Do you need to be Gluten-Free or simply Grain-Conscious?

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

Many of us have tried a gluten-free diet or at least sampled some of the thousands of new gluten-free products on the market in the last 5 years.  But only 1% of the population actually has celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that requires strict gluten avoidance or risk serious intestinal damage. So why are the rest of us so intrigued by this diet fad? Likely the rumours that it can help with weight loss, relief of digestive upset and even improved skin health and mental concentration.

But simply swapping out your refined wheat-based foods for refined gluten-free foods, is not going to solve any of these issues. In fact, many gluten-free foods are highly processed and can contain ingredients, like xanthan gum, rice flour and potato starch, that were not part of your diet and are not improving your health in the slightest.

If you’re really looking for help with weight, skin and digestive health, consider a “grain-conscious” diet instead of a gluten-free one. In North America, we have a love of wheat and for many, they could be consuming this one grain for all of their 7 or 8 grain servings in the day, from flakes at breakfast to a sandwich at lunch to pasta for dinner. But no one would eat 7 bananas in a day and think they met all of their fruit and vegetable servings, so why do we feel that balance and variety is less important in the grain group?

The benefit of the gluten-free fad has been to elevate the status of so many other wonderful grains grown in this world: millet, amaranth, buckwheat, sorghum, quinoa, not to mention rice, corn and oats. But including these grains should not just be in the form of a gluten-free wrap, bread, pasta or cookie! They need to be consumed in their whole, intact state and in a varied and moderate way. Grain-consciousness means considering if you had wheat at breakfast, then try different grains for lunch and dinner. If you had a processed or refined grain product like bread or noodles at lunch, strive for a whole, intact grain at dinner. Try ancient varietals of wheat, like spelt, Einkorn and Khorasan (Kamut) and whole, gluten-containing, healthy grains like barley and rye, that are easier for many of us to digest.

But watch your portion! Nutrition research is emerging that shows we may be eating too many carbohydrates, not just from wheat. Increasing the percentage of your calories from healthy fats like avocadoes, nuts and seeds and ensuring half your plate is veggies, helps to keep carbohydrate portions small enough to improve blood sugar and hormone response in our body, which will ultimately impact your weight and your risk for diabetes and heart disease.

The Big FAT Debate

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

Does fat make you fat? Do animal foods cause heart disease? Is margarine better than butter? These are questions that have been tossed around in the nutrition world for a century! And unfortunately, we still don’t have a conclusive answer despite billions of dollars of research including large, randomized clinical trials and extensive dietary surveys of populations around the globe.

For decades, the nutrition and health communities have been recommending we limit our total fat intake to 30% of our total calories, saturated fat to 10% of total calories and cholesterol to 300 mg per day.  With new research, the proposed 2015 Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. are throwing all of this out the window!

The 300 mg per day cholesterol guideline was based on research done in the early 20thcentury by a Russian scientist named Anitsckow. In his study, rabbits were fed purified cholesterol and developed atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). The hypothesis then became that high circulating cholesterol levels in the blood caused cardiovascular disease and increased risk for heart attacks—informing not only decades of dietary recommendations to limit cholesterol-containing foods but also leading to 40% of the current population being diagnosed with ‘high cholesterol’ and likely prescribed the most popular drug class in existence--statins. The trouble with this founding study is that as herbivores, rabbits do not naturally eat cholesterol —perhaps if dogs had been used instead, they could have been fed oodles of cholesterol and not developed problems.

We know now that most cholesterol in our body is produced by our liver to make cell membranes, hormones and digestive juices, like bile, which are then reabsorbed. How much you produce and how its dealt with in your body is mostly governed by genetics. Dietary cholesterol is only 25-30% of the total cholesterol in our bodies. And one of the best strategies to limit absorption and re-absorption is to ensure you take in adequate soluble fibre from legumes, fruits, chia or ground flax seeds, and whole grains like oats and barley, rather than limiting cholesterol-containing foods.

 So egg yolks and shrimp are back on the table! And foods containing healthy fats, like nuts, seeds, avocado and yes, even cheese, should make up a good portion of your daily diet. It seems that other compounds in cheese, like the protein, bacteria and minerals cause the body to deal with the saturated fat differently than it does with saturated fat from meat—which is still linked to heart disease risk. It may be that finishing cattle on cereal grains, like corn, to get a more marbled (aka fatty) meat despite their natural inclination to eat grass, is what has created this health consequence. Consuming grass-fed meat is definitely proving to be much healthier from a fat intake perspective.

The other debate that has yet to be resolved with certainty is whether saturated fats from animal foods are managed differently in our bodies than saturated fat from plants, such as coconut or red fruit palm oil. This indepth question leads us into the butter versus margarine issue. With margarine sales declining dramatically over the last few years, it is clear that this heavily processed food has not lived up to its original heart health claim.

The takeway message? Forget low-fat and no-fat products! We may want to consider consuming fat as up to 40% of our total calories, especially if it displaces sugars and refined carbohydrates and comes from whole, close-to-nature foods like avocado, nuts and seeds, fish, eggs, olives and other plant-based oils with some organic or grass-fed meat and dairy if you’re so inclined.


Get Your Greens Smoothie

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

I have a hard time eating breakfast in the morning (as do about 50% of the clients I’ve presented to or counseled) because of lack of appetite and feeling rushed. But instead of going without eating, grabbing ‘just a banana’ or stopping at Starbucks, I make a green smoothie every morning and bring it with me. So far, they haven’t made a Distracted Driving law about shifting gears whilst holding a giant mug of green smoothie! This hearty beverage gets me through until lunch and meets half my veggie and fruit servings for the day plus almost half of my calcium needs.

Serves 2

  • 1 avocado
  • 2 cups spinach or kale
  • 1 cup cucumber
  • ¼ cup fresh mint or parsley
  • 2 tablespoons spirulina (optional)
  • 1 pear or 1 cup mango (or other light coloured fruit—I love berries, but they turn it brown)
  • 1.5 cups plain kefir or yogurt
  • ¼ cup hemp hearts
  • 1 cup water or orange juice (if just using water, one tablespoon of maple syrup is sometimes needed to taste)
  • 1 cup ice (if you like it cold)

Put all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.


Hearty Black Bean Soup

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

Legumes or pulses (namely beans, peas and lentils) are the most affordable and sustainable protein on the planet. You’re not a good vegetarian or vegan if you don’t eat legumes almost every day. And even for meat eaters and flexitarians, it’s recommended to opt for pulses at least 3 times per week in lieu of red meat for the conclusive health benefits. Legumes are one of the best sources of fiber which most North Americans are sadly deficient in, so adding them regularly can help meet your needs.
Anyone who thinks soup can’t make a meal will surely ‘eat their words’ when they fill up on this delicious recipe. Serve over cooked quinoa or brown rice to make a stew or top with crunchy tortilla strips. For an easy meal that’s almost ready when you get home, make it in the slow-cooker.

Serves 6

  • 2 cups dried black beans (or 3 large cans)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp smoked salt (or sea salt)
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 bunch collard greens (or sub kale, swiss chard, etc), stemmed and chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp each ground cumin and chili powder
  • Optional garnishes: Fresh cilantro, diced and plain yogurt

1. Place beans in a slow-cooker and cover with 6 cups of boiling water. Add bay leaves and turn on high. Cook for at least 4 hours or until beans are tender.
2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Add onion and garlic and sauté for 10 minutes until softened. Add smoked salt and cook for another 2 minutes. Add to slow cooker.
3. Place collard greens in skillet with 1 tbsp of water, cover and cook until tender, approximately 10-15 minutes. Add to slow cooker.
4. Meanwhile, add all remaining ingredients to slow-cooker, including more water if too thick. Cook for 30 minutes to soften tomatoes and allow flavours to combine.
5. Remove 3 cups of soup and puree in blender then return to pot to help thicken the soup.
6. Adjust seasonings as desired then serve with fresh cilantro and a dollop of plain yogurt.

Chewy Baked Granola Bars

By Leanne Halligey, RD

¾ cup rolled oats, ground into flour
1 cup water
¾ cup pitted medjool dates
½ cup chia seeds
¼ cup raw sunflower seeds
¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds
¼ cup dried cranberries, finely chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp fine grain sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 325 F and line a 9 inch square pan with 2 pieces of parchment paper, one going each way.
2. Add rolled oats into a blender. Blend on highest speed until a fine flour forms. Add oat flour into a large bowl.
3. Add water and pitted dates into blender. Allow the dates to soak for 30 minutes if they are a bit firm. Once they are soft, blend the dates and water until super smooth.
4. Add all the ingredients into the bowl with the oat flour and stir until well combined.
5. Scoop the mixture onto the pan and spread it out with a spatula as evenly as possible. You can use lightly wet hands to smooth it down if necessary.
6. Bake at 325 F for about 23-25 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then lift it out and transfer to a cooling rack for another 5-10 minutes. Slice and Enjoy!

Greek Red Lentil Soup

By Leanne Halligey, RD

  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp rosemary
  • 2 tbsp oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 lemon zest
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 cups crumbled feta
  • 2 tsp minced rosemary

1. Rinse lentils; set aside to drain
2. Heat oil; sauté onion with salt
3. Add garlic, carrot, pepper, red pepper flakes, herbs, bay leaves, salt. Sautee until carrots tender.
4. Add lentils and broth - bring to a boil
5. Simmer partially covered - cook until lentils tender and falling apart.
6. Season soup with lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
7. Stir together feta, rosemary, pepper - sprinkle on bowls of soup

Fish Tacos

By Leanne Halligey, RD


  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. lime zest
  • 1 ½ tsp honey
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp hot sauce

Add to:

  • 1 pound of fish fillets (Tilapia or other white fish), cut into chunks
  • 4 x 8 inch diameter flour tortillas

Tortilla Pie

By Leanne Halligey, RD

  • 1 Tbsp. oil (avocado, olive, grapeseed)
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded & diced
  • 1 yellow pepper, seeded & diced
  • 2-3 Roma tomato, diced
  • 1 cup corn (frozen)
  • 1 can of kidney or black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced
  • ½ cup of salsa
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • 2 tsp of chili powder (or more to taste)
  • 3-4 whole grain tortillas
  • ¾- 1 cup grated cheese (sharp cheddar, mozzarella, feta)
  • 1 ripe avocado, halved and peeled
  • Cilantro (optional)

1. Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. In a large saucepan heat oil over med heat. Sauté onion and garlic until soft ~ 5 minutes. Add diced chicken and sauté until cooked (~ 8-10 min).
2. Add zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes. Sauté for an additional 3-4 minutes.
3. Add corn, black beans, seasonings and salsa. Stir together and lightly mash mixture with a potato masher.
4. Grease an 8 inch pan/dish, and layer as follows: 1 tortilla, chicken, bean, veggie mixture. Repeat until pan is full. Add one more wrap on top, and sprinkle with shredded cheese and salsa.
5. Bake for 30 minutes.
6. Top with avocado and cilantro if desired.

Peanut Butter Energy Balls

By Leanne Halligey, RD

  • 1 cup of rolled oats
  • 2 cups of natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup of honey
  • 1 cup of coconut
  • 1/2 cup of walnut crumbs
  • 1 cup of raisins
  • 1 cup of dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips (optional)
  • ¼ cup ground flax seeds

Combine above and roll into balls and roll into sesame seeds or hemp hearts. Store in fridge or freezer.

Two Minute Taco Salad

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

Taco salad doesn’t have to come in a massive deep fried tortilla bowl covered with sour cream—not exactly a healthy meal. It can come together in minutes and can be tweaked to your tastes or what you have on hand. The key ingredients are the tortilla chips and the beans, which are easy pantry staples.

Serves 1

  • 1/2 cup tortilla chips, lightly salted (Que Pasa is a great local brand)
  • 1 cup lettuce or spinach
  • 1 cup cooked black, pinto or refried beans
  • ¼ cup cheese (shredded cheddar or jack or crumbled feta are ideal)
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • ½ pepper, diced
  • ½ avocado, diced
  • 2 tbsps Easy Vinaigrette or salsa
  • Hot sauce (optional)

Simply layer the ingredients in the order listed and dig in! If you want to take it to-go, build it backwards so that the dressing/salsa are on the bottom and doesn’t sog out the chips which stay crunchy on the top.

Chocolate Blueberry Energy Bars

By Leanne Halligey, RD

Serves 12

  • 1 Cup fresh or soaked dried dates
  • ¼ Cup almonds
  • ½ Cup blueberries
  • ¼ Cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ Cup ground flaxseed
  • ¼ Cup hemp hearts
  • ¼ Cup un-hulled sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp. Lemon zest & sea salt to taste

Mix together in a food processor and spread into pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes and cut into bars. Store in fridge.

Pasta Fazool (and basic soup formula recipe)

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

Soup is one of the most comforting meals on the planet and the variations and flavour profiles are literally endless! It can be a great dish for using up what’s on hand, for making a big batch to last all week or freeze and to pack in all kinds of great choices, like veggies, legumes and whole grains. Most soups start with a base called a mirepoix—the magical trinity of onions, carrots and celery—that flavour so many dishes around the world. A stock then gets added and then the star ingredients, whether they be other veggies, a protein source, herbs and spices and other flavour-builders. Paired with some crusty bread and a salad, soup can truly make a meal!

Serves 3-4

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, stemmed and minced
  • 2-3 cups dark leafy greens (e.g. spinach, chard or kale), chopped
  • 1 Litre stock
  • 1.5-2 cups cooked/canned legumes (e.g. chickpeas, beans, lentils)
  • 1 cup dried wholegrain pasta
  • Salt, pepper, fresh herbs, parmesan cheese to taste

Heat olive oil over medium low heat in a medium-sized pot. Add onion, carrot and celery and saute for 8-10 minutes until soft and golden. Add garlic, tomatoes and rosemary and saute for another 3 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Add cooked legumes and pasta and cook at least as long as the pasta “cooking instructions” on the box or bag. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve garnished with fresh herbs (e.g. basil, parsley) and/or parmesan cheese.

What's in the Fridge Frittata

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

Although this recipe is made with greens, so many different veggies can work. It’s a great way to use things up and make a quick, healthy meal. It’s also delicious for lunch the next day on a sandwich with mayo, mustard and lettuce.

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • I-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch of red chard or other leafy greens
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp cracked pepper
  • 1 carrot, peeled and grated
  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped (e.g. parsley, dill, rosemary)
  • ¾ cup feta cheese, crumbled (or another favourite)

Preheat oven to 350F. Heat a large oven-safe skillet on the stovetop on medium low heat. Add oil then onion and sauté for 5-7 minutes, stirring until softened. Meanwhile stem chard and chop stems and leaves separately. Add chopped stems to the onion with the garlic, salt and pepper. Stir for another 5 minutes, then add the shredded chard leaves. Stir often to help the water evaporate and wilt the chard. Stir in the grated carrot and then add the beaten egg. Tilt the pan to spread the egg over all the veggies. Top with cheese and herbs. Cook 5 minutes and then bake in oven 10 more minutes, until puffing up. Allow to cool for 5 minutes or longer to taste. Serve in sliced wedges.

Easy Overnight Oats

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

Breakfast is so key to health and really is the most important meal of the day. Without it, you can have difficulty concentrating and a sluggish metabolism leading to weight gain. Besides smoothies, easy overnight oats are a go-to because you can grab them from the fridge and race out the door then eat them on the bus or at work. And if you prefer a hot breakfast during the cold, winter months, you can warm these up, but with soaking, they don’t have to be cooked.

Serves 2

1     cup               slow or rolled oats

1                         apple, grated (unpeeled)

¼    cup               raisins and/or unsweetened shredded coconut

½    tsp                cinnamon

½    tsp                pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean powder

1½  cups              your favourite milk, yogurt or kefir

Combine all ingredients in a bowl or reusable container.  Cover and soak overnight in fridge then serve in the morning. If desired, it can be topped with additional fresh fruit and/or nuts and seeds. Hemp seeds are a great addition for protein while chia or ground flax seeds are good for added omega 3 essential fats and even more fibre. Also, if using unsweetened plant-based milks, a drizzle of maple syrup or honey may be warranted.