Blogs and recipes


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!

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.

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.