Whats SOOOO bad about CARBS?! part 1 of 3

I don’t think there is another dreaded food word these days! I get asked regularly, “Can I eat carbs?”  And my answer is always YES!! So why are they getting such a bad wrap, and why are people so afraid of them?

First of all, you have to remember that carbohydrates are ALL grown from the ground. That means that this macronutrient group includes all edible plant life. Grains, fruits and vegetables are ALL part of a healthy diet. It’s the amount you choose to eat based on the diet you prefer to follow that results in how much or little you should consume.

Today I want to focus just on grains, which are known as a starchy carbohydrate.

So many people are poo-pooing them, thinking they are the reason for weight gain. And this may be true, based on what form of grain you are eating, how much grain you are eating, and how much or little you exercise or move your body. Whole grain options are not bad for us. They contain a lot of goodness, including B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate), minerals (iron, magnesium and selenium) and fibre.

When you choose refined grains however, the fibre has been stripped from the grain so it will digest a lot faster, elevating your blood sugar level. Think along the lines of white bread, hamburger and hot dog buns, ethnic breads, pitas, wraps, and baked goods (as delicious as they are, they often are full of sugar for sweetness even increasing that blood sugar level more). The more processed a grain is the quicker it becomes sugar in our body…..and that my dear is where the problem lies….and will likely result in that unwanted weight gain.

When we look at whole grain, such as oats, quinoa, brown basmati rice, etc., we are consuming them in their natural form. We have to chew it, it has to digest, it still has its good nutrients and fibre, so provides benefits to your body including better bowel function and feeling full longer. Whole grains won’t harm us when eaten in the proper portion size, which I generally recommend ½ cup serving for most females and 1 cup for most males.

Whole grains will provide us with energy to do the activities in our day if we have them 1-2 times a day, based on personal activity level. So, here is how the average day flows for adults. We wake up, go to the washroom (50% sit down for this), go to the kitchen to sit and have coffee, eat breakfast or watch the news. We then either drive or take transit to work…sitting. We take our seat at our desk, have lunch sitting, sit at our desk for the remainder of the day, sit on our way home, sit to relax for a bit, sit to eat dinner, sit and watch tv, read or fiddle with our computer. WOW! That’s a lot of sitting, aka, not moving. When you have that little physical activity in your day and are consuming processed grains at most of your meals you can see how it results in weight gain. If you have a manual job and are walking, lifting and unloading all day long you can consume more. If you choose physical exercise most days in challenging ways, yes, you can consume more.

Think about your day. Consider your activity level. Ask yourself if your grain options are adequate to your lifestyle. What positive changes can you make to improve upon that? There is no perfect answer. You need to look and listen to your body. We are all different and have varying needs. Just remember, grain isn’t the enemy. It’s provided for us naturally. It’s up to you how you choose to use it.

Good Morning Sunshine!

Are you one of “those” people that just love getting up bright and early? Or at the very least, can function well as soon as they open their eyes?  Or are you rather the one who hits snooze 2 or 3 times, drags themselves out of bed with their eyes still closed, already thinking about how they can’t wait for the day to be over?

Not everyone is a morning person. Many people would love nothing more than 10 extra minutes of pillow time, and to smack every perky and chatty morning person they run into! Did you know that according to a recent study, 57% of people hit that snooze button? With over half of the population delaying the start of a fresh new day, it made me wonder what could be done to work on improving that?

Some people are so busy in their life that they know as soon as their feet hit the ground that they will be running all day, so why not stay in bed for a few extra minutes, right? To help be prepared for your early morning start, here are a few tips that might help give you five minutes of breathing space to sit and well, smell your coffee, or tea, before inhaling it on the way out the door.

Before all else, I start my day with a water. I have a bottle at my bedside that I take 10-12 gulps from as soon as my feet touch the floor. Starting to re-hydrate immediately sets me on the right foot right away!

  1. If you are a morning shower person, have everything ready for yourself. Fresh towel, face wash, toner, toothbrush. Do it all in the shower rather than deal with different sinks and taps. Look into a microfibre towel to wrap your hair in, as these soak up water faster, so your hair will dry quicker.
  2. Set your clothes out the night before. Even though my attire tends to be workout gear every day, I always have it set out, ready to go. Right down to the undergarments. Less thinking I have to do and last minutes digging in the dark the better! In fact, I set them down within reach of the toilet so I can get right to getting dressed.
  3. Set your breakfast up the night before. Whether that’s having your smoothie ingredients ready to go, or your coffeemaker pre-set and travel mug beside it, having your first foods and drinks pre-planned, even partially, will save you a minute or two. Have the blender ready with protein powder on the counter and banana beside it. Pre-boil some eggs so you can grab them out of the fridge. Make your oats the night before so you only have to re-heat them. All simple steps to making your morning easier.
  4. Pack your lunch and snacks the night before. I am a big believer in being prepared to succeed, so I do all my veggie prep and cooking on the weekend. I actually pack my lunches for two days in a row so I can save those extra minutes as well! So easy to do, such little time when everything is already out of the fridge. If re-heating foods in the microwave, make sure you pack in glass containers. Much safer for you than plastic.

So, there you go! A few tips to help you make your early morning time a bit easier. It’s up to you how you choose to spend the extra few minutes you have created. Hitting that snooze might still feel like the answer for you. Maybe it gives you time to set an intention for how you want your day to go. Or maybe meditate, journal your gratitude, watch the sun rise, do some stretching….or just sit and slowly inhale the aroma of your coffee or tea, and enjoy it down to the last drop.

Night Time Munchies

Let’s be real, we all have these moments of weakness. Whether its boredom, emotions or actual hunger, there are always going to be some nights where we just want to eat!

I totally understand the dilemma you are in! We’ve been told not to eat too much before going to bed. That ideally, dinner should be your last meal of the day, and not to snack after 7pm. But sometimes we are feeling a bit hungry as the clock ticks down the time to bedtime. Going to bed hungry might result in waking up during the night and not being able to get back to sleep. Eating something too heavy or too much might result in unsettled sleep as your body is digesting while it should be resting.

First of all, let’s look at the fact that it might not be food that your body is longing for. You might simply just be dehydrated.   Try first to have a glass of water or a cup of herbal tea. Wait about 20 minutes to see if that accomplished what your body was asking for. Another tried and true tip is to go brush your teeth. Most of us don’t like to eat or drink anything with freshly brushed and flossed teeth!

If neither of those tips cure you, try to look for something small and on the lighter side:

  • A piece of fruit with either a handful of nuts and seeds, or a thumb-size of cheese
  • A handful of nuts and seeds on their own, or simply a scoop of natural nut butter
  • ½ cup of plain yogurt or cottage cheese with added fruit
  • Some cut up raw veggies with hummus, tzatziki or mashed avocado
  • 1-2 tuna boats on a romaine lettuce leaf, or tuna salad with raw veggies
  • 5-10 shrimp dipped in seafood sauce
  • 1-2 boiled eggs
  • Small portion of crackers (Ryvita, Mary’s, etc.) with natural nut butter

Though not necessarily all perfect options, they all contain some protein, carbohydrate and/or good fat. The key is to keep your portion on the smaller side. Don’t take the bag of nuts or box of crackers out to your tv….this leads to mindless eating. Rather, put some on a small plate. It allows you better control.

What I strongly recommend is that you don’t go for anything with minimal nutritional value, or too heavy or large. This would include items such as:

  • Ice cream, frozen yogurt, chocolate, candy, etc.
  • Chips
  • Fried foods such as fries, onion rings, deep fried pickles, chicken wings/fingers, etc.
  • Burgers or hot dogs, pizza, subs, pitas
  • Nachos with salsa, sour cream, cheese and/or meat sauce
  • A larger plate of cheese and crackers

All of these are either loaded with sugar, bad fats or include lots of refined grains (white flour). All of this in your gut while you are trying to sleep is likely only going to stress out your digestion while it should be resting. It is key to give your body a break from foods during the night when possible. And while all this busy digestion is going on inside of you as you are sleeping, there is a really good chance your sleep will be disturbed as well. And not much feels worse than waking from a troubled night of sleep.

So, keep your snacks small, healthy and goal focused!

Why go Holistic?

You are what you eat. Most people are aware of this. They may not like it, but it’s true. But there’s more to it than that. When it comes to food, you also are what you chew, digest, absorb and discrete. The reality is your body is made of cells. Those cells depend greatly on what nutrients you choose to put in your mouth, in the form of food and beverages, and how well your body breaks them down for optimal absorption. And, the quality of output matters too. Bottom line, your body is doing what it can to work well, but if you have been choosing low quality food, that’s what your body gets to re-generate itself with.

And what about your lifestyle? Are you over worked, stressed out, and not moving enough? These too have a massive effect on your quality of living. That’s a lot to consider! Often people just don’t know where to begin.

And that’s where someone like myself comes in. Holistic nutrition looks at your body as a whole. It recognizes that each of us are individuals, with specific needs. There is not one specific plan for all people. As a holistic nutritionist I look deeper than the foods you eat. I do an assessment of your body and lifestyle based on your symptoms, to discover what is out of balance, then set up a plan on how to improve that. Yes, it always will include foods, because your body requires it for fuel, just like your car needs gas, oil and antifreeze.

You will learn so much about the best ways to assist your body in breaking down your foods for optimal absorption. You will learn about bowel function, and how to insure a good “output” regularly. Other results you likely will experience are weight loss, increased energy, better sleep, better sex, acne, eczema and psoriasis might subside. Many experience reduced cravings and hunger. Others feel brain fog reduce and increased mental clarity. And to think….it all begins with what you choose to put in your mouth.

If you would like to know more about what I do and the services I offer, please check out my website at www.nutritionbyshirley.ca, email me at shirley@nutritionbyshirley.ca, or call 905-688-7447.

what about bread?!

Bread….so good….but not always so good for you.  There are a few exceptions to this of course, such as sprouted grain breads, organic breads and non-grain bread options.

Sprouted grain breads are made from pretty much any grain, though the majority of them are sourced from wheat.  Sprouted grains have some health benefits. They are at their best when catching the sprouts during the germination process. This process breaks down some of the starch, which makes them easier to digest and it’s percentage of absorbable nutrients higher than regular grains. This occurs because the germination process breaks down phytate, a form of phytic acid that can decrease absorption of vitamins and minerals within the body. This results in more available nutrients than mature grains, including folate, iron, vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, and protein.

Organic breads are also made from a variety of grains. Regardless of the grain, if it’s made with white flour it’s going to cause a quick spike and drop in blood sugar. That is the reality, even if it’s organic. White breads contain little to no fibre to help slow down this reaction within you. When consuming organic, keep in mind the bread doesn’t contain the preservatives found in conventional bread, so it will not have the same shelf life. Organic breads tend to be a “bake or purchase” item that is consumed within the following 2 days, or it likely is already going stale. Organic grains are commonly more beneficial because of what they don’t have…fewer irrigation practices and no synthetic fertilizers and pesticides being used to support a bigger crop. A higher amount of significant nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants can be found in organic grains as well. Organic farming not only is beneficial in quality and safety of grain and grain-based products, but it also has a great impact on our environment.

Non-grain options, such as coconut, almond, farro and arrowroot flours all are gluten free. It can be a bit tricky working with these flours, as gluten is what gives flour its nice texture. I personally prefer to use these flours more for pancakes, muffins or little buns rather than breads. Gluten is the protein that sort of holds the bread together that is found in wheat, rye and barley. There are many people who need to stay away from gluten, as it can cause reactions ranging from digestive issues, constipation/diarrhea to headaches, joint aches/pains, fatigue, depression and anxiety. Some state it is the herbicide glyphosate, found in Roundup, which is made by Monsanto. This product is sprayed on grain crops, and might be triggering the issues people experience. Whatever might be causing it, if it doesn’t agree with you, be wise and don’t consume it.

Bread is an easy “go-to” for so many people around the world. Our Canada Food Guide recommends that adults consume 6-8 servings/day. To me that is way too much. I’m not going to argue whether bread can contain nutrients that our body can benefit from or not. Grains are a carbohydrate, and a starchy one at that, and it provides us with energy. I believe we don’t move enough in our lifestyle to consume that much grain. Most of us can likely get enough grain carbs from 1-2 servings/day. Whether we like it or not, grain is better consumed in its natural form, as a grain. Not always the most convenient way to eat it, but once it is processed and combined with other ingredients to become bread, or other baked goodies for that matter, it has lost a lot of its goodness, as now it has become a processed food.

I’m not saying don’t eat grains. I am saying, eat them wisely. Learn to listen to your body and examine how it responds to these foods. You truly are the best judge of what works for you, and what doesn’t.

time keeps ticking

Where does the time go? We all ask this when reflecting back on pictures, events and memories from days gone by, realizing in hind sight, that time is so precious. The reality is this moment right now is equally as precious. Moments of time that we give to family, friends, work, chores and hobbies, that all adds up to create how our days play out. What happens though when we want to do something different, like start to exercise, learn an instrument, join a book club or simply go to a movie, and we just don’t know where or how we are going to fit it in? We feel we just don’t have any time.

What if it’s not just about those minutes or hours? Time, in this reference, reflects on a moment or moments in the past, present or future, while energy actually reflects the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity. It’s easy to see how we may need to not only consider the moments we commit to something or someone, but also the energy required for us to truly take part. Depending on the situation, some events require less on actual moments of time, and greater amounts on the energy to take another activity on. How do you determine its worth to you? Is it time you are committing, or energy?

A few years back, while relaxing on my couch watching repeats of Seinfeld, I thought to myself that I needed to get off my butt and do some cardio. In spite of that, I was pretty content to keep watching tv. As one episode ended and the next one began, I realized the moments spent, as each one is 30 minutes. I asked myself, “What else could I do with this 30-minutes?” Whether it was the current episode I was on, or the next one, they all follow the same pattern so I really wasn’t missing anything valuable by turning the tv off and going for my run, so I did.

The next time I was out running with my gal pal and workout partner, we were struggling a bit to get through it, so intending to encourage us, I blurted out, “What else could you do with this 30-minutes?” This became her phrase to throw back at me on occasion, when my legs were tired and not wanting to keep pace. In this essence it was all about energy, as we had already committed the time.

Your commitment likely is different. It might not be about exercise, but rather committing to meal prep, putting in overtime, doing a girls’ night, or joining that bowling league. It’s your time and energy, not someone else’s, that is being spent.

So, again I ask, is it time you are committing, or is it energy? As your day or week fills up, are you spending your moments and energy on the things you truly need to? This is where we sometimes have to dig a bit to determine the value to ourselves and our souls. Choose wisely, create the boundaries needed to not overdue your time AND energy consumption. Always leave a little in the tank for yourself to allow to re-fuel and re-focus with whatever fills you.


Water is so boring! Yes, this may be true, but it is vital to our health. Is carbonated water an alternative? Well, let’s take a look.  But Sparkling water is basically water with an alteration to it. On its own it is clear, colourless, has no taste or fragrance to it, and it gets its bubbles by being infused with carbon dioxide.

So, how then would you know if the sparkling water you are drinking might be considered “natural” and healthy? When it comes from a mineral spring that naturally contains minerals and is naturally carbonated, as the sparkle can result from gases that are naturally occurring in the water. However, mineral water companies may still add carbon dioxide to the water to give it those lovely bubbles.  Mineral water naturally contains minerals that can be beneficial to your health, such as magnesium and potassium. However, in order for the mineral water to contain minerals, it has to be collected from a spring that actually contains them.

Seltzer water is the man-made or artificially created version of sparkling water. Seltzer is simply water plus carbon dioxide and is a cheaper alternative to sparkling mineral water. If you have a Soda Stream machine at home, this is what you are making, water that has been injected with carbon dioxide.

To compare club soda or tonic water to the bubbly water versions on the market, club soda and tonic water both have additional ingredients added to it, and tonic water is high in sugar. I personally recommend opting out of these two, and switching to mineral or regular bubbly water. One more thing you need to be aware of though, is when these bubbly waters are flavoured. “Natural flavour” really isn’t all that natural! It is flavour that is chemically made for your flavour driven palette. Choose plain carbonated water instead, and add some fresh fruit to it. A few mixed berries, a wedge of lemon, lime or squeeze of orange goes a long way in true natural flavour.

However, if it is flavour you want, and don’t care about the bubbles, a wonderful option is AXIO, a powdered product that conveniently comes in individual packets that can be easily added to water. It is highly beneficial fluid for your brain and provides much needed antioxidant support, without the crash from sugar or high caffeine. Rather, it contains B Vitamins, Magnesium, Green Tea Extract, Pine Bark and Quercitin. Click on www.shirleyvanegmond.ca-en.lifevantage.com/products/axio-locaf/ to find out how this truly is a great option!

Another potential issue concerning your health and carbonated drinks, is the effect on the enamel of your teeth. Apparently the problem lies in the fact that carbon dioxide bubbles change into carbonic acid once it is in our mouths. It lowers the pH of water, making it more acidic, which, similar to acidic foods, can cause dental erosion. I believe this though, would be a problem if you consume higher amounts of carbonated waters. If it’s a treat, or a weekend substitute for pop, a sugary drink or glass or two of wine, it’s not that bad.

So, if it’s the fizz you love, bubbly mineral water still appears to be the best option, carbonated beverages would be second….providing that it contains no added sugar, artificial sweeteners or flavours. As always, I would still recommend plain old filtered water the majority of your fluid intake. These too can have fresh fruit or a favourite herbal tea added to it for a dash of flavour. Or make ice cubes with bits of fruit in them. Pour that into a pretty wine glass and with or without bubbles, it can be beautiful thing!

July 15th Hiitstep Returns

HIITSTEP is a NEW and innovative HIIT exercise class using only your bodyweight and a STEP. It is challenging…but also so much fun at the same time! Burn up to 400 calories in 30 minutes, then continue to burn more calories due to the afterburn effect. HIIT Step will help you improve power, speed, agility and endurance!

Don’t be Discouraged

Recently a client (let’s call her Andrea) commented to me that she accomplished a 25 km bike ride along a local recreational trail. She was so happy and felt incredibly accomplished, as the turnaround spot is at the very top of a very long and grueling hill. She proudly posted a comment about this on her facebook page to share her success! She told me her joy was so short lived as right after her post she noticed 2 other women posted they did 80 and 100km respectively on the same day. Andrea felt so defeated, fearing that her progress was too slow and was asking me what the point was?

I quickly responded, saying the other 2 had likely been riding longer, maybe had better quality bikes and maybe had more spare time than she has to invest in training. All of these are factors in someone’s result. This is exactly why we need to stop looking at other peoples’ goals as a marker for our own success. Andrea started riding in late spring of this year. She has young children and runs a business. She has been giving her all to improving her fitness level and health, and I thought how sad is it that her joy was deflated the moment she saw others do more than her.

Goals are a personal thing. Yes, sometimes we join a group to complete a goal together. But still, each person sets out on their own path to accomplish what they set ahead for themselves. I’m sure the other 2 gals have no idea that their successes that day negatively affected Andrea’s purpose or confidence. And they likely would have encouraged her to keep pushing forward. To not give up. Because they likely too were in her shoes when they were within the first few months of a new challenge.

This was such a clear reminder to me that we always need to put in our best effort when working on accomplishing our goals. We need to keep it in perspective of where we began, where we are going, and to celebrate every accomplishment along the way.

We also have to remember that there are always people ahead and behind us. Don’t be afraid to aspire towards some of those ahead of you, and don’t let their accomplishments devalue your own. Remember as well, to look back, giving support and encouragement to those who aren’t as far along as you are. You know how they feel because you’ve been there.  It’s great to accomplish goals. It’s great to feel successful, but most of us start with humble beginnings. And, thanks to Lao Tzu we know a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.

The Salty Side of Things

Salt on wooden background

Salt, so much more than the box in your Oma’s cupboard! Not only that, it comes in various forms now too. How do you know which one is best? Which ones are for cooking? And, which ones have benefits outside of the realm of food?

Everyone is familiar with table salt. Most will be familiar with sea salt, and a number of you will have heard of Himalayan salt. All of these are options to flavour food, create a scrub or to gargle with warm water to aid a sore throat.

The added bonus of sea and Himalayan salts is they have not been treated and cleaned to the level that table salt has. In the process of making table salt, all the minerals aside from sodium and chloride are stripped from the salt, and as well, it is bleached and refined to look like it does as it comes out of its box. Since 1924, table salt has had iodine added to it as a preventative of iodine deficiency, which is a known cause of hypothyroidism.

Salt is often perceived as unhealthy, especially in large amounts, because it can bind water in the bloodstream and raise blood pressure. The daily recommended intake of sodium for Canadians is 2300 mg. This equates to approximately a single teaspoon amount. A very high percentage of sodium found in the Standard American diet comes from processed foods, so be mindful. You may not be adding it to your food, but eating a lot of processed and packaged foods will already contain it. If you make sure the majority of your foods are wholesome, homemade and unprocessed you should have no problems with taking in too much sodium.

Sea salt is made by evaporating sea water. It too is mostly sodium and chloride. One thing we need to remember however, is the oceans have become quite polluted so sea salt can also contain trace amount of pollutants, such as lead. Sea salt is often less ground than table salt so therefore provides a more granular texture and more flavour, and can contain small amounts of minerals.

Himalayan salt is harvested in Pakistan. It contains small amounts of calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium, and lower amounts of sodium than regular salt. Some will notice a difference, as the flavour is often a bit milder. The main difference is noted in the colour. The pink hew that you see is a from the trace amount of iron oxide.

There appears to be no scientific evidence that shows Himalayan salt provides more health benefits in comparison to either table or sea salt. It does however, contain several minerals, though the doses are small and therefore some believe it is unlikely to bring any notable health benefits.

Both sea salt and Himalayan salts are wonderful for a nice soak, regardless of what part of your body is soaking in it!  Feet, hands, or all of you! Epsom salt as well is a great option. Here’s a fun fact….epsom salt isn’t actually salt at all! It’s a mineral found in water that contains high levels of magnesium and sulfate, which is what is primarily made up of. Any of these above options create a wonderful relaxing at-home spa experience. They will help draw out toxins, cleanse the skin and most importantly, help you relax. Add some essential oils or bubbles to have a wonderfully scent filled experience! Not much beats a hot soak with a good book and a glass of your favourite beverage to sip on! Self-care at its best!