Category Archives: Nutrition

5 Things you should know if you’re going to cook more often (and you should!)

Do you cook often? If you have weight loss goals, it’s time to start. Here are 5 tips to help you get started and more comfortable:

1. Do it! This is one of the best things you can do for your health. Eating out is a recipe for over eating, and often eating things you would never eat at home. Cooking is also a great option for the bank account.

2. Sometimes you’ll want to cut a recipe in half or thirds. Unless the recipe has one egg, this is often easy to do. Just be sure to commit these two conversions to memory:
  • 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon
  • 4 tablespoons in a quarter cup.

In fact I just made a combination of these two recipes, but only a half head of cauliflower:

Not bad.
3. Further to that, sometimes you realize you’re missing an ingredient at the last minute and you really don’t want to go back out to get it. Odds are, you can substitute. Sometimes it’s simple: recipe calls for broccoli, which you don’t have, but you do have zucchini. Easy – just swap it out. Other times it’s a bit trickier: maybe you don’t have cloves of garlic
but you have garlic powder. It won’t be as good, but it’ll still be good. The question is – how much to use? Or maybe the recipe calls for a certain type of vinegar you don’t have, or an ingredient you’ve never heard of. I’ve got a few go to resources to help figure this out:
  • I have two great books for this in my kitchen: The Visual Food Lover’s Guide and The Food Lover’s Companion (disclosure: those are Amazon affiliate links), they are the first place I look to find out about an ingredient and to get ideas for substitutions.
  • I can’t say I fully trust Chef Google as there are lots of sites out there that I don’t know if they’re good or not. But I usually start there and hope that I’ll see a result on chowhound, as that tends to have contributions from knowledgeable cooks.

4. Baking is chemistry – don’t mess with it unless you know exactly what you’re doing. Often cooking can accommodate substitutions quite easily, but baking is not so forgiving – don’t do it unless you are absolutely sure you know what you’re doing, or are ready for a potential disaster. How do I differentiate baking from cooking? Baking includes all variations of breads and pastries.

5. The more you cook, the more likely you will be to post food pictures to Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest. Some of your friends will mock you for this; others will applaud it and ask for recipes. Be prepared for this inevitability, and know that it’s okay and you will get through it. You may even get through it with your friends list intact.
sesame spaghetti squash
Interested in more of my cooking tips? Check out these two posts:

Why moderation isn’t working for your weight goals

Moderation seems to be a favourite approach to well, everything. Is it possible to go a week without hearing someone say “everything in moderation“?  

Despite it’s popularity, when it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance, moderation is often a synonym for failure. I think there’s a very simple reason.

Think back over the past two weeks and ask yourself how many food or beverage items you consumed in moderation.

Maybe you have a glass of red wine most days? Nothing wrong with that. It’s even got some good stuff in it. Definitely moderation.

Maybe you also have dessert every second day? Which, as long as it’s a reasonable quantity can be considered moderation.

Maybe you also go out for dinner once a week and have a couple of beers, and maybe order your meal with fries? It’s only once a week, so that is also moderation.

red wine sxc

Unfortunately, when you add it up, it’s no longer moderation.

Moderation + Moderation + Moderation = Excess

Or as I like to call it, Cumulative Moderation.
My apologies for the bubbles I just burst. I know how you feel as this blog post is the result of having burst my own cumulative moderation bubble recently. I was taking part in our Get Lean program, which quickly made me realize that the glass of red wine almost every day with dinner AND the going out with friends glasses of wine AND the periodic trips to the cupboard for a small handful of chocolate chips was the reason my weight had slowly crept up over the previous year. That’s one of the problems with practising cumulative moderation: It makes for very slow increases in weight, which means the culprit habits are fully ingrained in your life before you notice.

If you think your moderation approach to weight loss or maintenance is not working out as you’d hoped, take a look at whether you’re actually practising cumulative moderation, and if so, it’s probably time to figure out how to practice actual moderation?


Elsbeth  Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa Canada who has welcomed actual moderation into her life. Most of the time.

Like what you’re reading? Sign up for my (non-spammy) newsletter

* indicates required

Email Format

How many minute abs? Really?

My new year’s wish is that media outlets one day are required to substantiate the things they print, like “15-Minute Flat Belly Workout”. Does anyone believe that they will get a flat belly by doing 15 minutes worth of ab exercises? I think it’s shameful. And harmful. Because some people will believe it. And they’ll try it. And then they’ll be disappointed when they don’t get a flat belly from it, because flat bellies come from sound nutrition and regular exercise; not from 15 minutes of daily ab work.  What if those people conclude that since they were unable to get the body they want with that program, that no program will work for them?  If you ever see me when I read one of these magazine headlines, take a look at my ears –  you’ll probably see steam coming out, and if you listen carefully, odds are you’ll hear a whistling sound.

I didn’t actually see the magazine; my brother did, and mentioned it in a joking “I can’t believe they print that” tone. I kept thinking about it, and that I wished I could provide a retort to each of these articles to give people the perspective they deserve. That got me thinking about why I do what I do. A few different smart and successful people have told me on different occasions that you have to understand your why to make it as an entrepreneur. Helping people with sound and helpful exercise and nutrition advice and coaching is my why.

In fact it’s a big part of what motivated me to quit my job as an engineer and become a personal trainer. If you have a job where your work, regardless of whether it’s good or bad,  just ends up on a shelf somewhere, then you know the yearning to do something that actually matters. Even if it pays less.

I actively implement my why everyday. I stand on my virtual soapbox and spread the word that:

  • Success for most people requires getting past the need to lose all the weight now
  • It will take more than 15 minutes
  • Unless you’re a real superhero, it’s best to have goals that are reasonable and achievable for mere mortals
  • It is possible to improve your health and body composition
  • It doesn’t have to be excruciating

And then I get to blather on about the many health and other benefits like weight loss, improved energy, reduced pain, and even improved mental function.

I look forward to having more and more people turning their backs on the quick fix and tuning in to soapbox broadcasts like mine that provide honest but achievable approaches.

In fact I’m not even going to apologize for using today’s soapbox to refer you to my Get Lean program. Yes technically that makes this a sales letter, but here’s the thing: it’s a great program! It’s all about making some simple changes in a reasonable time frame, with a focus on achievable goals, and on long term habit changes so that those who try it continue to see success long after finishing the program. That’s not to say everyone will lose weight on this program. It’s a good program, but it is not a magic pill, and that means not everyone will have complete success. But everyone will take something from it. If someone feels they didn’t get anything out of it I’ll happily provide a refund.

If I have turned you off with this selliness, then my apologies. And rest assured it isn’t the new direction for my blog. It’s just that, if I’m going to really have success at countering the 15 minute flat belly crap, I need reach more people. And if I keep taking digs at fitness magazine and newspaper articles, I’m not likely going to do it by getting published in them!

So there you go – that’s my why. Well that and helping people train around, through, or after injuries or other challenges that make exercise tricky to sort out. Ya, I have a pretty awesome job. Although it is not without hardship! Running my own personal training business is both the most rewarding and the most challenging job I have ever had. 

What’s your why?

Elsbeth Vaino, CSCS, is a personal trainer who may have an opinion or two. 

Like what you’re reading? Sign up for my (non-spammy) newsletter

* indicates required

Email Format

Should I take this supplement?

One of my clients sent me an email with a link to a flyer from a supplement store where he had previously purchased protein powder with the question:  “Would you suggest any of these products?

My answer: “Nope. Actually the fish oil is good.

This was a timely question for two reasons:

  1. A friend had asked me the previous evening what my thoughts were on L-Carnitine, as she had bought some on sale at the same supplement store.
  2. I’ve been thinking about whether it’s appropriate for me, a personal trainer, to prescribe supplements to my clients. In fact I was thinking about the client who emailed me this question as there is a supplement I’d like to recommend for him (read on to see which one), but I worry that this is out of my scope of practice as a trainer to do so.

In answer to my friend’s question, I noted that I’d heard of L-Carnitine but I’m not knowledgeable about it. I suggested that she look it up on as they are a great source for impartial information about supplements (head here for my complete review of

Try them all?
Photo credit: Noodles and beef on Flickr

Here’s the rest of my response to the client:

“So here’s what I think about supplements:

  • Never make a decision about whether you should take a supplement based on a flyer. If you already know that you want to take a supplement, and you receive a flyer showing it is on-sale then great, but even then, make sure it is a brand that you trust.
  • If you’re going to take a supplement, you need to research it. And not just one source – find several. I strongly recommend you use as one of the sources, but not as the only source. Any time someone recommends a supplement to you, before you buy; read. This might seem like a lot of effort, but some perspective here: you’re potentially talking about taking a drug. A drug recommended by someone who is not a health care practitioner familiar with your medical history. Be aware and knowledgeable about it!
  • I’ll re-iterate that last point: If you don’t want to spend the time to read up about a supplement you’re contemplating, then you shouldn’t take the supplement.
  • I am honoured that you’re asking for my advice on this, but I’m a trainer; not a dietician; not a naturopath; and not a doctor. There are definitely some trainers who have a wealth of knowledge about supplements, their efficacy, side effects, and contraindications. But honestly even then, I don’t think your trainer should be your sole basis for whether to take a supplement. In my case, I read what I can, and ask questions of people I know to be experts when I‘m not sure, but I don’t think that makes me qualified to prescribe supplements beyond the few basics that essentially have zero side effects like fish oil, greens, and protein.
  • The guy who works at the supplement shop is also not qualified to prescribe supplements to you.
  • This is not to say that  you should not take supplements.  There are some effective ones, and there are some that may be great options for you. But if you’re going to take them, particularly with a goal toward fat loss, you really should do so with the input from a health care professional. Unfortunately we know that your doctor previously recommended Xenical, which is a fat blocker and thus a particularly poor choice for you when you were eating a low fat diet (based on your food journals). Given that, I think it’s fair to say you shouldn’t turn to him for input on supplements.
  • Lastly, don’t forget that supplements are just that – supplemental. The basis for fat loss still needs to be proper lifestyle habits including healthy eating, exercise, sleep, keeping stress at bay, spending time with people you love, and spending time doing things you love.

There is one supplement that I think might be a good option for you, but please, instead of taking my word for it, research it. It’s called berberine, a drug supplement that is “sometimes recommended for diabetes prevention and therapy”. My preference would be that, in addition to reading about it, that  you see a health care professional for advice on whether this, or any other supplement, is right for you. I know you have an appointment with your doctor soon, and hopefully he will actually do a full check to see if there is a medical reason that you’re having limited success with fat loss. Given that, I would suggest you not think about any new supplements until after that. If the outcome is that everything is fine medically, then I think the best next step for you will be to see a naturopathic doctor, who would be an appropriate person to recommend supplements.  I believe you would need to pay for that out of pocket (although check your insurance), but this is your health we’re talking about. I have two in particular that I can recommend.”


Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada. 


Want more articles? I send out a monthly (ish) newsletter with the top articles from that period. Sign up below:

Sign up for my (non-spammy) newsletter

* indicates required

Email Format

Eating and travel days

Travel days are tough from a food perspective. Odds are:
  • you are off your schedule;
  • you don’t have ready access to the foods that normally make healthy eating a little easier;
  • you have nothing else to do while waiting for a plane or on a plane;
  • the healthier snack options are expensive and decidedly not delicious;
  • the junk food is plentiful, in fact sometimes you even get free cookies.

In short – your food Intake is inflating, while your exercise levels all but disappear. It’s no wonder people who travel frequently tend to carry extra weight.

I wrote this while traveling to California to spend some time with my niece. I almost always gain a few pounds on this trip because:
  • my brother is a great cook,
  • his fridge is always stocked with delicious beers,
  • candy corner.

What is candy corner? It’s a portion of my brother’s kitchen table that houses all manner of delicious temptations, including chips, pretzels, nuts, chocolates, biscotti…no matter what you fancy, I guarantee you will find it in candy corner, and if you don’t, my awesome sister-in-law will find out what is is and get it for next time – or possibly even the next day. She’s good.

Candy corner
Candy corner
When I am not on vacation, my primary method of keeping my belly in check is by making my home a safe zone. You won’t find junk food in my house. If it makes it into the house, I will eat it. And I don’t mean I will eat it eventually, by eating reasonable portions over time. I mean I will eat it now. Today. A lot of it. Maybe even all of it. Unless it is a ridiculous quantity. Then it might take two days. Thankfully I know this about myself, and take appropriate actions – safe zone.
My brother’s house is the opposite of a safe zone.Truthfully, I don’t mind so much, because I know I will enjoy it, and it’s not all the time.
That’s why being mindful on travel days is so important: I’m going to enjoy my food indulgences, but I can’t say the same for the extra calories I would get on a travel day. So I have adopted a new approach to travel days: Enter Operation Low Waistline Impact (OLWI). Here’s the implementation plan:
  1. The free cookies with coffee on a plane is a trick. Don’t fall for it. Does anyone even like those cookies, or do we all just take them because they are free? I look at them differently. Instead of thinking ‘cool, free cookies‘, I think ‘if I skip those, I will enjoy the Burger Lounge burger in San Diego much more’.
  2. Being a little bit hungry is not going to kill you. Your muscles will not eat themselves if you go without food for more than 3 hours. I will admit that being hungry isn’t the best feeling, but on travel days, it may be necessary. Take my current travel day, for example:
    • woke up at 430am
    • Caught the bus to the airport at 5 and at the gate by 5:45
    • 7am flight arrives in Toronto at 8
    • 10am departure to San Diego where my brother will pick me up at noon California time (3pm Ottawa time)
    • It’s a pretty safe bet that we will stop at Burger Lounge on the way back to his house
    • Dinner in the 5 to 6pm range (they have a young child)
    • Intermittent visits to candy corner throughout the day
That’s a long day that could easily result in 1 or 2 extra meals, and much less exercise than I normally get. Instead, I am managing it by:
  • Not eating before leaving the house in the morning
  • Having oatmeal and coffee for breakfast at the Ottawa airport
  • Passing on the free plane cookies, but did enjoy have a coffee on the flight.
  • Not eating at the Toronto airport, and only buying a $3.15 bottle of water (thanks for the clubbing!)
  • Taking every opportunity to move. It’s so easy to follow the herd and take the escalator and moving sidewalks, but it’s not a free ride from a health perspective. And let’s not forget your poor joints will be cramped into a vertical semi-fetal position for most of the day; you would take your dog out for a walk if he was cooped up all day, wouldn’t you?
  • Bringing a Tupperware container with cut vegetables and a small container of raisins and unsalted almonds (I talked about the salted ones here…). By the way, it turns out you can bring chopped vegetables through customs, or at least I was allowed to on this day. I will continue to use either ziploc bags or tupperware-type containers that I don’t mind losing, just in case the Customs officer interprets the rules differently next time.
Stairs are for suckers?
Stairs are for suckers?
Photo credit: Glutnix
About an hour and a half into the 5 hour flight from Toronto to San Diego (7 hours into my day), I was definitely feeling hungry. I acknowledged the feeling and then I tried to put it out of my mind, remembering that I’d soon be enjoying a burger and beer with my brother.
It might sound like I am suggesting depriving yourself when you travel, but I’m not. I’m suggesting managing your day so that you don’t eat extra crappy food, and instead allow yourself to enjoy the upcoming family feasts that we tend to enjoy once we reach our destination.  mmm…turkey…stuffing…potatoes…pumpkin pie…
Give this some thought next time you travel – and consider looking at your travel plan for the day, planning your meals appropriately, and maybe even bringing a tasty but healthy snack with you.
How do you deal with food and exercise on travel days?
Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada

I lost 3 inches from my waist in under 24 hrs

Sounds like those really, really annoying and misleading Facebook ads doesn’t it? I have clicked on them a few times out of curiosity and they took me to a “news” page  with an “article” about how this person and that person lost 40 lbs in one month using the magical new supplement they found in some mythical jungle. Ya. Right.

But here’s a real transformation. I lost 3 inches off my waist in just under 18 hours. Seriously! Here’s the photo evidence:

Thursday 2:55pm
Friday 8:20am

Impressive, no? Want to know my secret? It’s so incredibly simple. I stopped eating food that was causing a bloating reaction in my body. That’s it. Stop eating food your body doesn’t like.

Now in my case, it was not just simple, it was also easy, because the food my body doesn’t like is chick peas. It may be a few more things as well, and I’m working on figuring that out. But definitely chickpeas. It turns out cutting chickpeas out of my diet really isn’t that hard. Does anyone really ever crave chickpeas?

The interesting thing for me (actually there are many; one of them), is that for the past couple of months, I had been trying to eat more healthfully, while also eating a more vegetarian diet. I know some people will read this and say “there! proof that vegetarian is not healthy.” I will politely raise my eyebrow and shake my head at that reaction, but won’t dwell on it. But I will acknowledge, that it looks like a vegetarian diet may not be in the cards for me.

Unless I want to look like the picture on the left. And feel like it. I don’t care to go into too much detail, but let’s just say, you probably wouldn’t have wanted to be in the same room as me after I ate the chickpea curry.

As I  look back on previous experiments with vegetarian eating,  and the reason I experimented with it in the first place (my body wasn’t happy when I ate a lot of beef), my suspicion is that this isn’t  the only legume that doesn’t agree with me. In fact I’m now recording what I eat for the next few weeks, but instead of focusing on calories and macros (carbs, protein, fat), I’m focusing on how I feel after I eat. I want to know what foods  make me feel  bloated, or gassy, or tired, and I will take them out of my diet.

Let’s face it – life has enough challenges, that I don’t need to add to that list. Food is supposed to be a wonderful thing. It is fuel, but it’s more than that. It provides pleasure, both in flavour, and in the social environment we create around meals. What a horrible feeling when that delicious and fun-filled meal turns us into bathroom-dwellers for the rest of the day. But there’s more. I keep thinking “if one meal can make my stomach balloon up like that, what else is it doing to my body?” Let’s face it, that’s a pretty spectacular reaction to one meal. But is digestion the only aspect of my body that’s affected? What if that inflammatory response is also affecting the rest of our body? Imagine how great we would feel if we took the offensive food away?

As I noted above, for me, at least based on what I know so far, removing the offensive food is both simple and easy. It’s chickpeas. Yes, I like hummus. Heck, I even liked the chickpea curry. But I don’t love it. I can drop it without thinking twice. I think black beans will be tougher, and I have a sneaky suspicion that both beef and onions are also a problem for me, although I’ll continue my journal to find out for sure. If I had to give all of those items up, I wouldn’t be too disappointed.

For many people, the foods that will be inflammatory are going to include dairy and wheat. And that’s where the solution is simple but not easy. I mean, who doesn’t love cheese? But consider what you’re putting your body through. Is cheese worth spending that much time in the bathroom and feeling self-conscious about the crop-dusting you’re forced to do? I’m not sure even cheese is worth it.

If you find that you feel bloated, gassy, or tired after eating, think about keeping a food journal for a few weeks. Write in all the ingredients, because you never know what it’s going to be. Most importantly, write in how you felt in the 1 to 3 hours after. Look for patterns. I suspect for most people, it will  be pretty obvious. The key is to actually write it down instead of just trying to remember. Maybe this is the science geek within me talking, but nothing provides clarity more than having the data staring up at you from the page.

If it seems complicated and difficult to figure out, consider seeing a Naturopath for help.

Is this hitting close to home for anyone?

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa who feels a need to keep food intolerance in check for the sake of the clients who need her to spot their bench press. 

Don’t be afraid of [consuming] fat

Photocredit: Government of Manitoba

Often when people tell me about a meal, snack or recipe they tried they mention that it is low in fat, as though that was one of the great features about it. I usually reply with a comment about how great it sounds but also point out that fat is not a bad thing. Typically they’ll reply “yes, I know”, but then a few sentences later, the low-fat comment comes up again. This suggests to me that they don’t know. I’ve decided to change my approach. Next time someone tells me about a great low-fat food they tried, I’m going to ask: “is it also low in vitamins?” Maybe that will be more effective at getting the message across. What message? That eating fat is okay. Say it with me: “it’s okay to eat fat”. Too much of anything will make you fat, but fat in and of itself does not. Dietary fats are actually essential, as they contain essential fatty acids that our body requires but cannot produce on its own. The essential in essential fatty acids is not just clever marketing!

I think I understand how low-fat foods became popular, and why some people still think low-fat is the answer to losing weight: Pound for pound, food that is higher in fat has more calories. There are about 9 calories per gram of fat in your food, compared to about 4 calories per gram of protein or carbohydrate. If we just look at the basic math, clearly the way to lose weight is to eat less fat. This is one (the only one?) case where “just do the math” gives you the wrong answer. It just isn’t that simple.


There are three big problems with eating low-fat to lose fat:

  1. Fat helps you to feel more full, meaning you won’t have to eat as much of it.

Now the key here is that you won’t have to eat as much to feel full, but if you’re someone who decides how much to eat based on how delicious it tastes (*cough cough* not that I know anything about that), then remember that just because fat is healthy doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want. Or I should qualify that: you can eat as much as you want and also meet your weight loss goals.

  1. Low fat foods displace healthy fats with empty carbohydrates, often in the form of processed ingredients that are difficult to pronounce let alone understand what they are?

For example:

Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise:”

  • SALT
  • Calories per serving: 90
Hellman’s Low Fat Mayonnaise:”

  • Water
  • SALT
  • Calories per serving: 15

I’m not actually a fan of mayonnaise to begin with, but at least the full fat version is made primarily with real foods. Meanwhile the low fat version replaces the yolk of the eggs with a bunch of stuff that I know I don’t think I want in my body.That didn’t speak to you? How about this example:

Breyer’s Chocolate ice cream:”

  • MILK
  • WHEY
  • 1/2 cup serving: 140 calories
Breyer’s French Chocolate ice cream (fat free):”

  • 1/2 cup serving: 90 calories.

Anyone know what a propylene glycol monoester is? Or ice structuring protein? Are you really willing to eat whatever those things are to save yourself 50 calories per serving?

Here’s the real truth: the occasional serving of full fat ice cream is not going to make you fat. What will is that big bowl of ice cream that is really 4 or 5 servings. Want to meet your weight goals without putting unpronounceable mystery foods into your mouth? Eat real ice cream, but remember that “a bowl of ice cream” is not the same thing as “a serving of ice cream”, and that eating it every day is not going to help your cause.

Photo credit: vasta


  1. Some of nature’s most amazing foods are fatty.

One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing someone say they don’t eat eggs, avocados, or nuts because they are too fatty. I’m not frustrated with the person who says these things; I’m frustrated with the person who taught them that they should avoid these foods.The egg may be the perfect food. One egg is only 90 calories, is a complete protein, and it is chock full of micronutrients (fancy talk for vitamins and minerals). Even their shape and structure is amazing! (haha – that’s the engineer in me). Avocados and nuts are not quite perfect, but still incredible beacons of health. Of course portion size is relevant with these deliciously healthy gems. Sadly this means that eating a whole bowl of guacamole is not your best bet, but eating some guacamole sure is. So how can you include these healthy foods? Consider having an omelette for breakfast – or lunch if you want to be daring. I like my omelettes with 2 eggs and 1 egg white, and mixed in with veggies, some salsa, and a bit of cheese. Sooo good.


Avocado can be an incredible addition to a sandwich or salad. 1/2 an avocado in a salad adds 10 times* the delicious with only an extra 150 calories. Similarly, try 1/4 of a ripe avocado on a sandwich instead of mayonnaise. It is tasty and healthy, and will help to fill you up. Chicken and avocado is a fantastic combination. And if you happened to have some sprigs of coriander (cilantro) to add, all the better.* not a statistically reliable value.?

Photo credit: thedancingpotato

Almonds make a great snack on their own – 1/4 cup is about 200 calories, or try 2 tablespoons and a banana, which together is about 200 calories. Don’t forget adding some almonds to your morning oatmeal.

So there you have it – don’t be afraid to eat fat. What you should be afraid of is a list of ingredients that you can’t pronounce or recognize!


Similar articles:
14 food things I don’t understand
Real world tips for healthier eating

Fitness Product Review: Supplement Goals Reference Guide

This is the first in a new series I’m adding to my blog: fitness and nutrition product reviews. If you’re wondering why I’m doing this series, or how I’m choosing what to review, what my review standards are, and whether I am involved in affiliate programs for them, head over here for the answers: EV Fitness and Nutrition Product Reviews.

Fitness and Nutrition Product Review:

Supplement Guide Supplement Goals Reference Guide

  • EVR (Elsbeth Vaino Rating): 9 DB

(Those of you who are fitness junkies will appreciate that I’m using a 0 to 10 dumbbell (DB) scale. Those that are also science nerds will doubly appreciate the DB scale, although you’ll probably wish I didn’t capitalize the d.)


Description: This guide provides detailed information about 170 supplements and 188 health goals. For each supplement, the guide provides a brief description, followed by a table showing:

  • potential relevant effects
  • the magnitude of the effect
  • a level of evidence rating about the quality of information available
  • the number of relevant studies
  • links to each study
  • comments that summarize the findings and where relevant, provide context.

What I like about the product:

  • The quality and volume of scientific information about each supplement
  • The table and visual layout allows me to easily find points of interest.
  • That it shows the number of studies upon which the effects and comments are based, with an easy click to the name and a few details about each study, and then a link to the study abstract on the relevant journal site (and associated options for obtaining the full text of the study). This is really the coup de grace: it’s literally all here. Next time you see an article in the media that makes claims about a supplement based on a single study, flip to the relevant page in this guide to see what the rest of the studies say.
  • The comments section is actually unbiased. This is a rare treat. There is no agenda other than to share knowledge. Just thinking about that makes me swoon. I know that’s dramatic. But let’s face it commentary sections more often than not are about supporting a thesis. In this case, the comments provide a simple summary of the information in the relevant studies and where relevant, some context. By context, I mean that sometimes there are studies that suggest conflicting results?on the surface, but a full review may reveal that the study methodology doesn’t fully support the conclusion, or that the studies are based on different demographics. Here is an example of a comment about the effect Fish Oil has on blood pressure:

“May decrease blood pressure in persons with high blood pressure, but does not appear to have efficacy in persons with normal blood pressure”

  • The pdf is updated daily from meaning that when new studies are published, your guide will be updated with that information. So next time you read the conclusions that the media has made based on a new study, check out your guide and you’ll see that it has been updated to include that information.
  • The price. I actually think the price is far too low. In fact I was chatting with a friend earlier today and we both suspect sales will be negatively affected by how low the price is. People may see the price and think “How good can it be if it’s only $39?”

What I don’t like about the product:

  • In some cases, I wished for more from the supplement descriptions. While it does provide a basic description, I found myself wishing for more about the relevance of the supplement, including things like why people take them, and if there are either other similar supplements, or complementary supplements.
  • I would have liked to see both the supplements and goals grouped together for ease of use. For instance, having diabetes as a category and then blood glucose and insulin sensitivity listed within it, instead of simply having blood glucose and insulin sensitivity listed alphabetically.
  • An extra section in the introduction explaining some of the terms they will see would be very valuable, particularly for those who do not have scientific backgrounds.
  • The pdf format is viewable, but not optimal, in readers like ibooks. Navigation in ibooks is a bit clunky, and sometimes the page break make it awkward to read an effect – although not impossible.

Final thoughts: This is a case where the pros far outweigh the cons. Bottom line: it’s a really, really good source of unbiased information.

How to buy:

Buy the product using my affiliate link

Buy the product directly (no affiliate link)

(This two link system is something you’ll see in all of my product reviews where I liked the product (or service), and there is an affiliate program. If I don’t like a product, I will only include a direct purchasing link (you may still want to buy it even if I don’t like it). If I like the product but there is no affiliate program, I will also only include a direct link (too obvious?).

If you’re wondering about this affiliate stuff, give this post a read. I hope you’ll agree that it’s reasonable that I do this, and that you trust that I value my integrity too much to ever let an affiliate option cloud my judgement. If you don’t support the concept of the affiliate links, but want to buy a product that I’ve reviewed, I have included an affiliate-free link for you.
Other Fitness and Nutrition Products Reviewed:

Bella Bar from Rogue

True Grip Trainer


Muffins are just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast

I first wrote about junk food efficiency(TM) back in 2009, when I created The Four Laws of Junk Food Efficiency. Four years Later I am proud to add: The 5th Law. (cue cool dun dun dah music)

Before I introduce the 5th Law, let’s recap the concept along with the first 4:

Underlying premise: You don’t have to eat perfectly all the time

I think there are some people who eat well all the time. They don’t crave anything, and they generally don’t snack. I am not one of those people. I suspect most of you are not those people either. In fact I think fear of having to give up all junk food is what prevents many people from starting a weight loss journey. They assume it must be an all or nothing proposition, so they wait until “the right time”. What if it isn’t all or nothing? What if you could make one change that you think “I can do that without too much drama”. What if you started right ?now? Okay, not right now: how about when you finish reading this? No wait – don’t use that as an excuse to stop reading!

Here is the key point for those of us who are not going to eat perfectly all the time: Learn to judge junk food.

Here’s a real life example:

Junk Food Efficiency Example #1: Tim Horton’s. If I went to a Tim Horton’s and felt snacky, I would order a bran or oat muffin. I wanted the chocolate doughnut, but instead I ordered the muffin because I wanted to be healthy. WRONG!

Take a look at these numbers:

Best and worst of their muffins:

  • Low fat cranberry: 280 Cal, 2 g fat, 62 g carb, 5g protein, 7 g fibre
  • Carrot whole wheat muffin: 440 Cal, 23 g fat, 52 g carb, 5g protein, 4 g fibre

Best and worst of their doughnuts:

  • Chocolate dip: 200 Cal, 6 g fat, 31 g carb, 4g protein, 1 g fibre
  • Blueberry fritter: 360 Cal, 13 g fat, 55 g carb, 6g protein, 2 g fibre

I’m not trying to suggest that doughnuts are good for you. They’re not. But guess what? Neither are the muffins. Both are junk food. But the chocolate dip doughnut is a better choice because it has fewer calories than the muffins – less than half of the “healthy” whole wheat muffin. This means that should you decide to have a snack here, at least you’re only consuming 200 calories worth of junk food instead of 440. Am I suggesting eating a chocolate dip doughnut every day is a good idea? Absolutely not. But it’s okay now and then.

On the other hand, is it ever worth having a 440 calorie muffin that you don’t really want but are having because you think it’s a healthy option?

Now that I’ve introduced this Junk Food Efficiency line of thinking, let me introduce the rules:


The Four Five Laws of Junk Food Efficiency

First Law: If I am going to eat food that’s bad for me, it better taste great.

Second Law: It shouldn’t be so bad that it undoes 3 days of good eating.

Third Law: Given a choice between two mediocre tasting junk food options, I pick the healthiest one.

Fourth Law: Less is better.

Fifth Law: Never let price sway your junk food buying decision*

390 cal for the muffin or 250 cal for the double chocolate donut. Just sayin'.

Photo credit: roboppy


Let’s look back at the example I gave above. By the First Law of Junk Food Efficiency, the muffin is dead to me. What a waste! 440 calories for whole wheat and carrot? I don’t think so. But 200 calories for chocolate dip? That I can do. That Homer guy knew of what he spoke: “…mmm…donuts…“.


More examples of applying the Laws of Junk Food Efficiency:

Junk Food Efficiency Example #2: McDonald’s

Take a look at the nutritional numbers for these two items on their menu:

  • Premium Southwest Salad with Crispy Chicken at McDonald’s: 530 Cal, 26 g fat, 49 g carb, 27g protein
  • Big Mac: 540 Cal, 29 g fat, 45 g carb, 25g protein.

Not so different!

By the First Law of Junk Food Efficiency (If I am going to eat food that’s bad for me, it better taste great), just eat the Big Mac already.

Hopefully you won’t find yourself in the position to make this choice too often, but if you do end up at McDonald’s, don’t be fooled into thinking you’re making a healthy choice by having this salad because you’re not. The Second Law of Junk Food Efficiency (It shouldn’t be so bad that it undoes 3 days of good eating) says to steer clear of the large fries (500 Cal), large milkshake (1160 cal), and don’t swap the Big Mac for the Angus Burger with Bacon and Cheese (790 cal). That would be a 2,450 calorie meal, with 329 g of carbohydrate, 91 g of fat, and wait for it – 2,930 mg of sodium! For reference, the US Food and Nutrition board recommends 2,400mg of sodium each day. If you had that as a meal, you would pretty much undo almost a week’s worth of weight loss effort. Maybe there’s a better option.


Junk Food Efficiency Example #3: The frozen food aisle

We all find ourselves in a hurry sometimes, and a quick frozen meal may be exactly what you need to stay out of the drive-through. But which one? Take a look at these three options:

a.Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Rotini
b.Italian Sausage Cavatappi
c.Italian Meatball Mafalda

I was quick to reach for the sun-dried tomato and pesto option as this was a clear application of the Third Law of Junk Food Efficiency (Given a choice between two mediocre tasting junk food options, I pick the healthiest one). But then I looked at the nutrition label on each and quickly exchanged it for the Italian sausage meal.

What world is this we live in where the Italian sausage and cheese option is healthier than the sun-dried tomato and pesto option? I can’t say I’m too disappointed though as I do like Italian sausage.


Junk Food Efficiency Example #4: Beware of volume trickery

Lots of people apply their own version of Junk Food Efficiency when shopping, but because their model is not as well-developed as mine they buy things like baked chips and low-fat sour cream. My issue with these products is that these “healthier” versions are usually sold in larger quantities.

Look for it next time you are in the grocery store. The baked chips often only come in the mega family size packages, and the low-fat sour cream only comes in the medium and large containers. The small is reserved for the full fat versions.

If you are someone who possesses will power, then this is not a problem for you. But if you’re like me, you will hear little chip voices coming from the kitchen reminding you that there’s an open bag of chips and the ingredients for dip calling out to you incessantly until you’ve eaten them all.

And thus the Fourth Law of Junk Food Efficiency (Less is better) says to buy the junk food that comes in the smallest quantity. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you won’t go back for thirds, fourths…chips are very convincing when they’re sitting open in the cupboard.


Junk Food Efficiency Example #5: Beware of price trickery
You decide that you will allow yourself the indulgence of a chocolate bar, so you pop over to the store. As soon as you walk in, you see the sale: One chocolate bar for $0.99 or two for $1.09. Wow – only ten cents for the second chocolate bar! Who can pass up a deal like that? YOU can pass up a “deal” like that.

First, remember the Fourth Law of Junk Food Efficiency (Less is better). That means one chocolate bar is better than two.

Your decision to just buy the one bar is also supported by the Fifth Law of Junk Food Efficiency (Never let price sway your junk food buying decision*). This one works if you change your perspective slightly. Next time you are faced with a decision like this, think of your choice this way: You are either going to spend one junk food indulgence, or you’re going to spend two. Now if you have weight loss goals, you are probably limiting the number of indulgences you get in a week. Do you really want to spend two of them right now?

Now you may have noticed I added an asterisk to the Fifth Law. This is to acknowledge that not everyone has the luxury of passing up sales. My hope is that if you’re trying to loss weight or have lost weight and want to maintain your current awesome figure, that you really try to honour this Law if at all possible. If money is tight, perhaps look at it this way: if you only buy the one chocolate bar for $0.99 instead of the two chocolate bars for $1.09, then you’ve just added ten cents to your healthy food budget.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who believes that anyone can make big health changes by repeatedly making small health changes.


Similar articles:
14 food things I don’t understand
Dear breakfast,
Healthy eating is about choices

Should you do a cleanse (part 2)


Photo credit: Chika


I “wrote” part 1 of this post a couple of weeks ago, with the intention of following up with a rationale. In fact I wrote most of this prior to posting part 1, but my enjoyment of a little fun lead me to post part 1 first. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It is a very quick read.

My intention when I began to write this post was to provide a detailed scientific literature review on the topic. Because let’s face it, science is cool. Unfortunately my journal search came up short. Very short. Then I came across a page on the Isagenix website titled: Science Behind Cleansing

Typically I look for peer-reviewed journals as sources, but since I was having trouble finding any, I decided to give this a read.

The article presents the benefits of cleansing, which the article defines as “a combination of intermittent fasting with herbs and vitamins that support detoxification”, with a brief description of each benefit and in most cases a reference to at least one peer-reviewed journal.

The benefits listed are:

  1. weight control
  2. food cravings
  3. insulin sensitivity
  4. brain function
  5. anti-aging
  6. detoxification

The descriptions of the first five benefits include references to peer-reviewed journals, suggesting that there is science to back up the claims made. In each case, however, the benefit and associated reference is about intermittent fasting and/or caloric restriction, not about cleansing.

The sixth benefit listed, detoxification, is the only benefit related to the “herbs and vitamins that support detoxification” part of a cleanse, which is the part that Isagenix and other multi-level-marketing companies sell. It is also the only benefit listed that contains no references.

In other words, there is no science presented that supports the use of a cleanse. There is, however, scientific evidence presented that supports the use of intermittent fasting.

That there are benefits to intermittent fasting (IF) isn’t surprising to me. I have been following the topic of IF for several years now, both in the literature and via the personal and professional experiences of trainers in my network. If you were to ask these trainers their impression of intermittent fasting, I think you would find the response is overwhelmingly: “it may be a good option for some people“. Their lack of conviction is partly a reflection of the quality of trainer I have in my network – they are thinkers and understand that we are all different. Their lack of conviction is also a reflection of the uncertainty of this nutritional approach.

As for the cleanse? Think about it: if there was scientific support for the use of a cleanse, it would probably be included in the Isagenix “Science Behind Cleansing” article, wouldn’t it? After all, every other element of the article is nicely referenced.

My best suggestion is that you skip the cleanse, and if you are curious about IF, read more about it, and as long as you don’t have any health concerns that could be negatively impacted by fasting, consider giving it a try. Just be sure to listen to your body if you do. If you are a woman, definitely read up on it before you try it, as it looks like much of what is coming out about IF suggests that it may not be a great option for women.

Suggested references about intermittent fasting:

This is a small sampling of articles about intermittent fasting, but hopefully you’ll agree that it is a good start.

If you are still interested in cleansing, well, I can’t say I have any suggested resources for you, but best of luck.


Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer who believes in a moderate approach to exercise and nutrition. 


Similar articles:
Should you do a cleanse? (Part 1)

Should you eat when you’re not hungry?