Tag Archives: Nutrition

Carb tolerance related to geography?

I’ve long suspected that how we respond to food is influenced by where we come from. It just made sense. Human evolution is just too smart to not have adapted to the foods around us. I’ve also often thought that for those of us living in countries like Canada and the USA, that we can’t just take for granted that the food here is what we are meant to eat. Many of us are first or second generation in this country, which, following my thought process, suggest that we may be displaced nutritionally. And having seen different people respond very differently to the same food, it only made sense to me.

Which is why this blog post by a nutritionist at Precision Nutrition caught my attention. It reviews recent research about genetic variations as they relate to carb-tolerance, and how those variations seem to have geographic ties. Here’s the full article for those like me who find this stuff fascinating, and here’s my super-brief summary version:

  • Research has recently shown that ability to make amylase correlates with obesity
  • Amylase is made by the AMY1 gene
  • It turns out we don’t all have the same number of copies of genes; and in fact we can have from 2 to 16 copies of AMY1.
  • Those with more copies of AMY1 can breakdown carbs more effectively than those with fewer.
  • “People living in historically agricultural societies like Japan had, on average, seven copies of AMY1, while people near the arctic circle in places like Yakut, Russia had, on average, four copies of AMY1.”
  • “If you have more than nine copies of AMY1 then you are eight times less likely to be obese compared to someone who has fewer than four copies of AMY1.”
  • The article points out that the variance above was based on a small range of BMI (25-27kg/m2), so care must be taken in interpreting the meaning.

Fascinating stuff! It’s very clear that there is much more to learn on this topic, but still – interesting!

I guess because this is about carbs, but this topic makes me think of the new research Gary Taubes is doing. In principle, it’s an impressive undertaking, as they are looking at individuals in isolation where they can actually monitor response to food as opposed to counting on the ever-flawed self-reporting. What concerns me is that all of their participants are overweight or obese. If the research above holds true, then those who are overweight or obese have a different carb-tolerance than those who are not. So if Taubes’ research does show that a low-carb diet is better for their participants, is it applicable to the entire population? Or just to those who are already overweight?

Clearly the result of that study is still going to be interesting and important; but it probably shouldn’t be taken as being “the best diet”.

All that to say – there is interesting research going on in the world of nutrition!

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who finds nutrition and exercise research to be intriguing.

8 Pre-Requisites for Fat Loss

[Updated June 18 2015 from 5 to 8 pre-requisites. What are the odds it's exactly one year later?]

This post came to me while running on the beach this morning. Ya, hard life. I thought about the fact that my main source of exercise during my vacation this week is running, not going to the gym. This made me think about Alwyn Cosgrove’s great article, The Hierarchy of Fat Loss, which is one of my favourite fitness articles ever. My version of exercise this week is way down the list. And yet it strikes me as exactly what I need right now because it’s relaxing and beautiful, and more importantly, I want to do it.

All this lead me to think about a different perspective on the hierarchy of fat loss. And so I came up with my own version: The 8 Pre-Requisites for Fat Loss.


1. Have Goals

It’s really hard to stick with something when you don’t know what the point is. Let’s face it, we live in a world where food and beverage temptations surround us almost constantly. Some of them are literally manufactured with the intent of being so delicious that you have to muster every ounce of willpower to say no to them. That’s a lot easier to do when you know that it’s contributing to something meaningful.

Some people try for goals like “lose weight”, or “be more healthy”. That rarely works. Goals need to be more specific to be helpful. They have to mean something. I wrote more about this a while ago while I was going through a period where I was struggling with saying no to chips and saying yes to working out. I didn’t have any meaningful goals to keep me on track.

You need goals that mean something to you. Is it sports performance? Looking awesome in a bathing suit? Avoiding having your pre-diabetes become full-fledged diabetes? Preventing another heart attack? Losing weight to take strain off your painful knees? Continuing to keep up with your grandkids? Proving to yourself that you can run a mile, or bike for an hour, or lift weights, or play a round of golf…There is no end to the possibilities when it comes to meaningful goals. Think about what eating better and being more fit will really mean for you. Can’t come up with any goals that really mean something to you? Then maybe fat loss is not a viable option on your short term to do list. If you can’t think of a good reason why you want to do this, are you really going to succeed? If this is you, it doesn’t mean you should do nothing. If being more healthy is a goal, then add in a few simple healthy changes until you sort out your goals. Two of my favourites are:

  1. eat a primary protein
  2. make half your plate vegetables

Do that for at least two meals each day. It’s a great step toward health, makes you mindful of the connection between eating and health, and isn’t that hard to do because it doesn’t require taking anything away.

2. Your Goals Must Be Achievable

Part two of having goals is making sure they are realistic. Losing 50 pounds in 3 months is not a realistic goal. Yes, I know you saw someone do it on the Biggest Loser, but that’s television. It’s not real. Not even a little bit. Weight loss goals should be achievable in the real world. Think closer to 1 pound  per week. If you overshoot it, great! If you meet it, still great. Remember, this is your life and your health we’re talking about: here’s hoping it’s a long race!

This also means you need to break it into bits. If your goal involves losing 50 pounds, break that down into 5 or 10 pound chunks. That means you’ll be thinking about 5 to 10 week periods. Celebrate each mini victory along the way. This is crucial because our brain works like the economy. Your brain evaluates rewards using a net present value principle. That is, it discounts rewards that are far in the future, and places a higher value on immediate rewards. That chocolate cake next to you is delicious and now. Your reward for saying no to it is in the future. The more meaningful the goal, and the less time until you meet it (the first part), the more likely you’ll be to say no to another piece of chocolate cake.

3. Address Why You Eat

“Do you only eat when you’re hungry?”
“Do you stop eating when you’re full?”

I believe these are the two most important questions you can ask about fat loss, and I’m guessing most of you answered no to one or both of those questions. I know I did. What that means is that there’s an emotional element to your weight. This is the crux of why I think books like Why We Get Fat are mostly irrelevant: they address eating with the assumption that people eat too much because they’re hungry. But most of us actually eat for many reasons. Sometimes it’s out of hunger,but other times it’s because we start thinking about (or see) delicious food, which leads to thinking about how much we’ll enjoy it. That’s enough to fire up our brain’s pleasure centre, and before we know it, we’ve got our hand in the cookie jar.

Other times we eat because we’re stressed. Or because it makes us feel less lonely. Or in some cases, it’s a defence mechanism.

I’m taking us into a bit of an uncomfortable topic, but it’s too important to ignore. The truth is that for many people, food is an emotional response to issues that we’re having trouble addressing. Neither a trainer, nor a nutritionist is equipped to help us address that. For many of us, getting psychological counselling to help us address these underlying emotional reasons is the most important step we can take for our physical health.


4. Your Medications May Be a Hurdle

If you have fat loss goals and you are on medication, ask your pharmacist or doctor if there are known impacts of the drugs you’re taking on weight. There are prescription drugs that may make it very difficult for you to lose weight. There’s no simple solution here, unfortunately. Your best bet is to talk about it with your doctor about it. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve your health through lifestyle changes! It just means you may need to temper your expectations if your goal is fat loss.

5. The Best Exercise is the One You’ll Do

In the aforementioned article, “The Hierarchy of Fat Loss”, Alwyn Cosgrove lists the order of importance for what type of exercise you should do to optimize fat loss. I believe he is 100% right from a physiological perspective. Assuming you will do the exercise, the order he presents is bang on. The problem is that’s a big if. The reality is that most people don’t continue their exercise regimen. They stick to it for somewhere between a few days and a few months but then they quit. If that’s the case, then the best exercise program is not much better than the worst one.

What if you found a form of exercise that you really enjoy? You might actually look forward to it. Odds are you won’t quit if it’s something you love. If you’re someone who has a hard timing sticking to an exercise regimen, it’s time you started thinking about movement that you love. Do you play sports? Did you as a kid? Maybe it’s time to take up a sport again? If you never have, have you wanted to? Odds are there are beginner adult leagues in your area. Let coach google help you find one. No? What about running? Hiking? Biking? Yoga? Weightlifting? Swimming? In-line skating?

What’s the ideal? In my opinion, the ideal week of exercise is what I include in my Get Lean Challenge:

  • Some form of exercise for at least 30 minutes, at least 5 times per week. 
  • At least one each of the following:
    • Something that makes you stronger
    • Something that makes you move
    • Some physical activity that you love

There is a trap that some people fall into that I hope you will all avoid as you become aware of it. Adding a moderate amount of exercise does not require you to eat extra food. If you are doing intense exercise, then yes, things like pre and post workout nutrition become relevant. For half an hour to an hour of moderate exercise each day, a regular healthy eating plan will do.

By the way, did you know exercise makes you smarter? Fact! A new area of research has shown that in addition to the many physical benefits to exercise, it is also one of the best ways to generate new brain cells. Neuroplasticity! Is there anything exercise can’t do?

Here’s a great chalk-board animation about the ridiculously long list of physical benefits of exercise.

6. Be Prepared to Be More Disciplined…for a While

Let’s be honest with ourselves here. If we’re accustomed to eating seconds (one overflowing plate is really the same as seconds), and daily desserts and wine, we’re going to have to cut back on some of that if we want to lose fat. You don’t have to make radical changes, like going from daily chips and coke to no processed foods and no sugar. But you do have to make changes if you want to see changes. Maybe you’ll go from daily dessert to three times per week, or you’ll go for either wine or dessert.

Whatever changes you adopt, be ready for your personal version of the cartoon devil and angel verbally duking it out on your shoulders. Because devil you will try to convince you to give up. Over and over and over.
“It’s just this one time. You can go back to the changes tomorrow.”
“This pie? It’s not really dessert; it’s fruit.”
“Exercise? But you had such a long day. And the new season of Orange is the New Black is out.”

Angel you will be there fighting back to convince you to stick with your plan, with reminders like:
“Just wait 15 minutes and see if you really want it.”
“You’re doing so well, and you get to have a treat tomorrow; so hang on today.”
“You know you’ll feel soooo awesome after you exercise, and then you can wath OITNB.”

The good news is that the more often you give devil you the cold shoulder, the less power her or she will have over your food and exercise choices. And the longer you stick to the changes you make, the easier it is to continue to stick to them.

7. Get Enough Sleep

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not going to lose fat. Pretty interesting, right? Sleep rules when it comes to fat loss, and a host of other health issues. Studies about sleep and weight have been pretty consistent in their conclusions that lack of sleep makes you more likely to eat bigger servings of food, puts you at a higher risk for obesity, and even for type 2 diabetes.

8. Don’t Beat Yourself Up

What if instead of chastising yourself when you stumble on your eating and exercise plan, you asked yourself “what happened and what could I do differently to prevent the stumble next time?“, and then let it go instead of beating yourself up? The reality is that focussing on the negative as a means to motivate yourself doesn’t work for most of us. And it’s unpleasant for all of us. One thing I’ve noticed about the clients I have who have done my Get Lean program, is that the ones whose self-talk sounds something like:

“I felt guilty about the night before!”

“I was chaste after my indulgences of yesterday and frankly too angry at myself to be naughty two days in a row. I guess sometimes guilt is a very useful thing :-)”

“I fell off the wagon and feel very guilty and bad about it…. I just needed to start doing it “

are less successful than those who focus on a positive goal. I think this ties back to the point above about how the brain assesses rewards: the focus on feelings of negativity about previous performance is not a powerful motivator!

If you’re someone who beats yourself up, and you motivate yourself with feelings of guilt or shame, do yourself a favour and try a different tactic for a while: focus on a positive goal and see how you do. You may find you have more success, with the fringe benefit that you’ll likely feel better about yourself in the process.


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 for my (non-spammy) newsletter

* indicates required

Email Format

Healthy, tasty, and quick recipes!

Those of  you who are  friends with me on Facebook know that I love to cook, and have a habit of posting recipes and photos of  delicious meals that I make. I’ve decided it’s time to bring these this habit to my blog, so that I can easily refer back to the recipes. And if interested, so can you.

How a recipe makes the cut

To be clear, I won’t be  posting my own creations. I rarely come up with my own recipes. I’m a pretty good cook, but I am no chef. I know what I like, I’m getting pretty good at finding the great recipes from reading them, and I have cooked enough to make minor adjustments if needed. So that’s what you’ll see: other people’s recipes. Nothing original here! Yes, I give credit where credit is due – respect to the real chefs out there!

Why post recipes from others if they’re already online?

Basically it’s to pull some great recipes into one location: to help you find great recipes without having to search the vastness of the interweb.

Why do I care? Because I have a personal mission to encourage people to cook more. I am convinced that we will all be healthier if we cook more and eat out or take out less. Food has the power to be either medicine or poison. Make it yourself, and there is less likelihood that you’ll be in poison territory. Yes, you can order healthier options in restaurants, but how many of us do? And when we do, how are the portions?

I also have a second mission: to help people to realize that healthy eating can be delicious. No, I’m not drunk. I speak truth. I say this as a healthy living enthusiast, but also as a lover of food, and a lover of my taste buds. I would never disrespect either with a crappy recipe. And from that perspective, I understand why people don’t realize that it is possible to cook healthy food that is also tasty. I think it stems from some of the recipes posted by other fitness enthusiasts and professionals. If you regularly see people eating baked skinless chicken breast with a side of spinach and boiled potatoes as a “healthy and tasty” meal, then, I understand why you don’t try healthy cooking. But please understand It doesn’t have to be that way! That is not an example of healthy and tasty: it is an affront to taste buds everywhere!

Every recipe you see posted here will be taste bud approved. In fact they will all meet what I call the Triple Crown of cooking:

  1. Tasty. If it doesn’t taste good, nothing else matters. Period. End of story.
  2. Easy. I have coined a phrase that you’ll see on a lot of the recipes I post: “Fridge to Fork in 30 minutes“, or whatever time it takes for that particular recipe. My preference is for foods where the Fridge to Fork time is 45 minutes or less. I came up with this term because I was frustrated with recipes that make ridiculous claims about how long something takes to make. I’ve made “30 minute” recipes that took an hour. Maybe they meant 30 minutes after you have chopped up all the veggies. For a recipe to become a regular for me, it typically takes less than 45 minutes from the time you step into the kitchen to the time you are sitting at the table with a forkful of food moving toward your mouth. I say typically because there are some incredible recipes that take very little time to prepare, but have a longer  cooking time, which might bring the Fridge to Fork time to more than an hour. I think you will love some of these recipes,  so I don’t want to exclude them. In these cases, you can be confident that these recipes do not require you to be active during that whole time. It may be 15 minutes of work followed by 1 hour in the oven. Not a good option when you get home 30 minutes before dinnertime, but maybe a great option for a Sunday evening meal.
  3. Healthy. I don’t follow any single nutrition plan: Not Paleo, not low-fat, not intermittent fasting, not weight watchers. I follow a simple approach to eating that doesn’t really have a name:

“Eat real foods as much as possible; ones that agree with your body. Don’t eat too much of it.”

As much as possible, I will also post calorie and macronutrient values for each recipe.

Once I post recipes, I will sort them and add links to this post, so feel free to bookmark this post and check back every week or so.

Look for the first recipe later today…

And remember – healthy and tasty are not mutually exclusive!


Healthy eating is about choices

I was at the bike store-coffee shop this morning for an Americano between clients (Cyclelogik has great Americanos – featuring beans from Francescos….mmm…) and was feeling a little snacky. It was almost 1130 and I had another couple of assessments before lunch. So I noticed the snack offerings they had today: a big oatmeal raisin cooking and a protein bar. Not thrilling, but I considered them enough to look at the nutrition numbers for each. The power bar looked decent: less than 250 calories, and it was somewhere in the 3:1 to 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. It has fat, but fat is really not such a big deal – unless there is so much that it increases the calorie content too much. In fact some would call fat essential. And by some, I mean smart people who understand nutrition: The “Essential” in Essential Fatty Acids is not just a marketing thing.
Continue reading Healthy eating is about choices

Is it really the carbohydrates?

If you listen to Gary Taubes (author of Why We Get Fat, and Good Calories, Bad Calories), you would believe that the reason we are fat is because we eat too much carbohydrate, and that the way to solve the problem is to stop eating carbohydrates.

I’m not sure that the facts exist to support Taubes’ thesis. One hole, is that we in North America are fatter than virtually everyone else in the world (32% of men and 35% of women in the US are obese), but we eat less bread than they do. In fact North Americans ate an average of 60 lbs of bread per capita in 2000, which is less than half of what the skinnier Spaniards (15% of men and 21% of women are obese), Danes (no data found), and Germans (20% of men and 21% of women are obese) ate.1,2
Continue reading Is it really the carbohydrates?

My Precision Nutrition Journal: Dear Cottage Cheese,

It’s been one week since I started my Precision Nutrition journey (click here to start at the beginning). All in all a pretty great week. Some ups, a few downs, but all in all a pretty great week.

High Protein Bread Review

I was chatting with Mike at the Fit Shop and he was very keen on the protein bread. I wouldn’t call myself keen, but I was definitely intrigued. I’m generally not a member of the “carbs are bad” fan club, and so whole grain bread is a part of my diet. It’s not an enormous part, but it is a part. But I know many people who stay away from bread either for fat loss reasons or because they feel lethargic when they eat bread. And because I love to stand on a soapbox and talk about all things exercise and nutrition, doing a review of this high protein bread for my blog was an obvious next step. Continue reading High Protein Bread Review

The last words on Sodium, Soup and Health Check

This is another follow-up to my previous two posts about sodium and the Health Check label.

The first was about high sodium content of Heinz soups, and the second addressed sodium levels in products with the Health Check logo.

In short, I was driven to correspond with both Heinz and the Heart & Stroke Foundation (who run the Health Check program) after being shocked at the high sodium content of Smart Ones soup. This lead me to identify reporting irregularities in nutrition information posted online. I have received correspondence from both parties that do address this issue. I’ve included copies of both letters below. And for those who are in a hurry, here’s the tweet-sized version:
Continue reading The last words on Sodium, Soup and Health Check

A clear answer from Heinz about sodium in their soup

I sent the following letter to Heinz Canada after almost buying a can of their soup, but then putting it back because of the alarming sodium levels. Their answer follows…

My email to Heinz:

“Can you please tell me why your soups have so much sodium? I almost bought your Southwestern vegetable soup today but then I saw the label and put it back. 820mg of sodium in a 60 cal serving? Wow! Im not sure Ive ever seen another food that is so sodium dense. Seriously! So 3% of daily calories has 34% of daily sodium?
Continue reading A clear answer from Heinz about sodium in their soup