Posts in nutrition truths
Spotlight on Greens 01: Spinach

Spinach, we know it's good for us, but just how good is good? Keep reading to find out why I am such a big fan!

Where Does Spinach Come From?

Spinach originated in Persia (what is now known as Iran) and quickly spread to Europe and Asia. However, spinach cultivation in North america didn't begin until the 19th century. 

When is Spinach Season? 

Spinach is readily available in Ontario from mid May through October. (Yay!) That's great news for spinach lovers! 

Nutritional Benefits

Spinach (100g serving) is an Excellent source (containing 20% of the daily recommended intake or more) of the following nutrients; A, C, K, magnesium, manganese, iron and folate. It is also a good source (containing 10%-19% of the the DRI) of Riboflavon, B6, E, calcium and dietary fibre. 

100g serving of spinach comes in around 27 calories, with approximately 3g of protein, and has a very low glycemic index making spinach a big bang for your nutritional buck. 

It is important to note that while raw spinach is an excellent source of folate (approximately 25% of folate is lost in cooking), if you are looking to boost iron and calcium absorption, it must be lightly cooked. Spinach does contain binding agents called oxylates, which can inhibit absorption of iron and calcium. However, these are broken down by lightly cooking this leafy. In the case of iron, it is also beneficial to combine spinach with vitamin C rich foods to ensure iron absorption, such as citrus, strawberries, blueberries, etc. 

Other Health Related Benefits

Abundant flavonoids in spinach act as antioxidants to keep cholesterol from oxidizing and protect the body from free radicals, particularly in the colon. The folate in spinach is good for cardiovascular health, and magnesium helps lower high blood pressure. Studies also have shown that spinach helps maintain brain health, memory and mental clarity.

Spinach contains extremely high amounts of Chlorophyll (the pigment that gives spinach its rich green colour). chlorophyll is known to aid digestion, support healthy gut bacteria, alkalize the body and reduce inflammation. 

Another interesting fact concerning Chlorophyll comes to us from "World's Healthiest Foods" - "Inside the cells of the spinach plant, the places where chlorophyll gets stored are called chloroplasts, and their membranes play an active role in converting sunlight into energy (through a process called photosynthesis). These chloroplast-associated membranes are called thylakoid membranes, or simply thylakoids. Because fresh spinach is such a rich source of chlorophyll, it has often been used in research studies as a source for thylakoids and their potential health benefits. Several recent studies in this area have shown thylakoid-rich extracts from spinach to delay stomach emptying, decrease levels of hunger-related hormones like ghrelin, and increase levels of satiety-related hormones like glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). Exactly what these changes mean is not yet clear, but researchers hope to eventually determine whether routine intake of spinach can help lower risk of obesity partly because of these thylakoid-related processes. It is also worth noting in this context that several prescription drugs currently used to help treat type 2 diabetes (for example, albiglutide, exanatide, dulaglutide, and liraglutide) work by imitating the activity of GLP-1. For this reason, future studies may find a relationship not only between risk of obesity and spinach intake but risk of type 2 diabetes as well." 

Possible ill effects

If someone is taking blood-thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin) it is important that they do not suddenly begin to eat more or less foods containing vitamin K, which plays a large role in blood clotting. You can still enjoy spinach in moderate amounts. 

Consuming too much potassium can be harmful for those whose kidneys are not fully functional. If a person's kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal, anyone with kidney disease should speak with their doctor about their intake of this and other high potassium foods. 

Flavour Parings

Spinach has a milder flavour than other greens and pairs well with many other foods like strawberry, citrus friuts, tamari and olive oil. 

To enhance its flavor, add nutmeg, mace, fresh garlic, coarsely ground black pepper or, in moderation, fresh lemon juice, or mustard. 

Preparing and Cooking 

Soak in a basin of cold water to remove sand and grit. Change water several times or until the bottom of the basin is free of residue. Dry on clean towel, bag and refrigerate. Use within seven days.

Spinach is easily overcooked. Cook gently, over low to moderate heat.

Enjoy it raw in salads, smoothies, or on sandwiches and wraps. Enjoy it lightly wilted with onions and olive oil, or add it to your pesto or tomato sauces. The possibilities are endless! 



Fats on Fleek 2: Skip The Fish

Considering the state of our rivers and oceans; polluted with plastic residues (BPA's), heavy metals and agricultural wastes, as well as diminishing fish populations due to overfishing and irresponsible environmental practices, we must consider other sources of polyunsaturated Omega 3 fatty acids.

Farmed fish is not ideal either and has it's own host of associated environmental and health related issues. So where can we find reliable plant based Omega 3's and how can we ensure we are getting enough? Below is a cheat sheet with the most important facts about omega 3 fats. 

Fact: Fish do not make omegas, they eat them! Skip the fish and head straight to the source, sea vegetables (sea weeds and certain types of algae) are ideal sources of Omega fatty acids. However if the thought of sea vegetables is not appealing to you, land dwelling plants sources are also readily available. 

  • Without proper planning, a vegetarian diet may be lacking in Omega 3 fatty acids. However it is still possible to meet your daily recommended intake. Foods such as oils, nuts and seeds are very high in Omega 3. The problem with a lot of these foods is that they are also high in the other type of essential fatty acid: Omega 6
  • Omega 6 inhibits the conversion of Omega 3 into DHA and EPA. So, the Omega 3 from foods like walnuts (2542mg Omega 3 but 10666 Omega 6) or sesame seeds (105mg Omega 3 but 5984mg Omega 6) may not be adequate sources of Omega 3 for conversion into DHA and EPA.
  • The body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA. ALA is efficiently converted to EPA, but it may require large amounts of ALA to produce optimal amounts of DHA.
  • The capacity to convert DHA from ALA is higher in women than men. Studies of ALA metabolism in healthy young men indicate that approximately 8% of dietary ALA is converted to EPA and 0-4% is converted to DHA . In healthy young women, approximately 21% of dietary ALA is converted to EPA and 9% is converted to DHA. The better conversion efficiency of young women compared to men appears to be related to the effects of estrogen.
  • Something to consider: because omega-3s are a type of fat, conditions that involve poor absorption of fats from our digestive tract can increase our risk of omega-3 deficiency. These include inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and cystic fibrosis.
  • If you want your DHA levels to be the same as non-vegetarians, supplementing with 300 mg per day will likely accomplish that.
  • If you just want some insurance that you are getting a source of DHA in case your body isn't efficient at making it, supplementing with 200 - 300 mg every 2-3 days will provide that.
  • Seaweeds and algae have fairly high amounts of Omega 3, but they are also one of the only vegan foods which also contain EPA and DHA. Spirulina (58mg Omega 3, 88mg Omega 6 per tablespoon) is one of the best choices. Wakame is a close second.
  • Flaxseed oil (also known as flax oil or linseed oil) is available as an ALA supplement. DHA supplements derived from algal and fungal sources are also available. Because dietary DHA is retroconverted to EPA and DPA in humans, DHA supplementation represents yet another alternative to fish oil supplements

Tips to optimize your conversion of Omega 3 into DHA and EPA:

  • Decrease the amount of foods that are high in Omega-6: Foods high in Omega-6 fatty acids reduce the amount of ALA that's converted to
  • EPA and DHA by up to 40%. this can be accomplished by Eliminating certain oils from your diet that are high in Omega-6. These include sunflower, safflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils.
  • Eat a diet rich in ALA foods: This will increase the amount of DHA your body makes. The best sources of ALA are the following:

Improve your overall Diet: There are other changes you can make to increase the conversion rate by improving liver function. Cut back, or eliminate, alcohol, and foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fatty acids. They also interfere with the conversion rate of ALA to EPA and DHA.

High Omega-3 Morning Shake:

  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 cup baby kale
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1 tbls ground flax seeds
  • 1 tbls vegetarian (flax/algae) Omega 3 oil with DHA (ex. Nutra-vege by Ascenta)
  • 1-1/2 cups water

*This shake provides 3.265g overall omega three, with 500mg in the form of ready available DHA.

**Men can convert the available ALA to 0.15g into EPA and approximately 0.08g DHA. Women can convert the available ALA to approximately 0.4g EPA and approximately 0.171g DHA.

*** Adding a tablespoon of spirulina to this shake and boost the available omega-3 by 58mg.


Fats on Fleek

Are your fats on fleek? Are you sure you know how to choose and properly store your nuts, seeds and oils? Do you know which fats are right for the high temperature job? I think you might be surprised how easy it is to consume dangerous, toxic, or rancid fats and oils. Keep your "Fats on Fleek" with this easy guide! 


Making the choice

Buying your nuts and seeds is not as simple as cramming heaping scoop fulls into that wimpy plastic baggy at the bulk food store. Great attention should be payed to the quality of those nuts and seeds. Because they contain such delicate unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, nuts and seeds that have been shelled are quite vulnerable to light, oxygen and temperature changes. Such exposure can cause oxidative damage to those quality fats. Rancid fats and oils are not fit for consumption. (They can be damaging to your liver, kidneys, digestive and cardiovascular systems, you name it! They're basically poison.) Yet most of us do not know the signs to look for. 

Fact: We required quality unsaturated as well as saturated fats for healthy, strong cellular membranes, circulatory health, hormonal health and radiant skin.

  • When buying bulk nuts and seeds look for gravity bins that dispense from the bottom versus open air containers with scoops. This will ensures freshness.
  • If there aren't gravity bins... Lift the top of the regular bin and lean in... Take a nice deep sniff. You might Look weird but it's ok... I do this on the regular! If the nuts/seeds smell a little fishy or have a paint/paint thinner like aroma... they're bad. Abandon them and search for nuts in vacuum sealed pouches. 
  • Buy your nuts and seeds whole whenever possible and grind them at home as you need them. Especially flax and chia. 
  • Another thing to look for is colour. Walnuts especially should be a lighter brown, if they look dark in patches or are darker brown, they could be rancid... Back away. 
  • When buying oils, do your best to buy oils in glass bottles or jars. Due to the nature of fats, they easily absorb chemical residues from plastic, BPA and other plastic residues have hormone disrupting effects, long story short, avoid plastic when storing nuts, seeds and especially oils. 

Strengthening your storage game

The battle against oxydation doesn't end once you've gotten home from the store. Proper at home storage is key to conquering the war on rancid fats. 

  • Transfer nuts and seeds to glass jars with tight lids and store them in the fridge or freezer. A simple rule of thumb to follow is -store up to three months in the fridge, up to 6 months in the freezer. 
  • Oils should be kept in dark coloured bottles, in a cool place away from heat. The higher the ratio of unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the more delicate the oil. For the most part, oils that are liquid at room temperature such as sesame, flax, or sunflower should be kept in the fridge. Oils that are stable at room temperature are generally solid, like coconut. The only exception is olive oil. It has a stable composition and can be stored in a dark bottle at room temperature safely, away from heat. 
  • Open your oils and check them before use, give them the sniff test mentioned above, if they smell fishy or paint like, it's time to toss them. 

winning high temp cooking

It is important to choose oils with a high smoke point for higher temperature cooking. "Smoke Point" refers to the temperature at which an oil starts to burn. For example, cold‐pressed flaxseed oil is a wonderful oil to use in salad dressings, but you wouldn’t cook  with it; in contrast, avocado oil has a very high smoke point even when it’s not highly refined, making it an excellent choice for high heat cooking. Overheating oils produces toxic fumes and harmful free radicals.  This is why it’s important not to “re‐use” oil that’s  already been used to cook something (i.e. the deep fryer at a fast food restaurant).

  • Beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals found in many unrefined oils are destroyed when the oil  is overheated.  
  • Overheating also creates harmful free radicals.
  • Low smoke point = between 225°F and 350°F, Ex. coconut or unrefined sesame oil (up to 350°F).
  • Medium smoke point = 375°F, Ex. virgin olive oil (up to 420°F) or sunflower oil (up to 450°F). 
  • 450°F High smoke point = between 470°F and 485°F and above, Ex avocado oil (up to 520°F).

*Pro tip: Keep a spray bottle filled with water in the kitchen and spritz water over your fry pan or baking sheet a few times while cooking, this will prevent oil burning.