Friday, August 28, 2009

Nutrition Spotlight: Vitamin D

Vitamin D is the current darling of the nutrition world: a PUBMED search for “vitamin D” reveals over 9000 studies just in the last five years. So what is so special about vitamin D?

Dietitians, including myself, believe quite strongly that we can meet our dietary needs with a “food first” approach. Yet vitamin D is unique because there isn’t much of it to be had in our food supply. The only significant source of vitamin D comes from wild caught salmon. Vitamin D is also added to milk at a dose of 100 International Units (IU) per cup; it would take a lot of milk to reach what most experts agree is a physiological daily dose of the vitamin.

For many years, vitamin D has been dismissed as a supporting role to calcium in the story of our bone health: get a bit of vitamin D and you will absorb calcium for strong bones. However, we now know that there are vitamin D receptors all over our body including in the brain, breast, heart and prostate. Where there is a receptor…there is a function. So researchers set out to look for it.

Epidemiological studies, which look at patterns in disease in populations, have found that people living in higher latitudes had a greater risk of dying of certain cancers and a greater risk of certain auto-immune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis. What is common among people living further away from the equator is that they receive less sunlight – and bright, direct sunlight turns a cholesterol-like molecule in our skin to vitamin D. As a result of this early work, researchers began clinical studies to test for direct relationships to vitamin D.

What they found is that vitamin D is more than just a co-factor in calcium absorption. Vitamin D plays a role in cell cycle regulation and immune function as well. As a result, research is ongoing to look at the role of vitamin D for cancer prevention and treatment, auto-immune diseases, blood sugar regulation, heart health, weight loss and even depression. While future research may moderate some of these early hopes, learning that vitamin D is a far more important player in our overall health is good reason to ensure that we get enough of it.

While current recommendations are 200IU per day, most experts recommend that all school age children and adults take 1000IU of vitamin D3 every single day. It is important not to take more than that, as there is the small chance for over - accumulation because vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin. Ideally, your physician would do a simple blood test to ensure you are not deficient in vitamin D and that you are taking enough to keep your blood level at a safe and therapeutic level.

The Institute of Medicine, the body that creates the national recommendations for daily intakes of nutrients is currently reviewing their recommendations and it is expected that recommendations for vitamin D will officially increase.

Note: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified health professional. Please speak with your registered dietitian to ensure that vitamin D is right for you.

Reference: Holick, M. and Chen, T. Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87(suppl):1080S-6S
Institute of Medicine.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The ABCs of Nutrition

A is for Apple...long overlooked as a health food, an apple a day just might keep the doctor away.

Apples are rich in pectin, a soluble fibre that helps to stabilize blood sugars and lower cholesterol. Fibre content helps lower glycemic response, making apples a lower GI choice. Apples also contain a host of antioxidants, including anthocyanins in red apple skins that further help lower cholesterol levels. Apples are also a local food for many of us, making them an eco friendly choice. The perfect between meal snack, enjoy an apple daily on its own or with a little bit of almond butter of low fat cheese for extra staying power.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Vancouver is an amazing food city...we have raw food, super star chefs, the best Indian and Chinese restaurants west of the Atlantic and access to the freshest produce and seafood around. That being said, getting a healthy meal that tastes amazing at a "to go" price can still be a bit of a challenge. Which is why I love Nuba.

Billed as "authentic Lebanese cuisine" this place is a bit more than just good falafel. Not many restaurants use a vegan diet as their baseline, but scanning their menu you will notice the statement "All menu items vegan, except for V for vegetarian and M for meat." They use plenty of organic ingredients and food is bursting with flavour, without the greasy hangover of many kebab and falafel shops. My favourite is the crispy cauliflower and my omnivore husband likes the lamb kafta.

The Yaletown location is more of the takeout spot; at Crosstown, they offer a sitdown experience at a super reasonable price at dinner - the most expensive item is their feast for two at $35.

Go to Nuba - eat healthy - be happy.

Nuba...207 West Hastings at Cambie and 1206 Seymour at

Thursday, August 13, 2009 me!

Lunch...making lunches has got to be one of my least favourite chores. I do it because I want a healthy homemade meal. So might as well make all of the hard work worth it.

In winter, I usually rely on leftovers for lunch but in summer I take advantage of the season and eat salads. A salad takes 5 minutes to throw together and I can get 5 or 6 servings of fruits and veggies at one go. Two thirds of us don't get 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day...and potatoes count. How sad is that?

5 minutes in the evening (while I wait for dinner to cook) and I have a lunch that leaves me feeling pretty virtuous by the time I commute home.

Power lunch...redefined:

3 large handfuls baby spinach (3 cups)
1/2 bell pepper
5 radishes
1/2 large tomato or 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup chick peas or white beans
5 kalamata olives
1/4 cup soft goats cheese
1 tbsp of your favourite dressing

Make this the night before...pack a piece of fruit and some organic yogurt for dessert and in an instant! you just became healthier than your coworker.

1 tbsp organic hemp seeds

Monday, August 10, 2009

On Priorities

There is a great saying about priorities that I am about to butcher here ... that no man has ever approached the end of his life wishing he had spent more time at the office. There is something else I should add to that sentiment - that when you wake up 25 pounds heavier or with your first diagnosis of high cholesterol or diabetes... it is unlikely that you will say to yourself "At least I watched every single episode of Grey's Anatomy."

Time spent preparing healthy food and exercising can only become priorities when you put your health at the top of your to do list. Time is short; between a full day at the office, shuttling kids around and trying to keep your house in order it is easy to make compromises when it comes to your health and happiness. To reward yourself for all of your hard work, you forgo a homemade meal in favour of your favourite take out. But a truer reward is a meal that nourishes your body so that your skin can glow, your jeans fit and you can literally jump out of bed in the morning full of energy.

Committing to a healthy lifestyle demands changing how we think - making dinner doesn't have to be a chore to be avoided. Making dinner should be about taking the time to care for yourself. Laugh in the face of the overflowing laundry basket and say..."I'd prefer to go to yoga". See how you feel.

Now is the time...because that cute butt of yours deserves it.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Post Modern Pizza Pie may be an "eat sometimes" food - but the art of pizza making has been seriously elevated beyond Domino's. And thin crust helps to reduce the high carb hurt. Here is my ever expanding list of the best pizzas I have tasted and where to get them.

3. Bordello's Pizzaria, 1481 Water St, Kelowna. Sneak past the pub downstairs to enter this little jewel box of a restaurant on the second floor. Fantastic wood fired thin crusts and plenty of artisan toppings that will suit you just fine when you have had your fill of chain restaurants.
2. Campagnolo, 1020 Main St, Vancouver. This gorgeous spot has already made the Conde Nast Hot List and is my favourite new haunt. Located in the old Adega space, Campagnolo serves up rustic Italian fare at a reasonable price. Try the pizza bianca....and go back for brunch.
1. Serious Pie, 316 Virginia, Seattle. One of chef Tom Douglas' Seattle restaurants. Fantastic ultra chewy just in the right spot...crispy and super thin crust. Must try the truffle cheese and roasted mushroom.