A: Before I dive into answering this question, I want to start by saying that eating ANY vegetables is AWESOME and if thinking about which vegetables to eat cooked and which ones to eat raw overwhelms you, do NOT worry!
Let’s start first with one of the basic characteristics of vitamins – some are water-soluble and some are fat-soluble and some vitamins are also more heat sensitive than others.
The water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C and the B vitamins. If you’re going to be cooking vegetables containing B vitamins or vitamin C (outlined below), avoid boiling them, as a good majority of the nutrients will end up in the cooking water. Instead, stick to steaming, sautéing or roasting these vegetables.
TIP: If you do end up boiling the vegetables, save the water to use for soups or for cooking at a later time so that the nutrients are not lost.
The fat-soluble vitamins include, vitamins A, D, E and K. These vegetables are fantastic when cooked.
When Cooking is Better
One of the most infamous vegetables (actually fruits) that are more nutritious when cooked is tomato. Tomatoes contain lycopene, which is an antioxidant that becomes MORE bioavailable (easily absorbed and used by the body) when cooked rather than raw. Research shows that lycopene increases by 25% when tomatoes are cooked for 30 minutes. Lycopene has been studied for its belief of being helpful with preventing cancer and other chronic diseases.
Vegetables containing beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A), like carrots and sweet potato are actually MORE nutritious when cooked. Cooking, in this case, helps to break down the rigid plant cell wall, which makes more nutrients available for absorption.
Now let’s chat about heat sensitivity. There are a few vitamins that are quite sensitive to heat and therefore, vegetables containing these vitamins are best consumed raw.
Heat breaks down vitamin C, folate, vitamin B1 and B5.
Examples of vegetables containing vitamin C:
Examples of vegetables containing folate:
Examples of vegetables containing vitamin B1:
Examples of vegetables containing vitamin B5:
Eating any vegetables is good and whether or not you consume these foods raw or cooked is not a HUGE concern. If we can simply incorporate more vegetables into our diets that is going to be where we see the biggest benefit!
What Is A Good Balance Of Raw, Cooked And Fermented Vegetables?
In my opinion, incorporating 1-2 servings of fermented foods per day (sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, fermented vegetables, kefir) is great for maintaining the population of good bacteria in your gut. However, if you’re more likely to have trouble with the good bacteria in your gut (read here to see if this might be you), then increasing the amount of fermented foods you consume may be helpful.
In terms of breaking up vegetables into raw, fermented and cooked categories and finding a balance between the 3, I recommend variety. I usually tell clients that they should be shooting for at least 4 cups of vegetables per day, which most people gasp at but think: if you have a side salad that is usually 2-3 cups alone. I recommend consuming some vegetables raw everyday, some cooked and some fermented. This will give you a great balance of nutrients and really give you the best bang for your buck nutrition-wise.
I hope this helps answer your question. The real truth is not to be too overly worried about it. If you’re eating at least 4 cups of vegetables per day (raw, cooked or both) and some fermented foods – relax, you’re golden 🙂
Do you have a question that you'd like answered on the blog?
Yours in Health,
I received a great question to my Facebook page last week asking the reason behind my vitamin selection. This is a great question because so many of us (my past-self included) would take supplements and not really understand why. I would take a supplement because I heard it was healthy and that’s all I really needed to know (so I thought). There is SO much nutrition and health misinformation out there now and I encourage everyone to think critically about the information they hear before implementing it in their lives.
SO – today I want to go through some of the top supplements that I take and that I recommend to clients most often.
If you’ve read any of my post you know I am a huge advocate of the “food first” approach, meaning – if you can get a vitamin or mineral from food, then by all means get it from food. I used to preach that we could get all of our nutrients from our food, but as I dug into more and more research and worked with more and more clients, I realized that it would be irresponsible for me to suggest this. Getting our nutrients from food is always going to be number one, but strategic supplementation is important and very necessary, in most cases.
Before we start I must mention: please do not start a new supplement regimen without discussing it with your personal health practitioner. Some supplements can have an adverse reaction with other medications or could be toxic at high levels.
So let’s start with the basics.
The first supplement that I recommend to almost everyone is a good quality vitamin D supplement. If you remember from this post here, vitamin D plays a critical role in our body as it is important for bone health, immunity and cognitive function.
How much vitamin D a person needs is going to vary depending on ethnicity, where you live and your lifestyle (a typical recommendation is 1000-5000 IU per day). Right now in Alberta our provincial health care no longer allows us to get our vitamin D levels checked, which is extremely unfortunate given the role of vitamin D in our overall health.
You do have to worry about vitamin D supplementation at high levels due to the fact that it is a fat-soluble vitamin (meaning we can’t just pee it out if we have too much). Typically we must supplement with over 10,000 IU per day for a period of several months before we need to worry about toxicity. Vitamin D is beneficial for bone health because it enhances the absorption of calcium. Too much vitamin D can cause high levels of calcium in our blood (called hypercalcemia).
The symptoms of hypercalcemia include (1):
I love when vitamin D is in combination with vitamin K2 (which we can find in the diet from grass fed dairy products). Vitamin K2 helps with the proper absorption and utilization of calcium in the body. We want calcium to be deposited into our bones, and vitamin K2 helps with that (sometimes we can end up with calcium deposits in our blood vessels and kidneys, something we want to avoid).
I can’t stress the importance of good quality enough when I talk about omega-3 supplements. Many people pop a fish oil everyday but why is it important? If you remember back to my post on cooking fats you know that omega-3 fats are potent anti-inflammatories. Inflammation is the building block of many chronic diseases and most of us walk around with low-grade inflammation all of the time. To keep inflammation under control we want to make sure we have a good balance of omega-3 fats in relation to omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fats are PRO-inflammatory and omega-3 fats are ANTI-inflammatory. A great relationship between omega-3 and omega-6 is somewhere between 1:1 and 4:1.
Two of the major ways we can help get our omega-3:omega-6 ratios balanced is by reducing consumption of omega-6-rich oils like corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil and increasing our intake of omega-3-rich foods like fatty fish (salmon, herring, sardines, trout, etc). If you look, these inflammatory oils are used A LOT in store bought salad dressings and condiments - so be mindful of this and always look at the ingredient list.
As I’ve noted in previous posts – I don’t recommend plant-based foods containing omega-3 fats as a good way to decrease inflammation. Plant sources of omega-3 fats contain a type of omega-3 fat called alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). In order to be used properly in the body ALA must be converted to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (the animal sources of omega-3 fats). This would not be an issue if the conversion of ALA to DHA/EPA wasn’t so poor. In a healthy person the conversion from ALA to DHA and EPA is under 5%. If you are following a vegan diet, I recommend NutraVege – an algae-based omega-3 supplement.
One of my FAVOURITE ways to get in omega 3 fats with some vitamin D and active vitamin D is through cod liver oil. If you're wondering which brands I use and recommend, you can check out my dispensary here to get professional grade supplements at a discount and see exactly what I use every single day!
There are two types of magnesium supplements that I recommend for two different reasons. Magnesium glycinate I recommend to clients who are struggling with getting good quality sleep, whether it’s difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep, this supplement can often do the trick (better than melatonin, in my opinion). I suggest 400 mg of magnesium glycinate in the evening to start and typically the 400 mg dosage is enough to do the trick. If you want to read more about the benefits of magnesium, check out my post here.
The second type of magnesium supplement I recommend to clients is magnesium citrate. This supplement I recommend as a better alternative to laxatives from the pharmacy. Again, 400 mg in the evening is usually enough to do the trick but be sure to check with your personal health practitioner before beginning any supplement regimen.
A vitamin B complex can be helpful for many people, especially those who are just coming off of birth control, since the pill has a negative effect on vitamin B status in the body. Supplementing with a vitamin B complex may also be useful if you consume alcohol on a regular basis, since alcohol consumption depletes B vitamin levels (particularly thiamin).
I also recommend a vitamin B/C supplement for those who struggle with stress management. If you remember from this post, vitamin C and B vitamins have been associated with lower levels of cortisol (our stress hormone) and our perceived levels of stress.
Probiotics are so incredibly important to our overall health and wellbeing. Not only is our gut our first line of defense against infection and invasion of pathogens but it's also responsible for the majority of our serotonin (feel good chemical) production. There is a strong relationship between gut health and levels of depression, making probiotics key not only for digestion but also for our mental health. Read more about this relationship here.
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid (building block of protein) in our bodies. Glutamine is made in the body but we also get it from protein sources like beef, pork, milk, yogurt, ricotta/cottage cheese, poultry, raw spinach, parsley and cabbage. Periods of prolonged stress can lower our glutamine levels and make supplementation extremely valuable. I often suggest clients with serious digestive issues to try supplementation with l-glutamine powder twice per day. Also, if you remember from my post on sugar cravings, l-glutamine can also be helpful in reducing cravings when they strike.
Tip: if you’re using a powdered l-glutamine supplement, only use it with cold or room temperature foods or liquids, as heat will destroy the glutamine and it will no longer be effective.
So often there are so many fillers in the supplements we find on the shelf that they may even do more harm than good. We should be looking for third party testing on all of our supplements to make sure that what they say is in the bottle is acutally in the bottle! For access to high quality supplements, click here and don't forget to consult your personal care practitioner for guidance on what is right for you.
Have some time and want to watch an interesting Fifth Estate episode on the supplement industry? Click here.
Do you have a question you'd like answered? Submit your question here.
Until next time,
Yours in Health,
Contrary to popular belief, bloating throughout the day is not normal and we have the power to engage in activities and restructure our eating schedule to help banish the bloat!
First, it is important to understand that our digestive process is not triggered only when we begin eating. Our digestive systems start firing before the point when we put food into our mouths. Can you remember a time when you smelled a delicious meal cooking and your mouth began to water? Saliva production helps prepare our mouths with the enzymes needed to begin the digestive process (digestion actually begins in the mouth, but we will talk more about that later).
We (I use this term loosely – I do not remember this) use to live in a world where convenience foods were not an option and meals took time to prepare and had to be prepared from scratch. Seeing and smelling food cooking gets the body ready to eat and acts as a signal that a meal is coming. Unfortunately, many of the meals we consume can be ready in an instant – from takeout options to microwave dinners. When we consume these types of meals, we don’t get the same “warm up” before the meal as we do when we prepare our own meals.
I totally understand that it is not always possible for us to prepare our meals from scratch three times per day (plus, I usually recommend that my clients batch prepare meals). What I would suggest if all you need to do is heat up a meal before eating would be either to reheat your meal in the oven rather than the microwave (this takes a little more time and it allows the aroma of the food to flood the house) and/or take a few minutes before beginning the meal to
In order to properly digest your food, you must be in a parasympathetic state (think: rest and digest) rather than a sympathetic state (think: fight or flight). How many times have you scarfed down your lunch at your desk before a meeting? This is a perfect example of eating in a sympathetic or stressed state. Eating while in a sympathetic state makes it much more difficult for the body to begin properly digesting our food, making it much more likely that we end up with digestive issues such as bloating or indigestion.
So how can we avoid this? It may sound obvious but taking time (20 minutes or more) to enjoy your meal away from distractions such as your phone, computer or television is a great start!
Tied in with the last point - taking time to eat your meals is important. Next time you eat a meal, I want you to look at the clock prior to beginning your meal and directly following as well. Believe it or not, for optimal digestion (and feeling of satisfaction) it should take you at least 20 minutes from start to finish.
Chewing our food is the first step in the digestion process. So often we eat far too quickly and only chew each mouthful a few times before swallowing. When we swallow food that is not adequately broken down by chewing, it places more stress on the rest of our digestion system to properly breakdown the food to get it ready for absorption and elimination.
Improperly chewing our food is one of the major causes of bloating and by simply focusing on chewing 20-30 times before swallowing often makes a huge difference in whether or not we experience bloating after a meal.
Listen, this is coming from a recovering gum chewing addict (anyone close to me can attest to this) – chewing gum is not something I recommend if you’re struggling with any digestive issues. Not only do you swallow a significant amount of air when chewing gum but most conventional gum also contains artificial sweeteners, such as sugar alcohols, which can cause gastrointestinal upset when consumed in excess (10 grams per day usually causes unwanted symptoms).
For clients reporting bloating and digestive issues I typically recommend avoiding consuming liquid (yes, even water) with meals. Although a lot of this evidence is anecdotal in nature, I find it can be extremely helpful for some of my clients. The idea is that when we consume too much liquid during mealtime we can dilute our gastric juices making it more difficult to properly digest our food. If you typically drink with your meals but struggle with digestive issues, I suggest avoiding water 30 minutes before a meal and 30 minutes after a meal.
Do you have a history of popping TUMS on a semi-regular basis? Do you have uncontrollable and unexplained heartburn? Believe it or not, heartburn is often caused by lack of stomach acid rather than too much stomach acid. Let’s bring back a little high school chemistry – our ideal stomach pH range is 1-3 but when we take antacids we can raise our stomach pH to 4-5. Not only does raising our stomach pH put us at risk for getting ill (the acidity in our stomach kills a lot of bacteria and parasites, which keeps us healthy) but it also hinders our digestive process. The acidity in our stomach plays a major role in the breakdown of protein (called denaturation) and when the pH of our stomach is not within the ideal range our digestion is impaired and we can experience side effects such as bloating.
If you suspect that you’re dealing with low stomach acid, the first thing I would suggest is an apple cider vinegar drink. Start with mixing 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar with 8 ounces of water and drinking it three times each day before meals. Make sure you’re consistent with this practice to see maximum results.
If the apple cider vinegar drink helps but not quite enough, a digestive enzyme containing betaine HCl may do the trick. I don’t recommend supplementing with this on your own without the advice of your personal health practitioner.
If you try all of the above recommendations and still struggle with bloating, I suggest working with your personal health care provider (integrative physician or dietitian) on a supplement protocol including a good quality probiotic, digestive enzyme containing HCl and ruling out a candida albicans overgrowth.
Hopefully these tips will help you battle the bloat and rid post-meal discomfort and the need for Joey's "Thanksgiving pants".
Do you still have questions about digestion? Submit your questions in the comments below or through the Ask the RD form here.
Yours in Health,
Probiotics have been named the future of preventive medicine and disease treatment. Over 100 trillion microbes live in your intestines right now and they are responsible for so many beneficial processes within our bodies, from proper digestion to boosting our immune system.
Probiotics are non-disease causing bacteria that live in our intestines. They produce vitamins (B6, B12 and K2), short chain fatty acids, aid in digestion and absorption of our food (including minerals magnesium, calcium and iron) and help prevent inflammation and infection (fighting off bad bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli).
The more strains (types) of bacteria you have in your gut, the better.
In our intestines there is a constant battle between the good and bad gut bacteria and the key is for the good bacteria to always outnumber the bad bacteria. When there are more bad bacteria than good bacteria in our intestines we have something called gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis can lead to many issues, which we will discuss later.
Two major known benefits of probiotics are digestive health and immune support but research is emerging in the area of probiotics and obesity. We will cover digestive health separately in the next couple of weeks so for today we will just focus on immunity and obesity.
Over 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut. This immune system is called GALT, which stands for gut-associated lymphoid tissue and it works by helping to protect the body from invasion of bad bacteria.
If you’re prone to developing urinary tract infections, eczema or allergies, a good quality probiotic can help. The good gut bacteria form a sort of shield that prevents pathogens from adhering to the intestinal wall, which helps to keep us healthy.
Let’s look at some of the data:
Studies have already demonstrated that the intestinal flora of obese individuals differs from that of thin people. One hypothesis for this relationship is linked to consumption of dietary fibre, suggesting that thin individuals consume more fibre than overweight individuals. Foods containing large amounts of fibre (prebiotics) act as food for good gut bacteria so naturally, if we consume more prebiotics we are going to be able to better support a robust population of good gut bacteria and in turn, starve off the bad. As we discussed last week, a diet high in sugar feeds bad bacteria and starves the good.
Another hypothesis is linked to the relationship between an imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria and inflammation. As we discussed last week, inflammation often causes a halt in weight loss and can even promote weight gain through insulin resistance.
A third hypothesis is that our gut bacteria can influence glucose and fat metabolism, which directly impacts our weight and likelihood of becoming obese (1).
“According to Angelo Tremblay, probiotics may act by altering the permeability of the intestinal wall. By keeping certain proinflammatory molecules from entering the bloodstream, they might help prevent the chain reaction that leads to glucose intolerance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.” (2)
The number of human studies linking probiotic intake to obesity is limited at this time, however it is a promising area of research and the relationship will only continue to get clearer.
Remember – not all probiotics are created equal. Probiotics can contain many different strains and number of colony forming units (CFUs). There is no magic number for amounts of CFUs in a probiotic but some researchers believe you need a minimum of 2 billion CFUs for at least a 2 week period in order to get maximum benefits.
On the label you will want to look for
If there are just two words (ex. Bifidobacterium longum) with no strain designation afterwards, it could be any one type of hundreds of bacteria. This is often a red flag when choosing a probiotic because it demonstrates that the company is either unaware of which particular strains exist in the supplement or they do not realize the importance of distinguishing the strain.
You’re going to want to choose a probiotic that is multi-strain. Some of the most popular probiotics in supplements today are:
Lactobacillis acidophilus (this bacteria readily colonizes on the intestinal wall and supports nutrient absorption and assists with digestion)
Bifidobacterium longum (this bacteria helps maintain the integrity of the gut lining – remember, inflammation occurs when foreign particles crosses the gut barrier and enter the bloodstream) *Fun Fact: This is one of the first strains of bacteria to colonize after birth.
Bifidobacterium bifidum (this bacteria is essential for the proper breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and protein)
*Tip: For all you travellers out there – look for a probiotic containing Lactobacillis rhamnosus to help prevent travellers diarrhea.
This is an unfair generalization however when my clients have been on antibiotics, I would estimate that 95% of them had no idea that it would be beneficial to take a probiotic following their course of antibiotics. With the frequency of antibiotic use in the world today, a probiotic protocol following a course of antibiotics has GOT to be put into place.
Recommendation: Consume a serving of fermented foods daily for a good maintenance dose of probiotics. After a course of antibiotics consume a good quality, multi-strain probiotic for at least two weeks after finishing the treatment.
Caution: Probiotics should not be taken by anyone who is immunocompromised. Please consult your physician before taking a probiotic.
Believe it or not, you can actually send a sample to the American Gut Project for a full analysis of your gut microbes through stool analysis. With the population of your gut bacteria playing such a huge role in our health, why not see what's actually going on in there?
Hope you found today's post informative. Keep checking back - over the next few weeks we will go over everything you need to know about housing a robust population of beneficial bacteria!
Yours in Health,