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Ask the Nutritionist: 10 simple hacks to improve your health

In her weekly column, nutritionist Nonie De Long reveals the benefits of some simple things you can start doing right away
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Dear Nonie, I loved the recent soup-making class and will attend another cooking class when you have one, so thank you for that. The recipe book is gorgeous and I learned so much! I’m not interested in dieting and don’t have a lot of health complaints but I wondered if there are some little things I can do to help me be healthier overall. I remember the sweetener you showed us for our tea, for example. Do you have other little ideas like that I can use? Our whole family has benefited from that one idea. — Cara

Dear Cara,

I’m so glad you enjoyed the class. They’re usually a bit more wild when I can have more attendees, but for now, we need to keep it small. It was still a great time. Thank you for coming out. And thank you for the great question.

I’ve decided to share 10 simple hacks I think everyone can use to improve their health and I’ll explain the benefit as I go.

1. Change your oils

Replace vegetable and seed oils with extra virgin olive, coconut oil, quality lard, or tallow for cooking. Olive oil has a lower burn temp so can’t be heated as high without damaging the oil, but it’s okay for sauteing. The others are safe at rather high temps. These oils are all much less inflammatory than the vegetable oils because they are a) natural, and b) have a better fatty acid profile that is less inflammatory.

Coconut oil is by far the best in terms of health benefits and stability. It contains medium-chain triglycerides, which are beneficial on a number of levels and can even help speed up metabolism. I like coconut in baked goods or curries, olive oil for sauteing or roasting, and lard for frying. Quality butter can also be healthful, but some people are sensitive to dairy (even clarified) without recognizing it, so I eschew recommending it for everyone. The quality of fat in our diets determines the quality of the membrane on every cell in our bodies, the quality of our steroid hormones, and the quality of the sheathing of our nerves, so I can’t stress the importance of this one change enough. 

There is a well-established link between vegetable and seed oils and chronic degenerative conditions like heart disease, despite previous thinking on the issue. A simple rule of thumb is natural is always superior to hyper-processed foodstuff. If readers don’t know how processed and unhealthy vegetable oils are they can watch this video by NYT best-selling investigative science journalist, Nina Teicholz.

2. Replace the sugar

If you read my column regularly this comes as no surprise to readers, but they may not understand how exactly to do this with safe products with pleasing taste. I know you have found one, Cara, but I will share the info with readers who may not know. My preferred natural sweetener is Whole Earth, and I also like fresh grown stevia leaves. You can find a short video of stevia grown in my garden here.

Readers may also like to read one of my articles devoted to natural alternatives to sugar here. In it I go into the pros and cons of various sugar substitutes. Sugar is extremely detrimental to our health over time, including dental and bone health and mood control, so it’s best to avoid it almost, if not entirely.

3. Add collagen peptides to your coffee

Collagen is the most abundant structural protein in our bodies and it makes up more than 80 per cent of our skin. It lends strength and stretch to our tissues and we can observe it in action via the elasticity of our skin. It’s required for the integrity of all structural tissues, including muscle, tendons, ligaments, organs, bones and blood vessels. These all start to deteriorate as we age and produce less collagen.

We can also consume it. When we eat the bones, skin, and cartilage of animals (or broth from same) we can get it naturally. But how many of us practise nose-to-tail eating today? As such, I recommend using collagen protein in your coffee or tea daily. It’s tasteless and doesn’t change the consistency noticeably. It’s an easy hack to ensure you get enough.

4. Replace one meal a day with a superfood smoothie

This is a super easy hack, as it reduces the need to think about or cook one meal a day and benefits people of all ages. I generally favour fermented New Zealand whey protein or a vegetarian all in one protein for the backbone of my shake, with a bit of fruit, some free run eggs or coconut milk for healthy fat, and some matcha and a greens powder to give it extra nutrients. This is a perfect, no fuss meal of easy-to-absorb, liquid nutrients. And it’s a way to get a lot of greens in one go for those of us who don’t get enough greens otherwise.

5. Use kelp flakes on food for extra iodine and minerals

Kelp is high in iodine, which is a very common deficiency that affects thyroid health. And thyroid health impacts on our metabolic state and our hormonal health. Women take heed low thyroid function is epidemic among women today, especially those from South Asia. Adding kelp flakes to our meals is an easy way to increase the kelp we get naturally and easily. You can get it at any health food store. This is preventive. Those with diagnosed thyroid conditions will benefit from 1:1 coaching to address the issue holistically.

6. Use root veggies with the skin on

The most nutritious part of the root veggies we consume is the outer skin, which comes into contact with the soil. Many may not know that soil is a living organism. Healthy soil contains thousands of microbes that are essential for our gut health. This is damaged by commercial farming, so organic is best when you can. The skins of root veggies are used in herbal medicine for a nutritive broth for certain ailments, due to the minerals.

It’s best to lightly wash / scrub the skins and leave them on when cooking or otherwise using the roots. This way you’ll be getting minerals and beneficial microbes for your health. For information on how to do lasagna gardening to prep your soil at home for a wonderful garden the following year, watch my events page. I’m doing a video tutorial in the coming weeks.

7. Avoid water from plastic bottles

Even though it’s been promoted as cleaner than tap water, most bottled water is, in fact, tap water - ut bathed in plastic because the soft plastic used in the bottles leaches into the water. And most of the plastic bottles are never recycled. We manufacture far too much plastic to recycle. And it’s only ever downcycled. To learn more about this issue, here’s a really neat little video you can watch called The Story of Bottled Water. As noted in the video, bottled water costs about 2000x more than tap water. It’s better for your health and the environment to get a reusable stainless steel or glass water bottle and use tap or filtered water over bottled water.

8. Don’t snack between meals

I realize nutrition advice for years has been the opposite of this, but how’s that been working out for people? More people today are obese than ever before. The three-meals-plus-snacks-high-carb dietary advice is making us sick as a nation. So let’s reel it in. You’ll be amazed how much better you feel! This is actually very easy if your meals contain enough nutrients to satisfy your body and keep your blood sugar stable, without spikes from excessive carbs or sugars. Eat complete, satisfying meals and skip any snacks between. You’ll notice a difference in your cravings and often, your waistline!

9. Don’t drink juice, even if it’s unsweetened

Many people don’t realize that unsweetened juices still contain ample sugar - usually in the form of fructose, which is as bad or worse than table sugar. We think because fruit sugar is natural it’s better, but it’s just not true. Best to avoid all juices and instead make fruit water or natural iced teas with a bit of lemon or lime juice for the kids.

Hibiscus is a lovely fruity tasting tea that’s all-natural and very high in antioxidants. Another option is to learn to make homemade kombucha as a refreshing flavoured beverage. It’s effervescent and slightly sweet and full of probiotics. I teach classes on how to get started making kombucha at home, with kits for participants.

10. Skip desert

It should go without saying, but this habit is killing us. Diabetes is out of control in North America today. Rather than eating dessert, it’s best to have a second plate of dinner if you’re still hungry. And try a tea with natural sweetener for dessert, rather than a sweet treat. This can satisfy that sweet craving without spiking blood sugar.

If you’re the type to make homemade treats, try getting an ice cream maker and making low sugar ice cream with natural sweeteners and natural fruit or cacao powder for chocolate flavouring. Coconut cream makes an extra creamy ice cream and helps us get more of those slimming MCT fats. This is a win-win combination to try if you want a treat that’s good for the whole family!

I hope you find this helpful, Cara. These are easy to implement and can make a big difference in our health - for both children and adults.

I was very saddened by the loss of one of Bradford’s teens last week and want to extend my condolences to the family. If there is anything I can do to help them with their health through this difficult time I would be happy to do so. As always, readers can find me online at askthenutritionist.ca. Reader questions can be directed to nonienutritionista@gmail.com.

Namaste!

Nonie Nutritionista