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Understanding the Most Confusing Words at the Grocery Store

Person pushing a grocery cart with overlay text of title

 

Natural versus organic. Free run versus free range. Made in Canada versus Product of Canada. These terms can be oh-so confusing! We decipher these terms so that they all make sense!

Watch my TV interview on this topic (and see a few food examples) or read the details below.

Dietitian Sue Mah speaking to TV host Lindsey Deluce

Whole grain versus Multi-grain

Whole grain means that you’re getting all three parts of the grain kernel or grain seed. The three parts are:

  • Bran – this is the outside layer of the grain and contains most of the fibre as well as B vitamins and some protein
  • Endosperm – this is the middle layer and it’s the bigger part of the whole grain. It’s mostly carbohydrates with some protein
  • Germ – this is the smallest part of the grain kernel and is rich in B vitamins, vitamin E and minerals

On the other hand, multi-grain simply means that the product contains more than one type of grains, and they may or may not be whole grains.

Choose whole grains when you can for extra fibre and nutrition. Some examples of whole grains are oats, barley, corn, rye, brown rice and quinoa.

Grass fed versus Grain fed

These are terms that are sometimes used to describe the beef you can buy. All cattle eat grasses and forages which includes grasses, clover and alfalfa.

Grass fed beef means that the cattle was only fed grass or forages their entire life.

Grain fed beef means that the cattle were raised on grass or forages for most of their life and then grain finished. This means is that about 3-4 months before going to market, the cattle are fed a diet that is mostly grains like corn or barley. The grain helps to produce a more marbled quality grade of beef

When it comes to nutrition, both grass fed and grain fed beef are excellent sources of protein, iron and vitamin B12. Grass fed beef is leaner than grain fed beef, and may have slightly higher amounts of omega-3 fat and vitamin K. Some say that grass fed beef has a slightly different taste too.

Free range versus Free run

These are terms that are used to describe the eggs you buy.

Free run eggs come from hens that roam the entire barn floor, and some of these barns may have multi-tiered aviaries.

Free range eggs come from hens that also roam the entire barn floor. And when the weather permits, the hens go outside to pasture. So in the winter when it’s cold, access to outside may be limited.

From a nutrition point of view, there are no differences in the nutritional content of these eggs compared to regular eggs. All eggs are a super source of protein, iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

Made in Canada versus Product of Canada

Made in Canada means that a Canadian company was involved in some of the food preparation.

Product of Canada means that all or nearly all of the food and processing used to make the food is Canadian. In other words, “Product of Canada” foods were grown or raised by Canadian farmers, and prepared / packed by Canadian food companies.

Natural versus Organic

Natural means that nothing has been added or removed. The food does not contain any added vitamins or minerals or artificial flavours or food additives. The food also has not had anything removed or significantly changed.

Organic refers to the way foods and ingredients have been grown and processed. For example, organic chicken means that the chickens were raised with a certified organic feed that contains no animal by-products or antibiotics. Organic also means that there are no artificial colours or flavours, no preservatives or sweeteners. The “organic” logo, shown below, can be used only on products that have 95% or more organic content.

logo for organic products; logo is top half of a red maple leaf above a green field

What to Look for in a Probiotic Supplement

Probiotics can have a number of health benefits ranging from reducing the symptoms of digestive disorders to supporting your immune system. Choosing a probiotic supplement though can be sooo confusing! Here are four dietitian-approved tips to help you find the best product.

Tip #1 – Look for a probiotic that is enteric-coated

The acid in our stomach can destroy probiotics. Enteric-coated probiotic capsules, like New Roots Herbal probiotics, are completely sealed allowing them to survive the acid in our stomach and make it all the way down to our large intestine / colon where probiotics do their beneficial work. Some other probiotics are “delayed release”, meaning that the capsules will open up slowly to release their contents. However, the delayed release may only last about 30 minutes. In this case, the probiotics can still be destroyed by the stomach acid and may not reach the small intestine to deliver full benefits. Another benefit of enteric-coated probiotics is that you can take them anytime, with or without food.

Tip #2 – Look for the bacteria count at the time of EXPIRY

Probiotics will list the bacteria count in Colony Forming Units (CFUs). The key is to make sure that the CFU count is guaranteed at the time of expiry, not just when they’re manufactured. Look for the phrase “Potency guaranteed at date of expiry” on the bottle or package.

Tip #3 – Look for probiotics in the refrigerated section

Probiotics by definition are living micro-organisms. Keeping probiotics in the fridge helps to preserve the lifespan of the bacteria. That’s why you’ll find New Roots Herbal probiotics in the refrigerated section at the natural products store. When you get home, remember to keep your probiotics in the fridge too!

Tip #4 – Talk to a dietitian or your health care professional

Probiotic supplements can contain billions of probiotics! The two most common groups of probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium – and there are different species and strains within these groups. Talk to a dietitian or your health care provider to figure out the best ones for you and your health concerns.

Watch my TV interview about Prebiotics and Probiotics  

TV host Annette Hamm speaking to dietitian Sue Mah

Disclosure: I have participated in a paid partnership with New Roots Herbal. Opinions in this post are my own. 

 

Peach & Tomato Summer Salad

white bowl with salad made from diced peaches and diced tomatoes, garnished with basil leaves

Celebrate Food Day Canada on August 1st with delicious, local peaches and nectarines! Prep time: 5 minutes

Peach & Tomato Summer Salad

Ingredients

2 peaches or nectarines (leave the skins on)

10 cherry / grape tomatoes or 1 small tomato

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp olive oil

Salt / pepper to taste

Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Directions

Dice the peaches and have the cherry tomatoes. Toss gently with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add salt / pepper if desired. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Makes 2 small servings

5 Smart Snacks

5 snack ideas with images of each snack combination

Want to stay fueled and alert? My dietitian tip is to combine protein with produce at every snack! Protein foods give you staying power, satiety and alertness. Produce offers a medley of antioxidants to boost your health and wellness. That’s a powerful combo, right?

Try these snacks the next time you’re heading out on the trails, camping or even studying for exams. Which snack combo is your favourite?

 

 

 

Inside a Dietitian’s Fridge

TV host Dina Pugliese chatting with dietitian Sue Mah who is in her kitchen

The Chief Public Officer Theresa Tam is concerned that Canadians are reaching for “junk food and sweets” during the COVID pandemic. To help Canadians eat well and manage some of their stress, I shared a few of my key fridge staples on Breakfast TV Toronto.

Watch the interview by clicking either of the images below.

 

Dietitian Sue Mah talking about foods in her fridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: While this TV segment was sponsored by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, the information represents my own opinions and advice.

The Science of Comfort Foods

aerial image of kitchen counter filled with baking supplies like flour, eggs, and measuring spoons

[Image: Piktochart]

Can you believe that we’re into week 11 of quarantine now? We’ve been seeing plenty of homemade comfort food pics posted on Instagram lately. In fact, the hashtag #QuarantineBaking has over 208 THOUSAND posts and the hashtag #ComfortFood has over 7.1 MILLLION posts.

There has been so much about comfort food lately in the news too:

  • In Toronto, Bradley Harder started the #PandemicPieProject – he’s baked over 200 pies and given them away to members in his community;
  • In Halifax, Amy Munch who owns Cake Babes, a wedding cake shop, has now baked over 2000 cupcakes and delivered them to front line workers; and
  • In Italy, an 84-year-old Grandma is on lighting up YouTube, demonstrating her recipe for Lockdown Lasagna.

Here are 4 reasons why you might be reaching for those comfort foods right now.

Watch my 1 minute video below about The Science of Comfort Foods

 

1 – Comfort foods trigger dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends messages between the brain cells. Dopamine is all about motivation, reward and pleasure. It gives us a feel-good sensation. So when you eat a comfort food that tastes good and is rewarding, you get a rush of dopamine. Your brain remembers this connection between your behaviour (the comfort food you ate) and the reward (the positive feeling). You may be more motivated to continue that behaviour i.e. eat a comfort food because it gives you that feel-good reward. Some psychology researchers think that even ANTICIPATING eating certain foods generates dopamine. So just THINKING about eating a cinnamon bun or chocolate cake can trigger dopamine!

2 – Comfort foods gives us social connection

As a dietitian, I always say that food unites us. My dad is a chef and to me, food is an expression of love. I remember when Jamie Oliver was here in Toronto in 2015, promoting his new cookbook. When he stood up on stage, he said “Food can be a hug”.  Wow, don’t you agree – food can be as comforting as a hug. Some interesting research from the Universities of Tennessee and New York State in 2015 found that comfort foods remind us of our social relationships / and helps us feel less lonesome especially when we are isolated. Comfort foods offer a sense of belonging. So it makes sense that we’re turning to comfort foods during these times of quarantine and physical isolation. On top of that, baking and cooking together offers psychosocial benefits. Think of those virtual dinner parties or virtual cooking classes we’ve been taking – they keep us feeling connected even when we’re not physically together.

3 – Comfort foods are associated with positive memories and nostalgia

Very often, comfort foods remind us of our childhood or home or friends and family. Comfort foods may also be linked to special person like your mom, dad, Nona, Bubbe or Grandma. When we eat comfort foods, it brings pack happy memories from our past. Sometimes even the SMELL of comfort foods can trigger these positive memories. Psychological research shows that smells are powerfully linked to areas in the brain that are associated with memory and emotional experiences 

4 – Comfort foods can give us a little more certainty and routine.

In these times of uncertainty, making and eating comfort foods can offer a sense of structure and control. We have control over the foods we are making and eating, and we also have a little more control over how we feel. Our brain tells us that eating that piece of homemade bread or pasta will make us feel good.

 

If you’re eating for comfort, that’s completely OK. Be mindful of how often and how much. Practice other healthy lifestyle habits to beat stress – try yoga, meditation, a walk with the dog, listening to music or calling a friend. Stay safe and stay well!

 

Foods to Manage Stress

icons of bread, leafy greens, fish and cup of tea to accompany bulleted text

Can you believe that we’re into week 7 of physical distancing and the COVID quarantine? If you’re feeling stressed, you’re not alone.

In fact, a recent poll by Angus Reid found that 50% of Canadians say their mental health has worsened, feeling worried and anxious.

First of all, please know that there are many support resources available online to help you manage stress and anxiety during these tough times. Regular exercise, meditation and other healthy stress busting behaviours can help. Talk to a health care professional if you need some support.

As a dietitian, here are 5 key nutrients and foods to add to your plate which can help you manage stress.

Watch my 1-minute video clip.

 

 

 

Carbs, especially whole grain carbs

Carbs help trigger the production of serotonin. This is the feel good chemical in the brain (a neurotransmitter). Serotonin is made in brain from the amino acid tryptophan. This is a small amino acid and has a tough time getting into the brain.

When you eat a meal that’s mostly carbs, it triggers the insulin to clear the bigger amino acids from your bloodstream, allowing tryptophan to get into the brain and make serotonin. Overall, serotonin helps you to feel calm.

Some good whole grain carb choices are:

  • brown rice
  • whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta
  • quinoa

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 also helps our body make serotonin. This vitamin is found in a wide range of foods, so it’s important to eat a variety of foods. Some of the best foods for vitamin B6 are:

  • chicken, turkey, meat, fish like salmon
  • chickpeas, pistachio nuts, sunflower seeds
  • potatoes, bananas, avocados

Magnesium

When we are stressed, our body (adrenal glands) releases cortisol which is a stress hormone. Cortisol actually depletes the body of magnesium. So we need to make sure we’re getting enough magnesium when you’re feeling stressed.

Some of the best foods for magnesium are:

  • leafy greens like spinach, kale and Swiss chard
  • nuts and seeds like almonds, pine nuts and sunflower seeds
  • whole grains like whole wheat bread (Fun fact: whole wheat bread contains 4x more Mg than white bread)
  • dark chocolate (a 30 g serving offers 15-20% of your daily requirements for magnesium!)

Omega-3 fats

You may already know that omega-3 fats are good for our heart health. But did you know that the animal sources of omega-3 fats also help to boost our mood!

Some of the best sources of omega-3 fats are:

  • fatty fish like salmon, trout, arctic char, sardines. Try to eat fatty fish at least twice a week.
  • omega-3 enriched eggs

Tea

Tea contains a special amino acid called L– theanine. This actually triggers the release of another neurotransmitter in the brain (called GABA or gamma-amino-butyric-acid) which gives you a relaxed feeling. Black tea, green tea, white tea and oolong tea all contain this special amino acid.

Stay well and stay safe. We are all in this together to get through the COVID-19 crisis.

 

 

Put the FREEZE on Food Waste!

tomato, onion, lemon and banana icons to accompany bulleted text

🌎 Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day!

One way to protect the planet is to reduce food waste by freezing leftover ingredients. It helps you save money too.

Here are some ingredients that I’ve been freezing a lot these days.

🍅 Tomato paste – Most recipes call for about 1 T of tomato paste. Freeze in ice cube trays or in 1 T portions. Ready for a tomato sauce or stew. Lasts 2-3 months in the freezer.

👍 Onions & Green onions – How many times have your green onions wilted in the fridge? Slice them or chop / dice onions and freeze them. Perfect for an omelet, casserole and fried rice. Lasts 10-12 months in the freezer.

🍋 Lemon juice and Lemon zest – Why toss out flavour? Freeze these and add to salad dressings, pasta or baked items. Lasts 12 months in the freezer.

🌿 Herbs – Cut them and freeze in ice cube trays water, stock or even oil. Simply toss into soups or defrost for a salad dressing when needed. Lasts 2-3 months in the freezer.

🍌 Bananas – I love making banana bread, so any leftover bananas go straight into the freezer. You can freeze them whole with the peels on (the peels will turn black). Or you can peel the banana first and freeze slices. Thaw and add to baked goods or use frozen in a smoothie. Lasts 2-3 months in the freezer.

🍓 Berries – Freeze them in a single layer first and then place them in a container or bag. (If you freeze them all at once, they may clump together.) Perfect for smoothies or baking! Lasts 12 months in the freezer.

🍞 Bread – I slice it first and then freeze about 6-8 slices in a freezer bag. Same thing with bagels. This makes is so much easier to use or toast. Lasts 2-3 months in the freezer.

🍎 You can freeze so many other foods too! What’s your favourite item to freeze?

Happy Earth Day 2020!

 

[Freezer storage times – sourced from https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/foodkeeper-app]

 

 

Working from home? Tips to stay fueled and focused

Home office desk with computer and flowers in a vase

The doorbell rings. The dog is barking. A load of laundry sits in the hallway. There can be a lot of distractions when working from home! Here are a few tips to help you stay fueled and focused.

Stick to a regular eating schedule. Get into a routine by eating your meals at the same times every day if possible. Routine gives us a little sense of control during these uncertain times. Plus, you’ll keep your energy levels steady to power through your work day. (Ditto the routine message for sleep and exercise.)

Cook extra for tomorrow’s lunch. Now that you and everyone else in your family are staying home, you’re likely eating all your meals at home too. No more lunch meetings or buying lunch at the food court. Plan to cook extra and portion them out so they’re ready to reheat for tomorrow’s lunch.

Snack on nourishing foods. During times of crisis, we all stress eat. Food can offer us both comfort and nourishment. Give yourself permission to enjoy ALL foods without guilt. If you’re finding that you’re frequently eating to deal with stress or emotions, reach out to a friend, family member or health professional for support.

Stay hydrated with water. By the time you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Keep your water bottle nearby. Other beverages like coffee, tea and milk count towards your fluid intake too.

Take a break. Stand up and stretch. Do some shoulder rolls. Go out for a walk. This helps minimize mindless munching at your desk. To reduce eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule – every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Keep well, everyone!

 

Eating well during times of COVID-19

Infographic of tips for eating well

Make the most of your food and remember food safety during these times of COVID-19.

Watch my  TV interview here with CTV Your Morning. 

TV host Lindsey DeLuce talking via video to Dietitian Sue Mah

Buy foods with a long shelf life. Fresh, frozen and canned foods are all OK. Some ideas: fresh carrots, potatoes, squash, onions and parsnips; frozen fruit, veggies, meat and fish; canned fruit, veggies, beans, soup and pasta sauce; shelf-stable milk or non-dairy beverages. Having these foods can help you get through tough times in case you become sick and can’t leave your home. I write the best before date on a green piece of tape and stick it right on the can for easy visibility! (See my pantry photo below.)

Keep a food inventory to remind you of what have. Go through your fridge, freezer and pantry. The kids can help with this too! Plan your meals using the foods you have on hand. Try new recipes using your pantry staples. Check best before dates and practice the “First In First Out” rule – use the foods that have the earliest best before date first. Circle or highlight items with an approaching best before date so you know to use them soon. Cross the items off the inventory as you use them so you know when you might need to buy more.

Wash your hands before and after cooking / eating. Wash all fresh fruits and veggies before eating, especially if you’re eating the skins. Cook foods to the right temperature. Keep raw foods separate from cooked foods, and use separate utensils / cutting boards for each. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours or freeze leftovers to eat later. Eat refrigerated leftovers within 3 days. For more food safety tips, go to Canadian Public Health Association. 

Don’t share eating utensils. Avoid sharing food from the same container (e.g. avoid sharing popcorn or grapes from the same bowl.) No double dipping please. 🙂 Wash utensils in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher.

Sue's pantry with best before dates labelled on cans

Please take care and keep well!

– Sue Mah, MHSc, RD, PHEc, FDC

 

 

 

 

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