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What do you think about juice shots?

A tray with 3 small juice shots (green, orange, dark orange) in a glass.

With cold and flu season approaching, you’ve probably seen juice shots popping up in grocery stores and shops. Juice shots are intended to boost your immune system and promote wellness. Are they worth it? Here are some things to consider.

What are juice shots?

Juice shots are also called “wellness shots.” They’re small, concentrated drinks (on average 60-70 mL), usually made with ingredients such as wheat grass, ginger, lemon, turmeric, cayenne pepper and beets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pros

Juice shots can be a convenient way to get an extra burst of vitamins, especially if you’re not getting enough fruits or vegetables every day. Some of the common ingredients used in juice shots do have health benefits.

The cons

Juice shots don’t contain fibre which is important for gut health and overall wellness. One dose of a juice shot probably isn’t going to make a big difference to your health. For long term benefits, you likely need to take juice shots regularly, and at over $4 for a 60 mL shot, the cost can really add up over time.

The bottom line

Juice shots likely won’t do much harm, but because the amounts are so small, you’d need to consume them on a regular basis to see an effect. Think of how you could incorporate some of these unique ingredients into your everyday meals. Try adding wheat grass powder to a shake or smoothie. Add sliced fresh ginger to stir-fry dishes or fried rice (my personal favourite!). And mix turmeric and cayenne to a spice rub for meat / poultry. Could you even make your own wellness shot at home with juiced fruits or veggies, ginger and lemon juice? What other ideas do you have? Let me know in the comments.

Do you have a food / nutrition questions? Ask me in the comments below and I’ll answer it in a future post.

 

 

 

Does eating turkey make you sleepy?

Dinner table set with cooked turkey, pumpkin pie, green beans, and gravy

Feeling sleepy after your Thanksgiving meal? Don’t blame it all on the turkey. The many components of the meal may work together to trigger that lull to nap land. 

Here’s a simple science lesson.

Turkey, as well as foods like chicken, cheese and milk contains an amino acid called tryptophan. 

Tryptophan is a component of serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel calm and relaxed. Serotonin is then also used to make the sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin.

As we digest foods containing protein, the amino acids enter the bloodstream and make their way over to the brain. The problem is that tryptophan is a big, bulky amino acid. So it has to compete with other amino acids to get into the brain. Imagine this as a long lineup of people waiting to get into a concert.

Enter carbs. The carbs you eat from the delicious stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and other typical Thanksgiving fare triggers the release of insulin. This action removes most of the amino acids from our bloodstream, but not the tryptophan. It’s as if all of the people in line for that concert have been pushed away, except for tryptophan. This of course makes it easier for tryptophan to enter the brain and start its effect on serotonin and melatonin to create that calm, sleepy feeling. 

Another possible explanation for the sleepiness is that there’s more blood flow to your stomach to digest the meal, meaning less blood flow to your brain. And let’s not forget that a glass or two of alcohol may play a role. 

So what should you do if you’d like to avoid the ZZZ’s after your Thanksgiving meal? Well, you could try to enjoy smaller portions of carbohydrate-containing foods. Maybe have a coffee with dessert. But if you’re like me, you’ll simply enjoy the wonderful, hearty meal with family and cozy up with a pillow afterwards! 

Ask a Dietitian – What’s the latest news about aspartame?

 

Aspartame is a low-calorie, artificial sweetener that is about 200 times sweeter than white sugar. It’s found in some diet soft drinks, desserts, yogurt, chewing gum and even some chewable vitamins. In Canada, aspartame has been approved for use as a food additive since 1981.

You may have seen recent news headlines about aspartame and cancer. Here’s what you need to know.

Two different groups did two different types of reviews

The health impacts of aspartame were assessed by two different organizations and they looked at two different things.

Review #1 by IARC – International Agency for Research on Cancer

The IARC conducted a HAZARD analysis. This type of review assesses the level of certainty that a substance can cause cancer. It does not consider dose or amount. Aspartame was classified as a Group 2B carcinogen, meaning that it is possibly carcinogenic with “limited evidence in humans and less than sufficient evidence in experimental animals.”

For background, substances classed in Group 1 are considered carcinogenic with “sufficient evidence in humans”, and those in Group 2A are considered probably carcinogenic with “limited evidence in humans and sufficient evidence in experimental animals.

Review #2 by JECFA – Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (a joint working group of the World Health Organization and the Food & Agriculture Organization)

A second review of aspartame was undertaken by JECFA where they conducted a RISK analysis. This type of review assesses the exposure level or amount consumed that can pose a risk to health. They concluded that aspartame does not pose a safety risk in the amounts that people typically consume.

JECFA also confirmed that the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 40 mg aspartame per kg body weight is still appropriate. This is the same limit set by Health Canada. In USA, the limit is 50 mg aspartame per kg body weight per day.

Chart showing the IARC hazard analysis versus the JECFA risk analysis

What does 40 mg aspartame per kg body weight per day look like?

For a 70 kg adult, the Acceptable Daily Intake of aspartame would be 40 x 70 = 2,800 mg.

One standard can of diet soft drink contains between 200-300 mg of aspartame. In other words, you would need to consume 9-14 cans of diet soft drink in a day to reach the maximum limit of 2,800 mg of aspartame, assuming that you don’t get aspartame from other sources. This is the maximum amount of aspartame that can be consumed daily over a lifetime without presenting an appreciable risk to health.

Read labels carefully for aspartame

Currently, aspartame is listed on the food label along with the aspartame content per serving. However, Health Canada has just announced new food labelling regulations for aspartame and other sweeteners.

By January 1, 2026:

  • Aspartame will no longer need to be listed on the front of packages.
  • Aspartame will still appear in the ingredients list, but the amount of aspartame (in mg) per serving will no longer be shown.
  • Foods sweetened with aspartame must still include a statement at the end of the ingredients list that warns individuals with phenylketonuria (PKU) that the food contains phenylalanine (this is a type of amino acid found in aspartame and needs to be avoided by people who have PKU).

See images below for a comparison of the original / current labelling of aspartame compared to the new labelling rules.

The Bottom Line

  • Remember that the amount or dose of any substance is important when thinking about the risk to your health. According to the WHO and FAO, aspartame is safe in amounts that people typically consume.
  • Look at all the products you consume which may contain aspartame such as diet drinks, sugar-free gum, dairy products and chewable vitamins. Stay within the Acceptable Daily Intake of 40 mg per kg body weight per day.
  • Enjoy eating a variety of wholesome foods to lower your cancer risk: whole grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruit and healthy fats.
  • Take other healthy actions to lower your cancer risk: live smoke-free; be sun safe; move more and sit less; eat well; limit alcohol; and get screened for different types of cancer as recommended by your health care practitioner. 

Different actions to reduce the risk of cancer 

 

Follow me on Instagram @SueMahRD for weekly nutrition tips and recipes.

Ask a Dietitian: What is high protein milk?

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I noticed a brand of milk labelled as “high protein.” Compared to regular dairy milk, the high protein dairy milk contains 50% more protein and 50% less sugars. See the chart below for a quick nutritional comparison.

chart comparing nutrition info for regular vs high protein milkAccording to the company website (FairlifeCanada.ca), the high protein milk is made through an ultra-filtration process. No protein powders are added to the milk. Instead, the milk flows through multiple filters which concentrates the protein and calcium content while separating out the sugars (lactose). Most of the lactose is removed during this ultra-filtration. A lactase enzyme is then added to convert any remaining lactose into smaller, digestible sugars, resulting in a lactose-free milk with only 6 grams of sugars.

Drinking a high protein dairy milk can be a good option if:

  • You are trying to consume more protein and / or calcium in your meals
  • You are lactose-intolerant
  • You are trying to meet protein goals for muscle strength, bone health and improved sports performance
  • You are experiencing a health condition and need extra protein to build / repair muscle and bone

 

Written by Sue Mah, MHSc, RD, PHEc, FDC, Award-winning dietitian

How much caffeine is too much?

A person holding a the handle of a coffee mug. An image of Sue's face in the overlay.

Health Canada has set recommended maximum daily amounts of caffeine depending on your age. For children and teens under the age of 18, the recommended caffeine intake depends on their body weight. Consuming too much caffeine can lead to insomnia, irritability, nervousness and headaches. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, consider having less.

chart with caffeine recommendations for age groups

Caffeine is found naturally in coffee, tea, chocolate and certain flavourings such as guarana and yerba mate. Check out the caffeine content of some common foods and beverages to see where you’re at with your caffeine intake for the day. Keep in mind that many mugs and store bought drinks are larger than a standard cup.

chart with caffeine intake of foods and beverages

Do you have a food or nutrition question?  Ask me and I’ll feature the answer in one of my next newsletters.

Does diet affect erectile function?

A man in a blue shirt sitting on a sofa and speaking to a health professional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the question you may have always wondered, but were too shy to ask!

June is Men’s Health Month, so let’s take a look at some of the research on this topic.

A study published in the Journal of the American Association Network Open journal suggests that a healthy dietary pattern may play a role in maintaining erectile function in men. Researchers from the University of California and Harvard University looked at the food and nutrient data from over 21,000 healthy men aged 40 to 75 who had no previous diagnosis of erectile dysfunction or diabetes or heart disease. The men were part of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. The researchers found that men at all ages who followed a Mediterranean-style diet had the lowest risk of erectile dysfunction. A Mediterranean-style diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and fish.

Fruits and vegetables contain special plant nutrients called flavonoids.  Researchers in Greece found that eating fruits and vegetables lowered the risk for erectile dysfunction by 32% in men aged 18 to 40 years.

Another study from researchers in Spain looked at 83 healthy men aged 18-35. For 14 weeks, these men were asked to follow their usual diet and were divided into 2 groups – one group also ate 60 grams (about ½ cup) of nuts a day such as walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts; the other group of men did not eat nuts. The study found that a healthy diet supplemented with mixed nuts may help to improve erectile and sexual desire.

Bottom line: Fruits, vegetables and nuts are the foundation of an overall healthy diet that can benefit not only your heart health but also your sexual health.

 

What are pink strawberries?

A cluster of pink strawberries with an overlay of Sue's headshot and the words "What are pink strawberries?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you seen these little pink strawberries at Costco or your local grocery store?

They look like underripe strawberries, but they’re not. These little gems are actually pineberries – which is a fusion of the words “pineapple” and “strawberry” although there isn’t any pineapple in them. In fact, the pineberry belongs to the strawberry family and is a cross between the strawberries native to North America (Fragaria virginiana) and strawberries native to Chile (Fragaria chiloensis). Inside, the flesh is white. You may also see these cute little berries called pineberry strawberries or hula pineberries.

What do pineberries taste like?

Pineberries have a softer and creamier texture than a red strawberry. There are subtle aromas and flavours of pineapple (thus the name pineberry), pear and apricot.

What about nutrition?

Both pineberries and strawberries contain vitamin C, folate, fibre and potassium. Strawberries will have higher levels of “anthocyanins” – which are the healthy plant compounds that give strawberries their beautiful red colour. Since they’re more rare than red strawberries, pineberries tend to be more expensive.

How to eat pineberries?

Ripe pineberries will have a blush pink colour and bright red seeds. Eat pineberries the same way you would strawberries! Add them to your yogurt bowl, toss into a salad or add a handful to a snack board.

Will you try them? Have you tried them? Tell me what you think in the comments!

 

What are your thoughts on the Dirty Dozen?

A woman shopping for veggies at a grocery store. A headshot of Sue is overlayed with the text "Ask a Dietitian. What are your thoughts on the Dirty Dozen?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post with CropLife Canada. The information shared in the blog are my opinions based on my review of this topic. I consult only with companies which align with my personal and professional values.

Have you heard about the Dirty Dozen? Let’s take a closer look at this and what it means for you and your family.

What exactly is the Dirty Dozen?

The Dirty Dozen is an annual list created by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a United States-based environmental advocacy organization. The list ranks the top 12 conventionally grown fruits and vegetables in the United States that they claim should be avoided due to pesticide residues.

But what the Dirty Dozen list doesn’t tell us is how much residual pesticide is actually on the produce. We need this information to figure out if the amount we’re eating is at a level that could harm our health.

So what about pesticides?

Pesticides are substances that can be from either synthetic or natural sources, and are used on foods to protect them from diseases and pests such as insects and weeds. With the help of pesticides, farmers are able to grow safe, affordable and abundant food for Canadians.

As a dietitian, I worry that the Dirty Dozen list may cause food fear. The fact is both organic and conventional farmers use pesticides to control pests. Just because a pesticide residue is present, doesn’t mean that it poses a risk to our health. In fact, detection technology is now so sophisticated that it can detect parts per billion (think a drop of water in an Olympic size swimming pool). And, Canada has one of the most stringent regulatory systems in the world for pesticides. Before a pesticide can even be used on a food product, Health Canada assesses the health impact of any pesticide residues that may be in or on the food. It even takes into account the sensitivities of specific subsets of the population like infants, children and pregnant women.

Health Canada also sets Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs), which is the maximum amount of pesticide residue that is allowed to remain on a product when it is used according to the pesticide label – and these residue limits are typically set at least 100 times or more below levels that would have any impact on human health.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspects domestic and imported foods for pesticide residues. Over 99% of the food that is tested is below the MRLs. And in rare cases where the residue level is above the MRL, it does not pose a health risk as the MRL is set significantly below any level of concern.

My advice

We all want and deserve safe, nutritious and affordable food for ourselves and our families. Here are some things to consider if you’re concerned about pesticides.

  • Put the Dirty Dozen list in perspective. Health Canada states that there is no health risk from eating conventionally grown foods because of pesticide residues. Use this Pesticide Residue Calculator which shows you the number of servings of different fruits and vegetables that we could eat and still not have any adverse effects from pesticide residues. For example, a child could eat 181 servings of strawberries a day (or 1,448 strawberries) without any adverse effects from pesticide residues!
  • Wash fruits and veggies very well under cold water. This helps to remove dirt, bacteria, and any tiny amounts of residues which may be on the outer layers of the produce. There’s no need to use soap or detergent. You can also peel the skin on fruits and veggies, however keep in mind that you’d also be peeling away some fibre and nutrients, as well as contributing to food waste.
  • Feel good about the food you eat! Enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables every day that are tasty and affordable. Whether they’re organic or conventionally grown, both options are safe, nutritious and important for good health.

 

What are plant sterols?

A white heart-shaped bowl filled with heart healthy foods such as nuts, broccoli, kiwi and blueberries. A headshot of Sue is within the image with the caption reading "Ask a Dietitian."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plant sterols are also called “phytosterols” (phtyo means plant). They’re like cousins to cholesterol because they have a similar structure, and are found naturally (in tiny amounts) in plant-based foods – such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and vegetable oils.

If you have high blood cholesterol, plant sterols may be beneficial because they’ve been shown to decrease the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol (Low Density Lipoprotein cholesterol) – this is the type of cholesterol that is a risk factor for heart disease.

In the body, plant sterols partially block the absorption of cholesterol. The cholesterol gets removed as waste (i.e. in our feces) which then results in an overall lower level of LDL cholesterol in your blood.

So, how much plant sterol is needed for this benefit? Research shows that eating 2 grams (2,000 milligrams) of plant sterols every day can lower LDL cholesterol levels by 8-10%. This amount is nearly impossible to get with regular foods since a typical healthy diet only contains about 200-400 milligrams of plant sterols.

To get 2,000 milligrams of plant sterols a day, you’ll need to consume foods and beverages that are fortified with plant sterols. In Canada, foods fortified with plant sterols include mayonnaise, margarine, salad dressing, yogurt, yogurt drinks, vegetable juice and fruit juice. A serving of these foods may contain up to 1 gram (1,000 milligrams) of plant sterols, so read package labels to check the exact amount. Plant sterol supplements are another option.

Plant sterols from food and / or supplements are not a substitute for a heart healthy diet or cholesterol-lowering medications. Always check with your doctor first before consuming foods or supplements with plant sterols because your medications may need to be adjusted.

Does vitamin K help with bone health?

Vitamin K rich foods such as beets, avocado, Brussels sprouts and leafy greens. A headshot of Sue is in the middle with the words Ask a Dietitian.

Vitamin K was first discovered for its blood clotting or coagulation effect. In fact, the “K” stands for the German spelling of “koagulation.”

Not only does vitamin K help you blood clot when you’re bleeding, but it also does help to build strong bones. Research published in the Journal of Osteoporosis and the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research from the found that low vitamin K may be linked to low bone density and a higher risk of hip fractures. Other bone building nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D are also key for bone health.

There are actually 2 forms of Vitamin K.

Vitamin K1 is found mostly in plant foods especially leafy greens like kale, spinach, collards, Swiss chard and beet greens. This form of Vitamin K1 is called phylloquinone.

Vitamin K2 is found in animal foods (like meat, cheese) and also in fermented foods such as natto (fermented soybeans), tempeh, miso and sauerkraut. This form of vitamin K2 is called menaquinone and there are many different subgroups ranging from MK4 to MK13. Vitamin K2 seems to have the greatest impact on bone health.

Adults need 90-120 micrograms of vitamin K every day. You can get this amount from ½ cup of broccoli or 4 Brussels sprouts or ¼ cup of raw kale, a few servings of cheese or natto.

Now what about supplements? If you have osteoporosis or are at risk for osteoporosis, a vitamin K supplement might be helpful. Check with your health care professional or dietitian because vitamin K can interfere with blood thinner medications such as warfarin.

 

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